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Education Intelligence #21 – Chris Fellingham’s Roundup on What’s Happening

The future of Bootcamps, the Chinese English language teaching market, and how Amazon is positioning Alexa as the next platform for Education

Hello Class Central readers!

I’m Chris Fellingham, I work for FutureLearn and as a way to help people understand the world of Edtech (not least myself) I began writing updates on some of the trends and stories in the Edtech world – with a focus on MOOCs.

These reports are largely an annotated summary of the news in a fortnight and reflect my own, sometimes blunt views on what’s happening, what’s good, what’s exciting and what sucks.

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If you would like to request a webinarone to one call or research please contact me at: [email protected]

As ever if you enjoy it SHARE ITFor the permanent home of these newsletter and articles GO HEREIf you have any thoughts please write back to me

All views expressed in these reports are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of FutureLearn.

State of the MOOCS

edX kick off September with 39 MicroMasters from 24 partners — Having fully tested them with their MIT Supply Chain Management MicroMasters, edX are placing their bets on many more to become a financially sustainable business. MicroMasters may have a couple of advantages over Specializations. Firstly, they provide recruitment revenue stream into Universities’ core business (on campus degrees) which ought to lubricate University purse strings into supplying them (obtaining 39 so quickly suggests this is so). Secondly the fact that MicroMasters can be part of a degree ought to give them credibility. That should help employers recognise them and in turn learners pay for them — here

Udacity launch Data Science Nanodegree — It’s 3 months and appears to be upfront payment of $499 only (i.e. no subscription) thus also foregoing the 50% discount for early completion. As with most Udacity Nanodegrees they show estimated salaries, although Data Science has a rather large range: $36.2K to $123K — here


My post on Why English language teaching in China is such fertile ground for Edtech and why this will be so disruptive to traditional language suppliers.

Amazon are making further moves in the Education space, including positioning Alexa as the platform for the next wave of Edtech.

Coding Bootcamps, eyes on the prize — Darrell Silver of Thinkful, a Coding Bootcamp, argues that innovation in three areas will ensure Bootcamps thrive and proliferate:

  • Demand outstrips supply — Bootcamps in the US will graduate 22K in 2017 which is ~50% of what all the Computer Science faculties will graduate. Universities have been too slow to respond to demand and nor will Computer Science faculties be the only ones affected; UX, Design, Data Science and Cyber Schools are already emerging
  • Financial innovation — Bootcamps are increasingly moving to Income Share Agreements which students like as it means the Bootcamp has ‘skin in the game’ and theoretically opens up access to those without cash to hand (although arguably Bootcamps de-risk this by selecting highly qualified students such as those with Computer Science degrees already)
  • Career service innovation — Perhaps the most interesting, Bootcamps invest heavily in their career services and staff, network events, interview practice etc to get people a job. Students spent a significant chunk of their Bootcamp time in career services preparing for the job market and can even adjust their learning based on employer feedback

For Silver the threat to Bootcamps lies not in a bubble bursting, he notes that even universities are taking on bootcamps and white-labelling them. For Silver, the existential threat comes from the free or low-cost teaching options such as TeamTreehouse or MOOCs. Even then, Silver argues that in survey after survey students say the most valued part of the experience is their job market readiness and career support — this is their moat. There needn’t be a one size fits all model rather a spectrum for needs from free/low cost but online only e.g. CodeAcademy, to scalable blended like Udacity to Bootcamps — here and here

Medicine faculties embrace VR for education — Virtual Reality is steadily making inroads across a number of areas of health education. PTSD is already treated in over 100 Universities in the US through the use of VR scenarios that allow soldiers to replay trauma and practice controlling their emotions. Microsoft’s Hololens is being used to teach anatomy classes in lieu of those expensive cadavers and in Los angeles a hospital is working on VR to prepare doctors for high pressure scenarios. We are getting closer to Kobyashi Maru — here

Chatbot conducts surveys for academics — Hubert, an AI Chatbot, is being used by academics to conduct course surveys. It essentially asks (modifiable) stock survey questions but with users ‘chatting’ their answer directly, this enable the chatbot to ask follow up questions and present a dashboard back to the academic — here

Team Human vs Machine

A new study further challenges the ‘skills gap’ narrative — The study by Anthony Weaver at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign argues the gap is smaller and more nuanced than the media debate. Firstly Weaver finds evidence of gap inflation, after surveying manufacturing companies he found ¼ of jobs took 3+ months to fill but industry groups had claimed it was ¾. Secondly STEM, the oft-bandied solution, is not the panacea its advocates would hope. Weaver finds many advanced manufacturers faced their biggest shortages in technical writing rather than technical skills STEM would imply.

The solution he argues is for much more coordination between demand (employers) and supply (Education institutions). German manufacturers already pool money to ensure common skill requirements are met and the UK’s new apprenticeship scheme which puts the onus on employers to develop curriculums are both examples of how this could work and validation of Weaver’s proposal — here

McKinsey Global Institute makes palatable forecast for AI in education — McKinsey’s Think Tank looks at what AI will bring to education in the next 10 years. Rather than wild predictions of robot teachers they predict AI will focus on eliminating routine tasks and administration to increase teacher to pupil time. Namely: more auto graded assessments (essays and STEM) chatbots to answer routine questions and more behavioural feedback on learning for students. Privacy they concede, will be a major issue — here

FT surveys employers — What do they look for in an MBA student? — Not hot data or financial skills it turns out. This isn’t that surprising, MBAs are really a shortcut to management thus management skills rather than deep expertise are prized. The top five skills were: working with different people, prioritisation, networking and understanding the impact of digital on business. The hardest skills to recruit were storytelling, big data analysis and mentoring. Interestingly, this came at the same time as a report by Blackrock, an investment company, who argued they were taking in more liberal arts majors for precisely these skills. This won’t precipitate a new gold rush of liberal arts masters but it may challenge business schools to opt to make the technical skills blended and use campus time to maximise the management skills — here and here

OPM (Online Programme Management)

Hotcourses to list 4.4K Transnational Education Courses — Hotcourses the degree/course listing giant which lists over 0.5m courses from universities all over the world has added TNE courses to its site. TNE is where the provision of a degree or other education in one country is provided by an institution from another — think US university campuses in China. Hotcourses suggest there is a growing demand — as shown by their user surveys — for people to have the prestige of foreign qualification but from the ease of their own country. Although TNE is still in-person teaching, this may be a lead indicator for online degree provision as well — here

Global Higher Education

Unibuddy, a peer to peer platform for study abroad reviews scales up — Unibuddy connects prospective students with designated ambassador students at their university of interest. Students can discuss all aspects of life while studying abroad and cuts through the repetitive sales pitch of brochures etc. Sixteen universities including Royal Holloway as well as others in Spain and Switzerland have signed up.

Peer recommendation student reviews consistently rank among the top ways prospective students choose where to study. While the ambassador makes sense — that’s what they can charge for — it surely leaves them open to competition from a Burning Glass type equivalent that can claim it’s independent — here

UKHE (UK Higher Education)

International Students reprieved by reality — Theresa May promised to crack down on them, tabloids fulminated about them — as many as 100K international students were using studies as a gateway to emigrate to the UK. Except they weren’t, in the first ever release of official figures (rather than wild estimates from — worryingly — the Office of National Statistics) the actual number overstaying their student visa was 4,600 in 2016. The timing is important, the Home Office is conducting analysis of the economic impact of international students with the likely finding that they are very valuable indeed. Now that Theresa May’s argument for restricting them lies in tatters this may halt the increasing restrictions placed on international students coming to the UK and possibly even a loosening of them, which should boost applications and revenues to UKHE — here


Future of Higher Education by Cathy Davidson and Ruth Devaney — Cathy Davidson, Director of Futures Initiative at City University New York and Ruth Devaney at Duke University have published a new book on the role of Universities and Teaching in C21. Davidson argues; soft skills will be critical (as ever), learning how to learn and more important answering interdisciplinary questions including drawing from STEM, Humanities and Social sciences. STEM itself also doesn’t escape criticism, Davidson argues it has become too divorced from society and argues this may have contributed to Silicon’s Valley’s focus on 1% — here

Chris Fellingham Profile Image

Chris Fellingham

To stop himself dying of boredom in a former job Chris discovered MOOCs. It was a short hop to working in Strategy and Insights for FutureLearn from which he was inescapably drawn to to trying to understand the macro forces at work. Otherwise Chris is a policy wonk, a political geek and a long suffering fan of Tottenham Hotspur.

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