Disclosure: Class Central is learner-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.


Education Intelligence #24 – Rise of the Microcredential, Student Recruitment Consolidation

Are MOOCs dead? No, but they’ve evolved considerably and student recruitment is going digital.

Education Intelligence is a newsletter curated by Chris Fellingham. You can signup for it here.

Edtech media created a storm in a teacup as they took Udacity VP Clarissa Shen’s comment ‘MOOCs are dead’ as something meaningful rather than clickbait. More interesting stories are: The evolution of MOOCs beyond just their original role, as well as the consolidation of the online student recruitment market as IDP and QS gear up to seize market share for international student recruitment.

And even more interesting than that… my post on how universities are moving to the centre of the innovation economy.

State of the MOOCS

The MOOC is dead… If nothing else Udacity have a knack for making headlines among the feverish Edtech press. Clarissa Shen, VP of Udacity, actually suggested their focus was on high touch, project-focused online courses rather than ‘low-touch’, high volume, video libraries (what she perceived as MOOCs). Or in other words, the future is Udacity. John Warner on InsideHigherEd was preening over his own foresight, unfortunately, the only thing on parade was his ignorance. Udacity had already pivoted from MOOCs in 2013 and since then the role of the MOOC has evolved and proliferated from; on-campus blended, online degrees, workforce training and yes to opening up higher education – here

Long live the Microcredential – Is 2017 the year of the Microcredential? A Slate article argues so. We have: Udacity’s Nanodegree, Coursera’s Specializations, IBM’s badges, and most recently edX’s MicroMasters. Nor is this just restricted to Edtech platforms, MIT have just launched their ‘Digital Plus’ program aimed at small groups of professionals (~30 per course) taught either blended or online.

Microcredentials predominantly target the graduate market and there is some evidence they are already eating into the graduate degree market as learners seek quicker, cheaper skills that are immediately employable. This was the thinking behind Linkedin’s acquisition of Lynda. Coursera have been reorienting their Specializations along the same lines, moving them to subscription and developing ‘learning paths’ to make them more like an aide to a professional career rather than a one-off commodity. Udacity focus on career outcomes too and in both cases the aim is for Microcredentials to become the currency of professional development – here

Udacity are moving away from subscription – Dhawal Shah from Class Central spots a clear shift to splitting up longer Nanodegrees into ‘terms’ and charging upfront payments for each one. Simultaneously they have stopped staffing their ‘job placement’ program Blitz. Udacity have increased enrolled students 4x (53K at present) suggesting they are confident in their value proposition to charge upfront and that the job program didn’t scale well or add enough value to justify itself – here

Coursera and Google to launch ‘Grow with Google’  – Google will offer up to $1bn dollars on the program to provide digital skills to the US workforce, part of which will be on the Coursera platform in the form of a professional certificate. The aim is to take a complete beginner up to an IT entry level job in 8-12 months. Google are not alone, Apple are investing likewise (including an Apple lab at Ohio State) and Facebook are on a charm offensive in Washington. This is mostly PR, political winds on both sides of the Atlantic are whispering monopoly/tax evasion and ‘destroyed American democracy’ – here and here

Udacity team up with Unity Technologies to launch ARkit course – That’s timely since ARkit only formally launched earlier this month, Udacity’s tech focus allows and requires them to be responsive to such changes in the market. Coursera also launched VR with Goldsmiths. Both are keen to capture the exponential demand for VR – here

Openclassroms has launched in the US – The Paris-based platform has performed well in France, with its online degree, self-paced subscription based service it offered a sharp contrast to a highly traditional French education system and its graduates appear to have found jobs easily – nevertheless the US market is totally different and it’s not clear how the platform will be able to distinguish itself in the wild west of Edtech – here

Openclassrooms team up with Capgemini for Apprenticeships – Capgemini, a technology consulting firm, are using Openclassrooms to recruit and train ‘non-traditional workers’ – typically those without a degree. France has a similar apprenticeship program to the UK whereby they are taxed regardless of whether they train workers (but reimbursed if they do). Capgemini will recruit via Openclassroom courses and then continue to use Openclassrooms courses to upskill those selected – here

Colombia’s Universidad del Norte, Uninorte, launches a MOOC platform to target the underserved Spanish market – Coursera and Miríada X currently lead in Spanish MOOCs – here

Hyperledged, an open source cross-industry blockchain platform has teamed up with Linux foundation to launch a blockchain MOOC on edx.org – here

The business of Edtech

Andela raises another $40m bringing its total $80m – Andela is effectively a developer outsourcing agency that operates in Africa’s tech hubs (e.g. Nigeria, Kenya etc). Would-be contractors, usually Computer Science graduates, apply for its competitions online, the final 3% then go to a 2-week boot camp and 1% make it through to the training. Andela then invests $15K in each of these candidates who on graduation get 2-year contracts doing developer work often for US firms. Andela’s genius though, is in positioning themselves as a social enterprise, allowing them to gain both traditional VC investment along with social investment like Chan-Zuckerberg – here

Steve Wozniak to launch online learning platform, Woz U – The platform will, unsurprisingly, teach Computer Science courses. It’ll be online at first but then with a view to locations in 30 cities in the US. It’s part of the For-profit Southern Careers University group who also aim to target workforce training, recruitment and even school computer science. That’s mostly Pluralsight et al’s market and I’m not sure this would be interesting if it weren’t fronted by the Woz – here

OPM (Online Programme Management)

Student recruitment market undergoes consolidation – QS, the world’s largest supplier of international masters and MBA students (60m visitors a year and 0.5m prospective students) has acquired Hobsons solutions, a student recruitment and services firm from the Daily Mail Media Group (readers will note the irony). In the same month, IDP announced a new student recruitment service with Hotcourses (a listing site for degrees) which they acquired earlier this year. IDP/Hotcourses has a similar footprint of around 66m annual visitors.

Both are about vertical integration. Hotcourses’ revenue comes through advertising fees rather than lead generation. In the new model with IDP, Hotcourses will be the funnel and IDP call centres will help convert the visitors into leads. IDP are launching this as a new fee based service, possibly with some kind of rev-share/volume pricing model.

Both mergers demonstrate the digitisation of the student recruitment industry. While agents are still prevalent, increasingly as with other things the search for which course and university is done online and logically digital enterprises aim to monetise that trend – here and here

Purdue’s deal with Kaplan encounters turbulence – Purdue’s deal to acquire Kaplan University was done on the provison that Purdue would not assume any of the liability for Kaplan University’s existing students. However, Indiana’s Education department is suggesting Purdue should assume liability and are threatening to withhold approval without it. Bizarrely, this would then make Purdue in breach of Indiana’s state laws that would prohibit taxpayers (because Purdue is a public university) from having to cover the liabilities. Probably just a hiccup – here

Team Human vs Machine

King’s College London launches business school without MBAs – This will make them the first leading British university to launch a business school without the famous qualification. Stephen Bach, Dean of the school said there was little support among businesses for an MBA programme and in particular the traditional 2-year MBA. Instead the School will focus on specialist Masters such as Innovation and focus on collaborative work and emotional intelligence. MBAs have lost much of their lustre as graduates opt for specialist masters (often with technology or innovation themes) or cheaper options e.g. online or part time MBAs – here

Global Higher Education

In the knowledge economy, the metropolitan university is king

TEF rankings affecting international student choice – According to data from degree listing site Hotcourses, TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) rankings for UK universities are already affecting international student choice. University rankings were previously determined by THE and QS which focused on research outcomes which are not necessarily of relevance to students. Gold rated universities under TEF saw their share of searches rise 13% to 37% especially among students from India, Thailand and Brazil. It’s questionable whether universities will be able to stay in their current form and some may decide to focus on one rating, that won’t occur soon however as TEF at least may well be scrapped with a change of government given Higher Education’s political salience in the UK –  here


MIT researchers identify two types of brainwaves associated with different types of learning – MIT researchers can now distinguish via brainwave frequencies between the type of learning that allows you to follow the rules of chess (explicit learning) and the type that allows you to ride your bike (implicit). Interestingly, researchers found that in explicit learning, right and wrong answers both contributed to learning however in implicit learning only ‘right’ answers did. In short, falling off your bike does not help you ride your bike better. They hope this will help them better understand mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s as well as devise new pedagogies – here

Which is more important to educational success – background or mindset? Mindset, easy. McKinsey analysed PISA data and found that a positive mindset similar to Carole Dweck’s ‘Growth Mindset’ was a better predictor (30%) of success than background e.g. demographic, income (16%). Although they don’t explain what is a predictor of mindset – here

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

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 ITTo find the permanent home of these newsletters 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.

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.

Comments 1

  1. dikstr

    These are fascinating topics well presented – but with one exception: misuse of verb tense and plurality. Some of the contributors need to find a mooc that will augment their English skills.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. All comments go through moderation, so your comment won't display immediately.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Browse our catalog

Discover thousands of free online courses from top universities around the world like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard.

Browse all subjects