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Human Learning #30 – edX eye up the Bachelor degree, General Assembly ponder if blended is the future

From the people that brought you MicroMasters…MicroBachelors? And lots more

Human Learning (previously known as Education Intelligence) is a newsletter curated by Chris Fellingham. You can signup for it here.

Welcome to issue #30, a shorter edition. This week covers edX’s MicroBachelors (this is a long term play) and the problems facing policymakers in the UK and the US (no not those problems) around provision of skills.

State of the MOOCS

edX are developing a MicroBachelors – The aim, one that Anand Agarwal, CEO of edX has long suggested, is for the degree to become modular, mixing online and on-campus.  edX aim to launch it within a ‘year or two’. Is it logical? Not necessarily. edX already offer Arizona State University’s ‘Freshman Academy’ on their platform whereby anyone could complete a MOOC, pay for the credit option and subject to passing an exam receive a transcript (which didn’t mention it was online). The numbers from that have been ‘pretty small’ according to ASU’s Sean Hobson. MIT have also stated they have no intention at present of getting involved in the MicroBachelors. None of this should be surprising, professional courses are the preferred strategy because the audience has an incentive (career), money (they tend to be employed) and a degree already that means minimal support (read cost).  That’s not to say this is a fool’s errand. edX partners are still in pilot of credit sharing via MOOCs and MicroBachelors may well become the more formal product for that, but expect it to be a tricker needle thread not for those impatient Venture Capitalists at Coursera – here

MIT reviews its MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management – Applicants tended to be older (32) and more international than the on-campus course. MIT say the ultimate test will be tracking the career outcomes of MicroMasters graduates – here

Edraak, the Arabic (Jordan-based) language platform based off Open edX is expanding into K-12 with support from Google.org – here

edX courses will run in 9 Afghan universities as online options here

Udacity open applications for Flying-Car Nanodegree – It will take two terms, each costing $1200 and includes Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun and Raffaello D’Andrea co-founder of Kiva Systems (now Amazon robotics). I could be wrong, but their may well be more students than jobs for this at present, it is nevertheless a masterclass in PR – here

Coursera join up with ISC2 – ISC2 are a Systems Security instructor and Certifier. It’s a good move from Coursera, Cybersecurity is a classic example of explosive demand for skills (ESG Research claimed 45% of organisations claim a shortage) combined with constrained supply from universities, bootcamps have already honed in on this area. It’s a good move by ISC2 because they previously only covered in-person instruction, welcome to C21 ISC2 – here

Chinese students learning online surpasses 100m – Growing at an annual rate of ~20% (although this is decelerating) it underscores the appetite in the Chinese market for online learning. As with much online education, students are predominantly drawn from the wealthier echelons such as wealthy coastal cities and ⅕ from Beijing – here

General Assembly ponder their next move – General Assembly, valued at $425m and with 22 campuses globally, is considering its financing options including a sale. The company has already taken $120m in Venture Capital but the musing of CEO Jake Schwartz may be partly built on the Wework/2U deal. That deal saw the workplace and bootcamp owner pair with online options and General Assembly may be looking to online or blended to lower delivery costs and expand. Whichever way they decide it’ll be perceived a statement on where they see the future of professional training (online, blended etc) – here

Team Human vs Machine

Tech jobs requiring degrees are falling – According to a survey by ZipRecruiter, a job search site, the number of tech jobs requiring degrees fell from 46% to 43%. ZipRecruiter argue this is being driven by SMEs who can’t compete with the big tech giants. That chimes somewhat with the Coursera/Google IT Certificate which is aimed at ‘New Collar’ work (tech job that doesn’t require a degree). The question is whether this pans out into a sustained preference for non-degreed and hiring structures or once the supply catches up firms will raise criteria again – here

Speaking of degrees, the UK has too many – The Education Select Committee (MPs who hold the government’s education policy to account). Robert Halfon, Chair of the Committee noted ⅕-⅓ of UK graduates are taking non-graduate jobs and that such students may be exiting university with as much as £50k in debt. It’s a critical time for Higher Education policy in the liberal economies of the UK and US, both of whom appear to be paying the price for neglecting highly skilled, non-degreed labour.

In a further assault on the degree, the Economist notes that while the graduate premium – essentially the wage boost you get from a degree still holds (albeit down from 15% 1980-2000) but that a closer look shows it does not hold equally. While it’s common knowledge that students of say Finance are likely to earn more than students are Drama, the Economist’s analysis shows that for those students with grades that barely enable them to qualify for university – there is virtually no graduate premium regardless of what they study. These are uncomfortable times for politicians, intervention may be desirable but with automation and rapid skill turnover it’s not necessarily obvious what the target is. Nominally apprenticeships ought to be a way round that, since by definition it’s learning on a job but employers dislike the tax arguing those they train may just leave for a competitor. That can be solved – with further regulation –  an anathema for many politicians in the current political climate –   here and here

The business of Edtech

ACT invests $7.5m in SmartSparrow – ACT are the non-profit provider of High School exams in the US, their investment in SmartSparrow an Australian adaptive learning platform is with a view to expanding beyond exams into K-12 and professional learning. SmartSparrow already have experience working in the Australian and New Zealand banking sector. SmartSparrow appear to be a leader within the adaptive learning space, having been used by over 10K faculty and having received $23.5m in Venture Capital prior to this investment – here

World Economic Forum partners make online training available on Edcast – WEF partners; Accenture, Cisco, CA Technologies, HPE, PwC… you get the idea will make their online training available to help upskill the workforce. It’s a nice idea but without marketing and usable pedagogy (company training can leave much to be desired), it becomes a philosophical question of the ‘if a tree falls in the forest’ type – I’ll await enrolment numbers – here

Online Degrees

Laureate double down on the Americas –  Laureate, (which owns universities globally) are selling assets outside of target territories such as their Moroccan universities and are focusing on Spain, Portugal and the Americas. The strategy is partly driven by more accommodating regulation, usually code for less regulation  – here

Global Higher Education

British council predicts a global slowdown in international student mobility – Over the next 10 years rising domestic offerings will see more students opt to study at home (or in regional powerhouses) rather than necessarily going to traditional outbound locations such as the UK and the US. China and India will power outbound growth with a combined 60% by 2027. Transnational education (where universities set up shop in the target country) may be a viable alternative – The heady days international students as ways to offset revenue are over for those outside of the top – here

89% of universities out of 400 polled said student recruitment was the main goal of their web strategy  – here


Do we need new rules for a platform society? – In a post in the New Statesman, Professor Victoria Nash, Deputy Director of the Oxford Internet Institute argues emphatically that we do. Platforms used to be defined narrowly as something that could be programmed ‘on or for’, in reality platforms have moved centre stage in our economies governing key aspects of the public realm such as social (Facebook and Twitter), market (Amazon, Uber), information (Google) and perhaps increasingly learning (MOOC platforms). This is a huge amount of power that stretches beyond the traditional remit of companies. Nash argues that the current approach to regulating such companies focuses too much on Competition law – reflecting current debates over whether GAAF (Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook) need to be broken up. Nash argues this misses the point, the problem with these platforms is not that they are infringing on consumer rights which Competition law focuses on e.g. stifling innovation, price fixing, rather they are if not infringing, definitely influencing broader rights – such as those in labour law and civil society. Nash doesn’t claim to have the answers but suggests we need to go back to first principles and regulate platforms as they are – critical aspects of economics and society – here

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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.

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