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Human Learning #29: Is the MOOC market cooling? What are WeWork after in Education?

The big story of this issue is the 2U/WeWork deal that triangulates between WeWork’s Flatiron coding bootcamp, WeWork’s workspaces and 2U’s focus on the short course market.

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

Welcome to issue #29 the big story of this issue is the 2U/WeWork deal that triangulates between WeWork’s Flatiron coding bootcamp, WeWork’s workspaces and 2U’s focus on the short course market.

My article on the threat WeWork poses to Education providers

My other article on whether the future of job hires lies with LinkedIn or digital credentials

State of the MOOCS

Class-central publishes final 2017 retrospectives here and here

  • Udacity–  has 53K enrolled students in its Nanodegrees up four-fold from last year. Udacity’s Self-driving car Nanodegree had 10K students of whom 60 had ‘already’ found jobs. That ‘already’ is disingenuous to say the least, a 0.6% placement rate. The question is whether that matters, learners appear not to be bothered by the low job placement rates making a mockery of Edtech investor Ryan Craig’s contention that MOOC platforms will struggle with premium enrolment if they can’t guarantee jobs. Will there eventually be a feedback loop? The fact Udacity deprecated their job placement/guarantee schemes in 2017 suggests otherwise
  • The MOOC market – MOOC enrolments overall are at 78m (growth has slowed to 20m from 23m in 2016), 800+ universities are involved providing 9.4K MOOCs
    • Has learner growth really slowed?  Among the big beasts, evidently yes, and Shah’s contention that paywalls are driving this seems reasonable although it could also be due to some exhaustion of the most accessible market (e.g. the young, affluent professionals actively seeking learning). Overall? – that seems more questionable, even if paywalls have been a factor that makes it more likely learners have gone elsewhere e.g. to platforms not listed and therefore not measured on Class-central – although again maybe the accessible market is fatiguing

Coursera and Google launch IT certificate – Mentioned previously, the certificate has now launched. Google came up with the idea after struggling to fill IT roles themselves. The certificate consists of 6 courses and takes 8-12 months. On completion, participants will be ‘connected to businesses e.g. Walmart and Bank of America. That said, its pricing is competitive with other MOOC products at $49/m and Google will offer 10K scholarships. Creating an industry recognised credentials is of course the Holy Grail for MOOC platforms et al (think Nanodegrees, MicroMasters etc), this is a swing at the IT industry, if it doesn’t work it’s just a Google sponsored Specialization – here

Udacity announce new self-driving car course with Baidu – Baidu, looking to promote their self-driving car platform Apollo 2.0, will offer a course (or Nanodegree?) on Udacity with Microsoft Cloud providing the cloud storage required for the number crunching. This is exactly Udacity’s strength, corporate providers begets corporate pockets- for whom course creation is a cheap form of market access and this will help deepen their offering in this highly in vogue space – here

Linkedin Learning is increasing its LMS integration  – The latest deal is with Infor but the strategy is essentially to have LinkedIn Learning bundled into LMS to increase market share. Not that LinkedIn haven’t got cash to burn but this strategy seems uninspired. That partly reflects my scepticism of LMS as a market to bet on (at least the ones that require lots of integration) but also that integrating the two, offers any kind of moat, the fact my company LMS has learning  would not deter me from logging into a MOOC platform- here

Ed’s Tech

Portfolium announce deal with Purdue University  – The eportfolio provider already has 4m users and 230 partners and will give all 40K Purdue students portfolios. The portfolios are to support Purdue’s Leadership and Professional Development Initiative – an extra curricular track to help students develop soft skills including collaboration and leadership to prepare them for working life. The aim is for them to demonstrate their competencies which they showcase in the portfolios.

Portfolios sit alongside certificates as possible solutions the problem of hiring – students can show and talk through work. Digital and specifically coding has taken the portfolio from the preserve of creative industries to that of any digital worker. It remains to be seen however whether portfolios are successful. In theory they provide better information to employers on what a candidate can do – as they can talk through something they’ve created rather than an assessment passed. However, this is time consuming and so only relevant at an interview stage and not as a way to filter candidates at the start of the hiring funnel. For the latter problem, portfolios would need a scalable system such as a peer review function or a reputational score such as on Stack Overflow that could help surface stronger candidates reliably. That would require a dominant portfolio provider,  an incentive to review other people’s portfolios and a means with which to trust the reviews. Not impossible but not easy  – here

Team Human vs Machine

Preparing graduates for C21 with 3 literacies – Joseph Aoun President of Northeastern university has published a new book “Robot-proof: Higher Education in the Age of AI”. Aoun is unsparing in his contention that AI will automate jobs and soon but he argues universities can prepare graduates for the future with 3 literacies: Digital, Data and Human or as he calls it ‘Humanics’. The first is learning to use digital technologies, the second to gain fluency with data and ‘think like machines’ in order to work with them and the third is to work with those squishy humans – think teamwork, collaboration, emotional intelligence. It’s a potentially useful framework although ‘Humanics’ sounds like something robots would learn to build and repair dysfunctional humans. Aoun also argues universities should adopt ‘experiential learning’ i.e. mixing work and study to implement theory and universities should move into the ‘lifelong learning’ market or cede it to the private sector  – here

Do stackable credentials work? Maybe a bit. A new paper by Columbia University argues that there is weakly positive evidence of a wage premium for people with stackable credentials but not much more. They argue for more research (especially among types of stackable e.g. several independent credentials or a series) – in order to help people assess whether this is something they should pursue – here

Germany seeing decline in apprenticeships – As the Anglo-Saxon economies; USA and UK look to apprenticeships , Germany, the model of this is starting to struggle with its own. German employers are starting to struggle to fill apprenticeship places as young Germans increasingly opt for degrees. They are acting rationally. Graduates have higher starting salaries and better lifetime earning prospects. Furthermore, graduate jobs tend to be located in cities, where young people increasingly prefer to live, the mittelstand (SMEs that make up apprentices) tend to be located in less fashionable, smaller towns.  It’s an added dimension of complexity and suggests that even in a country with a long, well-regarded system, getting millennials into them is no mean feat- here

The business of Edtech

Area9 gains $30m in funding – The Danish Adaptive Learning platform which focuses on medical training for students. Adaptive learning is on the ‘slope of enlightenment’ it’s getting little attention but making real, incremental gains across subjects – here

Online Degrees

The steady growth of online learning in USHE (2012-2016) – Phil Hill at e-literate looks at the latest stats on online learning, defined as students taking at least one module online. Overall the sector is seeing slow but steady growth: Arizona State University has grown 36K to 67K, University of Maryland 42K to 50K while University of Phoenix underwent precipitous collapse 257K to 138K. In short, incremental provision is seeing incremental adoption as students take advantage of the flexibility and/or cost savings of online – here


Justin Reich challenges the central Ethos of Edtech – access = democratisation – In a fascinating interview presaging a new report, Justin Reich Professor of Comparative Media studies at MIT takes aim at three myths in Edtech:

  1. ‘Technology disrupts a system’ – In fact he argues culture domesticates technology. New technologies are more likely to support existing teaching practices than change them. Google Classrooms admitted as much – their expansion they say did not transform classroom teaching but was adopted as it let teachers do the same things faster
  2. ‘Open equals equitable’ – Providing open access technology – such as Wikipedia and MOOCs largely helps the affluent. This is because affluent people are more likely to have the financial, social and technological capital to take advantage of free innovations. Access thus, can make things even less equitable as it essentially just gives the more affluent more tools to get ahead
  3. ‘Technology cannot close the digital divide alone’ – Technology use needs to be tackled as a social and cultural problem, two families can have broadband but they will use it very differently.

Reich isn’t suggesting ‘Edtech is bad’ simply that without institutions to provide the social and cultural change that enables disadvantaged groups to use technology – such as MOOCs – Edtech won’t have the effect it seeks.  Reich calls for Edtech to have more employees with social and cultural expertise relevant to their learners and that is s start. More effective still is for MOOCs (etc) to be the technology part of a holistic solution such as with schools, universities and charities – organisations that provide the social and cultural context for students to gain from the new forms of technology being made available. This isn’t what VC’s will necessarily want to hear – they want to hear “Uber of this, Netflix of that” but the report ought to serve as a salutary reminder of the limits of silicon valley hyperbole in complex environments such as education – here

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

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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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