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Human Learning #32: Coursera’s MasterTracks, Do MOOCs need to offer a path to a job? Will they lose market share to Specialists?

MOOC platforms limber up for the job market with new credentials but do they need job guarantees to?

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

Coursera have introduced MasterTracks which, seem very similar to MicroMasters. The pitch is the same – modular Masters and like MicroMasters its the logical direction for MOOCs to go. The second theme of this issue is the role of job guarantees as a differentiator in the graduate/entry level job requirement. Udacity scrapped theirs but investor Ryan Craig argues it’s the future. I lean to the latter.

I’ve also written up my magnus opus, just kidding, but here is my article asking whether: MOOC platforms are under threat from Specialist providers

State of the MOOCS

Coursera launch MicroMasters MasterTracks!Prima facie it’s hard to see the difference. Coursera are launching MasterTracks in a pilot format – with 3 available – Digital Marketing, Instructional Design and Construction Project Management. MasterTracks will take 6-7 months at around ~10 hours per week (~¼ Masters). They cost ~$2000 and the pitch is that you are getting part of a Masters at a ‘breakthrough’ price. Like MicroMasters there doesn’t appear to be a guaranteed ramp through to the on-campus Masters rather, they rely on one (or several) partners recognising the MasterTrack as prior learning. The uncertainty may be a product of the pilot phase as Coursera and partners assess the program, candidates etc. That will be critical, if there is no systematic recognition of prior learning then such credentials can’t really be said to be a modular masters. Either way, it’s the logical direction of travel for MOOCs – both in being modular and in targeting the Masters market – here

Udacity’s Job Guarantee is kaput! – Udacity offered a job within 6 months (subject to quite a few caveats) or money back through their Nanodegree Plus offering – both have been canned. A previous report had suggested Udacity were only achieving a 10% job placement rate (Bootcamps are ~90%), making their guarantee unaffordable. Phil Hill, an education consultant, argues that as they near IPO, Udacity may be trying to deprecate any liabilities that would raise investor eyebrows. Most likely is that poor results, no easy way forward and strong sales in spite of the job placement rate meant they felt they didn’t need to pursue it. Logical enough but they could be sitting on a timebomb if consumer expectations change – here

The business of Edtech

Degreed raise $42m to help employees learn – Founded in 2012, Degreed initially acted more as an aggregator/curator of other online learning materials over time they developed their own pathways. Had they stuck to just that, Degreed would not be receiving this capital injection. Degreed have begun to leverage the data to assess company skill gaps, advise on impending skill requirements and develop improved products around course recommendation and pathways to aid workforce learning and development. The obvious risk is whether the education suppliers – which includes MOOC platforms – will leave this value on the table or develop in-house equivalents. Coursera for Business feels like an obvious threat, it has the courses, the user data and the B2B client data to implement something similar, when they combine that with their own credentials companies will have fewer reasons to leave Coursera’s ecosystem – here

WeWork expand their Flatiron coding school right into my backyard (London) – In what will be Flatiron’s first international operation, WeWork, the workspace solutions will offer coding courses in Software Engineering (15 weeks) and Front-end Developer (10 weeks) as a differentiator from other co-working spaces. WeWork will couple this with £1m in scholarships for people from underrepresented backgrounds. Assuming all goes well, WeWork will presumably roll this out across locations with coding demand – for which they likely have excellent data on – here

Ed’s Tech

Racial and gender bias in MOOCsA study by Stanford University of 124 MOOCs (on a single platform) appears to show that educators are more likely to respond to ‘white male’ names than those of women or ethnic minorities. The difference was a 7% chance of responding on average vs 12% for the white male names. While acknowledging the limitations of the study, it seems fairly clear that MOOC platforms as a point of due diligence ought to examine whether social interactions on the platform (comments, peer review etc) do reflect bias, if so to what extent and design interventions accordingly – here

Team Human vs Machine

The battle for Coding: Vertically integrated? Online or offline? – Ryan Craig, an Edtech investor, argues that firms should outsource more hiring. Like car suppliers who outsource to specialists (and thus get a better overall product) he argues hiring could be improved the same way. While companies would still want to hire to their core competency e.g. software engineers at Google – other roles that are not core competency could be outsourced and for small firms for whom hiring can use up valuable time – outsourcing could be a boon. Fortunately, Mr Craig has just such a company in his portfolio (What are the chances?!). Revature, works by offering the training for free (after selective entry) and then makes its money hiring out the Coders – companies can latterly hire them. Mr Craig thinks this is a scalable model.

The contest is fascinating. In a classic sense, it pits low cost, low service, scalable online providers like Udacity or Treehouse against high cost, high service in-person providers like General Assembly. That in itself is a simplification, Udacity has entered into blended and General Assembly have online courses. Even then, you’d have suspected they would segment the ‘graduate looking for a coding job’ market and only compete at the margins. WeWork/Flatiron challenges that – because WeWork makes location scalable – at least in cities where it counts. Is online’s accessibility as compelling when a coding camp is as close as a convenience store (I exaggerate but you take my point)- here

Big Tech uses Edtech to salve conscience – Wired’s story argues that Google and other Tech giants are turning to job training in order to offset unemployment they are creating. Google’s effort in this area – their IT Certificate with Coursera – has 18K people paying $49p/m and Burning Glass notes they may have hit a sweet spot as there are 150K IT jobs. Google aren’t alone, Facebook and Cognizant to name but a few both have education CSR related deals. It’s not that Big Tech is replacing jobs directly, more that they are ‘winners’ in the current economy, doing this Education CSR enables them to keep their heads below the parapets, for now – here

AT&T retrain over half its workforce – AT&T found that around half its 250k workforce lacked the skills to do their current job effectively. Rather than hire new people (turnover costs 21% per employee salary) they opted to retrain and have spent $1bn to date. What’s interesting is how they did it, Edtech taking a front seat. AT&T partnered with universities such as Georgia Tech to put 47 Employees to date their Masters in Computer Science, they have similar programs with Notre Dame as well as MOOC platforms such as Coursera and Udacity focusing on Data Science, Cybersecurity and Agile – here

Online Degrees

Are online degrees the new for profit? That’s part of the question Phil Hill. For-profits like Ashford University in the US and Kaplan University (now part of Purdue Global) have both moved to provide online degrees. Meanwhile MOOCs are going for online degrees, leveraging their userbase as a marketing channel to reduce the cost per acquisition to recruit on to degrees. Entrants ought to be cautious, Eduventure have argued that while the market is projected to growth it’s segmenting – its more competitive which will mean OPMs have to be choosier about who to partner with and many universities are bringing services in-house. Expect mergers and acquisitions as some of the old business models struggle – Here and here


YouTube’s recommendation engine tends to extremity – Techno-Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci explains how YouTube’s seemingly harmless recommendation algorithm leads people towards ever more extreme content. Tufekci first discovered this when setting up a new account to view Donald Trump rallies, she was soon recommended content for White Supremacists and Holocaust denial, looking at Hillary clips showed her 9/11 conspiracy theories. Worse, more inflammatory content appears to be systemically favoured with viewers of Hillary videos still being shown Trump’s more incendiary videos. With over 1bn users YouTube is among the world’s most important media sources and a systemic bias to extremity – albeit unintentional – clearly has profound implications for society in general and democratic societies in particular. Lawmakers have struggled to understand how to regulate platforms’ role in civic society but Trump and Brexit both underline the urgent need to account for the effects and magnitude of such media and mount, if appropriate an effective response – 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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