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Human Learning #31 – Coursera Launches 6 New Degrees and Pluralsight Partners with StackOverflow

The battle for credentials goes sectoral as Pluralsight aim to become the credential of choice in coding

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

Back from an entirely un-refreshing break I bring a slightly longer than usual edition but a critical one. Coursera have announced 6 new online degrees – including one in Healthcare, while 2U have announced their first international offering (from UCL).

Outside of degrees, the battle to be the credential currency of the professional market is heating up. Will academic credit protect universities market share or will the likes of Pluralsight and their deal with Stack Overflow enable them to become the dominant education provider (at least for Tech)? My article here

My article this week looks at how digitization and changing attitudes to online learning are unbundling the online degree market, and the online degree.

Read on!

State of the MOOCS

Coursera open up a new front in online degrees with 6 new degrees – I thought I’d be able to write this section without Coursera or Udacity headlining, then Coursera dropped this. Coursera are launching 6 more degrees (in addition to their current 4) from: ASU, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Michigan, University of London (Goldsmiths) and Imperial College London. The courses will cover Computer and Data Science but in a notable first Healthcare in the form of Imperial’s Master’s of Public Health. This move scratches rumours Coursera were considering deprecating degrees and instead indicates a doubling down. As with 2U, we can see a clear focus on Computer and Data Science, Business and now, Healthcare as well. Like 2U, Coursera’s pitch undoubtedly focuses on their ability to recruit but unlike 2U, which uses more traditional marketing, Coursera will be leveraging their vast MOOC audience. The more effective of these two approaches could well sway which platform university partners opt to run their degrees on in the future – here

edX news

TU Delft “MOOCs are here to stay”  – TU Delft, a Technical University in the Netherlands is now allowing students to take MOOCs for credit. TU Delft is part of the edX enabled alliance of universities that agreed to look into mutual recognition of MOOCs called the Virtual Exchange Program. TU Delft staff have assessed 18 MOOCs at present and assigned credit, a 100 students have participated to date. The move is bold but in keeping with the university’s conviction on the efficacy of MOOCs. The university has 66 MOOCs to date and 1.7m enrolments and also runs blended courses and harnesses data from MOOCs to inform on-campus courses  – here

edX partners with Mercer to deliver workforce training – Mercer, a consulting firm specialising in Health and Wealth, will leverage edX when assessing a company’s workforce readiness and skills. The deal is a twist on the usual model where MOOC platforms a la ‘Coursera for business’ plug directly into a company. Other than use of the platform the likely benefit for edX is new B2B customers of the platform from Mercer’s clientele – here

Incoming Harvard President Lawrence Bacow may look to deepen investment in edX – The incoming President has previously co-authored a paper on the role of MOOCs in expanding access to poorer communities and in a Q&A he suggested that in these times (i.e. of Trump) Harvard needed to deepen its engagement with society (i.e. avoid another Trump) – of which open access to education could be key – here

Udacity news

Udacity double revenue as they gear up for an IPO in the not too distant future – Udacity announced they doubled revenues in 2017 ($70m up from $29m) and have 50K paying users (up from 16K) with 27K graduated so far. Despite the doubling, Udacity are not profitable which reflects both upfront investments in new courses but also a large staff base of 400, with satellite offices in: Brazil, China, Germany, India and Atlanta. Udacity’s success has in part been in vogue courses – their Self-Driving car Nanodegree alone contributed 10K enrolments. Udacity touted the ability of their graduates to find jobs (but unsurprisingly data was not forthcoming on this) and there ought to be questions raised over whether they are too reliant on one-off blockbusters and whether users come back for more but overall it is looking very positive for them – here

Udacity Data and AI advisory board launches, into the rocks – Udacity have created a Data and AI advisory board, the board’s aim was to convene industry leaders into trends and issues in the area (so Udacity can make relevant courses) as well as answer bigger questions. It also hit the rocks, the board was entirely male. Udacity have accepted this and are hastily diversifying the board’s make up – here

Online Degrees

2U and MOOC platforms set for collision course – Amid a better than expected revenue forecast (2U generated $286.8m in 2017 up 39% on 2016) 2U made two major announcements: Their first international graduate program with University College London and UC Berkeley’s agreement to produce professional short courses. The first was always coming, the acquisition of GetSmarter last year was in part to expand 2U’s reach beyond the US and access GetSmarter’s international partners. The short courses is just as important, the acquisition of GetSmarter, who specialised in short courses, was a recognition of the growing value of the short course market, as evidenced by MOOCs. It was also a diversification strategy. 2U’s pitch moves them very close to MOOC platforms (i.e. short courses and degrees) and they’ll likely see an opportunity to upsell some short course users onto degrees and/or sell short courses to graduates of their degrees. 2U will claim their technology is superior and in particular, their small class sizes distinguishes them from MOOCs but since the latter can also restrict size that point is somewhat moot. The key difference is actually operational; MOOCs leverage their vast audiences to recruit, 2U focus heavily on phone-bank marketing and sales – whichever can prove the better recruiter (and thus generate more money) is likely to become the preferred partner for universities – here

  • Greg Peters, formerly Chief Product Officer of Netflix joined 2U’s board – here

Online MBAs slowly gaining parity esteem – Online MBAs offerings are increasing, 91 Business schools offered them in 2012-13 compared with 140 offering them in 2015-16. Long seen as the poorer cousin, the entrance of big brands (such as IE in Spain) into online MBAs has seen their profile rise with employers. However graduates of the two also differ, online MBA students are less likely to be using the MBA to change jobs, rather to get ahead. They are typically older (35 vs 29) and consequently tend to have more work experience. Where employers gripe is they fear the online candidates get insufficient group work practice, business schools are investing in technology platforms to address this such as VLEs designed for group work – here and here

CORRECTION: Last issue I erroneously referred to Udacity’s Self-Driving Car Nanodegree and meant Self-Fying car.

The business of Edtech

Bootcamps are here to stay – Love them or hate them, Bootcamps’ future looks bright in the medium term. Not only are they growing but their applications, business models and focus are diversifying. In terms of content, Strive, a San Francisco based bootcamp has received $3.8m in funding, its pitch is to target ‘middle skills’ such as Sales, for jobs with salaries on $40-60k a year. This implies the bootcamp model is being generalised to redefine training centre approaches rather than just its traditional coding focus. The business models are also changing, Meridian, a Healthcare company near Chicago established a coding bootcamp to fill coder shortages, it helped fund a small 12-week bootcamp for which it guaranteed to hire at least 6 graduates. There have been examples of recruitment agencies establishing bootcamps and then hiring out the graduates, and bootcamps offsetting tuition with outsourced work such as Andela, this is the first time a firm has gone to market directly. In a way it’s a clever recruitment strategy,  there will be fierce competition for a free but limited bootcamp and the graduates will have proven themselves across a key range of hiring metrics: ability to learn quickly, work ethic, time management – all things a company is looking for making it more like an inversion of the typical hire then train approach by using the training to drive the hiring – here and here

Sqore raises $4m in latest funding round – The Swedish student recruitment platform brings universities and potential students together with 1m registered students and 200 partner institutions to date. Digital student recruitment is a deeply competitive market with two big acquisitions last year (QS acquired Hobsons and IDP acquired Hotcourses). This partly reflects digitization of business but also reflects Universities’ needs to find cost-effective means of tapping into the lucrative international student market. This is driven by slowing domestic student supply in developed countries and more competitors entering the field for international students – here

Team Human vs Machine

American Council on Education (ACE) will evaluate major employer programs for ‘credit worthiness’ – The aim is to allow workers a route to a qualification. For example a bank manager may be ⅙ of the way to a Masters in Finance due to work training. Such a mechanism already exists – Recognised Prior Learning (RPL) – and is used by Western Governors Union in the US among others for the same purpose. ACE’s intervention suggests a growing trend and one that they hope will foster more collaboration between Universities and employers such as the IBM/Northwestern deal. For workers the benefit is that they could gain an additional qualification – with the possible pay benefits and for employers the promise of credit and a qualification may incentivise employees to take on more training.

If successful this would be good news for MOOC platforms who would be in a position to capitalise on this employer university partnership by being the platform. That’s already the logic behind Coursera for Business. What credit would do though is bind the training into an academic framework for which only universities can be the supplier. MOOC platforms would hope that employers and employees alike would shun training which couldn’t be converted into credit (and qualifications) handing MOOC platforms and their university partners the market. There is obvious appeal Universities are already known brands, experts in teaching and independent of the company. Internal training isn’t part of a framework (so doesn’t add up to a qualification) and may be valued by your next employer but were a third party to provide it that wouldn’t be the case – here

Ed’s Tech

University of Texas System shutters it’s Institute for Transformational Learning  (UTITL)- Launched at the height of MOOC-mania. The institute’s approximate aim was to develop educational technology that can transform teaching across UTexas and then commercialise it to other universities. $76m has been spent with only $1m in return. Although some reasons for its poor return were specific, more generalisable issues were: UTITL lacked a clear operational goal and rushed projects without taking onboard valid feedback. The result was lack of stakeholder support for it in UTexas and poorer products that could not then be commercialised. As Phil Hill notes, the ideas were not necessarily at fault but UTITL (coupled with too much money) should’ve started slower, had more specific goals and gradually iterated its products to gain stakeholder support and ultimately better products that they could license.  A salutary reminder for Edtech on how the need to go slow and bring stakeholders with you when implementing – here

Global Higher Education

QS Rankings by subject show US continues to lose ground to Asia – The rankings which continue to grow larger, now break down university performance across 48 subject areas. US universities were top in 34, down from 35 last year. By region, Universidad Autonoma de Mexico was the best in Latin America, Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, National University of Singapore in Asia and University of Cape Town in Africa – here


It’s not higher Education at fault it’s the inadequacy of the alternatives – Provoked by Bryan Caplan’s ‘The Case against Higher Education’ (my review) Margaret Spelling President of the University of North Carolina system and a former US Secretary of Education has launched a defense. Spelling’s argument rests on three rebuttals:

  1. People have always said that more Higher Education wasn’t required – many suggested the GI bill which provided University education to veterans after WW2 would be a waste but it turned out to be hugely successful
  2. College isn’t just about content, for less privileged people it creates critical skills such as close attention to hard tasks and collaborating to solve complex problems
  3. Content is not irrelevant as Caplan claims – the top growth subject areas: Business, Biomedical and Health correspond to industry growth – supply is matching demand

These arguments don’t entirely hold water – Caplan is still correct that for many degree subjects, the content is irrelevant – as shown by graduates going into jobs in unrelated areas. Nor does the ‘historic’ argument prove the future will be the same. But Spelling does not suggest University is the only solution and openly supports alternatives such as Apprenticeships which she says should be the focus of reform and debate, not the Higher Education system. Spelling’s point is supported by a recent Deloitte report showing that it is not the degree which adds a wage premium so much as the jobs a degree allows you to do. That may seem facile but their point is that there should be alternatives to the degree that still lead to the jobs graduates have access to. Investing in alternatives would they argue be a more efficient way to enable people unsuited to degrees to still access high wage jobs  – here and 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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