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Human Learning #33 — Rise of the Edtech titans heralded by IPOs, Bootcamps prepare to leap into the mainstream

Edtech IPOs are coming as Edtech joins the big guns in Silicon Valley

Human Learning is a newsletter written by Chris Fellingham. You can signup for it here and find other Edtech articles by Chris Fellingham on his medium page

Issue #33 has arrived in time for a soggy British spring (which is to say, a British spring). Much like the bedraggled daffodils of West Hampstead, the contours of the year bravely emerging from their muddy beds.

Two are brought to light in this issue. The first is the start of Edtech IPOs, big ones. Pluralsight (at a unicorn valuation) will be the first but others are soon to follow as Edtech enters the big league of tech companies. The second brought to life in David Yang’s article, is on the transformation of professional education through bootcamps where they are rethinking the value proposition in a move that has ramifications across the Higher Ed sector.

State of the MOOCS

Pluralsight gears up for an IPO — The first of the Edtech titans is emerging — The company was valued at $1bn in 2016. Key stats: 6K videos from 1,300 authors, 1m in B2C learners and 9.5K in B2B — 800 employees. EdSurge note it’ll be only the US’s second Edtech IPO since Instructure in 2015 but there are some big hitters in the pipeline. Udacity were valued at $1bn (2015), Coursera at $800m (2017) and Duolingo $700 (2018) — all aiming for IPOs. This has been a long time coming. It’ll be a major shift as Edtech companies and their business models come under far more scrutiny both for the IPOs and as publicly traded companies afterwards, their data, their business models and their ethics will be challenged and the resulting debates will ask new questions around how education can and should be delivered. The price of playing in the big league of tech — here

Udacity: more sexy Nanodegrees — At their Intersect conference, Udacity reinforced their self-styled position as the cutting edge tech platform. School of AI has been launched which was 3 new Nanodegrees in AI (NLP, Deep Reinforcement Learning and Computer Vision) along with a revamp of their original . Udacity also announced a KUKA Robotics lab, where students could run simulations on real world robots and a Wechat Nanodegree, which has everything to do with expansion in China. Any day now Udacity will announce they’ve applied AI to their own business model and will achieve singularity profits — here

The business of Edtech

What will it take for Bootcamps to hit the mainstream? — David Yang, Co founder of Fullstack academy argues that in order to get past the early adopters, bootcamps need to transition to the ‘whole product’ — what he means is building out every aspect of their current offering in order to appeal to more users. Yang thinks key areas are: Stackable credentials such as bootcamps being recognised for credit (something which may be possible as universities, the latest being Columbia University), more creative financing options such as deferred tuition or Income-Shared Agreements, leveraging alumni networks, job placements and providing housing options.

The coding bootcamp (but also its variants) capture three critical trends of the C21 — digitisation (hence coding), need for upskilling (hence bootcamp) and urbanisation. In putting themselves at the nexus of these trends — not least WeWork — they are rewriting the links between them. The’ve nominally stripped what would’ve been a 3 year degree into 3 months, provided go-to links in the job market, innovated on tuition fees with ISAs and experimented with being their own work agencies. To be sure there are serious questions around their cost, efficacy and regulation but as a business model they are among Edtech’s most radical innovators — here

Edtech begins digitisation the University business model — PIE News have run a quick summary of how tech companies are augmenting university business processes, which has some echoes of the unbundling of online degrees. Most entrants are targeting recruitment, logical given that’s where the money is, it’s also an area that is labour heavy with agents a major part.

Edtech upstarts include: InitialView (VR Campus experience), Duolingo’s English Test (challenging IELTs and already supported by Yale and Notre Dame), Sqore (increasing recruitment conversion via assessment and algorithms) and Enroly (recruitment via peer referral). None are transformative yet and only help differentiate universities in the competitive recruitment market by augmenting existing recruitment procedures. Yet recent funding rounds such as Sqore’s and INCTAS (a UK based AI driven recruitment platform that aims to raise £40m this year) suggest VC’s think the transformation is already beginning — here

Team Human vs Machine

Education’s Third revolution — Jeff Selingo, editor at large for Chronicle of Higher Education, argues that we are in the third revolution of education. The first was the expansion of Secondary education, the second Universities and the third he argues will be lifelong learning. Selingo’s focus is on the US but the logic applies to any developed economy. Technology is evolving rapidly across multiple fronts, that means workers need to adjust often but in smaller chunks such as (analytics in marketing, agile training, computational thinking). The bitty suggests that smaller, more modular units of learning ought to be the currency as people shun the time and cost of Masters (see MBA slide below), universities need to adapt to this market or cede the ground — here

OECD finds AI automation overstated — A University of Oxford report made headlines when it suggested in 2013 that 35–47% jobs in the UK and US would be automated by 2030. OECD have revised this down based on more granular data, to ~12% jobs to be automated in both countries. That’s good news for policymakers but the bad news is entry level jobs — i.e. those taken by young people are the most likely to be automated. Policymakers will need to rethink how young people enter the labour market — more training to bypass entry jobs, robot taxes? — here

MBA continues to slide — The ever-delicious CarringtonCrisp (a consultancy not a crisp company) released their annual survey of prospective MBA students. For the first time ever, more surveyed would prefer a 1 year Business Masters (e.g. Msc in Business, Finance, Analytics) than the 2-year MBA. Prospective students argue a 1-year Msc is half the price and has similar value in employers eyes. That’s half right, employers do like them but in part because said graduates command a lower starting salary than MBA graduates — here

Online Degrees

US Online Degree Survey is out — CHLOE, the annual survey of Chief Online Officers (COO) who run online programs at US colleges is out for 2017, giving the trends in the online degree market:

  • COO Shopping list: Anti-plagiarism software, Assessment integrity, Video conferencing and lecture capture
  • COO Wishlist: Adaptive Learning, Learning Analytics and Student Support Dashboard
  • They also found a negative correlation between a personalised learning experience and social interactions among online students (although this was more to do with prioritisation — some achieved both)

Online learning is at an all-time high with 13% of undergrads and 28% grads in the US in fully online programs. However, program production is outpacing enrolment numbers suggesting a market contraction if they can’t internationalise — Report here

Ed’s Tech

Cornell Researchers use AI to help students learn maths — Much of a teacher’s marking involves looking to understand how a mistake occurred (as much as checking if it’s right or wrong). By training AI on certain maths problems researchers can get it to recreate the steps that lead to a problem. They hope it can be used to save teachers time on identifying problems and spend more time aiding students to understand their mistakes — here


UK as an Education laboratory — The UK schooling system has become ‘the world’s largest education laboratory’ according to The Economist. It started under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government whereby they removed schools from Local Authority controls, that enabled schools to experiment but how to ensure the most beneficial experiments were conducted? The UK Government created the Education Endowment Fund which now runs 10% of all Randomised Control Trials in Education globally. Trials from the EEF have found, among other things, that breakfast clubs boost attainment (and allocated £26m to support them) but holding students back a year did not — it is better to invest in extra tuition to help them catch up. EEF is now working to spread its ideas among schools to ensure good ideas are implemented — here

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Agree, Disagree, have something to add? Following on a recent surge of comments, I’d like to invite everyone to do so and where possible I’ll feed discussions into the following edition.

As ever if you enjoy it SHARE IT! For the permanent home of these newsletter and articles GO HERE. If you have any thoughts please write back to me.

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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