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Education Intelligence #20 – Chris Fellingham’s Roundup on What’s Happening

Udacity move into the bootcamp space, calls to regulate Edtech increase and English language trainers respond to Duolingo

Hello Class Central readers

I’m Chris Fellingham, I work for FutureLearn and as a way to help people understand the world of Edtech (not least myself) I began writing updates on some of the trends and stories in the Edtech world – with a focus on MOOCs.

These reports are largely an annotated summary of the news in a fortnight and reflect my own, sometimes blunt views on what’s happening, what’s good, what’s exciting and what sucks.

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If you would like to request a webinarone to one call or research please contact me at: [email protected]

As ever if you enjoy it SHARE ITFor the permanent home of these newsletter and articles GO HEREIf you have any thoughts please write back to me

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

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State of the MOOCS

Udacity add their latest bootcamp ‘Udacity Connect’ in Bay Area — It will be Udacity’s second Connect classroom, after Reno-Tahoe. Udacity say that students who opt for blended learning complete 30% faster than those who only work online. Connect typically charges $100 per month on top of the Nanodegree subscription, in return for 5 hours of classroom time per week.

Connect’s blended option not only creates a way to deeper monetisation per user and raise completion rates, it also fends off competition from bootcamps. Although the latter have been shuttering, developer labour markets such as in the Bay Area still make the economics of Bootcamps compelling. Connect gives Udacity a physical presence to gain market share among learners reluctant to have an all online experience. Udacity can leverage their online capabilities to keep their staff and facility costs below those of their bootcamp competitors — here


  • Microsoft adds two new tracks to its Microsoft Professional Program (MPP): Big Data and Front End Web Development (they already have Data Science). They are useful courses to have but with Micromasters, XSeries, edX have a confusing array of qualifications — here
  • Modern States, a confusingly named non-profit in the US — aims to make college cheaper through online courses (that does sound familiar…). They aim to run over 40 courses whose credit is recognised by 2,900 colleges across the US using the Open edX platform — here

How do educators feel about Coursera’s subscription? (n=2) — Two veteran educators (one even has a Coursera tattoo) weigh in on a Quora thread. In short they are somewhat disgruntled. Noting Coursera failed to adequately consult and that they fear all content will eventually be behind a paywall. As Chuck Severance (the one with a tatoo) notes, it is an issue of incentives; Educators want to maximise audience and engagement, Coursera need to become financially sustainable — here


Cambridge English Language Assessment to launch low cost online English language test — Cambridge English will partner with language app Babbel to deliver a low cost English language test in a bundle for €59 or standalone for €39. Cambridge English traditionally focus on intermediate learners looking to work or study and took qualifications such as the IELTS. This move is likely a defensive manoeuvre after Duolingo launched their own English language test focused on the beginner to intermediate market. In the short/medium term, there doesn’t appear to be a direct digital threat to the intermediate to advanced English of IELTs, Duolingo doesn’t support learners further. However, Cambridge English likely recognise the need to both provide an On the go option and more importantly to ensure they retain market share in the beginner market to protect their core offering — here

Sony Global Education and IBM to release blockchain-based student records platform — The aim is to provide a verifiable and secure, institution agnostic way to record student achievement. The system will be developed using IBM’s blockchain. Blockchain for student records has been rumoured for a while, however the issue seems to be less security than the actual need at present for a digital record itself. It’s much talked about in Edtech but the shift hasn’t yet occurred employer side — but with more recruitment going digital (both by MOOC providers, LinkedIn and other startups) we may be on the cusp of that — here

Pluralsight expands VR offering — Pluralsight who aim to ‘enable technology leaders and teams to keep up with the pace of technological change’ have bolstered their VR training options. Pluralsight currently offer VR training with the Unity game engine but are expanding for further use of C#, Maya as well as Autodesk’s Fusion 360 (used by manufacturers) — here

Bootcamp news

  • New York Code and Design Academy (NYCDA) will now offer 4-year 8% income share as an alternative to an upfront fee of $15K tuition (recently put up from $10K). The income-share will only be activated if the graduate earns more than $40K and the graduate only pays back the tuition cost. NYCDA allow variation; Salt Lake City and Philadelphia will implement the new scheme but New York and Washington retain the old fees ($10K) with no income-share option. The variation is crucial as the labour markets for developers are regional, thus pricing should reflect that — here
  • Bootcamps for low-income earners — One of Bootcamps’ central boasts is their high job placement rate often >90%, however the argument is that they are highly selective. A new bootcamp aims to exclusively recruit women and nonbinary people on low-incomes. It’ll fund tuition and living expenses via business sponsorship who in turn will gain/provide internships, mentorships and recruitment — here

Edtech needs more transparency — The University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center (sic) has called for greater transparency and regulation of the data collected by Edtech companies and the algorithms that are increasingly being used in adaptive and behavioural learning to determine student progress. They argue there should be third party verification that protects against discrimination and flaws that could have significant impact on a student’s development — here

Team Human vs Machine

Increasing demand among developers for a well-rounded skillset — GoDaddy, an internet domain name registering company, has surveyed 1500 developers across USA, UK, Germany, India, Brazil and Mexico to find out how business is doing. The short answer is very well, with 80% of users seeing a 25% increase in demand for their services. More interesting was that demand was increasingly coming from smaller businesses. This change in client created a concomitant demand for a more well rounded skillset such as project management and business skills. Smaller businesses often lack resources to have in-house teams and so contract out to consultants who need to be able to understand the business problem to deliver the solution. Developers were acquiring these skills via online training (45%), conferences (42%) and certificated programs (38%) — here

AI the new ‘electricity’ — Andrew Ng, co-founder of Coursera and former Professor of Machine Learning argues that every company will need people with ‘Deep AI’ skills and notes that while universities are changing curriculums it’s too slow and they lack scale. This sounds very similar to Sebastian Thrun’s argument for self-driving cars and Andrew Ng has the same solution with a Specialization on Coursera. Ng argues there is in fact no shortage of jobs, only a mismatch of skills — a common trope in Silicon Valley. Andrew Ng is also raising $150m for a AI startup fund — here and here

Automation — everywhere but in the statistics — Automation is the leitmotif of this section with two juxtaposing views presented this week. The first was by Venture Capitalist Kai-Fu Lee (based in China). In a deeply provocative article, Lee argues that only a handful of companies in a handful of countries will develop the the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons of the AI world. This will lead to enormous wealth inequality within and between countries. For the fortunate few countries (he’s clearly thinking of the US and China), they can redistribute the wealth, probably with a Universal Basic Income. For the rest, they will essentially become vassal states, using access to their citizens as bargaining chips for development funds to keep them afloat. No one can accuse Mr Lee of pulling his punches, alas his timing sets him up rather neatly as the straw man of the week.

James Surowiecki, a former New Yorker correspondent, writes an altogether more thoughtful piece. Surowiecki argues that automation has yet to seriously alter the labour market and it is Chinese manufacturing not automation that is behind the decline in blue collar jobs. Surowiecki points out that were automation taking place we would expect to see higher productivity, higher unemployment and in particular higher employment churn as ousted workers jumped ship. In fact all of these are at historic lows (churn is the lowest since the 1950s). Indeed US companies are still investing less in AI technologies than Americans spend on pets. Furthermore, even the most bullish on automation such as McAfee an economist at MIT note the trend is more augmentation than substitution. Surowiecki doesn’t dispute that automation will have an impact but its proliferation will be slower and more nuanced. He notes the paradox of developed countries’ fears — the fear of slow economic growth and high social security costs and the fear of robots taking our jobs. But these he argues are mutually exclusive, were the robots to come, we’d see soaring economic growth that could pay off social security, if they don’t we’d have our jobs — here and here

OPM (Online Programme Management)

Purdue announce 5 year workforce training deal with Infosys — Purdue University made waves with its acquisition of KaplanU and it may have made an equally trend setting move with its Infosys deal. Infosys, an Indian-based IT giant traditionally brought in cheap skilled labour from India via the H1-B visa. Due at least in part to political risk over the continuation of that visa, and coupled with tax incentives, they have chosen to make a new HQ in Indianapolis and focus on hiring up to 10K US workers over the next few years. Purdue will be responsible for providing training facilities, materials and instructors to upskill the new workers and will also conduct related research on AI, Autonomous Vehicles and Analytics.

The big question is whether Purdue’s foray marks a wider shift of public universities entering workforce workforce training. Universities already use this as a lucrative side business but Purdue’s deal sets it up to be a core part of their operation. It’s the same bet Coursera are making at a B2B and B2C level — namely that there is significant and growing demand for tertiary education at a workforce level — so if nothing else Purdue are validating what MOOC providers have found by trial and error — here

2U announce new partnership with University of Dayton Ohio School of Education and Health — New programs include: Msc in Educational Leadership, Doctor of Education Leadership and Msc in Applied Behaviour Analysis — here

Report by The Century Foundation questions the role of OPMs in public education — The Century Foundation (TCF) , a non profit progressive think tank in the US, has examined over 100 deals between public universities and OPMs to examine the relationships. While the findings aren’t revelatory, they are among the most rigorous to date.

TCF argue the problem with OPMs is when they become providers of the content and/or teaching. Education is a difficult product to evaluate (its hard to know in advance the quality of content, teaching and the expected payoff) as shorthand for this decision people trust that as public universities they are regulated and as non-profits they will not be unduly cutting corners. TCF sees two main risks; OPMs as for profit organisations may have incentives to cut corners and deliver to a lower standard and secondly that there is a lack of transparency with universities over when and where they are subcontracting out a course to an OPM, making it harder for the would-be learner to make an informed decision — here

Global Higher Education

International students will follow the economic centre of gravity to the East — A new report by PwC argues that by 2050, India and China will account for a larger share of global GDP than the G7 combined. This they argue, will incentivise more people to study in Asia in order to better prepare for a more Asian global economy and likely to get jobs in much the same way many come to the US, UK and Australia now. for China already takes 443K international students per year and Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan and South Korea are also looking to take advantage of this shift. India is the laggard, despite raising domestic enrolment from 18% in 2010 to 27% in 2015, it only gained a paltry 30K international students in 2015 — here and here


‘Behaviourism’ through the backdoor — Audrey Watters has an excellent article looking at the underlying philosophy that informs classroom apps such as Class Dojo (reportedly found in 90% of US K-8 schools) and Hero K-12 (2.8m pupils). Class Dojo for example creates a dashboard that parents and teachers alike can use to monitor pupil progress. Such apps also use the monitoring data to create behavioural ‘nudges’ to encourage ‘positive’ behaviour and dissuade negative behaviour. Watters notes this is a rehash of industrialism’s ‘Taylorism’ but in the clothes of Harvard Psychologist B.F Skinner. Watters’ concern is that there are insufficient privacy safeguards on the data (imagine your school behaviour collected and stored on a cloud) and that the underlying philosophy is more about treating children as passive lab rats than of raising them to be critically engaged citizens. Then again if behavioural nudges are the future, this is excellent preparation — here

Constructive (literally) Civil Disobedience as a pedagogy? — A new project at MIT ‘How MIT Learns’ surveyed graduates for their most meaningful learning experience. Rather than stories of brilliant lectures and engaging classroom seminars (although they were included) graduates recalled acts of rebellion. The most famous being putting a fire truck on top of MIT’s 150 ft dome. The operation required a gang of cross-disciplinary students to work for months to understand how to pull of their prank, they had to reconstruct the truck on top of the dome, ensure it was secure (it was — so much so that MIT campus officers let it stay for a few days) while mastering civil and automotive engineering. Schmidt, the Director of Learning at MIT suggests the demonstration of technical excellence, audacity and a bit of rebellion might well be skills that could enable MIT students to thrive in the 21st century — here


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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