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Human Learning #25: WeWork enter Coding Bootcamp market and Learning Paths mark a milestone for MOOCs

All change at the top for Coursera!

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

Coursera’s C-suite have resigned, along with 13% of the staff, as Maggioncalda refashions the company. WeWork acquired Flatiron, the coding bootcamp. WeWork have the real estate and the customers to make a strong play in the coding bootcamp market; like Amazon, they are creative in thinking of ways to leverage their strengths to get into new businesses.

There is also my post on the importance of Learning Paths for MOOC platforms.

State of the MOOCS

Learning Paths: Less Netflix, more Google: my post on Coursera’s Learning Paths (and now part of Tom Willerer’s legacy to the platform).

Coursera upends its leadership as Maggioncalda stamps his authority: Coursera’s leadership has undergone a dramatic overhaul. Chief Operations Officer Lila Ibrahim, Chief Marketing Officer Kurt Apen, Chief Financial Officer John Madigan, General Counsel David Liu, and Chief Product Officer Tom Willerer have all departed, along with 40 other staff (about 13% of overall headcount). Coursera says these are not layoffs as they will fill the positions. For now Coursera hasn’t said it’s changing course, but Maggioncalda evidently felt the leadership weren’t suited to his goals, which implies otherwise. Read more here.

Coursera’s iMBA stats are in: Free is popular (1.2 million), certificates are popular (49,000), the degree is reasonably popular (800), but credit is not popular (150). MOOCs for credit are still somewhat sporadic, but this suggests that while online can do the first three, the stackable credential’s market value proposition isn’t clear. This may be because for those not studying for a degree, credits make little sense; there isn’t a clear path for turning credits into a degree, so why pay for it? Read more here.

Philippines government works with Coursera to create a workforce program aimed at creating a knowledge economy. It’ll be blended with a focus on cyber security, data science, and AI: read more here.

EdX appoint Adam Medros as COO: Adam Medros, formerly Senior VP of Global Product at TripAdvisor, will take the reins. EdX has seemed adrift strategically, with a slightly confusing array of premium products. Medros comes with a strong strategic and delivery-focused reputation, and has likely been brought in precisely to rectify this situation. Read more here.

Ed’s Tech

Unizin partners with Open edX: Unizin, a nonprofit consortium of 25 universities including state universities in Michigan and Florida, will expand ed tech standards and open access to data for users of Open edX. Open edX is the quiet workhorse of the MOOC world, providing an open source platform for universities and countries looking to establish their own MOOC presence at a low cost. EdX monetize it by offering consulting services. In theory the platform has network effects: more users leads to more platform development (to which Unizin will augment) and a larger inter-operable ecosystem. In practice it’s been steady rather than exponential growth, and this may well be because it only appeals to a niche of universities willing to take on more of the technical support and development themselves. If universities continue to develop digital expertise, that barrier may diminish. But equally they may conclude it’s not a core competency they need to have. Read more here.

“Wild West” of certificates needs to be tamed: Certificates are much beloved by US politicians, who see them as a low-cost form of re-skilling. The market has grown 56% in the ten years up to 2014, but a new report by Burning Glass found that less than 1% of jobs in the last twelve months require them. At the same time, a report from the Georgetown Center on Work and Study found those with certificates were paid 20% more than those with just high school diplomas. The problem lies in the wildly varying standards that make it hard for employers to judge their value. For those providing certificates — not least MOOCs and other ed tech platforms — there is a strong incentive to harmonize standards to enable employers and employees to better judge the value. Read more here.

Educause survey finds students want more tech in the classroom: The survey of 13,500 students and faculty across 7 countries found students expected more technology, including blended learning. Faculty, meanwhile, were skeptical, with over half believing blended learning delivered negligible or worse outcomes. This pits two forces — students as consumers in a market vs. institutional expertise — against each other. Read more here.

The business of Ed Tech

WeWork acquires Flatiron coding bootcamp: WeWork, the working space company (recently valued at $20 billion), has acquired the coding bootcamp Flatiron (recently fined $375,000) for an undisclosed amount. WeWork are looking to create a vision of “space, design, technology, and community.” That slightly vague vision has also seen them strike a deal with AirBnB to provide “bed and desk” options. WeWork will expand Flatiron services to their offices, and will quite likely expand beyond just coding. It’s not hard to imagine WeWork creating onsite B2B services for tech startups to upskill staff and provide an onsite funnel of recruits.

Although there has been loose talk of coding bootcamps shuttering, it’s more like a consolidation. While blended options like Udacity have the cost advantage of a smaller staff/real estate footprint, WeWork will be able to leverage their existing real estate to keep costs down. Their client base — often tech startups — and brand should make them highly competitive. Read more here.

What’s the value of Pluralsight? The Forrester report, funded by Pluralsight, suggests firms using Pluralsight see a 295% ROI in three years. This is based on speeding up in-product development via faster upskilling, higher employee retention, and faster onboarding. Read more here.

Online Degrees

George Washington University (GWU) task force demands greater regulation of its online programs: A task force set up by GWU to examine its online programs (it offers 70 programs, including degrees) has concluded there needs to be greater regulation of the curriculum and quality of their online programs. The problem seems to be that GWU didn’t establish a proper governance structure for their online programs; such programs are arguably more prone to this problem because they’re often designed for revenue first. The task force also raised concerns that online (which is cheaper) cannibalized on-campus: some of the online students lived locally. This, however, misses the point: their choice was more likely dictated by cost and a need for flexibility than it was by geography. Read more here.

University of Florida Online steadily building a holistic online campus: University of Florida signed a notorious deal with Pearson in 2015 to create an online program, but they later booted Pearson out. This could’ve gone horribly wrong, but after a revision of their goals they’ve been a model of transparency and steady improvements in the online programs. They recently created a virtual campus that aims to support social engagement, create support groups, and encourage peer collaboration beyond courses. If it works, it could be a model for creating online infrastructure to imitate the social collaboration and support networks of on-campus degrees. Read more here.

Team Human vs. Machine

Jobs of the future: “Nerds and Nurses”: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has produced its ten-year forecast for jobs. The top finds are drops in manufacturing (significant) and retail (very significant); and rises in computing, care (especially for the elderly), and clean energy. Australia’s education department has come to similar conclusions, and its solution is a workforce educated in design and computational thinking, creativity, emotional learning, financial and entrepreneurial literacy, and communication. Read more here and here.

Code.org argues teacher training should be the priority for policymakers looking to build a tech-savvy workforce: This rather suits code.org, an industry-backed nonprofit that aims to push coding in schools. That said, the platform — which sees 10–20,000 teachers join per month — has a point: teacher training has been missing from the debate on building skills for the future. Read more here.

Universities not doing enough to meet the demand for Computer Science: A new report by the US National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine found that the number of jobs requiring Computing far outweighed the number of graduates being produced, despite a doubling of the latter from 2009–2015. The report suggested universities need to scale up intake, increase representation of women and underrepresented minorities, and invest more in corporate partnerships — both for employable skills and for research. This is remarkably similar to the UK’s Shadbolt Review. In short, if universities in developed countries want to retain their market share of Computer Science, they’ll need a step change in delivery, content, and partnerships. Read more here.

The future of the MBA as a function of the future job market: The University of Wisconsin is the latest to consider overhauling or even scrapping its full-time MBA. It follows The University of Iowa, Virginia Tech, and King’s College London (which set up a business school without one). On a related note, top Executive MBAs were dominated by shared programs such as the joint MBA from Kellogg School of Management and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which was voted top EMBA this year.

Rightly, MBAs are highly sensitive to shifts in the needs of employers. There has been a steady decline of full-time MBAs to middle or lower-ranked business schools. While top schools can still confer the brand and the network, middle schools need to justify the curriculum, and the implication is that it no longer fits employer needs. Wisconsin will focus more on narrower MBAs that focus on technology and innovation, while joint MBAs are responding to employer needs for people that can thrive in a global environment. Read more here and here.

UK businesses agree to retrain one million workers over five years: This is in exchange for the government creating a national plan for adoption of digital technologies. The move is part of Theresa May’s activist industrial strategy and aims to improve chronically low productivity in the UK. The government will support training allowances for individuals and incentives for businesses to invest in digital capabilities. Read more here.


BrainCo wants to train your brain: BrainCo has created an EEG headband (electroencephalogram) for classrooms. Students wear the headbands and the teacher can monitor their attention via an app. BrainCo hope that they’ll be able to train people to develop their ability to focus. Reading student’s brainwaves and training them to concentrate … nothing creepy here. Read more here.

Cognitive apps to tackle the effects of poverty: Less creepy and more evidence-based is a new report that wants to help develop interventions to alleviate the effects of poverty on learning. Increasing evidence shows that poverty leaves genetic and neurological effects on its victims. Specifically, students in poverty are more likely to suffer from poorer working memory, weaker impulse regulation, cognitive control problems, and other brain issues that impair their ability to learn. The authors hope that by developing apps to target these cognitive areas, they can allow affected pupils to catch up. Read more here.

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

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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