Need-to-Know News: Udacity’s New Nanodegree Plus with Money-Back Guarantee, Non-traditional Degree Programs Under Scrutiny & Khan Academy Seeks Patent for Teaching Methods

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

News1. Udacity’s Nanodegree Plus Program
Udacity launched “NanoDegree Plus” this week—an enhancement available with four of their Nanodegree programs. The ‘plus’ is a guarantee that students “get hired within 6 months of graduating or receive a 100% tuition refund”.  Sebastian Thrun, founder and CEO of Udacity states that Udacity’s guarantee is a “crisper” way for his institution to persuade students to attend. He also hopes his idea of guaranteeing results (a job) is something all college presidents will consider (Ruff, 2016).

The plus program includes robust features with services that include access to career coaches, interview resources including mock interview opportunities and dedicated placement team support—at a cost of $299/ month. The programs are self-paced and typically take between 6 and 8 months to complete. Udacity’s other Nanodegree programs are $200 per month and do not offer the same services as the plus program, but do offer an incentive “graduate within 12 months and receive a 50% refund on tuition“.

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 3.25.06 PM
Screen shot of Udacity’s web page promoting Nanodegree Plus

Insight: Udacity’s guarantee is bold; and not surprisingly is drawing criticism. One college president called it “gimmicky”, yet a fellow at Brookings Institute is positive, stating that guarantees like Udacity’s “are a market solution to temper the risk that students face when they choose to invest in higher education”. Though in defense of higher education programs, what Udacity offers is far different from undergraduate education. Udacity program’s are narrow in focus and vocational in nature. What is a positive of the plus programs are the support services offered. It’s these services that can make a difference—help students gain confidence, skills in how to market themselves, and be career-ready.

2. Non-Traditional Degree Programs Under Scrutiny
Non-traditional forms of higher education, including competency-based programs are under close scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). Institutions offering non-traditional degree programs may not be eligible for financial disbursements if they don’t meet the criteria of Title IV aid. The DOE’s Inspector General has conducted several audits, one  currently underway with Western Governor’s University (WGU), a non-profit who provides non-traditional education to over 64,000 enrolled students (Fain, 2016). Courses at WGU are not tied to the traditional credit-hour, but instead students take self-paced online courses, engage with mentors when help is needed, and complete assessments when confident they have mastered course material.

The investigation into these non-traditional programs’ eligibility is at odds with the current administration’s push to promote non-traditional degree pathways, apparent by the DOE’s website as well as recent grants to encourage higher education institutions to develop alternative pathways for degree-seeking students. Education leaders will be watching closely as many are developing alternative degree-programs as Purdue University is with its competency-based bachelor’s degree, or others that involve MOOCs such as ASU’s Global Freshman Academy.

Insight:  The discrepancy within the DOE demonstrates the gap between existing legislation for traditional education programs and new programs that reflect our open and digital culture. Education organizations need to implement systems that allow them to adapt more fluidly.

index3. Khan Academy Seeks Patent on its Instructional Methods
Khan academy is filing a patent application for its method of showing one of two explanatory videos based upon a student’s response to a question posed after the student watches an initial topic-specific, instructional video. Many experts are confused by Khan’s move, given Khan’s open strategy and their mission to “provide a free, world‑class education for anyone, anywhere”. Yet Khan claims it’s a defensive move, a strategy to avoid being sued in the future from potential  competitors—other online education providers who might try to sue Khan Academy claiming it is infringing on their propriety methods.

Wording from Khan’s patent application:

Systems and methods are provided for comparing different videos pertaining to a topic. Two different versions of an educational video may be compared using split comparison testing. A set of questions may be provided along with each video about the topic taught in the video. Users may view one of the videos and answer the questions. Data about the user responses may be aggregated and used to determine which video more effectively conveys information to the viewer based on the question responses. — United States Patent Application #20150310753

Insight: A prudent, strategic move.

Need-to-Know-News: BBC gets into MOOCs, Global MOOC Report for $2,500 & Competency Education gets Boost

MP900405500This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

1) BBC gets involved with MOOCs
Four universities in the United Kingdom are partnering with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to include never seen before film footage from World War One via its archives. Times Higher Education reports that FutureLearn will host the four MOOCs. The venture with BBC promoted as a creative approach, will be different from the traditional lecture format typical of the majority of xMOOCs:

“FutureLearn chief executive, Simon Nelson, said that many Moocs had been “rightly criticised as just being a repackaging and redistribution of the traditional lecture format, and that some universities were using the internet to “pump out videos”, rather than using their courses to tell a story. He said he hoped that working with the BBC would help institutions to be more creative.” 

Insight: This venture is a great opportunity for institutions to demonstrate they can reach non-traditional xMOOC students (traditional MOOC students: holding an undergraduate degree or higher), and engage learners not familiar with online learning or self-directed education. Not to mention introducing a novel method for delivering content. The four MOOCs launch soon—in October so we won’t have to wait long to see the response.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.14.36 AM
Image from “BBC helps produce First World World Moocs” by Chris Parr

2) Report on MOOCs for $2,500
It’s not only Udacity and Coursera that are starting to make money from xMOOCs. It seems that there’s even demand for research reports about MOOCs—$2,500 a pop, or $10,000 for enterprise wide access. The report, published by Research and Markets, The World’s Largest Market Research Store described as follows:

“The report, the Global Massive Open Online Courses Market 2014-2018, has been prepared based on an in-depth market analysis with inputs from industry experts. The report covers the Americas and the EMEA and APAC regions as well as the key leading countries in this market. It also provides in-depth overview of the revenue generation models adopted by the vendors in the market and discusses the key vendors operating in this market It also includes discussions of  “…the market segmentation based on student demographics and course preferences, as well as the market landscape and its growth prospects in the coming years.” 

Insight: xMOOCs are big business, though not necessarily for higher education institutions.

 3)  Competency Education Gets a Bigger Boost
There’s bi-partisan support for competency-based education in the United States, a bill passed this week by the senate will allow student aid to go towards thirty academic programs that are experimenting with a range of innovative higher education academic programs that lead to degrees, many including degree-tracks grounded in competency-based education. According to sources of Inside Higher Ed,  there are nearly 350 institutions that do offer, or plan to offer a competency-based degree track (Fain, 2014).

Representative John Kline of Minnesota, the Republican who chairs the House education committee, called the legislation a “good first step” to figuring out what works and doesn’t work for competency-based education.Inside Higher Ed

The programs fall under the Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI), funded by the Department of Education. The program is still accepting applications.

Insight: The idea of experimentation with students pursuing higher education makes me uneasy. If such programs enroll students at risk for not completing a two or four-year degree, I would hope that the programs do not further jeopardize the students’ chances of success.  I think back to the Udacity and San Jose University experience with MOOCs, where one of the pilot programs was a MOOC format for remedial math.

“Another factor in the disappointing outcomes may have been the students themselves. The courses included at-risk students, high school students and San Jose State students who had already failed a remedial math course.” Inside Higher Ed

Failure rates were higher in the MOOC experiment than in the face-to-face class.  What about those students?  Granted new programs have to be piloted in some way, I would hope however, that there is a plan in place to address any negative outcomes students may experience as a result of the experimental programs.

You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI 

The EDUCAUSE Conference 2013: Highlights, Trends & Takeaways

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 10.07.19 PMI was one of seven thousand participants that descended upon the Anaheim convention center last week for the three-day EDUCAUSE annual conference. The conference attracts educators, administrators and Information technology leaders from higher education institutions from near and afar; there were 52 countries represented. The conference is by no means limited to Information Technology topics. This year the conference featured 300 sessions within five categories —the majority of sessions I attended were within the teaching and learning track, and a handful in the leadership and management category. Though I usually attend conferences virtually, I chose the face-to-face option given that Anaheim is slightly more than a stone’s throw from where I live. I’m glad I did. I was able to experience the vibe of the conference, pick up on the buzz from other participants at lunch, in the exhibit hall, and impromptu meetings. I also was able to meet a handful of fellow bloggers, an added bonus.

Conference Themes in Teaching and Learning
There are several good articles on the web summarizing key events and talks from the conference—I’ve included respective links at the end of this post. I prepared a summary of the conference via Slideshare [below], and included three themes from the teaching and learning track. Themes that I believe will be significant in higher education over the next few months, 1) competency-based learning, 2) personalized learning, and 3) disaggregation. In the Slideshare I also provide key takeaways associated with each. Fortunately, MOOCs are NOT on the table. In fact, of the 300 hundred sessions offered at the conference there were only seven or eight about MOOCs. I attended two of those sessions. Between the sessions, listening to other educators over the three days, I get the sense that MOOCs are not the disruptive force that the media has made them out to be. However, they have been catalyst for conversations about face-to-face and online learning, and the role of technology in higher education.

Keynote Speakers
The conference featured three first-rate keynote speakers, Sir Ken Robinson, Jane McGonigal author of Reality is Broken, and Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University. Though all were good, my favorite session was Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on ‘Leading a Culture of Innovation’. Being a Canadian I love British humour and Sir Ken Robinson, a Brit himself, infused his dry wit throughout the talk. It was not recorded, though I wrote a post about it here, and Tara Buck of EDTECH wrote a good summary here.

Exhibit Hall
The exhibit hall was very large. There were rows and rows of exhibitors featuring vendors and  providers servicing the education market, from LMS platforms, to lecture capture solutions to analytics software providers and more. There were over 270 vendors. Some of the platinum and gold sponsors had mini classrooms, seating areas with mod furniture and giant screens featuring demos of their product. Walking the hall I realized the amount of money committed to the higher education market—it is vast…and disturbing.

Slideshare: Highlights, Themes and Takeaways

Related Resources:

Need-to-Know-News: Competency-Based Transcripts, a Profitable Online Education Company & Ed Tech Tool ‘Vittle’

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series my aim is to share noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

images
Vittle app for iPad

In this post I review BIG news for higher education—competency-based degrees, specifically Northern Arizona University’s [NAU] program. This week NAU provided a further glimpse into its program with the release of a version of its competency-based transcript; the first of it kind for public degree granting institution. Also I’ve profiled a company that provides online education to thousands of students worldwide, and is [very] profitable at doing so. Finally I share a new and nifty ed tech tool, Vittle, that is user-friendly, with great potential to support educators in face-to-face and online classrooms.

1. Competency Based Degrees and Transcripts
There’s been little coverage in the news of Northern Arizona University’s [NAU] ground-breaking online degree completion program launched earlier this year. NAU’s program,  Personalized Learning, offered through its Extended Campus, is not based on credit hours, but on students demonstrating mastery of identified competencies defined as skills and/or knowledge; where NAU defines knowledge as “conceptual understanding”.

The program, developed with a grant from EDUCAUSE and the Gates Foundation is the first public university in the United States to use competencies rather than the traditional credit-hour to grant degrees (Bolkan, 2013). Two other schools have entered into the competency arena, College for America at Southern New Hampshire University [a private, non-profit institution] whose program was also developed with a similar grant, and for-profit Capella University. When NAU’s degree program launched in May 2013, I thought it would be big news, yet it slipped under the radar, no doubt due to the preoccupation with MOOCs. Yet this competency-based online degree program, is a revolutionary concept, and has the potential to disrupt traditional higher education in a way that MOOCs have not.  NAU’s website gives a comprehensive overview of the program which is quite different from the traditional college experience. The most remarkable difference is the tuition structure. Students pay a subscription fee in six-month increments to access coursework instead of tuition calculated by credit hour; a significantly less expensive option for a college degree.

NAU was spotlight this week with the release of a version of the competency transcript for its degree program, yet again with little news coverage except for a comprehensive article in Inside Higher Ed.  For now, students will receive two transcripts from NAU as a record of their work—a traditional transcript and a competency-based one. Likely this will ease the transition to competency-based higher education, allowing time for employers and other institutions to become comfortable with the concept.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.21.57 PM
Scoring legend on first page of NAU’s two-page sample transcript

InsightsCompetency-based education is just getting started. As [U.S.] institutions look for ways to harness technology effectively, lower costs and remain financially viable, many will explore competency-based programs. Making it even more feasible, is the The US Department of Education’s move to provide federal financial aid to students enrolled in competency programs. They are even encouraging education institutions to explore and implement such programs (ed.gov, U.S. Department of Education). This gives competency-based education serious clout.  Given the programs lower costs and flexibility for students, competency-based education can be a game-changer for education.

laptop-bg
“Watch. Listen. Practice. Learn.” lynda.com

2. What a Profitable Company that delivers Online Education Looks Like
Though the online education provider lynda.com doesn’t offer higher education credit courses, it has a vibrant business model worth examining. It has been profitable for over fifteen years.  Lynda.com was one of the first companies to provide online instruction in Microsoft Office Excel, Word, etc, and now offers instruction in “software, business and creative skills”  (lynda.org).

“Subscribers pay $25 a month, or $250 a year, to access 3- to 20-minute courses on Web design, 3-D animation, Photoshop, Excel and CAD, among others, adding up to $100 million in revenue last year. All that has helped Lynda.com build a huge fan base and a library of 100,000 videos”. Forbes

Insight: The market is becoming saturated with online skill training courses with the proliferation of free courses such as tech-specific MOOCs, fee-based online courses offered through platforms such as Udemy.com. Yet as the market continues to evolve at its rapid pace, for-profit organizations need to be adaptable and progressive to remain viable. Even lynda.com is vulnerable, yet it’s apparent that a strategic plan and an adaptable management team are essential for sustainability.

3. Ed Tech Tool – Vittle
This application could be a useful tool for educators wanting to create short videos with an iPad to reinforce key concepts for students. The iPad becomes a whiteboard. It may even be more useful for students to create their own videos to explain concepts learned. Videos can be posted on Facebook, YouTube, Tweeted or played on a iPad or device. Looks  nifty.