Need-to-Know-News: How Big is the MOOC Market? More Money$ for Minerva & Impact of MOOCs

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.

The MOOC Market
What is the size of the market for xMOOCs? I’m not sure anyone really knows, not even the MOOC providers. The size of a market for a good or service is defined as the number of individuals in a market who are potential buyers. Market size also translates into dollars, typically measured in terms of revenue ($ sales) for a given product/service. Companies—sellers in the market seek to obtain a share, or a piece of the pie.

Since for-profit MOOC providers such as Udacity, Coursera and even not-for-profit edX now charge fees for select courses and/or services, we have ourselves a market—a MOOC market.  But how big is it? How much revenue ($$$) will MOOC providers need to generate to satisfy investors or in edX’s case keep the lights on?  Only time will tell. But in the meantime it’s probably a good idea for educators to take note of what’s happening in the MOOC market.

Here’s a rundown of what MOOC providers are doing to get a share of the market share pie:

  • EdX launched five courses this under the banner of Professional Education. Though they come with a price, starting at $495.

Build skills and advance your career with edX Professional Education courses. Taught by experts at leading universities, our courses are designed to offer working professionals flexible online learning. Check out the courses currently available for enrollment, and stay tuned as we announce more in the coming months. —email to edX students, October 17 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 3.55.10 PM
Screenshot of course listing featured in email sent to edX students.  On the edX website, prices for courses are not prominently displayed or obvious from reading course descriptions as per this example 
  • Coursera is counting on the Specialization Certificate programs for a revenue stream. A Specialization Certificate program features two or more MOOCs grouped around a specific topic, described by Coursera as a “targeted sequence of courses”.

At completion of the course series, students will feel they have a connection to today’s workplace with a focus on using real work issues and situations as a practical context for the application of needed knowledge and skills in communication. The culminating experience of the final project will help the students to demonstrate their value to potential employers.  Coursera—Specializations

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 8.10.41 PM
Screenshot from Coursera Specialization program description. Cost for Certificate program depends upon number of MOOC in the sequence: each MOOC is $49 (the cost of a Signature Track credential), and $49 for a capstone project.
  • Udacity launched the nanodegree program several weeks ago. Details are now available. The cost structure is not per course as edX and Coursera, but by month. This format closely resembles competency-based education programs (e.g. Western Governors University), where students invest as much time as needed to master the content of a course. Students then demonstrate via competency assessment where mastery is the benchmark.

You can take a nanodegree for $200/month. Most nanodegrees are expected to take between 6-12 months to complete, depending on your study schedule and prior background. For more details, check the overview page for the nanodegree that you’re interested in getting. Nanodegrees —Udacity

Insight: Soon we’ll need to drop the ‘O’ (for open) from the MOOC acronym. Perhaps the ‘M’ too, given potentially shrinking class sizes once a price is attached to ‘free’ learning. We will be left with ‘OC’, for Open Course. Or maybe for Online Credential. An online credential that one pays dearly for.

Screen Shot 2012-04-11 at 9.01.58 PM
Minerva tag line “How will you define your future?”

Minerva Raises More Funds $70 M 
The Minerva Project, a new university with a novel concept—students study in different locations around the world starting in San Francisco and not in a typical university setting. There’s no classrooms, sports teams, or libraries. Minerva sees itself as an elite university, a rival to the Ivy leagues. It’s for-profit with a diverse set of investors. The founder and CEO is Ben Nelson, former executive of Snapfish.

$70 million to San Francisco based education firm Minerva Project:

“Bringing together partners for this round of funding that include one of the most respected, top quality, and innovative education companies with TAL and the most forward thinking technology investors with Benchmark, ZhenFund and Yongjin, is a powerful combination committing to Minerva’s next stage of development.” Reuters

Insight: I was skeptical of the concept when Minerva first launched, and still am. Apparently investors are not.

The Impact of MOOCs 
Inside Higher Education reported on a meeting of an international group of higher education institutions that came together to explore the impact of MOOCs on higher education. The meeting, convened by George Siemens produced some interesting conclusions, though not all surprising including 1) the future for higher education is digital and 2) MOOCs provided safe spaces for experimentation and innovation in teaching and learning and more.

Need-to-Know News: Minerva and The Future of College, Amazon Moves into Purdue & Inoreader

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 9.28.34 AM
“The Future of College”,  The Atlantic

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.

1) Minerva and the Future of College?  Should we Be Worried?
The Atlantic’s feature story this week covering the newest entrant into the higher education sector Minerva, really fired up educators’ Twitter feeds. “The Future of College?” is primarily about Minerva’s philosophy and pedagogical strategy as a for-profit, (wanna-be) elite and semi-virtual university. The school is a radical departure from a traditional university—no administrative buildings (except for one office for employees on the 9th floor of an office building in San Francisco), no libraries, sports teams, or tenured faculty. Nor is the school run like a MOOC. Minerva’s inaugural class is made up of thirty-three students, thus classes are intimate, seminar discussions via tele-conferencing technology. MOOCs are used as content only at Minerva, and Ben Nelson, founder of the school shares in an interview with author, Graeme Wood, “We are a university and MOOC is a version of publishing….The reason we can get away with this model is because MOOCs exist. The MOOCs will eventually make lectures obsolete.”

It’s statements like these made by Nelson in this interview and others that are rather jarring to educators’ ears. Reading the 185+ comments in response to the article, one gets a sense of the concerns—tenure, scholarship, and for-profit.

Insight: Minerva is not a solution to the challenges facing higher education. This model seeks to be exclusive and elite—a barrier to access.  It’s not affordable for everyone—it doesn’t accept financial aid—a barrier to cost. It does have potential to deliver quality, given the excellent professors Minerva has hired, including Stephen Kosslyn, a cognitive neuro-­scientist and former Harvard dean.  However, it is a model worth watching for the instructional methods implemented, how open content is leveraged, and to follow the educational outcomes of graduates. We will see.

2) Amazon Coming to a Campus Near You?

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 10.15.18 AM
Screen shot from Purdue’s storefront on

Speaking of education and business endeavors, Purdue University’s storefront with Amazon went live this week—the “co-branded experience” as described by Purdue with Amazon for the rental and sales of textbooks and other school supplies. The initiative was in the works last year according to details of a press release from Purdue. There is an Amazon webpage which serves as the Purdue’s storefront at, and there is a significant Amazon presence within the campus bookstore. It’s hard to miss, with amazon-staffed service centres and the yellow, very large Amazon storage lockers where students can drop off and pick up textbooks. You can’t miss those eyesores.

If any students are wary about commercialization of their school with a public company such as Amazon taking over its bookstore, this line prominent on the Purdue’s store page may alleviate some concerns—“Your purchases are now supporting Purdue, which will use proceeds to support its Student Affordability and Accessibility initiatives.”  I guess that will work.

UC Davis piloted the program back in November, called UC Davis gets 2% of all sales generated. The amount that Purdue receives may be more, as according to Purdue, “Amazon will return a percentage of eligible sales through the Purdue Student Store on Amazon to the university, including sales to faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university“.

Insight: As much as we don’t like to consider the student of education a ‘customer’, it’s hard not to with the growing presence of for-profit entities in education.

Introducing INOREADER—Read Smart, and Share

One of the loyal readers of this blog, Laura Gibbs, a faculty member and online instructor at The University of Oklahoma, shared her newest find and its application of a tech tool—Inoreader. She raved about it on Google+ and described in detail how she uses it to organize her student’s blog posts for the online classes she teaches. Google Reader is no more, and I too have been searching for a customizable reader application with a clean interface. Look no further than Inoreader. It is impressive. Very. Thanks Laura.

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


Four Radically Different Models in Higher Ed Worth Considering

change-ahead-street-sign-300x225There are radical models in higher education worth examining that challenge the conventional model of undergraduate education; the traditional model representing a four-year on-campus program that includes instruction by faculty or teaching assistants, institution-determined course selections guided by the credit-hour formula, transcripts with GPA calculations, etc. Yet there are countless articles and posts that cry out for reformed models of higher education, even more that provide suggestions and remedies. Yet there are few models in practice that offer face-to-face education experiences that are truly transformational. However, I suggest the four models presented here are worth pondering; two created from scratch, and two that changed within an existing framework.

To reiterate, the institutions discussed here are not virtual schools, each provides face-to-face undergraduate learning experiences where technology is leveraged to facilitate learning. The schools are also committed to teaching foundational subjects—courses from the humanities, yet each provides unique learning experiences that challenge the traditional model in some way.  Each institution takes a different approach, though all encourage learners to choose a learning path, to be self-directed, to follow their interests, and establish their own learning goals. All seek to engage young people in learning, prepare students to think critically and to guide them to find their passion.

Why We Should Be Interested
Why should educators concern themselves with considering non-traditional models of higher education; models that appear far-fetched and irrelevant?  It’s becoming apparent that the current model needs to change, and change for several reasons. First, the majority of existing models at four-year higher education institutions are not sustainable. For the past two years we have heard about the bubble of higher ed, the rising costs that are pricing college education out of reach for many. It’s coming true as predicted. According to a report described in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 percent of public institutions, compared with 15 percent the year before, expect declines in their net-tuition revenue. Already several private institutions have taken drastic measures in response to declining revenue as reported in Inside Higher Ed.  Second, the four institutions described here offer a different perspective on education; a lens that provides a glimpse into what higher education might look like in the future—food-for-thought.  Third, some argue that there is a gap in what the current higher education institutions offer students; not only are many students excluded from higher education for a variety of reasons, but there is a lack of preparation for students to be effective as a post-graduate. Many are ill-equipped to find meaningful work in the knowledge and global economy.

Education Needs to Adapt to the ‘Big Shift’
Change is hard to do, and not just for higher ed. Deloitte’s Center for the Edge for the past three years has published a report that describes the ‘Shift Index‘ which provides metrics that signal changes in order for institutions and organizations to identify long-term trends, and plan accordingly. What is interesting is how applicable the content of the 2011 report is to higher education. The full 2011 report is here, but one interesting fact applicable to higher education is this—”the price/performance capability of computing, storage, and bandwidth is driving an adoption rate for our new “digital infrastructure” that is two to five times faster than previous infrastructures, such as electricity and telephone networks.” Furthermore, it appears individuals (i.e. students) are having a far easier time keeping up with the changes than are the institutions and organizations. It is far more challenging for organizations to remain nimble, yet still quite necessary. The point is, there are significant implications with the Big Shift we are experiencing, and it’s consumer, student, employee, life-long learner behaviours and their adoption of technology that will shape institutions, organizations and businesses of the future. It will be organizations [i.e. higher education institutions] that adapt and harness the new “knowledge flows” that will be successful, and “doing so will require significant institutional innovations” (Kulasooriya, Brown & Hagel, 2011).

Four Schools:
Below I provide a summary of each the four schools, and highlight why each is radical in context of conventional higher education. Though there are other higher education institutions implementing new models, many embracing technology and responding to the needs of students, the four presented here were chosen because of the uniqueness and diversity.

1) Quest University Canada. I heard Quest University’s Vice-Chancellor, David Helfand speak at a conference in November where he described the school he founded. Quite remarkable. Quest started with its first class in 2007 with 73 students. Classes are small. There are no lectures, but all classes are seminar-discussion format. All students complete the same foundational courses in the first two years that cover the humanities, math and sciences, yet the latter two years are unique and individual learning paths chosen and directed by the student. The selection process for professors is most unusual, and all work in an open office where there is no separation by academic schools or disciplines. Why it’s radical: there are no grades; students receive check marks to indicate if they are engaged in learning. The study path for the last two-years of the undergraduate degree program is a unique learning path chosen by each student based upon his or her personal interest/passion. Quest at a glance.

2) Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom.  Founded in 1825 started as a Polytechnic, and in 1992 the school became Liverpool John Moores University, one of the UK’s new generation universities.  This is a research university, that launched ‘a globally unique model of higher education that stresses work-related learning and ‘skill development in tandem with effective employer engagement’. Why it’s radical: the university’s program, World of Work is a support and skill development program for all students that involves involvement and input from national and international employers and business experts. Students not only gain work experience with top companies, but students develop a skill-set labeled World of Work skills. Students abilities are also verified through an employer-validated Skills Statement and interview during their undergraduate course of study. More info here.

3)  University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia. UTS is one of the largest universities in Australia and aims to be a world leader in technology education. The focus is on global, practice-oriented learning where students undertake research, professional and community work experiences. It is heavily focused on collaborative learning that integrates institutional research. Why it’s radical: the hands-on learning approach beginning in first-year of study, and the school’s updated learning strategy for 2014 includes student-generated learning goals, personalized learning paths that integrates online sources, faculty feedback, and development of a personal learning network using digital platforms and tools (three-minute video clip that describes the approach: UTS 2014). UTS undergraduate information.

Screen Shot 2012-04-11 at 9.01.58 PM
Minerva’s logo

4)  Minerva Project, United States. I hesitated to include the Minerva Project here, as this school has long been in the planning phases, and has only just begun to enroll students. However, even if it doesn’t work in this format, it’s worth examining. Conceptualized by Ben Nelson, former chief executive Snapfish the online photo printing site, Minerva seeks to be an ivy league institution with tuition fees that undercut elite US universities by half while guaranteeing students an education based not in one location, but in six of the cities around the world. Why it’s radical: it’s ambitious—not only does it seek to compete the Ivy Leagues, but provides education in brick and mortar classrooms in cities in different countries. It will leverage technology by encouraging students to access content and resources online, i.e. MOOCs but still include face-to-face interaction. By its very nature, it’s an education in globalization. More here.

As highlighted, the schools examined here and the respective models, provide insight into what can be done in higher education to address the Big Shift as described by the Deloitte Center. Though radical as they may seem, each provides a glimpse into how face-to-face undergraduate education is adapted to provide relevant and effective education for a global and digital world.


Related Reading:

Need-to-Know News: Lackluster MOOCs, Disengaged College Grads and ThinkCERCA

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.

logo_mainIn this post I’ve included two interesting developments from this week and a new web 2.0 resource for K-12 educators. First off, it likely will be of no surprise to readers that numerous higher ed institutions are becoming disillusioned with MOOCs. State and institutional leaders are realizing that MOOCs are not the answer to lowering costs and improving access for undergraduate education.  I also cover results from a study that suggests that undergraduates are not enjoying their jobs once they graduate, in fact they are more disengaged than non-degree earners. And, I share an innovative platform for K-12 educators designed to teach critical thinking, and support common core standards.

1)  MOOCs in Undergraduate Higher Education
It seems that MOOCs are beginning to lose their luster. This week San Jose State University [SJSU] announced it would pause the working relationship with Udacity.  San Jose State partnered with Udacity last year to create three online courses, a remedial math course, a college algebra course and an introductory statistics course. It has not gone well. Several factors have contributed, but I believe the primary reason is the fact that entry-level undergraduate students, especially students requiring remediation, do not have the skills required to be successful in a MOOC. Furthermore these students require considerable instructional support, faculty feedback and skill development in how to learn in an online environment.

“Preliminary findings from the spring semester suggest students in the online Udacity courses, which were developed jointly with San Jose State faculty, do not fare as well as students who attended normal classes.” (Rivard, 2013)

Insight: SJSU pilot project is a costly mistake. Not only was the deal that SJSU struck with Udacity a significant expense, students’ learning was compromised. SJSU rushed into the project without a strategic plan or conducting an analysis, and are now suffering the consequences. Online courses [not MOOCs] can work for college students and are effective, however careful and thoughtful planning, detailed course development is critical, as is instructional support. Why San Jose State would think offering remedial and entry-level courses in a MOOC would work is beyond me.

2) College-educated Americans Disengaged with Work
A most interesting report released this week by Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report found that employed Americans of all ages with college degrees are less likely to be engaged at work than are their respective peers with a high school education or less.

The engagement findings by education level are based on Americans’ assessments of workplace elements with proven linkages to performance outcomes, including productivity, customer service, quality, retention, safety, and profit”. (


Insight: At least half of graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a degree, which likely accounts for low-levels of workplace engagement. A workforce of disengaged workers is not a sign of a healthy or productive economy, nor is it good for individuals’ health and well-being. There are several ways to interpret these results. One is that workplaces are failing to provide environments that are stimulating; where workers can apply their skills. Another, is that colleges may not be preparing students to transition into the workplace as well as they could be. There is much discussion about the value of higher education, and how its purpose is far more than for vocational opportunities— agreed. However there is an opportunity for life skills education that could help students realize their full potential as they transition from college to the working world.

3) ThinkCERCA
A Method: Our focus on argumentation as a method for teaching critical thinking is a simple way to increase rigorous engagement with all sorts of texts. Simply by treating all texts as arguments we allow readers to take an analytic approach.

A Platform: Our platform allows teachers and students to collaborate more effectively by sharing a common language and set of practices that focus instruction on critical thinking.

A Library: ThinkCERCA™ allows teachers to collaborate more easily by providing a simple framework for sharing, using, and personalizing lessons. Our content library is CCSS aligned and engaging for students.

Until next week. In the meantime you can keep posted on articles I find of interest which I post on Twitter @OnlineLearningI.

Need-to-Know News: Globalization of MOOCs, $500,000 Prize for Faculty & Ed Tech Tools

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series I 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 the traditional model of education.

ImageThis week MOOCs go global with the launch of OpenupEd the newest MOOC platform supported by the European Commission, and at the same time several discussions on the blogosphere about the cultural implications of American MOOCs.  Minerva, the yet-to-be launched elite online school announced a hefty prize for an ‘extraordinary professor’ akin to the Nobel Prize according to Minerva’s founder, and two slick new tools for creating online transcripts and portfolios.

The Globalization of MOOCs
The MOOC platform OpenupEd that launched this week has a different approach than its counterparts in the United States. One distinction between OpenedEd and US MOOC platforms is the course delivery method. Rather than a common platform for courses, as Coursera and edX provide for example, each institution uses its own learning management platform. OpenedEd acts like a portal, or gateway to course providers own sites.  The selection of courses is impressive [40 courses currently], and can reach a broader audience given the range of languages available, of which there are twelve represented.

With the different platforms for each course, I see some potential barriers to learning based on my brief review. I found several courses available in English that piqued my interest. Yet one, Brain, Lifestyle and Learning appears to be a version of a previously run course with recorded lectures. It ended on April 13, 2013, and has a fee of 100€ associated with it.  Another, Psychotechnology and learning processes, sounds excellent, though I couldn’t register for it 😦 , but there was an email address provided for those seeking information. Disappointing. This doesn’t seem to fit the open criteria.

Likely it will take some time for each university to work out the details, and streamline the open process. Overall, this initiative is a positive development – opening up education to thousands of individuals with courses that cater to regional differences by language and topic.

Cultural Implications of Global MOOCs
MOOCs with their global audiences highlight cultural differences – and not just language but value systems.  An article published this week The World is Not Flat (Rivard) discusses the challenges of implementing American MOOCs in other cultures. American educational values are not universal, and certain course content and methods may not be well received by some students of other cultures. Quite telling was a comment quoted in the article from Stephen Carson, spokesperson for the MIT Open Courseware Project:

“Educational materials are not universal, but they are very, very informative for other universities to see the context in which other universities are working.”

Apparently the idea for MIT’s Open Courseware was not to create content applicable to a universal audience but to share with others for adaptation purposes. Perhaps this is why many MOOCs attract participants with advanced degrees from other countries—those with an interest in examining education principles and curriculum from American universities.

Screen Shot 2012-04-11 at 9.01.58 PM$500,000 Prize from the [New] Minerva Academy
Effectively it is a Nobel Prize for teaching,” said Ben Nelson, founder and chief executive of the Minerva Project, a for-profit online school yet to open its doors [launch date is 2015]. The prize is open to faculty from any institution with a track record that “stimulates innovation in higher education” [Anderson, 2013].

The winner will be chosen by a newly created non-for-profit Minerva Academy, led by Stanford professor and Nobel winner Roger D. Kornberg.  The Academy is now accepting nominations. There are three broad areas upon which a nominee’s work is considered and evaluated—Innovation, Impact and Inspiration, as well as a list of five criteria—all seem reasonable except for point #2:

“Nominees must have a substantial number of highly cited publications that demonstrate the impact the innovation has had on teaching.” Minerva Project

In my opinion this criteria contradicts the idea of innovation in education—the requirement that faculty applicants have numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals and rankings as per the impact factor, is grounded in the traditional model of higher education, exactly what innovation in education is trying to transform.

New Ed Tech Tools

  • Accredible launched this week, appears to be an online resume and record of accomplishments and education from unaccredited sources. It seems similar to, which I mentioned a few weeks ago, but this platform seems to be more of a resume than transcript.
  • Seelio, the portfolio for network for students and doers.  Details on this new start-up covered in-depth in the TechCrunch article.

Have a great week!