Need-to-Know MOOC News: New Business Model for Corporate Learning, Human Graders and Self-Paced Formats

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1. MOOCs Scale Up with New Model
The search for a business model may soon be over for major MOOC players such as Coursera and Udacity. Udacity was the first to create partnerships between (mostly tech) companies to cover some of their course development costs. They’ve since moved to offering micro-credentials where students pay for Nanodegrees—focused skill training with a certificate-type credential upon successful completion. Students can also opt to pay even more for personalized services with Nanodegree Plus which includes career support and mock interviews. Coursera has something similar, minus the personalized services, with its ‘Specializations‘. But recently Coursera made another significant move—targeting the corporate sector. Smart. The learning and development market in the United States is vast; according to the 2015 Training Report there was a 14.2% increase in corporate training expenditures bringing the total budget for US companies to 17.6 billion. That’s big. Coursera is aiming to get part of the pie and fill the employee learning gap with “Coursera for Business”.

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Screenshot of “Coursera for Business” home page at coursera.org/enterprise

Today, we are taking yet another important step in our effort to expand the Coursera learner community. I am excited to announce Coursera for Business, our enterprise platform for workforce development at scale. We see Coursera for Business as a natural extension of our vision, and as a powerful way to help leading companies around the world address the rapidly evolving training and development needs of their employees. (Levine, 2016)

Insight:  Given the size of the corporate employee learning and development market and the need for Coursera to generate revenue, it’s a logical move. More so given a recent study by McKinsey which suggested that companies are struggling to deliver relevant, just-in-time skill-training that fits in with the drive for productivity and need for employee-directed learning. Over 40% of companies surveyed indicated their current capabilities of meeting employee skill gaps are ineffective (Bensen-Armer et al). Coursera is on to something. MOOCs are not ‘free’ to produce or sustain;  partnering with corporations is a win-win for everyone.

2. MOOCs with Human Graders
When students sign up for the edX MOOC, “Introduction to Philosophy: God, Knowledge and Consciousness”, they’ll have the option to have their essays graded by a real person. This was unheard of when MOOCs first came on higher education’s radar in 2012. MOOC critics took issue with the automated and peer-review grading process—this undermined the learning process, comprised student learning according to the most vocal critics. This Fall MIT is experimenting with a new model for MOOCs with this particular course where essays are graded by a graduate assistant of MIT.

….the model is still a work in progress, and that details may change. This time around, MIT is paying one of its philosophy graduate student to serve as a course facilitator. The facilitator will effectively run the MOOC, moderating the discussion forum and grading papers. Hare declined to say how much the facilitator is paid, but added that it is a flat fee and more than what an adjunct instructor is paid to teach a residential course at MIT. (Straumsheim, 2016)

The cost for this MOOC that includes a Verified Certificate and personalized grading is $300, about $200 more than a Verified Certificate for other MOOCs in the same category (Philosophy & Ethics).

Insight: This story is yet another example how MOOCs are bringing awareness to online education, yet this recent development highlights how the MOOC label is misleading and needs to change. Lines are blurring between the many versions of online courses:  1. open and free courses, 2. online courses with a cost and no-credit (as the one in this article), 3. online courses for credit with a fee, and 4. online courses for a fee with conditional credit  (students need to apply to institution to receive MOOC credit upon completion). Students need to be clear on the conditions when signing up for an online course, just as institutions need to be clear on what they are offering.

3. Self-Paced MOOCs on the Rise
September is a big month for MOOCs and September 2016 is shaping up to be the biggest yet; at least since 2013 according to Class Central (Shah, 2016). But the big shift in MOOCs is the self-paced format which allows students to participate in MOOCs on-demand. Yet something is lost—the synergy of students working through the concepts at the same time (synchronous format) leading to discussion forums that fall flat.

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Table (above) from “MOOCs no longer massive, still attract millions” (Shah, 2016)

Coursera has a workaround though, offering MOOCs within a cohort system, with courses that start back-to-back (see screenshot below) which allows students to transfer into the next class keeping their course-work intact.

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Screenshot showing Courera’s new MOOC format that offers cohort-MOOCs more frequently meeting students’ needs for self-paced format

Closing Thoughts
The MOOC concept is transforming online education, yet the new formats are a far cry from the MOOC of 2012 which were Massive Open Online Courses.

References

 

 

 

Need-to-Know MOOC News: MOOCs Find Their Niche & Business Model in 2016

This is a special issue of the ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series featuring the latest developments in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered by providers: Coursera, iVersity, edX, and Udacity.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 1.04.41 PM1. Coursera’s Business Model Taking Shape
Coursera is finding its niche and business model. The MOOC provider is moving towards three revenue-generating strategies: 1) fee-based courses which require students to pay a fee for access to graded assignments, 2) Specializations, a sequence of courses with a capstone project, and 3) Course Certificates (formerly known as Signature Track).

Signature Track, launched in 2013 was Coursera’s first (significant) revenue generating strategy. Students paid a fee in exchange for the opportunity to earn a verified certificate. Initially only a handful of courses featured the certificate option. Signature Track has since expanded, had a recent name change to Course Certificate and features a flat fee of $49. The Course Certificate option is now available across numerous courses. Revenue estimates suggest Certificates generated between $8 and $12 million in 2014 (Shah, 2014). 

Specializations feature a sequence of courses (typically four to six) with a capstone project where students apply the skills learned in order to earn a certificate. Launched two years ago, the program appears successful given the number of Specializations offered—in the hundreds according to Coursera. Fees range between $300 and $600. Tuition is determined by the price of each course (which range between $39 and $79), the number of courses within each, and the fee for the capstone project. If there is even modest student demand for Specializations as Coursera founder Daphne Koller indicates, revenue opportunity is significant (Bogen, 2015).

The Purchase Course strategy announced last week requires that students pay to gain access to graded assignments. There is an option to ‘audit’ the course where students have access to course materials only. An excerpt from Coursera’s blog (below) outlines the strategy:

Starting today, when you enroll in certain courses, you’ll be asked to pay a fee (or apply for Coursera’s financial aid program) if you’d like to submit required graded assignments and earn a Course Certificate. You can also choose to explore the course [audit] for free, in which case you’ll have full access to videos, discussions, and practice assignments, and view-only access to graded assignments. — Coursera Blog, January 19, 2016

This format is similar to what’s offered at iVersity, a Europe-based MOOC provider. Tuition at Coursera ranges between $39 and $119 per course. Below is a screen shot showing the options presented to students enrolling for a course on Coursera’s platform.

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Fee-based courses appear linked to courses that are part of the Specializations programs. The screenshot above is an image of what is presented when enrolling for ‘Understanding Financial Markets’

2) iVersity’s Pay-for Certificate Program & Udacity’s Nanodegree Plus
iVersity, one of Europe’s MOOC platforms launched it’s own version of Coursera’s Specializations—The Business Communication Programme. It’s targeted to working professionals seeking skills in business communication and marketing. It’s iVersity’s first venture into bundled programs. Yet the Programme is more similar to Udacity’s new Nanodegree Plus program, given it offers enhanced customer service—support and resources to help students find a job.

Udacity’s program goes further by guaranteeing that students find a job within six months, or their money back. Fees at Udacity are monthly—$299. With an estimated program length between six and eight months that brings the cost between $1,794 and $2,392.  iVersity’s tuition model takes a different approach but the price is similar (see screenshot below)—iVersity’s Programme at its regular price  is $1,704 (approximate US funds), and the enhanced model is $2,611.

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Screenshot above: Prices for iVersity’s ‘Business Communication Programme’ as displayed on the webpage at iversity.org. Sales prices still appear on site, February 2, 2016

iVersity also offers corporate learning services to companies looking for support in creating their own professional development courses. It’s promoted on their site as “a new form of professional development“.

3) Udacity for Business
Udacity also targets the corporate training market (tech-companies specifically) via its business webpage promoting “Hands-on Training. Done Online”. The courses and programs promoted are identical to Udacity’s existing ones, but are packaged to appeal to company and human resource executives as a solution to meet skill gaps among employees and as a tool for succession planning. Screenshot below from Udacity’s site:

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 9.59.48 AM4) edX CEO: “edX offers complete programs online, not just individual courses
EdX, an open source platform and one of the few non-profit MOOC providers,  also has revenue generating strategies, though not for profit. The strategies are needed to support edX’s goal of sustainability in order to achieve its mission of offering “access to high-quality education for everyone, everywhere”. Some of edX’s programs are similar to Coursera and Udacity—certificates with fees typically of $50 per course. Another is the XSeries program, a group of bundled courses. Students receive a Xseries Certificate upon completion, though unlike Coursera’s Specializations or Udacity’s Nanodegree, there is no final or capstone project. Another revenue strategy is licensing edX courses to countries such as China, India, France, the Middle East who have adopted Open edX (Young & Hobson, 2015).

EdX also offers Professional Education Courses targeted to students looking for skills training and professional development. Courses are stand-alone and online, some are self-paced and others have a start and end date that span between four and six weeks. Fees can be hefty, ranging between $89 and $949, as this one “Yield Curve Analysis”.

Insight:  Offering free, high-quality content on feature-rich digital platforms is not free for the MOOC provider or the partnering institutions. Even though free appeared to be the end-goal of MOOCs at the time of their launch in 2012.  But free is not sustainable. The concept of MOOCs is shifting to where the demand is—fee-based certificate courses and programs in skill-specific areas, and corporate learning. In between are programs offering MOOCs for higher education credit, as with courses for ECTS credit at iVersity, edX’s Global Freshman Academy, and Malaysia’s national credit recognition policy for MOOCs. Even degrees (Georgia Tech’s CS Master’s degree) and mini-degrees based on MOOCs as with MIT’s Micro-Masters. There still are courses for free for the life-long learner, like myself, looking for high quality, online courses not for credit. I view this as a win-win-win for everyone; the platform providers, the institutions and the students. Who says MOOCs weren’t disruptive?

Further Reading:

Need-to-Know-News: Micro-Credentialing Movement in Higher Ed & Active Learning Trumps Lectures

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.

credit1) The Micro-credential Movement in Higher Ed
The latest trend in higher education is micro-credentialing, the non-traditional education path where students gain skill sets in a specific area and receive a credential. Case in point, Udacity announced this week a new nanodegree (Udacity defines nanodegrees as ‘curriculums designed to help you become job-ready)’— the Android nanodegree in partnership with Google. Another example—Penn State’s College of Business also launched this week an online bootcamp course, ‘Supply Chain Leadership Academy’, to educate “supply chain leaders of tomorrow in leadership and best practices in holistic supply chain management”.

The micro-credentialing trend is driven by business entities that have a real (or perceived) workforce skill gap, where jobs can’t be filled due to lack of qualified applicants. Google reports it has thousands of jobs to fill given a dearth of qualified applicants. The Linux Foundation, also offering a certificate course in partnership with edX, reports it has over 50,000 open jobs.

MOOC providers and select higher education institutions are leveraging the apparent skills gap, using their platforms to build their online program offerings with credentialing options for a fee. A good idea. The target market is not traditional higher education students, but non-traditional students that are already in the workforce and are looking to further their careers and/or switch career paths. Alison.com is a platform offered credentialing in specific skill sets long before MOOC providers began doing so. Though Alison’s business model is different from MOOC providers such as Coursera or edX. Students aren’t the revenue source but advertisers, featured on the platform, are.

Sampling of micro-credential programs and associated fees:

  • edX’s Linux System Administration Essentials course, “This Linux course is for those just starting their career in IT as well as professionals with experience on other operating systems who want to add Linux to their portfolio”. Fee: $399
  • Stanford Online, Professional Certificates, “Our professional certificates offer short, focused courses that give you tools and techniques you can apply right away“. Fee: $1295 per online course; required number of courses vary by certificate.
  • Udacity’s Nanodegree – “All the course content is free online, but the $200 per month pays for the non-scaleable parts of the degree: project grading, feedback, instructor mentorship, assistance and a final certification”. Option to receive reimbursement of 50% of tuition upon completion.
  • Digital Literacy & IT Skills Diploma Courses, Alison.com. Free with option to pay nominal fee for paper certificate delivered via mail.
  • Coursera’s Specializations – “Master a skill with a targeted sequence of courses”. Fee: $95 per course, with a fee for the ‘capstone project’, e.g. Business Foundations Specialization = $595 for four courses and capstone project.
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Screenshot of recent email from Coursera announcing upcoming Specialization certificates. ‘Specializations’ consist of a two or more courses on focused area.

Insight: This non-traditional student population, which micro-credentials target, is an emerging market and such options are a boon to working or unemployed adults seeking skill development. It’s a positive development in higher education. Employers appear receptive to micro-credentials. However, micro-credentialing is favorable provided the programs provide quality learning resulting in tangible, applicable skill sets. The majority of the credentials require not only a financial investment, but a significant investment of students’ time and energy. It’s buyer-beware; credentials do not guarantee a job, though the courses backed by business entities likely have higher placement rates than those without a business affiliation.

2) The Case for Active Learning over Lectures*
This is not new news, but worthy of review—evidence that performance of students engaging in classes that primarily offer active learning is improved over classes involving primarily lectures. A significant study on active learning was released last year; it provides compelling evidence on active learning benefits specific to STEM subjects in higher education (Freeman, et al., 2014). Researchers conducted a meta-analyses of 225 studies in published and unpublished literature that documented student performance in courses with at least some active learning versus traditional lecturing.  Though intuitively we might know that active learning is more effective for learning, there’s now solid evidence to back it up:

The data reported here indicate that active learning increases examination performance by just under half a SD and that lecturing increases failure rates by 55%. The heterogeneity analyses indicate that (i) these increases in achievement hold across all of the STEM disciplines and occur in all class sizes, course types, and course levels; and (ii) active learning is particularly beneficial in small classes and at increasing performance on concept inventories.

Implications: Is the lecture dead? Absolutely not, but to increase student learning, retention and success, involving students in active application of concepts should be the norm not the exception. However, implementing active learning is challenging for many educations, and especially for online courses, yet it can be done with deliberate, thoughtful development of a course learning strategy. Below are links with suggestions and examples of active learning applications. One of my favorite examples of active learning, is an online literature instructor Laura Gibbs, who creates assignments using online platforms—blogging platforms, Pinterest, etc. where students engage with content, each other and the Internet community.

References:

Feature Image: by GotCredit on Flickr

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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.