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Human Learning #40 — Spotlight on gender in Ed/Tech continues and 2U’s valuation remains divisive

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The last edition on gender in Edtech struck a chord, with many readers lauding Coursera for both appointing women to senior roles and for championing it (and no the comments were not from Coursera staff). This isn’t surprising, MOOC platforms still retain an idealistic mission, attracting like-minded talent and a culture to boot. Ignoring the imperative to diversify in leadership and management is thus a poor fit culturally, operationally and for the public mission which still underpins much of what MOOCs do.

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Two more stories highlighted the role of gender in education in general and Edtech in particular. The general; Law Professor Douglas Branson has written a new book arguing that the next wave of gender equality will be in tech. Tech has truly lamentable gender representation with women representing only 5% of management (in the US). While some have claimed the lack of women in Computer Science (i.e. a natural lead into Tech careers) is due to life choices beforehand, Branson has no truck with this argument noting the same was said of medicine (women are now a majority), Law (ditto) and MBAs (approaching parity).

Edtech is not removed from this and in a positive step, no doubt prompted by my newsletter :P, Pluralsight CEO Aaron Skonnard has signed the ‘CEO for Action for Diversity and Inclusion Pledge’ signed by 450 other CEOs. To be clear, it’s just a pledge but the right direction of travel. There is both a clear moral and business imperative to follow through on the pledge and arguably sectors such as Edtech ought to be held to a higher standard. MOOC platforms made a lot of hay of ‘democratising education’ yet the absence of gender balance in their management and leadership undermines those credentials not least given it is women for whom education has been historically denied — here and here

Notice: Last edition I noted that Udemy had only 14% in women in their leadership (based on their webpage) a PR spokesperson contacted me to say gender balance in management was higher. Good to hear, I would add however — if you’ve got it, show it- visibility is part of the battle.

State of the MOOCS

University of Maryland launches a Micromasters on edX — It’ll cost $1,500 in full. edX now have 50 MicroMasters. Micromasters are designed to fuse key the advantages of online: PAYG, stackable and democratic without disrupting the core university business model — by providing a ramp into the on-campus Masters to turn the Micro into a full masters. Still unclear whether its working for edX — here

Open edX to launch transferrable student record — For the next update of the open MOOC platform (due early 2019). This makes Open edX a bit more like an LMS and obviously is a boost for interoperability. Open edX was meant to be a plan for world domination but take up has been less than stellar. I think there are three reasons (1) It’s not sufficient to take on the LMS market (and is reluctant to do so) (2) It’s the closest edtech comes to brutalism (i.e. looks rubbish) and (3) MOOCs have moved to online programmes which require operational teams (marketing, recruitment, production) for which open source then becomes a much smaller advantage — here

edX survey finds more people need to use edX — Joking. Not joking. The survey of 1,000 25–44 year olds basically found ⅓ had completely changed fields since their first job and that most thought barriers to entry to their next job were educational. So get on edX yeah? — here

Edtech’s Business

What’s the lifetime cost of an online programme? Online programmes continue to proliferate (29% of graduate degrees in the US are taken online) but many assume online courses have close to zero marginal cost — after all — once it’s produced you just keep running it. While it varies by course early estimates from Western Governors Union reckon that for every $1 spent on upfront expenditure, 25–35c will be spent on each subsequent year, UF Online reckon they spend $52K per online course and $7,500 for each iteration. Where does this cost go? Three key areas: (1) Refactoring based on user feedback (2) Adjusting the course syllabus (as with any academic course) and (3) Data on student performance e.g. pinch points, areas of difficulty etc. The nub of this is that if ROI is the aim then online courses need to be conceived with a clear commercial strategy — here

2U; Between the Bull and the Bear (rarrr!) — 2U add three more programmes Masters in Data Science (U.Denver), Masters in Business and Masters in Law Compliance (both Fordham) they are also currently valued at an exceptional $5bn. Bull or Bear?

The bear case is being made by Spruce Point capital, they argue that 2U, who have yet to make a profit, are artificially buoyed by currently weak competition. They argue more programmes from other providers (including the likes of Coursera) will have a double whammy effect of reducing enrolments and giving universities more leverage to reduce the revenue share (currently about ⅔ of the 10 year contracts). The canary in the coal mine they argue the University of North Carolina saw dropping enrolment in their MBA.

Bulls point to a different picture. Imperial College’s Online Public Health Masters on Coursera saw 10K people subscribe for 75 places. The international market is the future — hence 2U’s acquisition of GetSmarter — far more Edtech-receptive markets in Asia and severe capacity shortages in other developing countries point to one conclusion the market demand for online is not zero sum, its growing — here and here

Big bootcamp acquires other big bootcamp — Galvanize have acquired Hack Reactor, merging two of the largest bootcamps. It continues a trend of closures and acquisitions as the Bootcamp industry looks to economies of scale and synergies (think WeWork’s acquisition) to stay afloat — here

Edtech’s nine unicorns — Holoniq a Global Intelligence provider (and producer of useful summary graphs on education) have outlined where the unicorns are. There are 9 (in recent times) 5 in China, one in India and 3 in the US. One way to think of Edtech investment is to think of phones. Developing countries skipped to mobile — rather than building out landlines. India (and to a lesser extent China) did not have the same legacy educational infrastructure and as a result Edtech has found a much larger gap to fill — the same will play out across african countries like Nigeria and South East Asian countries like Indonesia and Vietnam — here

Tangents

No tangents, I had a zen-like focus this week

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Human Learning is a newsletter written by Chris Fellingham. You can signup for it here and find other Edtech articles by Chris Fellingham on his medium page