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Do Elite Universities’ New Credentials Threaten Regional Colleges?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

The higher ed business model is actually pretty terrible.

Unfavorable demographic trends are causing enrollments to drop, particularly in the Midwest and the Northeast. To entice students, schools must discount tuition by an average of 50 percent.

Productivity gains are hard to come by in a people-centric business that is more craft than platform. The cost disease is real, and it hurts.

The one higher ed bright spot has been the master’s degree. Particularly professional master’s degrees.

Should colleges and universities be worried that alternative credentials, including professional certificates, are set to crack the golden master’s degree egg?

Will platforms that offer low-cost alternative credentials, such as Coursera and edX, end up cannibalizing the master’s programs that so many schools depend on to balance the books? Are we going to see a movement away from demand from entry into master’s programs from regional institutions, and toward enrollment in nondegree online programs from institutions with the most recognizable brands?

First, some background:

In my lifetime (I was born in 1969), the number of master’s degrees conferred every year by U.S. institutions has gone from just over 200,000 to almost 800,000 today. The most popular master’s degrees are in business (24 percent), followed by education (19 percent), health professions (14 percent), engineering (7 percent) and public administration/social services (6 percent).

As Jon Marcus details in an article for the excellent Hechinger Report, master’s degrees have “become a cash cow for struggling colleges.” The amount of tuition discounting and financial aid that schools offer for master’s programs is much less than for undergraduates. Only about four in 10 master’s students receive any institutional financial aid, half that of undergraduates.

So master’s degrees matter a good deal for both tuition-dependent private institutions and state schools that are navigating public disinvestment.

We are also witnessing the acceleration of the transition from residential to online/low-residency master’s degrees. Graduate students are more than twice as likely to be enrolled in fully online programs (26 percent) as undergraduates (12 percent). While total enrollments have declined since 2012, from about 21 million to 20 million, graduate enrollments have remained more stable. (At least up until 2016.) The number of graduate students — mostly master’s students — whose program includes at least some online learning has increased from 865,000 to 1.1 million.

A few top 20 name-brand master’s programs will persist in being able to stay residential. The rest will move toward online. This is not a question of if, but when.

What is going to happen to all those business, education, health, engineering and public service master’s programs when a prospective student can get a professional certificate from an elite university? Are we headed toward a time when employers value the signal of an alternative credential from a top school as much as they do a master’s from a regional institution?

Does this mean that the master’s programs from schools without a fancy brand name are doomed? Will elite institutions be able to offer a compelling nondegree learning experience, as these schools begin to achieve mass customization through new AI-driven adaptive learning platforms?

Will the entry into the nondegree space of deep-pocketed OPM companies such as 2U, after their acquisition of GetSmarter last year for $ 103 million, accelerate the move of top institutions toward the nondegree space?

The answer is that if colleges and universities wish to keep relying on master’s programs to fund everything else (meaning undergraduates), then they will need to change how they think about graduate education.

The best road map that I’ve read recently about making that change comes from Chris Dellarocas, associate provost for digital learning and innovation at Boston University, in his piece on this site entitled “Higher Education in a World Where Students Never Graduate.”

Chris’s piece is so well written that it is worth extensively quoting:

There is one fundamental difference between news and education. Whereas news is based on content, education is fundamentally a complex set of relationships that encompass content/knowledge, mentoring and community. Whereas content can be commoditized, good relationships tend to be sticky and hard to replace.

A university’s strongest asset is the deep bond that we form with our students — through our faculty, guidance counselors, student activities organizations, corporate partners, career counseling consultants and alumni organizations. These relationships are built around course work, of course, but also include a substantial amount of mentoring and life coaching, as well as immersion in campus activities and peer networks. We do a reasonably good job of offering such a multifaceted life-changing experience to our undergraduate students.

At the graduate professional education level, however, many universities seem to forget that we are in the relationship business and behave as if we are simple content/knowledge providers. We charge students for course credits. We advertise our graduate programs essentially as if they were products. When our students graduate, we bid them farewell and subsequently contact them primarily for donations. This transactional way of thinking and acting leaves universities vulnerable to disruption.

Relationships will be the one thing that even the best adaptive learning platforms (personalization and scale), from the most well-known institutions, will not be able to scale. The future of a master’s degree will be more like a lifetime passport than an a one-time credential. Master’s graduates will need to have access to educational opportunities, mentoring and career coaching throughout their working lives.

Colleges and universities can no longer think of a master’s student as someone who comes for one or two years online or in person to get the degree. They will be more like offspring. Chris calls them foster children, which is what the Latin “alumnus” means. Who knew?

The challenge will be evolving our schools so that they are about relationships rather than content, and then communicating that new value proposition to potential students.

Relationships will be the most important idea, concept and challenge for higher education in the 21st century. Forget big data. Forget analytics. Forget AR and VR. Think about relationships.

Is your school or program moving toward a lifetime education model for your master’s students?

What does a shift to thinking about providing access to relevant educational, networking and community opportunities for graduates actually look like in practice?

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Only Education Can Save Brazil

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The current political moment contextualizes the fight against corruption that exists throughout basic and higher education

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How ‘The Efficiency Paradox’ Gets EdTech Right

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Why education is expensive, and why technology will not be the solution.

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7 questions for the CEO of Emeritus

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Ashwin Damera is the founder and CEO of Emeritus, an online program management company.

He graciously agreed to answer my questions.

Q: What is Emeritus? How come the Emeritus name is not so well-known in the U.S.? And why should higher ed people know about Emeritus?

A: Emeritus offers online certificate courses in collaboration with leading universities. We follow a SPOC model (small, private online course) with a high-touch student experience. In the last 12 months we enrolled 9,500 students; our courses saw an 87 percent completion rate. In the next 12 months, we will triple our enrollments to 30,000 students.

Seventy-five percent of our students are non-U.S. and this is perhaps why we are less known in the U.S.

As more students learn online, there is a huge opportunity for higher education institutions to reach global audiences through a platform like Emeritus. We can provide a 360-degree solution to our partners — course creation, marketing and enrollment, tech platform and student success.

Q: What universities does Emeritus currently partner with? What courses and credentials does Emeritus offer?

A: We partner with MIT, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Wharton and the University of California, Berkeley, to offer online certificate courses in areas such as management, digital business, design thinking and entrepreneurship.

Q: How many learners have received credentials from Emeritus? Where do these learners live?

A: In the last 12 months we enrolled 9,500 students from the following regions:

  • U.S.: 25 percent
  • India: 14 percent
  • Latin America: 16 percent
  • Europe: 22 percent
  • Southeast Asia: 18 percent
  • Middle East/North Africa: 5 percent

Q: How does Emeritus differentiate itself from players like GetSmarter, 2U’s recently acquired nondegree program partner?

A: Emeritus is far more global in its enrollments. We will soon launch courses in Spanish and Portuguese. Also, we enroll students via both B2C and B2B channels. We have B2B sales teams based out of Singapore, India and Dubai. On the teaching front, most courses we offer have live teaching with either the university’s faculty or industry experts.

And we remain a private company without the worry of quarterly earning reports. This means we can have a long-term view on everything we do.

Q: My sense is that many higher ed people don’t like the online learning partnership model, as they dislike having the majority of revenues go to the companies (not the schools) and the long contract lock-ins. They also dislike outsourcing core competencies like instructional design. How does Emeritus answer these objections?

A: Emeritus bears all marketing costs. If you think of the revenue share as net of marketing, our partners keep nearly two-thirds. In addition, we make investments in technology and in course creation, which are up-front costs.

We don’t seek long-term contract lock-ins; we are far more reasonable on this front.

I think of ourselves as trusted collaborators. We regularly share our learnings with our partner schools. We have no issues if a school wants to do the instructional design and develop those capabilities. The online education space is still in a nascent stage. There is so much to learn. In our collaborative approach, we like to create — best practices and next practices — along with our partners.

Q: How much does a certificate from Emeritus cost? How does this compare with other options, such as a certificate with 2U?

A: Certificate costs vary from $ 1,200 to $ 3,750. These are much more expensive than MOOC courses, but then, the learning outcomes are far better.

Q: How is Emeritus funded? Is there an exit strategy for Emeritus to be purchased by a large, established OPM or publisher (such as GetSmarter was with 2U)?

A: Emeritus raised $ 8 million from Bertelsmann in 2017. We continue to make significant investments in course creation, learning technology and marketing tech. We intend to remain private. This gives us the ability to take a long-term view. Our university partners have established their reputation over many decades. By having a long-term view, we can ensure that we always think of what’s right for them and for the students.

What would you like to ask Ashwin? Did you know about Emeritus? What other OPM companies would you like me to ask these questions of? What are your thoughts about the OPM model?

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Mary Meeker’s Digital Learning Slides

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Spending some time with the 2018 edition of Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends presentation should lead higher ed people to draw the following conclusions:

  1. Mary Meeker is not hanging out with instructional designers.
  2. Higher education is maybe less on Meeker’s mind than it is on ours.
  3. Money people want to talk more about lifelong learning than they want to talk about the future of higher education.

On conclusion No. 1, all that needs to be said is that Meeker gleefully violates all the guidelines that presenters are given for constructing their slides. As presenters, we are told that PowerPoint is a poor medium for information transmission. That dense materials with many data points do not lend themselves well to PowerPoint, or at least to presentations where PowerPoint is used. We are told that slides should drive emotional connections with a few big points or ideas that the audience will remember.

Well, maybe all that advice is wrong. Meeker creates perhaps the most important PowerPoint presentation of each year.

For conclusion No. 2, I can’t help but to feel a bit — well — left out. How is that we can spend all of our energy talking about higher education, only to have Mary Meeker not talk about higher education at all?

Why is it that higher education is more interested in Mary Meeker than she is in us?

Perhaps the answer comes down to the fact that Meeker is a venture capitalist. Higher education remains largely a nonprofit business. The ed-tech sector may be too small to catch Meeker’s attention.

Still, I’d argue that in not considering the role of the internet and mobile in how postsecondary education is changing that Meeker is missing one of the big technology stories of our time.

For conclusion No. 3, that Meeker is interested in lifelong learning, I think the best thing to do is to share all the slides on this topic.

Slide 232 introduces the topic:

Slide text says "Lifelong learning equals crucial in evolving work environment and tools getting better plus more accessible."

Here, Meeker’s big takeaway is that lifelong learning is critical for employers, and that the tools to continually retrain workers are improving.

Slide 233 is all about Coursera:

Slide text says, "Lifelong learning: 33 milion learners plus 30 percent (Coursera)" and lists some top courses, including Machine Learning at Stanford, Neural Networks and Deeper Learning at, and Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies at Princeton. Chart shows number of learners increasing from 10 million in 2014 to 33 million in 2017, and breaks down where learners are located: 30 percent in North America, 28 percent in Asia, 20 percent in Europe, 11 percent in South America and 5 percent in Africa.

Meeker highlights the growth in the Coursera installed learner base — which is now up to a truly impressive 33 million. The top courses for 2017 are also listed.

Here I wish that Meeker had included data from edX. Combining the edX numbers of 15 million learners with Coursera’s would have been impressive. I also think that Meeker could have integrated the open online learning story with the growth of online learning for degree programs. These two stories are intermingled in a way that is not very well understood.

In slide 234 Meeker shares some lifelong learning numbers from YouTube:

Slide text says, "Lifelong learning: educational content usage ramping fast (YouTube). 1 billion daily learning video views; 70 percent of viewers use platform to help solve work/school/hobby problems, 38 percent growth year over year for job search video views (e.g., resume-writing guides). Chart shows subscriber numbers from 2013 and 2018 for selected education channels: eight million in 2018 for Asap Science, slightly less for Crash Course, four million for Khan Academy.

I had no idea that YouTube got a billion daily views for learning videos. This slide also shows the impressive growth of platforms such as Khan Academy and TED-Ed between 2013 and 2018.

The story here, I think, is impact. Online video seems to be where the action is when it comes to just-in-time learning. What is interesting to me is that YouTube and other video platforms are not all that important, from an instructional standpoint, for colleges and universities. Online and mobile instructional video lives in a largely separate and distinct world from higher ed instruction. Why is that?

Slide 235 highlights what AT&T is doing for work-force training:

Slide text outlines AT&T's Workforce 2020/Future Ready programs: $  1 billion allocated for web-based employee training with partners Coursera, Udacity and universities; 2.9 million emerging tech courses completed by employees, including in cybersecurity and machine learning; 194,000 employees (77 percent of work force) actively engaged in retraining; 61 percent of promotions were received by retrained employees from 2016 to first quarter of 2018.

Meeker thinks that AT&T is the model for how companies should invest in a future-ready work force. The $ 1 billion that AT&T has allocated for employee training is truly impressive.

This slide makes me wonder if a wide enough array of colleges and universities are doing enough to partner with companies. I’d argue that we know how to do education. That Coursera and Udacity provide a commoditized platform, and that higher education knows about authentic learning.

Some schools, such as Arizona State University, are doing a great job in partnering with companies for lifetime employee education. At other schools, this work with companies happens mostly in business schools, and in executive education divisions.

It seems as if the opportunity for partnerships between higher ed and companies is much bigger than most of us realize.

Slide 236 presents data on how freelancers are upgrading their skills.

Slide text says "More than 50 percent of freelancers updated their skills within the past six months compared to 30 percent of nonfreelancers."

It is an interesting question of how universities can become more relevant to gig workers. How many of our graduates will be freelancers? And what lifelong education opportunities are we offering to them?

Here is the full deck of Meeker’s Internet Trends 2018.

Internet Trends Report 2018 from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

You should also check out Bryan Alexander’s excellent synthesis and commentary on the larger trends that Meeker discusses.

What are your takeaways?

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Journey Mapping: The New Way to Brainstorm

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Journey mapping is a technique long known to marketers at companies like IBM and Clorox but has only recently caught on in higher education circles.

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Higher Education’s Holistic Value: The Triple Helix

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Triple helix systems are exemplified by global education hubs. Education hubs are collaborations between local and international higher education providers working in partnership to make their region more attractive and economically powerful for investment, student recruitment, and training.

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The Theranos Story and Education Technology

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

A great new book has me thinking about ed tech.

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Beyond the Brand: The Marketing Department of the Future

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Higher education marketing departments should be able to bring data, insight, and an intimate understanding of the consumer to enable their institutions to identify future opportunities and forge new directions.

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Are the Professions (Disciplines?) of Educational Developer and Learning Designer Merging?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

I’d like to share what I think I know about the professions of education developer, instructional designer, and learning designer. Then I’d like to ask your help in figuring out where my understanding is incomplete, or just downright wrong.

My goal is not to provide a complete description of the work of educational developers, instructional designers, or learning designers. Rather, I’m trying to make sense of where these professional (disciplines) differ, and where they overlap. I’m also trying to figure out if it makes sense to hypothesize that these higher education roles are starting to merge — and in particular starting to merge in the work of learning designers.

Understanding the profession (or is it discipline?) of an educational developer is where I need the most help.  While I work in a Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), I have not yet been able to attend a Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD) conference. POD is the professional association for educational developers.

The academic home for educational developers is usually (but not always) within a CTL. Educational developers collaborate with individual instructors, academic departments, and larger campus units on a range of teaching and learning activities. This work can involve working with individual faculty members in consultations around teaching or educational scholarship (consultations and consulting), or it may take the form of designing and leading workshops or other programming.

The range of activities that educational developers include in their portfolios is too large to fully enumerate. They work at every level of the institution (and cross-institutionally), on tasks ranging from course development and improvement (through design, assessment and research) to organizational development. Educational developers may work with future instructors (grad students and postdocs). They approach the work with a holistic orientation towards human development and organizational effectiveness.

Educational developers often, but now always, come to the work with either a terminal degree in the field, or from a traditional discipline based Ph.D. program. Most educational developers that I know both teach at the university level, and conduct original scholarly research on teaching and learning. Given their administrative, teaching and research roles, educational developers occupy a liminal position between faculty and staff.

This brief description of the work of an educational developer is no doubt incomplete. I would be interested in a similarly concise but more accurate description of the profession (discipline?) of educational developers.

My main question is where and how educational developers overlap and differ from instructional designers, and if the professions (disciplines?) are coming together in the profession (discipline?) of learning designers?

The work of instructional designers shares many aspects of that of educational developers, but with many key differences. Instructional designers often work in CTL’s, but they are still more likely to be found outside of the Center for Teaching and Learning.

While instructional designers may attend POD, POD is not their primary professional association. (In fact, it is not clear to me that instructional designers have a professional association — at least one that accredits and recognizes graduate training programs and credentials).

When I think of of the work of instructional designers, I mostly think about the integration of learning theory and course/program design. Instructional designers are fluent in leveraging educational technologies to align with the research on learning, and in support of the educational goals of the instructors in which they collaborate.

Instructional designers translate well-established methods and frameworks for learning, such as backwards course design and the use of learning objectives, into course design. This collaborative course design work often, but not always, is implemented in blended or online courses — and therefore is mediated by technology.

Where educational developers work almost exclusively for educational institutions (and within higher education), instructional designers can be found wherever teaching or training may occur. Until recently, it may be the case that most instructional designers worked outside of academe (is this true?), designing face-to-face and online training materials and experiences in corporate, government, and other settings.

The growth of online learning in the past 20 years has been accompanied by a commensurate growth in the number of instructional designers on our campuses. Nowadays, instructional designers are part of the normal fabric of university life. They work on residential, blended, low-residency and full online degree and non-degree programs. They can speak as authoritatively about both Bloom’s taxonomy and the ADDIE framework, as well as about the latest developments in adaptive learning platforms, classroom response system, lecture capture technologies, and learning management systems (LMS).

A trend that I’ve observed across higher education, and one that is certainly present at my institution, is for the title of instructional designer to evolve into that of a learning designer.

A learning designer seems to do everything that an instructional designer does, save for somewhat less emphasis on managing and supporting educational technology platforms. The emphasis is squarely on learning. 

Technologies such as the LMS, simulations and adaptive learning platforms remain important tools — but their use is analogous to how a social scientist might use a statistical package for their research. They are only tools. (Professionals with titles such as “educational technologist” are now taking over the selection, management, support and training for learning technology platforms — although learning designers are certainly still closely involved in this work).

Where I’ve observed learning designers more closely resemble educational developers is with the professions (disciplines?) greater focus on departmental / school / and organizational development.  Learning designers are increasingly working across the institution (and cross-institutionally) to advance student learning.

Learning designers are also engaged in their own teaching (as opposed to only collaborating with teaching instructors), and in creating original research. Like educational developers, they not only read the SoTL literature, they are contributing to it.

My sense is that learning designers remain more likely to work in digital environments — on blended and low-residency and online courses and programs — than are educational developers. That technology remains more at the heart of the culture of the learning design profession than it is of educational developers. But I’m not totally sure this is right.

Throughout this post I’ve written profession, followed by discipline with a question mark. The reason I’m doing this is that I’m unclear if educational developers are part of an educational development academic discipline. And I’m not sure if the field of learning design is coalescing into an academic discipline. One that offers a consistent method of advanced training and accreditation, grounded in well understood and generally recognized theoretical frameworks, and which is unified by a commonly accepted set of methodological tools and frameworks.

I know that educational developers get Ph.D.s in their fields, I’m not sure if learning designers do?

Might we see a merging of the work, profession and discipline of educational developers and learning designers?

Are we seeing the profession of instructional design forking into educational technologist on side, and the academic discipline of learning design on the other? And if so, how much does this learning design discipline overlap with that of the educational developers?

Is there a sociology of the postsecondary learning professions?

Do you consider yourself an educational developer, and instructional designers, or a learning designer? (Or all 3?).

What was your path to your academic discipline/profession?

How has your role changed at your institution during the past few years?

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