Author Archive


Audiobooks for College Students?: A Q&A With the Co-Founder of

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

How should higher education approach audiobooks, and what are the alternatives to Audible / Amazon?

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5 Things Universities Want From OPM Providers

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What do universities want from online program management providers?

I have no idea.

Ask me what I want in a potential OPM partner, and I’ll talk your ear off.

But search for any research on how universities evaluate the decision to partner with a for-profit company to build, market, launch and run a new online degree program — and you will be mostly searching in vain.

The growing phenomenon of nonprofit/for-profit partnerships in postsecondary online learning needs research attention. We need to move OPM analysis out of the world of for-profit consulting companies and higher ed blogs. We need to investigate the changing way in which higher education programs are financed, including the OPM partnership model, involving scholars who are committed to independent and sustained research.

For now, lacking the research, I’ll share some of my own OPM opinions. You can let us know if your thinking, and the thinking at your institution, aligns with my own.

Here are five things that I want to see from OPM providers:

No. 1: Higher Ed People

Higher education is a business built on relationships. We are more like an ancient guild than a modern industry. The decision to make a life in higher education is not a rational one. Nobody in their right mind would choose a higher ed career on a pure cost/benefit calculation. Higher ed people are, above all else, mission driven. They are true believers in the potential of higher education to improve the lives of our students and to contribute to the making of a better world.

It would be great if more people who worked in online program management companies came from higher ed. If they built their relationships and networks while working for a university. It is not that we don’t trust people from outside academia. It is just that we don’t trust people from outside academia.

This might be our blind spot. Higher ed people don’t have a monopoly on being mission driven. Still, too few professionals in the OPM business seem to have previously been in higher education leadership roles. If partnerships with OPMs really do benefit our institutions, our students and our faculty, then more higher ed people should be wanting to work for OPMs.

No. 2: Flexible Unbundling

The only reason that a university would partner with a company to do an online program is that, for some reason, we can’t do it ourselves. What we can’t do ourselves varies from school to school, and surprisingly even within schools.

In some places we need the whole enchilada. We need the start-up capital. The instructional designers and project managers and video educators. We need the marketing and outreach to a population of online learners that we are not experienced reaching. We need the learning platforms. The student support.

Mostly, however, we don’t need all that. We need some but not all of those things. And what is needed might be different for different parts of the university. One division, school, program or major might be really good when it comes to instructional design. What they need most is marketing. Another area of the institution may not have the instructional designers, but it is well set up to support enrolled students.

A good OPM will be flexible in their partnerships. It will have options between revenue share and fee for service. It will unpack the partnership in a way that can work best for the institution.

No. 3: Capacity Building

Too often, OPM providers lead with money. How much revenue the new programs might deliver to the schools. Money is good, but it is only one part of the equation.

What we really care about is the long-term resilience of our institutions, and our ability to meet our strategic goals and to support our larger institutional missions. Online education is integral to how education is changing. Online programs provide opportunities to not only bring in new (much needed) dollars, but also to build new institutional capacities.

Online programs can serve as amazing opportunities for faculty development. Pair a professor with an instructional designer and watch the magic happen. What faculty learn in developing and teaching online courses can be translated into residential teaching and learning.

Outsourcing the core functions of an organization is always a bad idea. Outsourcing the teaching and learning function of a university is always a bad idea. OPMs need to learn to work with universities to use any partnerships around online programs to advance all learning.

No. 4: Transparency

One difficulty that schools have in even thinking about investigating a partnership with a company to start a new online program is our lack of information. We just know so little about how past OPM partnerships have played out. There is no good source of independent data — even if the data are anonymized.

There is no database that aggregates all OPM partnership arrangements across all the different schools and that would allow for a data-driven analysis of how well these arrangements work and which OPM might be a good fit.

Beyond a lack of outcome data, our ability to examine the contracts between peer schools and OPM providers is limited. We don’t really know how to negotiate a fair deal because we don’t understand how other schools have gone about setting up these partnerships.

The lack of data leaves us to rely on conversations, snippets of information and what the various OPM companies tell us. This inability to make data-driven decisions hurts everyone. It slows down the process. It makes schools that should consider an OPM partnership fail to even begin a project to look at options. A lack of data makes it less likely that partnerships that are begun will work well for both parties.

The only entities that can solve this lack of data are the OPM companies. I would love to see an OPM association that is built around helping higher education make data-driven decisions. This would require a commitment to transparency that I don’t think the OPM industry has prioritized.

No. 5: Diversity

This really should not have to be said in 2018, but judging from what I see in the OPM industry, I’m going to say it anyway. Higher ed people really do care about diversity, inclusion and opportunity. We believe that diverse perspectives are necessary for healthy teams and well-run organizations.

Our students are increasingly diverse across every demographic and social dimension. A potential OPM partner whose work force is not diverse is a demonstration of the values of that OPM company. We are unlikely to partner with anyone who does not share our values.

Again, these are the five things that I’d like most to see from a potential OPM partner.

What would you like to see?

How do we get the research started that would help us make some more definitive and representative statements about how schools and OPM providers might better work together?

Where do you get your OPM information?

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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

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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

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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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