The web-site is now in readonly mode. Login and registration are disabled. (28 June 2019)

e-Learning Digest No 112 - Dec 13

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
16 December 2013

UK Conferences & Workshops

If you wish to set your sights further afield, Clayton Wright has recently updated his comprehensive listing of worldwide e-learning conferences.


Coursera News

[Stephen Downes; Wired Campus; Audrey Watters]

Coursera has announced an additional $20 million in funding from three unnamed universities.  This means the organisation has raised $85 million since April 2012 – eclipsing MOOC competitors Udacity ($20m) and Udemy ($16m).

Coursera has launched an iOS app that allows students to browse, search and enrol on courses, download video lectures for offline viewing, take quizzes and view their personal dashboard.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania surveyed 34,000 learners on Penn/Coursera MOOCs and found that 44% had some graduate education and more than 80% had a degree.  They believe this pattern is true not just for the US but also for the BRICS nations, where, “80 percent of MOOC students come from the wealthiest and most well educated 6 percent of the population”.  However, the researchers do caution that these findings may not be generalizable due to the low response rate.

Penn researchers also studied the behaviour of around a million (potential) learners on 16 Coursera MOOCs, finding that, on average, only half of those who register even watch the first lecture.  One interesting outcome to emerge is that courses with lighter weekly workloads and fewer assignments had somewhat higher completion rates than those that expected more of participants.


Other MOOC News

[Stephen Downes; Martin Weller; George Siemens; Wired Campus; Audrey Watters; Richard Easterbrook; Inside Higher Ed]

Sebastian Thrun’s ‘Gerald Ratner moment’ set the blogosphere alight.  In an article in Fast Company Magazine, Thrun is quoted as saying (amongst other things), “We don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished.  We have a lousy product”.  Now, as part of an ‘Open Education Alliance’, Udacity will receive payment from Google, Intuit and others to help produce courses for employee training.  Or, to quote Martin Weller, “Thrun has realised that not many people complete MOOCs, and that making them pay is a good incentiviser, so he's making Udacity an elearning corporate training company.”  George Siemens is one of many with strong views on this: “This is a failure of Udacity and Sebastian Thrun.  This is not a failure of open education, learning at scale, online learning, or MOOCs.  Thrun tied his fate too early to VC funding.  As a result, Udacity is now driven by revenue pursuits, not innovation.”

Artist Rooms is a collaboration between Tate, the National Galleries of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh.  In addition to a 2014 touring exhibition programme, they will also launch a MOOC looking at the life and work of Andy Warhol.

LinkedIn is piloting Direct-to-Profile Certifications.  After the completion of a course with a participating provider such as Coursera, EdX,, Pearson, Skillsoft, Udacity and Udemy, LinkedIn members will receive an email with a link that will enable them to add the certification or completed course work to their LinkedIn Profile.

edX is abandoning offering job-placement services.  In a pilot scheme, edX identified 868 high-performing students from two Berkeley computer-science MOOCs and tried matching them to a handful of technology companies, including Google, Amazon, and SAP.  But, of those 868 students, only three landed job interviews and none were hired.

Novelist John Lanchester writes the London Review of Books about his experience of taking an EdX MOOC – Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science – which he found to be “more rigorous, and more educational” than he expected.  However, I’m not is the great and the good from Harvard will be completely aligned with his conclusion: “I suspect a lot of the good they bring to the world won’t be in the form of anything useful.  Instead they offer anyone who can be bothered the chance to learn things just for the sake of learning.”

The Gates-funded MOOC Research Initiative has announced its preliminary results at a conference at the University of Texas but, so far, nothing ground-breaking has emerged: few active users, high drop-outs, high production costs, low returns, etc, etc.  Sounds to me like the gravy train may be suffering from a few leaves on the line…

Martin Weller has also been funded by some of the money I spent buying MS Office 4.0 on 13 floppy disks in 1994.  He blogs Katy Jordan’s analysis of completion data from 221 different MOOCs.  You really need to see the graphs, but highlights include: negative correlations between numbers who enrol and % who complete, and between numbers of active users and % of those who complete; and a duration of 3-7 weeks looks to be more successful than anything longer.


Planet Pearson

[Audrey Watters; THE]

Pearson is “on the path to efficacy” and has announced a series of commitments to measure and increase the company's impact on learning outcomes.  As part of this, the company has published Asking More: The Path to Efficacy, comprising articles from some of the world’s leading education practitioners and business people, and The Incomplete Guide to Delivering Learning Outcomes, which outlines Pearson’s own efficacy programme.

Pearson has sold its financial news service Mergermarket for £382m so that it can focus more on “digital learning, educational services and emerging markets”.  Then, within a week, it made its largest single acquisition since buying Harcourt Education in 2007, by paying £440m for Grupo Multi, a Brazilian English-language training company.  Pearson believes Brazil is the one of the largest English-language education markets, worth about £2bn.

Pearson has made a second investment in Delhi-based Avanti Learning Centres.  Avanti helps prepare students from low-income backgrounds for college entrance exams, focusing on the highly competitive career paths of engineering and medicine.

Oops.  The charitable Pearson Foundation will pay $7.7 million to settle accusations that it repeatedly broke New York State law by assisting in for-profit ventures.  An investigation found that the foundation had helped develop products for its corporate parent and also helped woo clients to Pearson’s business side by paying their way to education conferences that were attended by its employees.

The government’s “uncontrolled” expansion of student numbers at private colleges is boosting Pearson’s income stream while spelling potential cuts for universities.  HNCs and HNDs (examined by Pearson’s Edexcel at £159 and £192 per head) account for nearly a quarter of private courses attracting government support.  The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has written to the 23 providers “expanding most rapidly” to tell them to recruit no more students on such courses for 2013-14 confirmed David Willetts.

Ex-Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino has been appointed to the board of Twitter.


Other Commercial News

[Audrey Watters; Epic; TechCrunch]

Google has finally won its eight-year-long legal battle with the US Authors Guild over the search giant’s efforts to digitize millions of books.  The presiding judge said that the scanning was “tranformative” and as such amounted to fair use.

French start-up, Gutenberg Technology, has raised $6.5 million of funding to help it develop MyEbookFactory - a digital publishing platform that can add multimedia enhancements to PDF textbooks and optimise them for mobile devices.  Gutenberg now plans to add “MOOC features”.  The company has partnered with publishers such as Pearson and its titles are currently used by over 50,000 students in France.

Brighton-based Epic has become part of newly formed Learning Technologies Group plc (LTG) and is now listed on the London Stock Exchange AIM.  CEO, Jonathan Satchell, plans to accelerate growth through a “buy and build strategy”, aiming for annual revenue of >£50m per year in the medium term.

Apple has bought Topsy – which has records of over 425 billion tweets made since 2006 – for a reported sum in the region of $200m.

US for-profit, Strayer Education, is cutting its fees for new undergraduate students by as much as 40% in a bid to stem declining numbers.  Total enrolment for current term fell by 17%, while new enrolments were down 23%.  And Ry Rivard lists a further 19 tales of US private colleges that are showing signs of financial trouble.

Rosetta Stone has acquired language distance learning company Tell Me More for €21 million.  Whereas RS has tended to target the consumer market, the new acquisition does 95% of its business in the B2B and HE sectors.


UK No 1 for Research

[University World News]

The UK ranks first among some of the world’s most research-intensive nations according to a new report from DBIS, International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base.  Although Britain represents just 0.9% of the global population, we account for 3.2% of global R&D expenditure, 4.1% of researchers, 6.4% of research articles, 9.5% of research article downloads and 15.9% of the world’s most highly cited articles – ahead of the US, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.


Review of EU Copyright Rules

[Stephen Downes]

The EU has launched a public consultation on the review of the EU copyright rules.  The 36-page document is essentially an 80-item questionnaire and they welcome any and all responses by 5 Feb 14.


High Career Turnover Rates for Women in STEM Fields

[Campus Technology; Inside Higher Ed]

Fifty percent of women working in STEM careers leave their field for other occupations in the first 12 years of their career, compared to only 20% of professional women in non-STEM fields, according to a new study, What's So Special about STEM? A Comparison of Women's Retention in STEM and Professional Occupations, from Cornell University and the University of Texas at Austin.

And about half of bachelor’s degree candidates in STEM subjects leave the field before completing a college degree, according to a report from the US Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.


Penguin e-Book App

[The Guardian]

Penguin UK has teamed up with the Berlin-based e-book app developer Readmill to offer free iOS and Android apps that allow readers to purchase more than 5,000 e-books by Zadie Smith, John Updike and other top authors.  The apps allow readers to share highlights and supports digital conversations about books by linking reading to social media.  Readers can use the app to update Facebook and Twitter when they begin reading a book, if they want to highlight passages or when they finish a book.


Using the Cloud to Improve Access for the Disabled

[Campus Technology]

Raising the Floor is a consortium of more than 60 academic institutions, businesses and non-governmental organizations which aims to give students with disabilities unfettered access to the internet.  A new initiative, the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII), will use a cloud-based service to automatically configure internet-connected devices to meet the needs of individual users with disabilities, creating “an on-demand, personalized, accessible on-ramp to the internet”.


Why Online Learning is More Valuable than Traditional College

[Matthew Moran]

Simon Dudley, writing in Wired, suggests that online learning is more valuable than traditional college, citing Khan Academy’s 283m video views and MIT’s 52m: “you can take practically every MIT course on iTunes University.  But because you did not pay tuition, you don’t get a diploma at the end of it.”  Wrong.  You may be able to watch practically every MIT lecture but that is not the same taking a degree course, engaging with academic debate, analysing material, constructing arguments, presenting information, etc, etc.  Then I discover that Simon is “the Video Evangelist for LifeSize”, a video communication company.


Device Market Stats

[TechCrunch; CNET; Mashable; Campus Technology] 

Gartner reports global sales of 456m mobile phones in Q3, 55% of which were Smartphones and 82% of these were Android-powered.  Samsung was lead manufacturer, with a 32% market share.  However, in the same period in the US alone, Apple remained dominant with 41% of the market.

In the US, Walmart sold 1.4m tablets on Thanksgiving and Currys/PC World are predicting that Brits will buy over 1m tablets in the run up to Christmas, with iPad Air and Galaxy Tab 3s expected to be top sellers.  If proof of tablet mania were needed, Aldi promoted an £80 Medion tablet earlier this month which sold out in a day.

Having reported a couple of months ago that MS was selling off stagnant stocks of Surface tablets at bargain basement prices, news now comes that the new Surface 2 is selling out at many US locations.

Remember the humble desktop PC?  IDC is forecasting that PC shipments will drop by 10% this year.


New Creative Commons Licences

[Stephen Downes]

Version 4.0 of the Creative Commons license set is now available.  They say, “The 4.0 licenses — more than two years in the making — are the most global, legally robust licenses produced by CC to date.  We have incorporated dozens of improvements that make sharing and reusing CC-licensed materials easier and more dependable than ever before.”


British Library Makes Classic Book Images Available

[eBook Friendly]

The British Library has released over one million images from classic books for the public to use, remix and repurpose.  The images – including illustrations from novels, maps, diagrams, satirical images, wall-paintings – were scanned by Microsoft from 17th, 18th and 19th century books, who then gifted all digitized images to The British Library.  Sources include works by Dickens, Austen, Bronte and Conan Doyle.



  • ·        Whatever becomes of former VLE development managers?  Some end up circling the globe and taking amazing wildlife photographs.  [North South Images]
  • ·        Launched in Feb 12, the 2,000,000th Raspberry Pi was sold in October.  [Raspberry Pi]
  • ·        According to analysts, Gartner, smartphones will be smarter than their users by the year 2017.  [Campus Technology]
  • ·        The eLearning Guild offers yet another of its free downloads: 131 Tips on Graphics and Animations for eLearning.  [eLearning Guild]
  • ·        Google is trying to play catch-up with Apple with last month’s launch of Google Play for Education.  [Audrey Watters]
  • ·        Karim Benyagoub has created an interesting timeline graphic charting the history of social media.  []
  • ·        The Wolfram Language (and Mathematica) is being bundled as part of the standard system software for every Raspberry Pi.[Wolfram]
  • ·        Spotify has just launched a free streaming app which may offer a better service than iTunes Radio.  [iMore]
  • ·        The British Psychological Society lists its ten best psychology books of 2013.  [BPS]
  • ·        Google has just bought its eighth robotics company – military supplier Boston Dynamics – this year.  [BBC]
  • ·        Towards Maturity’s annual e-learning benchmark study has just been released, based on responses from 500+ organisations.  [Towards Maturity]
  • ·        Fascinating video demo of inFORM - a Dynamic Shape Display that renders interactive 3D content physically.  [Chris Hough]


And Finally…

[TechCrunch; Audrey Watters]

Cheesy doesn’t begin to describe this promo video of Shai Goitein and his Bluetooth-controlled paper aeroplane.  But keep watching – it’s actually quite impressive, and you could become one of the 1400 backers that Shai needs to make his dream a reality.

Finished the Christmas shopping?  I presume your list of tasteful but practical yuletide gifts included an iPotty...?


Extra content

Embedded Content