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e-Learning Digest No 137 - Jan 16

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
18 January 2016

UK Conferences & Workshops


e-Learning MOOCs



[THE; Stephen Downes; Audrey Watters; MIT, Fortune]

Six universities – Delft University of Technology; Swiss Federal Institute of Technology; the Australian National University; the University of Queensland; the University of British Columbia; and Boston University – are seeking to establish a new alliance in which each organisation’s MOOCs are formally accredited by partner institutions in a scheme similar to the European Credit Transfer System.

According to Class Central, more people signed up for MOOCs in 2015 than did so in the previous three years and more than 500 organisations now offer 4,200 courses to which 35m students have signed up.  Coursera remains the largest provider, accounting for around 50% of all MOOC students, followed by edX with FutureLearn in third (275% growth last year).  However, when measured by course numbers, (291 courses) knocked FutureLearn into fourth place (239).  Business & management tops the list of course titles (705) followed by science (477) and social sciences (453).  Computer science (410) and programming (313) have been split this year but, had that not been the case, they would have claimed the top spot.

Coursera has published its top ten most popular MOOCs of 2015, the top three being:

  1. Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects (University of California, San Diego)

  2. Mastering Data Analysis in Excel (Duke University)

  3. Programming for Everybody: Getting Started with Python (University of Michigan)

...and its top ten most coveted Coursera Certificates of 2015 are topped by:

  1. Digital Marketing (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

  2. Data Science (Johns Hopkins University)

  3. Interaction Design (University of California, San Diego)

Udacity has announced a new programme that guarantees its graduates will land a job in their field within six months of completion – or their money back.  However, enrolees are advised to read the small print: the offer only applies to its most marketable topics (machine-learning engineer, Android developer, iOS developer and senior web developer); students must fully complete their course; and they must pay an extra $100 a month for that peace of mind (a total of $299 for each month of course – typically six to eight months x 10 hours per week).

MOOCs were supposed to help democratise access to education but there has been plenty of evidence and news items to suggest this is generally not the case.  Now researchers from MIT and Harvard have investigated the effects of socioeconomic status on online learning.  Using demographic data from 68 HarvardX and MITx MOOCs, they found a correlation between three indicators – parental educational attainment, neighbourhood average educational attainment and neighbourhood median income – and performance and course completion, especially among younger students.  Those enrolling in HarvardX and MITx on edX live in neighbourhoods where the median income is 38% higher than typical the US norm.  And among teenagers who register for a HarvardX course, those with a college-educated parent are twice as likely to complete their course compared to students whose parents did not complete college.

Fortune reports on how an early move into MOOCs made Wharton a major player in online education.  Most Wharton learners are aged 25 to 44, have a bachelor’s degree or higher, are employed full time and, since 2012, some 2.7m have enrolled in Wharton’s 18 Coursera MOOCs and the school has awarded 54,000 x $95 verified certificates.  Since last April they have also awarded 32,000 verified certificates in Specialization courses, adding to the estimated $5m MOOCs will generate for the School in 2015.  Wharton expects to double that in 2016 as it launches at least two dozen new online offerings, including its first three SPOCs on the EdX platform.

Gilly Salmon and chums examined the use of social media (Facebook and Twitter) by participants in a MOOC developed to enable educators to learn about the Carpe Diem learning design process.  Based on interviews with 29 participants, 31% used Facebook in connection with the course, 3% used Twitter and 14% used both, but 41% did not use social media at all because, “First, they did not believe that there was any learning value in using social media sites, and that it was a waste of their time.  Second, they found the social media landscape too confusing and intimidating.  Third, they did not want to blur what they perceived as the social-professional divide.”

Coursera reveals some interesting (but brief) under-the-bonnet details of its MOOC platform and content editor.



[BBC; UWN; Wonkhe; Audrey Watters]

New data from HESA show that part-time student numbers have hit a new low, with the number of first-year students studying part time in 2014-15 falling by 6% on the previous year, and by 38% in five years – from more than 428,000 in 2010-11 to below 266,000 last year.  The NUS blames much of the decline on government cuts to student funding, claiming, “Their commitment to social mobility and widening participation is only at surface level, and they do not realise that part-time education is essential to this agenda.”

An investigation by The Times found that the UK is suffering a cheating epidemic with almost 50,000 students caught in the past three years and students from outside of the EU more than four times as likely to cheat in exams and coursework.  For example, at London’s Queen Mary University, 75% of those found to have plagiarised were from overseas with a third from China; and at Sheffield, three in four cheats came from overseas, although they made up only 18% of the student body.  The article also reports a growth in essay mills, particularly based in India.

Jackie Njoroge writes about the need for better business intelligence and improved competitive insights in UK HE, given the growing importance of efficiency and greater student choice.  She has been part of the HESA/Jisc Business Intelligence project which was responsible for the rollout of Heidi Plus which will make it possible for decision makers at all levels of an organisation to more easily access, analyse, understand and act on business.  However she warns that “with big data comes big responsibility”.

The UK has the greatest number of institutions in the 2016 Times Higher Education list of the 200 most international universities in the world with 64 HEIs, although only one – Imperial – makes the top ten.  The list is headed by Qatar University.

The universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York have jointly launched the White Rose University Press (WRUP) which will publish peer-reviewed academic papers, books, textbooks, and conference literature from across the academic community both in the UK and internationally.  Online access to all the published material will be free to all readers.


Commercial News

[Jisc; THE; EdSurge; Audrey Watters]

Capita has acquired Brighton-based e-learning company (yes, another one) Brightwave which it will merge with its own current e-learning division.

Bloomsbury is set to acquire LexisNexis and Jordan family law publishing assets for £1.4m.  The deal is part of a strategy to increase its proportion of non-consumer revenues to 50% and will give Bloomsbury the rights to six family law titles which last year yielded £800k in profits.

HE content provider Macmillan Learning has acquired Roberts and Company, which publishes HE textbooks, interactive media, and original monographs in biology, chemistry and engineering.

The Economist has launched, offering <90-minute proprietary online professional development courses curated by the staff of The Economist and taught by experts from different fields.  Prices seem to range from free to around $100.

London-based Technology Will Save Us has raised £1.2m of funding, including input from a “substantial retail investor”.  Founded in 2012, the company makes the BBC micro:bit and six other electronic kits for young children.

Apollo Education Group has bought German for-profit college Career Partner for £71 million.  Career Partner offers 24 undergraduate courses, as well as master's programmes, including an MBA, to around 5,000 students.  It also provides professional development courses to around 27,000 people a year.

Pearson has a new logo.  Not surprisingly, EdSurge and others can’t resist making some question mark-exclamation mark comments.

But new logos don’t cut any ice with UK university librarians, with the Telegraph reporting a backlash after Pearson “imposed steep price rises on academic libraries”.  Jisc got involved, Pearson rethought its prices but the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) says it hasn’t gone far enough.

And EdSurge reports that US edtech startups set another record in 2015, with a total of $1.85bn raised in funding across 198 deals up to 16 Dec.


What Next for US For-Profit HE?

[The Chronicle; Tony Bates; Phil Hill; Audrey Watters]

The Chronicle reports that, at the height of their growth, for-profit colleges enrolled 1 in 12 students at US degree-granting institutions.  But those days are over and enrolments at for-profit colleges have fallen by 26% since 2009 compared with a 9% overall decline in US postsecondary enrolment.  Some private providers have folded (e.g. Corinthian) while many others have experienced significant shrinkage: Apollo Education Group (owners of the University of Phoenix) has seen its corporate value decline from $10bn in 2009 to under $800m today, and a look at Phoenix enrolments shows the extent of its downsizing.  However, writer Goldie Blumenstyk thinks all is not lost and that there are already signs of providers reinventing themselves, their offerings and their financial models.

CNBC profiles Laureate Education, the world's largest for-profit HE company by enrolment (~1m students), noting that 84% of its revenue comes from outside the US, thus avoiding intense US government scrutiny.  The company notes the demand for low-cost HE far outstrips the supply in such places as Latin America, where HE has traditionally been the purview of Catholic colleges and state-run universities which, although cheap or free, have only limited student places.  Critics say Laureate puts too much emphasis on marketing, advertising, executive salaries and recruitment of students and too little on quality education.  For example, after it took over Centro Universitario in 2010, the school's quality ranking among small colleges in Brazil plunged from 41st place to No 132.

Tony Bates discusses data from WCET that shows US distance education enrolments continuing to grow slowly but steadily.  But a breakdown by provider confirms the Phoenix situation described above: private non-profit enrolments grew by 22% from 2012-14, public by 9%, but private for-profit declined by 11%.

However, the New York Times reports that Apollo Education Group (Phoenix) is in “advanced talks” to be purchased by Apollo Global Management, a NY private-equity firm, (similar name, different company), owner of McGraw-Hill Education.  NYT believes the deal could be worth about $1bn and an agreement could be reached in the next few weeks.


Dropout and Completion in HE in Europe


The EU reports on Dropout and Completion in Higher Education in Europe, beginning by noting an EU-wide lack of consistent data, indicators, organisational measures and definition of study success.  Despite this, England appears to perform well: of the 35 counties studied, it is one of 16 who regard study success as “very high or high on the agenda”; it tops retention rates (93% in 2012/13 (Table 4.4)) and is close to the top of completion rates (85.6% for 2011/12 beginners (Table 4.3)).  England is also one of four countries singled out as having “good national approaches” (p66).  There are no specific data for part-time students for any country but numerous references to diminished completion and study success.


The Three Laws of eLearning Failure

[Stephen Downes]

Short and sweet descriptions of his three laws of e-learning failure from Marc Rosenberg, but so very true:

  • Great e-Learning technology combined with bad content results in more efficiently delivered bad content.

  • When great e-Learning comes up against a lousy learning culture, the culture wins every time.

  • e-Learning that is compensation for bad documentation, tools, processes, or management will ultimately prove to be a waste of time and money.


Who are the Open Learners?


A new IET paper presents the results of a survey of more than 3,000 OER users of three repositories: OpenLearn, iTunesU and Saylor Academy.  In addition to demographic data, they report on patterns of use, user profiles, attitudes towards OER, types of materials used and popularity of different subjects.  The researchers found that, on the whole, learners were highly positive about their use of OER, their experiences were fairly consistent and they believe they will continue to use them.  However, when asked whether their informal studies would now make formal study more likely, some degree of polarization was observed for iTunes and Saylor students (Table 2) but OpenLearners were much more inclined towards future formal study.  The authors note that this may be explained by, “the existence of planned pathways between OpenLearn content and degree level content provided by The Open University (UK) which are intended to facilitate the transition from non-formal to formal study”


VR Update

[TechCrunch; BBC]

The consumer version of the Oculus Rift VR headset has finally been confirmed, at a cost of $599 or £499, with shipping to an initial 20 countries beginning in March.  There was some disquiet because this is considerably more than the earlier $349 dev kit, but co-founder Palmer Luckey stressed that $599 represents Oculus selling the Rift ‘at cost’.  Users will also need to own a PC capable of powering Rift but Oculus aims to offer an ‘Oculus Ready’ PC plus Rift bundles for pre-order in February, starting at $1,499. 

Sony says over 200 developers are already engaged with its PlayStation VR programme and that the service will launch with over 100 titles later this year.  CEO Kaz Hirai claims, “it’s all about making a better and more immersive game-play experience, which separates us from everybody else.”

I Am Cardboard, the company that makes Google Cardboard, has launched the DSCVR Headset which is effectively a $30 plastic version of the Google Cardboard VR goggles.

Alton Towers will open its first VR rollercoaster, Galactica, in April, following two years of planning.  Over the course of the three-minute physical ride, VR headsets will show passengers a journey across a series of different galaxies, timed to coincide with the ride's twists, turns and falls.  Lying face-down, they will experience a maximum force of 3.5g, which the park says is more than astronauts typically experience during rocket launches.


e-Learning Hype Cycle

[Stephen Downes]

Edtech company Web Courseworks brings its variant of the Gartner hype cycle for e-Learning, 2016.  This sees MOOCs heading for the Trough of Disillusionment to join Maintenance of Certification, but there are 6 newcomers on the Innovation Trigger slope:

  • Internet-enabled Physical Simulators (high-stakes simulations such as skills acquisition/practise in fields like surgery and defence)

  • Integrated Performance Improvement

  • Crowd Sourcing Instructional Design

  • Free, totally online, fully accredited university education

  • Gamification

  • Subscription learning (pay-pre-chunk)


Should Students Be Partners In Curriculum Design?


Chris Havergal examines the role of students in pedagogical design decisions.  For example, Pennsylvania’s Bryn Mawr and Haverford colleges have involved about 250 academics and 200 student consultants since 2007.  “Most people who come into the programme think: ‘What could a student teach me about teaching, and particularly a student outside my subject area?’” says director, Alison Cook-Sather. “They also feel vulnerable that people will be watching them and judging them. [But] what happens for 99 per cent of the people who participate is that they realise it isn’t about expertise in a subject area: it is about understanding how the student experiences pedagogy, curriculum and assessment in the class.”


Bloom Revisited

[Stephen Downes; TechCrunch]

Bloom’s (1956) Taxonomy might be regarded by many as a bit old hat and ‘instructional’, but it does offer a useful sanity check for authors and designers of teaching, learning and assessment to consider whether they’re pitching things at an appropriate cognitive level.  Anderson & Krathwohl’s 2001 revised taxonomy improved matters by swapping Bloom’s levels 5 and 6 and introducing more friendly action verbs, then I discovered Andrew Churches’ Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy which links the categories and activities to social media and a variety of digital tools/techniques.  And finally, via Stephen Downes, comes Eric Sheninger’s new Rigor and Relevance Framework, which he describes as, “an action ­oriented continuum that describes putting knowledge to use”.  It won’t change the world but it’s another useful perspective and, as with the Digital Taxonomy, it helpfully relates the action verbs to relevant learning technologies.

TechCrunch also looks at Bloom’s more recent Two Sigma research which showed that students receiving 121 tuition using mastery learning techniques performed an average of two standard deviations better than students who learned via traditional classroom methods.  Bloom himself concluded that this is, “too costly for most societies to bear on a large scale”, but Roshan Choxi considers how educational technology might help to provide or support a similar ‘online mentorship’ approach.


CES Update

[BBC; TechCrunch; Stephen Downes]

The annual CES conference and exhibition has just taken place in Las Vegas.  Once again my ticket got lost in the post, but some of the highlights include… 


Facebook Remains the Top App Of 2015


Figures from Nielsen show that Facebook was the number one US smartphone app last year with more than 126 million average unique users each month, (+8%), followed by YouTube (97m, +5%) and Facebook Messenger (96m, +31%).  Android was the top smartphone operating system (52.6%), closely followed by iOS (42.7%).

And, according to Yahoo-owned mobile analytics firm Flurry, mobile app usage (as measured by the number of sessions) grew by 58% last year, with 40% of that coming from existing users.  Although growth was higher in 2014 (76%), only 20% came from existing users and Flurry notes the growing importance of app developers re-engaging their existing users – getting them to come back and then spend more time in the app.  Personalization apps (e.g. Android lock screens and emoji keyboards) saw the greatest increase in sessions (344%).


Five Things That Will Disappear in Five Years

[TechCrunch; BBC]

It’s January and the web is full of horizon-scanning predictions, but here’s something different from Tom Gonser: five things that will disappear in five years.  He predicts:

  • Cash, checkbooks, credit cards and ATMs

  • USB sticks

  • Easier, more secure access – no more passwords or physical keys

  • Remote controls

  • Static documents and paper agreements

Is it too soon to add PCs to that list?  IDC reports shipments of desktop machines fell by a record 10.6% in the fourth quarter from a year ago due to competition from portable devices.  Gartner also saw shipments down but, using different methodology, only by 8.3%.


Open and Online Education Trend Report 2015

[Stephen Downes]

The Open Education Trend Report 2015 describes the trends in open and online education in the Netherlands and abroad from the perspective of Dutch HE in nine articles by Dutch open and online education experts and eight brief intermezzi.


UK Music Sales Buoyant


The BPI reports that a total of 26.8bn songs were streamed in the UK last year, a rise of 82%.  Vinyl sales jumped 64% to 2.1 million, while retailer HMV says it sold a turntable every minute over Christmas.  However, plastic remains the dominant format, with 53.6m CDs and 119.6m DVD and Blu-Ray discs sold last year.




And Finally…

[TechCrunch; Audrey Watters]

In a parody of the Forbes “30 Under 30”, check out these 10 under 10 Influencers in Tech.

As four new elements are about to be added to the periodic table, 100,000 people have signed a petition to have one of the new heavy metals named after recently-deceased Motörhead frontman, Lemmy.


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