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Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2014

A Hack Education Project

MOOCs, Outsourcing, and Online Education

Part 4 in my Top 10 Trends of 2014 series


First there were MOOCs. Then there were MOOCs!!!111 Then we witnessed the MOOC backlash. Then the MOOC backlash backlash. And maybe even the MOOC backlash backlash backlash. At this point, it’s hard to keep track.

As I look back on 2014 (and on 2013 and 2012 as well), I’m not sure that MOOCs are really the trend we should be paying attention to here. MOOCs are a symptom, but not the disease.

A better focus is probably on online education more broadly – on what the Internet affords teaching and learning, or on the outsourcing of education technology services to third party providers and what that means for educational institutions. And as I noted in the previous post in this series, the trend to watch may really be a re-definition of education as skills training – MOOCs have undoubtably been a major part of that.

But “MOOCs ain’t over” various investors and analysts and pundits insisted this year. (I mean, no shit that’s what they’d say. Investors have pumped around $140 million into Coursera and Udacity alone.) “MOOCs’ disruption is only beginning,” prophesied Clayton Christensen.

Certainly complicit in not letting MOOCs disappear: the media, framing and reframing MOOCs as the battleground for the future of higher education. “Will MOOCs Be Flukes?” asked The New Yorker. “Can Libraries Save the MOOC?” Will MOOCs disrupt business school? Or won’t they? “Can MOOCs and Universities Co-Exist?” The Wall Street Journal asked in May. “Are Online Courses Democratizing Education or Killing Colleges?” The Wall Street Journal asked in October. “Will Free Online Courses Ever Replace a College Education?Will conventional online higher ed absorb MOOCs? Are MOOCs really revolutionary? Nope, said the Harvard Business Review, the most trusted publication on issues of “real revolution.” Are MOOCs the future of education?

“Reports of MOOCs’ demise have been greatly exaggerated,” wrote Craig Weidemann, vice provost for online education at Penn State.

Something’s been exaggerated, for sure. Gee, I wonder how or why?

My favorite question about the popularity and viability of MOOCs was posed by The New York Times – you know the folks who excitedly declared 2012 “The Year of the MOOCs”: Are MOOCs overhyped?


Not Open, Not Massive: Just Online Courses

The earliest massive open online courses were “open” in a couple of ways. They offered open enrollment. They relied on open access and openly licensed materials and the open Web. And they were often open-ended – or at least, the learner had a great deal of agency in the connections and the knowledge they built. As such, it’s not surprising that some of the earliest criticisms of MOOCs that cropped up circa 2011–2012 were that these new, VC-backed versions were far from “open.”

These xMOOCs’ already nominal “openness” became more and more closed this year. HarvardX MOOCs for Harvard alumni only, for example. And despite all the glee about big numbers, there were even questions from the xMOOCs themselves about whether “massive” was such a good thing.

"Two words are wrong in ‘MOOC’: Massive and open,” said Stanford President John Hennessy in June, to which George Siemens had the perfect response. Selectively open online classes, argued Pearson SVP Amar Kumar, might be preferable as they would address the question of “unwanted diversity.”

“Unwanted diversity.” That sorta runs counter to all the promises about MOOCs “democratizing education,” no? But at least it confirms Tressie McMillan Cottom’s contention that the ideal student, as envisioned by these and other education technology efforts, is some sort of “roaming autodidact”: white, middle-class, self-motivated, male. As Sebastian Thrun told the tech blog Pando in May, “If you’re affluent, we can do a much better job with you, we can make magic happen.”


Who Wants to MOOC?

So who’s interested in MOOCs? Who’s signing up? Who’s completing them?

Both HarvardX and MITx released data about the demographics of students who participated in the first year of edX classes. (More on edX research efforts below.) 59.6% of HarvardX participants have been male. 66.5% of MITx’s participants have been male. In honor of International Women’s Day, Coursera surveyed its students and gave a peak into the gender breakdown of its user-base. Almost half the students from Romania are women. Just 26% of those who enroll in Coursera classes from India are women.

The question of low completion rates in MOOCs has remained a contentious one, although arguably we’re getting a little better of an idea what students’ intentions actually are when they sign up.

It does appear that it may be students – and by that I mean those enrolled in formal education programs – aren’t that excited about MOOCs for credit. (Although in some cases, in all fairness, some of the failed experiments with for-credit MOOCs have involved credits that didn’t really “matter.”)

Support for MOOCs fell among administrators at colleges and universities as well, at least according to the annual Babson survey. Even “optimism” about MOOCs from the IT folks diminished this year, reported The Chronicle of Higher Education.

One of the early MOOC “super-professors,” Princeton history prof Jeremy Adelman announced he wouldn’t be teaching on Coursera any longer, but was moving his courseware over to the NovoEd platform.

No surprise, some schools said they planned to end their MOOC efforts. But for others, it was full steam ahead (particularly if they’d already invested heavily in MOOC initiatives). Some for-profits said they’d let their students take MOOCs for credits. And some professors sneered and said their elite institutions should never give credits for MOOCs.

So that’s interesting.

Expanding Partnerships

In previous years, there was a flood of universities and organizations partnering with the major MOOC providers. This slowed for Coursera in 2014, but not so much for edX or for NovoEd (the other other Stanford MOOC startup).

New edX partners and members: Dartmouth. University of Tokyo. Columbia University [Insert Fathom joke here]. The Tokyo Institute of Technology. University of Chicago. UBC. Notre Dame. The Sorbonne Universities. Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Birla Institute of Technology and Science. Wageningen University. The University of Adelaide. The school chain GEMS Education (to bring MOOCs to K–12). Colgate University. Hamilton College. The OpenCourseWare Consortium. Osaka University. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. The International Monetary Fund. The Inter-American Development Bank. The Learning by Giving Foundation. The Linux Foundation. The Smithsonian. Televisión Educativa. (There’s a difference between members and partners; I’m not sure if the former is a monetization effort by edX.)

New Coursera partners: McMaster University. Lund University. The Indian School of Business. The University of São Paulo. The State University of Campinas.

New NovoEd partners: Stanford. Princeton. University of Michigan. University of Virginia Darden School of Business. Babson Global. The Aresty Institute of Executive Education at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. (And others who didn’t get named in the press release.)

There were quite a few announcements about corporate partners and corporate MOOC offerings. UC Berkeley partnered with the company Databricks, for example, to offer a big data MOOC on the edX platform. Coursera partnered with Discovery to launch Curiosity.com (later spun out of Discovery into a separate startup), a portal for educational videos. Because TV will always be the future of education technology.

In November, JetBlue announced it had partnered with Coursera to offer MOOCs as part of the “in-flight entertainment” system. Educational television in an airplane. Now that’s the future, man.

MOOCs Go to High School

If higher education grew more skeptical of MOOCs this year, not to worry: MOOCs sought to expand elsewhere: to K–12, for starters.

Although MITx’s first high school course won’t launch in January 2015, there was a big push across the various MOOC providers to prepare classes – mostly AP classes and AP test-prep – for the pre-college set.

And to signal what’s still to come (for MOOCs as for ed-tech writ large), via Politico: “Massive open online courses, first envisioned as a way to democratize higher education, have made their way into high schools, but Washington is powerless to stop the flood of personal data about teenage students from flowing to private companies, thanks to loopholes in federal privacy laws.”

Wait, What’s the Business Model?

Part of the push into K–12 by MOOCs reflects their ongoing search for a sustainable source of revenue. (I look more at “the business of ed-tech” here.) In addition to AP classes, for example, edX said it would offer college counseling. While MOOC classes remain (mostly) free, assessment, certification, and additional services like tutoring and counseling now cost extra. Because “open.”

In October, Edsurge asked, “How Does Coursera Make Money?.” It’s a question on lots of people’s minds, no doubt, as up ’til now it appeared as though the main way MOOCs made money was by raising venture capital.

And there was MOOC VC raised this year. In September, “Its Audacity Undiminished, Udacity Raises $35 Million To Train A New Generation of Developers.” – that’s the totally not-hyperbolic Techcrunch headline. (Note that word “train.” I’ll get to that in a moment.) This new round of funding came, in part, from the German media giant Bertelsmann (which made some other investments and acquisitions in ed-tech this year. Watch how publishers “go digital”). All told, Udacity has now raised at least $55 million. Founder Sebastian Thrun also revealed he’d quit his job at Google X, prompting a question typed, I presume, with a serious face: “Can Google X’s recently departed founder save the MOOC?

NovoEd also raised $4.8 million in investment this year, with the promise to “build better MOOCs.”

Credits and Certificates

As the Edsurge article on MOOC monetization suggests, the primary path that MOOCs are taking in their search for financial viability: the paid certificate. MOOCs remain (mostly) free. But the certification of completion will now cost you. In April, Udacity said it was phrasing out free certificates because they’d “heard from many students and employers alike that they would like to see more rigor.”

Your Diploma Just Got Downgraded. But You Can Upgrade It At a 20% Discount!

In January, Coursera unveiled “Specializations,” a sequence of courses in certain topics. These specializations offer a certificate via Coursera’s paid Signature Track (which was how the startup started to make money last year) and require students take a series of classes as well as complete a capstone project.

In June, Udacity announced a “nanodegree,” a certificate program “designed for efficiency: select hands-on courses by industry, a capstone project, and career guidance.” The first nanodegree: AT&T-oriented curriculum. (AT&T partnered last year with Udacity for a special version of Georgia Tech’s master’s in CS program. More about how the program’s first year went here.)

I’ll look more closely in the next post in this series at to whether or not badges and MOOC certificates and nanodegrees really mean all that much on the job market. Do they “count”? Those who argue that MOOC certificates are a “real thing” did get a huge boost from the federal government when the Obama Administration announced free certificates for military veterans and for teachers. (See also: education as job-training.) As always, my advice when it comes to prestige and for-profit higher education: read Tressie McMillan Cottom.

MOOCs as Skills Training

“MOOCs are proving to be a great tool for employee training,” tweeted Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng early this year. That’s quite a different message from Coursera’s earlier assertions: that “MOOCs will democratize higher education.“ But job training -- skills training -- is coming to be the louder message. Arguably, the media frenzy about MOOCs has helped shift much of the conversation about the purpose of higher education to these very ends.

MOOCs are being used as corporate training too – that is, not just for potential employees but for current ones.

The Globalized MOOC Market

But the turn towards corporate training doesn’t mean that MOOCs have abandoned their efforts to expand into new, global markets. Not at all.

In January, Coursera said that it had formed a partnership with the Carlos Slim Foundation (which has also partnered and funded Khan Academy) “to improve access to education among Spanish speaking students around the world, as well as support opportunities for career development and employment throughout Latin America.” In February, edX teamed up with Facebook and several handset manufacturers to offer “localized education content” in Rwanda. Related: Mat Honan’s article “Facebook’s Plan to Conquer the World – With Crappy Phones and Bad Networks." In June, Coursera announced its partnership with Turkcell, a telecommunications provider in Turkey, to “build resources for Turkish learners.”

An optimistic post on Coursera’s blog by University of Geneva’s Barbara Moser-Mercer discussed her work with MOOCs in Dadaab, one of the world’s largest refugee camps. The Chronicle of Higher Education followed up with more reporting on the two men taking the MOOC, highlighting many of the logistical challenges involved with doing so, particularly when it came to Coursera’s requirements – such as using a webcam – in order to fulfill certificate requirements.

In the end, both men passed the course and earned certificates. But Ms. Moser-Mercer acknowledges that it took an extraordinary effort to make the experiment work. There are capable learners in refugee camps, she says, but teaching them with MOOCs will not scale. “I only chose two refugees because I could support two,” she told The Chronicle. “I could not support 10.”

Despite all those repeated invocations of “democratization” and access, it’s just not that simple to “scale” MOOCs globally.

Indeed MOOCs ran into lots of problems this year in exporting their content. And it is awfully revealing about how we view online education – as “content delivery” – that MOOCs would be seen as violating US export policy. But they do. Or they did. At various points throughout the year, the major MOOC providers found themselves blocked in Syria, Cuba, Sudan, and Iran. (Apparently there’s some paperwork that needs to be filed in order to rectify this, and it’s a bit odd that that Coursera partnered with the State Department for Learning Hubs all over the world but didn’t know about these export rules. Didn’t read the Terms of Service or something, I reckon.) By the end of the year, students in these countries were able to access access “the majority” of MOOC courses.

There were some new non-US and non-European efforts to run online education efforts. NPR’s Anya Kamenetz covered knowledge.tt, for example, a new online education portal sponsored by Trinidad and Tobago that to link to MOOCs and other online courses and to offer government-issued certificates for participation. The Queen Rania Foundation officially launched Edraak, “a MOOC Portal for the Arab World” (but in conjunction with edX).

“Unlike colonialism,” edX head Anant Agarwal told a forum on “MOOCs in the Developing World” in June, "MOOCs could boost human rights in some countries. ‘The numbers are staggering,’ he said. ’I’m really hard-pressed to understand how someone would say this is United States hegemony.’” Um. OK then.

Who’s in Charge Here?

As MOOCs continue to search for the right market and the right revenue model, several brought on new leadership:

edX hired Wendy Cebula, a former Vistaprint exec, as its new president and COO.

Coursera made a bunch of hires this year: hiring Vivek Goel, the former Provost of the University of Toronto as its Chief Academic Officer; a chief marketing officer, Kurt Apen, formerly with Disney; David Liu, formerly the Director of Legal at Google, as its new General Counsel.

In March, the startup said it had hired Richard Levin, former president of Yale, as its CEO. Coursera hailed Levin’s “visionary foray into online education, first in partnership with Stanford and Oxford, and later with Open Yale Courses." It didn’t really go into detail about how that former effort – AllLearn – was a huge failure. But as everyone in ed-tech knows, AllLearn and Fathom are ed-tech’s Fight Club. First rule of ed-tech: we don’t talk about Fight Club.

I talked a bit about this – amnesia, denial, whatever you want to call it – in my keynote “Un-Fathomable: The Hidden History of Ed-Tech”. This lack of a historical understanding or appreciation is really significant and, I’d argue, quite damaging. It’s a huge part of why MOOCs will fail, even under the “visionary” leadership of Levin, will fail. When the New York Times interviewed Levin in April, he insisted that “I think we can become financially viable certainly within that five-year framework.” Good luck with that, particularly as Mike Caulfield noted, you’re not really being honest about why other online initiatives you were involved with in the past failed.

In May, Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng announced that he was stepping away from his day-to-day responsibilities at the company (he remains Chairman of the Board) to join the Chinese search giant Baidu.

Another noteworthy change in leadership: In April, online learning pioneer Tony Bates announced his retirement:

I am concerned that the computer scientists seem to be taking over online education. Ivy League MOOCs are being driven mainly by computer scientists, not educators. Politicians are looking to computer science to automate learning in order to save money. Computer scientists have much to offer, but they need more humility and a greater willingness to work with other professionals, such as psychologists and teachers, who understand better how learning operates. This is a battle that has always existed in educational technology, but it’s one I fear the educators are losing. The result could be disastrous.

Technology Upgrades

One of the things that I’ve always found interesting about the backgrounds of Ng, Koller, Thrun, Agarwal et al is their work in artificial intelligence. But we’ve yet to really see technological “wow” – AI or otherwise – in MOOCs.

News about technological updates to MOOCs this year speak to that: iPad apps for Coursera and Udacity. Coursera courses became LTI enabled. Coursera opened a couple of APIs. You can now sign in to edX.org with your Google or Facebook account! And Coursera moved from MySQL to Cassandra because its data is so big. edX updated how discussion forums work (I’m gonna laugh my ass off if this ends up being the big contribution that MOOCs make to ed-tech). And Coursera announced it would soon be adding video chats with professors.

“It’s a way to get some money out of the lifelong-learner population, as opposed to the career builder,” says CEO Richard Levin.

Alluding again to how to insure this MOOC thing makes money: edX announced it was relicensing some of its open source software, moving from the AGPL to the Apache license. The latter allows for more commercial and even proprietary software development. Because at the end of the day, “open” means open for business.

Does television count as a MOOC? Maybe. It is a form of broadcasting educational content. So a nod to the rebooted Cosmos which appeared on FOX this year with Neil deGrasse Tyson in the role of host.

Thank goodness for the innovation of MOOCs because, according to edX’s Anant Agarwal, "The last time we gave teachers a new tool was 1862: a piece of chalk and a chalkboard.”

MOOC Data: Security and Privacy (and the Lack Thereof)

The tech sector faced a number of major security problems this year: Heartbleed, for example, a vulnerability with OpenSSL. As I’ll examine more closely in an upcoming post on data and privacy, a lack of attention to infosec is something that plagues all of ed-tech, not just MOOCs.

In September, Stanford CS PhD candidate Jonathan Mayer wrote a blog post about a series of security flaws he’d discovered in Coursera while preparing for a class on government surveillance, including:

  • Any teacher can dump the entire user database, including over nine million names and email addresses.
  • If you are logged into your Coursera account, any website that you visit can list your course enrollments.
  • Coursera’s privacy-protecting user IDs don’t do much privacy protecting.

Coursera responded (pretty defensively) saying they’d addressed the issues. “Given our partnership philosophy, we have focused less effort on deflecting malicious attacks that might be made by one of our trusted partners. This has left open some gaps.” (It’s so fascinating that a company can raise $85 million in funding and still have gaping security gaps, can ask its users to voluntarily translate courses and to voluntarily develop more career-focused modules.)

What are MOOCs’ obligations to protect student data? Shrug. Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Are MOOC-Takers ‘Students’? Not When It Comes to the Feds Protecting Their Data.”

Research (and Ethics)

Questions about what happens to student data – issues of data security and data privacy – are incredibly pertinent to what has become a growing interest in education research using that very information.

We’re beginning to see see quite a bit of research on MOOCs be published: this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, for example.

My favorite MOOC-related research finding of the year: marmosets apparently find video content educational too!

One of the big challenges that MOOCs (ed-tech, education) face is how to conduct research on students in an ethical manner. Do we inform students about what happens to their data, for example? Are we transparent about the reasons for the research?

Questions about the transparency of research and Internet services made headlines this year in June when it was revealed that Facebook had manipulated its users’ feeds in order to examine how “emotional contagion” worked online.

Shortly after this story broke, there were murmurs about a similar experiment conducted in a Coursera MOOC. After what was, for students and onlookers, a confusing experiment, professor Paul Olivier Dehaye was removed from the Coursera MOOC “Teaching Goes Massive: New Skills Required." Recently, Dehaye has started to explain his side of what went massively wrong with the course – raising a whole set of questions not just about ethics for students, but about ethics for professors -- about what instructors whose schools have contracted with MOOCs actually get to control about their courses. (Spoiler alert: very little.)

Controversial Material and MOOCs

As I suggested in the previous post in this series, the narrative that posits school should focus less on a liberal arts education and more skill training isn’t simply about jobs; it’s also about politics and ideology and a real fear that professors expose college students to ideas and stories that challenge their ways of thinking and in turn challenge institutions and systems of power.

As such, the push for MOOCs can be seen as more than a push for efficiency of a fix for "cost disease." It’s a push for a college curriculum that can, according to the conservative think tank Heartland Institute “save conservatism” from the liberal professorship. (I mentioned this before but again, it’s noteworthy – or at least really interesting – that Ben Horowitz, partner in the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and investor in ed-tech companies like Udacity, is the son of David Horowitz, who’s made a career out of combatting “leftist indoctrination” in academia.)

Are MOOCs a venue for open intellectual exploration? Can MOOCs handle controversial material?

Inside Higher Ed reported in January that the Coursera course “Constitutional Struggles in the Muslim World” faced a major challenge when the discussion forums for the class “‘very quickly disintegrated into a snakepit of personal venom, religious bigotry and thinly disguised calls for violence.’ But some students have accused him of abusive and tyrannical behavior in his attempts to restore civility.” (The fallout nearly cost the professor his job.)

Lest we think professors are necessarily committed to social justice, a student report from a Coursera class on human trafficking in October:

Abusive comments flourished in this unmoderated learning environment. In one case, a student who was a sex trafficking victim suggested destigmatizing victims: “One attitude that I run into often is that trafficking survivors, sex workers, and even abuse and rape victims are somehow essentially damaged,” she wrote. “It really really bothers me, because as a trafficking survivor I believe one way people can help is to acknowledge that we are whole human beings.”

“To be honest in real life I would [avoid] you,” another student responded. “In my version of life bad actions affect the person.” Although this comment was down-voted, the instructor never responded to it and students continued to make similarly stigmatizing and abusive comments throughout the class.

The media seemed fascinated (briefly) this year with trigger warnings on syllabi, and some were concerned that if schools mandated these warnings, it would have a chilling effect on what materials were taught. So how will MOOCs handle controversial content? Will MOOCs develop a code of conduct, particularly in light of harassment – (#notallsuperprofessors) – of students?

Are academic freedom and student safety compatible with MOOCs’ Terms of Service?

Ed-Tech and Outsourcing

How do the answers to these questions change once universities outsource education technology services to third-party providers?

And holy hell, I’ve already rambled on for 5500 words, and I haven’t even started to talk about what was meant to be the main point (or one of the main points) of this post: MOOCs are a symptom of a larger trend: outsourcing – course development, course management, course content, course delivery, degree programs, instructional design, assessment, information services, learning portals, budgeting, hosting, and hiring – education technology – writ large to third party providers.

If online education and education technology are going to be core elements of “the future of education,” then why outsource? Why not build capacity internally?

One notable response to outsourcing and the power of ed-tech vendors this year:

Unizin. First unveiled in June, “Unizin is a strategic move by universities to assert greater control and influence over the digital-learning landscape than would otherwise be possible by any single institution." (Its members include Colorado State University, Indiana University, the University of Florida, the University of Michigan, Oregon State University, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Minnesota.) Why and what is Unizin?:

As professors and members of the academy, we want to support faculty and universities by ensuring that universities and their faculty stay in control of the content, data, relationships, and reputations that we create. As we look at the rapidly emerging infrastructure that enables digital learning, we want to bias things in the direction of open standards, interoperability, and scale. Unizin is about tipping the table in favor of the academy by collectively owning (buying, developing, and connecting) the essential infrastructure that enables digital learning on our campuses and beyond.

Described by Mindwire Consulting’s Michael Feldstein as “a threat to edX.” the platform for Unizin will be Instructure Canvas, because ”banding together" to resist outsourcing definitely starts with a shared LMS made by a third party vendor. Viva la resistance.

Buzzfeed's take on the future of higher ed: “The New American University: Massive, Online, And Corporate-Backed” (That’s ASU, for the record. A public university. Sorta. I guess.)

Actually, It’s Just Online Education

MOOCs have become a bit like the word “cloud” or “big data” or “social” – you put it in your press release, and you hope that your thing sounds buzz-y enough to be covered by the tech blogs. A few examples:

EMMA (European MOOC aggregator). Surgery Academy (a MOOC for surgery). Luxvera (a Christian MOOC platform). World Science U (science classes). HBX (Harvard Business School’s MOOC… because partnering with edX would not be disruptive enough). Hogwarts is Here (a fan-created Harry Potter MOOC). MiriadaX (a Spanish language MOOC platform run by Telefonica and Banco Santander). School for Doodle (an online art school for girls founded by Kim Gordon, Yoko Ono, Courtney Love, and others). Scholas.Social (an online global school launched by Pope Francis). Open College (because ain’t no openwashing like for-profit higher education openwashing).

(OK, perhaps you’d never know it by the length of this post but) The important trend here is not “MOOC” per se, it’s online education. According to the most recent reports, some 5.5 million students (or more, but probably not) have taken at least one online class. About two-thirds of institutions offer online courses. Learners – those who are enrolled in formal education programs and those who are not – are gravitating to online classes, for reasons that are pretty obvious (but to mixed success). It fits into their schedules – into schedules that must juggle work and family.

But the demand for online education doesn’t mean that the traditional, brick-and-mortar institutions are doing it well, or doing it any better than the new online providers. Case study. Case study. Case study. Case study. Case study.

The Minerva Project: The UnMOOC

I’d be remiss to ignore an education startup that is offering a very different story and a very different experience than MOOCs: the Minerva Project. The for-profit wanna-be elite university startup accepted its first cohort this year, bragging in March that as it had admitted just 45 students out of 1794 applications that made it the “most selective undergraduate program in US history.”

The startup engaged in a massive PR push in 2014. See: Wired. Xconomy. Slate.The Atlantic. And you should always surmise that these PR efforts mean someone’s looking for funding. So yup: Minerva announced in October that it had raised $70 million from TAL Education Group, ZhenFund, Yongjin Group, and Benchmark. This brings to $95 million the total raised by the company.

Minerva plans to offer a very different experience than “massive,” “open,” or “online” education of MOOCs. Its classes are capped at 19 students. Its admission policies, as noted above, are elitist. Its classes, while online, aren’t lectures but discussions. The cohorts live together offline, but take their classes via the Internet.

Here’s The Atlantic’s take:

If Minerva fails, it will lay off its staff and sell its office furniture and never be heard from again. If it succeeds, it could inspire a legion of entrepreneurs, and a whole category of legacy institutions might have to liquidate. One imagines tumbleweeds rolling through abandoned quads and wrecking balls smashing through the windows of classrooms left empty by students who have plugged into new online platforms.

We’re still so caught up in the millennialist rhetoric about the future of education, it hardly matters where the apocalypse starts, I guess.

The Massive Online Future of School

It’s pretty telling that I can write so much about MOOCs and online education and hardly mention “learning” at all. (Headline: “The MOOC Where Everybody Learned.”) Why, it’s almost as if learning isn’t the point at all.

The point: disruption. The point: union-busting. The point: outsourcing. The point: profit.

I’ll close this monstrous post with a couple of quotes from someone who I think will probably be quite vocal in years to come about the future of education: Rand Paul, a libertarian politician who is fairly popular in certain Silicon Valley circles.

From Politico: Rand Paul is planning “a major push on education reform, including ‘education choice, school choice, vouchers, charter schools, you name it — I think we need innovation.’" Among the innovations Paul likes: Khan Academy. “If you have one person in the country who is, like, the best at explaining calculus, that person maybe should teach every calculus class in the country.”

From Vanity Fair: “If Kentucky Senator and Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul has his way, classroom sizes will someday rise well beyond their existing ratios of 15-to–1 or 30-to–1. ‘I think we should go to a million to one,’” said Paul.

So pretty much MOOCs, I guess.

First published December 9, 2014.