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Big Data, Jobs, Mobile To Drive EdTech In 2016, Predict Coursera, Edx, Udacity Chiefs

What's next for the online learning revolution?

Wed Jan 27 2016

As online learning continues to explode and millions flock to digital courses, a host of start-ups are challenging the traditional university and business school model.

Edtech companies raised nearly $2.7 billion last year, according to PitchBook, up from $800 million in 2011. A number of them are valued at more than a billion dollars, including and TutorGroup.

They have forced elite institutions to innovate. IE Business School, Warwick Business School and Hough Graduate School of Business for example, all run highly-ranked online or partly-online MBAs.

“Business education is transitioning to a hybrid business model,” says Ivan Bofarull, director of the Global Intelligence Office at ESADE Business School.

According to data collected by Class Central, there are now 4,200 Moocs, or massive open online courses, up from about 2,200 a year ago.

And for much of the past decade, growth in online students has topped 20%, according to the Babson Survey Group. This shift to digital shows no signs of stopping.

“I expect to see more courses and program elements offered via online delivery,” says William Lamb, dean of Babson College.

Below, BB speaks to five executives heading the world’s top online learning companies to get their predictions for how online learning will be shaped in 2016. 

Employer Recognition 

Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, says that employers and universities will increasingly accept certificates for Mooc courses.

“Online learning will help evolve credentials and credit,” he says. Education is already moving in this direction: MIT and Arizona State University are high-profile examples of schools accepting Moocs as credit for degree programs.

Companies too are warming to online courses. Research by the Career Advisory Board found that 87% of 500 US recruiters were likely to consider non-traditional “micro-credentials” as proof of skill mastery. 

Udacity is so confident it can find users jobs that it is guaranteeing them placement, or will refund their tuition.

Vish Makhijani, COO of Udacity, which raised $105 million last year from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz, giving it a $1 billion valuation, says its users are in-demand.

“For us, helping people learn so they can advance their careers is the cornerstone of online education,” he says. “So guaranteeing graduates jobs is a natural extension of that mission.”

Rapid Growth

Mike Feerick, CEO of ALISON, anticipates an increase in the number of online learners worldwide. Founded in 2007, ALISON has amassed more than six million users.

“Individuals realize that their learning options are developing exponentially online, and for free, while at the same time employers are realizing that a huge potential source of increased productivity is at their fingertips,” Mike says.

He also anticipates consolidation among edtech companies. Last year LinkedIn acquired in a deal worth $1.5 billion. “You are going to see fewer and fewer websites providing niche single interest course content,” he says.

Mobile, Tablet Surge

Julia Stiglitz, director of business development and international at Coursera, which has 17 million users, anticipates rapid growth in mobile and tablet learning. Around 50% of Coursera users learn through mobile.

“Mobile and tablet technology has increased access,” she says, especially in China. According to UNESCO, six billion people now have access to mobile phones and digital devices.

Mobiles and tablets are increasingly becoming “the platform of choice and a necessary tool”, Julia says. INSEAD, the business school, last year launched a mobile learning platform for business, which signed up Accenture and Microsoft.

Data Deluge

Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn, which has three million users, says there is huge potential to use big data to improve online learning — a view shared by most edtech executives who have spoken to BB.

“The potential of online learning to deliver more effective learning experiences that are better targeted, I think, are huge,” he says.  

Data can help learners find the right courses; customize them to their needs; keep them on the right track; and potentially showcase their work.

“The sector as a whole can also gain great insights from learners’ data,” Simon says.