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Established education providers v new contenders (economist.com)
140 points by dhruvp on Jan 16, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 53 comments

The small infographic in the Economist article is based on the data published by us (Class Central). You can find such statistics and analysis of the MOOC space in 2016 in my article - Monetization over Massiveness: A Review of MOOC Stats and Trends in 2016 [1]

[1] https://www.class-central.com/report/moocs-stats-and-trends-...

Thanks for writing these - they're very helpful.

Congrats on being picked up by the Economist.

I'm very lucky to have started learning programming before these companies were figuring out their business models. I took the very first Udacity courses when they were completely free and was able to launch my career as a software engineer with the knowledge I gained from them. I was making barely enough money to survive at the time and had no idea if I actually wanted to make a career out of programming. If I had been forced to commit such a large amount of money at the time, I highly doubt I would have continued forward with the classes, and worse, they would have started to feel like work instead of fun, which was the issue I had with traditional college in the first place.

I sincerely hope that there continues to be sources of high quality course materials available without the risk and stress of payment attached so that other kids can have the opportunities I had when I was getting started.

I'm taking some Udacity courses now and mine are free, from what I understand the courses themselves are all free unless there is an inherent cost, however if you want a nanodegree or some other mentoring etc, then those added value options will require joining as a paid member which is as it should be.

As well I agree with you, for me I've learned recently that having a mentor and paying is demotivating for me. I like clocking hours and hours studying to learn software development on my own and pushing myself is far more motivational than having someone else adding structure and deadlines. I would have never thought that until it happened and I was like wow I'm slacking off now rather than clocking the huge hours I was doing before on my own.

I am really disappointed by my Masters program online courses because of the quality of the low cost online courses available on the web. I pay 3000 dollars a course for a professor reading slides and forced discussion. On the other side I have paid 27$ for 70 hours of very high quality content.

Professors in universities are not primarily educators. Many are contract or research focused. Teaching is their secondary job. Online courses have instructors who are designing courses and highly invested in the course quality. I think we need some pure educators in universities, otherwise they're going to get burnt when the online courses figure out accreditation.

I always thought part of the value of a degree was the people you meet, so if you're getting a degree purely through online interaction it's hard to see how the school could compete long-term.

Wow paying $10k+ to network, that's great value. I might as well go shoot myself now, because that's just idiotic. Sorry for being harsh, but that's something I couldn't disagree with more and sounds like someone coming from a very very privileged background too.

Well, I grew up probably under the federal poverty line, which tends to make undergrad cheaper, and in that sense I'm quite privileged ;)

I got a CS degree so that I could be employed, but have come to greatly appreciate the friendships that I made in school. MBAs are sometimes sold on the basis of the networking benefits, so my perception comes from that.

Yea, I hear that a lot more with MBAs and law degrees. For my CS masters I am concerned with advanced technical content.

Yeah, I hear you. The reason I brought it up is other parts of this thread are about differences between a university setting and online videos - even though I studied CS for the content, people I know from school gave me job opportunities as well.

I'm not sure if we see a return of the MOOC or just growth in various alternative formats, because the term MOOC actually has a very specific meaning which is not always reached by the services/companies mentioned in the article.

I would for example consider Pluralsight to be just "Online Courses", and the price tag on Udacity's nanodegrees makes me wonder whether we can consider them to be truly open (I attended university in The Netherlands where the cost of tuition for a year is lower than the cost of doing a $200/month nanodegree at Udacity for one year).

To be fair, the curriculum of Udacity is available for free. The nanodegree cost is supposed to be for assignment grading and mentorship.

"However it is done, the credentialling problem has to be solved. People are much more likely to invest in training if it confers a qualification that others will recognise."

Exactly. Immigration officials don't care how many MOOCs you have taken.

Rather than trying to fit MOOCs into the current paradigm, society may just grow to embrace more ambiguity in education. Traditionally, it was very linear -- elementary --> secondary --> college --> graduate, and at some point you jump into the working world. Now, you still jump to the working world, but continue flexibly on a variety of educational goals, with or without accreditation, and with courses of varying quality. But people care more about what you can accomplish that what papers you hold.

Some people will still choose the traditional 4 year college degree and the cycle of deconstruction, analysis and reconstruction that it teaches, while others will forego that for a more pragmatic approach of MOOCs and the working world. Either way should be accepted.

One auxiliary thing to consider with MOOCs and higher education is how it changes the power balance between administration and faculty. Faculty members own their course notes and take them with them when they retire or move universities. My understanding with MOOCs, and certainly it could be incorrect, is that the administrator of the MOOC owns the course and material even if the faculty member leaves. This leaves a clear conflict of interest for the administration because if MOOCs do take off in a substantial way, they can not only reduce the number of faculty, but reduce their negotiating power as well. That would shift power at a university.

Now, this has nothing to do with the quality of MOOCs. Mostly, it's just to say that I think there are conflicts to be mindful of as certain people and organizations either support or not support these courses.

For people who are passionate about learning - MOOCs have come as a blessing. In 2016: I've seen a VP grade candidate finish Andrew NG's Machine Learning Course with good grades and certification on linkedin. And a desktop support person in our old office has got a new job as jr programmer.

I recently found out a "verified certificate" is not actually verified in any way by Coursera.

It seems they have dropped the verification step they used to have before completing assignments [1].

Coursera have initiated this change without even an announcement or any communication. I feel it is a bit disingenuous to claim the person completing the course has been verified when they have done none of that.

[1] Typing & PhotoID - https://learner.coursera.help/hc/en-us/articles/209818953-Se...

I am a huge fan of MOOCs. I strongly believe that these courses and this style of education will be one of the greatest by-products of the modern internet. I was a happy and eager participant in the 'early days' (I took ~2 years off of work in 2013-2014 to re-charge, and took a number of online courses for fun), and here are some of my thoughts:

- Completion rate is a very poor metric to measure the 'success' of the concept. I attempted more than a dozen courses, but only completed ~4-5 of them. But that doesn't mean I didn't learn anything. For a number of courses, I got a good way through the material (75%+) but got distracted/side tracked (in one particular case, I was 90% of the way through a very challenging and interesting course[1] when a buddy and I decided to do a last minute trip to Mexico for some camping/surfing. Needless to say, it was hard to find internet access out there). Of the courses I completed, at least two of those I had to attempt more than once. But regardless of the final outcome, I learned a ton. There were a few courses that I didn't find interesting and walked away from, but for the most part, I learned something from every course, regardless of whether I completed it or not.

- By traditional metrics, I wasn't the best student in college. There were a number of reasons for this, but a key reason was the inability to focus during lectures. I just hadn't had enough life experience to learn how to optimize my ability to pay attention in class for multiple hours a day. In high school, the class sizes were small and the teachers were engaging enough to make it easy for me. In college (big public university) there were hundreds of students in each lecture and the professors were more interested in research than they were in lectures (with a few exceptions). I now know that I need the right balance of coffee, adequate sleep, and exercise in order to be able to sit through 4+ hours of very dry lectures, but it took years of hard won experience to find that balance. MOOCs are amazing because they let you optimize the 'lecture' time to best suite your schedule and your 'optimum time of focus'. And the forums were a great, asynchronous way to share knowledge between TA's and students (as opposed to my college experience where you had 1-2 office hours per week, with a dozen+ students competing for attention). Had MOOC-like teaching material (video lectures, forums, online exercises) been available when I was in college, I have no doubt that I would have done way better.

- Considering how expensive traditional college is getting, I think a very cool and plausible alternative would be to allow students to spend a few years doing internships/apprenticeships part time, and doing nano-degrees and MOOCs part time. A company could pay for the classes, as well as a stipend/salary for the internship. I learned programming and statistics on the job (seems like it's getting more rare these days for on the job training) but being able to take a step back and take more traditional classes on Coursera helped fill in some of the knowledge gaps that had been developing over the years. I feel like mixing both practical, in demand skills and theoretical knowledge at the same time could result in a much more engaging and deep understanding of the subject matter as opposed to the traditional way of all theory in college followed by all 'hands-on' in the real world.

Anyways, a bit of rant. But it's been a while since a MOOC post has made it to the front page of HN, and it's a holiday weekend!

[1] https://www.coursera.org/learn/programming-languages Back when I took this, it was just a single course. Looks like they broke it up into 3 parts. Would have been nice to have that option when I took it!

In one of the previous MooC discussions some people indicated that they felt guilty for not finishing classes, which might be a deterrent.

I think there is value in having someone pick good ones, so you don't waste time starting things that are poorly recorded, etc.

The site up thread is good for this- https://www.class-central.com/

My project (https://www.findlectures.com) is built to help discover standalone lectures (conference talks, etc), which I hope helps the people who feel guilty not finishing stuff :)

The title is disingenuous, because the "providers" are the same universities "providing" traditional professors and infrastructure. What's new is that top universities can compete at a larger scale.

Still, if they can provide further, then because they are standing on the shoulders of giants, so it's not really a competition if the gigantic amount of competing unis has any relevance.

Anyone have any MOOC recommendations?

I'm in the middle of "Effective Thinking Through Mathematics"[0]. I struggled with maths in high school, didn't really need it in college (music degree) and went back and tackled it on my own via self-study after college.

The focus of the course is not so much on the maths but the creative process of solving problems that just happen to fall in the domain of math. I've found these same techniques to be applicable to more traditional 'creative' pursuits as well (e.g. writing music).

It's also interesting in that you get to watch and deconstruct people's thought process for how they approach challenging problems.


Learning How To Learn by Barbara Oakly on Coursera https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn It teaches you fundamentals of how the brain works, and how to improve your learning. It is free. Those three factors make it a great first course.

Cryptography I by Dan Boneh on Coursera https://www.coursera.org/learn/crypto I actually can't recommend it to everyone because I didn't complete it and I just wasn't intelligent enough on the material to complete it. This requires one to be good with advanced maths, and I got migraine issues from this (same as with advanced maths in my youth). However it is very well explained. The problem was me, not Dan Boneh's course.

Positive Psychology by Barbara Fredrickson https://www.coursera.org/learn/positive-psychology My significant other completed this course (I have not tried it yet), and highly recommends it. Its on my list.

Securing Democracy by J. Alex Halderman https://www.coursera.org/learn/digital-democracy I thought I was interested in this subject, and I was to some extend, but I was not enough interested to follow the course to the end. However the course as far as I took it was excellent.

Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice by Edwin Bakker https://www.coursera.org/learn/terrorism I didn't complete this course either but it was interesting and good nonetheless.

There are just a few of the courses I can recommend, and it doesn't contain the one I'm currently one because I haven't completed it yet (will likely include it once completed). There's also courses I cannot recommend (it also depends on the audience). I will resort to the positive angle though wink.

One thing I got from the courses is that it is OK to not complete a course. You can regard it as time waste which is fair enough. My goal is not to get a certificate though. That's merely a byproduct. My goal is to learn (which is a process), to satisfy my taste for knowledge. However Coursera changed its terms of usage last years and ever since I used the platform less.

I started the EdX MicroMasters in International Law last week and it's very interesting. I'm getting an inkling of what legal reasoning feels like from the inside. So far, it seems like really, really careful reading and reasoning. In preparation for the course I was reading a textbook on the same but the readings and video transcripts are as good on the topics they cover, though less exhaustive. It's given me a very slightly less Realist take on International Relations for one.

Machine Learning by Andrew Ng https://www.coursera.org/learn/machine-learning

The maths is fairly straightforward and the concepts are explained well.

I started that one and feel like the format doesn't take much advantage of the medium: the videos are very much like traditional lectures. Of course being free is an immense plus, but then so are many books.

Specifically, I take issue with NG's foreign accent. That's just me looking for a reason, but it's the second time after Agarwal on MITx (and that wanted me to purchase his book). Also, I can already record lectures and play them back at will, only I have to leave the house for that. Besides that, these courses were rather classical university courses, it seems.

My gripe is, the videos are too long and my attention span too short. The first 2 weeks I could even pass just from what I learned reading HN, so I suppose I really prefer the socratic method instead of frontal education. Many would claim I was simply lazy and they'd be right, alas also derogitory.

note to myself: otoh, paying a fee for the effort to run a course is most reasonable if the value added comes in form of a book to keep. Actually that's what I am missing in those courses, where instructors don't provide even scripts.

I found the whole special report about lifelong learning to be very well researched. Sorry for the paywall link. http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21714169-techno...

MOOCs are the McDonalds-ification of education. It's disgusting honestly. Western Capitalism is utterly failing to provide a decent, affordable secondary education even to its relatively privileged middle class, so instead they try to convince us that watching a few videos is a decent substitute.

We know how capital views education, just get a service job and watch the horrific training videos. That's what Khan Academy is for aspiring skilled laborers.

Note that the conclusion is "the credentialling problem has to be solved". Credentials are an attempt to commodify learning. So instead of pesky B.S.'s and M.A.'s you'll get some print-at-home Happy Meal prize. No thanks.

According to The Atlantic, it would cost $62B/year to make state colleges tuition free. Last month it was revealed that the Pentagon covered up a report showing how they failed to save $125B over 5 years simply in bureaucratic waste. So while The Economist is telling us how watching videos online is a reasonable alternative to a university education, the kind of funding that could revolutionize American higher education is basically pocket change to the War-makers.

The rush to online education is just one more way Capitalism is hollowing out the United States.



For the majority of university students the learning process is largely composed of sitting in large lecture halls with minimal interactions being lectured by someone who'd much rather be doing research than teaching.

Why precisely is that superior to a video of a lecture delivered by someone who's focus is teaching ?

*whose (i'm so sorry (for being off-topic))

Have you ever taken a MOOC? A quality one, like Andew Ng's Machine Learning, or Data Analysis and Statistical Inference from Duke.

I did Andrew Ng's machine learning MOOC course.

It was very good for a MOOC, and better than my worst university classes, but I'm hesitant to say it was even as good as an average university course.

I don't think my education would have been as good entirely composed of such classes, but I'm willing to admit some of that might be preference, educational style I was raised with, etc. However, it seemed much lighter and less demanding than Id expect from an actual university ML class.

Some of them are good. But I doubt people will look back on their MOOC-taking years with quite the same level of nostalgia and camaraderie as their college years...

Not that I see that as a big problem, but - as long as the social component is strong enough, I don't see why not. I sometimes get nostalgic for the times I played e-sports competitively (Battlefield 2).

Tertiary education is already a commodity -- the process by which that commodity is attained is simply becoming more efficient.

McDonalds isn't merely a more "efficient" burger, and that's the point here.

Cutting substance in favor of cutting price (or being "efficient") has been a disaster in American culture -- from food to education.

What key substance of education is being cut with a MOOC? And how can we minimize it?

Interactive lessons and Socratic style teaching, for starters. My best courses were all relatively small (10-20 people) and based around guided discovery. Technology could replicate some of that, but there are two problems for scaling -- it requires an interactive teacher that can respond not only to right answers, but wrong ones, and the group size cannot become too large. So you could do it online, but the 'M' in MOOC gets in the way.

Then there's the less class focused aspects -- office hours, homework groups, meeting classmates, etc. Some of this is replicated online, bit it would take dozens of emails or forum posts to replicate 30 minutes of one-on-one discussion with a professor (or even classmate). Much of the value in my education came out of study sessions and being exposed to other people's understandings and interpretations and needing to learn to explain my own. Small study groups using online collaboration tools (eg, voip and whiteboard apps) help with that, but MOOCs don't have the same tendancy to encourage that interaction that real classes do (and I'm not sure I buy online is the same as in person -- and I say that having worked remote before).

I went to an engineering school that had a very difficult time with their drop out rate. One of the biggest indicators of success, meaning graduation, was the students incoming math ability. Basically, if the student came in and took anything less than calculus when they first arrived, it was more likely than not that they'd drop out. Eventually, the math department added mandatory attendance to all lower level math courses and the affect was dramatic. The graduation rate went way up for these students.

Now, graduation rate is only one possible metric. That said, many universities do have hard data and that data generally states that classroom attendance leads to better outcomes overall. Certainly, that doesn't work for all students, but it does suggest that there still is a tangible, substantial difference between being in class and not.

Those "horrific training videos" are usually made to comply with some regulatory or insurance requirement, as opposed to being actual training.

In this issue of the economist they indicate that most of the people who are using MooCs are are already working and using them to increase their skills. While the people marketing MooCs may pitch it as a replacement for school, I don't think that's the reality for most people.

Consequently I would suggest thinking of the "credentials problem" as how you demonstrate a new skill to an employer - I the answer may be not be a certificate at all, e.g. maybe a portfolio site, side project, etc.

Can you offer any actual _evidence_ that makes this "disgusting", or even a bad thing? I have a hard time believing that making any sort of education free is bad -- let alone disgusting.

I read yesterday that MOOC are on an all time low with regard to subscription and the number of users finishing it, on account of them charging $$ and removing free certifications


I wish the author identified what MOOC means.

there's few things as useful and as irritating as acronyms. But a quick google search is going to give the answer to your question

Could anyone provide a summary? tr;cr (Too restrictive; couldn’t read)

Assuming this matches the print version, it discusses the history of MooCs from Khan Academy forward, to paid credential programs, and how people are being assessed.

Some notable points:

1. Universities should work to define a more "premium" experience to compete with nanodegrees and the trend toward short, very modularized classes

2. Online programs have not cannabilized universities as expected (more likely people in their 30s retraining)

3. Second half is all about providing credentials, which is hard and not well solved. They list a bunch of startups, LinkedIn, etc working on it, but it's just a maze of certifications, so it's hard to know what any of them mean

There are a couple articles in this series. Other interesting points:

1. They mention a trend toward evaluating people for the ability to retrain (i.e. looking for personality traits like curiosity, empathy, ability to break tasks into parts, learn quickly).

2. Also a trend toward combining previously unrelated fields (marketing + algorithms, for instance).

3. Since the U.S. doesn't do much vocational training, they look at other countries, and say that in those places people drop out of the work force younger (i.e. they run into difficulties retraining to keep up)

4. They talk about a lot of scenarios where people are commonly left out of the workforce entirely (no path from truck driver to coder, hard for people just out of school with no experience, there are some gaps in the middle of some careers as well)

Since this is on the topic of "life long learning" - shameless plug for my project https://www.findlectures.com

nice @gary, spent a bit of time finding things I'm researching. Not sure how you'd describe it, Search engine for ^stuff^ (vid,sound) on learning? One thing I had trouble finding was Hal Ableson, 6.001 MIT lectures. [0] I know where it is, but I couldn't find it, searching for it by terms. Terms tried:

* lisp algorithms

* MIT lisp algorithms

* MIT lisp Hal ableson

How come?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hal_Abelson

Good question - short answer is I've been focusing on finding collections that people don't know about, but I'm working on adding the MIT lectures - should be up in a day or two :)

I'd describe this as a discovery engine for lectures - the goal is to replicate some of the experience of browsing a library for interesting books (vs. traditional search, which is more about minimizing clicks between you and an answer)

"I'd describe this as a discovery engine for lectures"

I like that idea. Thx @gary for this work, interesting in its own right, could prove ^very useful^.

Great website! Thanks for sharing it.

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