A Billionaire Will Cover the Cost of Coursera’s Illinois Data Science Master’s Degree for His Employees

Marie I. Rose | IBL News

AI-software provider C3.ai, a company owned by billionaire Tom Siebel, has started to offer employees a fully paid tuition for the Master of Computer Science in Data Science (MCS-DS) from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, available on Coursera for $21,000.  

Those who complete the degree will get three more career incentives: a $25,000 cash bonus, a 15% salary increase, and a stock option equity award.

“In this new economy where people are talking about digital transformation; for companies to stay at the top of their game they need to have state-of-the-art continuing education programs,” said Siebel, who got a degree in Computer Science –although residentially – at the same university.

In 2007, Thomas Siebel, 66, pledged $1000 million to support science and engineering at this institution. Currently, CEO at C3.ai, Siebel, with a fortune of $2.9 billion, is a former salesman who became a billionaire after creating and selling Siebel Systems to rival Oracle in 2006 for $5.8 billion. C3.ai is valued at $2.1 billion.

In addition to this degree, C3.ai employees, 330 in total today, already have free access to other Coursera courses and Specializations in AI, IoT, clouding computing, and advanced computing.

“This model of stackable learning will become standard as more companies realize the value of providing a variety of flexible learning pathways for employees to acquire critical skills,” stated Leah Belsky, VP of Enterprise at Coursera.

“We believe that more and more companies will move in this direction in the future. C3.ai is showing real foresight, and they are putting an incredible amount of employee support behind that foresight,” said Rashid Bashir, Dean of The Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois. “New modes of delivering professional education are crucial to both companies like C3.ai and to universities like Illinois.”

The Coursera-based MCS degree was launched in 2016. Nearly 700 hundred students are enrolled in the program. The acceptance rate is 30%.

Illinois’ Department of Computer Science is consistently ranked as one of the top computer science programs in the world. In 2018, it was ranked #5 on the U.S. News and World Report list of Best Computer Science Schools.

Thomas Siebel, in the picture, shows a clear vision: “At C3.ai, we are assembling a team of inquisitive self-learners, motivated and properly trained to solve some of the world’s most challenging technology problems. This program further enables our employees’ success by encouraging them to further develop their computer science and AI expertise at one of the world’s leading universities.”

Siebel’s educational offering to employees is probably the most generous one within corporate America, beyond  Starbucks‘, which covers a portion of the tuition for those who earn online B.A.’s from Arizona State University, and Walmart‘s incentive of $1,500 cash bonuses to some workers who finish degrees at three subsidized schools.

He claimed in Forbes that “the money his company will spend on employee degrees and cash bonuses are a drop in the bucket when you consider how much we spend on human capital.” When you add in other benefits and travel, he says each employee already costs the company more than $350,000 a year. “If someone is increasing their skills, advancing their career, setting themselves up for multiple promotions, providing better service for their customers, in that context the amount we’re spending on this benefit is nothing.”

“Emerging Markets Are a Large Opportunity to Boost Online Enrollment”, Says Emeritus CEO

The Promises and Challenges of Emerging Markets in Higher Education: Emeritus CEO Ashwin Damera in Conversation


Henry Kronk | IBL News

Numerous U.S.-based online program managers (OPM) have made the news lately for better or for worse. But what about similar companies operating in different countries?

Emeritus currently employs over 400 people and partners with many top U.S. institutions, but has offices in India, Dubai, Singapore, and Mexico. And they don’t exactly consider themselves an OPM.

IBL News recently contacted CEO and Co-Founder Ashwin Damera to learn more about the value proposition involved in such a decentralized business model.

Henry Kronk: How did you come to found Emeritus in the first place?

Ashwin Damera: I grew up in India. I worked at Citigroup for five years. I then went to do my MBA at Harvard Business School. After that I came back to start an online travel company. It was funded by Sequoia. We started in 2005, I ran it for four years. Eventually, we were acquired by Travelocity. I had a year where I spent some time for Travelocity Asia Pacific, just advising them about regional strategy in the online travel space.

At that point in time, I met my co-founder Chaitanya Kalipatnapu who had gone to INSEAD and was working there at the time. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do next, I was looking at two sectors: education and healthcare. Both have the ability to touch peoples’ lives.

So we kind of joined hands and started the parent company of Emeritus, which is called Eruditus, in 2010. Chaitanya [Kalipatnapu] went to INSEAD, I went to Harvard. Those are obviously great places to go and it actually changed our careers and made us very successful. It had a catalyzing effect. So we wanted to see how we could make these universities more accessible to a larger number of people across the world.

That was our mission statement then; it’s our mission statement today.

We started in 2010, INSEAD was our first partner, and we started offering programs in the region. We started in India and then moved to Dubai and Asia Pacific. The idea was to get students to sign up for these classroom programs initially, delivered partly on campus, partly in region, and partly online.

In 2015, we created Emeritus to say, listen, not everyone can come to a classroom program, for many reasons, right? (Travel, price, days away from work.) So why not leverage online? MOOCs had already launched, schools were warming up to the idea of online delivery. But we took a different approach. We wanted high-touch online because, at the end of the day, the learning outcomes matter.

What we loved about our educational background was the fact that you had some contact with the faculty, you had peer-to-peer learning, you had projects and assignments and you got feedback. So we tried to incorporate all of that into what is now known as SPOC (small private online courses), which we offer through Emeritus.

We went to our partners at that time, MIT, Columbia, and Dartmouth. They became the first three schools. Today that has expanded. We work with Wharton School of Business, Kellogg School of Management, Berkeley, London Business School, Cambridge [and more]—all elite schools. We offer classes both in person and online. Last year, we taught about 30,000 students through these university courses.

We continue to be very mission-focused. Part of this global access has resulted in us opening an office in Mexico City. We are starting to offer courses in Spanish and Portuguese because we understand that language is also part of access. Access means many things to many people. It usually means price point. Online is helpful because there’s no travel, but the language is also valuable.

In general, we are a platform. I’m not sure we would actually qualify as a traditional OPM. I’m not even sure if we would want to be called an OPM. The reason for that is, while we provide a lot of the OPM-type services, I think we are far more flexible and unbundled than a typical OPM. For example, we work on classroom programs through Eruditus. Those could be 2-day programs delivered in, say, Singapore, Dubai, Mexico City, or India. Or they could be a six-month journey delivered both in a classroom and online. Or they can be purely online. We are very flexible with the type of program we can work.

OPM is an online program management—they don’t do any classroom stuff. We do. That’s one reason that jacket doesn’t fit.

More importantly, each school has its own goals and objectives. Somebody might say, ‘Listen, what I want you guys to do is to boost enrollment online in emerging markets. I don’t need your help in the U.S.’

Somebody else might say, ‘Hey, we’ve created this course, we want you to help us deliver it.’ And then of course, the majority of our partners want us to do everything for them. For the same partner school, for some courses, we might do everything, and for some other courses, just parts of it. We’re very flexible.

As a consequence of that, our terms with our clients are also flexible. No clawbacks, no 15-year contracts, no exclusivities and all of that. If we follow our mission—if more people at more universities have access—we are excited.


Henry Kronk:  Many American colleges and universities are currently worried about their existence. Enrollments have been dropping and are expected to continue to fall. Many believe that emerging markets, where data infrastructures are starting to be able to support online course might a factor that helps them stay afloat and might even be a silver bullet. Do many institutions turn to Emeritus with this strategy?

Ashwin Damera: Yes, emerging markets are a large opportunity. However, it’s a different opportunity. It’s not that you can take what works in the U.S., cut, copy, and paste it into emerging markets.

What do I mean by that? The first thing is the brands that resonate in the U.S. may resonate very differently in different parts of the world. It’s absolutely true that there are some brands, some top schools, many of which we work with, that have reach everywhere in the world. Second tier, third tier brands, for example, a college that may be very popular in certain parts of the U.S. may not resonate in India or Latin America or China.

The opposite is also true. A college that is ranked, let’s say, outside of the top 100, can still be a very strong brand in other markets. So you have to think about that carefully.

Price points are also different because the willingness to pay is different. You have to be really clear which price points you want to target.

The third thing is that tuition for most students (in the U.S.) is funded by student loans, which are funded by the U.S. government. In many emerging markets, that ecosystem is still nascent. A lot of people might take loans themselves, but the interest rates are much higher. It’s not 3% or 4%, it’s more like 12% or 15% in some places.

The implication of that plays out in ROI. If I do this degree program through the school either online or in the classroom, what do I get at the end of that? What does that mean in terms of my ability to pay back what I’ve borrowed? You have to couple these things with career outcomes. Those questions are asked a lot more.

So large markets—if you just look at enrollment numbers in a place like India, there are 30 million students in higher education, but the government loan ration is still only about 27%. There’s a huge room to grow. In China, it’s about 35%. So there’s lots of room to grow, and these economies are still growing. The population is still growing.

Are institutions reaching out to us [to target these markets]? Yes. Both with certificate courses and online degrees, we have always had emerging markets as our focus. We have offices in Mumbai, in Dubai, in Singapore, in Mexico City. Emerging markets are part of our DNA. Schools realize that.

Especially when you’re targeting emerging markets, you probably want a partner, because there are many unknowns. Today about 70% of our enrollments are non-U.S. That is very different from other players in the U.S. who are quartered locally.


Henry Kronk:  Establishing a business in not two, but many different countries—I can’t begin to imagine all of the challenges that have posted. What’s the return on investment with creating such a decentralized business?

Ashwin Damera: Think of our customers—the universities. Whether they’re sitting on the East coast, the West coast, in Europe (maybe in Toronto). If you’re looking at their on-campus programs, especially at the Master’s level. It’s very common for more than 50%, even 70%, to be international students. The U.S. and Europe are great brands. They have great institutions and many students from around the world want to come and study. There’s a huge demand for these education experiences globally. That’s a given.

The reason why we do what we do is because our university partners want to have students from across the world. That’s part of what they do.

In some ways in the U.S. and Europe, there is plateauing demand. Populations are aging. It’s always good to think about the next 10-20 years as a university. You need to be in these high-growth markets, that is clear.

The complexity, for example, of offering a course for students in China, Indonesia, India, Peru, Chile, South Africa, Nigeria—it’s very difficult. As a university, do you want to go and tie up with 10 different providers in each different market? Or would you rather work with one who can help you access all of these different markets and take care of the operational complexities?

That’s the value in our business model. It’s very difficult to do what we’re doing. But it’s much easier to come to a client and say, ‘We will market your course in North America and Europe.’ These are fairly politically advanced economies. The students are mature. The buying process is fairly evolved. Versus saying I’m going to take this course and offer it in 35 or 40 other countries and take care of all the other things involved in that. You have to speak to students, counsel them, manage the taxation issues, the regulations, a whole bunch of stuff. But that’s the value to the university and it’s also our mission: to make high-quality education accessible. If we weren’t doing what we’re doing, we wouldn’t be living up to our mission.


Henry Kronk:  Many people (especially those with vested interests) still discount credentials as all but useless and land far in favor of diplomas. How would you weigh in on the worth of credentialing internationally?

Ashwin Damera: I tend to think three things matter: what is the credential, who is giving it, and what is the acceptability of it.

In general, a degree is still far more valuable than whatever you call the certificate. You can call it a Nanodegree, you can call it a MicroMasters, you can call it a verified certificate, or you can just call it a certificate. That pales in comparison to the value of a degree.

I’m talking about mostly emerging markets here. It’s very social-cultural. You can look at the ‘70s and ‘80s when a lot of people went to great local institutions or went to the U.S., got a degree, did very well in life. The degree is kind of an indicator of success.

But even in the degree space, people understand that an MBA from XYZ school is very different from an MBA from a top school. Like I said earlier, it all depends on career outcomes. The starting salaries of graduates from a school probably matter a lot more than just saying, ‘I have an MBA.’

The third thing that also matters is, people are starting to realize that you can get an MBA in Mexico or parts of Latin America for anywhere between $1,000 and $8,000 to $10,000 depending on the institution. What does the $1,000 MBA give you? What is the rigor of the assessments? What are the criteria? People are able to ask the question even in credential programs, what’s the value and how are they related to each other.

Of course, if you charge $150,000 for an online MBA, will you get a lot of students from emerging markets? Probably not. But if you charge a reasonable fee, provide the rigor and the career outcomes, there’s a market for it.

I would say there’s an exception to what I’m saying—there may be a few. One is the concept of bootcamps where they’re not providing a credential, but they’re providing very strong career services. They address the students needs for ROI and career advancement, though they’re not providing a credential at the end. These are definitely more popular in the U.S. and continue to make headlines. But in emerging markets, they’re still nascent. My intuition is, if done well, there’s a huge market for that product.


Henry Kronk:  When MOOCs received all their hype 6 or 7 years ago, many believed they would democratize education and improve equity. It then turned out that most people who really benefited from them were actually mid-career professionals in Europe and North America. Is there a typical demographic that Emeritus serves?

Ashwin Damera: Yes. In our typical online courses, the average work experience is about 10-12 years. These are mid-career working professionals. They may not have a graduate or undergraduate degree in some cases. But they have significant work experience. They’re not looking at this as getting their first job; they’re adding a skill that will help them advance in their current job or in their current company.


Canadian Educator Heather Payne Says at SUNY’s Conference that Tenure Should Be Abolished

One hour later she delivered the keynote address of the day, Heather Payne speaker and entrepreneur tweeted: “Just told a room full of tenured professors that tenure is dumb and should be abolished and lived to tell the tale. Thanks for having me, State University of New York!”.

Heather Payne’s post was a rightful summary of an energetic conference that shocked many professors gathered in the auditorium of SUNY’s Purchase College, in New York, during the second day of the CIT2019 conference.

This Canadian young educator, founder and CEO of HackerYou coding bootcamp, and named as one the top innovators in North America, delivered a one hour talk featured as “Starting from scratch. How higher ed needs to change its contract with its students”.

The main thesis was that “college isn’t designed for students”. Collectively, 44 million Americans owe 1,5 trillion in student loans. Besides, there is mental health crisis, with many students experiencing episodes of overwhelming anxiety, she highlighted. The university system has its origin in Medieval Europe, where the instruction was based on delivering lectures, and main teaching subjects were arts, law, theology and medicine.

“Higher education needs to be fully redesigned,” claimed Heather Payne, before explaining how new colleges should function.

In addition to eliminating stadiums, as a metaphor of sport programs, Mrs. Heather stated that tenure should be eliminated, along with the research job. “No tenure. And professors should do no research”.

“Tenure is job protection that none of the rest of us have access to, nor is it something any of us should want for our society. It removes the incentive to improve and keeps professors in jobs they should move on from”.

She proposed no tuition payment upfront and an income sharing agreement with students, when they land they first job after graduating from college. This model is being implemented in her 30-employees, Toronto-based start-up, which teaches 9-week web coding related programs, helping learners to transition from low paying jobs to $50k+ activities.

NY University System Will Focus on Increasing its Online Presence

SUNY, the State of New York University System, will heavily focus on increasing its online offer, by scaling its main program to 1,000 students in three years. It will also target post-traditional learners, not only in New York but also out of the state and internationally. The goal is also “to bring back the 40,000 New York residents who are going to non-NY online institutions”. 

Tod A. Laursen, Senior Vice Chancellor and Provost, unfolded all of these remarks on Wednesday during the opening keynote of the CIT 2019 conference in Purchase, New York — a gathering of 400 educators and technologists within the SUNY system.

This plan will be implemented throughout multiple phases, until its launch in the Fall of 2020. Part of the strategy will be the data initiative, based on moving towards predictive data analytics.

Brian Digman, new CIO of SUNY, whose keynote was titled “Disruptive technology arrives”, insisted on the importance of data to predict the future. “Data is the new oil, but data wisdom is yet to be revealed,” said during his remarks at CIT 2019.

In addition, Tod A. Laursen highlighted the growth of OERs (Open Educational Resources) on SUNY, saving $16 million in course material costs.

See some of the slides below.

Illinois Shuts Down its Traditional MBA and Focuses into Online’s iMBA

Marie E. Rose | IBL News

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will shift investments away from its residential MBA programs to focus on its rapidly growing online iMBA, which is delivered through Coursera.org at $22,000 (compared to traditional MBAs that can cost three or four times more.)

The ending of this face-to-face program happens in an environment where several universities have scaled back or eliminated traditional MBA programs.

The University of Illinois will allow current MBA students and those planning to start programs this year to finish.

“The iMBA is the right format for the times – providing a powerful learning experience with anytime/anywhere accessibility at an affordable cost,” said Jeffrey Brown, Dean of Gies College of Business, in a statement. “Given the global reach and accessibility of this program, we are creating what I call the world’s MBA. With this and with our innovation in undergrad, specialized masters, and lifelong learning, we are playing to our competitive advantages and positioning ourselves for tremendous impact and steady growth. These moves will focus our investment in ways that will make us unquestionably one of a handful of the world’s very best and most innovative business schools.”

Applications to the iMBA have nearly tripled – from 1,100 in 2016, when the program was launched, to a projected 3,200 in 2019.

“The program is revolutionary in its delivery, stackable structure, concentrations, immersions, accessibility, and career-curated content. It combines the material in ways that professionals use it in the real world, not in traditional academic silos. iMBA students earn the same MBA that on-campus students have been earning for decades. At a total cost of less than $22,000, the program is designed to be affordable at a time when MBAs can easily cost $80,000 or more.”

“Our iMBA is the most innovative, highest-value MBA of any kind anywhere in the world,” said Brown [in the picture]. “Because it is online and offered at an affordable cost, it creates access to high-quality, high-impact business education for larger numbers of talented people. It fulfills our land-grant mission and serves our state spectacularly well. At the same time, by being fully online, it extends and deepens our reach as a global player — ensuring a worldwide reach for our College and alumni network.”

In addition to the iMBA, Gies College of Business will focus its investments on a suite of rapidly growing market-driven master’s programs, undergraduate education, and lifelong learning. Gies will seek to expand and add to its line-up of high-quality specialized masters degrees in fields such as accounting, finance, and technology management.

Gies will also increase investments in its undergraduate programs. Last year, 99% of students were employed, continued their education, or entered volunteer service within three months of graduation. In addition, the College is offering an online business minor, which has experienced remarkable success and currently enrolls about 1,000 students.

“With how quickly business and technology are changing, lifelong learning is another high-impact, high- growth field,” said Brown. “People need to keep up with business and technology changes in order to build careers and create value. We’ll be right there for them.”

The College claims that “is honoring its commitment to current and incoming MBA students, ensuring they will have access to the same outstanding faculty, curriculum, action learning experiences, and career advising until they complete their degree. Recognizing that the announcement may impact some students’ decision about whether to attend Gies, the College extended the deadline for refunding deposits from June 3 to July 1 and also offered automatic admission into the iMBA as an option.”

“The full-time and part-time residential MBA programs are excellent, as are the students and alumni of those programs,” said Brown. “Yet market demand for traditional formats is declining nationwide. Meanwhile, demand, as well as the needs of businesses and individuals, is growing in these other areas. We believe in innovating and staying ahead of trends in business education and on top of the needs of business and society.”



• Illinois Gies College of Business: Gies Announces Strategic Shift

Forbes: Why Business Schools Are Shutting Down Their MBA Programs

IBL News: Master’s Degrees which Can Be Completed Online

IBL News: 45 MOOC-Based Master’s Degrees Worldwide

What’s Next for Coursera and FutureLearn? Insights Revealed at the EMOOCS Conference

John G. Paul | IBL News

Coursera, with fourteen MOOC-based degrees in its catalog, is seeing slow progress in this modality. “They are growing slower than we expected,” revealed Dil Sidhu, Chief Content Officer at Coursera, at the EMOOCS 2019 conference, which took place last week at the University of Naples Federico II, in Italy.

Dil Sidhu, who started his work at Coursera at the beginning of this year, provided during his talk an interesting piece of data: “62 percent of those who take an online degree [in Coursera] started with a MOOC”. “MOOCs are the gateway to online degrees,” he stated. (See the graphic above).

This executive provided a snapshot of what lies ahead for Coursera: “Inclusion of Behavioral Sciences to help learners succeed. Data analytics to help identify content and learners habits. Help partners succeed (…). Social impact: Coursera for refugees, veterans, and incarcerated populations”.

During the same session at the University of Naples Federico II, Anant Agarwal, CEO at edX, and Simon Nelson, CEO at FutureLearn, stressed the impact of in-demand MOOCs on up-skilling and re-skilling employees as well as setting up lifelong learning habits.

Simon Nelson, whose company received a recent investment of $64 million, announced that FutureLearn will invest money in creating high-quality content. So far the three big MOOC providers have not invested in content, relying instead on universities’ and industry partners’ offerings.

The CEO of FutureLearn also disclosed that his organization is working, along with some other European MOOC providers such as France Universite Numerique (FUN) and Spanish Telefonica’s MiriadaX, in a common microcredential framework, recognized for credit by leading employers. This new credential will be provided after 100 to 150- hour classes. (See the screenshot below).

Coursera Expands into Canada by Opening an Engineering Office

Coursera’s international growth will now expand into Canada.

The leading MOOC provider announced this week the opening of the first engineering office outside of the United States, in Toronto.

The new office will be initially staffed with nine engineers [in the picture], whose mission according to Coursera will be “to accelerate innovation for the company’s enterprise and partner products”.

Four additional software developer positions are currently offered.

“As a global platform with more than 80% of our learners coming from outside of the U.S., it is also important for us to diversify our talent sourcing and build a presence in new tech hubs to enrich our own product thinking and engineering best practices.”

With 40 million learners, 1,800 business, and 190 university and industry partners, Coursera –which competes with Udacity and edX– continues to prepare itself for an IPO.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Higher Education Creates AfghanX and Joins the edX Consortium

EdX-style education will now reach Afghanistanis.

Six universities have joined efforts to scale higher education and deliver quality courses for learners throughout Afghanistan.

These institutions, managed by the Central e-Learning committee of the Ministry of Higher Education, have created AfghanX, an initiative which has just joined the edX Consortium.

The Ministry of Education’s goal is to incorporate digital technologies into teaching, learning and research and ultimately increase the employability of Afghan men and women in the workplace.

The first offering from AfghanX is Contemporary Manuscript Illumination of Herat, a 6-week course on edX.org, designed to teach learners various ways to create an illuminated manuscript. This practice is considered a national art in Afghanistan and is used primarily for religious, scholarly and historical manuscripts.

This class is currently open for enrollment and starts on May 29.

Carnegie Mellon’s Massive Open Source Initiative – Interview With the Leader Behind It

As an Alternative to the Tech Transfer Approach, Carnegie Mellon Will Open-Source Dozens of Internally Developed EdTech Tools


Henry Kronk | IBL News

In March, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) announced an unprecedented initiative. Over the course of the year, they plan to release dozens of digital learning tools they have developed over the past decade on an open-source license. These include the learning analytics platform LearnSphere and their pioneering adaptive learning project the Open Learning Initiative (OLI). In all, CMU estimates $100 million in grants and university funding went into these efforts. The effort was spearheaded by the Simon Initiative, which continues the legacy of Nobel Laureate, Turing Award recipient, and CMU professor Herbert Simon.

Simon made numerous contributions in various fields throughout his lifetime. But in education, he is remembered for the concept of learning engineering. As Simon wrote on the subject, “Most of us were trained as teachers by serving as TA’s in a couple of classes when we were graduate students; and our students, with rare exceptions, have never received any systematic and consistent instruction in how to learn. Yet that is the skill they have been exercising every working day of their lives for more years than they would like to remember. So students don’t study the skills of learning, and university teachers don’t study the skills of teaching.”

By promoting learning engineering, Simon hoped to both study the process of teaching and learning as academics do their own fields and disciplines, and then apply what they’ve learned to improve their own classrooms.

Norman Bier is the director of both the Simon Initiative and the OLI. He has a unique perspective on university-created edtech products. Besides being on campus while other CMU edtech efforts such as Acrobatiq were developed and brought to market, he used to work for iCarnegie. While not strictly a software company, iCarnegie sought to train software developers much like coding bootcamps do today.

IBL News reached Bier to hear more about CMU’s massive open-source effort.

Henry Kronk
Naturally, the main thing I’d like to know is why do this open-source initiative in the first place?

Norman Bier: So Carnegie Mellon doesn’t have a college of education. At the same time, we’ve got a really rich tradition of interesting work at the place where psychology, cognitive science, human-computer interaction, and computer science intersect. We’ve got a rich tradition of building sort of weird cross-discipline teams that you don’t always see in other institutions. Particularly from Herb Simon’s influence, we’ve got this deep tradition of thinking seriously about how to improve learning.

So no, we don’t have a college of education. But what we’ve had from these collaborations are some really exciting and impactful individual projects that range from things like our work in cognitive tutors (in the algebra space, we’ve seen use of the tutors can help K-12 students get an additional year’s worth of training compared to their traditional peers) There’s also the OLI. The OLI is probably best known for its work in statistics where we saw roughly twice the learning outcomes in half the time. But there are a whole host of other things as well from virtual chemistry labs to new tutoring approaches in second language acquisition to educational data mining—lots and lots of work in this space that we’re really proud of.

Henry Kronk
: How is CMU education research applied?

Norman Bier: We don’t always see this work being used here on campus for CMU students’ benefit. Despite some of the impressive numbers I’ve just cited, we don’t always see this work getting out into the world in a way that has a real impact in terms of improving learning. Although I do think we collaborate as well as anyone, even here, we often see that projects don’t always integrate well. Sometimes we see replication of effort. So the Simon Initiative was launched to better interconnect and accelerate the work that is happening in this space to position it in a way so that we can really use these tools but also these techniques and approaches we have been developing to transform the learning experience for Carnegie Mellon students, to also get it out into the world in ways that have a broader impact and improve learning outcomes more globally.

In a lot of ways, we follow Herb Simon’s challenge to his colleagues at the end of his career—that if we want to improve learning, we need to stop thinking about it as teaching and start creating it as a community-based research activity … In some ways, our charge is if we don’t have a college of education, we should treat the entire university as a college of education and make the classroom a learning laboratory.

With this diversity of approaches and tools, we need to think about what is common across the work. This is where we really emphasize the ‘learning engineering approach.’

Over the years, we’ve been thinking about how to position these tools and approaches in a way that will have the greatest amount of impact. How do we get more people to engage with them?


Henry Kronk: Why take this approach compared to a more traditional, for-profit go-to-market strategy?

Norman Bier: Particularly in the educational technology space, there are some real challenges in the traditional tech transfer approach. I think that, broadly speaking, the edtech market is not one that broadly emphasizes or rewards effectiveness. Too often, we see these really effective approaches get pushed out into the market and then they end up needing to pivot to focus on the things that are going to help them sell, rather than the things that made the product effective in the first place.

Most of this work still needs to be embedded in its research. We’re not at a point where any of this is mature and the research is finished. But rather, when we think about this as part of an engineering effort, we see this real need to staying close to this ongoing research, recognizing where we have new questions that we’re asking, and if we start to really push on this notion that every new learning experience that we’re designing represents a hypothesis, staying close to the toolset, staying close to the approach becomes really important.

As we’ve investigated new ways towards getting this learning engineering approach broadly used, more broadly accepted, it became increasingly clear that we didn’t have a perfect existing model to tie into.

The tech transfer approach wasn’t going to work. We started saying, ‘Maybe we’ll think about CMU just building this stuff for the world. We can build the world’s best statistics course, everyone can use that.’


Henry Kronk: So then, what specifically is attractive about the open-sourcing model?

Norman Bier: Our ongoing research keeps showing us that 1) there is no perfect statistics course for the world and 2) cultural context is so important for learning that what we really need to do (if we think these tools and approaches are important) is position them in ways such that folks can deploy them in their own context with their own learners’ needs in mind. And if we were going to learn from that approach, we need to position this work in a way that the results coming back from those efforts can come back in a way that we and the rest of the community can see them.

This really started pushing us to more of a community-based approach and that in turn led us to this notion that we need to be more open about our work.

By opening up these tools and opening up the software, I’m not sure that I’m trying to encourage every institution out there to spin up their own instance of the DataShop platform. That’s 1) not very efficient and 2) for a lot of the folks we’re trying to see impacted, they don’t have the resources or expertise to do this. But in order to encourage this use of some of the centralized tools and centralized approaches, that code base was sort of table stakes. It was a way of saying, ‘Look, you can count on the fact that this stuff won’t disappear because it’s out here for you.’


Henry KronkA lot of existing coverage of OLI’s open-source initiative is saying something like, ‘Carnegie Mellon is giving these digital tools away.’ Now, this is a purposefully imperfect metaphor, but let’s say I developed a tool to fix my bike. I could hand that tool to somebody else so that they could fix their bike. But that’s not exactly what’s going on here, is it?

Norman Bier: No, I think it’s different in two ways. What we are providing is a garage where you can come, bring your bike, and, to push the metaphor, you need to bring your own data or your own grease or your own brake pads. But what we have is a community-supported bike garage where you can go in and take advantage of some of the tools there.

But if you have the resources, we’re also handing you the tools to go and open your own bike garage. If engaging with this centrally-supported garage isn’t going to work for you, then you have the opportunity to go home and build your own. Take the case of LearnSphere (an iteration of an earlier version of DataShop, which was intended as that one central educational data mining and warehousing infrastructure for the community. A lot of folks had been consistent users over the years, but we were consistently hearing that, though they were comfortable with the notion of sharing their data, and though they were comfortable with the notion of sharing techniques, they weren’t necessarily comfortable with taking their data and sticking it on CMU servers.

So one piece of the LearnSphere project has been to create a more distributed infrastructure so that, if the University of Memphis stands up their own LearnSphere data, they’re now completely in control of their own data. They’re able to expose that so that if others need to use that data for secondary analysis, they can still get access. They participate in some of the larger sharing of analytic methods and some of the visualizations.


Henry Kronk: And then, there’s also the data-sharing aspect.

Norman Bier: Yes. This is starting to take the bike shop metaphor in weird places, but if you want to go off and stand up your own workspace, it can still connect with and share some of the resources with the original bike shop or any other one in a way that should be mutually beneficial to everyone. That’s a really important piece in this. When we talk about the learning engineering approach, we also talk about, in the aggregate, that data feeding fresh discoveries in the learning sciences. A model where everyone goes off, stands up their own DataShop, stands up their own OLI, and only uses that information internally really limits our ability to learn from what is happening, to identify what is working, and to see that pushed out to a larger group of students.

Some piece of this is saying, ‘You don’t need to become dependent on our bike shop and worry that we’re going to close the doors or start charging for it. You could go build your own if you need it. But there is a benefit with engaging and contributing to this work as part of a larger community.’


Henry KronkBased on your time spent with other edtech tools and services that have gone the for-profit proprietary route, are you moving forward with this open-source initiative with any specific lessons learned?

Norman Bier: I think when I combine my experience at iCarnegie with some more recent work here at OLI, it’s become increasingly important to find ways to let individuals revise and re-contextualize the learning materials that are getting pushed out. If we are serious about leveraging learning data to improve that learning experience, and we’re serious about faculty needing to be able to make these changes, then we really need to focus on putting tools in their hands that exposes them to the data, makes that information actionable, and gives them that chance to engage in their own closed-loop cycle of review, analysis, design, development, and deployment.

That was a piece that we didn’t have at all at iCarnegie. Again, this was prior to the existence of the concept of open education. Maybe that’s not fair. I have some colleagues at the Open University who would hunt me down and beat me up for saying that. This is prior to the Creative Commons license existing before we were talking about OER. We never got faculty to a place where we were asking, ‘How can we equip faculty to make changes to this?’ let alone, ‘How can we more deeply involve them in this improvement process?’

That’s been a lesson that stretched into OLI. We have a process that has historically produced some really remarkable and effective courseware. But at the same time, to get faculty to engage with the larger course development team … for a lot of faculty, this notion that I don’t need to build a full course, I’ve got this one specific learning challenge I need to address, and I’ve got some ideas about what can be effective—it seemed pretty important to include that population in this work. We’ve been spending a lot of attention and making some deep investments in the kind of authoring and improvement tools that really should allow anyone to come in and make some changes to an existing course or test out their hypothesis but also making sure that there’s going to be data coming back.


Analysis: Sebastian Thrun, Creates the University of Silicon Valley and the Fourth Degree

Mikel Amigot | IBL News


Sebastian Thrun, Founder, and CEO at Udacity, is not shy when he claims, in a recent post, that his company will become the “University of Silicon Valley”. “Every student will now have technical mentors, expert reviewers, career coaches, and personalized learning plans on their side, in every Nanodegree program,” he writes before welcoming everyone “to the future of e-learning”.

Class Central criticizes Sebastian Thrun’s missteps with its restructuring plan, initiated in late 2018, with three rounds of layoffs of 40% of its employees, and offices around the world closed or downscaled. In addition, Vishal Makhijani stepped down as CEO and the Founder stepped in at the company he created in 2012. The startup, with over $90 million in revenue, now employs 300 full-time equivalent employees and about 60 contractors.

Sebastian Thrun, 52-years old and born in Solingen, Germany, is a tough entrepreneur, who completed his Ph.D. in computer science and statistics in 1995 at the University of Bonn. He taught computer science at Carnegie Mellon and Stanford University and worked at Google as VP, founding Google X and Google’s self-driving car team. He led the development of the robotic vehicle Stanley which won the 2015 DARPA Grand Challenge. Thurn is also the CEO of Kitty Hawk Corp, a flying-car startup. He is known for his work on probabilistic algorithms for robotics. At the age of 39, he was elected into the National Academy of Engineering in DC.

He describes himself as “a scientist, educator, inventor, and entrepreneur”. What Sebastian Thrun doesn’t highlight, however, is the fact that he is running a company with the iron rod of a Wall-Street CEO –which isn’t that cool in elitist Academia. Instead,
he claims that his “mission is to democratize education by providing lifelong learning to millions of students worldwide.”

A scientist whose company has achieved the status of a unicorn of $1 billion is certainly not an easy sell in higher education. Being a billionaire and a genius scientist only happens in a Hollywood play. And superheroes as Tony Stark in Iron Man, are fictitious.

What everyone we talked to agrees on is that Sebastian is a relentless innovator in online learning.

He is convinced that more support results in improved outcomes for students and helps them to find better jobs.

“Only 4% of students ever complete a MOOC. At present, our Nanodegree programs have a 34% graduation rate, thanks to the tireless efforts of the hard-charging Udacity team. When paired with our new personalized mentorship programs in past experiments, cohorts have commonly exceeded 60% graduation rates.” (…) “For our Nanodegree Plus pilot, an independent accounting firm verified that among our career-seeking and job-ready graduates, 84% found a new, better job within six months of graduation. And for that 84 %, the salaries went up, by an average of $24,000 per person. So much that on average, those students recouped their entire Udacity tuition fee in just three weeks.” (…) “No other online learning platform provides this level of end-to-end personalized mentorship.”

Along with tutoring and mentoring, another signature area of innovation at Udacity is credentialing.

Sebastian Thrun states that Udacity’s Nanodegree program –with 75,000 graduates and 200 industry partners– is “the new fourth degree”, beyond “the three common university degrees — the Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD.”

“The Nanodegree program is well on its way to becoming a de-facto standard for hiring and corporate training in the tech industry. This is in no small part because partners like Google, Amazon, Facebook, AT&T, IBM, Mercedes, and so many others help us develop our curricula, and hire our graduates. If Udacity was an actual university, we would be “accredited by industry.” Who would know better what it takes to get a job at your dream company than our own corporate partners?”

Grand statements. It would be interesting to know what Stanford University, and other elite schools and platforms like Coursera and edX think about all of this.