Automattic, the Company Behind WordPress, Valued at $3 Billion After Its Last Funding

Mikel Amigot | IBL News

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce, the Jetpack plugin and soon Tumblr, announced on Thursday that it closed a 
$300 million funding round in Series D from Salesforce Ventures. The investment puts Automattic’s valuation at $3 billion post-funding.

Today WordPress powers more than 34% of all sites on the web, claims Automattic CEO and WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg [in the picture].

The company will have close to 1,200 employees when the Tumblr acquisition closes. In August, Automattic purchased Tumblr from Verizon for $3 million, a fraction of what it was worth when Yahoo bought it for $1.1 billion in 2013. Tumblr is seen as complementary to WordPress.com; therefore, no major changes are planned.

The freemium business model with an open-source philosophy at its core has been working very well for Automattic Inc.

WordPress, as a free open-source software platform, is owned by a non-profit group called The WordPress Foundation, while the popular domain WordPress.com is privately held.

Automattic makes most of its money by selling subscriptions to software services related to the WordPress platform, like WooCommerce, an open-source e-commerce plugin for WordPress; Jetpack, a customization and security plugin for WordPress; and enterprise WordPress for businesses, such as WordPress.com VIP. It also gets revenues by selling advertising against some of the free blogs that users create on WordPress.com.

Google and CompTIA Create a Dual Credential for Learners Seeking for Entry-Level Jobs in IT

IBL News | New York

Google announced on Thursday that it was teaming up with the nonprofit trade association CompTIA to provide a dual badge of completion for entry-level roles and support jobs in IT.

Learners who complete the Google IT Support Professional Certificate and pass the CompTIA A+ certification exams will have access to this new credential from CompTIA and Google.

This dual badge, which can be posted on LinkedIn, is intended for job seekers to stand out to IT recruiters and better attract the attention of potential employers.

Google’s IT Support Professional Certificate –a six-month program available on Coursera– aligns well with the training in CompTIA’s certification exams, according to students without a university degree.

“IT support skills are highly teachable, and a four-year degree isn’t typically required to build a successful career in this field,” said Natalie Van Kleef Conley, Product Lead at Google’s program. We knew that if we could train beginners on technical skills, we could create paths to real jobs—both at Google and at other companies across the country.”

In the United States, there are more than 215,000 open IT support roles resulting from the exponential growth of technology usage, according to CompTIA’s data.

 

CompTIA:
• IT Takes Two: CompTIA and Google Put High-Growth Tech Jobs Within Reach

• CompTIA and Google Team Up to Deepen Talent Pool of IT Support Professionals

 

 

 

 

2U Will Release More Data As The OPM Industry Will Face Growing Scrutiny

Mikel Amigot | New York

2U, the most visible company in the OPM (Online Program Management) industry, announced on September 11 what it called “an unprecedented new Framework for Transparency”, which “will offer students, universities, and policymakers data on outcomes, quality, institutional independence, and more for the degree and non-degree offerings.”

“2U becomes the first OPM to openly call for, and embrace, greater transparency,” the Lanham, Maryland-based company said in a statement.

“We call upon other OPMs across the industry to join us in committing to greater transparency,” 2U Co-Founder and CEO Christopher “Chip” Paucek added.

The new framework is grounded in six pillars: University Oversight & Accountability; Marketplace Openness; Access; Affordability; Quality; and Outcomes.


Facing growing scrutiny, 2U’s move isn’t as big as it looks, because the company is publicly traded (NASDAQ: TWOU) and it needs to recover investors’ confidence, after losing over half of its market value in the last seven weeks.

Secondly, the controversial company needs to self-regulate, getting ahead of potential regulatory changes.

In addition, it would be an attempt to put pressure on competitors such as Pearson, Wiley, Academic Partnerships, Noodle and Bisk to do the same.

“Paucek believes that releasing more information about the company and its operations will help prove just how ‘excellent’ it is,” wrote Doug Lederman in Inside Higher Ed.

A Public Database of Online Program Contracts

In relation to the OPM industry, the Century Foundation yesterday published a report titled “Dear Colleges: Take Control of Your Online Courses.” It elaborated on the relationships between 79 public colleges and OPM companies and included a database of scores of contracts outlining the terms of the arrangements.

“Our hope is that this action-focused report will assist schools and those who care about them to jumpstart a paradigm shift in how online education in the United States is done,” the Foundation said.

 

 

Creating Compelling Slides: Bullet Point the Content or Read Scripts?

Marie I. Rose | IBL News

One of the most time-consuming tasks in instructional design is creating slides.

Slides are the backbone of any course. We usually outline the talking points, script the visuals and convey important information for the students.

Many times slides are accompanied by texts to be teleprompted by lecturers. This mostly depends on their personality and teaching style.

The dilemma is whether to bullet point the content or read scripts.

However, one requirement is certain: we need to create killer visuals. Layouts, texts, pictures, icons, videos, graphics, animations, colors, and fonts need to be compelling. And flipping through slides (Keynote or PowerPoint) should result in an engaging teaching experience.

Let us share some of our recommendations when designing slides:

  • Choose wide-screen format 16:9.
  • Use bullets or very short sentences. Do not add paragraphs of information on your slides: learners become distracted and stop listening. Use multiple slides for a topic if the content is too long.
  • Pick sans serif fonts: they are easier to read and seem more friendly. Some of the classics are Arial, Geneva, Lucida Grande, Tahoma, Trebuchet MS, and Verdana.At IBL our favorites are Roboto, Open Sans, Lato, Fira Sans, Libre Franklin, and Karla… Never Helvetica!

    Regarding size, use fonts larger than 22 points.

    The Fontsquirrel.com website includes many free fonts.
  • Choose 2-3 colors to that work well together. Use the color palette combinations or pick your brand’s color if the course is an extension of your activities. Adobe has a good color picker. Coolors.co is another good generator.

It’s All About Increasing Learners’ Engagement in Courses and Programs

Mikel Amigot | IBL News

A measure to calibrate the success of a learning platform and an ongoing program is the progress of engagement. If engagement improves, then revenues go up and administrators, instructors, and students smile.

edX, for example, has seen an 11 % increase in their engagement rate in the last two years. Now it claims a 42 % engagement rate.

The question is what truly generates engagement in courses.  Three are three main factors, in our view:

  • Content quality along with the design of the course
  • Platform’s pedagogical technology and new features
  • Content marketing and SEO campaigns to allow learners to find their desired courses

Please examine the graphic above, captured from Studio, the authoring tool of the Open edX platform –which is open-source and free to install.

The third checkmark refers to a core technical and pedagogical characteristic of this platform: active learning.

The course content is presented through learning sequences: a set of interwoven videos, readings, discussions, wikis, collaborative and social media tools, exercises and materials with automatic assessments and instant feedback.

Students alternate between learning concepts and solving simple exercises to check their understanding.

As a best practice, edX recommends building diverse learning sequences, following researchers’ discoveries. “We recommend that 80% or more of your learning sequences or subsection include multiple content types (such as video, discussion, or problem)”.

Gently nudging students, tutoring them and setting and soft deadlines in the course is equally helpful.

Would you suggest additional engagement techniques?

 

 

 

Asimov Predicted the State of Education in 2019. Was He Right?

Mikel Amigot | IBL News

“AI, Machine Learning, Augmented and Virtual Reality, Adaptive Learning, Big Data, and so on, and so.”

This is how Jeffrey Riman, Professor at FIT and Chair of the Faculty Advisory Council on Teaching and Technology (FACT2) at SUNY, summarized the technology issues dominating the conversation in higher ed during the 2019 CIT Conference.

“Among the many challenges for faculty and instructional support staff are increased complexity and steeper learning curves, greater time commitment, and outsourced content creation and assessment strategies. Course size will continue to grow, and the pace of change is accelerating,” said Jeffrey Riman [in the picture].

“And one thing we know: history is not a predictor of future performance,” he added.

Funny reference to history. Let’s go back four decades.

On December 31, 1983, esteemed scholar and best-selling sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov predicted how the world would be in 2019.

He wrote: “Education, which must be revolutionized in the new world, will be revolutionized by the very agency that requires the revolution – the computer…”

“There will be an opportunity finally for every youngster, and indeed, every person, to learn, in his or her own time, at his or own speed, in his or her own way…”

“Education will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.”

Does anyone dare to predict how education will be in 2065?

Asimov the genius did envision the impact of the computer and the connected network, as well as the potential of on-demand learning at scale.

For a fully universal, personalized, adapted and fun education, we might need to wait a little longer.

But foundations are building up.

Ideas to Boost Your Course Completion Rate

Mikel Amigot | IBL News

Completion rates of free massive online courses have traditionally been low, at an average of 5%. This is mostly because these online classes are not offering an appealing benefit in career advancement and do not include tutoring to follow up with learners.

In addition, requiring students to make an upfront payment, often with a minimal fee, show their commitment to the class. It is like in brick-and-mortar colleges: those who pay their own tuition are more likely to continue.

As an instructional designer, a good technique to increase engagement is to place a survey at the beginning of the course asking students how they will apply their new knowledge and what their expectations are.

It is also very helpful to feature the materials available for certain course intervals and include synchronous sessions and live office hours. Whatsapp, Slack, Twitter, Facebook or even Google Hangouts are efficient tools for a face-to-face conference.

This can be combined with group projects and peer assessments ––Open edX includes those two functionalities.

Naturally, discussion forums and problem submissions must be managed. Having at least one teaching assistant who interacts with students via forums, Piazza-style boards or email will end up motivating learners.

Chatbot agents and AI-Teaching AssistantsGeorgia Tech-style, which are able to personalize experiences are also an option.

Economic incentives, such as AWS’ or IBM’s cloud free-credit for young entrepreneurs, are smart approaches.

Imposing deadlines for course completion tends to work well but it could also discourage enrollment. A solution can be to keep parts of the course open without registration. (This possibility –available on Open edX, too– is beneficial for SEO purposes, since Google and other search crawlers can index your public courses.)

Finally, consider adaptive learning. AI-driven adaptive or personalized courses are becoming a reality. Behavioral Sciences and predictive analytics help learners succeed. New learning ecosystems are being designed with this requirement.

 

View: Are the Golden Years of Education Entrepreneurship Gone?

Mikel Amigot | IBL News

The push to launch start-ups is certainly over. In 2013, nearly 768 education companies were founded. Today that number has dropped below 125.

Within 18 months, from late 2011, we saw the launch of MOOC platforms Coursera, edX, Udacity and FutureLearn. In addition, in 2012, three more lifelong learning organizations were founded: Degreed, Minerva and Flatiron School.

After many tweaks, those companies finally found successful revenue models.

Looking today, something strange is happening. Creativity and entrepreneurial spirit haven’t decreased. But monetization is tougher, and investors do not have the patience they showed a decade ago.

Colleges and universities have mostly behaved as anti-innovation engines, mainly because of traditionalists within the faculty and administrators’ exclusive concern with revenue generation. Large corporations have concentrated on their core businesses, paying little attention to new forms of training and education. Non-profits and philanthropist-driven organizations have played it safe, too, promoting partnerships with traditional universities.

There is much to fix and new times will arrive. Higher ed institutions and businesses need to think differently in order to adequately respond to the new demands of lifelong learners.

An Institution Prepares Students for Jobs which Won’t Be Automatized

Mikel Amigot | IBL News (Boston)

Job automation has already started. Stats indicate that 10% of American jobs will be automated in 2019. An upsetting forecast indicates that up to 73 million U.S. jobs will be automated by 2030.

But there is hope. First: nearly 2 million new non-routine jobs which machines cannot easily perform are being created every year in the United States. Second: an increasing number of colleges and universities understand the challenge and are starting to prepare students who demand jobs which won’t be automated.

Foundry College is one of them. Its Founder, Dr. Stephen Kosslyn, addressed the issue yesterday during the Eduventures Summit in Boston with a physician example. “Diagnosis of illness will soon be accomplished well by machines. But sitting with the family to discuss treatment options will be difficult to automate.”

At least two skills are automation resistant: “Recognizing and responding to emotion when communicating and making decisions. And taking context into account when analyzing situations, creatively solving problems, and prioritizing goals,” Stephen Kosslyn said.

Foundry College, which is focused on what’s difficult to automate, has listed five key underpinnings:

  • Critical thinking
  • Creative problem solving
  • Clear communication
  • Constructive personal interactions
  • Good judgment.

To pair these essential skills, this institution has reimagined a future-proof, two-year curriculum. On the first year, Foundry teaches:

  • Critical Analyses
  • Practical Problem Solving
  • Clear Communication
  • Learning at Work
  • Working with Others
  • Managing Yourself at Work

On the second year:

  • Communicating and Conveying in Business
  • Navigating Work
  • Thinking with Software
  • Customer Service and Sales
  • Health Care Management
  • System and Service Management

 

View: A Model Involving Faculty for Course Design

Mikel Amigot | IBL News

The course development process usually tends to be too complex. As instructional designers, we schedule too many milestones and we overcomplicate things.

Two experts in the field shared their view at SUNY’s annual technology conference, CIT, which took part this May 29-31 in Purchase, New York.

Learning designers Joseph Stabb and Theresa Guillard-Cook [in the picture] described SUNY Oswego’s four-step process for course development: 1) Agreement; 2) Kickoff Meeting; 3) Schedule Set Up; 4) Final Course Review.

The second one is particularly critical. The most important questions in the meeting with professors are: “what is your vision and idea for your course? What would you like to do?” These obvious questions and answers are usually forgotten; consequently, the class becomes ineffective.

“The most important statement in this meeting is: you are the subject matter expert,” said Joseph Stabb and Theresa Guillard-Cook.

Regarding the third stage, a detailed development schedule with milestones and due dates is required. A template is necessary.

A well-defined process, based on continuous collaboration where faculty feel supported, will meet educational standards and drive student outcomes.

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