2013 saw a lot happening in the online education space. In no particular chronological order, I offer some of the trends I took away from following this space along the year.
The big tech guys are coming
In September, Google announced it was joining the edX consortium, a group of educational institutions that provides joint infrastructure to offer MOOCs. With Google coming aboard, the consortium launched MOOC.org, a new platform that promises to provide infrastructure to all institutions that want to offer MOOCs, not only EdX members. The platform itself will launch in 2014, but it is accepting registrations from interested institutions. When Google joins a certain industry, this industry isn’t likely to remain the same for long. Search, online advertising, email, maps and GPS, are just a few examples. We’ll have to wait and see the impact this will bring to online education, but it’s certain there will be impact and we’re likely to start feeling this impact in 2014.
Academic institutions are going “all-in”
Huge academic institutions are clearly signaling that online is the way to go. In January San Jose State University, a member of what is the (self-proclaimed) largest university system in the USA, announced that it would start a pilot offering credit for online courses. This is a significant boost to online education offerings, bringing online classes to the same level as physical classes. Udacity, one of the major MOOC providers, has partnered with testing company Pearson VUE to be able to apply exams at any of hundreds of testing centers worldwide, paving the way to make online courses much more valuable by issuing official certificates after the students pass a real, proctored, final exam. Coursera also launched “Verified Certificates”, allowing students to receive valuable certificates at the completion of certain tracks. All of these advancements provide the necessary credibility for online education to be taken ever more seriously in 2014.
Money flowed big time
Serious money was pumped into online education in 2013. Crunchbase reports 283 funding events in 2013, versus just 201 in 2012 – . Coursera alone raised an impressive $63 million in a two-part series B round. All this at a time when people were still taking about a series A crunch since 2012. Either online education’s strength was such that it beat the crunch, or 2013 saw the tech industry overcome it.
MOOCs took a beating
Massive Open Online Courses were always one of the most visible aspects of the current “uprise” of online education. So, when research came to light (PDF link) that MOOCs showed very low student engagement and when Udacity announced its products were often lousy and would venture into corporate learning, some saw this as a sign of the downfall of online education. Those that follow the industry for a longer time, of course, already knew that MOOCs were not actually created by Coursera or Udacity but rather have been evolving for a long time and also knew of their characteristics when huge number of students are involved, but this does seem to indicate MOOCs may be over the “hype cycle” phase of their development, which may or may not be a good thing.