From “The Ed Tech Startup Space” assignment in EdStartup 101:
In writing, in video, or in an image (or in a combination of media!) tell us what you thought about these companies [ClassDojo, Clever, Codecademy, Coursera, Degreed, Dreambox, Goalbook, Instructure, Knewton] and emerging trends [from the Horizon Report]. Which ones were the most exciting to you? How do they relate to your idea for a startup? What did you see or hear that you hadn’t expected? What had you expected to see or hear that you didn’t?
I’m familiar with several of these companies, and, indeed, work for one of them. So rather than revisit each and review, I’m going to focus on a few that are most compelling: Knewton, Capella, and Degreed (in another post)
Knewton has taken on misleadingly simple idea of adaptive learning in a big way by building out a platform specifically tailored for this purpose. Too often, “adaptive learning” is coupled with theories of multiple intelligences or learning styles. Knewton seems more interested in adaptive learning that provides individualized instruction, feedback, and assessment based on the learner’s current performance ability. Because of the inherent complexity of this kind of play-by-play analysis, it has seemed an ideal adaptation of computer technology. So it’s surprising, but also exciting, for me to hear Knewton talk about adaptive learning beyond the two-dimensions of adaptive testing.
Unfortunately, I’ve not had a chance to see Knewton in action, so I can’t say how well they are fulfilling the promise. By partnering with Pearson, they seem to be positioning themselves as content providers more than simply a platform. Indeed, the $33M invested by Pearson suggests that the UK-based textbook publisher will be navigating–if not driving–the Knewton platform in the foreseeable future.
Like Knewton, Coursera is also providing a platform specifically for the delivery of learning content, however it’s approach is quite different. Knewton’s corporate partnership with Pearson encourages a very closed, protected system. The whole point of Coursera is to be “open”. At least, Coursera wants to open up access to formal/informal, large-scale course experiences for the entire world. Anyone, anywhere can sign up for a Coursera course (a kind of MOOC), and not only access course material for free (see also OCW and OER), participants can engage in learning activities with either automated or crowd-sourced feedback.
And whereas Knewton is delivering content produced in partnership with Pearson, Coursera is deliving content produced by major academic institutions (it’s not clear if these institutions are gaining more from Coursera than simply great press through the deal).
Whereas Knewton’s business model is obvious: gain income by piggybacking on an existing school necessity (the textbook), Coursera’s is less clear. With over $22M in investor capital, it’s too simplistic to think that pure altruism motivates Coursera–at least, not on the level that it clearly defines similar efforts like University of the People. Most speculation points to the idea that Coursera will, at some point, either charge for enhanced online course experiences, or for assessment and certification (similar to what Udacity has begun to do, with Pearson, coincidentally), or for possible licensing by schools who want a tight integration with their campus systems and curricula, or simply as a feeder into the sponsoring schools, where Coursera takes a cut. Most likely, Coursera has recognized the value of existing in the open online course space, and wants to dominate it–it will figure out the business model later. There are a lot of possibilities here, but most remain vague and largely untested.