Online Education, looking over @usv’s forecasts 2.5 years later @christinacaci

I saved this Gdoc a couple years ago out of casual interest in @christinacaci‘s research for USV on ed tech. It had a ton of good links and captured the zeitgeist

– free online courses abound

– but what about credentials?

– college is too expensive

In their blog post about this, they made some predictions (paraphrased)

1. Paid education online will fail

2. Vertical will be better than horizontal for platforms. (Like “learn to code!” vs. “learn anything”)

3. Truly mass usage will fail unless you can get a degree in stuff.

Now a couple years later 2U (was 2tor) is a $1bn+ company, and was acquired for $1.5bn by the highly significant name LinkedIn (clearly aspirations for this abound), and much more has happened. E.g, Walden’s Laureate and Kaplan and various online players have gotten MASSIVE.

And even Knotable (that’s me — here) is built into a big ed-tech platform doing some important stuff there for how people learn together.

Assessing then the predictions:

1. Has paid education failed? Not at all. Actually the reverse. Those are public companies worth billions and the free stuff is nowhere that I can notice as significant. Khan Academy or Crash Course (the free on youtube players) or Cousera or Codecademy…they seem to be “emerging” still as businesses or at least things that make revenue (non-profit revenue).

2. Have vertical players won out? Not at all. The two billionaires above – 2U and Lynda – actually focus on being platforms for anything. The Lynda subscription lets you learn languages and photoshop at the same time. Coursera and the MOOCs are very broad. The specialty learning stuff — Duolingo? Codecademy? — seem far smaller in revenue terms. A lot of people use Duolingo, but I suspect the engagement levels of a degree-earning student on 2U blows away the Duolingo equivalent.

3. Truly mass requires degrees? This is true but interestingly the forecast missed an obvious fact. Degrees ARE right there on all the platforms. They give degrees (2U gives you college degrees from their partner institutions and Laureate or Kaplan run actual colleges) and others give certificates – booya. Is it truly mass? No not yet. But the adoption cycle of education is the “are you 18-22 and choosing between Ivies, privates, publics, communities, or online?” and therefore much smaller than the literature imagines. The market has not expanded to be 100% of humans considering a little brushup on Modern Poetry…

So I think these guys were basically wrong about everything in the forecast.

Now, at the END of this post, I am popping over to to see what they actually invested in…

…OK I’m back. Here is what they invested in

– Codecademy

– Duolingo

– Edmodo (teachers learn from each other)

– Skillshare (online classes about skills like “learn hand-lettering” – but no certificates or “courses” (shorter content))

I should probably check back on this in like oh say 2 years, as the “long term” may be ahead of us still. But for the time being I think the forecasts were wrong. Education has played out not like social media, but more like ecommerce.


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