The two behemoths of what one might call the space of online diploma and training platforms, Coursera and 2U, have taken different paths to their respective perches. 2U began by promising to help prestigious colleges bring their academic programs online in a meaningful way; in recent years he has swallowed companies that have also allowed him to offer short training courses, bootcamps, and – assuming his astonishing proposition to buy the nonprofit edX goes through – non-degree courses and programs. and low-cost diplomas.
Coursera has taken the opposite route: it started almost a decade ago by promising to help universities market free and globally open online courses, expanded to professional training and, there is a few years ago, began working with its higher education partners to create and market low-cost courses. study programs to its tens of millions of learners.
Today, the two publicly traded companies, both valued at billions, describe themselves as “lifelong learning platforms” that offer the full range of offerings that learners might want to progress. in their careers or remain essential after high school and well in their life. Both are aggressively expanding their customer bases and offerings, competing with each other and distance themselves from the rest of the market – and the main question seems to be who gets a bigger share.
Not if John Katzman had something to do with it. The serial education tech entrepreneur has a habit of trying to overturn the status quo in post-secondary education, from the founding of The Princeton Review to challenge the standardized testing industry to the founding of his company. current, Noodle, because he believed 2U and other online program management companies were charging colleges. too much money to help them start virtual college programs. (The fact that he started 2U in between, then aggressively challenged it, remains a story for another day.)
Having “completely disrupted the degree space,” as Katzman puts it with his usual shamelessness, he and Noodle aim to do the same in the marketplace to help colleges and universities earn their rightful place as suppliers of courses and non-degree diplomas for a lifetime of learning. The University of Michigan and Columbia University, both of which work with a combination of Coursera, edX, and 2U, are the first two institutions to commit to working with Noodle on promoting non-degree courses and programs.
Katzman argues that colleges and universities themselves already have the elements most necessary to become successful providers of lifelong learning: intellectual content and a large audience of potential learners (their alumni). . Yet by depending so much on external partners, he says, establishments “give them your brand, your content, and what do they do with it? Taking between 50-65% of tuition income? He describes this decision as “selling some rope to the guy who is going to hang you.”
(Institutions working with Coursera and 2U praise their relationships with companies and find their partnerships valuable and productive. The companies themselves have not had a chance to comment on Noodle’s announcement, which was under embargo until now. ‘until today.)
Noodle will differentiate itself from Coursera and 2U (before and after its purchase of edX) in two main ways, Katzman says.
First, Noodle says he can give his existing university partners (and others he thinks he can woo) a better platform to distribute online courses, certificates, and other credentials to. their alumni and other learners looking for the best option to help them achieve their goals, professionally or personally. Noodle will use D2L’s Brightspace learning management system to deliver its partners’ non-degree offerings, complemented by a network of teaching assistants and technology designed to create student sections to create a learning environment. more social and active than the one found in many MOOCs. Classes.
Second, Noodle promises that it will take a smaller share of tuition income (a maximum of 35%) than the half or two-thirds that Coursera and 2U keep for themselves in non-degree programs. Noodle plans to charge institutions 15% of tuition fee income for using its platform to run the courses, and 20% more if the university chooses to have Noodle market the programs as well. (Universities will keep the 20 percent to themselves if they bring in students themselves.)
Noodle is betting that by giving colleges and universities a better platform and allowing them to keep more of the income from the courses and programs they produce, institutions can tap into their already large bases of alumni to continue to be their educator of choice. All other things being equal, alumni prefer to take courses from their alma maters rather than another college or provider.
Noodle’s partner universities already have “four times more visitors to their websites than Coursera and 10 times more than edX,” Katzman explains. “If universities globally engage their alumni, we are collectively much bigger and better marked [than those companies], and on a platform that brings students together and gives them the tools to work together, ”he says.
Since its inception in 2013, after Katzman left 2U, Noodle has grown fairly steadily and has been slow to find ground. But it has taken a giant leap over the past two years by signing contracts with universities to build and market degree programs, launching more than half of the new programs that selective colleges have launched with outside vendors this year. Institutions have been drawn to the fact that Noodle does not lock them into long contracts and helps them cut their marketing expenses.
Degree programs remain in demand, but more learners (and employers) are starting to favor certificates and short-term credentials that cost less and are more focused on their labor goals. -work. So it’s no surprise that Noodle herself wants to enter this space in addition to the degree granting market.
But there are many legitimate questions regarding Noodle’s chances of success in this market.
Coursera and 2U (especially with the imminent addition of edX) appear to have a head start and considerable advantages over Noodle as major players in the online education and training space: they work with many other colleges and universities, have a huge financial resource advantage (both valued at billions of dollars) and a huge audience of learners (Coursera nearly 90 million, 2U with more than half of it including l edX.Noodle’s audience, on the other hand, has around 600,000 visitors to its course research website each month.
But several things about the current moment make it potentially unpredictable. Online education was on the rise before COVID-19 hit, and the pandemic has almost certainly accelerated the interest of colleges and learners in engaging with it, or at least trying it out. College leaders are increasingly questioning the value they derive from their relationships with external vendors, putting pressure on the revenue sharing system and long-term contracts that traditional online facilitators have fostered. (These partnerships have also come under close scrutiny from policymakers and could be the target of a Biden administration, especially as it is swayed by the regulatory ideology of Senator Elizabeth Warren. .)
Recent developments could also reshape the market. Documents related to Coursera’s massive initial public offering revealed how motivated its valuation was by the favorable nature of its deals with universities, causing heartburn in some of its clients. And 2U’s planned purchase of edX has shaken some of the latter’s longtime education partners, some of whom chose to work with it because it was a non-profit and a collaborative effort within higher education.
Some observers in the education tech space roll their eyes when Katzman and Noodle seek to present themselves as a “white knight” alternative to big companies such as 2U and Coursera, noting that Noodle is not. less lucrative than them.
Katzman does not dispute this. Rather, it focuses on the transparency of the company on its pricing, on sharing data about learners and how and where it spends its marketing dollars, and on the “high integrity” of its relationships with institutions. “We do what we say we’re going to do, and there’s nothing up our sleeve,” he says.
The University of Michigan is already working with Coursera and edX (but not 2U) on a range of online academic offerings, and offers an MBA and Masters of Nursing in collaboration with Noodle.
“With the launch of the new [Noodle] platform, we are excited to be able to engage around UM’s more comprehensive approach to integrated online education, which includes open learning initiatives, lifelong learning models for engagement alumni and a scalable approach to stackable learning that supports greater access and flexibility in line with the future of learning and work, ”said by email James DeVaney, vice-president academic innovation associate and founding executive director of the Michigan Center for Academic Innovation.
Pierre Yared, associate dean of executive education at Columbia Business School, said via email that the graduate school sees work through Noodle’s new platform “as an opportunity to reach a wider audience while by doing it with a partner that we already collaborate closely with. on long-term, high-intensity programming. ” Money was also the key: “The economy is also more advantageous compared to other MOOC providers. “
How many more institutions join Michigan and Columbia will ultimately depend on Noodle and Katzman’s ability to deliver on their promises.
Katzman himself, of course, has no doubts. “Given our track record, there’s no reason to believe we can’t find our niche.”