Case study: Online academies

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1 Case study: Online academies Enders Analysis 46A Great Marlborough Street, London W1F 7JW August 2014 Overview An increasing number of services offer free online learning platforms for students of all ages and abilities. These range from open online courses, structured similarly to traditional college or university courses but with content delivered over the internet (known as MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses ) to gamified, interactive or user- generated learning resources. For this case study, we have selected Khan Academy as an example of the former, and from the latter category we have chosen Codecademy; however other examples are also used: Memrise and Duolingo, websites and apps primarily for learning foreign languages. Khan Academy Khan Academy is a US- based not- for- profit organisation. Its website offers courses in maths, the sciences, economics, history, art history and computing, as well as material to prepare for specific tests, such as the SAT. These courses consist of lectures in the form of YouTube videos with a digital blackboard for illustrations, as well as tests, text- based articles with pictures and interactive features. Khan Academy website screenshot [Source: Khan Academy] Codecademy Codecademy is a US- based private company whose website offers courses in (to date) five programming languages, as well as HTML and CSS. It also teaches users how to use the application programming interfaces (APIs) of various online services, and provides short complete courses on how to complete a specific task. The standard courses consist of a series of problems, where the user must type the correct code in an in- browser interpreter to complete each step.

2 Background and context For several years, schools, colleges and universities have posted audio and video recordings of lessons onto websites and platforms such Apple s itunesu (which offers over 50,000 free lectures from local colleges and elite universities). Khan Academy began in much the same way. A shift occurred when courses started to implement interactive elements, with Khan Academy first doing so with mathematics exercises. In 2011, there was a watershed, when the top- tier US university Stanford began offering computer science courses online, including remote testing and grading on top of streamed lectures. 1 Other universities have since followed suit, creating platforms for open online courses such as edx, governed by MIT and Harvard. In recent years, technology start- ups have taken interactive online learning even further from traditional classroom- style. Founded in 2006 by Salman Khan. Khan Academy describes its mission as changing education for the better by providing a free world- class education for anyone anywhere. It was ahead of the curve on providing open courses, and cited by Sebastian Thrun of Stanford as inspiration for opening up his AI course. It concentrates on breadth of offering, taking maths from primary school to college- level linear algebra, while also offering courses across the sciences, social sciences and humanities. Its origins are in providing maths lessons, and this remains where its strengths lie, although its more recent computer science courses (launched in 2012) 2 are innovative (see Content strategy). Codecademy was created in 2011 by Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski. It gained traction early on and with little marketing. It was at the forefront of a push to develop literacy in coding, naming 2012 the first Code Year, and also embraced user- generated courses. The common features of such services are that they are on- demand, interactive, and highly modular. Courses are divided into short lessons, so learning can take place anywhere a user has a connection and a spare moment. These elements set such services apart from comparable distance learning programmes that have come before learning by television or radio would be passive rather than interactive, and the nature of video technology or linear scheduling required significant blocks of time to be set aside by the student. Learning by correspondence would introduce elements of feedback and interactivity, but on a much slower timescale than online services now offer. Content strategy The content of an online course depends on the subject, however the most interesting services have built a proposition out of the way the content is delivered and reinforced. The unique feature of online services compared to other media is a high level of interactivity, which can manifest itself in different ways. Quizzes are one of the most common interactive elements, simply testing what users have learnt by quizzing them on course material. These can take many forms, including the multiple choice tests used frequently on Khan Academy, the timed tests which make up much of Memrise s learning, or the multiple- format tests offered by Duolingo, which include audio and text input and output. 1 Sebastian Thrun, the academic behind it went on to found Udacity, which hosts paid computer science courses. 2 https://www.khanacademy.org/about/blog/post/ /computer- science 2 9 Case study: Online academies August 2014

3 Khan Academy Quiz [Source: Khan Academy] Duolingo Quiz [Source: Duolingo] Codecademy takes a different tack. Its content consists of lessons on a programming language, where the only input from the user, and the only way to progress, is through code typed into the browser, which interprets the code. A task is given, with instructions on how to complete it, and each stage builds on those before until the user has an understanding of an element of the language, built by creating a small program to achieve a task. This learning by doing, where the lesson is a continually assessed implementation of what is being learnt, is not found in other educational media, and is more akin to face- to- face instruction than educational television, textbooks or radio. Codecademy s focus on teaching immediately implementable skills is also seen in the codebits that registered users can create on their profiles. These are small webpages built from the ground up in HTML, CSS and JavaScript, all of which are taught on the site. 3 9 Case study: Online academies August 2014

4 Codecademy lesson [Source: Codecademy] The most interactive elements on Khan Academy work along similar lines. In their Computer Science courses, learners make use of a responsive programming environment, in which results of JavaScript typed into the console are shown in real time, without need to submit the code. The idea behind this real- time interactive approach is to encourage students to manipulate, explore, and write their own programs 3 rather than be taught the fundamentals of a language before they can use it. It is as close to learning programming in the target language as we have seen, and is clearly only possible online. One challenge facing services aiming to teach people online is low completion rates (under 13% for most MOOCs, especially large ones) 4. One prong of services content strategies is therefore trying to drive reengagement. This is often done by sending reminder s, but some app- based services use mobile push notifications to send an alert to a user s phone, reminding them to continue a course and from which they can launch the app. While this is effective at making reengagement as frictionless as possible, push notifications are often unpopular with users. 3 khan- cs/ Case study: Online academies August 2014

5 Codecademy [Source: Codecademy] Duolingo push notification [Source: Duolingo] This ties into a broader strategy of keeping users engaged throughout the learning process. Without much scope to inflict the penalties for poor performance or attendance that traditional education uses, online services rely on positive reinforcement and making the learning process as enjoyable as they can. To this end, most such services have structural elements borrowed from games (are gamified ) to a greater or lesser extent, with points awarded for progressing, and badges for specific achievements. For example, Khan Academy awards points for completing modules, with avatars unlocked with progress. Memrise allows users 5 9 Case study: Online academies August 2014

6 to connect to their social networks and see their friends progress, introducing a competitive element. Khan Academy badges [Source: Khan Academy] Contribution to Public Service Objectives The primary relevance such services have to the Public Service Objectives is clearly regarding the requirement to include material on educational matters, material of an educational nature and other material of educative value. Since online learning platforms taken as a whole offer courses on a multitude of subjects, other PSO- relevant material is invariably to be found, particularly concerning the requirement to include factual content. PSO4 Education Almost all of the content offered by the sorts of services being discussed is educational. The Codecademy course on Ruby, for example, teaches users how to use elements of the Ruby programming language (e.g. by telling them that gets is the Ruby method that gets input from the user, and then having them implement that in a program). The Khan Academy course on states of matter includes a video, which teaches users what Van Der Waals forces are. Memrise s Learn Basic Italian course teaches users Italian vocabulary and phrases. Khan Academy trigonometry video [Source: Khan Academy] 6 9 Case study: Online academies August 2014

7 Of course, there is content relevant to other public service objectives offered by these services. Chemistry courses contain material that deals with science, for example (PSO5). However the primary intention of the services is to educate, and assessing the content spread across several entities to see if any is relevant to each of the objectives would be unhelpful: even if a university has uploaded a course on the history of religion, to say that online educational services in general fulfil a requirement for such content would be misleading. Audience reach and profile The number of people who use online educational platforms is difficult to determine. Codecademy gives indications of total learners and enrolled students on its courses, claiming over 24 million in total and 5 million for JavaScript, its most popular course, though how these numbers translate into engaged unique individuals is unclear. UK audience, June 2014 (000) Codecademy Khan Academy Memrise PC PC+Mobile Mobile [Source: comscore] The profile of online course users varies by service. According to comscore, 74% of June 2014 visitors to Codecademy were under- 35, while half of Khan Academy s visitors were over- 35. This might be expected, given the technological focus of Codecademy, though Memrise s language- learning platform sees a similar split to Codecademy, suggesting that newer services attract younger audiences. Business model and revenue Khan Academy, in common with other online educational services, is a not- for- profit organisation. Significant supporters include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($9.5 million to date) 5 and Google ($2 million in 2010) 6, but individuals can also donate or volunteer to help with translating course content. Khan Academy currently has fewer than 100 employees. Codecademy is investor- backed, having raised $2.5 million in a Series A funding and $10 million in Series B. 7 The company currently lists 22 employees We- Work/Quick- Links/Grants- Database#q/k=khan%20academy 6 million- for- project winners.html 7 raises- 10- million- to- conquer- the- world/ 8 Correct as at 18/08/ Case study: Online academies August 2014

8 The possibility of different business models is one of the most interesting things about this space. While Duolingo is investor- funded, it also sells translation services, where learners translate text and vote on the best translations by other users. CNN and Buzzfeed are reportedly customers. 9 Other business models are imaginable, such as recruiters paying for access to top performers. However, this is a relatively unregulated space, and there is some risk that what is taught on some course could be affected by commercial interests, to the detriment of (possibly uninformed) learners. Summary Taken as a whole, open online educational services offer resources to teach users knowledge and skills from more or less any discipline, with certain well- established services concentrating on computer programming, STEM subjects, and foreign languages. The target audience depends on the course, but ranges from primary- school level mathematics to university computer science courses, with many services simply aimed at anyone who wants to pick up a particular skill. The real innovation such services offer compared with traditional educational media is interactivity: rather than passively absorbing a broadcast lesson, users can be tested in real time, submit work, create programs or translate documents and receive feedback. These features make online services, when executed well, closer to guided classroom learning than self- teaching. The internet offers a clear advance of the possibilities of educational media. 9 work- for- free/ 8 9 Case study: Online academies August 2014

9 Important notice: By accepting this research note, the recipient agrees to be bound by the following terms of use. This research note has been prepared by Enders Analysis Limited and published solely for guidance and general informational purposes. It may contain the personal opinions of research analysts based on research undertaken. This note has no regard to any specific recipient, including but not limited to any specific investment objectives, and should not be relied on by any recipient for investment or any other purposes. Enders Analysis Limited gives no undertaking to provide the recipient with access to any additional information or to update or keep current any information or opinions contained herein. The information and any opinions contained herein are based on sources believed to be reliable but the information relied on has not been independently verified. Enders Analysis Limited, its officers, employees and agents make no warranties or representations, express or implied, as to the accuracy or completeness of information and opinions contained herein and exclude all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any direct or indirect loss or damage or any other costs or expenses of any kind which may arise directly or indirectly out of the use of this note, including but not limited to anything caused by any viruses or any failures in computer transmission. The recipient hereby indemnifies Enders Analysis Limited, its officers, employees and agents and any entity which directly or indirectly controls, is controlled by, or is under direct or indirect common control with Enders Analysis Limited from time to time, against any direct or indirect loss or damage or any other costs or expenses of any kind which they may incur directly or indirectly as a result of the recipient s use of this note Enders Analysis Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this note may be reproduced or distributed in any manner including, but not limited to, via the internet, without the prior permission of Enders Analysis Limited. If you have not received this note directly from Enders Analysis Limited, your receipt is unauthorised. Please return this note to Enders Analysis Limited immediately. 9 9 Case study: Online academies August 2014

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