Schoology Layoffs: Focusing on smaller higher ed opportunities

We’ve noticed and had several people ask us about corporate changes at Schoology, the LMS vendor. More specifically, the questions have been based on whether they are laying off staff, and what that means for the higher ed LMS market. Short answers – yes to the layoffs, and the company will be more selective on which higher ed opportunities to pursue.

Through phone and email interviews, I asked CEO Jeremy Friedman to respond to these questions.

As you and I have talked about, operational efficiency is a strategic objective for Schoology in 2017. As we built our plan for the year we saw opportunities to focus our efforts and operate at a higher level. This meant that we decided to reduce our headcount by a little over 10%, primarily across sales and marketing. To be clear, we reduced how much we are going to spend in Sales and Marketing, and we increased how much we are going to spend in Research & Development and Customer Success. The net impact is a more efficient company that can invest more in product innovation and our customers.

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Recommended Reading: ED Clarifies Its Intent on State Authorization Reciprocity

Last year Russ Poulin from WCET and I wrote an essay for Inside Higher Ed (also published at e-Literate) describing and countering attempts by the Century Foundation and other activists who were arguing against the State A

A coalition of consumer groups, legal aid organizations and unions object to the state of New York joining an agreement that would change how colleges offering distance education courses in the state would be regulated. As coalition members asserted in an Inside Higher Ed article, the state would be ceding its authority to other states. Students would be left with no protection from predatory colleges and it would make it easier for “bad actors to take advantage of students and harder for states to crack down on them.”

That all sounds ominous. It would be, if it were true.

The story has taking a series of dramatic turns. First, New York state did join SARA. But in a surprise move in the final regulatory language from the Department of Education (ED), they included language proposed by the Massachusetts AG and supported by the Century Foundation that appeared to undermine the concept of reciprocity. Most analysts and insiders, including WCET and SARA themselves came to the same conclusion that Massachusetts’ AG did – SARA and the concept of reciprocity agreements would not survive as long as the regulation survived. In a surprise move, however, anonymous staffers at ED called Russ Poulin (the person to follow on this subject), letting him know that their intent is not at all to undermine SARA. Continue reading

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The Intended Consequences of California’s Online Education Initiative

Last month we presented two explainer videos on the growing usage of course exchanges, where multiple institutions pool resources in creating or extending online courses.[1] If online courses or programs breaks down the barriers of campus walls and enables anytime, anywhere education, then why not explore how collaboration can open up access and improve quality. While we tend to not write e-Literate about our consulting work through MindWires, in this case we have heard a general interest from other systems to learn more about what the California Online Education Initiative (OEI) at the community college system is doing.

The first two videos explored the concept of course exchanges in general and the required infrastructure needed to create them. In our third explainer video from this series we go back to the OEI to look at how their investment in academic infrastructure should provide benefits that go well beyond the courses and students participating in the course exchange. This extension of benefits, however, was not a surprise to those creating OEI; rather, these broader benefits represent the intended consequences of their approach to collaborative online education.

(Video source: https://youtu.be/1DdlaIZYiDI)

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  1. Disclosure: Our e-Literate TV series of video case studies and explainer videos is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. []
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Chan/Zuckerberg: The “Tech” is not the Hard Part in “Ed Tech”

Phil and I were recently interviewed by KQED’s Sarah Tan for a story about the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Summit platform. As often happens when our comments are just one bit of a larger story—particularly when we are asked to provide a more critical external perspective as a check on the enthusiastic reports of a project’s participants—some interesting parts of the interview conversation inevitably ended up on the cutting room floor. Ms. Tan was kind enough to grant us permission to repurpose some of the source material from the interview for this blog post.

To be clear, Phil and I have no direct experience with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and have only seen the publicly available information on the Summit platform that it has released (although we both took some time to review that information carefully in advance of the interview). The value of the conversation snippet we provide here is in answering the questions, “Even if you think an ed tech platform seems well designed and the creators seem well intentioned, why might it fail anyway? And while we’re at it, how should we even define success?” These are questions that rarely get asked and answered clearly in discussions about ed tech, including in much ed tech research.

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Recommended Reading: Realistic Hopes for a Genuine Science of Learning

Keith Devlin is a professor of mathematics at Stanford who has taken a keen interest in mathematics education. He is particularly interested in how people learn and what constitutes effective teaching. As a side note, e-Literate interviewed Keith as part of the MOOC Research Initiative in 2013.[1] In his response to a question posed by the Edge last year, “2016: What do you consider the most interesting (recent) scientific news? What makes it important?”, Devlin argues that learning researchers are in the early, but momentous, stages of establishing a genuine science of learning. What has made this possible now is the application new research techniques enabled by the internet and online learning technologies:

“The problem that has traditionally beset learning research has been its essential dependence on the individual teacher, which makes it near impossible to run the kinds of large scale, control group, intervention studies that are par-for-the-course in medicine. Classroom studies invariably end up as studies of the teacher as much as of the students, and often measure the effect of the students’ home environment rather than what goes on in the classroom.”

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  1. Disclosure: Our e-Literate TV series of video case studies and explainer videos is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. []
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