Monthly Archives: August 2013

MOOC meets Big Data in Education

Big Data in Education

Big Data in Education

Two of the hottest developments in education at the moment are the MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) and Big Data.

Peak of Inflated Expectations in the Hype Cycle

Peak of Inflated Expectations in the Hype Cycle

Some have argued that both are currently at the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” in the Hype Cycle. Expectations are indeed high, maybe rightly so. Imagine my pleasure this weekend when I discovered the course about “Big Data in Education” at the MOOC Coursera by Ryan Baker from Columbia University. I registered immediately. What a great way to kill two birds with one stone!  I can experience one of the leading MOOCs first hand and learn more about big data in education at the same time.


MOOCs emerged from the Open Educational Resources movement in the second half of the noughties. Leading players include edX, Coursera and Udacity, which are all well-funded and have excellent connections to world-class institutions. Two things in particular excite me about them: opening up access and improving quality in education.

Access to world-class education has historically been restricted to the happy few. However, anyone (with access to the internet) can take a course on a MOOC, unrestricted by price, the requirement to commit to several years of full time study, geography, or capped class-sizes. As Time put it. ”MOOCs open the door to the Ivy League for the Masses.”  Imagine the possibilities that his will give to improve the life chances of individuals across the globe.  And also the benefits to society as a whole of broad access to exceptionally good education.

The quality of education can also be boosted by the success of the MOOCs. Competition should play its part in raising teaching standards and spurring innovation.  Everyone should get access to the most talented professors with the highest quality content and best teaching methods, leading to a focus on excellent teaching and the weeding out of mediocrity. And the ability to mine the data created through participation in the MOOCs should bring new insights in teaching and learning that can drive further improvements in quality and efficiency.

Big Data

In my opinion, insights derived from big data will eventually transform education through personalisation.  By this I mean the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to the needs and aspirations of the individual.  I believe this will help learners to achieve better outcomes, in more efficient ways. And about subjects that both play to their strengths and support the development of their core life skills. Big data will be a core ingredient in that transformation.

Sanoma Learning (I am employed by Sanoma Group) is predominantly active in K-12 markets in Europe at this time. The amount of data available in K-12 education today is limited, and the insights offered rather poor. One reason for this is the still low availability of technology in schools (typically of the order of one device per 5-10 pupils) and the lack of any platform with real scale in collecting, analysing and providing insights from data. This will probably improve significantly in the coming years as schools take further strides in adopting technology.

Three sorts of data particularly interest me in this coming transformation journey: inferred student data, inferred content data and system-wide data. Put another way: how do students, content and education systems perform, why is that so, and what can we do to improve that performance?  I believe the next generation of Learning will be engineered from the insights derived from the interplay between these three datasets.  The promise is significant, although given the sometimes slow pace of change in education, I think it will be a long journey.

Passion for learning

I consider myself lucky to have been born with a passion for learning. I think technology will enable teachers (who are central to achieving success in learning) to transform education for the better. I’m excited about participating in this program on Big Data in Education at Coursera. Typically about 90% those who start a course on a MOOC drop out along the way. I hope I won’t be one of them. I’m curious to try it. Anyone care to join me?

Making innovation happen: how to organize for disruptive growth?


One of our new intrapreneurs is building a marketplace for fashionista’s.

Following excellent performances at the bootcamp of the #contentaccelerator in June, two of our top talents have taken new roles as intrapreneurs at Sanoma this week. Making it happen!  This innovative burst immediately caused temperatures to sky-rocket to a sweltering 33°C at the office. Respect to them for showing the courage of their convictions and going for it. And thanks especially to the local organisation for supporting a speedy transition.

Creativity and customer-focus sit deep in Sanoma’s character.  However, we have deliberately organized these and other new ventures separately from the core business, yet cooperative with it.  We wanted to establish a model which gave the accelerators and new ventures the liberty to exploit their disruptive opportunity unrestricted by the core, yet in a way which supported both the new venture and the core. In my view, the process of the accelerator (ideation and competence development for hundreds of people from the core) and the sharing of various capabilities in the operation (mainly marketing, technology and expertise) achieve that.

Dual Transformation

I recently came across an excellent article by Gilbert, Eyring & Foster, in the Harvard Business Review called Two Routes to Resilience which clearly articulates the case for developing disruptive and core businesses separately yet under one umbrella. How to organize for new growth?

The authors make the case that when your industry is undergoing disruptive change, companies should respond by making two distinct transformations in parallel. Transformation A focuses on repositioning the core business to its altered circumstances. Transformation B should create disruptive innovations that will eventually bring new growth. And the structure should work for both through a “capabilities exchange” that allow the sharing of select resources for the benefit of both parties, without changing the mission of either. Each transformation needs a leader fully convinced of the future success of their mission. Both pillars of the transformation have to act in the market as if the future of the company depended on it alone.

“Capabilities Exchange”

The “capabilities exchange” should in principle bring competitive advantage to each pillar in the transformation. In the case of our accelerators and new ventures, some important shared resources come to mind. The Sanoma brand helps us to build connections to consumers, advertisers and schools.  Easy access to media and traffic help support existing brands and build new brands. Expertise in content, advertising, learning and other capabilities required in managing a company, such as finance and HR can support each transformation. The re-use of content and technology can reduce unit costs and bring speed to innovation. An international network can bring scale. Access to a skilled talent pool and methods of developing new skills on innovation are required in both tracks. And a dual transformation can support the financing of the respective pillars. That’s quite an exchange when you come to think of it!

Boosting Transformation B

For the sake of good order, Sanoma has many growing, successful and disruptive business lines and I would not for one moment say that the ventures born from the accelerators are the only seeds of the next generation of our products and services and everything else is legacy. That’s clearly not the case. The new ventures are just one of the pockets of innovation and digital disruption in the company. And we have many other business lines which would not count as digital disruptions but are far from legacy status.

Yet the argumentation in the HBR article is good and sharp. I believe it’s a credible approach and our actions and investments in new ventures are for their part consistent with it. Bringing additional relative scale to what the HBR article refers to as transformation B (the new growth businesses) would help to support the dual transformation. Increasing the pipeline of new ventures would be one way to achieve that.

I’m interested to know your opinion about this.  Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.