OPM + MOOC = OPX. 244 University Partnerships in the first half of 2021

OPM + MOOC = OPX. 244 University Partnerships in the first half of 2021

Education Intelligence Unit

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July 14, 2021

OPX has well and truly arrived. 2U's acquisition of EdX. Coursera's IPO. SEEK's 50% stake in FutureLearn and their ownership of OES. UpGrad's rumored $4B valuation. Shorelight Live. Minerva's OPM pivot. The list goes on, and meanwhile 244 University Partnerships were forged in the first half 2021.

We’re firmly at that point on the innovation spectrum in Higher Education Technology where the old categories and acronyms don’t work anymore, but the landscape is mid-shift and the new dominant models are not so clear yet.

In 2019, we connected some dots by identifying OPX as a new meta-category. Collectively defining the entire spectrum of tech-enabled services models, supporting Universities in the design, development and delivery of online higher education, including Online Program Managers (OPMs), Online Program Enablers (OPEs), MOOC-as-an-OPM and new hybrid and innovative models.

In 2018, we started closely tracking the growth in University-led ‘Academic Public-Private Partnerships’, which are on track to see more than 450 new partnerships established in 2021 after a massive first half-year. After a big Q1 2021 (109 new partnerships), we expected to see at least 400 Presidents, Vice Chancellors and Deans to sign up a new partner over the course of 2021. But with Q2 2021 delivering another 135 partnerships, we’ve elected to bump that outlook up by another 50 partnerships and would not be surprised to be upgrading that outlook at the Q3 mark at this rate.

2U's acquisition of EdX Assets (brand, website, and marketplace) marks a distinctly new chapter for the OPM and MOOC. The three dominant MOOCs are now either acquired or public companies and the 'free to degree' spectrum is a highly competitive, yet distinctly diverse array of partners, players and models.

Coursera’s IPO was highly anticipated, SEEKs acquisition of 50% of FutureLearn was somehow both surprising and understandable; but 2U’s move to acquire the assets of EdX, for most, came out of nowhere.

The screenshot below, from HolonIQ’s Impact Intelligence Platform, charts the volume and sentiment of signals (press releases, wires, news and notable blogs) mentioning 2U OR EdX over the 90 days prior to the deal announcement. Zooming out, it’s clear to see the overwhelmingly positive sentiment to the transaction. We’ve seen some neutral reactions and a handful of folks not so pleased to see the EdX story appear to conclude, with an acquisition.

This is the third of 2U’s power-plays. First Get Smarter (Short Courses), then Trilogy (Bootcamps) and now EdX (MOOC), which illustrate the convergence and hybridization of the post-secondary degree to  workforce up-skilling segment.

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Where to from here?

Moments like these are cause for reflection about ‘where to next?’

Early 2019, we polled our Global Higher Education Panel on four OPM scenarios for 2030. No one was expecting a global pandemic and a digital transformation acceleration for Higher Education like never before.

At the time, there was a general (whilst contested) consensus that Universities would likely outsource digital capability. The OPM Oligopoly Scenario was dominant with these recent moves reinforcing the thesis. OPM unbundling has advanced, but not at the expense of OPMs, as COVID accelerated demand from Universities, which has far outstripped the capacity of OPMs and distinct services providers to support a broad-based digital transformation.

Despite the compelling case, the University Network remains, for the most part, a theoretical framework, challenged by complexity of deep institutional collaboration beyond research, as well as the broader difficulty of resolving credit transfer. The Micro-Credential looms large and it remains to be seen whether Universities have any fiercer competitor than each other.

Finally, University DIY is emerging and accelerating. Content providers like LinkedIn and Udemy are supporting institutional transformation, LMSs, SISs and CRMs are leaning into Higher Education and Institutions are onboarding new digital talent like never before.

Makers, Marketplaces and MOOCs. The Anatomy of Online Course Platforms.

Based on approaches to content strategy and distribution strategy, there are four major models for Online Course Platforms (OCP) – Maker, Marketplace, DIY & MOOC. Through the pandemic-driven acceleration of digital we have seen significant action in all of these quadrants, as they both compete and collaborate in the evolving market.

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