A Q&A with Kaltura's Leah Belsky

Thinking about the year ahead.

March 16, 2014

I got to know Leah Belsky a few years ago when my institution was looking for a media management platform. (Our business school eventually adopted Kaltura). 

Besides serving as a SVP at Kaltura, Leah is a fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, where she contributes on online collaboration and technology policy.   

If I’m going to give an edtech company a second look it will most likely happen in cases where I learn something from its people. Over the years I’ve learned lots of things from Leah.

Leah was kind enough to share her thoughts about where she sees higher ed and the edtech world going in 2014:

Question 1: What will be the story with alternative assessment and credentialing models in 2014?

As 2013 bore witness to the incredible success of alternative education and MOOCs, 2014 will no doubt see a shift in education startup energy toward alternative assessment and credentialing models.

As the cost of obtaining a degree grows ever more expensive, more people will turn to the cheaper online alternatives for their schooling. If the content of these courses and the skills they impart on students are comparable to the education available in higher ed, a new system of credentialing and skills assessment will be required in lieu of a traditional degree.

Alternative assessment methods can also provide students with nonstandard education a formal way to display their skills and competencies as they search for employment. This functional display of knowledge may even provide a richer picture of a candidate than some paper degrees.

Question 2: Do you think that debate over accreditation will come into sharper focus in 2014?

If 2013 was the breakout year for many of the new education companies and business models such as Coursera, EdX, and Udacity, 2014 will be the year when we start realizing all of these innovative edu companies and edtech-university partnerships will need the blessing of accreditors in order to scale and avoid conflict.

Late last year, Paul Freedman, founder of Altius Education, wrote an open letter to President Obama urging accreditation reform. His company entered into a partnership with Ohio’s Tiffin University to create Ivy Bridge College, an online pathway to a bachelor’s degree for nontraditional students. They met with disappointment when a regional accreditor, The Higher Learning Commission, demanded it be shut down.

Freedman claims that the Ivy Bridge model serves students traditional universities “can’t or won’t touch” due to the extra support and flexibility they require to be successful; this includes adult learners, single parents, and those who need access to more affordable education. Ivy Bridge may either be an omen or a warning of the fights to come as more alternative education projects begin scaling and seek the blessing of accreditors.  

Question 3:  How do you think the world of MOOCs will change in 2014?

Although a popular alternative to traditional forms of higher ed, the limitations of MOOCs became the subject of much press towards the end of 2013 as data on low completion rates and other failures were surfaced.

In the wake of this data we will see a reckoning within the MOOC community as we analyze why they are less effective than originally predicted.

One possible answer to this is that traditional academic content is not the content best suited for masses of students who have not already entered the formal higher education system.

Instead, MOOCs may be better suited to skills-based and professional training, something we are likely to see more of in 2014.

Companies may begin to adapt the MOOC model to develop training programs specific to their business in 2014.

And brands as diverse as Forbes, Bloomberg, Ideo, and Cisco could all benefit from using the MOOC format and structure to launch their own skills-based learning initiatives and “schools”

Question 4: What more can we learn from the tremendous participation in MOOCs in 2013? Why is it that despite millions participating in these courses, relatively few complete them?

One possibility is that while many people want access to learning content and videos, few want to do homework and testing. Instead they want more of a “lean back” educational experience.

If there is an audience who wants to put as much effort into education as they do in ingesting a season of Game of Thrones, this year might see the rise of universities launching their own streamable TV stations with samples of videos from top courses.

This TED-like approach might not serve as an alternative path to a degree, but for freshman unsure of what to major in, for alumni looking to continue learning, or for the millions formerly attracted to MOOCs, it might be a satisfying way to both grow and be entertained.

Question 5: Any further thoughts about higher ed in 2014?

While 2013 saw a multitude of infant technologies and creative ideas about education blossom into real change for higher ed, 2014 is going to be a year in which that innovation becomes mainstream, causing a myriad of new technologies and support systems.

The best and the brightest are in the midst of launching startups to ride the wave of electronic education and changing the landscape of learning in the process.


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