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Online Education Provider Coursera Is Now Worth More Than $1 Billion

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Coursera, one of the companies featured on Forbes’ 2018 list of Next Billion-Dollar Startups, is worth well over $1 billion, says its CEO, Jeff Maggioncalda. The seven-year-old online education provider, based in Mountain View, California, announced this morning that it had raised an additional $103 million in funding. “This gives us the resources to more aggressively push on our mission of greater access to quality education and greater opportunity for people who are being left behind in this economy,” he says.

Since our feature story on Coursera last October, the number of registered learners on the site has climbed from 36 million to 40 million. When we published, the company had been valued at $800 million. Its revenue, which Forbes pegged at $140 million in 2018, is fueled in part by partnerships with 1,800 enterprise customers. They include Adobe, which paid Coursera an estimated $150,000 last year to provide machine-learning courses to Adobe employees.

Three months ago, Coursera signed a deal with the Abu Dhabi School of Government, an entity set up to train 60,000 government employees in digital skills like data science and artificial intelligence. Maggioncalda says that partnership is Coursera’s most extensive to date.

Coursera also offers 14 online masters degrees, in computer science, business and public health, from schools like the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And it just launched its first online bachelor of science degree with the highly regarded University of London.

Coursera’s news comes at a time when critics like Kevin Carey, director of education policy at the liberal-leaning New America foundation, have raised concerns about the high cost of online degrees. In a widely-read April article published in the Huffington Post, headlined “The Creeping Capitalist Takeover of Higher Education,” he wrote that online education should slash the price of a good degree. But instead, many schools use online program managers, known as OPMs, to produce and market their online courses. OPMs charge as much as 60% of tuition for the service. Students who earn online degrees offered through OPMs pay the same high tuition as they would if they studied on campus. “What this means is that an innovation that should have been used to address inequality is serving to fuel it,” he wrote. (Read Forbes’ story on 2U, a leading OPM here.)

By contrast, Coursera does no course production and takes only 40% of tuition. Its marketing costs are low, says Maggioncalda, because it already reaches a huge number of learners. One example of a low-cost Coursera degree: its online iMBA from the University of Illinois’ highly-ranked Gies College of Business, which costs $22,000. Out-of-state students pay $75,000 in tuition for an on-campus degree.

Though its partnerships with companies and its degree programs are growing, he says the $49 fee (or subscription fee of $49-$99 per month) learners pay to earn completion certificates for its wide selection of courses that are open to the public still account for the largest share of Coursera’s revenue.

Stanford computers science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng founded Coursera in 2012 as a platform to offer massive open online courses, known as MOOCs. Their vision was to give students around the world free access to college courses taught by professors from top universities. At first, Coursera charged nothing to students, who earned no academic credit. Princeton, Penn and Michigan signed on. Tremendous hype followed, with thought leaders like the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman writing about Coursera and its fellow MOOC providers Udacity and edEx, “Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s problems.”

The narrative soon switched to “the death of the MOOC,” after data from two University of Pennsylvania studies showed that 80% of people who registered for free MOOCs already had degrees and only half of them bothered to look at a single lecture. A minuscule 4% completed their courses.

In 2014 Coursera hired former Yale president Rick Levin and started charging $30-$70 for course completion certificates. In 2017 Maggioncalda took over the top job. He had a track record running a successful company started by Stanford professors. In 2010 he took retirement planning website Financial Engines, founded by Nobel prize winner William F. Sharpe and former SEC commissioner Joseph Grundfest, public. By the time he left, its market cap was close to $2 billion and his net worth was north of $50 million.

At Coursera, he’s put the company on a growth trajectory that includes expansion around the world. After the U.S., Coursera’s greatest growth has come from India, China, Mexico and Brazil, in that order.

The latest investment in Coursera was led by SEEK Group, an Australian company with stakes in online employment and education firms. SEEK was joined by previous Coursera investors Future Fund and NEA. It brings Coursera’s total funding to $313 million.

-Susan Adams; Forbes Staff

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Google Is Making Android As Difficult To Hack As iPhone—And Cops Are Suffering

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Apple makes the most secure phones in the world. At least, that’s the common assumption.

But increasingly Android models are as difficult, if not trickier, to break into as the iPhone, according to search warrants and forensic industry sources.

One warrant unearthed by Forbes detailed a case in which cops seized an LG Android phone after swooping on suspected drug dealer, Angel Angulo, who’d allegedly sold methamphetamine to an undercover cop. Upon Angulo’s arrest the police obtained the phone from inside the his Ford Mustang, though the search warrant didn’t detail what exact LG model.

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The police obtained the LG in January and even had permission to force open the device by holding it up to Angulo’s face or depressing his fingerprint to unlock with facial or fingerprint recognition.

But agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have not been able to find a way to bypass the lock screen with their current forensic tools and techniques.

They’ve now asked for an additional 120 days to access the device, according to a filing from the ATF. (No legal representation was listed for the defendant. The Department of Justice hadn’t responded to a request for comment at the time of publication).

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iPhones less secure than Android now?

Sources in the forensics community tell Forbes that the security of Google’s operating system has become, in some cases, too strong to allow police (or anyone else with direct access to an Android phone) inside. “Some would say iPhones are less secure,” said one source from a large forensics provider.

Google, like Apple, has been continually adding security features to Android, said Vladimir Katalov, CEO of Russian forensics provider Elcomsoft. One of the key updates to Android over the years remains Secure Startup, which encrypts all internal storage so the data within should be accessible only to someone with a passcode or other form of authentication, like a face or a finger.

The anonymous source noted that a considerable amount of resources go into penetrating the defenses of iPhone operating systems, and once a hack works on one iOS device, it should work on all the others. The same cannot be said for Android, which is fragmented across manufacturers’ home-brew updates and countless phone models. If a police officer or forensics professional finds a way to break into a Google Pixel, for instance, the same hack might not work on any other devices.

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“While some Android phones can be accessed using generic methods, each new model may contain unique features which require a more customized approach,” said Peter Sommer, professor of digital forensics at Birmingham City University in the U.K. “In addition there are instances of standard Android phones being heavily modified to have secure features.”

The issue of Android security is particularly pressing for Huawei, the world’s largest manufacturer of Android phones, which is set to lose access to Google’s security updates on newer devices. That’s because of the Trump administration’s ban on American companies doing business with the Chinese telecoms giant.

iPhone still trumps Android in some cases, though. When Forbes tested a range of Android phones’ facial recognition systems, there were clear disparities in the security of the technology across the different devices. A 3D-printed head was able to open all the Android phones tested, but it worked much quicker and in all light conditions on a OnePlus 6, whereas Samsung and LG phones were tougher to crack. Forbes also tested Apple’s facial recognition with the fake head. In that case, it proved impenetrable.

Thomas Brewster;Forbes Staff

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The 4IR Strategy To Move Forward

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South Africa has created the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, chairs this commission and I am the Deputy Chairman. The commission consists of 30 members.

It is tasked with developing South Africa’s strategy around the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Why this commission and why is the 4IR so important? To answer these questions, we ought to understand first what the 4IR is and what it entails.

As a point of departure, we ought to understand the first, second and third industrial revolutions. The British scientific revolution that gave us Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, gravitation and the study of heat, catalysed the first industrial revolution.

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The first industrial revolution gave us coal-powered steam engines that drove trains and ushered the era of using machines to produce goods and services. The luddites, who were a group of activists hell-bent on stopping the first industrial revolution, disappeared into the ash heap of history and the technological revolution marched on.

The scientific revolution that facilitated us to leverage magnetic and electrical forces called electromagnetism ushered the second industrial revolution. Electromagnetism gave us electricity and an electric motor, and these, in turn, spurred the development of the assembly line, which vastly improved production and introduced mass production in factories.

The discovery of semiconductors and the invention of a transistor in the United States (US) ushered the electronic age, which gave us computers, mobile phones, and ultimately led to the invention of the internet.

Seventy years after the discovery of a transistor, there is no significant semiconductor company on the African continent. To solve this serious gap in the political economy of the African continent, industries, society and universities on the continent must come together to develop a strategy and the plan of action on how the continent should enter the primary economy of the third industrial revolution.

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The 4IR is a confluence of digital technologies of the third industrial revolution, developments in biotechnology through innovations such as molecular motors, as well as the developments in the physical space through breakthroughs in new materials and robotics technologies.

One of the technologies driving the 4IR is artificial intelligence (AI). Because of AI, machines are gaining intelligence and thus planes are intelligently flying with minimal interference by pilots, the factory floor is increasingly automating, and self-driving cars are reaching maturity. AI is revolutionizing the medical field and making careers such as radiology redundant.

The implications of the 4IR will be extensive. It will reduce the world of work and usher a post-work era, where factories will employ fewer people than ever before. The presidential commission should study this post-work era and the impact thereof on the labor market, equality and tax collection.

This commission will explore the viability of strategies such as the introduction of universal basic income, virtual economic zones and imposing tax on robots in order to prevent the escalation of poverty and inequality.

In the 4IR era, some jobs will disappear, some will change and new types of jobs will be created. It is important that the presidential commission study these changes and design a strategy on how we should move forward. This should include the identification of the required set of skills in order to thrive in the 4IR, and the mechanisms in which the education sector should plan for the development of such skills.      

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Kai-Fu Lee, the Chairman of the World Economic Forum Council on Artificial Intelligence, wrote in his influential book, AI Superpowers, that in the 4IR, data is becoming the new oil. Countries and companies, such as the US, China, Google, Facebook, and Alibaba, which collect more data will become so powerful that they will influence all aspects of our lives.

The company Cambridge Analytica allegedly influenced the US election through data analytics.

This commission should study and recommend how South Africa should position itself with respect to defence, peace, security, industry, trade, society and politics in the light of the 4IR. Failure to capture this 4IR moment will relegate us to the dustbin of history.

– Tshilidzi Marwala is a professor and Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.

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‘A Tweet Can Tank An Economy’

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Many perspectives have been shared on influencer marketing, but very few from the brands themselves. What are its business imperatives and ROI?


In the heart of Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile, is Brittany Preece, a social media manager at Investec Bank.

As part of the Private Banking marketing team, Preece and her team have managed to successfully implement disruptive digital strategies to meet the growth objectives of the bank.

Traditionally, the role of marketing has been to support business objectives. Yet when companies experience financial difficulty, more often than not, marketing is seen to be the first in line on the chopping block. As a way of adapting to this reality, most marketing managers have had to look at cost-effective, yet creative, ways of achieving business impact.

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Social and digital media have given room for new ways businesses can engage and sell to their customers.

Increasingly gaining traction in South Africa is influencer marketing, an entirely new branch of the sales and marketing funnel which has seen brands leverage popular personalities on social media to promote their products and services online. Globally, the influencer marketing industry is forecast to be worth $5 billion to $10 billion by 2020, according to a study by Mediakix.

For Investec, attracting and diversifying into new markets has informed their decision to leverage influencers as part of their marketing strategy.

“Since 2015, we as Investec, have predominantly used influencer marketing to reach the young professional audience,” Preece says.

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“We (Investec Private Bank) have recently evolved our qualifying criteria. We’re no longer just the preferred banking partner for accountants, engineers, lawyers, doctors and actuaries. We’re positioned to be the bank of choice for those who are under the age of 30, consistently earning more than R600,000 ($42,582)a year, with a university degree and working in their area of expertise.”

Seated in front of a glass wall which looks out to a view of a bustling and upbeat office environment, she elaborates that to effectively reach the young professionals’ target market, it is important to identify individuals that can speak to that audience.

“What influencer marketing gives you, that a lot of the other marketing channels can’t, is great reach and engagement with your target audience. Using [influencers] brings a lot of authenticity to the brand, where Investec Private Banking was seen as unattainable to a lot of young professionals,” Preece says.

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In the digital universe, content is king. Authenticity is paramount. A study conducted by the Mobile Marketing Association reported that most consumers have banner blindness and suffer from advertising fatigue. They cannot recall the last digital banner ad that they saw.

Ad-blocking continues to be a growing phenomenon, further demonstrating the shift in consumer behavior. Consumers simply don’t want to be marketed to. To this effect, influencers assist brands to reach their customers through content that is more relevant to those consumers.

According to Business Insider’s 2018 Influencer Marketing Report: Research, Strategy & Platforms for Leveraging Social Media Influencers, the average social media engagement rate from influencer marketing averages 5.7% per post.

This is a feat compared to content generated by brands which fluctuates around 2% – 3% per post.

With this in mind, it’s even more essential for brands to involve influencers upfront to co-create an envisioned campaign.

“You want your influencer to buy into what you stand for as a brand. It shouldn’t be a hard sell – consumers see through that. If not done properly, it can look very fake and [we] never want to make it feel like an ad,” Preece says.

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Brands and agencies measure awareness and engagement by analyzing a few parameters, including, inter alia, number of likes, comments, shares and followers. Proponents of this theory believe an increase in these parameters lead to brand success.

Detractors of the theory believe awareness and engagement alone are not sufficient indicators of brand success. “Likes and follows are unimpressive without an increase in the bottom line,” says Sinesipho Maninjwa, a financial analyst and commentator.

But technology has its limitations. Dianne Joseph, the Commercial Director of Digital at Nielsen, a leading global information, data and measurement company, elaborates that there are real challenges in measuring sales attribution as a result of influencer marketing.

“The influencer models are difficult to measure because most influencers use their own personal pages to post, and these organic posts don’t offer us the opportunity to implement a tag (for tracking purposes) and, therefore, we aren’t able to track the outcomes,” Joseph says.

The ability to measure what is happening on and off digital platforms, or across social media platforms, is a challenge that most digital marketers face. Different platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have their own unique methods of tracking and storing data. The link between these platforms is, therefore, a lot more tenuous.

But in support of influencer marketing, a number of global studies have come out and shown that influencer marketing does yield a positive return on investment (ROI).

Pierre Cassuto, of social media influencer platform Humanz, who recently set up shop in South Africa from Tel Aviv in Israel, believes that the use of influencers can lead to increased sales. “In the US market, there is about a four times ROI on money spent in the influencer marketing space for retailers, cosmetics and FMCG brands,” he adds.

Cassuto agrees that engagement on its own doesn’t yield conversion. For influencer marketing to yield conversion, the message being broadcast by influencers has to be well thought out and carefully constructed to achieve that objective.

There has to be a reason for someone to do something now as opposed to anytime. That can be around creating urgency around something specific, it can be around creating a limited time availability offer.

Essentially, brands can become creative and purposeful in how they design their entire campaign to track conversion from the ground up. “The way we suggest measuring conversion is by making sure that the influencers have a way that [brands] can track the relationship between the influencers post and the actual conversion,” Cassuto says.

The first looks at providing the influencer a coupon code that they can distribute and share. In doing so, the specific brands will know that the people who redeemed the coupon code came from the influencers. The second options measures sell over time related to increase in traffic due to influencer marketing towards a landing page that the brand is driving to. With this, Cassuto states that brands can do A/B testing to see the impact on days influencers are posting and days when they’re not.

With all the advantages of influencer marketing, should brands solely invest in this sales channel?

Preece firmly holds the view that influencer marketing on its own isn’t the be all and end all. “I do believe that it should be a mix. I believe that an integrated marketing plan that uses out-of-home, billboards, TV and digital is where you see the most results.”

“Things can go wrong with influencer marketing. You are putting faith and trust into a human being who is imperfect. We have a saying: A tweet can tank an economy,” Preece says.

With consumers becoming increasingly selective about what they consume, influencer marketing continues to grow as an attractive sales channel. It is imperative that brands place the necessary care and due diligence before partnering with any influencer.

The perfect fit between an influencer and the brand will determine the overall ROI. After all, effective influencer marketing is the online equivalent of the highly valuable word-of-mouth advertising that marketers have always coveted.

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