Ed Tech’s Next Wave Rolls Into View

David Plunkert

Illustration by David Plunkert for The Chronicle

Roger Novak is a Fidelis board member and early investor. He recently wrote an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, where he detailed an upcoming change in education technology. Describing it as the third wave of ed-tech, Novak envisions a future where companies focus on making online education more tangible and meaningful for everyone:

“While the first two waves [of education technology] helped improve educational delivery and access, it has been well documented that they came with some pedagogical weaknesses.”

“I now believe that a new wave is appearing on the horizon and is going to be even larger and more transformative.”

“If the second wave was about the unbundling of colleges and providing learning as a service, the third wave of companies will be involved in reassembling educational component pieces from various sources to help make students’ learning portfolios more meaningful to both individuals and employers.”

“I think the most successful companies will offer technologies to reach goals like these:

  • Put student achievement and learning outcomes at front and center.
  • Help students develop a personal learning plan and set of goals aligned with their vision for their education and their lives.
  • Provide tools to help students develop relationships with multiple mentors.
  • Develop new kinds of global credentials that can be used to find talented people to fill jobs.”

“Such developments could improve cooperation between colleges and the business sector by closing gaps in education skills and encouraging new partnerships.”

“An early-stage company that has embraced many of these traits is Fidelis, which provides a platform that allows students to manage learning relationships with their college, mentors, and others.”

“As a gray-haired ed-tech investor, I can only say I wish I were 20 years younger. Because from where I sit today, the future looks extraordinarily exciting.”

Excerpts from article by Roger Novak for The Chronicle of Higher Education

Top universities’ new platform helps with retention, post-grad careers

New tech builds relationships, ePortfolios, and could help boost campus performance


It’s called an LRM (Learning Relationship Management) platform, and as its founder told me, does for learning what CRM did for sales: It boosts collaborative relationships, yields return-on-investment, and ultimately bolsters performance for all involved.

The LRM, called Fidelis, is the brainchild of Gunnar Counselman, a Harvard Business School student of Clay Christensen’s and original collaborator on his book, “Disrupting Class.” He’s also a frequent speaker on the topic of transforming training and education and a TEDx presenter. After spending years developing the LRM, reputable and innovative universities are eager to sample what the platform can really do.

After working with Christensen on the book, and during consulting for Bain as well as independently, “I evolved my thinking that the absence of appropriate learning relationships is the root of most educational problems. I saw first-hand how important the coaching relationship was while a VP at Inside Track, but through that students need more than just one coach to succeed,” explained Counselman. “I then developed the first version of the LRM in 2012 for our own use to build a scalable solution to the military to civilian career transition.”

And for Counselman, building a resource platform to help those interested in not just education, but career; not just in attending a postsecondary institution, but knowing why you were there, was the main idea behind the platform.

Now, colleges and universities are saying one of the most helpful, and innovative, aspects of the LRM is the ability for admin to track student progress of goals throughout their education and receive actionable data on student interactions with communities, businesses, and micro-credentialing opportunities…an incredible tool not just for all institutions, but especially for liberal arts.

“Fewer than 50 percent of students who start college graduate; fewer than one-third of those who graduate have jobs within 6 months of graduation,” said Counselman. “It turns out that all students need personal learning plans, mentors, advising, community, and industry connection, not just military students.”

In its basic design, the LRM is almost like any other online profile: There’s a photo, list of friends, and interests. However, this online profile is customized to focus a student’s reason for learning, help campus admin coach the student towards their goals, provide employers with ePortfolios, and help develop relationships with communities and industry.

When a student logs in to the platform, they are asked to set a goal, something like “To one day work for Google and become a leader in web design,” or “To use my degree toward concept innovation at a Fortune 500 company.”

Once the goal is set, with the help of a coach (either assigned by the institution or using the LRM’s Likelihood Of Mutual Benefit [LOMB] algorithm), the student can then have an advisory board, made up of people like parents, community leaders, older students, or others, who also have access to that student’s LRM profile.

Students are also encouraged to join communities (choir, mathematics, fraternities or sororities, etc.), as well as work toward building their ePortfolio of micro-credentials, badges, and other online learning apps and courses.

Businesses and organizations that are typically partnered with the college or university can also then have access to the LRM, creating their own company profiles and creating a list of credentialing and skills pathways for the jobs they’re looking for—allowing students to know what skills are needed to get hired, as well as looking for qualified student candidates for positions.

Watch a demo here:


The way the LRM works is by allowing coaches and university admin to check on each student’s progress.

Not only does the LRM’s backend have a stream of information letting coaches know when a student has worked on their profile (think of it as LRM Twitter), but also alerts coaches and admin to when the student may be failing in their goals—this can be customized by the institution or be the LRM’s own alerts, but they typically include failing critical exams, not pursuing the right micro-credential, or not spending enough time managing their LRM profile.

“One very unique aspect of the platform is that it’s not just reactive, but proactive,” explained Counselman. “Under the ‘proactive’ tab for admin, they’ll be able to suggest apps or badges to students, write comments in the data stream, help edit their profiles in real-time, and be able to suggest advisory members or communities as they develop.”

In other words, the LRM is the ultimate facilitator, but it’s not the builder.

“It’s a simple way to facilitate the natural partnerships that exist between schools, students, and communities,” he continued.

According to Counselman, the LRM can enhance liberal arts strengths and maybe help alleviate its weakness: Providing career relevance.

“Liberal arts schools tend to really get the importance of relationships,” he noted. “They have really strong learning communities, and students engage in tight mentorship with faculty. They tend to have strong alumni engagement and I think the LRM can enhance all of that by making it explicit and by allowing schools to ensure that every single student benefits from these strengths 100 percent of the time.”

“That being said,” he continued, “liberal arts schools are struggling with their yield from acceptance to start because of a perception that so-called practical studies are better given the current economy. LRM can allow the school to do what they do so well and fill in the gaps of practical training with learning apps, badges, et cetera.”

Counselman said Fidelis, which is currently in partnership with Arizona State University, Lipscomb University, Bryan University and other innovative institutions, plans to release white papers this fall (2014), followed by peer-review papers.

“I can’t give out too much data at this time, but let’s just say our statistics on the effectiveness of the platform is great,” said Counselman. “We have demonstrated powerful effect on yield and retention and student satisfaction and will be releasing the results of a controlled study involving 3,000 students in the fall.”

With peer-reviewed papers, Counselman hopes to get additional feedback on the platform, as well as take the opportunity to develop even more features, such as providing a vetting or rating system to make it easy for students, alumni, and their schools to find well-curated courses.

For more information on Fidelis, as well as how the LRM can work for each specific type of institution, click here.

Written by Meris Stansbury for eCampus News

Nanodegrees: Unlocking the Value of Tutors

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 6.39.59 PM

Image by Udacity

By Gunnar Counselman

Earlier this year Sebastian Thrun made the most important announcement since Udacity, Coursera, and Harvard/MIT’s edX launched the MOOC wave in 2012.

With the creation of Nanodegrees, he’s essentially making Udacity into an unaccredited, targeted, useful, affordable university with a great initial market, namely the technology industry. That’s not the cool part though because General Assembly, Code Academy, Code School, and others did that a long time ago.

The reason that this is so important is that it brings headlines, focus, and a cool new brand to bear in addressing the most fundamental problem in education, that is, the inadequacy of the degree.

It takes about 32,000 hours of studying to earn a degree, including the time spent in primary and secondary school. For that time and effort, you get a measly 4 data points for your resume. Your school, degree name, year, and maybe GPA. Nanodegrees offer the possibility of a much richer and more interesting set of credentials. Or as Reid Hoffman wrote, “We need to take what now exists as a dumb, static document and turn it into a richer, updateable, more connected record of a person’s skills, expertise, and experience.”

When it comes to Nanodegrees, there’s absolutely nothing new except for Sebastian and Udacity’s incredible gift for branding and moving headlines. “Nanodegree” is a new and much cooler brand for “digital badges,” which were an attempt to be a cooler brand than “micro-credentials”, which were much better than “certificates.”

content creation is a huge blocker for programs because of the time and effort involved. learn how we can help.

But the core concept is the same: to confer a precise credential to people that vouches for a focused set of knowledge, skills, or capabilities. It’s no different than how the boy scouts issue merit badges, how the Navy does qualifications to pilot nuclear submarines, or even how the Citadel gives chain links to Maesters in Game of Thrones.


To make the point that this is an important brand change, imagine the headline:

“Creator of Google’s Self-Driving car announces certificates for entry level web development and data analysis.”

Not that interesting. But Nanodegrees are new and shiny. They make me think of nanotechnology, nano-bots, and Dennis Quaid in a tiny intravenous space ship in the 1980s classic Innerspace. So, they must be great.

The purpose of brands is to get and focus attention.  Now that he’s got our attention, here are a couple of things that Sebastian should do with it.

1) Search: Companies need to be able to search for specific skills and talents tied to each credential.

2) Convenience: The creation and testing process needs to be easy.

3) Levels: As I’ve written before, we need to deep-six the notion of binary certification. Everyone’s expertise lies along a spectrum and so to be useful all badges have to be scaled to be trustworthy.

4) Brand: Finally, prestigious universities and well-known companies need to get in the game.

Check out this blog post to read more of my thoughts on digital credentials.