Amplify’s MOOC Gets a New Owner, and a New Name: Edhesive

By Sean Cavanagh — August 24, 2015 3 min read
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The once-brash educational technology company Amplify is expected to be sold off by its parent company, and one of its assets—a “MOOC"—has already been moved out the door.

Amplify officials recently announced that investors have bought the company’s “massive, open, online course” in AP computer science, which will rebranded under the name Edhesive.

The new entity will have the same core focus, offering a MOOC available to individual online users or entire-school clients, said Emily Grad, the CEO of Edhesive, and formerly of Amplify, in an interview.

Grad declined to reveal who had acquired Amplify’s MOOC, except to say it is a “group of private investors.”

The announcement of the sale of Amplify’s MOOC comes not long after News Corp., which owns Amplify, announced that it would abandon the education entity’s work selling tablets to schools, after having pushed hard to win over K-12 officials in that market—without much success.

In addition, the CEO of News Corp., Robert Thomson, said in a conference call that the company is planning to sell off its remaining investments in Amplify, too.

MOOCs are typically online courses made widely available to K-12 and college students and adult users, usually for free. Some MOOC providers raise money by charging users for certificates proving their completion of classes—a model followed by some providers of teacher professional development.

Amplify has offered only one MOOC, a course in AP computer science. The company argues that the course fills a need in schools that lack computer science classes, and among students interested in coding and related skills.

Students and other individual online users can take Edhesive’s course for free, but the company raises money through the MOOC by selling packages to entire schools, at a cost of $2,200 a piece, Grad said.

As part of those purchases, schools receive data analytics, professional development for teachers, and a series of other support services, she noted.

Edhesive courses do not require schools to have computer-science teachers on staff; instead, schools typically designate “coaches” to advise students throughout the process and keep them on task.

The rate of attrition of students taking MOOCs has emerged as a big criticism among their detractors. Amplify officials said that compared to the average dropout rates for MOOCs—which the company said can run as high as 98 percent—the retention rate for their AP computer science course is about 24 percent higher. That improvement doesn’t seem so great. But Edhesive believes its coaches are producing gains, keeping more online users on task who would otherwise abandon their coursework, Grad said.

“It’s challenging for any student, even a motivated student, to do [that work] independently,” Grad said.

About 6,000 students have enrolled in Amplify’s AP computer science course to date, she estimated. Many are high school students, but some come from other backgrounds, such as adults trying to pick up new skills in coding and related areas.

About 2,000 students within schools buying Amplify, now Edhesive, have used the MOOC, Grad said. During its pilot year, 2013-14, 53 high schools around the country had signed up, she said, but now the number is about triple that.

The acquisition will not bring an immediate change to the MOOC operator’s approach or business strategy, she said.

“We’re focused on the same things,” said Grad, and that includes the creation of “high-quality, rigorous content.”

UDPATE: This post has been updated to change one reference to the MOOC to Edhesive, not Amplify.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.