Our “By Way of Introduction” guest this week:
Grant Aldrich is the founder of OnlineDegree.com. Their mission coincides with one of our drivers, to make higher education more accessible and affordable.
Grant has spent his entire career working in startups with nearly 15 years of experience. In addition to founding OnlineDegree.com, Grant also cofounded Patient's Guide (now an IAC Publishing company), a patient education platform in healthcare. He has also been a board member and donor to a number of non-profits, an advisor to many publicly traded companies including Wiley Education, and a guest speaker at seminars and graduate school courses. He graduated with honors from University of California Irvine in Economics.
13. What was the ah ha moment that led to the creation of the OnlineDegree.com and the tools behind it?
I wanted to do something that changed the world…that made a meaningful difference. There were a few different influential factors that drew me to higher education specifically and the mission behind OnlineDegree.com. I grew up in a family of educators. My parents were teachers, my mother was then a counselor and administrator, their friends were teachers, etc. So, the topic of education has been omnipresent throughout my entire life. You grow up understanding how important education is, and at the same time, all of the problems that educators face or observe within the system. That was definitely an important influence. In addition to that, I left college with a considerable amount of debt. I took the traditional path of enrolling into a 4-year university directly out of high school…despite not knowing what I really wanted to do with my career. I seemingly made all of the right choices to enhance my education while taking steps to limit cost: I enrolled at UC Irvine, which is a public school, and I entered college with about 30 units of credit through AP tests and community college courses taken over the Summer. Despite those cost-saving measures, I was still laden with debt. Working for years to pay that off also had a profound influence on me. However, I didn’t have that “ah ha” moment until my then pregnant wife, Ravit, said to me, "Nobody makes it easy for parents to go back to college...don't they understand we're busy and trying to save money?" As a stay-at-home mom, she didn't have time to get another degree. Yet, she wanted to continue learning. I realized that if busy adults wanted to change careers or rejoin the workforce, how would they ever find the time and money to get started? It then hit me…it has to be free, and it has to accommodate anyone’s busy schedule. That became the idea for OnlineDegree.com.
12. What round of funding are you in?
We’ve been in development for close to 2 years. Up until a few months ago, we were completely self-funded. I believed in the mission and used our savings to fund the development. At one point though, it was clear that we needed extra money to make important investments into the platform. I wanted to make sure that the student experience was nothing short of fantastic prior to opening our doors…easy, intuitive, and encouraging students to learn. We also needed the extra funds to build out the infrastructure to scale the offering to the thousands of people we anticipate will enroll. I feel fortunate that I was able to find such amazing investors who believe in what we’re doing and have ensured we’re well funded moving forward. As a result, we formally finished our first Angel-funded seed round in October.
11. How many clients do you currently have?
Since going live, we’ve had over 1000 students pre-enroll…with no marketing or advertising. Purely word-of-mouth. We’re not completely sure how people are hearing about us, but I think it speaks volumes to the acute need we’ve identified for working adults and the hurdles we’re helping them overcome.
10. Beyond the institution offering online programs, what type of institutions are drawn to OnlineDegree.com?
Our offering is unique in that it benefits all stakeholders in education: students, universities, and taxpayers. Our strategy to bring students back to a collegiate path, rather than circumventing higher education, is a win-win for everyone. Student's get an immense benefit as we remove all of the hurdles to start towards a degree, universities benefit since we're helping students to be more prepared for university life, and it ultimately benefits the taxpayers as we enable a better workforce for our society and raise the standard of living. As a result, I think we appeal to many organizations who participate with those stakeholders…whether it be non-profits who want to help extend the accessibility of education, government entities, student advocacy groups, etc. We’re in line with everyone’s mission and goals.
9. What do students find most compelling about this OnlineDegree.com?
I think the immediate attraction is our commitment to offering students free pathways to earn credit towards their degree. Times are tough, people are busy, and going back to school can be a scary proposition. We solve all of those issues. We’ve created an easy “bridge” to take that first critical step towards their degree…regardless of their finances or busy schedules. They can test drive different courses and subjects on their own schedule, be better prepared for college-level coursework at a university, and potentially receive college credits toward their degree. Given the common unfortunate student perception that applying directly to a community college or 4-year is intimidating, inflexible and/or costly, we’re an option to wade into the pool rather than jumping right in.
8. Any idea what they were doing to address their needs before OnlineDegree.com?
Sadly, I think most people avoided enrolling into college despite overwhelming demand to go back to school and learn new skills. Other non-traditional educational offerings are very compelling and have succeeded in drawing interest away from a collegiate path.
7. Is OnLineDegree.com provided as a SaaS and/or self-hosted?
Our platform is hosted online and available 24/7…no class schedules, no fixed times, and completely self-paced.
6. Are there any integrations possible/required for OnlineDegree.com (i.e. ERP, LMS)
A valid concern students may have is how easy it is to generate their transcript and provide that to their eventual university. In the past that can be a challenging process. We’ve made it incredibly easy though. Students request their transcript through a simple request wizard and work with our partner, Excelsior College, to produce their transcript. The whole process takes a few weeks and is almost completely automated.
5. How long does it typically take for an institution’s information to appear OnlineDegree.com?
It varies based on each institution’s internal processes, but overall, it’s been moving forward at a brisk pace. We’ve been fortunate to work with so many talented people at each institution who are driven to provide these alternative pathways for students. Once things kickoff, it’s rather quick.
4. What type of effort does it require on the part of the institution to appear on OnlineDegree.com?
We want to provide our students with as many options across the country to receive college credit. Our goal is to eventually have credit pathways with every university. To be listed on the site, we work with each institution to provide a course mapping detailing how students can receive credits for courses taken at OnlineDegree.com. There’s no cost to the university to participate. We want to make sure our students have as many options as possible so we encourage their inclusion. It’s a win-win for everyone. It benefits the student by providing specific guidance on which courses they’ll need to maximize their savings, and helps the institutions gain vital exposure to motivated students.
3. Once an institution is up, what is the process for keep their information up to date?
We communicate on a regular basis to make sure that we have the latest updates on each institution and to stay abreast of any changes to the course mapping.
2. Is there a roadmap for the future of OnlineDegree.com? If so, can you share?
We’re trying to keep our focus in the present to ensure we help as many students as possible go back to school. Our team is working tirelessly to continually improve our LMS, design new courses, and expand our institutional relationships. We’re ultimately creating a new viable platform for students to go back to school, so the sky is really the limit.
1. Is there another service or product that is “flying under the radar,” that we should interview next?
I recently came across Edcorps from RWS Scholars…it’s fantastic idea to teach students through entrepreneurial ventures or exercises. Very innovative.
For more information regarding OnlineDegree.com:
Our “By Way of Introduction” guest this week is:
Dr. Maria Andersen, principal consultant at Edge of Learning and the CEO and Cofounder of Coursetune, an edtech company that builds curriculum design, management, visualization, and collaboration software.
Some of her experiences leading up to this “self-imposed break from a full-time job to pursue a few passion projects (like writing a book and building a software company),” have included serving as the Director of Learning Design at Western Governor’s University, Director of Innovation and Learning at Area9, and Director of Learning and Research at Instructure,
13. What was the ah ha moment that led to the creation of the Coursetune and the tool?
At some point I realized that everyone in the digital learning space (and especially in CBE) was asking everyone else what tools they used to “blueprint” their curriculum. Nobody had anything good. Everyone was hacking it together with spreadsheets, documents, and occasionally a home-grown database. One day it suddenly seemed that this was a niche that no software company had filled, and we could do it.
12. What is the genesis of the Coursetune name?
We believe in the continuous improvement of curriculum, or the fine-tuning of that curriculum over time. Coursetune was born from that idea, and then our tagline “Harmonize Your Curriculum” was suggested when a friend saw the company name.
11. What round of funding are you in?
We are bootstrapped (self-funded) and have completed a small friends and family round. We have a planned path to company sustainability and want to maintain control over our vision and execution as much as possible.
10. How many clients do you currently have?
Today we hit 27 institutions in our 8th month on the market.
9. What type of clients are drawn to Coursetune?
Interestingly enough, anyone who wants to better visualize curriculum design. The reality is that regardless of where you are in the education field, we find curriculum designers all face similar challenges. Our most common type of client is large public research universities, but we now have clients that are online institutions, community colleges, private universities, Online Program Management companies, course development companies, EdTech companies (and even an LMS provider).
8. What do current clients find most compelling about this Coursetune?
We have had an incredibly positive response from customers. For the folks who have been doing curriculum design work out of software just not designed for them, Coursetune is like a breath of fresh air. The first thing we always hear is about the interface - it’s unusual and it’s built specifically for this curriculum design work. Instructional designers and curriculum designers immediately grok why we’ve gone and built this new way of visualizing curriculum. Many tell us that we’ve managed to visualize what they’ve always had in their heads but have never been able to articulate.
7. Any idea what they were doing to address this need before your Coursetune?
What we are hearing directly reflects my experience as a learning designer: spreadsheets, Google docs, project management tools (not meant for curriculum design), by memory, stickie notes, and white boards.
6. Is Coursetune provided as a SaaS and/or self-hosted?
Coursetune is provided as a SaaS and we also offer additional speaking opportunities and consulting services associated with active learning and digital learning design.
5. Are there any integrations possible/required for Coursetune (i.e. ERP, LMS)
The question of integration is one of the most frequent we receive but integration with enterprise systems isn’t crucial to being more intentional with your design and alignment of courses. Much of this relevant course data tends to exist in disparate places so the first step is getting all of that information into a centralized system like Coursetune. That said, integration is a main focus of 2018 as we aim to meet the IMS Global standards and create a seamless way for our clients to design, align, and then continuously improve the delivery of their courses and programs.
4. How long does it typically take to implement Coursetune?
Implementation typically takes a week to get all core team members in a place where they feel comfortable with the system and we have formatted their course data to be imported into Coursetune.
3. What type of services are available to implement Coursetune?
After doing the initial team trainings, we offer one-on-one training, monthly check-ins, on-site visits, and additional consulting around learning design processes on campus.
2. Is there a roadmap for Coursetune? If so, can you share?
There is a roadmap that we share with customers and partners. What I can tell you are some exciting milestones we are working toward in 2018: More reports, enhanced project management features, accessibility improvements, work on IMSGlobal CASE Standard, LMS integrations, and some mind-blowing (yet practical) 3D visualizations of the learning blueprints users build within Coursetune.
1. Is there another service or product that is “flying under the radar,” that we should interview next?
Not sure how under-the-radar these folks are, but here are some emerging tech we admire: SkillsEngine, Core Learning Exchange, Intellify Learning, Seventh Generation Games, and Cidi Labs.
For more information regarding Coursetune:
Phone number: (866) 860-8863
Since my entry into higher education and before the term “edtech” became a cliché for the evolution of all things technology needed or not needed in education, I was smitten. From the first time I had a chat session on BITnet with someone overseas until today, I have not been able extricate myself from pondering the missed possibilities and growing opportunities that exist in applying technology to support the needed transformation of education.
Yet with the growth of edtech investments, which according to Forbes reached $9.52 billion to 813 different companies globally in 2017, it was extremely difficult to even nibble at the edges of what is taking place in this market sector as a whole, let along touch a few of the organizations that define this sector.
So it was, I began spit balling ideas for creating a process where I could lay a foundation for opening up a broader base of information. The idea that ultimately stuck was “By Way of Introduction,” the edtech equivalent of speed dating! That is, initially, there is not a large time commitment for anyone involved, as there are 13 questions. It is easy to replicate, as largely the questions are replicated from interviewee to interviewee. But at the end, it likely will provide enough information to know whether or not we’ll want to undertake a deeper review.
I am extremely grateful that Dr. Maria Andersen, co-founder and CEO of Coursetune, as well as a friend of a few years, who agreed to help launch “By Way of Introduction.” From this beginning, we look forward to any comments or suggestions from you for improving the final product and seeing where this concept leads us!