Although this year was like every other year in that 2U’s purpose remained intact – to provide products that meet the diverse needs of our academic partners and lifelong learners – the impact of the pandemic has accelerated demand for our three main products: boot camps, short courses and diplomas.
In the short course industry, 2U has seen strong growth as more people have become interested in learning essential skills to accelerate their careers. We have launched over 45 short courses this year alone, many of which have been delivered on an accelerated schedule to meet the needs of our partners and their students. And we were able to achieve this through our experience and scale at a time when interest in online education is at an all-time high.
After GetSmarter was acquired by 2U in 2017, you went from Marketing Director of GetSmarter to General Manager of Short Courses. What does the general manager of short courses do and what are your main responsibilities?
My main responsibility is to define a strategy for short course activities that will help us achieve our long-term goal of being the number one partner of the best universities in the world and to ensure that we help students to flourish. in an uncertain world of work. . To execute this strategy, I work with other key business leaders and the short course leadership team to set priorities and plans and hold us accountable to those goals. Another important aspect of my job is communication – to make sure everyone in the company understands what our goals and plans are and how we are tracking them, and to enable my team to make the right decisions when she is confronted with ambiguous situations.
On a more personal note, what does it mean to you to be the general manager of short courses?
It is a privilege to lead the short course team and to work with such passionate and dedicated people every day. As a CEO, I am exposed to many parts of the business and learn about the inner workings of each function. That in itself makes my job so fulfilling and rewarding, as I learn so much from every department.
One of the challenges of my role is that I don’t directly manage many business functions, so I need to collaborate effectively with other team members to influence decisions and direction. That means a lot of meetings! It also means that I have an important role in conveying context and connecting teams who might be looking to solve the same problems.
I’m also a very results-oriented person, and the challenge of delivering great results for our partners and 2U in general is something that energizes me!
Although we live and work in such uncertainty, we have achieved incredible milestones in the short course industry this year. From the 10,000th enrollment in a London School of Economics online certificate course to the launch of a beautiful new website designed to improve the student experience, we’ve changed lives at scale around the world in 2020 It’s a powerful thing, changing lives and it’s not something we take lightly at 2U. I’ve mentioned a few exemplary wins, but how would you describe the biggest hits of the year for 2U’s short-form operations? What were the biggest challenges?
I think the big success of 2020 was that the company was able to make the most of a tough situation and deliver great results. We were able to transition to working from home with no service interruption; we have maintained a high level of quality despite the transition to a mode of production of videos and courses entirely remotely; and we were able to capture much of the growing demand for online education solutions. It all happened fairly seamlessly as well, and I would put that down to the strength and stability of our leadership, the structures and rhythms we’ve put in place in previous years, and the focus of the team on the relentless pursuit of our priorities and objectives.
We also had some big wins. Over the past year, we have launched five product models that allow for greater flexibility when producing courses. We have also improved our learning platform by adding one-to-one messaging functionality, improved forum functionality and an annotation tool; delivered our first Spanish translation and course presentation; and launched a brand new e-commerce website, GetSmarter.com.
The biggest challenge for us as a company has been the immense personal pressure our team members have faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown in South Africa, which was quite severe. It is a testament to the resilience of the team that we have continued to thrive as a business during this difficult time.
Starting in the spring, we witnessed the enormous impact of COVID-19 on the economy. What impact has the pandemic had on 2U’s short course partnerships?
The pandemic has brought us closer to our university partners. Our partners appreciated even more the quality of the production and presentation of our courses and the resilience of our course portfolios in the face of the pandemic. In many cases, we have also offered a higher level of support to our partners to help mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic on the university’s tax office – directly and indirectly – and I think this has also been appreciated. .
Reflect on the progress you’ve made and the pitfalls you’ve encountered this year. If you had to choose one word to describe 2020 for short courses, what would it be and why?
Resilience. In a year of uncertainty, volatility and constant change, our people, our partnerships and our products have shown resilience.
With 2021 fast approaching, what are your predictions for the entire short course industry in the new year? What changes are coming in the coming year?
I predict that competition will intensify in the space and that there will be a proliferation of new options on the market, but at different levels of quality. I don’t believe students will continue to give shoddy offers the “free pass” they got during the pandemic – expectations for online education will rise. For this reason, it will be important to differentiate on quality, as this is what students will demand.
I think we’ve also seen massive acceptance of the internet in our daily lives, from online shopping to virtual dating to online fitness offerings. For e-commerce, we saw 10 years of adoption in three months this year! I think this general acceptance of online education is a permanent change, and we will see greater demand for lifelong learning. Different types of products are expected to be launched to meet these needs.