Which website had more than a million users after being four months in business, a growth rate higher than Facebook or Twitter in their earlier days? The answer, pleasantly, is the mammoth online educational company, Coursera, the brainchild of two Stanford professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng. This immensely popular website offers free online courses, over 200 of them, with video lectures and assignments on topics ranging from computer science to humanities, taught by faculty members from more than 30 universities.
Coursera was instrumental in developing the MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) culture, and was followed by Udacity and EdX. All three platforms have professors from various universities collaborating online and teaching faceless students over the internet. The precursor to this was Salman Khan’s (not the actor) Khan Academy, which, although didn’t have professors teaching, was still hugely popular due to its easy and lucid teaching. Talking about Coursera, it has gained $22 million in venture capital since its inception less than a year ago. The main reason people are attracted to this venture is due to the fact that anyone with an internet connection is able to listen to a video lecture by a professor from an elite university like Stanford, something which he/she may never be able to do face to face. So although this venture has an educational missive and strives to achieve a social cause, it is still a company and the question of revenue is something that has to be considered.
The best asset Coursera counts on is the talent pool of the millions of users and its high quality educational content. Just last month, it opened up a career services portal, which basically matches the interests and skills of the students to potential employees. This might bring in some revenue for them, but it is sure to dilute the high standards it is perceived to have. Another less invasive stride is in the direction of verified certificates for completion of some of its courses. This pilot run has currently been started for 5 of its courses and if popular and successful, will be extended to all courses. The method of verification would be manual, as the student would have to take a picture of his photo ID card and then a picture of himself in front of the webcam, which will be verified by Coursera. In addition, students will have to create a biometric profile of themselves by typing in a phrase and typing in the same phrase in almost the same way every time they submit the assignment. The company is set to charge anywhere between $30 and $100 for the certificate, depending on the course.
Right now, the most promising source of revenue for Coursera is the licensing fees paid by other educational institutions that might want to use Coursera’s material and classes. It has also arranged for the American Council on Education, the premier body on higher education in the US, to assess its material and classes. If the ACE says that the courses are on par with the other courses taught elsewhere (which I personally feel they are, as I have attended some of Coursera’s courses and they are really good), then the students can opt in for the verified certification, pay the fees and get the ACE credit transcript, a certificate that over 2000 universities accept for credit transfer. If a student goes through the Coursera’s website to Amazon to buy the recommended textbook for the course, Coursera gets a cut.
Coursera’s founders and venture capitalists have stated that making money isn’t a priority for them and they would rather focus on high quality content and increasing its reach and subscribers. MOOCs are set to change the way we learn things and they have their benefits. In fact, if taken seriously and if you complete all assignments and quizzes along with the video lectures, the courses are quite informative and I would genuinely recommend it to someone looking to get more academic knowledge about a particular topic of interest. The country with the second highest users of Coursera is in fact India and for those who haven’t heard of Coursera, pleases head there and try it out for yourself.
Website | Coursera
Image Courtesy | NPR