Friday, September 13, 2013

Is Coursera making money a good thing?

It looks like my favorite MOOC provider Coursera is making (some) money. From their blog:
At Coursera, we want to help you get recognized for your achievements in online learning, whether it is earned in a degree program or in a single online course. For this reason, we launched Signature Track in January of this year, which gives students the opportunity to earn Verified Certificates in recognition of their hard work and successful completion of some of Coursera’s rigorous course offerings...
25,000 sign ups and $1 million in revenue, and in light of this, we’d like to share more about this program and the achievements of the students.
For those that don't know, signature track does include a 'Verified Certificate' but also some premium services. These services are similar to those freemium services, or free-to-play games that give you special services after you pay a bit of money, individualized support, quicker response time from staff/faculty/TAs, etc. Initially Coursera was looking at a few different monetization techniques, including recruitment fees from sponsored companies in their Career Services, this kind of freemium service, and possibly their store (kidding).

I'm having mixed feelings about this announcement. I'm glad that this sort of credentialing system/premium service is earning them money. It will further Coursera's mission, grow the company, and expand their course offerings. Great! On the other hand, in essence tuition is floating their boat. This is not the revolutionary pricing model I had expected from them, and I'm worried that they will fall into the trap traditional colleges and universities have fallen into; costs that grow faster than inflation. Granted, crowdsourcing these huge numbers of students will (and does) bend the cost curve, but if you're offering more and more traditional services (ala this freemium service) that cost curve will bend back. Sure, leveraging the base technology will be useful, but I don't believe it will do so enough to make a significant difference. At least not in ways radically different than traditional higher education institutions.

I hope they find other revenue models that don't rely on student payments, but take into account everyone who benefits from having an educated and trained workforce and population.

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