Friday, April 11, 2014

MOOCs: Coursera moves towards massive revenues on certification

For all of those who say that MOOCs can’t be monetized, Coursera’s Signature Track is proving them wrong. After 700 years, Universities still struggle with monetization and funding models and most would agree that the current systems in the developed world are in a mess, of not broken. Here’s a system that not only matches demand with supply, but provides a way to match payment to product. Not only that, the cost for the course is free at the point of delivery, and because so many participate, it’s dirt cheap for assessment and certification.
Real revenues
Coursera took one year to hit $1 million on revenues from certification, 3 months to hit $2 million (Feb 14) and now report $4 million (Apr 14), that’s $2 million in the following two months. Impressive compound growth. This has been achieved through their Coursera certificate track, which, at $30-$100 per course, has seen an average 1.2% conversion rate double up to the current average of 2.4%, giving them $4 mlllion, driven by demand from employers. Note this last observation – ‘driven by employers’.
Employer demand
This week also saw some interesting research from Duke on the positive attitudes employers have towards MOOCs. This is important, as this is the sort of demand that seems to be fueling the unending interest in MOOCs. Despite what the nay-sayers say, people keep on taking them and keep on making them.
Coursera’s Signature Track
What makes Coursera’s Signature Track sing, is the cleverness of the software, not human assessment.
Biometric typing
When you register for Signature Track, you do some typing on your keyboard and it records your typing pattern, a sort of ‘fingersprint’. This is smart and it works.
Webcam photo
In addition, you take a picture of yourself on your webcam. Easy.
Photo of ID
You then take a webcam photo of your picture ID (driver's license, passport, national ID card, state or province ID card and international ID documents).These photos are securely stored and deleted once your identity is confirmed.  When you submit coursework you submit a matching typing sample and photograph to confirm your identity. This leads to a verified certificate. You’ve got to admit that this is getting places. In addition, you can also take a proctored exam, online or offline.
Shareable course records
On top of this, there’s Sharable Course Records, where you can share your electronic course records with employers, educational institutions, or anyone else through a unique, secure URL. Note that word ‘employers’ sneaking in.
Financial aid
There’s even some money available if you can show real need.
Sequenced MOOCs
Both Coursera and EdX also offer certification for sequences of MOOCs. This is interesting as it is a direct challenge to the traditional degree. Rather than wait for the system to accept them, they’re creating their own ecosystem of acceptance. Way to go.
MOOCs are proving to be a vast sandbox for real world experiments and research. The fact that they are ‘Massive’ helps, as they have the numbers. The fact that they are driven towards real world success, and not just the publication of paper research gives them the imperative to get things done. Right across the board, MOOCs are showing us some interesting new strategic models, such as ‘free at point of delivery’ and ‘openness’ as well as tactical advances, such as new ways to do video for learning, P2P review and online assessment.

But what is really interesting is the matching of learners with employers. Thrun may have been the first to spot the fact that MOOCs are not about HE but people who want real skills and personal development. Thrun and Norvig, were not academics, and understand what the real world needs in terms of highly skilled people. The fact that Coursera, Udacity and EdX have all been properly capitalised gives them a real advantage in terms of platform development, innovation and marketing. My fear is that Futurelearn didn’t learn that lesson and built what looks like a rather thin platform, while European efforts, like EMMA, seem structured to fail, with too many inexperienced partners in too many countries doing too many pilots.


dkernohan said...

I too am amazed at the ability of coursera to take nearly $80m of venture capital and make $4m income (*not* profit) after 4 years. If you give me $80m I could beat that level of return.

Donald Clark said...

I'm an investor and at this rate of compound growth, it looks good. PS JISC has spent a great deal more than $80m and never got off the mark ;)

David K said...

Same Jisc that saves the sector £256m a year? Or were you talking about an ability to cost learners more money by charging for bits of paper... because there you have me.

Donald Clark said...

Oh yeah? Same JISC that got reorganised, had budgets cut and was seen to be bloated and wasteful. I read the Wison Review.

Ram said...

Nothing new here. Stanford already offers such a signature track, with video courses and a quiz for the last, what, 5 years? They make millions in revenue, and Coursera decided to canibalize that. The difference here is what happens to the money. At Stanford it all goes back to need based fellowships. At coursera, it goes to the pocket of investors.

Donald Clark said...

Big difference I think. Coursera is hitting millions of learners with a huge range of courses. They offer courses from a guge range of institutions, as do other non-US providers, such as Futurelearn. I'm not so sure that my money being spent on rich US students is such a great idea anyway. In any case, I'm an investor and businessman and see no problem with the innovation from the private sector playing a part here. MOOCs would not have happened without such capital.