Stanford professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng launched Coursera last year to give anyone and everyone access to courses from top-tier universities — for free, online. At launch, the startup offered courses from a mere three institutions, but today, things have changed, as Coursera’s platform now hosts over 200 courses from 33 top international and domestic schools and reaches over 2 million students around the globe.
It has the makings of a transformational concept, offering content only from the most reputed departments, professors and universities, bringing that experience online and giving the key to the masses. Yet, in spite of a mission that’s easy to get behind, Coursera hasn’t been without its detractors. While massive open online courses (a.k.a. “MOOCs”) were one of the most-talked-about subjects in education in 2012, many believe they are just a flash in the pan — that the growing adoption of MOOCs among universities is the result of peer pressure, an indication that institutions will take any action that might be perceived as “going digital,” regardless of value.
Furthermore, if the proposed goal of this new form of virtual education is actually to create a viable online education model (not just a poor alternative), schools want to see some sort of ROI, for free, open courses to mean something and be able to apply the same admissions process they use for on-campus programs. In turn, while MOOCs are great for distance learning and for those pursuing continuing education, most platforms aren’t credit-bearing. In other words, they don’t offer diplomas.
The other issue: Beyond the fact that Coursera has raised $22 million in venture capital (the same is true of Udacity), MOOC platforms haven’t yet been able to create substantive business models. Perhaps unfair for Coursera, being less than a year from launch, but an oft-voiced concern nonetheless.