Coursera, one of the massive online open courses pioneers,, has announced a major expansion. This week the company introduced 17 new partners that will begin offering courses through the Coursera platform, including Berklee College of Music, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Brown University and Ohio State University. The newly joining schools will be offering classes in subject areas that have infrequently been taught online — like music — and will further test the potential of the internet to deliver education to students all over the world.
In less than six months since its founding, Coursera has already managed to attract nearly 1.35 million students to its various course offerings. With the new schools joining the stable, the number of classes offered on the company’s platform will grow to more than 200.
Founded by two Stanford computer science professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, who took a leave to start Coursera, the company has yet to lay out a plan for generating revenue. At this point, Coursera is relying on $22 million in financing, including $3.7 million from the California Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania. Though Coursera and its partners incur costs for producing the courses, no money changes hands between the parties.
Initially, academic support came mainly from the the company’s cradle, Stanford, as well as Princeton and University of Pennsylvania. From the start, however, Coursera’s footprint on higher education was much bigger than its small number of startup partners would suggest. According to Forbes, what made the company truly revolutionary is the spotlight it shone on the potential of online education at college and university level. After its launch, writes Susan Adams, presidents from even the most prestigious universities felt more pressure to invest or at least investigate the possibilities of the internet as an instructional paradigm.
The pressure is only expected to increase now that the company can count as its partners schools like Columbia and Brown which have proven more reluctant than most in entering the online education marketplace.
“You’re known by your partners and this is the College of Cardinals,” E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State and one of the new Coursera partners, told The New York Times. Ohio State is offering two classes from its College of Pharmacy. Gee added that he is worried about giving away instruction when there are no plans to take in revenue. “That does keep me up at night,” he told the Times. “We’re doing this in the hope and expectation that we’ll be able to build a financial model, but I don’t know what it is.”
One of the things that make MOOCs appealing to potential students is that they theoretically provide top-level education for free. This has caused many to question what benefits participating schools are deriving from them. According to Adams, the simplest answer is “marketing.” Schools are putting their best foot forward with MOOCs in having the materials designed and classes taught by their best professors. One could hardly ask for better advertisement opportunity than tens of thousands of eager potential students who regularly sign up for online courses.
A recent report by Moody’s Investors Service predicts that MOOCs aren’t as far from paying for themselves as many believe. Mainly, monetization could come from issuing academic certificates. Some have already taken steps in that direction by contracting with outside testing firms to proctor course completion exams for a small fee.