Coursera became the latest learning technology company to expand further into the fee-paying market with a series of programs similar to Moocs – massive online open courses – that are disrupting the business education market.
Coursera launched 18 new Specializations last week – a sequence of online courses that students study through distance learning, an addition to the first batch announced in January. Significantly, the tech company will allow students to complete a real-life project and purchase a certificate to show to prospective employers.
This move into vocational learning further encroaches into the territory of business schools, which already have to compete with Moocs in business-related subjects.
Coursera rival edX announced plans to launch a series of short paid-for executive courses earlier this month that have been developed by leading universities.
The Specializations will pitch Coursera against executive education programs – most business schools’ main sources of income. They are often customized and sold to private corporations as an alternative to degree programs.
Eight of the courses are in business and management-related subjects including entrepreneurship, and digital marketing which takes four weeks to complete and which the company charges about $300 for a certificate of.
Other subjects’ certificates cost more, depending on how many units there are, with each unit costing $49. A course certificate in data science will cost a student $441.
While Coursera has largely focused on developing free content, this shift into paid-for certificates and more vocational learning will see it compete for contracts with business schools.
“We are increasingly seeing companies and hiring managers recognize verified certificates as a positive signal on a job candidate’s resume,” Daphne Koller, Coursera president, told BusinessBecause.
“Many companies have also approached us with interest in using Coursera-hosted courses for training their employees,” she added.
Yahoo! covers the cost of its employees’ certificates, while C3 Energy is paying employees to take a Coursera-hosted machine learning course.
Many in the business education market think that these courses are a direct threat to business school programs.
But Coursera said that it seeks to work with universities rather than develop its own content – “contrary to that of many other online education companies”.
Daphne added: “Business schools are not our competition but our allies… We open up new markets for business schools and for our partners as a whole to reach entirely new and much larger audiences.”
Coursera is collaborating with a host of top US universities including Northwestern and California, Irvine.
However, a key element of business schools’ attraction is employability. Mooc makers’ shift into more vocational learning and the offer of certificates which are similar to diplomas will pitch them against academic institutions.
Daphne said: “There’s a huge opportunity to adapt online education and take it beyond its academic roots to help learners and employers close the skills gap… We’re providing access to many learners who otherwise would not be able to take business courses from some of the best universities in the world.”
Paul Almeida, senior associate dean of executive education at the McDonough School of Business, said he does not see Moocs as competition.
He added: “Especially for premium executive degrees, I really don’t think Moocs will even make the slightest bit of difference.”