The MOOC for the past year or so has been evolving very quickly. It really took off when the Stanford AI class shot past 250,000 students.
Since then the model itself has been refined and several startups have aligned themselves around the methodology. A few months ago if you asked me who the leader would be in this space, I would have said Udacity. I thought they had the organic growth and quality that you need early on when building a brand.
Today, my answer would be Coursera. I think they have a few things that are really creating a competitive advantage over Udacity and even sites like EdX.
First, they have quite a bit of money behind them, $22 million to date. That amount is not that significant, but the people putting it in is. Kleiner Perkins and John Doer put in $16 million alone. John Doer is considered one of the most influential investors in the Valley. He is also a master of PR pushing his start ups to the front page of major news outlets and leveraging his connections for strategic deals.
Coursera announced that top schools like Duke and University of Virginia have signed on to be part of their offering. Not only are they attracting major traditional school brands but they are asking them to adapt their teaching to the MOOC model.
The ability to change their viewpoint on how online education should be delivered is a massive step forward. We are no longer just watching videos of a lecture, there is true interactivity, peer to peer learning and instantly updated materials to learn from.
Coursera is making the right moves, and getting rave reviews from students. If they keep the quality high they will make a massive dent into online education. Some of the courses even offer a certificate. This is a huge step forward for employers. Now employers can verify completion and potentially create better HR paths based on this info.
Lastly, I think Coursera is engaging an audience who wants more education but doesn’t want a full degree. This a la carte option is attractive since it is low cost, but more importantly low commitment. Just a few weeks and you are done. No need to rework your whole life. Now you have exposed a lot of new people to online education and I think this will potentially impact the for profit education sector faster than the publicly traded schools realize.
For profit EDU has been growing for the past 10 – 12 years, but has only scratched the surface of potential students. Coursera is exploding given the higher broadband penetration and higher number of connected devices. I can see their growth trajectory being much faster. Keep an eye on them, they could impact your stock portfolio very soon….