In this article, I will be making a case-study out of Coursera to illustrate how businesses that get digitalised, take on the entire ecosystem. The way in which the average human consumes knowledge today has changed drastically. Knowledge is equated to mere scanning of four or five words that Google spits out upon initial search. Have you ever heard of this joke – Which is the best place to hide a dead body? On the second page of a Google search. Such is the patience and attention span of the modern day student/learner. In this context, online learning platforms are gaining viability more and more. The most popular one of course is Coursera, an online learning medium that offers a large selection of topics, taught by the professors from the best universities from around the world.
The power of community learning has been harnessed well by the Coursera so far. It allows students to learn from a culturally diverse environment. Therefore, the platform gathers a rich pool of shared experiences. Ideas are shared and improved upon in real time. Networks are also formed across the globe that helps entrepreneurs locate resources with ease. In the future this will further progress to provide additional benefits. You can build your own University, in your very own bed-room as future classrooms will be virtual and holographic. Practical experience would be gained by 3D printing the required components. The universities would also understand the real-time market requirements and structure courses accordingly. This will change their approach from top-down to bottom-up.
Analysing the business model I found that, the major revenue stream is through the “Signature Track” that allows the learners to obtain certifications. The average fee is around $60. It currently has around 4 million students enrolled in various courses. It shares 6 – 15% of the gross revenue with the partnering universities. Recently, Coursera has started to include corporates as well, by allowing students to work on specific problem statements.
Why is this shift to the digital platform happening? The first aspect being the changing behaviour in the way students “study”. Take for example the universities that have residential programs to facilitate students to engage in group assignments. The idea behind these traditional programs is that students work on team projects and this helps peer-to-peer learning. Even in this case of residential programs, students turn to the aid of technology to interact. Dedicated groups are used on WhatsApp and Facebook to brainstorm and discuss key portions for projects. On the whole, the amount of time spent on face-to-face interactions for completing team tasks range from not more than 20-30% of the total time spent. This shows that distance education is becoming more and more reliable.
In that case, could these online courses entirely replace traditional education models? I don’t think that is a feasible solution. Because these online courses might not prove to be a good learning mechanism in case of primary school education, it is probably more apt for higher education. It has also been identified that these platforms are more effective at training employees training than other traditional techniques used by organisations. But step by step technology is finding its way into the classrooms, in other forms. By the age of 5 to 14 years (as in 2015), kids are already exposed to smart classrooms in which technology has become an integral part of their learning. Gaming and other activities have also trained their brains to adopt these platforms. This indicates that in a few years, the providers of digital learning solutions no longer need to adapt their modules to suit the learners of “the yester years” who are used to traditional learning methods. Learning online will come naturally to the coming generations, simply because that is the only way they would know to learn.
The second aspect is the business potential it has in developing countries. In a country like India where the demographic dividend is at a crucial stage, adoption of MOOCs to impart education can create considerable impact. The online education sector is expected to touch USD$40 billion by 2017. Teacher absenteeism, lack of infrastructure, low teacher to student ratio, unavailability of relevant content are the major problems for low literacy rates in India. These problems can be easily addressed through adoption of online learning. In order to promote technology, the government of India is also distributing low cost ($ 17 per tablet) tablets under special schemes. If one juxtaposes the costs of MOOCs that has the potential to further decrease (re- usable content & increased competition), MOOCs would turn out to be the most attractive learning platforms students. Sensing this shift, Coursera is adopting strategies to make learning more conducive through mobile phones, as the internet grows on mobiles in India.
In 2010, the education board of the US conducted meta-analyses on the effectiveness of online classrooms and traditional classrooms. The findings suggest that they both have the same results on the learner. But in the case of the end user, the selection of universities happens based on quality perceptions which is signalled by exclusivity. Therefore, the success of these platforms will be based on how they manage the image of providing “education for all”(which seems to be their core philosophy) and at the same time differentiate themselves in the market.