MOOCs Support and Improve Higher Education

While MOOCs do not aim to replace the in-person interactions offered by higher education institutions, they provide students the opportunity to expand their knowledge and pursue their interests without dedicating fixed periods of time to fit a college or university schedule.

The following interview was conducted with Andrew Ng, the Co-Founder of Massive Open Online Course provider Coursera. Ng and his colleague Daphne Koller launched Coursera in March 2012 and have seen an explosion in its popularity since, partnering with a number of top universities, setting up course-for-credit partnerships and delivering free higher education material to over one million students worldwide. In this interview, Ng discusses the space that Coursera and MOOCs fill in the higher education industry and shares some strategy related to how Coursera competes for adult student enrollments.

1. Do Massive Open Online Course providers tend to see themselves as in competition with universities for enrollments of adult students?

Speaking for Coursera only, we do not view our online education platform as a competitor to universities. One of our core goals is to offer quality education to those who do not have access, and we’ve found that among our adult students, most are using Coursera in part because they are unable to attend a traditional university, whether due to time, physical access, cost, family or other constraints.

MOOCS also offer benefits to universities that would like to integrate online education into their on-campus education using the flipped classroom model, wherein students watch video lectures online before coming to class, and then use classroom time for more productive, interactive engagements between students and professors.

2. What strategies does Coursera use to market itself and place itself in the minds of prospective adult students?

Many of our students hear about Coursera by word of mouth, and we have active social media channels which are helping to spread the word. We have also been grateful for the attention that we’ve gotten from the media, which is helping to reach eager students around the world.

3. What value can an adult student get out of enrolling in a MOOC that they could not get from enrolling at a college or university?

Taking classes on Coursera is a great option for people wanting to expand their career opportunities without taking time off to attend a university. We have heard from a number of students who have taken classes on Coursera in order to develop skills necessary for advancement in their current job, or to change careers.

Many employers are beginning to recognize the value of a certificate from Coursera on a resume. Outside of the pursuit of career goals, many adult learners are taking courses simply to expand their knowledge of subjects that interest them.

4. And what are they missing out on? Where can MOOCs improve to build their value proposition for prospective adult students?

Ultimately MOOCs do not replace the unique in-person interactions and other rewarding activities that can only be found by attending a full-time traditional university. As we continue to develop the technology on Coursera, we hope to expand our ability to provide valuable opportunities for education, social engagement and a positive user experience to our students.

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Readers Comments

Otto Greiss 2012/11/26 at 12:28 pm

One of the most exciting things about Coursera, edX, etc is the involvement of elite universities in online education and in a large-scale exercise in accessibility and “open access” philosophy. Not only does this give the “scam” of for-profits (high tuition, high dropout rate and default on loans, often low quality) now has competition from more reputable institutions, and they will have to change their tune to stay competitive–probably for the better.

It is interesting that Mr. Ng says that Coursera is not a competitor to universities, and speaks about the value of a Coursera course on its own–but everything in the tea leaves points to greater involvement and partnership with that university system; some universities have started accepting MOOCs for credit, and the American Council on Education is assessing the possibility of accrediting MOOCs. Both of these developments would inevitably incur fees, for testing, for certificates, for “premium” quality. MOOCs seem to be going down a road where potential revenue and savings possibilities are what higher ed institutions and venture capitalists are most excited about. I wonder how Coursera will navigate this tricky terrain?

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