Careers at Coursera
Coursera is a for-profit educational technology company that aims to provide universal open access to university-level educational resources through massive open online courses (MOOCs).
Coursera was founded and developed by former Stanford professors Daphne Koller (“Koller”) and Andrew Ng (“Ng”), who first met during the 1990s while the latter was completing his graduate studies at Berkeley. The Coursera platform has its roots in two separate projects undertaken by Koller and Ng in the late 2000s during their time at Stanford: Koller’s development of ideas concerning the effects of artificial intelligence on student engagement, and Ng’s creation of a learning platform that allowed individual professors to make video lectures available to students online.
The two began to collaborate, combining their respective projects with the aim of identifying effective ways of making quality, personalised learning available and affordable to the global population. In 2011 Koller, Ng and several other Stanford professors – including Sebastian Thrun, who has since established competing MOOC provider Udacity – introduced free online classes in Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Programming. Each of these courses attracted more than 100,000 registrants. 103,000 students enrolled in Ng’s Machine Learning course alone, of which 13,000 are reported to have earned a statement of accomplishment.
Koller later introduced the online learning concept to venture capitalist Scott Sandell over dinner. Encouraged by the success of the open online courses already provided and their impressive rate of adoption, Sandell agreed to invest in the platform. Coursera was formally incorporated in November 2011. Both Koller and Ng have left their respective roles at Stanford to work on the Coursera project full time. As of October 2015, Coursera has completed six rounds of funding, generating $146.1 million in equity funding from 12 investors, including high-profile organisations such as the International Finance Corporation, and the World Bank.
Benefits at Coursera
Business model of Coursera
Coursera provides services to two distinct customer segments: end-users wishing to take an online learning course and educational institutions wishing to share course content with a greater audience. Both segments have access to these services free of charge.
For both its end-users and educational partners, Coursera’s most obvious value propositions are that its services are available online and at no cost. This allows for convenient access to high-level educational programs which to many consumers may otherwise be unaffordable or inaccessible.
Its presence online also means that universities and institutions are able to reach a greater number of consumers more easily, furthering their individual brand identities.
Taking a course on the Coursera platform typically requires little direct interaction between the Company and its end-users. Students are however offered support in their learning through customer services and free access to Learning Hubs, which offer internet access and a chance to interact with other learners in person, free of charge.
With regard to its content providers, Coursera also holds annual partner conferences, at which representatives discuss innovations and problems in the online education sector.
Coursera’s platform can be accessed either through its desktop website www.coursera.org or via its App Store and Google Play apps.
Coursera provides global access to educational and vocational online courses from top-level universities and educational institutions. It does not itself design these courses, merely serving as a platform for universities across the world to offer their own learning programs to a broader audience.
The platform currently has 1,826 courses available to prospective students. Initially these programs were concerned principally with computer and data sciences, mathematics and engineering; however, the Company has since expanded to include arts and humanities, business studies and language learning programs, among others.
The majority of Coursera students are from overseas, the platforms principal international markets being China and India.
Coursera’s principal partners comprise top-level universities, schools and educational organisations. It currently purports to have 141 of these partners across 28 countries, including high-profile ivy-league institutions such as Princeton, Yale and Brown. Other notable organisations that are counted among Coursera’s program providers are the National Geographic Society, World Bank Group and the American Museum of Natural History.
More recently, Coursera has partnered with a number of established technology companies and financial firms to provide classes. Tech companies have also been approached to create and judge capstone projects – practical specialisation assignments that students must complete before graduating from certain Coursera programs. These partners include big name brands like Google and Swiftkey, both of which have already played an active role in assessing the Company’s Mobile Cloud Computing and Data Science courses.
Coursera has also partnered with the US Department of State to provide free learning hubs across the world.
As an online platform, Coursera does not depend on physical resources in the same way that traditional educational institutions do. Instead, its key resources are its personnel, its technology platform and the content provided by its educational partners.
Coursera also has one patent pending with the US Patent and Trademark Office, which concerns technology that aims to verify the identities of online learners.
Coursera incurs variable costs in the form of assessments, certifications and the running of Learning Hubs, as well as the kind of fixed costs that would be expected to be incurred by any business, including salaries, utilities and platform maintenance. Research suggests that personnel costs account typically for the majority of costs incurred by MOOC providers such as Coursera.
As Coursera does not charge its partners or end-users for the services it provides and claims no intellectual property rights to the content hosted on its platform, the Company has been forced to explore alternative ways of extracting value. At first, the Company generated a small amount of revenue through Amazon affiliate referral linking with regard to course materials, before introducing Career Services in 2013, an opt-in recruiting program that enabled users to find job opportunities relevant to their learning. This latter service, however, has been discontinued.
Coursera has since pursued a freemium model, under which courses remain free but student are offered the option of joining the Signature track, which charges on a per class basis in return for formal recognition of course completion in the form of a certificate. Reports state that within six months more than 10,000 users had chosen to join the Signature Track, bringing in around $500,000 worth of revenue. Users can also enrol in paid-for Specializations that grant access to multiple courses on the same subject and also include certification.
In its contracts with content providers, Coursera promises 6-15% revenue-sharing per course and 20% of gross profits on aggregate sets of courses. Media reports have suggested that these contracts hint at alternative value capture strategies, including corporate sponsorship, tutoring services, further certifications, recruiting and tuition fees.
info: Daphne was born and raised in Israel. Before co-founding Coursera, she was a faculty member at Stanford University for 18 years, serving as the Rajeev Motwani Professor of Computer Science. In 2011 she was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering and in 2014 was granted a fellowship by the Academy of Arts and Sciences. Koller is a published author, and has received a number of awards and fellowships since the 1990s, including the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. She has also been recognised by leading publications TIME Magazine and Newsweek as an influential figure within the education sphere.
info: Andrew was born in the UK but raised in Hong Kong and Singapore. In addition to his role as Coursera Chairman, he also serves as Chief Scientist of Chinese-language online search company Baidu. During his time at Stanford, Ng served as an Associate Professor of Computer Science and as Director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. He also pioneered online learning models in 2008 in the form of the Stanford Engineering Everywhere program, which made a number of engineering classes available to the public. Ng continues to work on machine learning, specialising in particular in developing artificial intelligence using brain simulations.
info: Rick was appointed CEO of Coursera in 2014. Prior to this he was employed for more than 40 years by Yale University. He first joined the Yale faculty as an Associate Professor in 1974, teaching and researching in the field of Economics for almost 20 years. He was elected President of Yale University in 1993, a position he held for a further 20 years, the longest tenure of any Yale President. Outside of academia, Levin holds several directorships, including at American Express and C3 Energy., and has served as an advisor to the US President for Science and Technology.
info: Lila joined Coursera in 2014 as its Chief Business Officer. She also serves as a director Gannett, part of the USA Today media network, and is co-founder and chair of Team4Tech, a non-profit educational technology company. Ibrahim is also a strategic advisor at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Prior to joining Coursera, Ibrahim served in a number of roles at Intel Corporation in an 18 year spell at the company, before serving as an Operating Partner at venture capital and private equity firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers from 2010 to 2014.
info: Kurt was appointed to the role of Chief Marketing Officer at Coursera in 2014. He has worked in the consumer technology marketing sphere since joining eBay in 2001, where he led several marketing teams. Apen left eBay in 2012 to join The Walt Disney Company, where he served as Vice President of Marketing for Disney Interactive, the corporate arm concerned with developing mobile games and apps.
info: Tom was appointed Chief Product Officer of Coursera in 2013. Immediately prior to joining Coursera, he interned briefly at Facebook, following a six year spell at Netflix, where he served in several roles, most notably Vice President of Innovation. He is also a former Starcom IP director, Euro RSCG Chicago strategist, and GM Planworks analyst.
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