Remember when Coursera – the world’s largest purveyor of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – was going to disrupt higher education, and put hundreds if not thousands of public institutions out of business? I know it’s hard to cast your mind back all of eighteen months, but try.
Actually don’t. Because it’s all over. Yesterday, Coursera did a weird strategy about-face by announcing that, rather than competing with public colleges, it’s going to start competing with Blackboard instead.
We’ve been heading this way for awhile. Last summer, the all-conquering Coursera, armed with $22M or so in venture capital (VC) money, and getting free content from major educational institutions around the world (including McGill and University of Toronto), was seemingly poised to dominate education everywhere, forever, because… well… OK, this part was never clear. There seemed to be some idea that if you stuck “great professors” (i.e. big research names at big research universities) in front of a camera, eyeballs would follow. This was always preposterous – if it weren’t, University of the Air would be prime time. But, of course, nobody ever got rich telling people that the revolution wasn’t coming.
Coursera has simply never had a coherent plan to generate revenue. Oh sure, it had a bunch of ideas about how to do it, which were outlined in this leaked MOU with the University of Michigan, but few seem to have panned out. The only thing we’ve heard from Coursera is that their idea for charging people for certificates of completion netted $220,000 in Q1 of this year. Given that Coursera’s annual burn rate seems to be in the neighbourhood of $10M (that’s on top of their partners spending $50K/course to place it on the Coursera platform), this is peanuts. Allegedly, they were going to try to make money on a bunch of other things, like being scouts for businesses on the lookout for bright young talent, but there have been no announcements of revenue from these sources. Given how the tech news industry works, it’s a safe bet that means the figure is close to zero.
So now, with no money coming in, and no new round of venture financing announced since last year (attention education journalists: go interview some Coursera investors – they’re key to this story), it announced this week that it would be working with partners like the University of West Virginia and the University of New Mexico – places which Coursera swore in writing to its AAU/U-15/Russell Group partners that it would never allow to offer MOOCS, because it would taint the brand. Together with these institutions, Coursera will be developing something called “campus-based MOOCs”, which, upon closer inspection, is completely indistinguishable from what we’ve called “blended learning” for roughly a decade now.
And so the revolution ends with a whimper, not with a roar.