Coursera president: bursting the Moocs bubble a boon for us

Daphne Koller says online platform reached millions of learners largely because of the publicity, both good and bad, about Moocs

July 9, 2016
Daphne Koller, Coursera, Stanford University

Some academics enjoyed nothing more than seeing the “Moocs bubble” burst. But it turns out that those who scoffed at massive open online courses may have unwittingly been playing into the hands of the innovation they were disparaging.

Daphne Koller, president and co-founder of Coursera, told Times Higher Education that the hype around online courses and whether they would destroy traditional universities had been the biggest driver of student recruitment to her company, the world’s largest Mooc platform.

Professor Koller, the Rajeev Motwani professor of computer science at Stanford University, said that both the excitement around Moocs and the subsequent realisation that they would not be quite so transformative had been “largely overblown”.

Instead, she argued, Coursera – which now has 20 million users and 145 course providers, including some of the world’s leading universities – was “making significant, steady progress in democratising access to education”.

And despite some robust debate, Professor Koller said that the Moocs hype had not been a bruising experience – far from it.

“A lot of our early learner growth came from PR: people heard about us through PR and said, ‘I’m going to go and check it out,’” Professor Koller said. “We reached 20 million learners with minimal marketing costs, largely because of the PR cycle around us.

“I don’t think learners care much about whether we are going to destroy universities or not; they are not the target audience for that message. What they care about is that they can take courses from amazing universities at a very affordable cost.”

Coursera’s latest innovations include the development of online-only postgraduate degrees, and Professor Koller acknowledged that it was “a possibility” that full undergraduate degrees might one day be offered on the platform.

She said that the undergraduate market represented a “bigger challenge” than the postgraduate sector, highlighting the enduring appeal of a three- or four-year residential experience and the additional support that new entrants to higher education might require.

Nevertheless, Professor Koller said that a Coursera-based bachelor’s degree could be “highly beneficial” to learners who wanted a more flexible educational experience, delivered in partnership with traditional universities.

Where Moocs could be revolutionary for universities, she argued, was in the transformation of higher education into a data science. Collecting hundreds of millions of pieces of information on students’ engagement with courses that ran regularly allowed for swift improvement in and experimentation with course content, explained Professor Koller, who said that the pace of change in programmes offered by traditional universities was “glacial” in comparison.

“This is a place where the technology can inform and then drive educational innovation,” she said. “It’s turning education into a data science in ways that I don’t think are possible when…in a traditional educational setting…you teach a course once a year and you get a measurement at the end of the semester.

“It’s impossible to learn quickly enough and iterate enough to make massive improvements, [but online courses change that] because of the number of students that engage and because a new cohort starts every two weeks, so you tweak something and a couple of weeks later you already know if it’s working and then you can either continue to refine or revert and try something else.”

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments


Print headline: Bursting of ‘Moocs bubble’ served us well, Coursera president says

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Worried man wiping forehead
Two academics explain how to beat some of the typical anxieties associated with a doctoral degree
A group of flamingos and a Marabou stork

A right-wing philosopher in Texas tells John Gill how a minority of students can shut down debates and intimidate lecturers – and why he backs Trump

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy