Coursera launches skills training academy for colleges and companies

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Coursera, like other popular MOOC platforms, has made its name by bringing online classes to the masses. But lately, the company has been expanding efforts to provide these offerings to colleges and employers rather than solely to consumers. 

The company doubled down on that strategy Wednesday, when it announced the launch of a career training academy that enables users to earn entry-level certificates from companies like Meta and IBM in fields such as data analytics, social media marketing and user experience design. Institutions — including colleges, businesses and government organizations — can sign up to make the platform available to their students or employees.

Coursera officials envision that colleges will make the platform, called Career Academy, available to college juniors and seniors so they can learn skills directly connected to jobs. While the company expects colleges to offer the platform outside of their core curriculum, some faculty members have signaled interest in baking the offerings into their classes, said Scott Shireman, global head of Coursera for Campus. 

The certificates are organized around 18 job roles, including information technology project manager and sales development representative. They will take users without prior industry experience about six to eight months to complete. Coursera expects students will spend three to 10 hours each week on the courses, which are fully online. 

Shireman cast the initiative as a way to help colleges battle flagging enrollment and waning confidence in higher education. A sizable share of U.S. adults aren’t sure whether college is worth the cost, and undergraduate enrollment has sagged during the coronavirus pandemic

“More and more students, I think, are looking for ROI. They’re looking for, ‘Am I going to be able to get a job after I graduate?'” Shireman said. “This is a way that universities can really do that.”

How colleges are using Career Academy

Coursera has been piloting the initiative with several institutions, including research universities and community colleges. Hawaiʻi Pacific University, a private nonprofit institution, is among the colleges testing the academy with students. 

As part of the pilot, which started around the beginning of March, the university received licenses for 100 students to use the academy. So far they’ve enrolled in 132 certificate programs and clocked more than 244 hours of learning on the platform, said Mark Rosenbaum, dean of the university’s business college. 

“We just wanted to see what, ‘Would the student reaction be?'” Rosenbaum said. “And it’s been overwhelmingly positive.” 

Rosenbaum added that many of the university’s students hail from foreign countries, and they want to fill their resumes with skills that are globally recognized. 

The Career Academy is currently voluntary for students. Once the pilot ends in August, Rosenbaum said some instructors may incorporate it more into their classes, perhaps by making a course an optional assignment. He said the platform, which focuses on teaching hard skills, aligns well with the university’s mission, which is to provide a practical and experiential education. 

“Career Academy aligns perfectly with the HPU teaching mission,” Rosenbaum said. It might not align as well at institutions that are focused on conducting very high levels of research, he said. 

Although Shireman expects the Career Academy could have wide appeal in higher education, Coursera may focus the product on private universities and small liberal arts colleges that excel at cultivating critical thinking and creating communities with their students, he said. 

“Maybe they don’t have the faculty to do some of these more tech skills that are really in demand,” Shireman said. “Those schools, really, they’re also probably the ones most facing this potential enrollment crisis, and so I think they’ll be the ones that will really embrace this first.”

A shift in Coursera’s business strategy

Coursera has been using academic content created by universities for years to build its audience, amassing some 97 million users by the end of last year, according to its latest earnings report

“Now, Coursera is returning the favor and creating jobs-specific content and helping universities use that to create more job-ready coursework for their students,” said Daniel Pianko, managing director at Achieve Partners, a private-equity firm focused on the future of learning and work.

The move signals a shift in strategy for the company. While Coursera is still focused on delivering courses directly to consumers, it’s also been building out its offerings to colleges and employers. This business segment includes Coursera for Campus, which allows colleges to use the platform’s content in their classes. 

Revenue from Coursera’s enterprise clients reached $120 million in 2021. That amounts to a 70% year-over-year increase — much larger growth than the 27.6% rise in revenue in the company’s consumer business, which totaled $246 million in 2021. Other MOOC platforms, including edX, have also been seeing growth in their enterprise offerings. 

Richard Garrett, chief research officer for research and consulting firm Eduventures, said the Coursera Career Academy recognizes it will be more efficient to market to colleges and businesses than to directly convince more people in its traditional market, consumers, to sign up. 

“That market is bigger right now still for them,” Garrett said. “But it’s been growing a lot more slowly.”

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