Can Massive Open Online Courses Replace Continuing Education?


Monday, May 06, 2019   /  11:05AM  /  By Angel List   / Header Image Credit: UCT English Language Centre


"The fourth industrial revolution" is underway, says Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda, whose company recently announced a $103 million Series E with a valuation of over $1 billion.

This "fourth industrial revolution, marked by advancements in automation and artificial intelligence," Maggioncalda says, is going to cause a global workforce challenge. "The future of work and learning are converging, and companies are realizing that there are a lot of jobs that are getting automated," he said, "so finding an inexpensive but high-quality way to retrain is turning out to be a historic challenge."

Retraining employees at scale is a global challenge, in Maggioncalda's view, and investors don't disagree. The global market for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is projected to grow from $3.9 billion in 2018 to $20.8 billion in 2023. The unique value MOOCs provide over something like a bootcamp is their scale. In theory, a MOOC could reach anyone with an internet connection and retrain those individuals at a fraction of the cost of traditional degrees or bootcamps. The problem MOOCs have to solve first, though, is credentialing.

In a bootcamp, with an instructor evaluating your work every step of the way, there is a level of confidence in the credential a student earns. In a MOOC setting, it's a little trickier. How do you verify how well a student has learned the material? Testing is the obvious answer, but ensuring the integrity of digital exams at the volume MOOCs handle is tricky as well.

There are a number of companies working on this problem now. Examity, which offers proctoring software for online courses, announced a $90 million round in April. It already has partnerships with online education players Coursera and Duolingo.

At the same time, other models of continuing education-like bootcamps and digital degrees from traditional universities-are continuing to pick up steam. Lambda School, the popular coding bootcamp, recently raised a $30 million Series B, while Trilogy Education-another bootcamp provider-was acquired by 2U, a company that builds online degree programs for universities, for $750 million.

The pressure is on, but if MOOCs can solve this fundamental problem, they will be positioned to take advantage of, what some investors believe will be, a historic disruption of the global workforce.


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