Founded in 2012 by two Stanford University professors, Coursera is on a mission to democratizing education by partnering with top universities worldwide to offer courses online. Coursera does this through the massive open online course (“MOOC”) model, where a course is offered online with no restriction to the number of participants. So far, Coursera offers over 1,000 courses through its partnership with 140 universities and educational institutions serving over 20 million registered students.  
The MOOC Value Proposition – Accessibility and Affordability
- Bigger reach to larger audience: education via an online platform means students are no longer constrained by their geographic location to engage in quality education. An Average MOOC course enrolls on average about 43,000 students per class. 
- Low-cost for both education provider and students: Physical infrastructure such as a classroom or furnitures are no longer needed. Students can now take classes from top universities for free or a small fee.
A Closer Look at Coursera
Coursera forms partnerships with top universities such as Stanford, Princeton, UC Berkeley, etc. offering a range of topics, including humanities, medicine, business and computer science, among others. In a typical class, a student will watch video lectures, take interactive quizzes, complete peer graded assessments, and connect with fellow students and instructors (think HBX CORE). Both videos and quizzes are designed as bite-size chunks to cater to today’s consumers with short-attention spans.
- Course certificate: students pay a fee to earn a verified certificate for $39-$119/course
- Specialization: bundle offering, typically four to eight courses that covers a particular topic. $300-$600/specialization
Monetization Model: Coursera started as a platform free for all but with the need to run a sustainable business, soon had to switch to a freemium model:
- Free: same access as pay model but no graded assignments by teachers
- Pay-as-you-go model: for both single course and specialization
- Subscription model: Introduced in Oct 2016 based on the study that students are 2.5x likely to complete a specialization on a subscription model versus those on pay-as-you-go model. Through subscription, Coursera hopes to both increase its recurring revenue and students’ ongoing educational activity. 
New Offering: Coursera is also tapping into the $71 billion corporate training market by introducing Coursera for Business, offering corporate learning, training and development services to employers in August 2016.  On top of classes, Coursera also built tools to allow employers to track progress of employees. Successful pilot clients include BNY Mellon, BCG, L’Oreal and Axis Bank. 
Recommendations to Mitigate Current Challenges
The MOOC model is heavily criticized for its low completion rate. The average completion rate is only around 15%.  A few explanations: 1) students have no incentive to drop out with voluntarily courses, and 2) not everyone feels compelled to complete the course, especially if students simply signed up for the course based on interest versus a necessity. Though this is the case, Coursera can still put in efforts to increase completion rate. Few ideas include:
- Improve students engagement:
- Encourage and facilitate offline students meetups to build and increase accountability
- Offer personalized learning plans that help students assess their progress and identify areas for improvement
- Incompletion penalty
- Take students’ payment information and charge them for incomplete courses. Cater this to those who intend to complete the course but having trouble doing so.
Coursera has long struggled with its monetization strategy. The introduction of both subscription model and Coursera for Business this year indicates that Coursera is seeking creative ways to capture value. A few additional monetization opportunities include:
- Provide recognizable credentials endorsed by employers: Coursera and a few university professors worked together to survey students on the benefits of Coursera. 72% respondents reported career benefits.  By prioritizing courses and skillsets more aligned with employers are looking for today, Coursera will be able to help students further enhance their professional skills and improve their candidacy.
- Form partnerships with mentoring, advising and counseling organizations to provide additional support to students: the same survey saw 61% respondents reported increase in educational benefits. Partnerships with organizations that already advise students on education will help these students decide on the right courses to take and prepare them with the right skillsets for the workforce.
Coursera is still refining its business and operating models to address issues such as low completion rate and monetization strategy. Despite criticisms, Coursera’s vision of democratizing education is grand, and has already shown tangible benefits to job-seekers and education-seekers alike. Though Cousera is not solving all the problems in education but it is advancing us towards the right direction by providing “universal access to the world’s best education.” 
A flavor of some of Coursera’s specializations.
An example of a certificate upon completion of the data science specialization.
 “By The Numbers: MOOCS in 2015’” Dec 21, 2015. Dhawal Shah. https://www.class-central.com/report/moocs-2015-stats/
 Coursera profile on Crunchbase. https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/coursera#/entity
 “Study: Massive Online Courses Enroll An Average Of 43,000 Students, 10% Completion’” March 3, 2014. Gregory Ferenstein. https://techcrunch.com/2014/03/03/study-massive-online-courses-enroll-an-average-of-43000-students-10-completion/
 “Introducing Subscriptions for Specializations.” Oct 31, 2016. http://coursera.tumblr.com/post/152555853192/introducing-subscriptions-for-specializations
 “2015 Training Industry Report.” https://trainingmag.com/trgmag-article/2o15-training-industry-report
 “Coursera expands into corporate learning and development.” Aug 31, 2016. Lora Kolodny. https://techcrunch.com/2016/08/31/coursera-expands-into-corporate-learning-and-development/
 “MOOC Completion Rates: The Data.” June 12 2015. http://www.katyjordan.com/MOOCproject.html
 “Who’s Benefiting from MOOCs, and Why.” Sep 22. 2015. Chen Zhenghao. https://hbr.org/2015/09/whos-benefiting-from-moocs-and-why
 Company website.