European Online Education Startup, iversity, Gets ~500k Course Sign-Ups In First 4-Months

iversity, a Berlin-based MOOCs platform that’s hoping to become the Coursera of Europe, has managed to pull in nearly 500,000 course sign-ups in the four months since its first massively open online courses went live.

iversity launched its first batch of 24 course in mid-October — noting at the time that it had clocked up initial student sign-ups of more than 100,000. Four months on, it’s bolstered that figure to half a million. Not bad going for a newbie on the MOOCs scene.

The number of MOOCs iversity offers has only increased incrementally, however — with its curriculum now numbering 28 courses. But, also today, it said it has secured its first framework agreement with a “top European University” to produce exclusive course content for its platform.

The agreement is with Italy’s Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi sociali Guido Carli in Rome, which will invest a six-figure sum into the production of four online courses that will only be available on iversity’s platform. Topics covered by these courses will include international relations and innovation management, with the first of them starting in September or October this year.

The Berlin-based startup pivoted from online collaboration tools for learning management to MOOCs back in March last year, seeing potential to help spread the free online education phenomenon to Europe which has generally lagged behind the U.S., where the likes of CourseraUdacity and edX are already well established MOOCs platforms. (Access to higher education being generally cheaper in Europe vs the U.S. may well be one factor explaining that lag.)

Of course, signing up remote students to free online courses is one thing but getting them to complete those courses when they have nothing invested beyond their intention is quite another. Completion rates for MOOCs therefore tend to be very low — and iversity’s early rate isn’t bucking this trend.

Of the circa 135,000 students who signed up for its first five courses, which recently came to an end, just 5,000 students completed the courses — giving a completion rate of less than 4%. iversity described this rate as “comparable” with Coursera and other MOOC providers.

Convincing students to take paid exams to gain official accreditation for their study is one potential MOOCs business model — and the one revenue stream iversity is currently pursuing — hence the need for MOOCs platforms to attract a lot of students, to get round the issue of low completion rates.

iversity’s nascent European MOOCs platform has started taking in some revenue — albeit not enough to disclose, with a trial of paid exams only offered for two small German-language courses thus far, and with only a few dozen participants in total.

Despite it being early days, iversity nonetheless said it’s happy with its early monetizing experiment, adding: “Our expectations have been exceeded and more users participated in the exam than we initially expected. Particularly taking into account that this was an initial test-run and the possibility to take an exam was in no way promoted on the site.”