Coursera President Daphne Koller: 2014 Is The Year MOOCs Will Come Of Age

This morning at Disrupt SF, Coursera’s president Daphne Koller pushed back against the notion that her company is a for-profit education company: In her view, Coursera is instead a for-profit technology company.

TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois pressed Koller on the completion rates the average class on her platform sees — only 5 percent of people that enroll in a future class finish the course. Koller wasn’t perturbed. According to her numbers, of the people who actually want to finish the course, 70 percent do so, a number that she said was high for “an online activity.”

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The company does have the figures in mind, it seems, as it is moving towards more self-directed learning, and classes that have less rigid — and distant — start dates. Koller indicated that if a class starts within a week of a student enrolling — compared to its current model — engagement doubles. It’s hard to know what you are doing next January, for example, so for many students just enrolling isn’t too strong a commitment.

Certain forms of online education have also picked up a bad reputation due to low graduation rates, high fees, and readily available student loans that trap many students in a cycle of poverty, a far cry for their dreams of economic-security-through-diploma. Coursera’s model is quite different, offering affordable credentials in the $50 range to students who complete classes.

But do those credentials have market import? That’s to say, do employers actually care if a student has a Coursera credential? Koller noted that around 70 percent of students with a Coursera credential list it on their LinkedIn profiles. She also said that around 60 or 70 percent of employers would look at the credential of an applicant favorably.

Wrapping the talk, Lardinois called 2012 the year of hype for massive open online classes (or MOOCs) and 2013 the year of the market pushback. He then asked Koller to pick a moniker for 2014: She responded that 2014 will be the year that the technology behind large online classes “comes of age,” and that it will demonstrate that “it has meaningful impact that transcends the hype.”

We’ll see if she is right.