June 18th, 2013 E-Learning

I think many of us will look back on 2013 and call it the “year of the MOOCs”. As with any viable industry, the MOOC landscape is being flooded with similar services as everyone tries to grab their piece of the pie. Over time though, we will see only a few major players, and I predict that Coursera will be one of (if not THE one) remaining.

Coursera was launched in April 2012, and one year later boasts 3.2 million users. Similar to Facebook, I think we can reasonably expect the user growth to incrementally increase as the “wannabees” drop out or are gobbled up by competitors. During this time, we will likely see Coursera develop a viable revenue model (or at least some sort of respectable income model) in the effort to monetize their user base. I know this may rub some people the wrong way, but it’s the way of the world. Nothing is really “free” (just look at modern day Facebook or YouTube as an example).

What’s more, the investors in Coursera will certainly want to see a tidy return on their investment. This can happen in a variety of ways, including the eventual montetization, but the big payday comes when it is sold. The question is, who would (or could) buy Coursera? Below is a list of who I believe are the probable buyers interested in what Coursera represents:

1. Google – Let’s start with the most obvious. The big G has always been at the forefront of education, innovation, and flat-out useful services. They boast some of the coolest apps today, and understand how to monetize a large user base. They already have the infrastructure and knowledge capital to apply to Coursera in a very relevant way.

2. Facebook – FB has proven themselves as a social network, so applying their principles to social learning only seems natural.  There infrastructure alone could give Coursera a much needed face-lift (pun very much intended). Like Google, they have experience and success in monetization models, and they know how to get a very large user group engaged with each other using their software as a conduit.

3. Microsoft – Most people know Microsoft for computers or gaming, but it should come as no surprise that Microsoft purchases an average of eight companies a year.  Heck, in 2006 they bought 18!  Their gaming system, xbox, is home to roughly 40 million gamers, so they have applicable experience with pleasing (and managing) the masses.

4. Apple – This one was probably predictable given the previous prospect, but Apple does make sense as a potential buyer of Coursera.  Since it was started, Apple has had a business philosophy to purchase small companies that can be integrated into existing projects.  Unfortunately for Apple, it would appear that their window of opportunity will be closing in the near future as Coursera will start to get rather large.

5. Virgin Group – Richard Branson’s Virgin Group owns a company in just about every industry known to man, but believe it or not, they don’t have any investments in the education/elearning space.  They certainly have the capital and connections to take something like Coursera and give it a makeover – plus maybe Richard feels the need to give back?  Probably less likely than the previously mentioned companies, but I would personally love to see what they would make of it.

While all this is pure speculation, I think it’s reasonable to say that these five companies are some of the most viable contenders today.  I don’t expect Coursera to put up the “for sale” sign just yet, but you can believe that they already have suitors at their door.

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About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter

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Don’t count out the private equity and and a few others:

1) Provident Equity

2) The Apollo Group

3) Pearson

4) Houghton Mifflin

5) Rupert Murdoch

6) Vendors looking for reinvention or have selfish interest (Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, HP, Dell, Intel…)

Avatar Bob Longo

Very true Bob… Private Equity firms are always probable buyers – just not as fun to write about 😉

Justin, this is an interesting prediction. However, it seems based upon the assumption that the current xMOOCs (not true MOOCs) will offer some evidence of success at learning. So far, they have not. We have documented 90+% drop-out rates and 75% student dissatisfaction rates. And if one actually analyzes the hype articles claiming that “MOOCs” are the savior of higher ed, you’ll will find not educational or instructional design organizations, but business-oriented sources. The world observes MOOCs (sic., online courses with massive enrollment) as a great business opportunity, not a great educational opportunity.
Therefore, I agree that some revenue-hungry companies may attempt buy-in or take-over; however, if I owned stock in any of those companies…. i’d sell as fast as I could.

I think there is one group that sees it as business opportunity (I probably fall into that category), and another as a valid educational opportunity – I have come across some very passionate MOOC supporters. That said, I would even argue that the educational institutions view it more as a business opportunity.

My second comment needs to be separated. I will predict that instead, we shall look back on 2013 as the “year of the MOOC bubble (that bursted).

I think the bubble will pop some time in late 2014 to be honest…

Why would Apple buy Coursera? They have iTunes U which is far larger, has more universities, and has better technology. Coursera is a marketing gimmick.

Avatar bob

I agree with you on the point that Apple has no real reasons for buying Coursera and I sincerely hope it will stay so. But I disagree on the second point: iTunes U is a horrible thing: it’s nigh unusable on a computer running Windows and plain unusable on Linux. I know that most people in the US are Apple-fans but here, in Europe, almost everybody owns a computer running either Windows or Linux. Coursera works wonderful on both of those systems while trying to use iTunes U is an enormous pain in the neck (I do it because I like their offering but it always end in me screaming and wishing Apple all the worst).
Also Coursera is more fun than iTunes U: it’s about interaction and not just listening to other people taking interesting classes in which you cannot take part.

Avatar tzigi

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