Coursera Bets on Corporate Learning

The online learning company Coursera is making a push into the world of corporate training. Its new service, called “Coursera for Business,” repackages existing  courses and adds new tools for employer learning-and-development programs.

Coursera is a venture-backed company launched in 2012 with partners that include big-name universities like Duke, Stanford and University of Pennsylvania. Like other so-called massive-open-online-course providers, it has attracted much attention but struggled to find a sustainable business model. Most consumers are resistant to paying for online coursework and attrition rates in free classes are high.

For Coursera, corporate training may be an answer. Employers signing up for Coursera for Business pay to design custom programs drawing from the site’s 1,400 online classes, including titles such as “Business Analytics,” “Python for Everybody” and “Data Science.” The program offers certifications for employees and tracking tools for HR. Companies already signed up include BNY Mellon and L’Oréal.

Amanda Molaro, a publicist representing Coursera, declined to say what the service will cost. Charges are “dependent on the number of employees that they wish to enroll and the number of courses they sign up for,” she said in an email.

The idea is not a new one. Coursera already had a deal with Yahoo to train engineers, and other MOOCs — which include Udacity, edX, Udemy and others — also have explored the corporate training realm. Udacity’s Open Education Alliance, for example, offers “nanodegrees” in subjects such as web design and data analysis. And in 2014 Microsoft worked with the French business school INSEAD to develop online sales training.

Experts have been forecasting for years that MOOCs would take root in the world of corporate training. After all the hype and disappointments that have marked online learning, Coursera’s big push offers hope to those who think that moment has arrived.

“This will be the sustainable revenue stream” for MOOCs, says Curtis J. Bonk, a professor of instructional systems technology at Indiana University. “The corporate training world is a significant place for their business model.”

Bonk also thinks the trend is good for companies that need ways to help employees develop at a reasonable cost. Online platforms can be far cheaper than building classrooms and hiring instructors for in-house training.

As evidence that MOOCs are gaining ground, Bonk points out that Coursera offers a huge number of certificates that are gaining real value in the employment market. “That’s what the business world wants,” he says. “It’s more self-directed, employee-driven … it makes a lot of sense for the corporate world.”