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Coursera looking to merge offline with online learning

11.06.2013
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MOOCs are unquestionably big news at the moment, with a degree of justification.  After all, they’re offering a good number of courses from top universities for free to anyone with a web connection.  The hype surrounding the MOOC concept has been fueled by the large number of courses on offer, the large number of schools offering them, and perhaps most of all, the huge number of people that sign up for the courses.

With class numbers often into six figures, the enthusiasm is impressive.  Alas, the completion rate of the courses is somewhat less impressive.  This summer, the Times Educational Supplement reported that the completion rate across MOOC platforms was a paltry 7%.  Obviously 7% of 100,000 is still 7,000, which is likely to be much more than would ever take a course in a built environment, but it isn’t quite as revolutionary as the sign-up rate suggests it could be.

So Coursera are looking at ways to improve their conversion rate.  For instance, they’re looking to work more closely with employers so that the courses employees sign up for are tied in with their professional development, and maybe even to bonuses or promotions.  Such links would provide a clear incentive to follow through with the course.

Another strategy Coursera are trying is to provide offline support for learners.  These would come via Learning Hubs, which are physical places, equipped with web connections, that people can go to and complete their learning each week alongside other people from the course.

The concept emerged after an adhoc study group was formed by a student in Ohio who gathered together a group of women in her home town who were studying a business strategy course from the University of Virginia.  The completion rate amongst the ladies in the group was 60%, which would be a figure Coursera could only dream about at the moment.

Initially the learning hubs will be offered for free to students, with Coursera teaming up with local organisations willing to provide such spaces free of charge.  The largest such partner thus far is the US Department of State.

Suffice to say, Coursera are on the hunt for partners to help roll this out.  Maybe this is an opportunity for companies to offer up their largely unused conferencing facilities in the evenings to both internal and external students.  In a world where attracting talent is paramount, this could be an easy way to identify people with a keen interest in learning about a topic that matters to your organisation.

We already have many organisations tapping into external knowledge through open innovation crowdsourcing initiatives.  This would seem a natural extension, especially if any project work could be tied in to a project the company is currently working on.

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