Coursera receiving a $43 million investment is a big deal. I think that this is a good move for the International Finance Corporation (the investment arm of the World Bank), Laureate, GSV Capital, Learn Capital and the other investors.
Who knows where Coursera will be in a few years, but one possibility is that the company continues to scale and figures out how to monetize this growth. If these two things should occur then the value of Coursera will grow exponentially.
If Dr. Koller and Dr. Ng were to call me up (they haven't) and ask my advice about how they should spend the money I would recommend the following steps:
1. Move to India:
Okay, maybe Coursera headquarters doesn't need to physically relocate to the Indian subcontinent, but I'd recommend a mental move. The center of higher ed excitement between now and 2050 will be in the emerging economies.
India is my preferred focus, as there is absolutely no way that a campus based, state run, bundled model of postsecondary services will come anywhere near in meeting demand. India will do in higher education what it did in mobile phones, it will leapfrog. Coursera has the opportunity to invest significant dollars in new models of higher education in India and the other emerging economies.
Coursera can build a brand of trusted education services and credentials at the very moment when the resources being directed at post-secondary education are set to explode. Coursera can figure out how to align its educational services with the needs (and the ability to pay) of the world's emerging middle class. Seen in this light, the World Bank investment in Coursera makes perfect sense. Probably the most effective investment the Bank could make in expanding opportunities through education throughout the world.
2. Build a Dedicated Mobile Team:
My hope is that Coursera has a long runway before the investors expect to realize any returns. I'd push for Coursera to make a big bet that the majority of post-secondary education in emerging economies will take place on a mobile platform. More students will be learning on smart phones than on a campus. Mobile learning will account for the majority of post-secondary revenues in India, Africa, and parts of South America and East Asia.
Coursera should break out its mobile team to be separate from its existing developers and platform group. Perhaps have this group locate in India, or Brazil, or Nairobi. Pursue a relentless focus on creating a high quality university experience on a mobile device. Think about ways to offer and monetize credentials all through the phone. This will involve creating student information systems (SIS) and transcript services that are compatible with mobile capabilities. Pursue as many partnerships with existing post-secondary institutions as possible to offer free and low-cost courses on smart phones.
3. Invest in Alternative Credentialing Regimes:
We should not assume that the factors present in the U.S. that have pushed the prices of Coursera courses to zero will exist in emerging economies. Credentialing is the obvious area where a rapidly growing post-secondary system could adopt a structure very different from what exists in the U.S.
Coursera should be actively pursuing an agenda around alternative credentialing, and planning to charge for classes that carry that certification. As with my other two arguments above I see the clearest path forward is amongst the world's emerging middle-income countries.
How would you recommend that Coursera invest the $43 million?