Coursera’s Lesson For K-12 Online Learning

Recently, we wrote about the growth and support of open educational resources and their potential for the classroom.  Coursera – an online learning education service offering free access to world class courses from some of the top universities — recently announced backing from venture capital firms. The site itself looks exciting, but what’s even more exciting is the lesson it might offer for K-12 online programs. Will they learn?

Online Learning Lessons from Coursera

"Addition and subtraction practice is so much more fun now – next up Marketing 101!"

Coursera’s Edge

Coursera boasts 56 online courses – some underway, others beginning soon — from big names in higher education like Princeton University, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Most courses last four to twelve weeks long, and like real college courses they promise discussions with classmates and professors, textbooks – some digital, homework and tests.

We think what makes Coursera standout is its relationship with top education brands.  The power of a private university brand – especially the Ivy League — is substantial with double the price tag of average public universities.  The brand backing of an Ivy powerhouse can be the deciding criteria for high school seniors.

How Can K-12 Online Learning Programs Benefit?

Coursera’s model — leveraging an established brand to build its own – seems like a no brainer for K-12 online learning and education programs. Unlike the Ivys – with generations of innovators and achievers in their annals – K-12 online courses and education programs haven’t been around long enough to build their brand.

Perhaps an up-and-comer in online learning can benefit from a partnership with an established K-12 brand and provide a tried-and-true online learning solution.  The K-12 brand would be able to capitalize on its strength, and the K-12 brand could grow its own brand in parallel.  The result would be an e-learning front runner with an established track record – something hard to find.

It will be difficult for Coursera to strike a balance between leveraging the Ivy brand and not upsetting the value proposition offered by its new partners.  But if Coursera can straddle the line, we’ll certainly see something similar soon for K-12 programs.

- Harry

5/3/12 – UPDATE:  Shortly after posting about Coursera, EdX announced partnerships with Harvard and MIT.  More at the Washington Post.