Education

Elite Colleges began using EdX as a non-profit alternative to Coursera. How is it doing?

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It was 2012, and online learning suddenly flourished.Course in Stanford And in with Online is open to the masses for free, and the masses sign up to participate-some courses attract more than 160,000 people per course.In the hype, two competing entities were established within a few weeks: one of them was Coursera, a for-profit startup stand by The most well-known investors in Silicon Valley claim that they are building a $1 billion company, which, as venture capitalists say, is a rare “unicorn.” The other is edX, a non-profit organization funded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. The provost and president of the university talk about bringing elite education to the world.

Nearly 10 years later, Coursera has actually become a unicorn, with a valuation far exceeding the $1 billion mark, and in March Start trading on the New York Stock Exchange As a listed company. Of any MOOC provider, it has the most users (sometimes called large online courses), claiming to have more than 77 million learners. It is the richest, with nearly three-quarters of cash in the bank, and annual revenue of approximately US$260 million.

In comparison, how does edX perform?

“EdX is like an unreachable second place,” said Dhawal Shah, the founder of Class Central, an online course catalog that also provides analysis on the industry.

On the one hand, edX has 35 million users, less than half of Coursera. It offers fewer courses than Coursera—in 2020, edX lists 3,090 courses, while Coursera lists approximately 4,600 courses. According to Shah’s analysis, it generates much less revenue-about $50 million per year, which is about five times less than Coursera.The year-end data published in the course report comes from edX with Coursera.

But edX has made very different decisions from Coursera, and these decisions are consistent with edX’s non-profit status. On the one hand, edX makes its platform open source, which means that anyone can access the computer code. edX is more open to university researchers who want to use aggregated anonymous data from the platform to conduct research.

To be clear, both Coursera and edX are growing-in fact, the use of both is accelerating during the pandemic, which some experts say is a sign Another MOOC momentBoth offer very similar products and earn most of their income by offering technology-related courses People who already have a college degree.

The problem is that considering “Network effect“-The more users a network system has, the more useful it is. Although there is competition In internet searchFor example, Google has a 92% market share, while its closest competitor, Microsoft’s Bing, has only 2%.

Since Coursera and edX both improve their course platforms by analyzing the overall behavior of students, will the same thing happen in the MOOC field?

“it [can] Create this cycle that naturally leads to a winner-takes-all,” said Phil Hill, a long-time educational technology consultant.

Disadvantages of openness?

Colleges and universities often brag about their non-profit status and place it above the profit motives of the private sector, while edX and its members tout the academic culture they bring to the course platform.

The decision to make edX open source reflects this spirit. The non-profit organization brags about its openness when trying to recruit university partners (it has about 133 partners, and Coursera has more than 200).

“Universities and colleges don’t have to worry about lock-in,” said Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, who has been a leader in non-profit organizations since the beginning. He added that this means that universities know at all times that they can study courses and materials on their own and manage them on their own.


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However, open source architectures generally move more slowly because community members can weigh changes.

“EdX is open source, and they may not be able to make changes as quickly as possible,” Shah said. “They have a different set of stakeholders, and Coursera does not.”

As a for-profit organization backed by venture capital, Coursera was able to raise more funds, and the rate of raising was faster than edX, even though edX started with $30 million from Harvard and MIT. Facts have proved that in software development and the establishment of partnerships, courses and marketing, funding is the key to building a technology platform. (To be fair, the founders of Coursera, who are professors at Stanford University, also see their mission as open education. They initially considered becoming a non-profit organization-but Decided to raise funds this way would be more difficult.)

Hill said the result is that Coursera’s software may not be as versatile or versatile, but it is easy to use. “Go to edX and look at the platform for creating courses there-it’s both cumbersome and difficult,” he added. “You can argue that because of this, you get some more mature course designs, but this is not the same as scalability.”

Strategic showdown

Hill said the two entities also took very different approaches in terms of strategy.

For Coursera, the goal of listing has been around for a long time. In 2017, the company hired a person with no educational background. have experience Acquired a fintech company through an initial public offering. CEO Jeff Maggioncalda streamlined Coursera’s products and developed a strategy to grow in a way that helps increase revenue. In March of this year, Maggioncalda, who is still leading Coursera, helped ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange to commemorate the company’s completion of its IPO.

At the same time, EdX’s strategy is to “throw pasta on the wall,” Hill argued. “They have never been very strategic. They just do more, but never focus. As far as strategy is concerned, this is the story of the two companies.”

Sean Gallagher, Executive Director, Center for Future Higher Education and Talent Strategy, Northeastern University Author of a book Regarding the future of certificates, he said he also believes that edX “find a business model much later.” At the same time, he was impressed, he said “Coursera’s execution and expansion.”

Agarwal, the CEO of edX, has a different view.

“I’m not sure what you mean by far second,” he said, refuting the argument that the distance between edX and Coursera is increasing. “We measure ourselves based on the results-based on the results of how many people we have affected.”

He portrayed edX as an innovator in the field, the first company to provide what he called “stackable credentials.” An example of his meaning is edX’s “Miniature master“The course allows students to study a small part of a master’s degree program online to obtain a certificate, and then they can choose to apply in person to complete a complete master’s degree. It runs Micro-Bachelor and also.

“Our North Star has always been a reimagining of education,” Agarwal said. “Obviously, competitors who are targeting an IPO have to change their strategy to become more business-minded – or change their approach to focus on things that might get better in certain markets.”

Agarwal believes that most of edX’s work is out of academic missions rather than bottom lines, such as opening the platform to researchers. “Needs effort [to work with researchers], And there is no return on investment of money-so this is a labor of love,” he said. “This is very important to our partners. “

Where does edX hope to go next?

“As far as our strategy is concerned, we will redouble our efforts to increase the number of visits,” Agarwal said.He pointed out that edX remains committed to providing free versions of its courses and continues to develop low-cost degrees, such as $10,000 Master of Data Science It was developed jointly with the University of Texas at Austin.

A few universities are collaborating with edX and Coursera.

One of them is the University of Michigan, where the associate provost for innovation James DeVaney said that the competitive spirit between edX and Coursera has promoted the “refinement and focus” of both.

“They are not the same platform, which may be a good thing,” he said. He thinks there is room for both.

Finally, both edX and Coursera need to make their college and university partners happy to win long-term success, because their contracts with their partners will expire.

“As each of these organizations defines their next stage of growth,” DeVaney concludes, “provide the clearest evidence that they are strengthening the company or organization [universities] In the long run, in addition to bringing a very learner-centric approach to the market, it will also win the favor of many university partners. “

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