Friday, September 28, 2012

Coursera Placement Services

(Post by Mark Lewis, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Trinity University)

I haven't finished the second week of course material for my Coursera course, but something just came into my inbox that I felt warranted an immediate post. Below is an e-mail from Coursera about placement services. It makes sense. This is one of the possible options for services like Coursera and Udacity to make money.
Hello Mark Lewis,

Thanks for enrolling in Functional Programming Principles in Scala! At Coursera, we want to help you achieve your goals, whether those goals include finding a job or just learning something new. On that note, we're piloting out a free job placement service to connect you with great professional opportunities. If you would like to participate, click here ( to complete the Placement Services settings page and opt-in to the service. After you opt-in, we will share your resume and other information you provide, with a small number of carefully selected partner companies and allow them to introduce themselves if there’s a match. 

In order to give you more control, we will not share any of your contact information with employers beyond what you choose to provide in your resume, personal website or social-network profiles. Finally, you will always have control over whether or not your information is shared with employers and you can use the opt-in field on the Placement Services settings page to opt-in or out at any time. In this early stage of the pilot, most job opportunities will be US based and your course performance can only be shared for a few selected courses. However, we will offer a broader number of opportunities and include more courses as we expand the service.

We're excited to connect you with great companies and new opportunities as we develop this service! If you'd like to participate, opt-in here! (

Andrew Ng, Daphne Koller and the Coursera Team
I feel that this should bother traditional schools on two fronts. The lesser front is that this could be something that truly sustains MOOCs to make them viable for the long term. Of course, being viable in the long term doesn't matter if traditional colleges retain a significant edge in value that makes people want to attend them. The more significant aspect of this, in my opinion, is that if MOOCs prove to be useful to both employers and to students in making the connection between them and finding jobs for people, it will turn them into a serious threat to traditional colleges.

I know that many of my colleagues at small, liberal arts schools like to tout the benefits of being a well-rounded, well-educated individual. Many look down on the idea that college is about getting jobs. However, they have to consider the cost of college and how much monetary value people place on being well-rounded and well-educated. I believe that there are few people in the US who can afford to value those qualities much above $10-20k in and of themselves. Given that college typically costs 10x that much, the reality is that people pay for college because they see it an investment in their futures. That investment pays off when they get better, higher paying jobs. If you take away the job benefits of college, only a small, elite subset of the population would continue to pay for college. That subset is far smaller than the number of students that need to be attending colleges for the current number of institutes of higher education to survive.

So the reality is that if most of the faculty in the US want to actually keep their jobs, they need to also appreciate the fact that they are imparting skills, qualities, and abilities in their students that do help them to get better jobs. That is a big part of what students and parents are paying for.

If the MOOCs can demonstrate the ability to hook students up with employers in a broad and general way, I believe that is when they become true competition for traditional higher education. At that point it doesn't matter if they are lacking many of the aspects that we value in traditional higher education. The MOOCs don't have to be a copy of the current model, they just have to provide similar benefits because when you get down to it, that is what people are really paying for. If they can provide similar benefits while costing between nothing and a tiny fraction of the cost of college, they have a remarkable edge.

I would really like to hear if people doing other MOOCs with Coursera or Udacity have gotten similar letters. I acknowledge that I might be getting this mainly because I am signed up for a MOOC in Computer Science. It might be that other fields aren't getting this type of treatment yet. If you have taken a MOOC, please comment and let me know.

I will close with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek third threat that this poses, the possibility of luring away faculty from normal colleges. Of course, professors become professors for a reason. We love what we do. Our job has its own special rewards that are simply impossible to find in other fields. However, as my first post indicated, I think that one of the great strengths of MOOCs, as they currently stand, is in the area of continuing education. I feel like faculty should be some of the most likely people to utilize that service. How many job offers can a professor be given before at some point he/she decides to try out doing something different?