Coursera Pushes into Unicorn Status After Raising $103 Million


Coursera Pushes into Unicorn Status After Raising $103 Million

By Emily Tate Sullivan and Jeffrey R. Young     Apr 25, 2019

Coursera Pushes into Unicorn Status After Raising $103 Million

Coursera, a global online learning platform that offers courses, certificates and degrees from more than 150 universities, announced Thursday it had secured $103 million in a Series E round to expand its international reach and prepare learners for the rising challenges of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The round was led by Australia-based SEEK Group, which invests in and scales online employment and education businesses; existing investors Future Fund and NEA also participated.

With the new capital, Coursera, which was previously valued at $800 million, is now valued at “well north of” $1 billion, a spokesperson tells EdSurge, bringing the company into unicorn status—a distinction only a handful of education companies have earned. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has now raised a total of $314 million, according to Crunchbase.

Coursera was founded in 2012 by two Stanford University professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, and helped spark widespread hype about MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. The platform currently serves 40 million learners who can choose from 3,200 courses, 310 specializations (the company’s term for certificate programs for taking a series of related courses) and 14 undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The company serves as an unusual for-profit bridge between high-profile colleges and adult learners, especially those in the workforce trying to add to their skills without going back to a campus. All of its courses are developed by partner colleges or educational organizations, while Coursera handles the technology platform, marketing and other support.

Coursera was founded with the promise of opening up education to underserved learners, but some observers have complained that over the years it has shifted to focus primarily on serving the “education haves”—often those who already hold college degrees and who can afford to pay for certificates to further their knowledge in technical fields like computer science.

In the last two years—since Coursera closed a Series D round for $64 million, which allowed it to sell more courses to businesses hoping to upskill their employees—the company has increased its user base by more than 50 percent, from 26 million to 40 million learners.

In an interview with EdSurge, Coursera’s CEO, Jeff Maggioncalda, said the influx of cash will be used to expand its offerings to businesses and governments, which allow the institutions to offer courses from Coursera to their employees as a benefit.

He says that the company expects to form more partnerships like the one it announced a few months ago with Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi School of Government, which it says will serve 60,000 government employers. Already, learners in other countries account for a significant portion of Coursera’s user base—especially those in India, China, Mexico and Brazil. But the company is also looking to establish relationships with employers and governments in other places; he mentioned Singapore and Egypt by name.

“What we’re now starting to see is these open courses are part of a system that is particularly powerful—a system that includes learners, educators and employers,” Maggioncalda says. “Lifelong learning is something that happens. People have to be able to learn at work.”

Linking learners, educators and employers has become increasingly relevant for global economies, he adds. “When you link them together we see a very effective way to make a real difference,” he says. “We’re going to be pushing harder on that.”

Dhawal Shah, founder of Class Central, a search and review site for online courses, believes that Coursera’s latest funding round does not signal major changes ahead, but rather a continuation of what the company has been doing lately: pushing corporate training, scaling its international user base and adding new degrees.

“I think they’ve found this happy balance between keeping the product free and keeping certificates and degrees behind a paywall,” Shah explains.

As Coursera expands its footprint globally, Shah expects its primary customers to be corporate organizations that can afford its business license, which starts at $400 per user per year. As a result, global expansion will most likely happen in tandem with the growth of Coursera’s program for businesses.

“One of the big challenges of online degrees is acquiring customers, acquiring learners,” he says, but “as more and more learners discover corporate training, they may start to ask their employers for it.”

Coursera offers courses and credentials in some of the most in-demand skills and disciplines around the world, including business (1,000 courses), technology (650 courses) and data science (400 courses). Earlier this year, the company launched a new program to address the shortage of skilled workers in the healthcare industry, forged in partnership with universities including Columbia and Johns Hopkins.

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