Coursera chief: iMBA a glimpse at future

Coursera chief: iMBA a glimpse at future

URBANA — The "stackable" online degree offered by the new University of Illinois "iMBA" is a harbinger of big changes in graduate education, says the president of the groundbreaking Silicon Valley company partnering with the UI on the effort.

"I think graduate education is about to undergo a massive disruption," possibly within the next four years, said Daphne Koller, the Stanford University professor who co-founded Coursera in 2011.

The list of Coursera partners has grown to include 130 universities that offer MOOCs — massive open online courses — to millions of "learners" around the world. MOOCS initially involved thousands of people signing up for free, non-credit courses, but the company later started offering course "specializations" for a fee and is now moving into degree programs.

The UI recently became the first Coursera partner to use the MOOC platform to offer a full online degree, the iMBA. Students can take it for credit or not, or take it in pieces. A full degree will cost $20,000, a fraction of the cost of the traditional on-campus MBA program.

Koller, who spoke this week at the UI's Siebel Center, said the iMBA is a model for the future, especially for professionally-oriented graduate degrees such as computer science, business and some health fields.

"The world is changing so quickly that skills are constantly evolving," and workers need to update their education, she said.

Coursera's biggest customers, in fact, are people using MOOCs for career advancement — 25-to-35-year-olds taking courses in business, data science or other science and technical fields, she said. Koller cited figures showing that 91 percent of millennials change jobs within three years.

Living on campus isn't really a plus for students who already have jobs and want to further their skills, but current graduate programs don't offer enough flexibility, Koller said.

"If you are employed and have a family and a mortgage and a dog, you can't just pick up your life and go somewhere else. So the opportunity to continue your education, which is becoming increasingly important, in a way that fits into your lifestyle is going to become paramount," she said.

Like the UI, she thinks more schools will offer a broader continuum of options, from traditional, on-campus programs to fully online degrees.

"It is a new world, and everything is going to change, including traditional ranking systems," Koller said. "Some institutions are navigating it better than others."

For colleges generally, she foresees introductory courses for undergraduates being "commoditized," taught mostly online.

"Being 'on campus' is going to become much more about the experiential components — the deeper engagement between an instructor and his or her students, project work, volunteer opportunities, group discussions, things that are actually much higher-value especially in terms of a 21st-century job market," she said.

The second-largest group of learners on Coursera are those hoping to further their educations — many of them in the 18-to-24 age group — fulfilling some course prerequisites or trying out a course for a major, for example.

Koller said MOOCs help universities reach a much more diverse group of students, culturally and economically, and cited several cases of people whose lives were transformed through MOOCs.

They included Sharmeen Shehabuddin, a woman who opened a bakery in Bangladesh with no experience to help a friend avoid being sold into servitude but struggled to make ends meet. She took several business-related MOOCS and now her business supports seven women.

Another case involved a man in Alabama who had won a scholarship to the University of Texas but turned it down to support his family, later got laid off from his job and lost his house, his wife and custody of his daughter. Searching for online college credits, he came across Coursera and enrolled in a MOOC, spurring him to get a degree from Arizona State University.

Koller said it's hard to predict what the online education world will look like in 15 or 20 years, calling today's version "MOOC 1.0."

"I don't think we've even started to scratch the surface," she said.

On course

Breaking down students who take Coursera classes:

40 percent are from emerging economies.

31 percent are form North America, 27 percent from Europe, 27 percent from Asia, 9 percent from Latin America, 4 percent from Africa and 2 percent from Oceania.

30 percent are college age (18-24).

55 percent are employed full time.

75 percent already have a college degree.

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vcponsardin wrote on December 03, 2015 at 9:12 am

What Professor Koller fails to mention is that MOOCs have been proven to be massive failiures at delivering usable content and functional degrees.  Study after study have now shown that traditional teaching far exceeds online education in every measurable metric and that MOOCs rarely provide the genuine education necessary to succeed.  But universities, deperate for cash, are lining up to offer these boondoggles nonetheless.

85BLAZER wrote on December 03, 2015 at 12:12 pm

As someone who recently joined the University's Part-Time MBA program, I feel as if I was ripped off! We werent notified of the launch of the iMBA until we were one semester in, now we cant even transfer credits to the iMBA for a year and half! Yet we pay $60,000 plus for the apparent "benefits" of being in a class room. Class room quality of teaching lacks quality. We are bascially fed the online class work an iMBA would do, and just come to class to hear a professor boast about his personal life, or for a professor to just speed through complicated material and just refer us to go online for more info. Eduation is not what it used to be, and now i will be paying for this for the rest of my life! -- by the way, they dont even have a career fair for MBA students... so much for being on campus.