For the world’s largest MOOC broader is better

Last week, I kicked off a series on education technology with an interview with Sebastian Thrun, CEO of Udacity.

Daphne Koller who co-founded and is the co-CEO of Coursera, by some measures the largest of the for-profit educational technology companies offering massive open online courses or MOOCs with over five million students across most countries, has much in common with Thrun, Forbes reports.

They both were foreign-born Stanford professors with backgrounds in artificial intelligence when they started the companies they currently lead. Each has also taken a leave of absence from Stanford in order to pursue their current opportunities.

Though their companies compete, they have chosen very different areas of focus. Udacity, like several other companies that provide MOOCs has chosen to focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses.

Coursera has chosen a much broader offering, including many disciplines in the humanities. This breadth of offering has been a strength of the company in building a broad student-base, and it has signed up over 60 universities as partners.  That said, it has required particularly creative approaches both process and technology-wise in order to facilitate learning, collaboration, and grading.

Koller admits that some of the data surrounding MOOCs might suggest that students are not learning as much as they could, as drop-out rates are substantial, but she argues that new metrics are needed in order to determine success or failure.

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