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Coursera Secures $49.5M to Expand Specializations

Update 27th Oct 2015: Coursera announced the participation of EDBI, the dedicated corporate investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board, in its recent Series C financing. The second closing brings Coursera’s total Series C funding to $61.1 million.

Coursera announced today that it has raised $49.5 million in a first closing of its Series C financing, bringing the total amount raised to $134.5 million.The company expects a second closing early in the fall that will bring its total Series C funding to $60 million. The funding will be used to create new Specializations and expand its global reach. Coursera currently boasts 14.7 million learners almost three times bigger than its nearest competitor, edX which recently crossed 5 million learners.

A Specialist in Specializations

Last week, in an article titled The Future of MOOCs as Revealed Through SXSWedu Submissions, we looked at the sessions from MOOC providers that were submitted to SXSWedu 2016 and noticed that they one thing in common: credentials. Coursera is planning to use some of the money to double the number of Specialization offerings this Fall in job-relevant fields in business, technology, and data science, and it recently it announced a Global Skills Initiative to bring top universities and companies together to create these Specializations. Given the fact that Coursera is currently the second most cited certificate issuer on LinkedIn (after Microsoft), this seems to be a clear direction for growth.

MOOC-based credentials like Coursera Specializations and Udacity Nanodegrees (expected to grow from 6 to 36 by the end of 2016) have the potential to allow millions of people to enhance their careers through high-quality skill-building. But for most learners and employers, the value of earning these credentials is uncertain–it is a chicken-and-egg problem of reputation & results. To help address this issue, we at BestCerts just launched a new initiative where users can view these credentials and read user reviews from others who are actually enrolled in these programs, to help them decide if that credential is right for them. Visit our Credentials page to learn more.

If you’re looking to gain industry-relevant skills and produce a robust portfolio of projects that demonstrate your capabilities, then online credentials are THE way to do it… with a price that makes sense, and a schedule that won’t disrupt your work or personal life.
– Allan Reyes, Co-founder at Crowdcover

Reaching Farther and Wider

Currently, three-quarters of Coursera’s learners are outside the United States, and emerging economies are its fastest growing markets, particularly China and India, the world’s two most populous countries. In China, partnerships with local companies helped Coursera reach more than 1 million Chinese learners (as we recently outlined on TechCrunch: How Coursera Cracked The Chinese Market). In India, Coursera is sure to get a push from its strategic investment from Times Internet (TIL), a media juggernaut, which holds media properties totaling over 6.5 billion monthly page views. TIL will provide marketing, advertising, and strategic support to build awareness of Coursera in India, and so we should expect significant growth there.

Ready to Scale Sustainably?

Thus, we see that Coursera is taking on additional funding to double down on its current business strategy. We know that several of the Specializations have been wildly popular, resulting in a large revenue stream for Coursera and the university partner. But on the whole, are Specializations profitable, and do they represent a business model that can sustain Coursera’s activities? We don’t know the answer to that. But we can guess that indications are probably positive for Coursera to go out and raise additional venture funding and announce major initiatives to expand its Specializations and increase its international penetration. If a company were only running low on cash, it seems unlikely it could convince investors that an even faster pace of expansion (when it is already market leader) is the way to go.

In time, we will see answers to these questions and more. But however things turn out, this is an important time for MOOCs. An immediate result of this news will boost to the effort and resources towards raising awareness of MOOCs and a major increase in the amount of job-relevant content that is on offer. We see this as a good thing for learners, even as we try to figure out the value of these credentials and the best ways to learn online.