Coursera announced this week the addition of a Career Services department for students in the organization.  According to the website, students who opt-in for the program will submit a resume and other information to the site, which will be viewable by selected partner companies.  From Andrew Ng, one of the founders of Coursera:

This is a relatively uncontroversial business model that most of our university partners are excited about.

Controversy is in the eye of the viewer, so Ng’s quote may or may not be accurate depending on the onlooker.  That said, many in the educational field (here, here and here, to name a few) have openly wondered how MOOCs will make money (in part to provide ROI for the venture capital backing them), so movements toward a revenue stream deserve more than lip service.Career services are not new to MOOCs; according to the article, Udacity already has a pilot career services program (though it reads that the organization sought out students to put into the career services and not vice-versa).  This would seem win-win for students and developers:  MOOCs can make money from the employer and not the student, and the student gets the benefit of introduction to paying jobs (and potentially a direct use of the skills developed through courses).  A few things to look at as time progresses, however:

  1. A great deal of the business model of MOOCs is built on data mining.  On the education side, this is defined as learning analytics, the use of data to determine not only competencies and progression, but deficiencies and potential approaches to gap problems.  The data exists for innumerate uses, however, and on the business side, selling student info to companies is uncharted water.  This would be illegal in regulated higher education; career services at Local College or State University must abide by FERPA. How MOOCs, a public/private partnership, go forward in this realm will be interesting.  As of now, there is no credit for the courses, so perhaps that is how FERPA is not applicable, but Ng is quoted in this article as saying he believes Coursera’s greatest financial opportunity will be in selling certificates for completed courses.  
  2. Stephen Downes, one of the scholars behind the original MOOC iteration (which is still going strong, mind you), the cMOOC, saw learning through a distributed network of disparate information, and the fact that information was networked through the guise of the learner was as integral a part to the learning as anything.  This was important in the design of cMOOCs because it mirrored the learning, information and networking people would find outside of college walls…the Internet is not one-stop shopping, but a place of search.  The xMOOC looks much more like an LMS in the same way a professor at Local College or State University would use Blackboard to ferry assignments and content to their students.  Education scholars and researchers are already concerned about MOOCs as intraweb learning, and the addition of Career Services makes the specific MOOC system itself a more important space.
  3. To that end, how MOOCs will make money to sustain the system remains a mystery.  At present, students get a free service of coursework with professors at top-rated universities, although they do not receive the course credit as a registered student at the physical location would receive.  Coursera has a number of potential ideas on how to make money, but are uncertain of how they will do it exactly.  This mirrors the infancy of Facebook, a free service for students who over time became the product rather than the user.  Will MOOCs, in a quest for profit, relegate their students to product rather than users?