Richard Levin, former president of Yale University, was named head of the online education company Coursera in March. Coursera’s users number in the millions and it was one of the first major players in the MOOC environment.
Find out Levin’s thoughts on Coursera and his plans for the future in this interview from the New York Times. This is just an excerpt, but you can read the full interview over on the New York Time’s website.
Q. Why is the former president of Yale going to a technology company?
A. We may differ in our views. The technology is obviously incredibly important, but what really makes this interesting for me is this capacity to expand the mission of our great universities, both in the United States and abroad, to reach audiences that don’t have access to higher education otherwise.
Q. Yale has not exactly been a mass institution.
A. No, but we were early in the on-line arena, with a venture back in 2000 called All-Learn.
Q. How much did you lose, and why didn’t that spoil this for you?
A. It was too early. Bandwidth wasn’t adequate to support the video. But we gained a lot of experience of how to create courses, and then we used it starting in 2007 to create very high quality videos, now supported by adequate bandwidth in many parts of the world, with the Open Yale courses. We’ve released over 40 of them, and they gained a wide audience.
But Coursera, by being an aggregator and having attracted so many universities, means that the traffic that flows to these courses is far larger. A couple of courses that have been on the Open Yale website we’ve repurposed as Coursera courses this year.
Q. How do you see the landscape of MOOCs — now and going forward?
A. Many schools started in this because they thought they could do something to improve their on-campus experience — by using on-line lectures to give students background, and then have them come in the so-called flipped classroom and have more active engagement with the instructor.
That’s a great thing. But to me that’s like saying that the purpose of movies is to film theater productions. It’s missing the fact that we have a new medium now. Films today don’t look like film versions of stage productions.
You’re now talking about extended student bodies that are numbering in the hundreds of thousands potentially, for most of our partners, whereas their campuses are in the tens of thousands. And within a few years it’s going to be in the millions, per school.
That’s what got me interested. If this were just about the flipped classroom I wouldn’t have decided to take this plunge. I see a completely new set of opportunities opening up for universities — and for individuals.
Q. You’re an economist. How do you get from here to there?
A. Right now courses are free and we’re charging for certification. We think that as the idea of using Coursera courses for professional advancement grows, the numbers seeking certificates will grow. And the price we charge probably can grow, too. A move from $50 or $60 for Signature Track to $100 is certainly imaginable. At $100 a pop, if you had two or three, or five million people. …
Q. When you start charging more, and people expect more from their certificates, won’t differentiation between partners be more of a factor?
A. There’s no doubt that the number of student enrollments — and the capacity to produce revenue — is going to vary across our institutions.
Q. Right now your target audience is not people who want college credits. Do you think that will change?
A. I think there’s going to be innovation in every dimension. You’re going to see some of the Coursera partners offer credit for courses. I think that’s bound to happen.