Netflix-style unlimited subscriptions at Coursera?

This morning, I logged into Coursera with the intention on doing some work on a programming course I’ve been working on. Was hoping to finish the course in the week before a much anticipated and needed summer vacation.

On logging in, I encountered a new banner at the top of the screen:

Intrigued, I clicked, and found this.

There is no “Read More” button here to find more, so I don’t know if there is any fine print.  The only way to find out more is to sign up for a free 7 day trial.

On the surface, it seems to be billing itself as unlimited access to the full course catalogue. It also indicates a price of $66 CDN per month after the trial period. At current exchange rates, this would translate to $52 USD per month, so I’m assuming based on price equivalents in other courses that the US price would be an even $50 USD per month.

This seems to be a step beyond the previous model, launched in the fall of 2016. That move introduced subscriptions for specializations. A specialization in Coursera is a set of courses related to a common discipline and usually totaling around 6 months of class time. Think the equivalent of taking a year-long university course on a topic. Prior to fall 2016, courses were paid for individually, with perhaps a volume discount for those who paid for a whole specialization at once. Since fall of 2016, the move has been toward subscribing, monthly, to a specialization, until the subscription is cancelled or the program is completed.

https://blog.coursera.org/introducing-subscriptions-for-specializations/

Previously though, subscriptions would be to one specific specialization, and subscribing to multiple specializations would mean paying for each individually. What I am seeing advertised now is more of a blanket Netflix-style buffet subscription to the whole course catalogue.

Oddly, I’m not seeing anything about this on the Coursera blog.

I pinged Coursera on Twitter to see if they have anything more to say. I’ll update here if I hear anything. I also can’t see anything else written anywhere on the internet. I suspect, as a long time regular user of the platform that I may be on the early wave of the rollout or part of a pilot test.

However, if this is indeed the direction Coursera is going, this is very exciting news.  This sort of general subscription model is popular across a range of other types of content like music (Xbox music, Spotify, Apple Music) and video/TV (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu). Subscription to a library of online courses seems like a logical step.

In fact, this is already the case with services like Lynda.com (in the process of rebranding as LinkedIn Learning. LinkedIn Learning is $26 a month with an annual subscription in Canada.

That’s a little less than half what Coursera seems to be settting as a price. However, it’s a bit of an apple and oranges. LinkedIn Learning / Lynda courses are usually pretty basic instruction, a few hours of video tutorials and no graded assignments but some simple exercises you can follow along with. It’s kind of the equivalent of a webinar. There is also no learner-instructor or learner-learner interactions available.

Coursera courses on the other hand tend to be more of a substantive course. There are graded assignments (in some courses, very demanding ones), the courses are longer (4-6 weeks with 1-2 hours of lecture content per week), and there are discussion forums to help scaffold learning. A full access to the Coursera catalogue is a larger thing, and it makes sense that it would be more.

The interesting thing to see will be how well this is received. Doubtless Coursera is collecting lots of data to drive their decision-making on new models of payment. And their revenues have been rising at a steep rate during the past few years.

I can see a lot of intriguing applications of this.

  • For someone who is serious about continuing professional development, this could be a pretty good deal. $66 ($50 USD) a month is about $2 a day, about the cost of a cup of coffee. Put another way,  it’s comparable to a gym membership, but for your mind. Or, alternatively, about $800 a year. 1 – 2% of annual income if you have a decent job; not an unreasonable amount to invest in yourself if you want to keep sharp.
  • It’s also low enough that a company could offer a subscription as a perk to employees to help them keep skills sharp.
  • Conceivably, a government could pay for a subscription temporarily as part of employment insurance or welfare.
  • Finally, the price is pretty reasonable for someone between jobs to take a concentrated crash course of study to skill up.

All in all, if this is in fact the path Coursera is generally planning to take, this is pretty exciting development for the world of MOOCs and online training in general.

More on this as information becomes available.

EDIT:

(July 10, 2017) The learner help page at Coursera seems to confirm that this is planned as a broad rollout eventually.

(October 1, 2017) Discovered that Coursera is more generally offering subscription access to businesses for employee learning and development. $400 USD / person / year.
https://www.coursera.org/enterprise