Date: Dec 5, 2012 5:53 PM
Author: Jerry P. Becker
Subject: MOOC's Now Charge Employers for Access to Student Data
From The Chronicle of Higher Education,
Wednesday, December 5, 2012. See
Providers of Free MOOC's Now Charge Employers for Access to Student Data
By Jeffrey R. Young
Providers of free online courses are officially
in the headhunting business, bringing in revenue
by selling to employers information about
high-performing students who might be a good fit
for open jobs.
On Tuesday, Coursera, which works with
high-profile colleges to provide massive open
online courses, or MOOC's, announced its
employee-matching service, called Coursera Career
Services. Some high-profile tech companies have
already signed up-including Facebook and Twitter,
according to a post on Coursera's blog, though
officials would not disclose how much employers
pay for the service. Only students who opt into
the service will be included in the system that
participating employers see, a detail stressed in
an e-mail message that Coursera sent to its
nearly two million past or present students on
Each college offering a course through Coursera
is also given the chance to opt out of the
service-meaning that if a college declines, then
no students in its courses can participate in the
"Some universities are still thinking it through,
so not all have said yes," Andrew Ng, a
co-founder of Coursera, said in an interview on
Tuesday. "I don't think anyone said, 'No now and
no in the
future,'" he added. "This is a relatively
uncontroversial business model that most of our
university partners are excited about."
Udacity, another company that provides free
online courses, offers a similar service. Udacity
works directly with professors to offer courses,
rather than signing agreements with colleges.
Udacity's founder, Sebastian Thrun, said in an
interview that 350 partner companies had signed
up for its job program. While Mr. Thrun would not
say how much employers pay, he characterized the
fee as "significantly less than you'd pay for a
headhunter, but significantly more than what
you'd pay for access to LinkedIn," a popular
social network for job hunters.
"We're more like a headhunter," said Mr. Thrun.
"We go through our database and find people that
seem to be good matches for the openings from
these companies." Udacity says companies using
its job-matching program include Google, Amazon,
Facebook, and several tech start-ups.
In the case of one computer-science course
offered through Udacity, the online students took
the same quizzes and tests as a group of students
enrolled at Stanford University at the same time.
The top 411 students all came from the thousands
of students who took the course online, with the
strongest-performing Stanford student ranking
412th in the final standings, said Mr. Thrun.
(That Stanford student earned a 98-percent score
in the course.)
"There are a huge number of people out there who
are extremely skilled but happen not to have the
Stanford degree," said Mr. Thrun.
How the Coursera Model Works
Coursera said that it had been quietly testing
its career-services system for a few months, but
that it was in place only for courses in software
engineering. Other disciplines will be coming
soon, though Mr. Ng would not say when.
Here's how it works: A participating employer is
given a list of students who meet its
requirements, usually the best-performing
students in a certain geographic area. If the
company is interested in one of those students,
then Coursera sends an e-mail to the student
asking whether he or she would be interested in
being introduced to that company. The company
pays a flat fee to Coursera for each
introduction, and the college offering the course
gets a percentage of that revenue, typically
between 6 and 15 percent.
Mr. Ng noted that Coursera might try other types
of matchmaking arrangements in the future,
depending on how well the current model works for
students and employers.
"Today everyone has access to an infinite source
of résumés, so it's a time-management issue,"
said Mr. Ng. "The question is how many résumés
you need to read to find a candidate you'd like
to speak with. Students who complete and do well
in [Coursera] classes have a very high chance of
being interesting to employers."
Dawn Smith is one student who found a job with
the help of a Coursera course, though she did so
before the company set up its matchmaking
service. Ms. Smith wanted to change careers, so
she took a pharmacology course offered through
Coursera by a University of Pennsylvania
professor. She completed the course-meaning she
scored at least 90 percent on homework and
examinations-and got a certificate, which she
listed on her résumé. And she mentioned the
achievement during a recent interview with the
University of Illinois Hospital and Health
Sciences System Cancer Center, which ended up
hiring her for a job in communications.
"It sort of showed the initiative of wanting to
continue my education," she said.
She said that she would sign up for Coursera's
new career services if she was looking for a job,
but only if she knew that she was going to devote
time to the class and had a good chance of doing
"The biggest question mark," she said, "is if I
do take up that offer and I found myself not able
to complete this, how will that reflect to a
With that type of reluctance in mind, Coursera
gives students the option to show employers
information about them only if they complete a
One Udacity student, Tamir Duberstein, said that
company's job program had helped him land a gig
at Square, a trendy company that lets consumers
submit credit-card payments using smartphones and
tablet computers. He was living in Toronto,
working at a job he didn't enjoy, when he took a
series of computer-programming courses from
Udacity, spending nearly all of his free time on
them. "I got the best possible result in a few of
them," he said.
One day this past summer, Udacity sent him an
e-mail asking whether he'd be interested in
sending in his résumé as part of its job service.
"Once your résumé is received, it will be
prescreened and possibly shared with a few
selected employers with your permission," the
He sent his in, but didn't expect much. "I was
like, What the hell, sure, why not?," he
A few weeks later, he heard first from one tech company and then from Square.
Mr. Duberstein said that the job-interview
process included plenty of technical questions
asking him to prove he had the skills that he had
learned in the Udacity courses. "The point here
is not credentialing," he said. "They quizzed me.
They really were assessing what I know for
Both Coursera and Udacity show employers more
than just student grades. They also highlight
students who frequently help others in discussion
Mr. Thrun, of Udacity, said those "softer skills"
are often more useful to employers than raw
"Problems are never solved in isolation in the
real world," he said. He said that Udacity might
share with an employer someone who has helped 90
to 100 people in discussion forums. "That
specific skill has been a better predictor of
placement success than academic performance," he
Mr. Ng, of Coursera, reported a similar trend.
And frequently the top-performing students also
post the most valuable comments in student
forums, as counted by how many students "vote up"
a comment, or signal that it was helpful by
clicking a thumbs-up button. "Students in the top
10 percent had twice as many up-voted posts in
the student forums as the students not in the top
10 percent," he said.
Coursera has already made its first
introductions, though it has not stated how many,
or whether any led to a job.
Mr. Ng said that the largest source of revenue
will probably come from selling certificates,
rather than such matching. So far the company has
not charged for certificates, but it plans to
start doing so in the coming months.
SIDEBAR: Students and universities can opt out
of Coursera's new employee-matching service.
Andrew Ng, one of the founders of the company,
describes the program as "a relatively
uncontroversial business model that most of our
university partners are excited about." Jemal
Countess, Getty Images
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244