Could Mooc Platforms Disrupt Executive Education?

Coursera joins forces with AXA in latest corporate training push

Online learning platform Coursera has partnered AXA, the insurer, to provide skills training for its employees in the latest sign that digital disruptors are muscling into the lucrative market for executive education. 

Business schools earn most of their corn from executive education — short and sometimes customized programs for working managers. But online learning platforms such as Coursera and its competitors, Udemy and edX, increasingly are moving into the corporate training market that Deloitte values at $70 billion. 

Coursera will provide all of AXA’s employees in 64 countries free and on-demand access to 300 courses in a variety of topics like data science, digital marketing and leadership. AXA will also explore creating custom content on the Coursera platform.

Rino Piazzolla, AXA group head of human resources, said: “Our industry is undergoing rapid transformation. Providing direct access to the best academic knowledge will help our employees drive this transformation and give them an opportunity to manage their learning curve and enhance their skillsets.”

AXA is the latest company to join Coursera for Business, the company’s enterprise unit, which it launched in 2016. Over the past year, Coursera for Business has been adopted by more than 90 enterprise and government customers including L’Oreal, Danone and JP Morgan Chase. Overall, Coursera has 26 million registered learners, 2,000 courses and four online masters degrees. 

Other online learning platforms have also targeted businesses as they scramble to generate revenue; Udemy for Business counts as its clients PayPal, Lyft and Volkswagen. 

This has put them into direct competition with business schools’ executive education outfits, which have been slow to adapt to technology. Kai Peters, former CEO of executive education specialist Ashridge Business School, which merged with Hult International Business School said: “There are indeed new competitors coming from a variety of sources.”

James Henderson, head of innovation the business school IMD, added: “Business schools that don’t continue to develop their digital offering can be supplanted by these new players.”

The disruptors have raised billions of dollars in venture capital and have made eye-catching announcements aimed at claiming a greater portion of the online learning market. Udacity, for example, recently guaranteed its learners jobs or said it would refund their tuition costs. 

But the companies, which first began offering free Moocs — massive open online courses, which are hampered by low completion rates — have yet to find a dominant business model. Many have opted for a “freemium” model in which they offer users the chance to pay for certificates of course completion. Coursera last year launched a Netflix-style system where users pay a monthly fee and get content to binge on in return.

Although they originally feared that online learning platforms could eat their lunch, business schools increasingly are teaming up with the disruptors as they seek to gain a toehold in the market for online learning. The UK’s Open University, for instance, lets Mooc takers earn academic course credit towards an MBA degree. 

However, Dr David Butcher, director of executive programs at Cranfield School of Management, said: “The challenge for business schools is to have a distinctive offer that cannot be replicated by non-business school providers.” 

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