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Coursera Skills Training Academy for Colleges: Major Implications for the Future

Joseph (Tim) Gilmour

Earlier this month, Coursera announced the launch of a Career Training Academy that will allow colleges and businesses offer entry-level certificates from companies like Meta and IBM in such areas as data analytics, social media marketing and user experience design. This direct-to-institution offering marks a departure from its current approach of marketing courses and programs to individual learners. It provides another highly useful curriculum building block for institutions willing to embrace a different but more promising future.

Coursera’s strategy is to enable colleges to make the Career Training Academy available to their juniors and seniors, allowing them to learn entry-level skills directly connected to high demand jobs. It will be the institution’s choice to offer the certificates as part of their learners’ academic program or as a co-curricular activity. The certificates are in 18 job roles, including information technology project manager and sales development representative. They will take about six to eight months to complete and will be offered fully online.

Coursera believes the Skills Training Academy will have most appeal to independent universities and colleges that don’t have faculty with the subject currency and technical skills needed to build and deliver programming like this.

The development of such offerings is anticipated in our book, Transforming for Turbulent Times and, in particular, the scenario in it on the “Development of Curation and Collaboration by 2030.” There we describe the emerging Knowledge and Learning Ecosystem and, in particular, Knowledge Market Facilitators who will operate very large online platforms that deliver quality learning experiences—courses, badges, certificates, and degrees—at relatively low cost to learners globally. The scenario describes these developments in substantial detail.

Colleges and universities can see these developments as a threat or they can adopt the posture recommended in our book—that of an engaged, innovative learning enterprise. These institutions can envision themselves optimistically as gateways to and curators of exceptional curricular experiences for their learners—some developed internally and others constructed by Knowledge Market Facilitators. There are several ways that these offerings can help colleges and universities become engaged, innovative learning enterprises:

· They enable them to provide their students learning experiences in areas where their faculty does not have the capability and it does not make sense to hire new faculty to develop the offerings. The Coursera Career Academy is a good example of this option.

· They can be offered immediately, greatly reducing the time it takes to bring a program to market.

· They can be technology- and media-rich offerings where the cost of development and maintenance of such experiences at the institutional level is prohibitive.

· They can enable existing faculty to focus on the delivery of learning experiences directly related to the institution’s brand and the support of student learning and well-being.

· They can allow the rapid development of new program areas, enabling the institution to enhance revenue through entry into new and lucrative markets.

· They provide a cost-effective way to enrich curriculum segments, e.g., general education, providing access to world-class faculty and enhanced multimedia and simulation.

· They enable the development of micro credentials in emerging competences at an accelerated pace that cannot be equaled by individual institutions.

We recognize that use of these new approaches is likely to encroach on traditional faculty domains and pose a threat to some. We also believe that their adoption will become essential to institutional vitality in the coming decade. To avoid unnecessary conflict with faculty and staff, we urge institutional leaders to adopt the transformation approach presented in our book or some variant of it, which involves respect for shared governance and meaningful involvement of affected faculty and staff in their selection and implementation.


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