Sramana: You are making the claim that often people are looking for a specific piece of information and that they do not need to complete an entire course. It is not necessary to complete an entire course just to supplement a specific skill gap.
Gary Matkin: We all have learning projects every day. Those learning projects can be decisions to enter into a degree program that will take you three years to complete or it might be something that takes you 15 minutes to understand like how to prepare a pot roast. All of those learning projects are legitimate, even if they are shallow or momentary. If they have a positive impact on your life, then they are perfectly legitimate responses to human learning desires. That is why universal access is needed. To complete MOOCs with courses that have high completion rates is really missing the point.
Sramana: What prompted your decision to go with Coursera as opposed to edX?
Gary Matkin: At the time edX was going to charge $500,000 for everyone to get in which was completely crazy. Now they have changed their business model, but until recently it required an upfront commitment, which I thought was silly. That is not the case now, but there are still restrictions on what you can do though.
So far the idea of putting more and more MOOCs up is not aligned with our strategy. We want to figure out how we can get the most out of our investment in MOOCs including some sort of income stream. We at least want to see the deposit of public relations. In that regard, Coursera leads edX in terms of the number of people it attracts to its courses.
Sramana: In terms of monetization, it is a revenue sharing arrangement based on proctored certifications?
Gary Matkin: That is the only way we get any money from Coursera.
Sramana: I imagine that money is trivial at the moment?
Gary Matkin: It is relatively small, yes.
Sramana: Do you see that changing in the short term or will it take a long time for that revenue stream to become significant?
Gary Matkin: It is never going to become significant. What I think will become significant is the idea of putting up courses where people can complete a course at a very low cost level and then be introduced to the more expensive courses with a clear path towards a certificate program. You are pushing people into longer learning projects where they have to invest some money into their learning. That is one model that I could see working.