The mission of massive open online course (MOOC) platform Coursera is to “provide universal access to the world’s best education,” according to its website. Critics are starting to wonder if that mission still holds after Coursera announced it would begin charging fees for a group of courses it calls Specializations.
Coursera offered learners the option of taking a course for free or paying $49 for an identity-verified course certificate upon completion. They could also choose the free version first and add the pay option during the run of the class. Learners taking a Specialization course are still able to choose to view course materials and view-only access to graded assignments for free, but must pay an up-front charge to start or prepay for the entire program for credit.
Last year, Rick Levin, CEO of Coursera, said Specializations would help the company build a sustainable business model. Critics see the shift as the unfortunate but inevitable outcome of a firm satisfying its investors.
“It is dismaying to see the so-called Silicon Valley ‘hypesters’ and geniuses failing to deliver on promised change,” George Siemens of the Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge Research Lab, University of Texas at Arlington, said in a blog post for Inside Higher Ed. “The deep pool of visionary and re-architected future ended up being about as thick as a dollar bill.”