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5/8/2013
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Coursera Tests New Textbook Partnerships

Coursera teams with publishers to offer some free textbook content to students enrolled in online classes.

 8 MOOCs Transforming Education
8 MOOCs Transforming Education
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Massive open online course (MOOC) company Coursera today announced a pilot program with several education publishers, who will make some of their e-textbook content free to students while they take an online Coursera class.

The pilot marks the first time Coursera has worked with publishers this way. Up until now, Coursera has avoided requiring students to pay for textbooks, in line with its goal of making its classes free to a mass audience.

But Coursera has always recognized that students could benefit from using high-quality material, company co-founder Daphne Koller told InformationWeek in a phone call. Moreover, the move will lift a "really significant burden" from instructors who want to use these textbook sources directly instead of trying to distill ideas for their Coursera classes, Koller said.

[ Recently Coursera announced a set of professional development courses aimed at teachers. Read more at Coursera Online Hub Offers Teachers Development. ]

The publishers will benefit too, according to Koller, because they will gain access to the sort of non-traditional students who tend to take MOOCs. "It provides them with a marketing channel into a population which, by the large, they don't have penetration into."

Koller also predicted that once a class is over, some students may want to buy the textbook, e-textbook or even digital content used during the class. But details and possible discounts for such purchases, including the ability to purchase a "Coursera version" of a textbook, have yet to be worked out with the publishers.

In addition to future sales, another benefit for publishers will be worldwide, anonymized usage statistics from large numbers of students. "We're not giving them identifiable student data, but we can give them usage statistics sliced by demographic data, if we have it," Koller said, noting that this global data will be valuable to the publishers as they refine their current products and design new ones.

Chegg e-reader

Technically, Coursera will leverage the DRM-protected e-Reader from its existing partner Chegg, an online textbook rental company. The Chegg reader has been embedded into the Coursera platform so that after a student signs on, he or she will find a tab with the publisher materials.

Publishers participating in the pilot include Cengage Learning, Macmillan Higher Education, Oxford University Press, SAGE, and Wiley, and Coursera is actively discussing pilot agreements and related alliances with Springer, the company said in a statement. Notably missing from the list is the world's largest educational publisher, Pearson. Without mentioning Pearson or others by name, Koller said she was hopeful about adding publishing partners in the future.

Pressed to guess the percentage of Coursera courses that will make use of publisher e-textbook content within a year, Koller said, "If we manage to get all the publishers we'd like, well over half the courses will end up using [this material]."

Can data analysis keep students on track and improve college retention rates? Also in the premiere all-digital Analytics' Big Test issue of InformationWeek Education: Higher education is just as prone to tech-based disruption as other industries. (Free with registration.)

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