Research Outline

Financial Impact of Unbundled Learning by Universities


To understand the financial impact that unbundling learning opportunities, i.e. coursera, udemy, futurelearn, and EdX, have had on higher education in universities.

Early Findings

  • Unbundling and rebundling are terms that have become more widespread in the last few years in higher education, but their original source is the banking industry. Recently, these concepts have become realities in higher education when state funding for education is decreasing, higher education tuition is increasing in many parts of the world, and student numbers and demographics are changing. In higher education, this dynamic has been driven primarily by financial motivations, and spearheaded by the for-profit sector, with pedagogical motivations through its emphasis on personalisation and employability.
  • To be entirely transparent, it is quite to measure massive open online courses (MOOCs) against each other with a wide variety in difficulty, format, length, and credit that no two MOOCs are alike. College Consensus is instead organizing by a simple, objective criteria how many MOOCs does a school offer with many offering free online courses.
  • Coursera (2018) made $140 million in estimated revenue with its 4300 courses, of which $100 million or more because of their consumer-facing massive open online courses business model.
  • A survey by Strada Education of 10,000 Americans suggests over half of respondents, if they had $5,000 to spend on education or training, would seek that learning online.
  • Before Covid-19 the bulk of Coursera’s revenue came from individuals buying courses, i.e. technology, data science and business. The launch of Coursera for Business (2015) gained 2,400 businesses worldwide using Coursera to up-skill employees. For degree courses, universities collect 60% of the revenue and Coursera 40%, and on certificate courses, mainly in technology and business subjects, the split is 50%.
  • Over 90% of students around the world saw their schools close as a result of Covid-19, as Coursera's (valued at $1.6 billion) online learning platform has gained 25 million enrollments since mid-March, a 520% increase from the same period last year. In response to the pandemic, the company is offering thousands of free courses to unemployed workers and university students worldwide for a limited time.
  • EdX’s revenue grew to $54 million (2016), but the provider consistently spends more than it makes. Observers believe the real opportunity for edX to grow lies in online program management business. In October 2018, edX announced plans to launch nine new low-cost, fully online master’s programs from selective institutions, following the successful launch of a cybersecurity master’s degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
  • FutureLearn, like edX, introduced a time limit for free users, and instituted graded assessment behind a paywall that has not generated as much financial gain.
  • Udemy's annual estimated revenue (2019) reached $100 million, a $2 billion dollar valuation, with 50 million students, a catalog of 150,000 courses, and 57,000 instructors.