The “Competitive Intel” Transcript – Episode 37 – Case Study: Coursera: Understanding Market Disruptions

Authored bycascade

This is a transcript of the CI Life Podcast, Episode 37. If you’d rather listen to the podcast, click here.


Sean Campbell: Welcome to another episode of CI Life. In this episode, we’re going to talk a little bit about a site that you may not have heard of.  The site is Coursera.

Given how important it is for CI professionals and Market Intelligence professionals, and really any business professional to stay on top of things and expand their education, we thought we’d talk about it.

Scott, you and I are both pretty big fans of it. We’ve both taken courses on it and have evangelized it. They probably should give us a commission, I think at this point, for how much we’ve talked about it.

Scott:  Yeah, it’s a pretty interesting thing. Coursera, so the word “course,” R‑A. C‑O‑U‑R‑S‑E‑R‑A.

The idea behind Coursera is they have partnered with I don’t know how many universities it is at this point ‑‑ dozens, maybe approaching 100 ‑‑ and the idea is that universities run courses on here; 6 week courses, 8 week courses, 10 week courses. It’s a regular university professor, so University of Maryland, Princeton, University of Geneva…

Sean:  Right. It’s places you’ve heard of.  It’s not Phoenix University, no offense to Phoenix University graduates, right?

Scott:  Right.  University of London, international programs…I’m just looking at the list. They run a regular college course on here, so there might be a statistics course on Coursera taught by a Princeton prof, and it has 70,000 people signed up.

Sean:  Now, not all of the students are fully active, I might add. Not all of them are full time students per se, but even if you assume some massive percentage drop‑off, that’s way more than can fit in your typical lecture hall.

Scott:  Well, and the advantage is, that’s fine.

Sean:  Right.

Scott:  The profs expect that only maybe 10 percent of the students are really, really engaged, and other people are just picking and choosing from that course, a la carte, what’s going to be interesting, useful, whatever to them.

Because there’s about three hours of lecture a week for a course, plus there’s assignments if you want to do them, plus there’s quizzes, and plus there’s forums. If you want to even go beyond what the course covers, the forums have…with 70,000 people registered, you can imagine the forums are pretty active. Just about any question you have on the topic generally gets a pretty good answer.

Sean:  Also, don’t be dismissive of it just because it lacks the capabilities of a complete college campus. It’s not trying to be that.  In fact Coursera is actually trying to be quite disruptive.

Scott:  But it’s going to be pretty disruptive to colleges. I mean, what’s the difference, really, between a 70,000 macroeconomics course ‑‑ 70,000 student macroeconomics course ‑‑ on Coursera, versus a macroeconomics 101 course on campus, where you’re sitting in an auditorium with 700 other students?

Sean:  One of the thing that we both imagine is going to happen at some point is that core college courses, the so called 100 and 200 level courses only be offered online, thereby leaving room for the so‑called 300 and 400 level, to be more specialized.  And perhaps you’ll be able to continue to change a large amount for these courses.  But I think the days of a standard credit hour rate for all of the courses that are offered on a college campus are over.  If not today, certainly in the near future.  We’re going to see a bifurcated pricing model.

But getting back to what a Coursera course is, you have videos, you have as you mentioned a discussion forum, you have in many cases the presentation files available. You have assignments that you have to do.

In many cases, these are very similar, if not identical, to the same course flow an instructor would use in a regular classroom.

Scott:  Yeah, absolutely.

Sean:  Yeah. I think the only quality thing we’ve seen is, without mentioning courses in specific, is that quality is truly all over the map. From the prof who’s trying to teach you history with a cat on his lap, etc.. On the other hand, you are getting access to the thoughts and the thinking behind these various academic and professional topics, and it’s pretty powerful in that way, when you think about what you’re connected to.

So let’s talk a little bit about some of the courses that we’ve seen have some strengths.

Scott:  Yeah, yeah. I’m just looking at a list of courses now. This is all interesting, but what does it matter for competitive intelligence?

Well, some of the courses are Operations Management, Data Science, Model Thinking, Intro to Finance, Competitive Strategy, New Models of Business in Society, International Organizations Management, Markets with Friction, Design Thinking for Business Innovation.

The list goes on and on and on for MBA‑style curriculum that’s available, and that’s just…think of it as one track. If you’re interested in psychology or photography or whatever, that’s fine too and they’ve got those kinds of things.

But just around business, the wealth of courses here is pretty shocking, and I don’t know if we’ve said it out loud. They’re free.

Sean:  Right, that’s the other thing.

Scott:  They’re completely, 100 percent free, so you can just have a lecture play in the background or off to the side while you’re working or doing something else, just picking and choosing what’s useful from it.

Sean:  Right, exactly. The thing is, there’s all kinds of utility to this.

This is a great way to refresh your knowledge, and even if you don’t want to see it as the primary way you would learn a subject, why wouldn’t you use it to refresh what you know? At a minimum, it should be good for that.

Scott:  Yeah, and I don’t care what you chose for your foundation. People have to be lifetime learners.

Sean:  Right. Absolutely.

Scott:  Especially around intelligence, analysis, strategy…it’s a lifetime learning business.

Sean:  Right, and you get jacked into the university model, and there are pros and cons about it. They call it the “Ivory Tower” for a reason, right?

But the reality is it’s also the place where a good degree of innovation happens, so why not plug yourself into a competitive strategy course and that particular professor’s bent is maybe more about game theory and its application, and he talks about how game theory has evolved over the last decade or so, and perspectives on it.

Or the same thing with finance or legal issues or macroeconomic issues. It’s something that I hope we even see associations do a little more, in terms of offering these kinds of courses, because I think it’s a platform that makes a lot of sense for that kind of stuff.

Scott:  Yeah. In some ways I think we’re on the verge of kind of a Golden Age in education. It’s certainly going to be democratized. If you think about it, how many different macroeconomics courses does the planet need?

The excuse for not having some of the stuff that’s foundational knowledge, it’s going to be harder to make excuses when a full college curriculums is just kind of sitting there.

Sean:  Right, exactly. That’s one of the compelling arguments that’s been made, is that if there’s 10,000 biology 101 courses, can’t we just focus on maybe the one or two that are actually really good? Even if you’re not saying everyone will attend those, at least make those visible to people so that other people can look at it, borrow from it appropriately, those things.

I guess in the end, to your point, CI is about lifelong learning. In the same way investigative journalism is inspired by some of the ability to learn about a market or an area, it’s the same thing here.

We see it as a great tool, and I think with that we should probably wrap up and let folks get back to work, and let them sign up for a Coursera course.

With that, we hope you guys join us on a subsequent podcast, and thanks for listening.


By: Sean Campbell
By: Scott Swigart

Home » Blog Posts » The “Competitive Intel” Transcript – Episode 37 – Case Study: Coursera: Understanding Market Disruptions
Share this entry

Get in Touch

"*" indicates required fields

Cascade Insights will never share your information with third parties. View our privacy policy.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.