Young businesswoman working overtime at night in her office.  Universities’ current infatuation with Moocs reflects a misguided belief that the internet will make educational content creation a bigger and better business
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Coursera has launched a pay version of its online learning platform for corporate customers, creating a competitor to the universities that have been providing it with downloadable lectures and teaching material.

BNY Mellon, Boston Consulting Group, L’Oréal and Axis Bank are among the early customers for the service, called Coursera for Business, enabling them to access courses tailored for staff training and development.

Coursera has more than 21m registered learners worldwide able to access more than 1,400 courses in dozens of topics from 145 academic institutions including Stanford University, London Business School and HEC Paris.

However, like rivals Udacity, EDX and FutureLearn, Coursera has struggled to monetise this vast customer base, many of whom use the platforms to study for free.

The multibillion-dollar executive education market is an obvious route for these “edtech” businesses to develop. The trouble is that the universities and business schools, whose courses run on their platforms, are also keen to exploit executive education, currently growing at more than 10 per cent a year in revenue terms, according to industry estimates.

Laurent Reich, L’Oréal’s governance and digital learning director, said that his company’s aim was to provide half of its employee development time through digital or self-directed learning.

“We love that the Coursera platform will allow us to provide a breadth of high-quality programmes and a learning experience that our employees can self-select into to drive their own personal development,” he said.

The distribution capabilities of the large online learning platforms have been enough to persuade leading universities to supply them with downloadable lectures and teaching material, known as massive open online courses (Moocs), for free.

However, this symbiotic relationship is likely to come under strain as universities and business schools become more adept at reaching new students digitally and so become less reliant on third-party platforms.

David Lefevre, director of the educational technology unit at Imperial College Business School, said that there was room in the market for a range of delivery mechanisms and that online education providers would serve a niche.

“There is no doubt that Mooc providers are part of the future but they won’t replace the executive education we currently provide,” he said.

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