Following closely on the heels of Udacity, the company founded by Sebastian Thrun, Coursera, another new startup by two other Stanford Professors is offering free college courses online. The aforelinked article notes:
"Mountain View, Calif.-based Coursera is backed with $16 million in funding led by John Doerr at Kleiner Perkins and Scott Sandell at NEA. It has no immediate plans to charge for courses or to make money in other ways."
Making college classes accessible to a large audience is great, and I do support this in principle to a large extent, but I have to say it bothers me that Coursera, like Udacity, is a for-profit private company.
I fear that sooner or later the investors will demand their pound of flesh.
Think about Facebook and Google. They are both free, but ultimately they both make their revenue from advertising. Increasingly they've been driven towards trying to extract more information about their users and exploiting this information for targeted advertising. Similarly, Coursera, for instance, will be able to accumulate quite a lot of information about participants in its courses - their interests, their skills, their strengths and weaknesses in the context of learning and problem solving. Will these be for sale too?