The goal of online learning website Coursera is to connect leading names in academia with online students. But as technical skills become more important to employers, the company, one of the biggest online learning platforms globally, has turned to technology companies—Google, Instagram, and Snapdeal to name a few—to help inform students.
Here’s how it works: Students pursue specialized online certificates through Coursera, with curricula designed by universities. In some technical areas like data science or mobile cloud computing, the students can enroll in what Coursera calls a ‘capstone’: a skill-building project to culminate their studies, some of which are done in partnership with a tech company.
For example, through Coursera’s program, which it officially announced yesterday, the University of Maryland and Vanderbilt University offer a mobile cloud computing project, or capstone, with Google. The project involves creating an Android app. Google reviews the top peer-graded apps and considers featuring the best ones in the Google Play store. While the partnership wouldn’t result in jobs at Google for Coursera students, it contributes to educating high-quality developers, a Google representative told Quartz.
Some capstones offer students more direct access to companies. Through an entrepreneurship capstone designed by the University of Maryland, for instance, some students will pitch their ideas to seed funders. In another, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger will provide feedback to interaction design students.
Especially in technical fields, the hands-on experience allows students to apply theory and mathematics to real life, says Roger Peng, an associate professor of biostatistics at Johns Hopkins and one of its Coursera data science professors. And for international students—about a third of Coursera’s students live in emerging economies, according to a Coursera spokeswoman—the capstones can offer practical experience with companies in new markets.
At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school, its business foundations specialization offers an entree for online students who want to earn a full-time Master’s degree. The capstone allows business owners to complete a project with music-pairing service Shazam or Indian e-commerce site Snapdeal. In some ways, it’s a boiled-down version of a more intensive program offered for full-time Wharton students, says Anne Trumbore, the business school’s director of online learning initiatives. The shorter Coursera program is more digestible for online learners, she adds, and Wharton will waive the application fee for the 50 best projects, and provide up to five $20,000 scholarships to admitted students who had completed their specialization.