More MOOC Madness? UK’s FutureLearn Raises $65M to Expand Global Footprint
Most investors shy away from bets on companies that provide similar services for an obvious reason: Don’t have one portfolio company that can cannibalize another.
But SEEK Group, an Australian operator of online educational and employment services, has doubled down on massive open online courses. Less than a week after its announced lead in Coursera’s $103 million Series E round, SEEK is at it again with £50 million (about $65 million) in London-based MOOC platform FutureLearn.
FutureLearn launched with a dozen university partners in 2012, the same year that other MOOC platform providers—namely Coursera, edX and Udacity—also launched and whose growth have somewhat overshadowed FutureLearn’s (at least here among U.S. audiences). FutureLearn was wholly owned by The Open University, a public distance-learning university in the U.K. SEEK now owns 50 percent of the platform as part of the deal, which gives FutureLearn a valuation of £100 million.
This funding is “vindication for Open University betting on a MOOC platform, for investing in a non-U.S. entry to [the online education] market when many were dismissing it,” says Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn.
Today, FutureLearn bills itself as the largest online learning platform in Europe, with more than nine million users. It offers over 200 courses from 120-plus university partners and organizations, according to its website. Partners include University of York, Purdue University, Accenture and Amnesty International.
Despite its U.K. roots, FutureLearn has been casting its focus abroad. In 2017, it enlisted five U.S. universities onto its platform. Nelson says the latest cash infusion will support the company’s effort to add more content and grow its footprint worldwide. About 70 percent of FutureLearn users are outside the U.K., with the U.S. its second-largest market.
FutureLearn offers three types of courses. There are shorter courses that anyone can take for free, but which require payment for a completion certificate. FutureLearn also offers a yearly $199 plan for learners to take an unlimited number of certain short courses and earn certificates.
The platform also offers longer online programs, such as a 15-week, six-course offering from Purdue University for digital media analytics that anyone can take for free, but costs $480 for a certificate. Then there are online degree programs, such as a Deakin University cybersecurity program that costs about $7,000 for a six-month graduate certificate or about $19,000 for a two-year master’s degree.
According to The Financial Times, FutureLearn generated about £8.2 million in revenues in the first seven months of 2018.
If FutureLearn is indeed serious about expanding in the U.S., it has its work cut out. Coursera boasts 40 million users and 3,200 courses, and generated an estimated revenue of $140 million in 2018, according to Forbes. Nelson says he thinks the MOOC market is large enough for FutureLearn and other companies like Coursera to grow side by side. The market grows as universities in more places embrace MOOCs and as companies find value in MOOCs for training employees, he believes. He also adds: “Competition doesn’t frighten me at all.”
FutureLearn boasts roughly 140 employees today, about half of whom work in product development and management, and the rest made up marketing, partner support and business development staff.
FutureLearn’s new investor and co-owner, SEEK Group, operates in 18 countries. Founded in 1997, it aims to match job seekers with work opportunities. In Australia, it offers a directory of accredited courses from local universities with reviews and information about what programs are required for different career fields.
This is not the first employment company to shell out big money for educational services. Last year, staffing conglomerate Adecco Group acquired General Assembly for $412.5 million.
In a prepared statement, SEEK co-founder and CEO, Andrew Bassat stated: “Technology is increasing the accessibility of quality education and can help millions of people up-skill and re-skill to adapt to rapidly changing labour markets. We see FutureLearn as a key enabler for education at scale.”