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Pierre Dubuc, OpenClassrooms, France

Launched three years ago with the aim of widening access to training that will prepare its users for the jobs of the future, OpenClassrooms is now one of the world’s largest online education platforms. Its co-founder, Pierre Dubuc, believes the site has even further to go, providing more full degree courses and even helping to tackle brain drain in emerging economies.

The PIE: What is OpenClassrooms?

Pierre Dubuc, OpenClassrooms

"The mission is really to make education more accessible"

PD: OpenClassrooms is a Paris-based online learning and vocational training platform. We created OpenClassrooms three years ago and since then we raised €8m through venture capital firms; we’re 50 people, the largest provider in Europe and Africa, we’ve got 3.5 million people every month on our courses.

We have two kinds of products: courses and learning paths. Courses, it’s close to one week on a MOOC: you have videos, quizzes, projects, forums and so on. So at the end you get certified, those certifications are branded with universities and companies. And we’re building also longer training programmes, we call them learning paths, they lead to degrees.

The PIE: How many degrees do you offer?

“You’ve probably heard how much a MOOC costs to produce, so times 20 courses – it’s always a big investment”

PD: We’ve got seven right now – the first degree was last year, and we are ramping up the offer. [It takes a while because it] costs quite a lot to create a new degree, since in a degree you’ll find between 15 to 30 different MOOCs, and you’ve probably heard how much a MOOC costs to produce. We say roughly $50k, usually, something like that. So, times 20 courses – it’s always a big investment.

It is still very innovative, we are the only ones having state endorsed degrees, fully accredited, fully online. So now you can have access to bachelor’s degrees that cost maybe five to 10 times less than on campus. And we see not only young people accessing this kind of education, but also many people trying to upskill or reskill and change careers – it’s roughly two-thirds of the people we have on those programmes.

The PIE: Where do your students come from?

PD: In fact, what we see is we have many more people proportionally from remote areas like rural areas or someplace where you don’t have access to any training. But in a nutshell, we’ve got 40% of our audience outside of France, mainly Europe, Africa as well and North America.

The PIE: How do you decide what courses to run on OpenClassrooms?

PD: The mission is really to make education more accessible. We focus on employability, so we have topics like marketing, coding, data science, entrepreneurship, innovation – tomorrow’s jobs, basically. The way we create the training is that we have strong connections with universities and companies to know where the needs are. We do it based on interviews with recruiters, for instance.

The PIE: Tell me about the web development degree you’ve just launched.

“We’re going to teach you how to search for a job, write your resume, contact companies, how to behave in an interview”

PD: It’s going to be an international bachelor’s degree in English, French and soon Spanish as well. It’s recognised in 29 different countries. We hope that we’re going to attract many more students from the UK and from other English-speaking countries, probably from the Nordics as well.

You’re going to have courses and projects, so skills are being assessed in six different projects, two months per project roughly. We estimate you’re going to finish it in 12 months – it’s very flexible, you can have 10 or 14 months depending on abilities and availabilities.

The PIE: So what does the degree look like for the student – how is it delivered?

PD: Every week you’re going to be mentored by a professional, working in web development, for instance. So you’re going to see him or her every week via video link, and your mentor will give you tips, review your work and help you, and try to make you go further every week.

At the end of the project your mentor will assess you, and then you’re going to pitch another mentor to have a double check of your skills, also via video link, and the video will be recorded. So this is like a small jury – you’re going to explain your project and he or she will ask you questions and challenge your work.

Your websites, designs, the recorded sessions, and every course study case that you were awarded are your portfolio to show to your recruiter, and we’re going to help you find a job. We’re going to teach you how to search for a job, write your resume, contact companies, how to behave in an interview. Right now we are even building a new coaching service, where you have another kind of mentor specialised in professional insertion. And this mentor will coach you every week and help you find the job you like.

The PIE: How much will the degree cost?

PD: It costs £300 a month, so as an average 12 months, £3,600. If you already have, let’s say, half the skills in the degree, maybe you need to only spend six months. Then you pay less for that. On the other hand, if you have no idea and you need more mentoring for a longer period of time, then you’re going to pay a bit more.

“The way we see it, we have mostly people who wouldn’t have gone to any kind of institution”

The needs of every student are different. The amount of mentoring, workload, is different for every student. We think it’s normal that there’s some kind of flexibility on the price as well.

The PIE: Do you think in future students who might otherwise have completed a traditional degree will learn online instead, or that it will just reach different demographics?

PD: The way we see it, we have mostly people who wouldn’t have gone to any kind of institution. Those are new, different people. When we have young people, for instance, most of them are dropouts. They don’t feel that traditional education is the right system for them, and the relationship they have with OpenClassrooms is very different. We don’t have teachers, we have mentors – it’s not a school, it’s a website, and the way we teach is probably more modern, more full of empathy.

And the workers or jobseekers who upskill and reskill on OpenClassrooms, very few of them go to universities or colleges. It’s expensive. It’s not flexible. And you don’t want to get back to a campus with people in their 20s when you’re 40. We all have to reskill several times in our career now.

The PIE: What impact do you think online, distance learning will have for emerging economies?

“If you’ve got a billion students can you just imagine how many teachers you’d need. 50 million?”

PD: What governments in emerging countries tell us is that people are flying to industrialised countries to get their higher education, they’re coming to Europe, the US, mostly, they go to great colleges and they don’t come back. It’s a major problem because they don’t have the skills getting back to their own countries so they cannot build their economy and attract talent.

But when we have people for instance in Africa who train on our degrees, they stay in that country, they don’t have to set foot in Europe.

The PIE: So you think this could help to tackle brain drain?

PD: Definitely. I think in Africa alone we expect in 2050 to have a billion students. In 35 years. You’d need to build huge universities! And if you’ve got a billion students can you just imagine how many teachers you’d need. 50 million? 100 million? You have to train them! It never stops. So we need something much faster on a huge scale and at immensely lower costs.

The PIE: In the next few years, what do you want OpenClassrooms to look like?

PD: Two main developments – one is creating new degrees, new levels of degrees like master’s degrees, and also for new jobs. So for instance, we’re going to launch a data science programme in France at the end of this year, we’re going to replicate that on sales management and many other jobs.

“It’s not an issue of translating the content, it’s really a question of adapting, localising the whole degree”

The second one is doing that in other countries, because we believe that the job market is highly local. So you need to build partnerships with universities, with companies, you need to adapt the degrees to the needs of the country. For instance, we have this specialist degree in France on web development. We started to create it in English, we realised that the skills needed for this job are different between France, the UK, and the US.

The PIE: What are some of the differences?

PD: In France, for a junior web developer, the skills that you need would be HTML and CSS. Whereas in the US, if you don’t have skills in Javascript, it’s going to be much harder to find a good job. Some common modules, but it’s different, and we have to build the degrees that fit exactly what companies need in this local market.

It’s not an issue of translating the content, it’s really a question of adapting, localising the whole degree and trying to build again bridges between your curriculum and jobs.

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