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Making Money With MOOCs

The New York Times continues to explore MOOCs, this time with an article about how MOOCs, particularly those run by companies like Coursera and Udacity, have yet to become a lucrative business. Although millions of students have enrolled in classes and although millions of dollars have been invested in MOOCs, a stable and profitable business model for offering free, online courses has yet to be established. The current, most promising model involves licensing course content or entire courses to other Universities so that they can fulfill their online desires. Additional ideas abound, including charging small fees for certificates of completion, for more advanced courses or follow-up courses,  or for one-on-one instruction. And, of course, there’s always the possibility of  incorporating advertising.

To me, it’s interesting that these online companies are insistent that their courses remain free, and that they believe the bulk of their revenue stream will come from licensing models as opposed to charging for courses outright. I admire their desire to have free content online, but that seems at odds with traditional education, which requires steep tuition fees. It’s also at odds with extended schooling; all night schools that I have known charge for admission. So I don’t see the harm in Coursera or Udacity taking the approach of offering some courses for free, but then asking $0.99 for other courses. With hundreds of thousands of students per course, that’s a lot of money trickling in. And with some online courses costing Universities over $50,000 to create, that money needs to come from somewhere.



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