The Business Model for MOOCs

Last week I was at the HEA/SEDA day conference in Birmingham, UK

HEA/SEDA Conference on OER and Staff Development: Open Horizons: Sharing the future

I was there with my colleagues George Roberts, Marion Waite and Liz Lovegrove  because we had a slot in which we shared the work we have done on the FSLT12 MOOC. George has posted his slides to Slideshare.

What is Necessary and what is Contingent in Design for Massive Open Online Courses?

 

You will see that there are a lot of slides (48), but in fact we only got to slide 27 because there was so much interest in the MOOC and so many questions – and of course, so little time for discussion.

However, there was one very interesting, topical and pertinent question, which was,

What was the business model for the FSLT12 MOOC?

And it seems that this question is currently being considered by others on and off the net – see for example the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education

Inside the Coursera Contract: How an Upstart Company Might Profit From Free Courses

It seems that many institutions think about business models in terms of how much money they can make from MOOCs and certainly Oxford Brookes is thinking of accrediting the MOOC and charging for assessment next year.

But I wonder whether it would be better to think of the benefits and strategic advantages of offering MOOCs in non-direct monetary terms.

I was very interested at the conference in the session presented by Melissa Highton on OERs and Staff Development at University of Oxford. In her presentation she talked about the development of OERs – iTunesU – at the University, what this had involved, how lecturers had been encouraged to share their work and the benefits to Oxford University.

Through their iTunesU open lectures (videos and podcasts) Oxford University now has strong links with their alumni and prospective students. iTunesU thus helps the University to meet many of its institutional goals. The iTunesU site effectively markets and broadcasts the high quality teaching practice at the University and provides access to the expertise of Oxford University lecturers and the latest research.  The University has a quick turn around time for creating and uploading videos of lectures and podcast. For example they were able to upload a response to the Higgs boson discovery within 24 hours.

ITunesU also puts Oxford lecturers and researchers in the limelight. A video of a good lecture can get up to 100,000 hits a week and a lecturer can become widely known for his/her work in a matter of years or less, rather than it taking anything up to a lifetime as in the past. This has also had the effect of raising the status of teaching/lecturing in comparison to research.

The situation at Oxford University (and Cambridge) is different to some other institutions – because at Oxford the lecturers own their teaching materials and work, unlike at other Universities where anything produced by a lecturer as part of their work belongs to the institution. So through iTunesU and providing OERs in the name of the academic staff, the University is able to openly market the expertise of its staff. The reward for staff who do this is a high quality resource in their name which is open to the whole world. Both the institution and the lecturers benefit.

Clearly Oxford University must have the money to be able to produce these high quality OERs so quickly, but these resources are open access, clearly licensed through Creative Commons and free.

Whilst iTunesU is not a MOOC, the non-monetary benefits, or non-direct monetary benefits (since attracting increasing numbers of students from across the world will ultimately bring monetary benefits), are probably those that can be gained from running a MOOC.

Perhaps Universities who wish to run MOOCs need to take a fresh look at what they mean by ‘business model’.

One thought on “The Business Model for MOOCs

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