Need-to-Know MOOC News: MOOCs Find Their Niche & Business Model in 2016

This is a special issue of the ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series featuring the latest developments in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered by providers: Coursera, iVersity, edX, and Udacity.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 1.04.41 PM1. Coursera’s Business Model Taking Shape
Coursera is finding its niche and business model. The MOOC provider is moving towards three revenue-generating strategies: 1) fee-based courses which require students to pay a fee for access to graded assignments, 2) Specializations, a sequence of courses with a capstone project, and 3) Course Certificates (formerly known as Signature Track).

Signature Track, launched in 2013 was Coursera’s first (significant) revenue generating strategy. Students paid a fee in exchange for the opportunity to earn a verified certificate. Initially only a handful of courses featured the certificate option. Signature Track has since expanded, had a recent name change to Course Certificate and features a flat fee of $49. The Course Certificate option is now available across numerous courses. Revenue estimates suggest Certificates generated between $8 and $12 million in 2014 (Shah, 2014). 

Specializations feature a sequence of courses (typically four to six) with a capstone project where students apply the skills learned in order to earn a certificate. Launched two years ago, the program appears successful given the number of Specializations offered—in the hundreds according to Coursera. Fees range between $300 and $600. Tuition is determined by the price of each course (which range between $39 and $79), the number of courses within each, and the fee for the capstone project. If there is even modest student demand for Specializations as Coursera founder Daphne Koller indicates, revenue opportunity is significant (Bogen, 2015).

The Purchase Course strategy announced last week requires that students pay to gain access to graded assignments. There is an option to ‘audit’ the course where students have access to course materials only. An excerpt from Coursera’s blog (below) outlines the strategy:

Starting today, when you enroll in certain courses, you’ll be asked to pay a fee (or apply for Coursera’s financial aid program) if you’d like to submit required graded assignments and earn a Course Certificate. You can also choose to explore the course [audit] for free, in which case you’ll have full access to videos, discussions, and practice assignments, and view-only access to graded assignments. — Coursera Blog, January 19, 2016

This format is similar to what’s offered at iVersity, a Europe-based MOOC provider. Tuition at Coursera ranges between $39 and $119 per course. Below is a screen shot showing the options presented to students enrolling for a course on Coursera’s platform.

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Fee-based courses appear linked to courses that are part of the Specializations programs. The screenshot above is an image of what is presented when enrolling for ‘Understanding Financial Markets’

2) iVersity’s Pay-for Certificate Program & Udacity’s Nanodegree Plus
iVersity, one of Europe’s MOOC platforms launched it’s own version of Coursera’s Specializations—The Business Communication Programme. It’s targeted to working professionals seeking skills in business communication and marketing. It’s iVersity’s first venture into bundled programs. Yet the Programme is more similar to Udacity’s new Nanodegree Plus program, given it offers enhanced customer service—support and resources to help students find a job.

Udacity’s program goes further by guaranteeing that students find a job within six months, or their money back. Fees at Udacity are monthly—$299. With an estimated program length between six and eight months that brings the cost between $1,794 and $2,392.  iVersity’s tuition model takes a different approach but the price is similar (see screenshot below)—iVersity’s Programme at its regular price  is $1,704 (approximate US funds), and the enhanced model is $2,611.

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Screenshot above: Prices for iVersity’s ‘Business Communication Programme’ as displayed on the webpage at iversity.org. Sales prices still appear on site, February 2, 2016

iVersity also offers corporate learning services to companies looking for support in creating their own professional development courses. It’s promoted on their site as “a new form of professional development“.

3) Udacity for Business
Udacity also targets the corporate training market (tech-companies specifically) via its business webpage promoting “Hands-on Training. Done Online”. The courses and programs promoted are identical to Udacity’s existing ones, but are packaged to appeal to company and human resource executives as a solution to meet skill gaps among employees and as a tool for succession planning. Screenshot below from Udacity’s site:

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 9.59.48 AM4) edX CEO: “edX offers complete programs online, not just individual courses
EdX, an open source platform and one of the few non-profit MOOC providers,  also has revenue generating strategies, though not for profit. The strategies are needed to support edX’s goal of sustainability in order to achieve its mission of offering “access to high-quality education for everyone, everywhere”. Some of edX’s programs are similar to Coursera and Udacity—certificates with fees typically of $50 per course. Another is the XSeries program, a group of bundled courses. Students receive a Xseries Certificate upon completion, though unlike Coursera’s Specializations or Udacity’s Nanodegree, there is no final or capstone project. Another revenue strategy is licensing edX courses to countries such as China, India, France, the Middle East who have adopted Open edX (Young & Hobson, 2015).

EdX also offers Professional Education Courses targeted to students looking for skills training and professional development. Courses are stand-alone and online, some are self-paced and others have a start and end date that span between four and six weeks. Fees can be hefty, ranging between $89 and $949, as this one “Yield Curve Analysis”.

Insight:  Offering free, high-quality content on feature-rich digital platforms is not free for the MOOC provider or the partnering institutions. Even though free appeared to be the end-goal of MOOCs at the time of their launch in 2012.  But free is not sustainable. The concept of MOOCs is shifting to where the demand is—fee-based certificate courses and programs in skill-specific areas, and corporate learning. In between are programs offering MOOCs for higher education credit, as with courses for ECTS credit at iVersity, edX’s Global Freshman Academy, and Malaysia’s national credit recognition policy for MOOCs. Even degrees (Georgia Tech’s CS Master’s degree) and mini-degrees based on MOOCs as with MIT’s Micro-Masters. There still are courses for free for the life-long learner, like myself, looking for high quality, online courses not for credit. I view this as a win-win-win for everyone; the platform providers, the institutions and the students. Who says MOOCs weren’t disruptive?

Further Reading:

MOOC Development Advice from Instructors that Have ‘Been-There-Done-That’

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I’ve collected several YouTube video clips of faculty and instructors sharing their experiences and giving advice for those developing a MOOC. Readers adapting a face-to-face course to a xMOOC format may find this post helpful. Who better to get advice from than faculty or instructors that have developed at least one MOOC and have-been-there-done-that?

The video clips below are not longer than four minutes a piece; I’ve summarized each and categorized the advice into four categories:  1) Video Production, 2) Pedagogy, 3) Course Design and 4) Instructional Strategy. This should help readers determine which clips are worth watching. The video clips feature instructors that developed one or more MOOCs for one of three platforms, iVersity, Coursera, and Open2Study.  One clip is in German, from a professor teaching a course on the iVersity platform. It focuses on video production techniques specific to a math focused class, and is very worthwhile to watch given the techniques demonstrated.

1. “Reflecting on the MOOC Experience
Categories: Pedagogy, Course Design, Video Production
Platform: Open2Study
Course: “Understanding Common Diseases
Summary: Course instructors surprised to discover some aspects of the MOOC format applicable to their face-to-face courses
Takeaways

  • Required a completely different skill set to teach a MOOC—most challenging: i) teaching in short blocks [condensing the course content], ii) filming lectures—talking to a camera not a live audience
  • Discovered a new teaching method for teaching in their traditional program, by incorporating MOOC format into face-to-face program
  • Instructors spent 5 days filming approximately 40 videos, 6 to 8 minutes each

 

2. “What Makes a Good MOOC with Dr. Charles Severance”
Categories: Pedagogy, Instructional Strategies
Platform: Coursera
Course: Internet History,Technology and Security
Summary: Provides excellent tips for adapting a face-to-face course to the MOOC format
Takeaways:

  • Implement a course design and instruction strategy for the MOOC that is different from one’s face-to-face course, though make it personal—inject humour and personality into course

3. “10 Steps to Developing on Online Course [MOOC]”
Categories: Course Design, Video Production
Platform: Coursera
Course: Think Again: How to Reason and Argue”, Coursera
Summary: Practical steps for creating a low-tech MOOC [with one camera, and small development team]
Takeaways:

  • Break course content down into smaller segments (chunks), plan the course outline (syllabus)
  • Write the scripts for the videos
  • Practice and more practice before recording the lectures

4.  “Making-of MOOC “Algorithmen und Datenstrukturen” von Prof. Dr. Oliver Vornberger”
Category: Video Production
Platform: iVersity
Course: Algorithmen und Datenstrukturen
Summary: Demonstrates various video production techniques for filming mathematical calculations and physical demonstrations
Takeaways: Variety of lecture formats holds interest for students. A video production team can support execution of diverse formats: green screen, whiteboard and demonstrations with white background

5.  “The Making of an Online Course: Ronen Plesser”
Category: Video Production
Platform: Coursera
Course: “Introduction to Astronomy”
Summary: Professor shares how experiments/demonstrations traditionally done in a face-to-face classroom, translate into the MOOC format
Takeaways:

  • A highly skilled video production team helped produce high quality videos
  • Certain demonstrations turned out better in the recording studio than in classroom, and vice versa

Further Reading:

Need-to-Know News: iVersity’s Contest, Students not-so College Ready & PD for Educators

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series I aim to share noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform the traditional model of education.

MP900405500Several significant developments transpired this week in the education arena. I’ll highlight the key need-to-know stories here—events that will likely spark discussion and perhaps even debate among educators. iVersity’s MOOC contest has over 250 applications. Each applicant is vying to have his or her course featured on iVersity’s platform in Fall 2013—voting is open! Also, the National Center for Education and the Economy [NCEE] released a report on college readiness for high school students—results are distressing, and is more fodder for the discussion about education reform. And educators have new options for professional development online, courtesy of MOOC provider Coursera.

1) iVersity’s MOOC Fellowship Contest
The MOOC Production Fellowship Contest to date has over 250 MOOC applications from scholars around the world are in for review. The selection committee [called the jury by the fellowship], will choose ten courses, and each winner will receive 250,000 euros to develop and launch his or her course on iVersity’s platform for Fall 2013. Consideration is also given to votes from the Web public. One vote per person, and one must register on the platform to vote. Click here to view the submissions and cast your vote for the course you feel is worthy of winning.

What is the criteria? According to the website, the fellowship is looking for “creative, innovative and sustainable MOOCs”, though it’s not clear what the definition of sustainable is. The contest sponsors, Stifterverband and iVersity hope to “raise awareness for the potential of digital technology in education and seek to activate a process of creative adaptation within the academic community”.

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Screen Shot of one of courses submitted to the MOOC Contest

The MOOC Applicants
The courses submitted to date are impressive. Each submission includes a brief video introducing the course (some are very clever), a course description, objectives and references. I perused the site and reviewed only a handful, and included three of my favorites below. The video clips that accompany each submission give an excellent two-minute [or less] synopsis of the [proposed] course.

2) Community College Faculty Set Bar Low for Students
The National Center for Education and the Economy [NCEE] released a [discouraging] report “What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready?”

NCEE has just released What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready?, a study of the English Literacy and Mathematics required for success in the first year of community college. On May 7th, during a day-long meeting, key education and policy leaders joined NCEE to discuss the results of the study and its implications for community college reform, school reform, teacher education, the common core state standards, and vocational education and the workplace.

Though the skills gap is nothing new, what is new is the research that shows how little community college educators expect from students—the bar is set low, way low. The study also found that assessments used in college classes were lacking, most consisted of multiple-choice questions that demand very little in the way of complex reading skills and no writing.

3) Professional Development for Educators
MOOCs may have found a niche, professional development for educators. Educators can collaborate and develop a network with other educators, which is what many cMOOCs have been doing for quite some time now. Coursera has taken a step in this direction.

Today we are extremely pleased to announce the launch of a teacher professional development category on Coursera. We believe that helping teachers improve their skills is an important contribution that we can make to the education of students everywhere. We are truly excited about the possibilities that having these courses available for free online, to be used independently or in a blended learning capacity, will open up for teachers, schools, and districts. [blog.coursera.org]

Titles include Foundations of Virtual Instruction, Surviving Your Rookie Year of Teaching, and The Dynamic Earth: A Course for Educators. Click here for full list.

4) Saylor’s Updated Platform and New Courses
Saylors’ updates include dividing courses into three sections, 1) Saylor University, the core courses, 2) Saylor K-12, newly unveiled, pre-college courses, and 3) Saylor Professional Development. Visit saylor.org.

Have a good weekend. I will continue with my instructional design blog series on May 13.