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MOOCs: Nothing but a marketing tool?

The primary reasons many universities create massive open online courses (MOOCs), a new study suggests, are for marketing purposes.

The pedagogical benefits — or shortcomings — of MOOCs may often be the main talking point for the free online classes, but they aren’t what are driving many schools to invest in them.

marketingThe survey, which was conducted by Babson Survey Research Group, Pearson, and the Sloan Consortium, included nearly 3,000 institutions responding to questions about MOOCs and other forms of online learning.

When asked what the primary objective was for introducing a MOOC at their institutions, just under half of those surveyed said it was “marketing-related.”

Nearly 30 percent of respondents said they used MOOCs to increase institution visibility, and 20 percent said they use the courses to drive student recruitment.

“That said, MOOCs are being used very differently by different institutions,” the study’s authors wrote. “Institutions with the most extensive traditional online offerings are most likely to say that they are embracing MOOCs to ‘increase visibility of the institution,’ while institutions with no current online offerings say their MOOCs will be used to ‘drive student recruitment.’”

As more universities go online to reach prospective students, it’s not surprising that they would use MOOCs as a sort-of sampler of their more costly course offerings.

Some institutions have turned to MOOCs based on popular culture, like super heroes and the AMC television series “The Walking Dead,” to drive students to the online courses – and some of the university’s instructors. In turn, the courses help popularize MOOCs as a concept.

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