writing technology

Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2013, No. 2: MOOC business models


“Flipped” and adaptive learning programs gained traction on campus. A high-profile internet hoax involving a college athlete propelled the term “catfishing” into the public consciousness. MOOCs hit some key stumbling blocks, while the notion of a college degree became more fluid.

ed-tech These were some of the key ed-tech developments affecting colleges and universities in the past year—and we’ve got a full recap for you right here.

In this special all-digital publication, the editors of eCampus News highlight what we think are the 10 most significant higher-education technology stories of 2013.

To learn how these stories have made an impact on colleges and universities this year—and how they’ll continue to shape higher education in 2014 and beyond—read on.

2. Universities struggle to identify an appropriate business model for MOOCs.

Last year, the biggest higher-ed tech story was the emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs), as they took higher education by storm. In 2013, however, some growing pains were evident as universities considered how to adopt MOOCs in a way that makes sense for their institution.

Should universities grant credit to students who complete MOOCs? If so, how can they ensure the integrity of students’ work? Do MOOCs represent a viable business investment? Can charging a nominal fee for participation offset the costs of MOOC production or even help turn a profit? These were some of the questions that campus leaders faced this year.

In January, a new business model for MOOCs emerged, as nine universities piloted a program called MOOC2Degree that offers students free access to MOOCs for credit in hopes of increasing college enrollment and accessibility.

Shortly after that, Coursera announced that five of its MOOCs were recommended for credit by the American Council on Education (ACE), opening the floodgates on offering MOOCs for credit.

But challenges remain. For instance, how can campus officials ensure the academic integrity of MOOC students? MOOCs and other online-learning programs have tackled this challenge in a number of ways, such as by using webcams and other security technologies.

Academic integrity isn’t the only challenge to offering MOOCs for credit. In July, San Jose State University and Udacity said they were “pausing” a much-touted partnership that granted college credit for MOOCs, based on early results from the program.

The project, called SJSU+, allowed students to earn credit by taking certain Udacity MOOCs and paying $150 per course. It was seen as an important step in an effort to lower the cost of higher education in California, where tuition has skyrocketed over the past decade.

A primary reason for putting the project on hold was the low number of students who were actually passing the courses. The completion rates for the courses were around 83 percent, which is far higher than most MOOCs. But the pass rates hovered between 20 and 44 percent, and students cited a lack of interaction with professors as a key reason.

For all the consternation about offering credit, there doesn’t seem to be a groundswell of schools ready to adopt for-credit MOOCs, at least not yet: A comprehensive survey of U.S. higher-education institutions showed fewer than 8 percent of colleges and universities have offered MOOCs for college credit.

Charging students a nominal fee for MOOC participation seems to improve completion rates. But can these classes ever generate revenue for the universities offering them? Some universities are trying, at least.

Two University of Texas at Austin psychology professors recently started their own massive online course, and they’re charging students a $550 registration fee that would grant them three credit hours after the course is completed.

That’s quite a discount from the usual $2,059 that students would have to pay for those credits, but with 1,500 participants signed up so far, the course could bring in at least $825,000.

The professors, because of this fee, are referring to the course not as a MOOC, but a synchronous massive online course, or a SMOC.

However, a study from ACE and InsideTrack suggests that campus leaders don’t see dollar signs on the horizon.

“Like making a big budget movie and finding out no one wants to see it,” one interviewee said, “if you try to generate revenue out of the gate, you will lose money.”

See also: A new business model for MOOCs: Gateway to degree programs

Five Coursera MOOCs recommended for credit

New partnership offers more MOOCs for credit

Using technology to fight cheating in online college education

Report: Four in 10 colleges to offer MOOCs by 2016

10 state universities join Coursera in deals that could grant credit for MOOCs

Are fees taking the ‘open’ out of MOOC?

San Jose State, Udacity ‘pausing’ for-credit MOOC partnership

MOOC students to be identified with webcams

Revenue not likely, MOOC faithful say

It’s time to redirect the conversation about MOOCs

Coursera creates learning hubs, with eye on interaction

Has Coursera solved the catch-22 of for-credit MOOCs?

Credit for MOOCs? Not so much

MOOC certificates get a social media bump

Confessions of a MOOC reviewer

Student recruitment as MOOC business model

eCampus News Staff