But what about the sustainability of MOOCs? After all, a common criticism has been that MOOCs, which have achieved their popularity by being completely or nearly free, lack a viable business model.

A recent study from Columbia University, found that most universities do not expect to make any revenue of MOOCs — at least not directly. For example, using MOOCs as a form of advertising for full courses remains a popular reason for adopting the courses, and that could increase revenue as a result.

But universities don’t seem to be seeing much on that front either, according to the study.

“We found scant evidence that MOOCs have increased revenues substantially, and substantial evidence that they have increased costs significantly,” the researchers wrote.

So if MOOCs aren’t reaching the right students, aren’t bringing in revenue, and remain fairly high cost to produce (as much as tens of thousands of dollars in some cases), then why won’t they die?

Simply put: because universities and entrepreneurs have put in too much effort by now to give up so easily.

MOOCs may not replace a traditional course, but they could work as a valuable studying tool, or perhaps as an easier way to collect data on how students learn. Maybe eventually, when the courses have found a more mainstream audience, MOOCs can serve as big, flashy, online billboards for more lucrative college courses.

“Much of the hype surrounding MOOCs may be subsiding but it is clear that the infrastructure and effort that has been poured into such initiatives are not likely to evaporate overnight,” the researchers wrote. “Whether MOOCs as they currently stand persist into the future is certainly debatable, but there is no doubt that online and hybrid learning are here to stay.”


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