How to calculate the real costs of developing and delivering MOOCs

Based on interviews conducted with 83 administrators, faculty members, and researchers; and using case studies, as well as the U.S. national average salary and benefits rates for public postsecondary faculty members and public sector research scientists, the two authors aimed to determine not just what most MOOCs cost institutions [as the producer, as opposed to the platform provider], but also how to calculate those costs.

According to their research, here are the main considerations in MOOC development and delivery:

  • The number of faculty members, admin, and instructional support personnel participating in the process
  • The quality of videography
  • The nature of the delivery platform
  • Programming for special features, such as computer code auto-graders, virtual labs, simulations, or gamification
  • Analysis of platform data
  • Technical support for participants

Here are some of the findings collected by the authors:

  • All interviewees who had been involved in the development of a MOOC reported the effort being “two-to-three times greater than creating a traditional course.”
  • To create 10 minutes of voice-over-PowerPoint video required 6-8 hours according to an interviewee at a private university.
  • MOOCs were considered more time-consuming compared to traditional online courses due to MOOC-specific components such as high-quality video, quizzes to substitute instructor-graded assignments, and peer-to-peer learning technologies.
  • The authors “frequently heard estimates in the order of 400 hours of faculty member time per MOOC developed, the equivalent of 26 percent of an academic year.”
  • Computing and Internet services for on-campus students participating in MOOCs may need to be increased or upgraded, for example, help desk support and retrofitting buildings to provide enough bandwidth capacity for many students to simultaneously stream or download video.
  • Institutional websites and LMS’ need to provide an access point to relevant MOOCs.
  • A variety of admin offices are likely to be involved in activities such as obtaining copyright permissions and establishing contracts between the institution and online platform provider, and between the institution and its faculty members to address intellectual property rights, revenue sharing, faculty compensation, and workload issues. Compliance and disability regulations must also be considered.
  • For institutions providing credits for MOOCs, students’ admissions, registration, billing authentication, and crediting systems need to be aligned with platform enrollment procedures.

(Next page: A snapshot of costs)