online learning myths

Most Popular IT of 2015: 5 massive MOOC lessons learned by colleges and universities

Recent best practices and research from adventurous, innovative colleges and universities yield 5 takeaways about MOOC implementation.

MOOC-online-learned[Editor’s note: Based off of Google Analytics, this story was our most popular IT article. It was originally published on Aug. 11, 2015.]

Love them or hate them, MOOCs are still a popular option among college and universities. Yet, only the institution that takes note of MOOC evolution via trial-and-error will be able to effectively harness the multiple campus and student benefits offered by this notorious mode of online learning.

After reviewing recent studies, best practices, and research reports over the last two years as published by eCampus News, there are five major takeaways from the MOOC implementation boom, which could potentially help students, professors, and campus marketing better take advantage of what MOOCs originally aimed to do for higher education: increase access to education, increase student engagement, and promote branding of the institution—all without adding an unmanageable financial burden to the institutional budget.

See any MOOC lessons learned not on the list? Leave your suggestions in the comment section below, email me at, or leave your feedback on Twitter @ecampusnews.

[Listed in no particular order]


1. They may be more expensive than you think…and you should care.

Is a MOOC worth anywhere between $39,000 to $325,000 in development and delivery costs to your college or university? How do you know? According to Fiona Hollands, associate director at the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University; and Devayani Tirthali, independent researcher at Brown University, “…lowering costs is not the highest priority for MOOC initiatives,” say the authors: “among the 140 or so institutions of higher-ed offering MOOCs in Allen and Seaman’s sample, less than ten indicated that exploring cost reduction was an objective for their MOOC initiatives.” In a separate study, Hollands and Tirthali also found that, of 29 institutions offering MOOCs, improving economics was a goal for only 38 percent. But with recent national spotlights on college affordability, as well as questions surrounding MOOCs’ effectiveness for learning, can institutions continue to turn a blind eye to the high price of 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.

“We estimate total costs per MOOC, including facilities, equipment, and overhead, of $38,980 to $325,330” the authors explain. [The costs of the platform, captioning, content hosting, and analysis of user data to populate the data dashboard were assumed by Coursera for all xMOOCs analyzed by the authors.]

For the full findings of the study, as well as how to calculate the costs of developing a MOOC at your institution, click here.

(Next page: Access and reinvention)