As revenue trickles in, profit from MOOCs is a “welcome surprise”

The University of Colorado is starting to see some revenue from the free, massive open online courses it offers to the world through the website Coursera.

Though course content is still free, students are beginning to pay for certificates showing they’ve completed a CU course or a multi-course unit in the same subject.

Since September, these online course certificates have generated roughly $110,000 across the CU system, a number that is likely to go up this spring with the launch of new multi-course units, said Deborah Keyek-Franssen, associate vice president for digital education and engagement for the CU system.

That’s been somewhat of a welcome surprise, as CU did not necessarily expect to make money when it began offering the courses three years ago, Keyek-Franssen said.

Conservatively, she estimates that the CU system could generate $250,000 a year from courses offered on Coursera.

But, she cautioned, revenue isn’t the main reason why CU is investing time and effort into massive open online courses, also known as MOOCs. The courses help disseminate research funded by tax dollars and have the potential to introduce millions of people to CU, she said.

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