Creating tangible value from MOOCs?

Since the pioneers of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) movement have been the US universities, it is understandable for the World to expect some sort of leadership in this field from these pioneers.

One thing that have been missing from most of these players is indeed a credible business model. Along the way, both Coursera and Udacity have introduced “premium” assessment model whereby the identity of the MOOC learner is verified (in Udacity’s case, it even have an online proctored examination system) and hence the academic credit earned will be acceptable to some institutions. My son took an introductory statistics course from Udacity and under “ProctorU”  (an online proctored examination service company) his credit, granted by St. Jose State University should be acceptable to his US university. The fees for this was US$150.  However all these add-on services are not paying the bills for these players. For the massiveness of its enrollment, MOOCs only have completion rates of about 7%, and even lower percentage of these learners would be “buying” the premium services.

I have mentioned in my previous article on MOOC that there are several ways that the MOOC players can generate income streams. In fact a recent report stated that one of the income streams (as I have mentioned) is indeed the recruitment of students to the universities associated with one of the MOOC players. 2 years ago I mooted the idea of MOOC to some for-profit higher education providers in Malaysia, but none managed to see beyond the trees to the positive branding effects of MOOC. Perhaps now with this article they should say, “We should have listened to that fellow”!!

I do not think that this revenue stream will be large, but I think the branding effect of successful MOOCs are great for the providing institutions. Whether this will end up in positive foreign student recruitment (which is a very complicated and complex affair) and how the MOOC players are paid for the recruitment is a different matter (will it be cost-per-click through or full fledged recruitment services?).

I think there is one element that none of the big MOOC player:s have explored: the corporate training domain. Although Udacity’s “nanodegree” is a good initiative that plots a MOOC course-learning path for learners. If they complete the suite of Udacity’s MOOCs successfully, this will put them in a position of advantage with skill-sets that employers (who have collaborated with Udacity)  want. This model is still sticking to mainly academic learning mixed with professional-skills courses. In fact many of the existing MOOCs have elements of learning that can be easily re-purposed for corporate learning and training usage. These learning courseware and delivery system are the key to creating a recurring revenue stream for the MOOC players. If the learning outcomes of these can be pegged with college credits or “star employers” acceptance as in the case of nanodegree of Udacity, I think the corporate learning providers out there will be able to sell these to their clients and learners easily.

With more and more smaller MOOC players with varying degree of quality coming on stream these days, I feel that some sort of consolidation will have to take place soon, especially with the current lack of any profitable business models.

(This article is contributed by Dr. YN Chow)

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