Free online courses are growing at a rapid pace with ventures like Coursera, edX, Udemy and Udacity drawing tens of millions of dollars in funding and a few million students from across the globe. Some have suggested that massively open online courses (MOOCs) are the future of higher education. But is that true?
A recent New York Times story on the rapid growth of online education startups shows one potential flaw in the model: How do such programs make money?
There’s potential for revenue in licensing fees, offering formal credits or certifications, and providing recruitment data to companies, but that’s all in the early phases.
Now, as one of Coursera’s financial backers pointed out, monetization isn’t really the point right now. And it’s certainly admirable that startups and universities are opening their doors to students who might not have the resources or access to top-notch faculty and classes like those now available online. All interested students need is time and an Internet connection.
But the courses aren’t cheap to produce. One professor from the University of Pennsylvania estimated that each course took $50,000 to create.
Of course, the classes aren’t for everyone, but a Kansas City Star story on the online education phenomenon suggested that eventually education could be more consumer-driven. And by that, no one means the type of marketing and branding that often sends shudders down the spines of higher-education administrators and faculty members. Instead, it would be about what individual students need: remedial classes; inexpensive core courses that could be transferred between institutions; or professional development.
In so many industries, change has become the norm, driving the need for responsive education models. The startups that can fill the need will survive, and students of all ages around the globe will benefit.