November 29th, 2012
A colleague sent me a very interesting article. (Thanks, Bruce.) “Coursera will profit from ‘Free’ courses” its title declares. That’s not entirely new news. I noted some time ago that a freedom of information request had made the Coursera contract an open book, complete with 8 (count ‘em, 8) ways of monetizing its Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). But this piece, actually linking to the contract, enumerates and describes the ways, and speculates on more ways to make money from MOOCs with other, better(?) business models.
The discussion includes news that commercial learning management systems like Blackboard and Desire2Learn are jumping on the MOOC bandwagon. The idea, suggests the article (drawing on thinking about possible business models gathered at quora.com), is that the MOOCs from these commercial providers would function as loss-leaders or teasers — a taste of online instruction that would make users/learners want more (and pay for it).
None of this is surprising. With Coursera investing $22 million in venture capital (and it has been around less than a year), it is going to want to make that money back sooner or later — and sooner rather than later. It could do that through corporate sponsorship, certifications, partnerships (like its rival edX has already forged with the UT system), and so on.
One particularly compelling business model outlined in the article is the “freemium-to-premium” approach:
Freemium – Where you split the learning options along the lines of Bloom’s Taxonomy and make free those courses that target “Knowledge & Understanding” learning outcomes but charge a premium for those follow-on courses that target higher cognitive skills like “Applying, Analyzing, Synthesizing, Evaluating and Creating”.
What’s especially compelling about this is that, if you know your Bloom’s Taxonomy, the split between remembering (at the bottom) and analyzing, evaluating, and creating (at the top) is actually a spectrum, ideally a continuum, and you shouldn’t put walls — especially paywalls — between the learning objectives/opportunities.
Another configuration, designed less with profits and more with pedagogy in mind, would be a grand and glorious variant on the flipped classroom, where the instructional content is contained (and consumed) in something MOOC-like, but the critical inquiry and individualized, point-of-need instruction happens in a cozier, more interactive, and (yes) more traditional classroom environment. I’m not sure how you’d wring profits from such an arrangement, but I think we all can see how it could help make effective learning happen. And isn’t that the real point of courses, however massive or open or profitable?