There aren’t any MOOC business models which stack up. Yet
An earlier Imperfect University post on MOOCs questioned their ultimate impact on traditional university provision. Inside Higher Ed carries an interesting piece on possible business models for MOOC providers which notes that with over 1.5 million people having registered for MOOCs through Coursera, Udacity and edX, the level of demand is significant:
But while demand appears to be high, none of these three organizations — two of which are for-profit companies that will be expected to generate money for investors and the other of which is a nonprofit that will be expected to stand on its own feet eventually — currently has a business plan.
They can afford it, for now. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University together have committed $60 million to edX, Coursera has raised $16 million in venture funding, and Udacity is sitting on an undisclosed infusion from Charles River Ventures. They have cash to burn, and each has focused on establishing partnerships with reputable institutions and professors and harnessing available technologies in its platform.
The MOOC providers are nonetheless in strange territory. They have staked their future on a vision that makes higher education more free than ever before. And yet their task, eventually, will be to figure out how to make money. By declining to charge for content, instruction and assessment, these providers will have to find new ways to cover their overheads and pay back investors.
A huge issue for MOOCs is the absence of accredited certification. One solution might therefore be to forget credentialling altogether and make the link directly between student and employers, charging the the former for promoting them and the latter for access. Alternatively, or additionally, they could offer additional premium paid for content and services which bring them closer to current fee charging online higher education such as tutoring, online assessment support, library resources etc. And if the worst comes to the worst the MOOC providers could always sell advertising space.
It’s still early days though and it will be fascinating to see which way MOOC business plans develop.