Over the past twelve months, MOOCs gained renewed attention, showing up in publications like the Chronicle of Higher Education, Insight Higher Education, Businessweek, Forbes, and the Washington Post. As the conversation moved into mainstream publications, beyond Twitter and the blogosphere, business-minded people focused on the financial side of things. Namely, how will people monetize MOOCs? At this point in the public discourse, we have a few answers.
1. Massively Affordable Online Courses – Udemy.com is a good example of this. Many of their courses are not technically “open” because some of them have a modest price tag attached to them. The platform is a blend of open and fee-based courses. In the case of the fee-based courses, they have a modest cost, and continue to increase access to learning while also experimenting with scalable course models.
2. First Course Free / MOOCs as Relationships Marketing – Academic Partnerships recently announced mooc2degree.com, a service that will help Universities offer the first course in a program for free, as a MOOC. Students wanting to continue their study may do so in more traditional online or face-to-face courses. This relates to what I mentioned in a December 2012 post (and a 2012 presentation at the Distance Learning Administrator Conference) about the idea of running MOOCs as a form of relationship marketing and recruitment. In these cases, MOOCs become cost-effective as marketing tools that result in an increase of tuition-paying students for the rest of the program. There is an even more subtle version of this, where Universities or organizations are offering the free and open course as a way to get increased brand awareness that they hope will result in new (direct or indirect) enrollments down the road.
3. Course for Free, Verification for a Fee – This model was most notably announced at Coursera. The concept is simple. The MOOCs remain open and free. However, students can pay a fee for verification or certification of their work, allowing it to then count for a certificate or possible credit down the road.
4. Revenue from Secondary Sources – Some MOOCs are now designed in such a way that the designers can benefit from secondary income sources. A simple example is the text in the course. Texts may be required or recommended, and all or part of this revenue may go back to the course designers/facilitators/hosts. The same may happen with paid test proctoring. In addition, there are a growing number of MOOCs that are educational, but also serve as an advertisement for a service or resource that has a fee attached to it. You can find several such examples related to MOOCs about how to start your own business, how to market, etc. You can take the course for free and be done. Or, you can opt to continue by working with the instructor as a fee-based consultant or by participating in fee-based training (conferences, workshops, etc.). This sort of trans-media sales is nothing new. We’ve seen in on TV and in self-help and how-to books for decades.
5. Product Placement and Affiliate Programs – As MOOCs develop, I expect to see many more such things, including affiliate partnerships through products embedded right into the courses. This model already permeates television shows and a variety of best-selling books. I see no reason why it will not occur in MOOCs as well. If you look closely, you will already see it in public schools around the United States, and it is the main source of revenue for a variety of web sites and services. This can include traditional ads showing up within course content, or it can include “products” integrated right into the instruction. We see this happening informally in schools around the country as people promote certain software or hardware for educational or productivity purposes, especially with the prevalence of BYOD and 1-to-1 programs. Of course, there are some important ethical considerations.
6. Selling Student Data – Massive Open Online Courses produce rich and enormous data sets about participants, and this is quite valuable today. It is possible that some MOOCs will ask or require participants to fill out a waiver form (as is already done with some MOOC providers for research purposes) that allows institutions/organizations to sell this data to companies that can use it for market research and other related purposes.
I am not endorsing any of these as much as reporting on the trends. With that said, I want to hear/read your reactions. Feel free to share them in the comment section, with a voice message (see right) as a reply to @bdean1000 on Twitter, or with a follow-up post on your own blog.