What price MOOCs?
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28 November 2012

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are all over the news at the moment, with mainstream media such as the New York TimesForbes and the TES featuring it widely. The L&D and Higher Ed communities, too, have pitched in with their views. Debate has ranged widely on the pedagogical quality and style of MOOCs, on the technologies, on who actually started them and on some of the mind-blowingly huge numbers of students involved. There are also some in L&D who say that MOOCs have little to do with workplace learning (and they are very wrong).

But one topic has received less notice – how will MOOCs be made to pay?

A twitter conversation last night brought this to my attention. My sub-140-character response to the question last night was ‘Freemium model surely?’

I went to sleep wondering how I would make MOOCs pay if I ran a university and this morning awoke with an expanded view of my ‘freemium model’:

In the not-very distant future, I believe that Higher Education and Further Education / Community College providers will offer a range of courses from the free to the premium priced, and delivered entirely or partially online. The balance of offerings will subsidise the free end of the spectrum which will serve either as loss-leader offerings (for lesser known institutions) or pro-bono work for the great and good. This reflects the views of the Gilfus thinktank in this area.

There is a general blurring of boundaries in education, with two boundaries in particular affected.

First, the plurality of offerings above reflects the current blurring of boundaries between private and public provision and between academic and workplace boundaries. Offerings will not be positioned purely in the academic space, but will include offerings (labelled ‘CPD for Continuing Professional Development’ above) which are explicitly tailored either for particular employers or professions. Other offerings, such as the Diplomas and Certificated Courses in the table above could also be positioned for those in the workplace.

Second, this is a global market. In such a market, early movers and those with a high brand value (Ivy Leaguers, Oxbridge), and those using English as their medium for delivery, have a tremendous advantage for the present.The ramifications of global provision will become more acute as pricing models settle down. Every single provider of training and education – from private training companies to community colleges to the grandest universities – in every country, will be positioned against other, often very dissimilar providers, elsewhere in the world. That in itself will have further implications, not least on government policy on funding education. How will tax payers countenance funding institutions when it isn’t clear that nationals are benefiting?

Nobody really knows how the MOOC market place will play out, but really this conversation is about much more than the current,”push” model of online courses that has so grabbed the attention of the world’s press. It is about the future of education and workplace learning across the world.

So, does all this matter to workplace L&D? Absolutely. If, as L&D professionals, we don’t feel qualified to consider financial models, or interested in them, it’s time to change. MOOCs are a symptom of something larger – the seismic shifts that are taking place in our profession. In this global world we need to be fully engaged and aware of what’s going on. In a few years’ time you may be asked to justify your training course against one  provided by Harvard,   by a local college in Hyderabad and by an online training company in Singapore. You’d bet start preparing your answer now.

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