A quick and dirty Cost-Benefit analysis of the MOOC world, Part 1: Universities

Much of this blog will be devoted to the ‘world of the MOOC’ as this is a major direction we are taking on at Chaminade Behavioral Sciences.  To make sense of what is going on in 2015 globally, I have been consuming materials generated about MOOCs and also enrolled in a excellent MOOC offered by Univ. of Edinburgh’s Education Dept. entitled “E-Learning and Digital Culture”, available on Coursera.  Not only is the course interesting, but the quality of the video productions and course materials shows a great deal of thought on the part of the course faculty.  As a result I came up with a short benefits-cost list which I will present in parts below.  The first is the University POV–they are the drivers in the MOOC ‘movement’?? with a number of different agendas, the most recent being the ASU undergraduate initiative [http://asuonline.asu.edu/online-degree-programs/undergraduate].  I see the following as key issues:


Benefits: PR—current MOOC model is based on elitist institutions, so membership implies elitist status

  • The Institution can advertise products to a new global audience for little cost
  • Image of intellectual competencies in course offerings
  • The Institution can present and develop a brand image
  • Online visibility can be useful in driving traditional enrollment
  • Avoid physical plant limitations—infinitely large classes (UEdinburgh MOOC 20,000+ enrollment/less than 300 active students)
  • Collapse of location/distance issues—a small regional campus now has global visibility and accessibility
  • A common perception among college administrators that MOOCs of major cost savings and lower risk (don’t need minimum number of student seat-time for course to be profitable)—
  • On-demand education, all courses automatically offered as needed, all ready to go 24/7

Costs: Substantial persistent infrastructure costs (server housing, digital maintenance)

  • Persistent ‘back-end’ costs (persistent tech support)
  • Video production costs
  • Direct labor costs (faculty-TA-staff time)
  • Intellectual property rights costs, “syndication rights” to persistent MOOC presence by ‘builders’ [i.e., faculty]
  • Smaller, less prestigious institutions are now in direct competition with the top national and international universities (i.e., ASU undergraduate initiative attraction to Nevada community college students)

There are certainly other benefits-costs, but in reviewing the literature I see little discussion of all the cumulative factors, especially as the MOOC issue has become both polarized and simplified, with highly emotive (oftentimes moving into evangelical) diatribes on both sides.  The Edinburgh course does a good job of illustrating the simplistic nature of much of this discussion.

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