Burck Smith, CEO and founder of online education firm StraighterLine, may be showing his age in his recent blog post. After all, he references Marky-Mark, the leader of a 1990s hip-hop group who ultimately grew up into award-winning actor Mark Wahlberg.
Smith’s point is that massive open online courses (MOOCs) will almost certainly grow up, just as Wahlberg did, once the excitement of the moment dissipates. When that happens, firms such as Coursera and Udacity are going to have to produce revenue, which will likely mean they will no longer be massive, open, or free.
“As providers of open content and open courseware have recognized over the past 15 years, simply making content free doesn’t change the dynamics of the higher education market at all,” Smith wrote. “Further, free content isn’t very good business, just ask the newspaper industry—and their content changes every day.”
Students earning credit for online courses taken will be the key to sustainability.
“Only those who have created a low-cost, low-risk pathway to credit will have results to show,” Smith continued. “It is the hard work necessary to create this pathway that transforms flash-in-the-pan Marky-Mark organizational models to mature and sustainable Mark Wahlberg ones.”