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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Solving the MOOC Catch-22

Catch-22, a term made famous in the Joseph Heller novel of the same name, has entered the lexicon as a “no-win” situation. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) may have reached that point.

Students take MOOCs because they are free or at a very low cost, but want to receive credit for the work. Accreditation would raise the cost, which would, at the very least, make taking the course less attractive for many students. However, Coursera may have found of solution with its Signature Track program.

The educational technology firm recently reached $1 million in revenue from Signature Track courses, which offer verification certificates for a fee. Universities have struggled to find inexpensive ways to offer credit, but the Coursera example shows students are willing to pay fees for courses that are billed as free educational content if college credit is available as well.

“If a university were to offer a MOOC course, certificate, or degree at a modest rate, I believe that students would sign up,” Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield, told eCampus News. “Charging 10% or less of normal tuition for a MOOC-delivered program is likely to be very popular. Charging full tuition for a MOOC is far less likely to garner much support.”

The other challenge currently facing MOOCs is building awareness. There are still plenty of educators who are not sold on the courses, and questions remain about how employers will view MOOC certificates compared to a traditional college degree.

“A lot of people right now are complaining about accreditation and so on for being such a barrier, which it is, but the history of disruption shows that when barriers collapse, it happens by going around them in different ways, not always going through,” said Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. “I wonder if we’re seeing the beginnings of that here.”

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