Another dot in the blogosphere?

What do MOOCs cost?

Posted on: October 1, 2014

I was part of a MOOC panel at Educon Asia’s 6th Higher Education Summit last week.

If 2012 was the year of the MOOC (as the New York Times declared), then 2013 must have been the critique and evolution of the same.

I am certain I provided some very chewy food for thought. However, there was one issue that time did not permit us to discuss in depth — the cost of MOOCs.

There is more than one answer to the question of how much MOOCs cost.

One is the financial cost of developing and maintaining MOOCs. The way some universities go about them with slick video production and post-production, each MOOC might go for between US$30,000 to $50,000 [example 1] [example 2] [example 3].

These figures do not always factor in development time, investment in human resources, equipment, hosting, etc.

Another way of looking at the question is how much it costs students. I know at least one professor who tweeted that is was unjust for on-campus students to pay high tuition fees only for MOOCs to be offered for free to those outside the organization.

This is a misplaced zero-sum game. Tuition fees from on-campus students are not necessarily or directly shunted to MOOCs. Most universities also get funding from alumni, grant-awarding bodies, and investors.

I look at the MOOC cost through a reputational and pedagogical lens.

If a university has sufficient high-standing and is perceived to be rich in knowledge or cultural capital, can it afford to NOT exercise corporate service responsibility (CSR) by giving to those who HAVE NOT?

If MOOCs can somehow push pedagogy so that it is more relevant and progressive, can a university afford to pass this by?

University faculty have been compared to cats and implementing change among these animals is akin to herding said cats. It is virtually impossible.

But MOOCs could be like catnip or a fascinating laser pointer spot on the wall. Most cats cannot help but notice it.

MOOC production could generate questions that challenge faculty mindsets and teaching practices. Questions like:

  • How does one cater to the masses without compromising on quality?
  • How might it be possible to individualize learning when reaching out to so many learners?
  • Is the mass-centric approach logical or desirable?
  • Why is the attrition rate in MOOCs so high?
  • What can I do to change how I teach?

So here is my question: Can universities afford the pedagogical cost of doing things the same old way and not moving with the times?


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