MOOCs as textbooks for flipped classrooms – a business model

Ned Hall's guest post "We need MOOTs, not MOOCs!", brought to the forfront of my mind an idea that has been brewing for a while. Recently, there has been a flurry of press around the refocussing of Udacity in order to respond to the needs of the venture capitalists that backs it. Udacity, like most of the US MOOC providers are for-profit companies, and at some point they need to turn their altruistic visions of "open education" into working for-profit business models.

For me, this opens up the question, how can a for-profit MOOC provider support both open education and make money while doing it? One solution might be to package MOOC content as textbooks for flipped classrooms. The provider could still offer free MOOCs as a way to test and improve upon the content. The first two or three iterations allow the course to be improved upon. During these iterations, the content is available to anyone for free but only for the time frame in which the course is being offered. This is actually not too different from the way that Coursera works now – courses are only available during the sign-up period. Once a course has finished, only those who had originally signed up have access. This post-course access could easily be time-limited. Once the course reaches a level of quality, it could then be repackaged into a textbook for flipped classes. Professors could then choose the MOOC-based textbook rather than a traditional paper-based one. Excellent lectures and other course content can then become available to students who have purchased (or rented) the textbook. Universities could also choose to purchase "site licences" for content they wish to use in their classes.

This solution also provides an incentive for professors to create excellent content; however, there are issues with intellectual property (IP) that would need to be addressed. One of the issues that was mentioned by Dr. Paul Kim of Stanford at the AACE MOOC symposium in October was that professors own the textbooks that they write but they don't own MOOCs.  Packaging a MOOC as a textbook could be an incentive for professors as it might allow them to retain their IP the same way writing a textbook would. In this instance, the MOOC provider becomes the publisher of this new type of textbook.

Those who believe strongly in open education will likely cringe at this solution, as it takes away openness and puts content behind a paywall. It also transfers the cost back to the students, although only the students in formal education programs. However, in our world today, formal education is not free. Someone needs to pay for it. This solution at least has the potential to benefit the content creators while providing free access to early versions of the content.

What do you think?

2 responses

  1. mathplourde Avatar

    I think this is brewing. Textbooks, as a form factor, are figuratively ripping at the seams. Professors have forever wanted to use this chapter from this book, and that one from the other, but could not find economically sensible ways to do it. Digital resources break that restriction. MOOCs, as a content + activities model, are close enough to textbook to serve as an alternative.

    IMO, catering to textbook-authoring faculty members who are looking for supplemental income to author MOOCs is not my idea of progress. It will basically continue to create this digital divide, where all content will reside behind paywalls, and we’ll end up in the same mess we are in down the road (with issues of affordability and digital piracy).

    I would prefer an approach where open access and OER are the norm, and where faculty would need to make a point as to why they are using public funds to produce proprietary content. Once content is dissagregated and freely available, teachers and learners can become the curators. Under that regime, MOOCs would become digital windows to promote the educators and institutions who demonstrate the best collection and teaching methods, a way to sample education and increase brand recognition (a loss leader as a marketing tool, basically).

  2. Soumabha Ray Chaudhuri Avatar

    The idea is pretty revolutionary.. it would not only allow the MOOC websites to become a for-profit organisation but may even succeed in resolving the dispute between online and offline courses.

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