Massive Open Online Courses and Economic Sustainability

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Millions of users around the world have registered on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered by hundreds of universities (and other organizations) worldwide. Creating and offering these courses costs thousands of pounds. However, at present, revenue generated by MOOCs is not sufficient to offset these costs. The sustainability of MOOCs is a pressing concern as they incur not only upfront creation costs but also maintenance costs to keep content relevant, as well as on-going facilitation support costs while a course is running and re-running. At present, charging a fee for certification seems to be a popular business model adopted by leading platform providers.

In this position paper, the authors explore possible business models for courses, along with their advantages and disadvantages, by conducting a literature study and applying personal insights gained from attending various MOOC discussion fora. Some business models discussed here are: the Freemium model, sponsorships, initiatives and grants, donations, merchandise, the sale of supplementary material, selective advertising, data-sharing, follow-on events, and revenue from referrals. This paper looks at the sustainability of MOOCS as opposed to the sustainability of MOOC platforms, while observing the tight link between them.

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