Study Explores the Costs of MOOCs
While MOOCs are still largely found in higher ed,
there are an increasing number of K-12 institutions
trying this model for PD, AP classes, and more.
The biggest question surrounding MOOCs is: how
much do they actually cost? One recent study from
Columbia University, “MOOCs: Expectations and
Reality,” breaks down some of these expenses:
• Personnel: At most institutions, MOOC
development has been a team effort, sometimes
including administrators, instructional designers,
instructional technologists, programmers, project
managers, videographers, and evaluation specialists, in addition
to faculty members and teaching assistants.
• MOOC platform costs: Platform costs for MOOCs offered by
Coursera and Udacity are often subsumed into revenue-sharing
agreements in which the platform provider takes responsibility
for hosting the courses and drawing in participants, but also
keeps most of the revenues earned from those participants who
purchase certificates or other services.
• Videography: Many MOOCs include an hour or more of video
per week; videography costs were highly variable.
• Assessment: Assessing students at scale also requires an
investment of resources—first, to develop assignments that can
be graded in large numbers, and second, to devise peer-grading
or auto-grading mechanisms or to provide enough TAs to cope
with the quantity of assignments to be reviewed.
• Obtaining copyrights: Additional costs may be incurred for use
of copyrighted materials.
• Refreshing MOOCs to be re-run: After the first iteration of a
MOOC, almost all institutions have made adjustments to the
design and content before re-running.
• MOOC delivery resource requirements: While some MOOCs are
designed to run without faculty or other ongoing intervention,
many online courses involve instructor and TA or graduate
While largely pointing out the sometimes-significant expenses of
MOOCs, the study also notes the following potential cost savings:
• Re-using MOOC materials multiple times.
• Sharing MOOC materials across instructors and campuses.
• Developing common courses to offer across institutions.
• Replacing on-campus courses with MOOCs.
• Faculty time savings.
• Reducing the need for facilities.
• Recruitment efficiencies.
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