Study Explores the Costs of MOOCs

While MOOCs are still largely found in higher ed,there are an increasing number of K-12 institutionstrying this model for PD, AP classes, and more.
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While MOOCs are still largely found in higher ed,there are an increasing number of K-12 institutionstrying this model for PD, AP classes, and more.

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:

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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 assistant involvement.

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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For the most part, the conversations about the emergence of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)that have flooded the media have focused on open online content for higher education and professionaldevelopment.

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