MOOCs: Been There, Done That

Thomas M. Rollins, founder of The Teaching Company, has recently written an article on the Chronicle for Higher Education discussing how the MOOC model has been done before.

Rollins points out that he isn’t referring to mail correspondence, radio lectures, or “educational television. Instead he refers to the period from 1998 to 2006 when a number of prestigious universities attempted to get into the online education market, with significant financial backing; all of which ended unsuccessfully. Rollins comments on this stating:

“Über-competent people with big-dog financial backing could not make it work. And back then we had computers, the Internet, and online video, too.”

Now we have MOOCs, with hundreds of thousands of people signing up for them. But anything free and of value will have a huge number of consumers.

The University of Texas at Austin attempted to charge for a MOOC in the fall of 2013 offering up a psychology course for $550 to non-UT students. With 10,000 expected enrollees, the university had 125 people ready to administer the course and was expecting to millions in revenue. However, fewer than 50 non-UT students enrolled bringing in only $20,000.

Rollins asks that with such low revenue can costs low enough. The cost to create a MOOC easily reaches into the six figures. Rollins goes on to analyze the cost of providing faculty interaction with students and other options such as computer grading systems, before finally saying:

“If you do not allow faculty-student interaction, the MOOC is a cruel joke on students. If you do allow faculty-student interaction, the MOOC is a cruel joke on those people who helped finance a money pit.”