Remember the days when listening to new music involved driving to a store and buying a physical product, or when your Friday night movie choice was restricted to what’s airing on TV?
Today’s consumers hardly think twice about accessing content — they’ve got Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Not only is mass content available so conveniently, but it’s also so accessibly priced.
Can this business model be applied to education?
While the idea of open online courses has been around for several decades, it struggled to pick up until its audience got fast internet speeds and portable devices.
The more recent slate of MOOC providers includes Udacity, edX, and Coursera. Students who sign up can learn biochemistry from Harvard, machine learning from the University of Washington, and economics from Oxford.
All for free.
So what does that mean for physical learning?
The education giants embracing online learning platforms are boosting their brand, pulling learners from all corners of the globe. But apart from getting their name in lights, what’s the benefit in attracting non-paying students?
While it’s openly stated by the universities and MOOC investors that this venture is experimental, it seems that there’s money to be made in online offerings.
Many of these platforms offer paid certificates, allowing students to choose whether they’re happy to get the knowledge without the accreditation, or pay a fee (often $50-$200) to receive an official, verified document. Although the majority of students will opt to do the course for free, the university benefits from those who are willing to part with a figure that’s a lot smaller than the cost of completing the course at a physical school.
edX offers a MicroMasters program, allowing students who complete specific online courses to apply to finish their masters on-campus. A student studying their masters in person at MIT would pay $67 000, whereas someone who did their edX MicroMasters before completing the degree on-campus would pay just $45 000.
The business model behind MOOCs appears, so far, to be a viable one. With these platforms not going anywhere anytime soon, it must be considered how this is going to affect the small guys: training colleges and institutions who can’t afford to create their own MOOCs.
The fact that physical training institutions still exist (despite 20 million new learners enrolling in a MOOC last year) tells us that there are plenty of reasons students choose to learn via traditional channels.
A study of 1000 learners in the USA found that 78% said they find it easier to learn in a physical classroom. And with MOOC completion rates averaging 13%, it seems that most accredited graduates will be coming from physical training providers for many years to come.
While in-person education will never compete with the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of online learning, if they focus their efforts on improving the human element to their training — the thing that sets them so clearly apart — then the students will always come.
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