March 24, 2017

MOOCs move into credit-based higher education

Kolowich, S. (2012) MOOCs for credit, Inside Higher Education, October 29

This article reports on an interesting deal signed between Coursera and Antioch University. Antioch is a well-established private university with campuses in four different states, with around 4,000 mainly adult students. Under this deal:

  • Antioch University will pay Coursera for the rights to offer MOOCs from 33 universities for credit as part of its third year undergraduate program, focusing particularly on students transferring in from community colleges (the fourth year will be on campus)
  • Antioch will charge a lower tuition fee for these courses (closer to community college fee levels than public universities’)
  • Antioch will assign a faculty member to provide learner support for Antioch-registered students in each MOOC-based course, with about 20 students per instructor (as for on-campus classes)
  • Students will take an exam at the end of each course for credit from Antioch
  • Coursera will pay rights to the universities contributing MOOC courses to Antioch.

Inside Higher Education reports:

For Coursera, which is still building its MOOC empire with venture capital, the Antioch deal is a first step toward developing a product that it can sell to colleges: “self-contained” online course platforms, complete with built-in content and assessment infrastructure.

“It’s an LMS [learning management system] that’s wrapped around a very high-quality course,” says Koller, the co-founder. “It’s not just the box, it’s a course in a box.”


Although this is starting as a pilot, it provides a possible means to reduce the costs of US university education, while still providing learner support and credits.

It is also interesting that Antioch feels it will gain prestige from using MOOCs from other universities.

However, to date the model requires the faculty member to take on the learner support in addition to their regular teaching load. My own research suggests that over the long term, learner support costs are two to three times the costs for development (which is effectively what Antioch is paying Coursera for), so whether the business model makes sense for Antioch remains to be seen. It is though a low cost way for it to get into online learning.

Furthermore, learner support costs could be greatly reduced if the course content was developed following best instructional design principles for independent online learners, rather than canned lectures. So perhaps in the long run, quality in design may become an important ‘selling’ factor in MOOCs, more important perhaps than the name of the institution canning the lectures. I sincerely hope so, but then I’m just a silly old romantic.

In this case, the courses from Antioch will not be massive, will not be open, and will not be free. So when is a MOOC not a MOOC? Nevertheless it is an interesting model, and could provide wins for Antioch, the institutions providing MOOCs, and Coursera. Whether it’s a win for the students though remains to be seen.