It’s not a market if no money changes hands! An answer to David Kernohan

David Kernohan ‏@dkernohan

@IHEtech @FrankOUNL it’s not a market if no money changes hands!

Inside Higher Ed quoted Simon Nelson (CEO of Futurelearn):

“Until now, this market has been dominated by companies based in the U.S., but with 18 U.K. partners, we are determined to provide the smartest and most engaging online learning experiences and revolutionize conventional models of education”

and twittered: British #MOOC provider expands and eyes India market.

David Kernohan replied to the InsideHigerEd-tweet and my retweet with the text above.

As English is a second language to me, I first consulted some dictionaries for the meaning of market (Webster, Cambridge, Oxford). There is some consensus that it can be different things. Either a real or abstract place where people trade goods or services, or the demand for something. As a verb, it can be understood as marketing or shopping.

Taking the quote above, I would say that the CEO of Futurelearn indeed sees the learning and education as something for which is a demand, so Moocs should form a supply meeting this demand. If money will change hands directly is to be seen but that each educational offer has a financial aspect is certain.

Although I don’t think that I have to defend the CEO of Futurelearn; I found several reactions interesting in the sense that it seems to be “not done” to question the effect of Moocs (also see Cathy Davidson). In a discussion last week, every question with respect to the learning effect, the high dropout rate, the high level of lurkers; not participating in discussions, etcetera (MOOCs and the AI-Stanford like Courses: Two Successful and Distinct Course Formats for Massive Open Online Courses) were countered with the argument that Moocs are free, even when people do not participate, do not finish a course or do not learn anything from the Mooc, who cares?

MOOC

MOOC (Photo credit: Sarah_G)

Well, we should for different reasons. Firstly, if Moocs are ineffective in delivering education, the effort of teachers, multimedia specialists and administrators had been better directed in another way, providing other kinds of courses. Even if courses are offered for free, producing them involve costs and labour hours which could be put to another use.

Secondly, I think Moocs offer a very interesting alternative to Open Educational Resources and the possibility to develop sustainable (business) models in which the free provision of valuable education worldwide will be possible.

On the input side, Moocs use courses which are developed for brick-and-mortar universities. Most courses are used for the on-campus students during the regular semesters. An on-line translation of these courses is made publicly and free available. So the additional costs of the online course are only the added costs of the recording and changes made to make the course more independent of the face-to-face situation. Of course, as I have argued earlier, a full distance course would be more labour intensive and so more expensive than the online copy of a regular course. The usage of Moocs to increase the public of the original course could be seen as a more efficient use of the public subsidies which were used to develop and deliver the original course.

In several publications, earning models for Moocs are suggested and seem to be translated into contracts. Among those are data-mining using the email addresses of interested students, marketing of the offering institute, advertisement space or selling the course as an in-company training. The Moocs also offer opportunities for other institutions. Using the Moocs, they can offer degrees within their own institution or in cooperation with the original provider of the Mooc.

So both on the input as on the output side of the educational system, Moocs can help the educational system to become more effective. However, an important assumption by this is that both the original course as the online massive translation of this course are worthwhile to begin with.

If the dropout rate is high because the content or the didactical form of the course dishearten people to accomplish the course, disappointing and discourage people to participate in distance higher education later on:

  • The efficiency on the input side is gone;
  • The effect on the total level of education of a country is lost;
  • No one would be prepared to pay for a commercial usage of the Mooc.

To conclude:

  1. If there is a formal market or not; money is used in the production and exploitation of Moocs;
  2. The usage of scares resources requires that these are invested in the most effective way, whether this effect is calculated in monetary terms, social benefits or civil rights.
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