ASU, edX and The Black Knight: MOOCs are not dead yet

In 2012 I wrote a post during the emergence of MOOC mania, pointing out some barriers that must be overcome for the new model to survive.

So what are the barriers that must be overcome for the MOOC concept (in future generations) to become self-sustaining? To me the most obvious barriers are:

  • Developing revenue models to make the concept self-sustaining;
  • Delivering valuable signifiers of completion such as credentials, badges or acceptance into accredited programs;
  • Providing an experience and perceived value that enables higher course completion rates (most today have less than 10% of registered students actually completing the course); and
  • Authenticating students in a manner to satisfy accrediting institutions or hiring companies that the student identify is actually known.

Fig 3 EvolutionCombine20120927

Since that time, of course, the MOOC hype has faded away, partially based on the above barriers not being overcome.

Today, Arizona State University (ASU) and edX announced a new program, Global Freshman Academy, that takes direct aim at all four barriers and could be the most significant MOOC program yet. From the New York Times story:

Arizona State University, one of the nation’s largest universities, is joining with edX, a nonprofit online venture founded by M.I.T. and Harvard, to offer an online freshman year that will be available worldwide with no admissions process and full university credit.

In the new Global Freshman Academy, each credit will cost $200, but students will not have to pay until they pass the courses, which will be offered on the edX platform as MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses.

Later in the article we find out more details on pricing and number of courses.

The new program will offer 12 courses — eight make up a freshman year — created by Arizona State professors. It will take an unlimited number of students. Neither Mr. Agarwal nor Mr. Crow would predict how many might enroll this year.

The only upfront cost will be $45 a course for an identity-verified certificate. Altogether, eight courses and a year of credit will cost less than $6,000.

ASU will pay for the course development and edX will pay for the platform. They eventually hope to get foundation funding, but ASU president Michael Crow promised that “we’re going ahead no matter what”.

This is a big commitment, and it will be interesting to see the results of program that addresses revenue models, identity verification, completion rates and awarding actual credit. As Crow described:

“We were not big believers in MOOCs without credit, courses without a connection to degrees, so we focused our attention on building degree programs,” Mr. Crow said.

Pay attention to this one, whether you’re a MOOC fan or not.


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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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