Thousands enrolled in free MOOCs. Is there now a market for fee-based courses?

Jun 04 2014

Online Smithsonian Courses Show MOOC Market May Be a Moving Target

Thousands enrolled in free MOOCs. Is there now a market for fee-based courses?

The Smithsonian name carries quite a bit of weight in the world of higher education. And soon, a funnel for that pool of knowledge will be available online — for a price.

In May the Smithsonian Institution announced a 10-year joint venture with The Great Courses, a company that specializes in lifelong learning through digital media, according to a press release.

“The Great Courses has a proven track record of creating engaging, immersive learning experiences,” says Carol LeBlanc, senior vice president for consumer and education products at Smithsonian Enterprises. “We are excited to help develop accessible and high-quality courses, based on the Smithsonian museums and collections, for a broad array of lifelong learners over the next decade.”

Topics of the first of 12 courses that will be available starting this fall include the Industrial Revolution, a visual tour of the universe, and explorations of key sites in Rome, Venice and Tuscany.

The courses are being offered for $89.95 for each 24-lecture series.

'No homework, no exams'

This coursework is distinct from the growing movement of MOOCs (massive open online courses) because there's "no homework, no exams" and the courses can be taken at any time of day, Edward Leon of The Great Courses told The Associated Press.

Of course, the cost also sets the Smithsonian courses apart. The fact that MOOCS are typically free is part of what makes them so appealing and marketable to those seeking education outside the traditional environment.

But since the arrival of MOOCs, skeptics have pondered what their impact would be on the higher education arena. Some institutions have taken a cue from this innovation, running with the enthusiasm born from the promise of a free web-based education environment.

Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Berkeley jumped on the MOOC bandwagon in 2012 with edX, a series of free courses designed for interactive web study. In May, Harvard Business School launched HBX, a series of online courses for undergraduates enrolled in other institutions. It’s also the first time the school has offered coursework beyond the graduate level, according to The Boston Globe.

Spurred by the success of edX, Harvard has been expanding HarvardX, its video production staff, comprising more than 30 employees. The group works to produce high-quality mini-documentaries that put a glossy finish on the often-stark landscape of no-cost MOOCs.

“Quietly, Harvard has built what amounts to an in-house production company to create massive open online courses, or MOOCs, high-end classes that some prestigious universities are offering for free to anyone in the world, generally without formal academic credit.” –The Boston Globe

New online coursework like what's being offered by the Smithsonian for a fee could be an indication of the shape of things to come for MOOCs.

Would you shell out some dollars for a MOOC counterpart?


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