I’m not the only professor cynical about the mad rush to massive open on-line courses. In A Sociological Eye on Education | Midsummer whimsy: How to write recommendations for 847 students, Aaron Pallas wrote
In my own institution, a senior administrator has been needling me about when I am going to offer a MOOC. I don’t think he found my kidding response—“I have a MOOC. It’s called a blog, and it produces exactly the same revenue as the MOOC would”—very satisfying.
I have much the same reaction: where is the revenue to support MOOCs supposed to come from? Huge numbers of people sign up for them when the courses are free, but charge even token fees as the number will drop enormously—probably to closer to the number who currently finish such courses. I signed up for Google’s course on searching, but when the time came for the course, I was too busy to do it. Had they asked for $1 for the course, I would not have signed up, knowing that there was a very high probability that I wouldn’t be able to attend.
A lot of blogs are supported by ad revenue, including WordPress.com’s hosting of mine, I suppose—I have no control over whether they place ads on my blog, and I never see them. (Adblock Plus rules!) A blog costs almost nothing to host, and most bloggers (like me) are not paid for their efforts, so tiny ad revenues per blog are enough to support the hosting of blogs.
MOOCs, on the other hand, require a lot of instructor time and an army of tech support and teaching assistants (fewer per student than conventional courses, but still a fairly large number). That means that each course is fairly expensive to put on (probably between $10,000 and $100,000). If that is going to be supported by ad revenue, the MOOC provider will need another army of people to sell the ads, raising the cost even higher.
Do we really want courses that are supported by ad revenue? How much faith would you have in an environmental studies course that was supported by automobile ads? (How much trust do you put in Bicycling magazine, given the huge number of automobile ads they run? Personally, I have none—the magazine clearly exists solely to extract money from people who bicycle.)