A new business model for MOOCs: Gateway to degree programs

 

By Sarah Langmead, Assistant Editor

Nine universities will pilot a new game-changing business model that offers students free access to massive open online courses (MOOCs) for credit in hopes of increasing college enrollment and accessibility.

The new model, called MOOC2Degree, is presented by Academic Partnerships, a Dallas-based firm that helps universities develop and market online courses.

“The concept is to make the first course in a degree program a MOOC—open, free, and for-credit,” said Randy Best, chairman and CEO of Academic Partnerships. “I think MOOC2Degree is a game-changer in that it applies to almost any university around the world. It gives them greater access to students, [and] the ability to observe [students’] academic performance—and [it enables] tens of thousands of working adults to try online learning risk-free to see if it fits them.”



The nine universities set to pilot the MOOC2Degree program are Arizona State University, Lamar University, Florida International University, the University of Arkansas System, University of Cincinnati, University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing, University of West Florida, and Utah State University. The program is set to launch this spring.


“We are so committed to being able to offer [this opportunity] that we’re going to take that risk,” said Elizabeth Poster, dean of the University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing. “We have confidence that once [students are] in the program, they’re going to continue on.”

The University of Cincinnati’s David Szymanski, dean of the Carl H. Lindner College of Business, said he agrees. “We’re confident that once a student takes the MOOC course and sees the quality, they’ll continue on in our program,” he said.

The question of quality has dogged the MOOC movement, but Poster and Szymanski anticipate thousands of students flocking to their schools’ respective MOOC2Degree programs.

“We are committed to providing nurses with more creative opportunities to expand their education,” said Poster. “This innovative initiative allows nurses nationwide to experience the flexibility and convenience of online learning risk-free as the first step toward obtaining their BSN degrees.”

What sets MOOC2Degree apart from other programs is the idea that it is a stepping stone to a credential—a starting point on a roadmap to a higher-ed degree.

MOOC2Degree “is the same program, the same course, it’s just made free, open, and for-credit,” said Best. “[It’s a] conversion of an existing course into a MOOC. The courses will have the same rigor, the same assessment.”

If students complete the free, for-credit course and ultimately decide not to enroll in the university, it is the university’s prerogative to still grant or withhold credit value.

Best said participating universities are free to decide which platform works best for their individual needs, though Academic Partnerships has a solid relationship with Instructure’s Canvas platform, which universities could benefit from exploring.

“Due to the partnership between Academic Partnerships and Canvas, universities can use the Canvas Open Network System at no cost to offer MOOC2Degree courses,” according to a company press release. “Canvas is widely lauded [for] its intuitive design, flexible pedagogy, integrated multimedia, deep social network integration, and easy-to-use authoring system.”

Neither Academic Partnerships nor participating universities will see a monetary return on their investment just yet, but Best asserts that MOOC2Degree will, in time, create a new revenue stream that will become quite profitable. In the meantime, participants can celebrate their efforts to increase college accessibility and further market their school’s brand worldwide.

Best believes that once universities have achieved a greater scale, with that scalability will come profits.

“I believe [MOOC2Degree] will become a standard process of universities for introducing their degree programs on a global basis,” he said.

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