As MOOCs Move Mainstream Universities Must Pay to Play

In less than a year MOOCs have gone from a geeky idea known mainly to a few professors at Stanford and a group of ted talk addicts to the center piece of a bank commercial appearing on network television. Like it or not, virtually every university is now considering whether to get serious about MOOCs and I can say from firsthand experience the cost of admission is higher than you might think.

Even a year ago, MOOCs could be viewed as an experiment and schools could safely experiment while flying under the radar. Professors would set up shop in their home office, record a “trailer” describing their course, post it on a MOOC platform and wake up the next morning with tens of thousands of students. If signing up students was that easy it was natural to conclude that teaching them wouldn’t be much harder. Crank up your MacBook Air, record six lectures, hire a few grad students as moderators and “let her rip.” And rip, both figuratively and sometimes literally, is exactly what many of these early efforts did.

If my recent experience is any indication, the bar to entry for MOOCs has gone up and I can’t imagine it coming back down. My collaborator Holden Thorp and I naively thought the videos created from our in-person introductory entrepreneurship class could be edited and easily turned into a MOOC. A young colleague we enlisted to help us give a little sizzle to our existing content quickly disabused us of the notion that we could use any of our existing footage. To make the most of the MOOC format, our classroom lectures had to be rewritten into a set of modules that succinctly conveyed the subject matter in a format suited for life-long learners from all over the world.

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