Thursday, November 14, 2013

Student Recruitment as MOOC Business Model

The University of London has recently declared its MOOC business model a success. Is it really?

The University has offered 4 MOOCs to an unlimited number of students, and attracted 210,000 people from 160 countries. 

Barney Grainger, acadaemic project manager for University of London International Programmes, says: ". . .  we have received, at this point, 45 expressions of interest in our degree courses from students who have taken one of our MOOCs."

He adds: "The fact that there is a conversion from MOOC learning to seeking full degrees would indicate that our outlay on these MOOCs has, in fact, been justified. Our learning journey has commenced, and the MOOC business model can work," Grainger says.

 Let's see: 45 out of 210,000 = .000214, or 2.1 per 10,000. And we are only talking about leads, not conversions. No magazine subscription or mail order catalog campaign would call that rate of response a success.

But what is a success in MOOCville?

Let's first consider the Georgia Tech model, where the all MOOC masters degree program in computer science costs $7,000. 45 actual students (not 'requests for information) would generate $315,000 in revenues. Not much, but the marginal cost of the next student = $0. So much depends on scale-up.

Suppose instead these prospective students enroll in costly F2F on-campus programs with fixed costs already sunk, thus adding little marginal cost per student. According to one source, the average cost of a masters degree ranges from $28K to $38K. Taking the mean, those 45 students would now generate almost $1.5M.

What about the costs?

The cost of funding a dedicated University MOOC production studio has run upwards of $1M. And schools are now hiring MOOC production managers. The new one at Boston University, Romy Ruukel, came direct from edX after a decade at Harvard's Project Zero, so she didn't come cheap.

But some schools have made do with their own personnel and available production equipment valued at less than $2,500.

And then, there are the dedicated course production costs to consider. Talking head MOOCs aren't going to generate many requests for information about degree opportunities. Production values will have to be high - and that is costly.

Whatever the costs, once invested by an institution its MOOC production can be scaled up. A studio and production team that produces 4 MOOCs could produce 40. Universities carefully selecting their 'flagship' programs and adding a lot of sizzle could improve the rate of response. (A successful consulting practice could be built on the mail-order marketing model to assist universities in managing their MOOC-based marketing campaigns).

We will need a lot more information on rates of response and conversions, and total revenue from conversions, before we can assess student recruitment as a MOOC business model. But as the MOOC space expands and competition heats up, such information will probably be very closely held.

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