I’m quoted today in a New York Times article on how the well-funded startups rushing to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) are finding it hard to bring in much money, much less to turn a profit. None of their ideas so far—including licensing courses back to colleges, selling certificates of completion, or charging employers for access to students—has been a breakout success. My point is that we shouldn’t mistake the failure of MOOC business models for a failure of the MOOC educational model:
“No one’s got the model that’s going to work yet,” said James Grimmelmann, a New York Law School professor who specializes in computer and Internet law. “I expect all the current ventures to fail, because the expectations are too high. People think something will catch on like wildfire. But more likely, it’s maybe a decade later that somebody figures out how to do it and make money.”
I would add that it is possible that MOOCs will upend higher education even as no one makes much money offering them. Amazon is currently sucking lots of money out of the retail industry; that money doesn’t end up in Amazon’s coffers, it simply stays in consumers’ pockets. Online education could do to universities what Wikipedia did to encyclopedias, or what open source has done to many parts of the software industry, or what amateur shutterbugs are currently in the process of doing to professional stock photography. The prospect should both excite and terrify anyone who works in higher education.