In a blog post, Coursera, the world’s largest provider of MOOCs, said the fees are part of its efforts to create a profitable business model.
“I knew specialisations would go well but some [on the Coursera platform] have gone stratospheric”
In 2013, it announced Signature Track, an opportunity for students to gain verified certificates upon completion of the course for a fee. According to the company, two-thirds of those who purchase a course certificate go on to complete a course.
In 2014, Coursera then launched its Specialization programmes which package three to nine courses that each range in cost between $29-$99 with prices adjusted for different locales.
“The changes that we are making this year will move us toward sustainability and enable continued investment in our learning experience, without compromising our commitment to transforming lives for people around the world,” said the post.
It added that the fee will now be applied to most of the courses that are part of Specializations, while other courses will follow later this year.
Students can still take the courses for free, gaining full access to videos, discussions, and practice assignments, and view-only access to graded assignments.
In order to create job-ready graduates, Coursera has collaborated with industry leaders including Cisco, Microsoft and UBS in curating some of the course combinations. The Specializations culminate in a capstone project where students are asked to put the skills they have learned into practice.
Specialization course fees are split 50-50 between the platform and the partner university. The institutions provide the course content while Coursera carries out student identity verification for the capstone project.
Michael Kerrison, director of Educator Innovation and Development at the University of London, which has 13 MOOCs on the platform as well as a Responsive Website Development and Design Specialization with Goldsmiths College, says the success of Specializations in general has exceeded his expectations.
“What’s come out of MOOCs is smarter play. You’re now getting some serious money coming back”
“I knew it would go well but some [on the Coursera platform] have gone stratospheric. They’ve changed the revenue stream,” he said.
Beyond Specializations, universities are also beginning to see revenue flow in from students who enrol full-time after taking the MOOC.
In 2013/14 some 300 students enrolled on international programmes after taking a University of London MOOC, according to the university. Kerrison said the conversions resulted in more than £1.5m in revenue, outweighing the £400,000 investment the university made to produce the 11 MOOCs from that year.
Meanwhile, for the University of London’s seven MOOCs that offered signatures tracks, the university and its five partners earned £21,500 each.
“A lot of people think it’s come and gone, but what’s come out of MOOCs is smarter play,” said Kerrison. “You’re now getting some serious money coming back.”
Elsewhere, Specialization models have been developed to encourage full time enrolment toward a degree. Last May, the University of Illinois launched the iMBA. The plan lays out six Specializations that can qualify students to enrol in six for-credit courses at the university which result in an MBA costing around $20,000.
Coursera didn’t specify how much it will be charging for graded assignments, but in a blog post last year, it said students will be asked to pay a “small fee” to access graded assignments from January 2016.