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Coursera rolls out fees for graded assignments

Leading MOOC platform Coursera has announced it will begin charging students to submit assignments for grading in certain courses, in its latest move to generate revenue from the thousands of free online courses supported by the platform and created by 120 top universities.

“The changes that we are making this year will move us toward sustainability and enable continued investment in our learning experience”

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.

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7 Responses to Coursera rolls out fees for graded assignments

  1. Hi Brian I’m going to ramble a bit here with polory connected thoughts. First, I should emphasize that feces-throwing monkeys should be a requirement in any educational technology discussion. Secondly, your questions are important, and I imagine, more relevant to most people in this field than the conversation David and I were having. Which leads me to an ongoing tension in education technology (and more broadly, in society). Arguably the most consequential philosophical contribution of American thinkers is that of pragmatism. We want results. We want to see how things that we do now have relevance. Intellectual peacockery often comes across more like infinitely grinding a small axe and taking far more time than the value produced in the end product. This appeal to practicality is strong in gov’t ( what works methodology ), business, and increasingly education. Sometimes, however, it’s very hard to determine the value of practicality in relation to nebulous concepts like theory or art . I personally believe theory is very important in intellectually mapping out a landscape. But I can’t prove that it’s better than do it and refocus once feedback comes in approaches. I have been called to task most often by Alan Levine, more snidely by Scott Leslie about practical efforts and the impact of sometimes unfruitful conversations. Alan is not a fan of dichotomies. Scott is not a fan of anything that smacks of buzzwords. In my opinion, though, dichotomies help map the elements within a particular space or topic of discussion. Terms/words/phrases while at risk of becoming buzzwords can serve as touch points to advance particular ideas. Disagreements, debate, and push back are critical to ensuring that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. I’m always a bit flummoxed when people respond to criticism with aggressiveness. Debate and respectful conflict are healthy.Different people play different roles in any discipline. This is obvious enough. As an example, over a decade ago I had a family member go through a very challenging time. As I met with siblings, we’d chat periodically to somewhat coordinate our activities. Very quickly, it became clear that there was no strategy in addressing the problem we were facing. We each had to play the role that best suited our attributes. The diversity of approaches was the solution. Trying very hard to transfer this to this discussion, conversations around educational technology can be mind numbingly boring, even when the answer seem brilliantly obvious. I’m disappointed to hear that some of the conversations make you feel like an idiot. That statement seems to indicate that complex conversations have more insight (value?) that straight forward discussions or applications. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Complex theoretical conversations are different from obvious practical applications. Both have value in different contexts. Both, if done by open minded people with passionate curiosity, can advance our field.

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