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While most of the media focus has been on MOOCs over the last few years there's another side to online education that is galloping along almost unnoticed. There are many platforms that offer a vast range of short training courses provided by individual educators, colleges or companies where the learner pays a fee and some of that money goes to the course creators. The most prominent platforms in this niche are Udemy, Skillshare, Teachable and Lynda.com, but there are many more. Udemy has been around for many years now and is as a market place where educators can create and offer an online course and earn money on the registrations. Other platforms can have more in-house course production or various forms of quality control on the courses published. the simplest form of quality control is by learners reviews and ratings. There are two basic types of business model: one that charges learners a price per course and the course creator gets a share of that or the subscription model where the learner pays a monthly fee to access the whole range of courses and some of the income is distributed among the contributors.
You could call this field just-in-time learning for anyone who wants to get a quick overview of a new concept or how to use a particular application. It's more the modern equivalent of all the books with titles like A beginner's guide to X or Teach yourself Y. They don't pretend to be like a university course or to provide interaction with teachers and other learners. They guide you through the process, allow you to test your knowledge and maybe some kind of practical task. If you want to learn some more advanced functions in PhotoShop or the principles of lean management then this is a good place to start but it's not the place for deeper learning and collaboration, nor does it even pretend to be so.
One of these companies, Skillshare, is highlighted in an article in EdSurge, Can a Subscription Model Work for Online Learners and Teachers? Skillshare Just Raised $28 Million to Find Out. For a very affordable (at least for learners in developed countries) you get access to a self-service buffet of courses and so far they have amassed around 5 million users. Learn as much as you like for a monthly fee.
There are roughly 1,000 courses available on Skillshare for free. For full access to the more than 22,000 classes currently on its platform, there’s a subscription fee (either $15 per month or $99 a year). About 30 to 50 percent of this subscription revenue goes to a royalty pool that pays Skillshare teachers based on their share of all the minutes of video watched in a month. The company claims that the average Skillshare teacher makes about $3,000 a year, with top earners raking in as much as $40,000.
There is a useful overview of different online course platforms that use some kind of subscription model on the site Medium, The Economics of Teaching in an Online Learning Marketplace. They all offer attractive packaging and presentation for your course and a marketplace to attract participants but as ever you need to weigh up the costs of using the platform with what you get out of it.
Are MOOCs heading in this direction? There are already special prices for course packages and the differences between the MOOC providers and the course platforms are narrowing. Online education is becoming increasingly commercial and I think these platforms fill an important niche in terms of professional development and lifelong learning. However I still think that universities should also offer truly open education to those who are unable to access more traditional forms and cannot afford the commercial variety. As the majority of the MOOC platforms become more commercial we mustn't forget all the less hyped open education that is being conducted by committed universities and partnerships all over the world. That's where the really interesting development is taking place.