Saturday, February 15, 2014

Freemium education

layers by ** RCB **, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  ** RCB ** 

The concept of freemium is well established on the net. Most tools and services have a free version with limitations (limited functionality, advertising etc) and then a premium version with all the bells and whistles and minus the ads at a price. The free version is the bait to encourage you to go premium once you get hooked on the service. I use lots of these services but only in a few cases have I taken the premium option; you can't afford them all.

So how about freemium education? As universities scramble to find business models for their MOOC investments this would seem to be an obvious avenue to explore. So it was no surprise to read this week about Harvard's layered approach to one of their MOOCs on edX, Introduction to computer science. The course is offered on three layers:
  • You can take the course for free as with all MOOCs and if you complete all the assignments you get a certificate. This option is basically self-service independent study though you have student forums and suchlike for peer interaction.
  • You can pay $350 to get access to tuition and feedback from teaching assistants and be able to gain a Harvard continuing studies certificate (Harvard CS50). In addition, if you pass you also get a $350 voucher to pay towards another Harvard continuing studies course.
  • You can study for real Harvard credits with full access to teaching staff and qualified feedback. This option will cost $2050.
I have written several times about how education is becoming layered with the bottom layers of self-study and peer support remaining free but with higher layers offering tuition, feedback, validation and examination being offered as optional add-ons at a price. This is a fine example of this and it will be interesting to see how students react to this model. One option in the future would be to opt for an upgrade after starting the course. Having started as a free student you could after a week or so elect to move up a level to get access to some more qualified tuition and feedback. Read more about this in an article in eCampus News, Harvard’s online course: a MOOC, sort of,

Harvard have also featured in the MOOC news stream with another twist to the theme. The new venture HarvardX for alumni offers special versions of regular Harvard MOOCs for alumni only, with extra material and input from teachers not available for freemoocers. According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Harvard U. Will Offer Exclusive MOOCs to Alumni, this could be a smart move strengthening ties to alumni and providing them with an exclusive service. Loyal alumni might also be more likely to stay the course:

MOOC providers have struggled to reproduce traditional courses’ emotional connections and networking opportunities in online classes whose student populations are massive, mercurial, and far more diverse than the average college classroom. Strengthening existing ties among graduates, and their gratitude to alma mater, might prove easier.

These exclusive MOOCs could also be made available to donors and other friends of the university. Yet more signs that MOOCs are going mainstream.

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