The freemium model (try out for free but then you have to pay) for MOOCs is gaining ground rapidly and price tags are appearing on everything except basic access to the material. Until now you could get a free certificate on completion of a MOOC but not anymore according to an article in Class Central, MOOC Trends in 2015: The Death of Free Certificates. Udacity, Coursera and FutureLearn all charge for even the basic course completion certificate and now EdX have announced that they will follow suit. Of course the free certificates did not really translate into credential hard currency but were a nice recognition of course completion. Now it seems the major MOOC consortia see even the most basic certificates as a source of income, indicating that investors are looking for higher returns after the initial free education for all rhetoric has died down. It can also be an attempt to answer the criticism that certificates for simple course completion were not worth the pixels they were written on, given that there are no guarantees that the person receiving the certificate actually did the work. Does the payment of a fee raise the value of the credential? If I have to pay for something that was previously free there should be added value.
It seems that we have reached an interesting point in the MOOC saga. The open and free part is shrinking and without completion certificates the plain vanilla MOOC becomes a collection of not-so-open educational resources that you are welcome to use for your own development but without any kind of recognition. Mainstream MOOCs are now officially commercial operations but you can access the material if you want. There's certainly nothing new here since many universities have shared their resources as open courseware for many years (MIT OCW, OpenLearn etc) and you are free to access the material whenever you want. The MOOCs provide a structure for you to follow but if you need recognition you will have to pay. In some cases the price of recognition is increasing with certificates (of varying levels of dignity) ranging between $25 - $300 per course. It's still cheaper than the for-credit options but then again the credits are valuable hard currency compared to MOOC certificates.
Paying customers are more likely to complete the course and as we move to a more layered model for MOOCs we will see completion rates based only on the numbers of paying participants whilst the free learners merely demonstrate the level of general interest. As I have written before I think it really is time to stop using the term MOOC and find more realistic descriptions. On the one hand we have a largely commercial field offering massive online courses for fees with a variety of certificates and even credits. On the other hand we have the field of genuinely open courses run as collaborative projects or as part of a community. These are open in terms of access as well as offering material for reuse and adaptation. They may not be as glossy and polished as the commercial courses but they are non-profit and run on enthusiasm and pioneer spirit. Both options serve a purpose and will continue to evolve but let's stop confusing the two and pushing them both into the uncomfortable box labelled MOOC.
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