The High Cost of MOOCs: Calculating How High Is Too High and the Extra-financial Implications of That Cost

I subscribe to a number of newsletters related to online education. They very seldom include articles that question increased institutional investments in digital technology. So this one caught my attention.

Writing for eCampus, Meris Stansbury surveys studies that have addressed the question of “How to Calculate the Real Cost of MOOCs.” It turns out that the most effectively developed MOOCs are quite expensive.

Here is are the opening paragraphs of Stansbury’s article:

“Is a MOOC worth anywhere between $39,000 to $325,000 in development and delivery costs to your college or university? How do you know?

“For colleges and universities already on alert thanks to uncontrollable costs associated with higher ed, the decision whether or not to spend hundreds of thousands on MOOCs should be an intimidating one.

“However, according to Fiona Hollands, associate director at the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University; and Devayani Tirthali, independent researcher at Brown University, little publicly available information on MOOC costs based on rigorous analysis exits for those interested.

“’It appears that lowering costs is not the highest priority for MOOC initiatives,’ say the authors: ‘among the 140 or so institutions of higher-ed offering MOOCs in Allen and Seaman’s sample, less than ten indicated that exploring cost reducation was an objective for their MOOC initiatives.’ In a separate study, Hollands and Tirthali also found that, of 29 institutions offering MOOCs, improving economics was a goal for only 38 percent.

“The two authors go on to list many other recent studies showing that MOOC costs were not a high-priority issue for institutions; instead, universities were more concerned with increasing access to education, raising institutional visibility or building brand, increasing student recruitment, and improving or innovating pedagogy.

“But with recent national spotlights on college affordability, as well as questions surrounding MOOCs’ effectiveness for learning, can institutions continue to turn a blind eye to the high price of MOOCs?”

The full article can be found at:


So, MOOCs have been a product of elite or at least very large institutions for more reasons than the presumed excellence of their faculty as teachers.

The potential that they have for promoting an even more sharply tiered system of higher education than that which we now have derives now just from the conditions under which they will be made available but from the financial limitations on who can competitively produce them.

And the cost of producing them further reinforces the neo-colonial implications of their international availability.


One thought on “The High Cost of MOOCs: Calculating How High Is Too High and the Extra-financial Implications of That Cost

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.