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Online courses much cheaper than MBA programs

By: Jeff Mazzini| Tags:

Tim Dodd –
MOOC students have the flexibility to study whenever they have available time. Photo: Reuters
Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, cost 100 times less than traditional education according to a new report from the prestigious Wharton School, one of America’s top-ranked business schools.

The report, Will Video Kill the Classroom Star?, likens MOOCs, which are offered free on the internet, to a “Trojan horse” which does not itself threaten traditional education but has introduced a new way of teaching, dubbed “SuperText”, which is a transformative change.

The authors of the report, Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich, are Wharton academics who have been involved in the school’s MOOC program.

There have been over 1 million enrolments in the 14 MOOCs offered so far, including its very popular MBA foundation series.

The Wharton School, part of the University of Pennsylvania, is often regarded as the third-ranked business school in the US after Harvard and Stanford, and its free online courses have proved very popular.

The report concludes that – as each MOOC course costs $US70,000 ($74,000) to produce – the cost to the school for each enrolment is 56¢ which, even considered only as a form of marketing, is very cheap.

“If one considers that business schools may pay $1 or more to Google for a click on an AdWords ad, this can be thought of as very inexpensive advertising,” the report said.

Even though the free MOOCs have a notoriously low completion rate – the Wharton MOOCs saw 5 per cent of enrolees complete the course – the cost to the institution for each student who completes is only about $11.

Productivity improvement

The report says this is a 100 times productivity improvement on the cost of instruction in conventional MBA courses.

However, the authors say the real change introduced by MOOCs is the method they use to teach, which they call SuperText, which divides material up into chunks, presents it in short videos and allows students to interact online.

Students have the flexibility to do the study whenever they have available time – which is a boon to those who are working – and interestingly, students do not usually directly interact with their instructor.

“It is SuperText that poses the threat and the opportunity,” they say.

“The MOOC . . . is a Trojan horse: while public attention was focused on the massive and open characteristics of the courses, the SuperText technology quietly proved highly effective as a learning technology.”

The authors add they expect SuperText to improve with the delivery of course content and the assessment of students to become “adaptive and responsive to learner needs and ­capabilities”.

They say the popularity of MOOCs has revealed an “apparent preference” by students for watching videos as a means of instruction.

They see other advantages of MOOCs and SuperText, including the way they support a “rich, unstructured interaction” among students in online communities and yield results at least as good as conventional instruction.

The Australian Financial Review


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