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How to Make Money from Online Education

Online education programs are one of the most exciting trends in higher education today. Here at Via Meadia we’ve been closely following new programs like Coursera and EdX, which provide university-level classes from respected schools to anyone with an internet connection, all for free. Yet for all the excitement, we still wonder: How does a program dedicated to providing free content make money?

A new contract between Coursera and the University of Michigan may be the beginning of an answer to that question. In addition to the usual revenue sources for online programming (advertisments, sponsorships, and usage fees), Coursera is looking for ways to deliver premium content for a price. This added level of content could include paid, in-person tutoring sessions to complement online coursework, certification for successful completion of courses, and in-person testing, which would make cheating more difficult and testing more rigorous. Coursera may even roll out a program to connect students with potential employers. GigaOm reports:

One option seems to be a recruitment program in which students opt-in to receive in-platform messages and opportunities from employers who have found them through the site. Another scenario involves letting an employer evaluate the performance of Coursera students by inviting them to take an exam or other assessments at the employer’s office.

Coursera, and online education more broadly, seem to be moving toward a hybrid model that mixes online, individual coursework with occasional tutoring sessions.

It’s going to take some trial and error before we learn what online ed can and can’t do well and how it can deliver more education more conveniently at a better price. Universities will have to fight the temptation to see online courses as a low cost revenue stream that can subsidize the inefficiencies elsewhere in the system; this is like a legacy newspaper trying to earn enough money from digital subscriptions to avoid changing its basic business model.

Coursera may or may not come up with the killer app that makes online education an indispensable part of future of higher ed, but it’s a strong early effort and we wish it all the best.

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  • Kris

    “How does a program dedicated to providing free content make money?”

    The initial answer seems easy enough: if all you want to do is consume the content, knock yourself out. Anything else, you pay for.


    “How to Make Money from Online Education”


    Dear Sir,

    Request For Urgent Business Relationship

    We have the pleasure to make this surprising but mutually benefiting business proposal. I am a senior staff member of the newly dissolved Committee for Online Education of the University of Virginia. Our committee designed a plan to develop an online university under the aegis of the University of Virginia. Unfortunately, while financial consultants certified our plan to be profitable, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan vetoed the plan to defend entrenched interests of tenured professors.

    We members of the Committee are eager to proceed on our own, and have successfully secured for ourselves, the sum of US $73,000,000 in investment from Venture Funds. However, as we were employees of the University of Virginia when we designed all of the plans for the online university, the University of Virginia can legally prevent us from founding a competing university.

    What we need is a reliable external partner to be listed as official owner and face of the online university, while we would get on with the actual work.

    I was therefore mandated in trust by the other members of the Committee and our financial backers, to seek a partner into whose account we could transfer the sum of US $73,000,000, hence I am writing you this letter. We have agreed to share the funds thus:

    1) 80% for us (the committee members)

    2) 20% for you (the account owner)

    It is from our 80% that we would set up the actual university. We also need assurance from you that you will let us have our share once the amount (US $73,000,000.00) is transferred into your account.

    In order to avoid the notice of the University of Virginia, the payment will be done by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through its correspondent bank. What we need from you, is that you provide a vital account into which the funds will be transferred/lodged.

    Note that this transaction is 100% safe and guaranteed since the bylaws under which our committee was set up, has empowered us to disburse all the funds. Furthermore, as you were never a University of Virginia employee, they have absolutely no legal case against you.

    We shall commence the transfer of the funds immediately we receive the following information by Tel/Fax::

    1) Your name and full address

    2) Your bank’s name, telephone and fax number

    3) Your account number and name of would be beneficiary

    The above information will enable us put up requests of recognition and accreditation to the United States Bureau of Education. This way, you will be recognized as owner and beneficiary of the University before the final remittance to your nominated account, by the Central Bank of Nigeria, being paying bank.

    Note that we will be responsible for any payments of any taxes.

    Note also that your agreement with this proposal will grant you the title of Chancellor of the university.

    We are looking forward to doing this business with you and solicit absolute confidentiality from you in this transaction. Please acknowledge receipt of this letter, using the above Telefax number for more details regarding this transaction. Also endeavor to send the requested information.

  • Anthony

    Kris, that fertile mind never ceases to amaze…. And I get it online for free (informative content).

  • Bryan

    Zeek rewards is a business opportunity that just about anyone can join in on. it works by offering a chance for people to set up income streams over the internet.
    If you are looking to make more money from home or you are just someone who needs the eхtra income, then this program could be eхactly what you are looking for. It is not that hard to understand and many people have earned big incomes by following the steps it takes to succeed with the program.

    All you have to do is put your mind to it and do what it takes and the rest is history.

  • Kris

    Anthony@2, thank you. One of the standard questions is “Would you rather have internet access or indoor plumbing?” While I would hate to have to give up indoor plumbing, I would feel crippled without the internet.

  • Dell Adams

    “This added level of content could include paid, in-person tutoring sessions to complement online coursework, certification for successful completion of courses, and in-person testing, which would make cheating more difficult and testing more rigorous. Coursera may even roll out a program to connect students with potential employers.”

    Coursera must know that its fraternal twin, Udacity, is already taking the latter three of these four paths. Udacity’s front page lists the career program as one of its main features: “Optionally let us hand your resume to one of our 20 partner companies. 100% free for students!”

    As the saying goes these days, if you’re not paying, you’re the product. At least a school can actually in some sense _produce_ you, whereas the most that Facebook can do is dig you out of the ground, so to speak.

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