How are costs and benefits assessed?

Aside from the proposed business models and potential revenue-generation opportunities associated with MOOCs, there are costs and benefits associated with the practice.


  • MOOC platform acquisition, development or partnerships
  • Course development, including materials, assessment and delivery
  • Staff (re)training


The institution’s reach is increased through MOOC activities, and access to it is improved through marginal or incremental costs, at a lower rate compared to conventional expansions of building, faculty and staff.

  • MOOCs can be a part of universities’ service mission, enabling them to contribute to the professional development and continuing personal education of learners (more so than simply by offering additional higher-education degrees).
  • MOOCs provide an opportunity to design, implement and evaluate new learning innovations in parallel with the day-to-day working of the institution.
  • MOOCs can enhance the reputations of the participating educators and institutions.
  • Researchers can benefit from being in contact with a large number of potential “subjects.”
  • The public can engage with the research and development activities taking place within the university, fulfilling another aspect of the institution’s service mission.

Actual delivery over the duration of the MOOC calls for a relatively lower order of effort compared to the preparation phase, especially in courses that are primarily video-based and have automated grading systems. A course team is usually necessary, and instructors in charge need to be subject-matter experts who can facilitate a learner support team containing varied skills and expertise. In socially engaged courses, course delivery has an intensity and depth that often requires a higher level of ongoing input from the course team.


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A Policy Brief on MOOCs by Commonwealth of Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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