Coursera has announced that they will begin to charge users who decide to submit assignments to be graded in certain courses.
The company discussed the changes in a blog post on their website, adding that hundreds of new courses and Specializations will now be available to students, with some coming at a cost.
A company spokesman told EdSurge that the fees will be applied to the majority of courses that correspond to Specializations in addition to a smaller portion of courses that do not for those students that would like to be able to submit assignments for a grade and receive a Course Certificate. Prices for the courses will range from $29 to $99, with financial assistance available. The company currently offers 1,761 courses.
For example, a student looking to enroll in Michigan State University's How to Start Your Own Business course would be required to pay $79 for the first of the five courses that make up the Specialization, or they could prepay $474 for the entire program.
Learners who would like to view the videos, assignments and practice assignments without paying for them will still be able to, but will receive "view-only access to graded assignments." The options for each course can be viewed on the course information page after clicking "enroll." Courses that are not part of the new program will continue to show the option to enroll with or without a Course Certificate.
While most courses that are part of a Specialization will show the changes this week, others will be added later in the year.
The company's blog post goes on to discuss the need for a financially viable way to offer massive open online courses:
We are on a mission to change the world by providing universal access to the best learning experience. To do this, we also need to have a business model that supports our platform, our partners, our content, and everything we do for learners.The changes that we are making this year will move us toward sustainability and enable continued investment in our learning experience, without compromising our commitment to transforming lives for people around the world.
Meanwhile, critics of the move argue that MOOCs are becoming less open and less useful. Previously, learners could choose to take the course for free or to pay $49 for an identity-verified course certificate awarded upon course completion. Students had the ability to begin a course for free and opt to pay for the certificate at any point in the course. However, the new MOOCs charge students an up-front fee. While students are free to explore, if they would like to take the actual course they are required to pay.
According to education and technology writer Audrey Watters, the company raised $146.1 million from investors and needed to develop a business model that kept them happy.
George Siemens, who leads the Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge Research Lab at the University of Texas at Arlington, added in an email to Carl Straumsheim for Inside Higher Ed that while he does agree that the company needs to find a way to cover costs, they are moving away from their previous focus of increasing access to education.