Going ‘open’ is a clear trend for many things, such as computer programs, tools, publications etc. The concept of open online courses (OOCs) is not very new, which is a result from the development of distance education. For example, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were first introduced in 2008 [1].

‘Open’ is really an attracting word. But what does it mean? The most developed open-concept is probably the open source software, which can be characterized as cost free, free redistribution and free modification [2]. In general, these features are also true for OOCs. According to Wikipedia, MOOCs usually have open licensing of content, structure and learning goals and promote the reuse and remixing of resources [3]. Going open definitely has many strengths and offers many opportunities even though there simultaneously exist some weaknesses and threats. A SWOT analysis has been done in our learning groups to identify the key issues for each perspective.

Amongst the weaknesses, ‘low revenues’ is listed. Recently, we have been warned about the foreseen economic crisis in the education, due to the dropping-off of applicants for university and the increasing number of dropping out. The situation might be worsened by OOCs. The pressures come both internally and externally. Within the university, we are encouraged to develop online courses, which might be open in the future. However, at the same time, fewer resources will be allocated to each course, which implies that fewer teachers may be needed. Out of the university, the challenge of recruiting students is growing. The development of OOCs provides versatile alternatives. They will change the way of education.   

Even though OOCs are free access for students, developing and running an OCC do have a cost. Actually, after an OCC is developed, more efforts are still needed to keep the course content updated. Therefore, over-pursuing open may not be a sustainable way. In order to reach a win-win solution, innovative business models are needed. It is interesting to see that some are already existing, for example 1) fee-based courses which require students to pay a fee for access to graded assignments, 2) Specializations, a sequence of courses with a capstone project, and 3) Course Certificates (formerly known as Signature Track) [4]. It is clear that because MOOCs are free, revenues mainly come from the services around MOOCs and additional values (e.g. certification). However, these may still be far away from a successful and financially sustainable business model, which can motivate teachers and fund their work. In addition, OOCs remove most of the constraints about participants and can be easily scaled-up, so it will lead to a tougher competition amongst OOCs. For instance, it will be extremely difficult to compete with OOCs provided by the global top universities.

Nevertheless, the rapid growth in the MOOC market leads to the influx of new stakeholders and brings in new services, sponsorships, customers etc. [5]. Therefore, there are more business opportunities, from which new business models can be developed. We, as teachers, are not bystanders, but players. So we need take actions to look for our own opportunities in OOCs.


[1] Siemens, G. (2013). Massive open online courses: Innovation in education. In McGreal, R., Kinuthia W., & Marshall S. (Eds), Open educational resources: Innovation, research and practice (pp. 5–16). Vancouver: Commonwealth of Learning and Athabasca University.

[2] St. Laurent, Andrew M. (2008). Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing. O’Reilly Media. p. 4. ISBN 9780596553951.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course#cite_note-3

[4] https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/tag/mooc-business-model/

[5] https://bizmooc.eu/papers/business-models/

Need new business models for open online courses