Friday, 24 April 2009

Business Models for Open Courseware - Version 2

This week on Yammer there has been a debate about opencourseware (OCW). The major contributors to the debate have been my colleagues James Neill, Michael de Percy, Keith Lyons and Alan Arnold. Some of the issues considered in the debate were:
  • What copyright protection to apply: copyright, creative commons (and which version), public domain or some other system
  • What should be included
  • How to host it: hardware and software
  • Philosophy of openness opposed to financial reality: how to make money from OCW
As the accountant in the mix, the last issue is that one that interests me. It is pointless for a University to provide OCW if it sends itself bankrupt in the process. So to start a debate, I am putting forward a number of different models of how to make money from OCW. These ideas are not necessarily my own but I cannot remember from where I have sourced the ideas so I have not referenced them. The list is not intended to be comprehensive, just a start for a conversation. Finally, the models are not mutually exclusive - more than one of them can be used at the same time. I have not conducted any analysis about the financial feasibility of these models.

The Models

The Advertising Model

Sell advertising space on OCW material. It is possible to use services like Google or Yahoo to manage this or to use more traditional advertising providers.

The Winetasting Model

Users can get a taste of the OCW material for free but have to pay if they want sufficient access to undertake a course. This is achieved by having all users register and restricting the free access for each user (for example, 5 free accesses per month). More intensive access will require payment. For this to work, materials need to be interactive otherwise a group of students will get together and download a portion of the materials each, using their free allowance, and then share the material.

The Pay to Go To Class Model

All the material is free but students must pay if they want to attend classes. This really puts pressure on academics to make sure that students see paying to attend classes as value for money.

The Pay for Assessment Model

All the material is free but students must pay if they want to submit assessment items and receive a grade.

The Pay for Accreditation Model

All the material is free but students must pay to submit a portfolio showing achievement of the learning outcomes and to have that portfolio assessed - this is similar to what is done with RPL and RCC processes.

The Consulting Model

This idea was contributed by James Neill - my apologies if I have misrepresented his views. The OCW material serves as a "loss leader" to attract consulting contracts to the University. The OCW material serves to establish the University's expertise in a particular field.

The key issue for Universities is not whether they want to participate in OCW, but how they are going to participate. MIT and OU-UK have already shown that big universities can move in this direction. Commercial (non-university) enterprises are also moving in this direction but have not got the free courseware idea adopted yet. Small universities which try and ignore the move to OCW will go the way of the dodo.