It finally happened. Early this year, edX removed the word free from their homepage and announced that they would soon start testing a support fee. (Class Central cataloged a few of the tests here.)
Apparently, the results of these tests are in. EdX has decided how it will monetize its MOOC courses going forward. Edx’s paywall will be similar to FutureLearn’s course upgrading feature, in that free users will be able to access the course content for a certain time period. Graded assignments will be behind a paywall.
Coursera was the first to introduce a paywall for graded assignments three years ago. To access the graded assignments, students need to purchase a certificate. Free users could still access the course contents.
FutureLearn’s course upgrading feature.
Then in March of 2017, FutureLearn adopted a similar paywall to Coursera’s, with an added twist. In addition to there being a paywall for graded assignments, the content was only available to free users for the duration of the course and two weeks after it ends.
Edx’s new paywall also has a time limit; after the course ends free users won’t be able to access the course content. According to edX, most existing courses (with a few exceptions) will be moved over to this new model. All new courses will be offered under the new model.
It may come as a surprise to some that edX’s paywall will now be higher than Coursera’s, especially since Coursera has borne the brunt of criticism about restricting access to MOOCs, which many attributed to pressure from Coursera’s venture capital (VC) investors.
Now edX, a non-profit, has arrived at a model similar to Coursera’s, a for-profit company which has raised $210 million dollars in VC. Despite the difference in tax status, this move makes sense. EdX and Coursera offer similar products to the same markets.
Will edX’s new monetization strategy pay off? Evidence from other MOOC platforms is mixed. Coursera’s monetization has worked really for them. They have made $140 million in estimated revenue for 2018, out of which $100 million or so might be from their consumer-facing MOOC business. But FutureLearn’s stronger paywall hasn’t generated similar returns. FutureLearn’s revenue touched £8.2M in the last fiscal year (to the end of July).
Coursera’s catalog has more courses from bigger global brands as compared to FutureLearn’s catalog. But there is another big difference – scheduling policy. Nearly Coursera’s entire catalog is available to register and start immediately, as well as purchase a certificate. This is not true for FutureLearn or edX, where many courses are still session based and often are not available to register or purchase a certificate after the course ends.
This difference in scheduling policies might mean that edX’s experience will more closely resemble FutureLearn’s. And if edX and FutureLearn are not able to monetize at the same level as Coursera, they may have to become even more aggressive with their paywalls.
Strangely enough, with this change to edX, Coursera is now the MOOC platform that allows free users to go furthest before hitting a paywall.