Tuesday, March 02, 2010

In Higher Ed, Free is Good

Conventional thinking is that educational offerings are a zero-sum game. Most assume that a University offering free online courses will cannibalize enrollment in their paid courses. But schools are finding out that they can in fact grow their enrollment by offering courses for free. From Education unlocked, by Ian Johnson:
The open courseware movement was the brainchild of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, which in 2001 asked its program leaders to post as much course material online as possible, Watrall said.
[Ethan Watrall is a Professor of history and telecommunications, information studies and media at Michigan State University]
Many professors posted resources such as class assignments, online readings and syllabi, which led to significantly more attention from potential students, Watrall said.

“Putting your stuff out there for the world to see actually increases enrollment,” he said. “It gives students an opportunity to see how the teacher teaches the class — exactly what kind of content they cover — and they can make a more informed decision as opposed to a three sentence course description.”
In addition to the story below, the PhD dissertation - The Impact of OpenCourseWare on Paid Enrollment in Distance Learning Courses - of BYU student and director of independent study Justin K. Johansen provides some good data on the benefits of OpenCourseWare.

University finds free online classes don't hurt enrollment
Free online courses aren't sapping enrollment numbers—in fact, they're actually helping to spread the word. Those are the preliminary findings out of Brigham Young University, which experimented recently by granting free access to a selection of its distance learning courses. Though further study is needed in order to see whether there's a significant impact, educators are beginning to see that offering free materials isn't the end of the world after all.

The university's Independent Study offerings have been attractive to students who are unable to make class regularly, either due to geographic distance or because of scheduling conflicts. Its Open CourseWare section offers the general public six classes—three university courses and three high school courses—that anyone on the Web can step through. ... Of course, you won't get any credit for taking the course for free, and that's why BYU hopes you'll pony up the cash and enroll.

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