a2k open content


Just a quick update on the BYU Independent Study OCW. A few weeks ago I gave the following initial status report:

So far the results are very positive – 85 of the 3500 people who visited the OCW site last month registered for for-credit courses. In other words, 2.4% of people who visited the OCW site during its first month became paying customers of BYU IS.

The latest data say that we have now had 5529 visitors to BYU IS OCW and that 136 of those visitors have enrolled in credit-bearing courses. In other words, 2.5% of the people who have visited the OCW site have become paying customers. Remarkably stable, eh?

I’ve said before the BYU IS is in a remarkable position because of its prior commitments to improve student affordability. For many years now the BYU IS course development model has been to build content-complete online courses from scratch (without licensing external resources or requiring students to purchase any textbooks or additional resources) in order to keep the cost down for students. The traditional online course financial model successfully supports this strategy. So, since BYU IS owns all the IP in its courses, conversion to OCW format and open licensing is ~very~ inexpensive.

The cost data are not final, but it looks like the last batch of semester-long, content-complete online courses converted to OCW cost about $1000 a piece to convert. That’s $1000 to put a semester-long, content-complete online course into OCW under an open license – all the development, maintenance, and update costs are paid for by the traditional online course business model. As the course conversion process is refined, there is still room for that cost to go down.

When you put the visitor conversion rate together with the course conversion cost, you have a recipe for an opencourseware initiative that can pay for itself forever and bless the lives of millions of people. These two kinds of conversion (visitor conversion rate and course conversion cost) aren’t the kind of “conversion” we traditionally associate with BYU, but they do seem to be ‘working together for good’ (D&C 90:24).

Those of you who know me know that my passion and commitment to the open education movement come from my faith. As this is a Sunday post, I’ll take the liberty of sharing some of the scriptures that influence my thinking about open education.

14. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

25. Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.
28. Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.
33. He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile. (2 Ne 26:25-33)

The BYU IS OCW experiment continues, and I’ll keep updating you all on it…

a2k open content


BYU Independent Study (BYU IS) has launched its opencourseware pilot –!

University Courses

High School Courses

The pilot includes three university-level courses and three high school-level courses (BYU IS offers 250 university-level courses online for credit and another 250 high school-level courses online for credit). The courses in BYU IS OCW are content-complete – that is, they are the full courses as delivered online without the need of additional textbooks or other materials (only graded assessments have been removed).

This pilot is part of a dissertation study to measure the impact of OCW courses on paying enrollments. In other words, the study will answer questions like “Does providing access to OCW versions of courses undercut the market for the for-credit versions of the courses?” and “Can OCW versions of courses that can be taken for credit at a distance generate enough revenue (as a lead generation mechanism) to financially sustain an ongoing OCW effort?”

The study has been running about a month now, and so far the results are very positive – 85 of the 3500 people who visited the OCW site last month registered for for-credit courses. In other words, 2.4% of people who visited the OCW site during its first month became paying customers of BYU IS. Much more detailed analysis to come later this fall, but a quick back of the envelope calculation says that if this pattern remains stable, then BYU IS OCW will be financially self-sustainable with the ability to add and update a number of new courses to the collection each year, indefinitely, should they so choose. Exciting!!!

open content

The Future of OCW, and “OCW 2.0”

About a year ago, I finished 2005-2012: The OpenCourseWars, and thought it quite a fun exercise to try to forecast where things are headed. A few months ago Trey called me a futurist, and I chuckled. Then the Deseret News called me Nostradamus, and I cringed. Perhaps I let what others say about me influence me too much, but I have been spending more and more time thinking about the future of the movement.

As I’ve been pondering the future of the open education movement, I’ve thought particularly about the future of OpenCourseWare initiatives and think I can see something coming a few years down the road. What I see is the end of OpenCourseWare as we know it. Here’s a specific forecast (by being specific I can clearly be either right or wrong):

Every OCW initiative at a university that does not offer distance courses for credit will be dead by the end of calendar 2012.

Now, hopefully they won’t pull their sites and content offline – ongoing access to that material would be really nice. (It’s probably time to start building local mirrors of all the world’s OCWs.) But I strongly suspect that all OCW development and maintenance activity at these schools will have ground to a halt by 2012. Why?

The first generation of OpenCourseWare projects (“OCW 1.0”) had essentially no sustainability plan. These first generation projects were funded by grants and had no means of supporting themselves once the grants ran out – except asking other people and other organizations to donate money. Consequently, in tough economic times (read, “now”) these programs will find themselves at risk. (Please understand that I’m not pointing and laughing; I established one of the larger OCW 1.0’s in the country at USU.)

A new generation of OpenCourseWare projects are built around sustainability plans. These second generation projects are integrated with distance education offerings, where the public can use and reuse course materials for free (just like first generation OCWs) with the added option of paying to take the courses online for credit (there is no way to earn credit from the first generation OCWs). The Open Universities of the UK and the Netherlands, UC Irvine, and the small pilot program at BYU Independent Study are built on this model. These second generation OCWs are simultaneously a powerful public good and effective marketing tools that generate revenue and can likely sustain themselves financially. (We’re studying this sustainability model in a truly fascinating dissertation study at BYU right now.) Schools with first generation OCWs that also offer distance education courses (like USU) could transform themselves into OCW 2.0 programs if they wanted to.

As the second generation model of supporting and sustaining OpenCourseWare projects (“OCW 2.0”) is demonstrated to be effective, the OCW movement will expand rapidly. I anticipate the cost per lead generated from opening courses will prove significantly lower than the cost per lead through other marketing channels. Once this is established, OCW will become a default component of marketing programs at public, private, and for-profit schools that offer distance courses. The number of content-complete courses (as opposed to the often spotty, content sampling approach of OCW 1.0) will explode. The relevance of OCW 1.0 collections may be called into question at this point.

Unfortunately, universities which refuse to offer distances courses cannot sustain their OCW projects with the OCW 2.0 model. It is unclear to me what – besides credit – they could possibly sell in conjunction with their OCW content in order to sustain themselves financially (particularly in lean times when each and every program on campus is being scrutinized).

Perhaps the composition of the OpenCourseWare movement will be quite different three years from now…