Introducing myself to #EdStartUp – How can we find sustainable business/funding models for open education? [update]


This is my introduction to the other participants on the #EdStartUp MOOC. My main interest in taking the course is to explore ways of squaring up the demands of a sustainable business or other funding model with openness. My key question is how can we run open courses with open educational resources and using open platforms without the support of large institutions that can afford to treat things like MOOCs as advertising or loss leaders.

I think an essential part of this problem is solving the credentials and trust dilemmas as I’ve blogged about before here and here.

But the question could be put in even starker terms: Can we charge for participation in something like a MOOC? As I tweeted about recently: “We know connectivist learning doesn’t have to be massive, online or a course. But does it have to be open? Can we charge for open?” Some of the suggestions in the ensuing conversation included the obvious: “Open content & learning nets. But paid participation for official recognition.” In simplest terms: It costs money to review somebody’s work for the review to have some value (no robot grading but possibly some peer review models). But perhaps we need to reach for models of funding that are themselves open rather than based on an idea of scarcity. Thus this tweet: “Maybe we need a Kickstarter-style website for #MOOCs that could be truly open and not bound to the big companies & unis.” The Kickstarter models is not at all new. Book publication was often done on this model in the 18th century (it was called subscription) so maybe course design and facilitation could follow some of these ideas.

I’m involved in running the Inclusive Technologies for Reading course that is exploring some of these ideas. While it is entirely free and open in the first pilot run, we will have to find ways of making it sustainable in the long-term. Suggestions welcome.


On reflection, I changed “business model” to “funding model”. In practice, they may look exactly the same but I think the difference in perspective is an important one.

  • John Graves

    Hi Dominik. I’ve been looking at two approaches.

    One is to have an education-related commercial service where businesses pay for bespoke employee training, which subsidises distribution of free “feeder” study materials. I think Jimmy Wales does something like this with his Wikipedia-related business, Wikia.

    A second approach is to have a pay-for-premium-content model, where some/most of the introductory study materials are free, but as you advance into specialized areas, or want to get the really good lessons, there would be a charge.

  • Dominik Lukeš

    Hi John,

    I am a bit wary of the “freemium” model in its purest form. The problem is that very often what is paid for and what is free is arbitrary – often leading to arbitrary closing off. I want to make sure that in education, everything that can be open is open. This does not mean free. For instance, I can sell access to OERs or sell their printed versions. So the challenge is to find the balance. Ideally, I’d like to just charge for things that cost money to provide per unit – like personal assessment or one-on-one live tuition. There are fixed costs associated with the other things like server hosting and development but perhaps we can come up with funding models elsewhere.

    My worry about the service subsidy approach is that it tends to lead to “protection” of content for “commercial” purposes. But I don’t want that. In simple terms, I want the Open Source model not the Open Core model. What often happens is that people start thinking of that ancillary service as the primary business – kind of like saying that Google is “really an advertising company” (a lot of charities get caught out by that). Instead of seeing a complex situation, we reduce it to the money earning part of the activity.

    That’s not to say that there are no good examples to follow like Wikia. I can also think of,, etc.


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