What are the benefits for the universities and particular professors in recording online courses (MOOC)? Do they get paid by Coursera and similar sites? Do they pursue publicity?

I know that they are providing a useful service by spreading education to everybody in the world, but what do they get in exchange? Do they hope to get more students enrolled, or more public exposure for the university? Or do they do it out of the kindness of their hearts, or for some other reasons?

  • 2
    Why the "enormous fees"? Running a university is very expensive, and the money has to come from somewhere. Most universities operate on a non-profit basis, so the fees (along with other funding sources) go to cover their costs. May 24, 2013 at 12:48
  • +1 for "enormous fees". @NateEldredge in a non-profit organisation people are still getting paid. May 24, 2013 at 13:37
  • May be I shouldn't have used word "enormous", but I was just contrasting the free-for-all lectures and high fees for in-class students.
    – Max
    May 24, 2013 at 14:04

4 Answers 4


I record my lectures (when possible) for the following reasons:

  1. Easier access for students who can't attend class. While I generally want students to come to class, there are valid reasons for being absent (e.g., I'm currently teaching classes to military members who often have duty that preempts class attendance). I can also point students to a video to review if they ask me questions explicitly covered in class (and also for general review).

  2. Open access. I think it's pretty cool to live in a world where it is possible to get free access to videos that enhance knowledge. I feel like I'm playing my little part by putting my lectures online.

  3. Introspective review. It can be extremely beneficial to review your own teaching methods, although I don't have time to do this for all of my classes. I have gone back to particular sections to review, and I almost always find something I could improve upon.

  4. (minor) The America's Funniest Videos factor. I've had clips that have been unintentionally hilarious, either because of something I've said, or because of something students have said. :)

Universities have their own reasons for putting classes online, and you've already listed a number of them. I'd like to believe that most of the reasons are altruistic, with sites such as MIT's OpenCourseWare and Stanford's Online Courses providing no-strings-attached courses for free. I would also hope that someone is doing research on these types of course offerings, to see if they are really having benefits to the people that watch them. I don't believe the bottom line at extremely selective schools will ever be hurt by offering free course material, but if they do start feeling the pinch I imagine they will change their models.

Sites like Courseara are for profit and starting to make money by offering to verify certificates of completion for a cost.

Why, then, some [Universities] charge enormous fees for attending courses?

The question of college expense is a can of worms that has as many differing answers as there are people asking about it. Selective colleges charge what they do because (1) it is expensive to run a brick-and-mortar college, and (2) the applications keep rising and kids can still get loans, grants, and other aid. Obviously it is much more subtle than that, and it would take more than a few free economics courses to get to the bottom of it.

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    so very true, bet me to writing the answer! But yes, it also extends to secondary education, where teachers can teach remote students in a greater area (such as the Outback in Australia).
    – user7130
    May 24, 2013 at 12:58
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    @DamienIgoe True, though there is something particularly romantic about the School of the Air! May 24, 2013 at 13:03
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    that is very true, and having worked in one small part of that environment - it is a very enriching experience as an educator to be able to provide tuition to someone half the country away.
    – user7130
    May 24, 2013 at 13:05
  • Thanks for your reply, @ChrisGregg! Your personal reasons are very laudable, and I understand and support them. But from the point of view of university: it spends additional money on professors to record videos/prepare material for online course (not necessary directly, but it still pays for professor's time), and then puts it online for free, it is a loss of money which is not offset by the students paying fees - unless you increase them. But in this case I guess students will start to think twice before paying fees, considering the option that they can watch the lectures online for free.
    – Max
    May 24, 2013 at 13:56
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    Why would you go to a smaller school if you can watch videos from top institutions for free? — Because nobody goes to college for the lectures.
    – JeffE
    May 24, 2013 at 21:57

In addition to the good non-financial reasons mentioned, there is also a more financial reason - promoting your own book. I am sure this is not the main reason to give online courses, and having the book is not an explicit requirement, but it does provide a way to benefit financially.

For example, Prof. Daphne Koller from Stanford and Prof. Yaser Abu Mostafa from CalTech both offer free online Machine Learning courses, and both have relatively recent books that are top best-sellers on Amazon.


I believe that the university and professor are promoted by showing their work, people can watch their courses and see how good they are, and spread the word, this will increase the prestige of the university. Another thought is that this shows the university cares about the lessons and gets into this trouble, thus the faculty seem more invovled. A more benevolent thought is that it might help students from other universities.
I, personally, have gained a better opinion about MIT for example, or a different one anyway, having used it's online courses repeatedly to cover the gaps left by my professors.


I was under the impression that part of the reason courses are currently offered free is to gather data about how people use the material/how they study etc, and that's (partly) why they tend to have questionnaires about you at the start.

There's also a more cynical way of looking at it. Shortly after I first finished a course, I got an email saying lots of people had been asking about a course on a particular topic; there wasn't a free course available, but there was one you could do for $400.

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