Why do Institutions Offer MOOCs?


  • Fiona Mae Hollands Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Devayani Tirthali Brown University




MOOCs, higher education, online learning


By reviewing the literature and interviewing 83 individuals knowledgeable about massive open online courses (MOOCs), we investigate the goals of institutions of higher education that are currently developing and delivering such courses. We identify six major goals for MOOC initiatives: extending reach and access; building and maintaining brand; improving economics by reducing costs or increasing revenues; improving educational outcomes; innovation in teaching and learning; and conducting research on teaching and learning. Comparing these goals with the data being collected about MOOCs, their participants, and educational outcomes, as well as the resource requirements and cost drivers of the development and delivery process, we assess whether these goals are being met, or are likely to be in the future. While quantification of success in achieving these goals is for the most part lacking, we conclude that institutions are experiencing at least partial success in achieving each of these goals except for improving economics. We identify obstacles to fuller achievement of the goals and some potential solutions.

Author Biographies

Fiona Mae Hollands, Teachers College, Columbia University

Associate Director and Senior Researcher, Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education, Department of Education Policy and Social Analysis

Devayani Tirthali, Brown University

Educational Technologist and Researcher


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Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Research