Most of the time professors do not worry about what price point a course will sell at, or what amenities might attract a student to pick one course over another.
However, the recently created new online platform, Professor Direct, lets instructors determine: how much they will charge for a courses, how much time they want to devote to services like office hours, online tutorials, and responding to students’ e-mails.
Companies that offers online, self-paced introductory courses has created this platform to evaluate and leverage the professors’ market. Their courses aren’t free, tuition is lower than what traditional colleges typically charge, and the variety of MOOCs is well represented.
Instructors who offer courses on Professor Direct will be able to set their own sticker prices, as long as they are higher than the company’s base price. For example, one professor teaching an online mathematics course, has a base price of $49, and plans to charge $99. For each student who signs up, the company will charge the $49 base price, and the professor gets the remaining $50.
It is up to each professor using Professor Direct to decide what services to offer students in addition to a core set of materials prepared by the company.
For example a professor can promise students who sign up for his two math courses that he will quickly respond to any e-mail questions they have about the material, that he or she will be available for online office hours for two hours a week, and that he or she will create additional tutorial videos to supplement the existing materials for the courses.
Students pay a premium to have professor contact. There are two major selling points here:
1. students can talk with someone who knows the specifics of the course they are taking, rather than an outside tutor, and
2. students can consult someone who is familiar with exactly what will be on the tests in the course.
The service puts instructors in the novel position of setting the value of their work, as they seek to reach students who can not afford traditional options.
Straighter Line also offers professors commissions for students they attract to the various courses, which is rewarding experience for them.
With these activities the platform establishers hope that the professors will devise a number of teaching models at a variety of prices. There will be very expensive high-touch, high-cost courses, low-touch, low-cost courses or everything in between.
Think-tanks, NGOs and associations have also expressed an interest in using the platform.
One of them is Ashoka Foundation, which hopes to create a new generation of social entrepreneurs. They are considering running four courses with Straighter Line and offering an entrepreneurship certificate to those who complete the bundle of courses. With this it allows them to be a certain type of college, but not have to do all the stuff that colleges do.
The idea draws on the earliest history of the university, when outstanding scholars attracted a following of students and were paid directly by students.
StraighterLine is not the first to try such an approach, as Udemy runs a platform that lets professors teach courses for personal profit, though none of the company’s courses are approved for college credit.
Most people teaching on Udemy are not connected to colleges or universities, but are book authors, consultants, or just people passionate about a topic or discipline. They can charge any price they want, but 30 percent of any fees go to Udemy, and the rest to the instructors.