The Merchants of MOOCs

15 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2013 Last revised: 12 Jan 2015

Date Written: November 21, 2013


A loose network of educators, entrepreneurs, and investors are promoting Massive Open Online Courses as an innovation that will radicaly disrupt higher education. These Merchants of MOOCs see MOOCs' novel features -- star professors, flipped classrooms, economies of scale, unbundling, and openness -- as the key to dramatically improving higher education while reducing its cost.

But MOOCs are far from unprecedented. There is very little in them that has not been tried before, from 19th-century correspondence courses to Fathom, Columbia's $25 million dot-com boondoggle. Claims of disruption look rather different when this missing context is restored. This essay examines some common arguments about what gives MOOCs their value, and finds them wanting. There is a sharp division between the features that make MOOCs exciting for education and the features that make them financially appealing to the Merchants of MOOCs.

Keywords: MOOCs, higher education, online education

JEL Classification: I2, I22, K00

Suggested Citation

Grimmelmann, James and Grimmelmann, James, The Merchants of MOOCs (November 21, 2013). 44 Seton Hall Law Review 1035 (2014), U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-6, Available at SSRN:

James Grimmelmann (Contact Author)

Cornell Tech ( email )

2 West Loop Road
New York, NY 10044
United States

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics