Wharton Shows How to Generate Revenues and Branding on MOOCs: $5M in 2015


Early MOOCs were entirely free, including statements of completion. But now they can be a substantial source of revenue.

Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, has understood this reality better than anyone and has established itself as a leading, global purveyor of MOOCs, showing one of the highest enrollments of any business school in the world.

In 2015 it got $5 million in revenue, mostly through Coursera, according to Fortune magazine. Two-thirds of its learners are outside North America, with heavy representation from India, China, Russia, and Latin America.

  • Over 300,000 people have taken Wharton’s “Intro to Marketing” course, one of the top 10 business MOOCs on Coursera, since 2013. Nearly 100,000 more have completed its second MOOC on “Consumer Analytics”.
  • The eight-week-long executive education MOOC called the “Strategic Value of Customer Relationship”, priced at $3,700, will be offered for a fifth time this spring. 20 to 30 students have enrolled each time.
  • Since 2012, some 2.7 million people have enrolled in Wharton’s 18 MOOCs; 54,000 verified certificates have been awarded since 2012 and 32,000 verified certificates in specialization courses since April of this year. Each certificate is $95. The school’s specializations in business fundamentals and business analytics, composed of four courses plus a capstone project, cost $595 each.
  • Over the next 12 months, Wharton plans to launch at least two dozen new online offerings, including its first three SPOCs on digital marketing, gamification, and advanced product design. They will all be offered on edx.org at significantly higher price points than the $95 certificates for its single MOOC courses on Coursera.

    For example, the “Global Strategy” course, originally distributed on Coursera, has been moved to the edX platform. Now it will cost $149.

    Prices could be raised further in the future. “After all, a used corporate finance textbook on Amazon goes for $200”, says Wharton.

    Wharton also will bump up the number of specializations from two to five through July of next year. The school is hoping that its MOOC revenues will double next year, to at least $10 million.

“The big bet is being placed by Wharton’s new Dean, Geoffrey Garrett, who views the initiative as a way to further extend the school’s brand around the world; reach users who would never be able to get to the school’s Philadelphia campus; get faculty more comfortable using technology to teach; and transform how faculty and students engage in the classroom,” writes Fortune. 

  • “More than 10% of our faculty have now had experience building and running online classes”, Geoffrey Garret says. That translates into more than 30 professors who have been involved in Wharton’s MOOC efforts.”
  • “Content Wharton has been developing can be a viable alternative to non-degree education, long the province of the school’s on-campus executive education programming.”
  • “If it helps a person advance his or her career, it’s a bottom-up credential. Non-degree education will increase pretty dramatically for those who find that the tuition and opportunity costs of either a degree or traditional executive education don’t make sense.”

Wharton has taken important lessons:

  • Students want learning squished down into four weeks. “Today, we’re being more customer-centric and asking what people need.”
  • Students prefer so-called asynchronous online learning that they can tap into at any time, no matter where they are in the world. “The market doesn’t require synchronous learning. If you re in Beijing and I’m in Philadelphia, there is no good time to get together.”
  • MOOCs are about learning, not about teaching. “You don’t invest money to make faculty think they are Oprah Winfrey in the 21st Century.”
  • “It is dumb to have a faculty member stand up in front of a class and deliver a lecture today. (…) MOOCs are raising the bar for face-to-face education. (…) We want class to be more interactive, team oriented and focused on problem solving. We tend to be in the learning-by-studying moment, but I think we are going to have to balance that with learning-by-doing.”

Fortune Magazine: “What’s Behind Wharton’s Massive Bet on Online Learning”