Making Money with MOOCs, or: Unrequired Reading

“I never bought the text. My $60 was better spent on the Led Zeppelin tapes that I used while doing the problem sets.”
From a course evaluation form

Currently, I don’t have time to participate in a MOOC, but I still follow the news of the courses I originally enrolled it. What strikes me is how many of the MOOC lecturers “recommend” their own books.

The quote in the beginning of the posting none-withstanding, in a way it does make sense. If you take teaching seriously, you probably adapt the material to your audience and thus, there is a strong drive to develop your own material, your own ways to, e.g., explain theories in a way your students can understand or problems that have meaning to them. So why not write a book about it? And given that you like did good work, why not recommend it?

On the other hand, I am skeptical about using a MOOC to promote a book — at least if that book is required reading. The focus should be on teaching to an exceptionally difficult audience (i.e. highly diverse, virtual, completely intrinsically motivated and often only situationally interested) — not on selling books.

Although, recommending one’s own books has a long tradition in Academia — I remember being asked to buy a completely worthless piece of wood during my studies. I can understand that many academics become … tempted if they could sell more books to a single MOOC course than in face-to-face lectures during their entire teaching career.

Still, as a student, I would not participate in a course that makes a book required reading (unless there are some friendly people in the forums who just happen to know a link to a digital copy …). Instead, I would wait with buying the recommended book. Wait until the end of the course. Provided I would finish the course, I would decide — does the topic interest me so strongly that I want to know more? Was the teacher really great? Could s/he explain the issue really well? And is there really a gain in reading a book while I just took part in a course by this author? Or should I look around for books by other authors who show me a different perspective on the topic?

Then I would by the recommended book … maybe.

Happy learning.