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New Platform Gives Instructors Control Over Online Course Delivery

A new service called Professor Direct is putting the delivery of online, self-paced higher education courses into the hands of instructors. The new platform, developed by StraighterLine, allows a professor to charge a price of their choice for their courses, and provides instructors some control over the type of services that they wish to offer to their students—such as office hours, online tutorials and rapid email response.

Although the cost to take courses through the Professor Direct platform is a much less expensive alternative to a traditional education institution’s course, it differs from a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) because the service is not free.

“You’ll have very expensive high-touch, high-cost courses. You’ll have low-touch, low-cost courses. You’ll have everything in between. You’ll have branded people who can charge premiums,” Burck Smith, StraighterLine’s chief executive, told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The idea behind the platform allows the professors to take some autonomy in designing the structure of the course. StraighterLine may also pay out some commission to the professors for attracting students to their courses. Instructors will be paid the difference between the price they set for the course, and StraighterLine’s base fee of $49.

Because instructors have control over each element of their course, they can ensure that they won’t be spread too thin by the students they bring in. Determining the enrollment caps for each course provides students a measure of comfort that their investment is not going to waste—their instructor will be spending an appropriate amount of time working with them.

Some corporations and think-tanks are also looking at the service as a way to have some impact on the future workforce. The Ashoka Foundation is developing a series of social entrepreneurship courses, and will award an entrepreneurship certificate to those who complete them. Smith said the approach allows instructors and other organizations to provide a college experience for those who may not have the resources or time to be able to attend a traditional higher education institution.

“It allows [students] to be a college in a way but not have to do all the stuff that colleges do,” Smith told The Chronicle of Higher Education.