Makers, Marketplaces and MOOCs. The Anatomy of Online Course Platforms.

Zooming out to make sense of the global online course platform landscape.


Online Course Platforms (OCP's) have evolved markedly since the original LMS technology provided a platform for delivering content and learning online. 20 years later, a thriving market has emerged, offering a variety of options for learners and four dominant, but increasingly overlapping models.

The Online Course Platform landscape has evolved rapidly over the past two decades and we expect that evolution to accelerate further through 2030. Learners are spoilt for choice and curriculum and content players have options too.

Content Strategy

Who creates and builds curriculum and content is one of the key differentiators of Online Course Platforms. From individual makers and professionals delivering peer to peer learning to global education and technology giants scaling unprecedented upskilling.

Distribution Strategy

Single brand 'shopfront' or multi-brand 'catalog'. Autonomous or Aggregator. Whether you're content or sales, the distribution strategy clearly defines how Online Course Platforms enable and distribute digital learning.

Channel Strategy

The D2C (direct to consumer) channel has dominated the Online Course Platform market. eCommerce meets education, paypal and credit card payment systems enabled rapid growth. COVID accelerated the B2B enterprise channel and now parents, schools and universities join as emerging channels.

Commercial Model

From low fixed monthly platform subscription fees to revenue shares for creators ranging from 20-97%, the commercial models that share cost, risk and reward between the creator and the platform and/or distributor vary significantly.

Together, content and distribution define the four dominant Online Course Platform models. The MOOC moniker captured our imaginations in 2012, but today barely describes or wraps around the multi-brand, institutional model scaling university and enterprise curriculum around the world.

Based on approaches to content strategy and distribution strategy, there are four major models for Online Course Platforms (OCP).

Hey Content, meet Distribution. The four major Online Course Platform (OCP) models.

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Maker platforms empower creators, professionals and small businesses to create, sell and deliver their courses online. They specialize in white-labeled learning environments, working behind the scenes to champion the brand, alone. Whether personal, professional or business, they offer increasingly sophisticated courseware and marketing tools, payment and customer/learner relationship management systems.

Creators bring their own curriculum and content and pay different levels of fixed monthly subscription fees for powerful platforms. Distribution, however, is their sole responsibility. Some days, maker platforms want to be marketplaces. To support their makers beyond content tools with distribution. And to be relevant beyond courseware creation and management. But they tread a fine line and may find themselves in a squeeze between LMS diversification and marketplace monopolization.

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Beyond education, online marketplaces connect buyers and sellers, in this case, learners and trainers/teachers, on a proprietary platform. The marketplace does not hold any type of inventory itself but helps the buyers and sellers to facilitate a transaction. Sellers can focus on their core competency, that is providing customers with the most relevant products. In this case, that’s helping learners everywhere, acquiring knowledge and skills.

Marketplaces, like Udemy, offer up to 97% revenue share for instructors/makers who refer and bring their own students to the marketplace. But once a maker, makes a market, the power often shifts away from the marketplace itself. In most cases, however, instructors share 25% of course revenue, estimated at $15-30 per month per course on average, but those at the top are earning $2000 a month per course a handful up to $20,000.

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The D.I.Y, or ‘Do It Yourself’ model represents institutions or generally large organizations and enterprises that create and design their own content/courses and opt for a ‘back-of-house’ technology system to support online course delivery, direct to the learner.

Put simply, this is a university, college, school or company choosing a traditional Learning Management System to design, build, house and deliver their own online courses. Curriculum and content is institutional and distribution is direct to learner. DIY and Maker share LMS roots, but diverge in spaces such as enrolment and payment. The DIY model is often, but not always, in the context of enrolment management, admissions, government-backed or subsidized tuition, more complex than direct to consumer, generally credit-card powered payment for anyone who seeks the acquire the knowledge and skills on offer.

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The MOOC moniker captured our imaginations in 2012, but today barely describes or wraps around the multi-brand, institutional model scaling university and enterprise curriculum around the world. Meanwhile, governments everywhere are embracing the core concepts of national and regional platforms powering institutionally sponsored learning, most notably in emerging markets.

In the model we reluctantly label here as ‘MOOC’, the platform somewhat moderates content, built and sourced from institutional partners who generally receive a revenue share where the course is not ‘open’ or free. MOOCs have spent the last decade reaching hundreds of millions of learners and now products like ‘Coursera for Campus’ bring the ‘sharing economy’ to higher education, straddling both DIY and MOOC.

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Learn More. Join the Webinar.

MOOCs started the last decade as a proof of concept and finished with 380 million students taking over 30 thousand courses and 50 degrees from over 1,000 Universities globally. The borderless digital market for ‘just-in-time’ skills and knowledge is highly competitive and represents a rapidly evolving part of the post-secondary education landscape, with MOOCs morphing from B2C higher education replacement to B2B partner and builder of digital ecosystem.

This session will consider the evolution of the MOOC-model and the role it has yet to play in the evolving post-secondary education market.

Where is this data coming from?

HolonIQ is the world's leading impact intelligence platform. We support governments, institutions, firms and investors, with data insights to power decisions that matter. If you are not already a client, request a demo to learn more about our platform.
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