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First Look at edX’s Paywall Experiments

In May edX, the second largest MOOC provider, announced that would move away from offering all its content virtually for free and would begin testing a support fee. This change represents a bid to achieve financial sustainability, for both the platform and its partners. In preparation for this change, edX removed the word “free” from the homepage.

When edX first announced these changes, I speculated that the platform might run a number of tests to evaluate different payment options. In our own research, BestCerts came across a few variations of these tests.  To be clear, these tests are not shown to everyone. Usually, only a small percentage of learners are shown any one of these tests.

Prior to the changes in fee structure, most edX courses offered two pricing tiers:

  1. Audit the course for free.
  2. Pay for a Verified Certificate.

Test 1: $9 access fee

In this test, there are three pricing tiers

  1. Audit for free (limited in this test only to two weeks).
  2. Pay $9 for access to all the course materials.
  3. Pay the standard price for a Verified Certificate.

An example of this test I came across was the Business Communications course from The University of British Columbia.

Test 2: Completely Paid Courses

edX Paywall Test 2: Completely Paid Courses

In this test, there is just one tier: the entire course materials and certificate are behind a single paywall. The two courses that I came across that were under these tests were Introduction to Accounting from The University of British Columbia and, Animation and CGI Motion from Columbia University.

Test 3: Time Limit

edX Paywall Test 3: Time Limit

In the last test we came across, free access ends after a certain period of time. This is somewhat similar to FutureLearn’s pricing model. This test was sent in by Pat Bowden of Online Learning Success. Thanks Pat!

If you come across more tests, do let us know in the comments.