Tech-media-business site gigaom ran an article on “How Coursera may profit from free courses.”, supplying more evidence that the free model is alive and well! It provides teachers (& in this case learner) content and tools, while private firms are only limited by their imagination of how to provide something for free… yet get paid, as Coursera illustrates.
Chris Anderson of Wired was an early-adopter of these ideas and gave a prescient primer back in 2007 here: Chris Anderson of WIRED on tech’s Long Tail.
Additionally, Eric von Hippel of MIT’s Sloan School of Management defined a user-led innovation model in his book Democratizing Innovation (free ebook on Amazon!) arguing why and when users find it profitable to develop new products and services for themselves, and why it often pays users to reveal their innovations freely for the use of all. He proposes that as innovation becomes more user-centered the information needs to flow freely, in a more democratic way, creating a “rich intellectual commons” and “attacking a major structure of the social division of labor,” which would tie in to educational resources multiplying as a result of volunteerism giving back via “cognitive surplus.”
With the current trend of proliferating free educational resources (even in online education alone such as Coursera as mentioned above, and including others like UniversityNow, Codecademy, 2tor, The Minerva Project, Udacity, Udemy and more) we’d expect the good news of seeing this to continue help both business as well as educators and students.