Barnes & Noble.com University, which has offered online courses for free, is adding "premier" courses in such subjects as computer science, language learning and creative writing for which students will have to pay. Typically, courses last one month and cost less than $100. Technical courses are limited to 1,000 students, and all others are limited to 2,000.
Len Gilbert, v-p of B&N.com distance learning, promises "deeper content, more instructor feedback and smaller class sizes" for the premier courses. Gilbert told PW, "We've had over 500,000 students take courses. It worked as a free university because we sold millions of dollars worth of books. At the end of the day, we're a money-making business and we do charge, but we are not going to get out of the free course business."
The premier courses are being facilitated by partnerships with name-brand content providers. Among the first offerings are Photoshop 6.0 and Fundamentals of Project Management, in association with Element K, an online training company; Spanish for Beginners from Random House's Living Language imprint; and fiction courses in cooperation with New York's Gotham Writer's Workshop. Certificates will be issued for completed courses, and transcripts listing "Continuing Education Units" are available for all premier courses through the American Council on Education for $25.
B&N.com University uses Barnes & Noble Inc.'s print-on-demand services to produce course materials. "It's part of what Steve Riggio has been building," Gilbert said. "There are a lot of things we can do with print-on-demand, the most important of which is that we can brand the materials as B&N University. For a course like Crime and Punishment—which is based on a World Digital Library version of the book—we put our own lessons into the books. It was easy to do and took less than a month to produce."