My original thought was that coursera was just barring access (period) to some courses if you don't pay, however it seems that the actual process is a little more nuanced. From the coursera blog:
Starting today, when you enroll in certain courses, you’ll be asked to pay a fee (or apply for Coursera’s financial aid program) if you’d like to submit required graded assignments and earn a Course Certificate. You can also choose to explore the course for free, in which case you’ll have full access to videos, discussions, and practice assignments, and view-only access to graded assignments. You’ll see the options for each individual course when you click “enroll” on the course information page; courses that aren’t part of this change will continue to show the options to enroll in the course either with or without a Certificate. Most courses that are part of Specializations will begin offering this new experience this week, and certain other courses will follow later this year.
Now, to anyone who does not know how coursera 'graded' courses work, there is no instructor who grades your assignment. If payment were required to compensate a human being for their time to grade, and provide feedback, on your assignment it would make sense. However graded assignments are multiple choice exams - done by computer, and peer-reviewed assignments, done for free by your peers. To some extent this seems to me like a replication of the peer reviewed journal publication model where a lot of work is done for free by volunteers, and then those same volunteers (or rather their institutions) are asked to subscribe to very costly databases to access those journals articles that were written or reviewed by their members for free.
Coursera, in a sense, if becoming a bit like a temporary-access YouTube for educational videos. If you want something for free, you can come in and access it when it's available - or if you're lucky it's "on demand" and hence perpetually accessible...until it isn't - and you can watch videos on (mostly) their schedule, because once the course is over...it's over and you no longer have access to videos. At least EdX (up to now) still allows you to go back and view your past course videos. In the past, before the new interface, coursera actually had a little download button for the videos in their courses, and I availed myself of the use of that button to keep some archival copies of those videos. They've come in handy when I've wanted to view them on my tablet or smartphone and I am offline. Now that capability is gone.
It seems to me that the trend here is to continue to openwash their products while we uncritically accept them as yet another provider of "open" content. I do get it. I have an MBA. I get the responsibility to turn a profit and returning the initial investment (plus some extra for their faith in you) to the investors that put money into coursera. However, I think you're going about it wrong, and openwashing isn't a great (or ethical in my book) practice. If you are more honest about what you are doing and completely shed the "open" adjective then we're cool. But let me ask you this, from a business perspective, how are you different from self-paced elearning outfits like Lynda.com; and how are you going to avoid the same mistakes as FATHOM? I am not seeing a plan for you...