MOOCs: Revolution or flash in the pan?


MOOCsWhat are MOOCs?

The acronym MOOC (for Massive Open Online Course) first appeared in 2008 in reference to a course called "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge" run by George Siemens from the University of Athabasca and Stephen Downes from the National Research Council. The course was delivered to 25 students at the University of Manitoba, but was also open and available online, and an additional 2,300 participants took part free of charge. The students were free to participate and contribute to the course with their choice of tools.  

MOOCs are an increasingly popular way of delivering training and development content. But are they really a training solution in their own right, or a tool for making academic material available to the masses?



The sole purpose of academic MOOCs, known as x-MOOCs, is to pass on content provided by an often renowned teacher. There is a pre-determined progression through the programme. Participants are regularly assessed to validate their learning outcomes. These assessments can take the form of a quiz or more complex deliverables such as peer assessment. After participating in this type of MOOC, the participant may be issued a certificate of attendance.

COOCs, or Corporate Open Online Courses, are MOOCs for businesses. These are either programmes purpose-designed for the employees of a specific company, or a public MOOC used by a private community of employees all working for the same company.

SPOCs, or Specific Private Online Courses for individuals or small groups, were created by Armando Fox, professor at the University of Berkeley. In this case, a small community is formed to use very targeted, work-related content. The idea is that the quality of the comments and interaction amply makes up for the quantity of comments and interaction associated with a MOOC. It is a sort of blended course, as it is increasingly common in companies, with an extended connectivist dimension.


What companies stand to gain from MOOCs

MOOCs are undeniably an effective means of making information widely available around the world. In January 2014, Coursera, the biggest of the online platforms, had a total of 22 million learners enrolled from 190 countries.

MOOCs can also be used as a marketing tool to promote the image of the institution that runs them. According to the findings of a survey conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group, Pearson and the Sloan Consortium, which polled 3,000 US schools and universities, this is the main reasons for creating a MOOC.

MOOC training solutions are convenient for employees. They tend to be short - three to four hours a week for one to six months. They are also generally asynchronous, accessible over the internet anywhere (at work, while commuting or at home) and at any time. This would suggest that they are flexible enough to fit into any sort of schedule.

The connectivist aspect of MOOCs gives them an undeniable edge over other training solutions. MOOCs open up possibilities for social learning through peer-to-peer exchanges both within and outside the company. Within the company, these solutions have the benefit of building connections between individuals from different business units and different countries. Outside the company, they develop openness and benchmarking.

MOOCs are a very economically competitive training solution. Most MOOCs are free, but some offer a "verified certificate of achievement" for a sum ranging from €50 to €400 (according to Coursera, 20% of learners are willing to pay for the official piece of paper certifying that they have passed the MOOC. With Udacity, learners pay US$89 to sit the exam). From a purely financial point of view, this seems very competitive compared to the average €1,500 that companies spend on training per employee and per year.


Challenges to be met

Not all subjects lend themselves to MOOCs, and not all academic content is relevant to the actual situation in the company. For a whole section of corporate training (bringing employees into line with group culture, change management, etc.), the content has to be adapted to the actual situation in the company

Keeping learners motivated for the long run. A study conducted by the MIT in January 2014 and which polled the 840,000 students enrolled in a Harvard MOOC shows that, although the drop-out rate is high (close to 96%), nearly half of those enrolled followed at least half the course. This suggests that the vast majority of the students did nevertheless acquire some knowledge, which they would not have done without this digital access.

MOOCS are opportunities for companies

Encourage a self-study culture among employees

This is one of the core skills defined in the vocational training reform. In today’s digital environment, this is a key aptitude for keeping skills up to date, building on skills and contributing to the company’s continuous improvement. HR departments need to allow the most autonomous employees (those with self-determination and self-regulation, who can work collaboratively and are at ease with social media and the internet) to train with whatever MOOCs seem the most appropriate.

Add to the resources available for building blended learning programmes

They should be used in combination with other types of learning (classroom and/ or distance learning, synchronous and/or asynchronous learning), which will work on adapting the content to the specific company context and putting the knowledge into practice in the learner’s work situation.

Develop a bespoke COOC to train the company’s distribution network, customers or users

A number of American companies have already taken the plunge. Examples include SAP’s Open. and Bank of America’s Khan Academy.

Create in-house SPOCs to kick-start job skill changes

The connectivist aspect of SPOCs can be a powerful vector for bonding in-house communities, especially when some job fields are going through rapid change. Instead of providing an e-learning course with standard content, the challenge will be to co-construct the content with the company’s employees.

In conclusion

At Cegos, we believe that MOOCs are not effective training solutions in themselves.
However, they are useful methods for imparting and acquiring knowledge, providing they are included in blended training programmes.
To derive the full benefit from MOOCs, they need to be followed up with modules to transfer the lessons learnt to the workplace and, most importantly, modules to convert the knowledge acquired into job skills.


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