MOOCs (pronounced “mooks”), or “massive open online courses,” have created great fanfare over the past few years. The year 2012 was declared the “Year of the MOOC” by the New York Times, and every day brings a new headline touting new MOOC providers, courses, and more. The chatter is hard to ignore.
To date, MOOCs have largely focused on higher education by enabling universities to provide free, global access to learning experiences via the Internet. The MOOC originated from the open educational resources movement, and the first MOOC is broadly attributed to Canadian scholars George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Their 2008 course, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, reached over 2200 students worldwide. Siemens and Downes created the original MOOC to test their theory of learning via networks, which they dubbed “connectivism.” This theory argues that the most powerful forms of learning happen within social networks, and contemporary forms of social learning are therefore dynamic and constantly evolving. Under this theory, networked learning is not really about transmitting knowledge from an expert to learners. Instead, learning experiences are continuously created, refined and iterated among a community of learners. MOOCs designed to create a learning experience by eliciting insights from a community of learners are known as “cMOOCs.”
Fast-forward to 2011 when professors at Stanford University taught MOOCs on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Each of these MOOCs had an enrollment of over 100,000 students. While these high-interest courses taught by popular professors led to unprecedented enrollments, several universities had been steadily making videotaped course lectures available over the Internet for several years, including MIT OpenCourseware and Open Yale. This broadcast form of the MOOC has become known as the “xMOOC,” with the “x” signifying the ability to scale expertise massively—well beyond previous online and in-person pedagogical approaches. The professors who taught the initial Stanford MOOCs in 2011 left the university to found market-leading MOOC businesses (Udacity and Coursera) which create and aggregate university courses and offer them to a global audience free of charge (or in some cases for a reduced fee).
The MOOC buzz is about the promise of a new, scalable and affordable educational model. Higher education in particular faces unsustainable cost pressures, and desperately needs new approaches to tame the cost curve while providing meaningful learning experiences at scale. Early market entrants like Coursera, Udacity and EdX have captured sizeable funding and investments on the promise of being major change agents through their technology and marketplace business models. At the same time, these companies are in their infancy, and rapid change, evolution and further innovation is all but guaranteed.
Why are MOOCs important to the corporate market?
Although the origins of the MOOC are academic, corporations are starting to take notice of the disruption in higher education and considering how they might apply this new learning model to achieve their business objectives. What, specifically, is driving corporate interest in MOOCs?
- Learning at scale. MOOCs offer a proven model for delivering an engaging learning experience to hundreds of thousands of learners. Global audiences of learners can be easily reached, and the bottlenecks of fully synchronous approaches (either in-person or virtual classroom) are eliminated. For example, dependency on scaling qualified instructors is no longer an issue as the role adapts from scheduled trainer to asynchronous facilitator, curator and guide of a learning experience. Organizations seeking to educate far-flung customers, partners, and large employee populations all have an opportunity to engage learners far more efficiently and effectively. MOOC learning models even have the potential to open up new markets of learners not previously accessible through other learning modalities.
- Peer-to-peer collaboration. Unlike traditional technology-enabled learning modalities such as self-paced e-learning and virtual classroom sessions, the MOOC offers opportunities for social learning in context. A community of learners can engage with one another on a variety of course topics through discussion boards, chats, or social media, all of which can be directly embedded into course content. While “informal learning” has been the buzz for the last few years, MOOC forms of collaboration directly link social experiences with relevant content, rather than creating an isolated destination for collaboration. A big part of the power of the MOOC is the seamless integration between collaboration and content.
- Cohort-based learning. MOOCs provide the opportunity to engage in learning over time with a cohort of fellow learners. This provides the aforementioned benefit of collaboration, and more. A cohort of learners share the common experience of working together (often in teams) through structured learning experiences, shared opportunities for application, and of course, reflection. A cohort also provides a powerful incentive and motivation for learners to progress with their learning experience because of real or perceived peer accountability.
- Flexibility. The MOOC model offers flexibility for the learner who can tune in at their own pace. Unlike scheduled instructor-facilitated synchronous methods, the learner can engage in a MOOC at the time and pace of their choosing. While scheduled start and end dates standard with the academic model will likely be popular and offer a powerful motivation for many learners, in many MOOC designs the learner retains the flexibility to start and stop when they wish. In addition, from a design perspective, a MOOC is flexible in terms of options for learning synchronicity. Elements can be self-paced (e.g., videos, documents, activities), synchronous (e.g., live webcasts, scheduled chats) or a combination. Further, such multi-modal options have been shown to be effective methods of engaging the learner in a holistic manner.
- Badging. Companies are increasingly interested in awarding, tracking, and encouraging employee badging as a means of recognition for mastering certain skills and knowledge domains. It is broadly understood that the “shelf-life” of workplace skills for many jobs is increasingly perishable in today’s marketplace, and continuous learning is a necessity for the modern knowledge worker. MOOC learning programs can provide badges as a credential to demonstrate competency, or at minimum completion of particular programs. Badges have the potential to become “stackable” credentials that the learner can accumulate and refresh over time.
- Cost savings. Similar to other technology-enabled learning models, costs associated with learner and instructor travel are eliminated, reducing the learner’s time away from work. Successful programs can be repeated on a scheduled basis, or left open as continuous learning experiences.
What do you think?
Is the buzz regarding MOOCs deserved or just a fad? Do you think the disruption in higher education will cross over to the corporate world? If so, what aspects will be leveraged? What might be different? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.
Be sure to check out my next blog post where I’ll share what we have learned over the past few months speaking with dozens of business and learning leaders about how they are using MOOCs today—as well as how they plan to use them in the future.
If you’d like to understand how MOOCs can effectively serve your business needs, get in touch with us. Intrepid Learning is a corporate learning market leader and the first corporate MOOC solution provider focused purely on the needs of the enterprise client. Contact us to learn more about our corporate MOOC services.