John Ohrenberger

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4 min read

MOOCs: A Free, Great-Tasting Lunch that No One Seems to be Eating

Articles L&D

This is part two in our ongoing series Learning Content in the Enterprise.  To read part one on Content Libraries, click here.

So you’ve heard of MOOCs, but what are they, who uses them, and who cares, anyway?  Let’s dig in.

What’s in a name?

To start, I feel obliged to define the (unfortunate) acronym: MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses.

What are they actually?  Simply put, MOOCs are just online learning content that’s cheaply or freely available to anyone who cares to make use of them.  While there are a bunch of different models h2out there (Coursera, Udacity and EdX being among the most prominent), this is what each of them ultimately come down to.  So, from a technical perspective, they’re not terribly revolutionary.

Why the buzz?

Well, MOOCs are pretty awesome for a number of reasons.

Awesome thing #1

They hold the promise of disrupting higher education.  MOOCs were born out of the university system and in a number of cases draw their content from universities, and the idea of extracting the actual learning content from that whole complex system and making it available and affordable to anyone is pretty exciting.

Awesome thing #2

At a global scale, it’s abundantly clear that the university system that has worked in the developed world is simply not going to be replicable in the developing world.  MOOCs offer a first glimpse at what the foundation of an alternative form of higher and continuing education could be constructed upon.  While not at all sufficient, MOOCs are an important step towards the democratization of education.

Awesome thing #3

Flexibility.  You can learn from a MOOC whenever – which is to say, they’re asynchronous.  Now you may be thinking: wait, hasn’t elearning always been asynchronous?  Yes, but because MOOCs originated in an academic context, this represents a big change to that status quo.  That said, as we’ll discuss later, asynchronicity is also the source of one MOOCs most pressing challenges, which they’ll need to overcome if they ever want to live up to their promise.

Awesome thing #4

MOOCs allow for lifelong learning.  The Internet, globalization, biotechnology, 3D printing, big data…  Whether you like it or not, these things are coming, and you can bet they’re going to change our lives and businesses in incredible and unpredictable ways.

The reality is that it’s more crucial than ever to constantly be learning and augmenting your skills.  By making knowledge more freely and easily accessible, MOOCs help us do that.

Awesome thing #5

Free (or cheap).  ‘Nuff said.

MOOCs in the Enterprise – an Underutilized Asset

Given all the benefits associated with this new kind of learning content, you’d think it would be seeing great adoption in the enterprise L&D community – but at least for now, that’s not the case.

According to Bersin, 79% of enterprise learning leaders are actively interested in exploring MOOC offerings and applications… but just 8% of L&D organizations are actually using them.

In some ways, this is perfectly understandable.  When asked what was preventing them from adopting MOOCs, 69% said it was due to a low awareness of the offerings.  MOOCs have only really been around since 2012, and it takes time for organizations to figure out how they are useful and adopt them.  It will most likely take a small number of forward-thinking L&D organizations to successfully leverage MOOCs for others to see how they can be applied to their own context.

What else is contributing to slow adoption?  49% said it was due to challenges integrating MOOCs into their existing L&D structure.  Most legacy LMSs aren’t designed to integrate MOOCs into their platform, which means L&D organizations have to find some other way to deliver MOOC content to their learners.

Time to Experiment

Is your organization taking advantage of MOOCs and other non-traditional learning content yet?  If not, take a moment to figure out what you can do to easily get this content in front of your users.

We’ve created Pathgather in part to help solve this problem, by bringing content from wherever it lives (MOOCs, LMS, CMS, HRIS, cloud storage, and more) together into one unified learning platform.  Unless users have a single point of access for learning, adoption is unlikely to take off.

But there are plenty of ways to get started, and it doesn’t have to require a big initiative.  Maybe just sharing a link to Coursera with some co-workers could inspire them to take a look.  However you go about doing it, we think it is absolutely worth your while to start introducing MOOCs into your organization.  The costs are low, and the potential benefits are very high.

Coming up…

That wraps up our overview of MOOCs in the enterprise – but what does a MOOC actually look like?  What are the differences between the different MOOC providers out there?  Which ones are right for your organization?

Answers to those questions and more, on our next installment of Learning Content in the Enterprise.

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