MOOCS: Can they deliver for corporate training what they have for tertiary education?

A contender for what is surely one of the more confusing acronyms of recent times (you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s a type of bird), massive, online, open courses (MOOCs) have been quietly re-shaping the world of tertiary education for a while. They have been growing significantly in popularity ever since Stanford University established their own MOOC series back in 2012.

By using the increasingly rich media, particularly video, MOOCs have now become an established presence in an increasingly crowded e-Learning space where free content is often the norm.
Inverting the traditional concept of classwork and homework is also another key characteristic of the MOOC, establishing video lectures as a primarily passive experience where learning materials, often digital, are disseminated to students in the class, who are then given free reign to work within a set curriculum and reading list from these materials.

But to what degree are the underlying concepts behind the MOOC transferable into the realm of corporate training? Can corporates and SMEs leverage this “massive” and “open” approach to deliver similarly impressive results? The answer: Quite possibly, but it will need refinement to more concrete needs of employee training and compliance as opposed to the more generalized, hobbyist nature of many tertiary education MOOCs.

Jeanne Meister mentions in Forbes thinks that many large corporates have already adopted this approach as a way of negotiating the problems associated with more traditional methods of corporate training. She quotes Lori Aberle, McAfee’s Senior Director of Learning, lamenting that ”once [employees] leave instructor led classes, you will never get them back again!” McAfee have since saved, according to their own estimates, some $500,000 a year in switching to a MOOC-centric training approach, particularly in addressing the needs of new hires, who are often underprepared for corporate life.

MOOCs are uniquely suited to many aspects of corporate training that either are being addressed poorly by courses, or that aren’t being addressed at all by any form of corporate training. A key illustration of this is in the area of new skills training, which, in most corporations receives very little attention. Chris Farrell, writing in Bloomberg Businessweek, considers this a huge impediment to productivity and a contributing cause of long term frictional unemployment. He quotes Peter Capelli, author of Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs who lays the blame for the contemporary “skills gap” at the feet of this inertia: “In short, a huge part of the so-called skills gap actually springs from the weak employer efforts to promote international training for their current employees or future hires.”

Farrell goes one further than suggesting MOOCs can help with simply developing marketable skills and facilitating compliance and states that they could be vital, owing to their “semi-synchronicity” and “flipping the classroom” approach, in allowing for more efficient accreditation for professional qualifications. This is certainly an ambitious aim given the workload involves in accredited courses for Law, Accountancy and Financial Analysis (to name but a few) but if it works, the efficiency gains could be tremendous.

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