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Insight into the Potential Impact of MOOCs on Business

Trend Analysis

The rising popularity of MOOCs provides further evidence of the power of digital technology to act as a leveling force in society, in this case offering the possibility of a high-quality education at a fraction of the cost of traditional models. Aside from its implications for higher education, we are just beginning to realize the potential of MOOCs to redefine our approach to business education, training, and recruitment, to say nothing of consumer engagement.

MOOCs and Corporate Training

Along with higher education, MOOCs may prove to have the greatest impact on corporate training, which, as this Forbes post points out, is a $150 billion industry. Partly this is because of certain inherent advantages of the MOOC course design, partly because of the ability of MOOC providers to offer credentials by way of verifiable completion certificates.

Designed for the Digital Age

A defining feature of MOOCs is the “flipped classroom,” which many believe is the future model of education in the digital age. In the flipped classroom, the instructor gives students access to course materials and assigns homework tasks to be completed before class. Rather than spending limited class time to introduce new concepts, class time is used to reinforce and contextualize concepts already learned, often through interactive exercises like role plays and real-world case studies.

The other structural advantage of MOOCs is that, because they are based online, they are able to constantly gather and record user data. As Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng often points out, the MOOC has collected more educational data in one year than all the universities in the history of mankind. MOOCs use real-time analytics that offer insight on a learner’s specific strengths and weaknesses and overall progress, enhancing the learning experience.

Let Me See Your Credentials

As exciting as the promise of free online education from leading universities is for the general learner, many students enroll in MOOCs to obtain real-world vocational skills like computer programming or web design that will help them land a new job or promotion.

Recognizing the market opportunity, leading MOOC providers have started adding verified certificate tracks to their courses for a nominal fee. For example, 14% of Coursera’s courses now offer verified, or “Signature Track” certificates, with registration costs ranging from $30 and $100 depending on the course’s length and content. Some of these are even designed to be eligible for college credit, including select courses from leading US universities like UC Irvine, UPenn, and Duke. In fact, Coursera is working with the American Council on Education (ACE) to ensure that credits from the Signature Track program will be honored by many of ACE’s 1,800 member schools, which include Amherst University, Boston University, Carnegie Mellon, and others.

Let Us Train Your Workforce

Another leading MOOC, Udacity, is working with companies to train existing and future employees. Along with Georgia Tech, Udacity recently formed a partnership with AT&T to offer a master’s degree in computer science. Course materials will be free, but students will pay around $7,000 for tuition (a substantial discount on Georgia Tech’s standard costs of $45,000 for out-of-state students and $21,000 for Georgia residents). While this is an extreme example, it’s easy to see how companies of all shapes and sizes could leverage MOOCs for workforce training.

In a 2014 Future Workplace survey completed by 195 corporate learning and HR professionals, 70% of respondents recognized the opportunities of integrating MOOCs into their own corporate learning programs. Survey respondents made six recommendations for how MOOC providers could adapt to needs of organizations:

Image Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2013/08/13/how-moocs-will-revolutionize-corporate-learning-development/

Or companies could take the opposite approach and bring MOOCs under their corporate umbrella, or even create their own independent online learning offerings. With regard to the former point, the case of Bank of America (BOA) is instructive.

Corporate Sponsored MOOCs and Consumer Education

In April of 2013, banking giant Bank of America teamed up with leading online educator Sal Khan of Khan Academy to create a free online platform, Better Money Habits, to improve financial literacy. A brilliant branded content initiative on the part of Bank of America, this unlikely partnership offers a window into a novel application of the MOOC concept: the idea of using MOOCs to create company-sponsored community education initiatives that provide real value to customers.

The very notion of a very much for-profit bank like BOA collaborating with a decidedly not-for-profit educational institution like Khan Academy seems paradoxical, but it actually reflects an ingenious application of the best practices of the New Marketing Normal. Through the Better Money Habits initiative, BOA is providing its target audience with high-quality content that resolves an obvious pain-point – financial literacy. The site is completely free of advertising, and Khan Academy offers free videos on financial subjects without any outside editorial control.

Here’s how the Better Money Habits website characterizes the unique relationship:

We want this site to be unlike anything you’ve experienced before. That’s why we’ve partnered with Khan Academy, a not-for-profit with the sole purpose of delivering a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere. BetterMoneyHabits.com is a new way to learn the “why” and the “how” behind personal finance and we believe our collaboration with Khan Academy will help you put that knowledge into practice more effectively than ever before.

Other Applications of MOOCs in Business

These types of corporate-sponsored MOOC educational offerings may find success with Millennials especially, who tend to be less cynical and more open to branded content initiatives than preceding generations, as long as they provide genuine value.

Given that Millennials are projected to constitute 75% of the workforce by 2025, corporate-sponsored MOOC education and training may prove to be an efficient way for companies to recruit young talent and shape their skill sets to meet the needs of the organization.

Setting aside the delivery method, it’s clear that digital natives would like to see more technology in education, which augers well for the future of the MOOC model. According to data from Educause Center for Analysis and Research as reported in an article for University World News, 57.7% of students have said they learn more in courses with some online component.

As leading colleges and universities continue to get into the MOOC game, it’s reasonable to assume that sooner or later companies and hiring managers will start regarding MOOC certifications as equivalent to college course credits and diplomas, especially as digital natives start taking over as hiring managers. Though an outlier now, corporate-sponsored MOOC initiatives like that of BOA and Khan Academy may become more prevalent as means of consumer-targeted native advertising and employee-targeted recruitment and training.

In either case, as with higher education, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we’re far from realizing the full impact of MOOCs on business. Stay tuned.

Questions

  1. How can SMBs leverage existing MOOCs for employee training and retention?
  2. Can you imagine a future where leading companies and perhaps even smaller organizations will use the MOOC educational model to form deeper connections with their target audience?
  3. Will companies go as far as to create their own MOOCs to recruit and train young talent? How could this be done in a cost-effective way?
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