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Former Member

What a difference a year makes. When we launched openSAP just over a year ago, it was one of the first big corporate-run massive open online courses, or MOOCs.  Now, everyone from Aquent to Yahoo is partnering with major MOOC providers to offer their workforce an alternative to traditional corporate learning programs.  One enterprising company is even offering a MOOC all about corporate MOOCs!

As I recently told TechRepublic, this is all helping to empower employees and helping corporate learning programs expand beyond the traditional controlled box of learning management systems. Like removing layers from a hierarchy, MOOCs are “flattening” corporate education.

So if you’re new to MOOC mania, it’s time to catch up. A great place to start is “Putting MOOCs to Work,” in which Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte manages to explain the entire industry in just 40 slides. A good follow-up are these recent LinkedIn posts by Bryant Nielson of CapitalWave, which build on Bersin’s presentation.

Huge changes are coming. Remember the e-learning boom that started 15 years ago? It’s instructive to think about who’s still standing and who’s not. Case in point: traditional online content providers like Skillsoft have improved their video and mobile offerings. Maybe that’s because the huge variety of content offerings, many of them free, will drive competition and lower prices.

One advantage we corporate folks have is that over in the academic world, MOOCs have already gone through a boom and backlash cycle. There are good MOOCs and bad MOOCs and corporate learning teams are in a good position to learn from both. Here are a few lessons to keep in mind:

MOOC do’s and don’ts


·         Keep it simple. Don’t try to cover too much in one course or one session. Take advantage of the asynchronous nature of the Internet and create smaller content modules that let people learn at their own pace.

·         Stay connected: It’s not enough to just set up an online discussion forum and walk away. Make sure you at least regularly communicate answers to common questions and actively curating the discussion is even better. Where possible, create small cohorts of students and assign facilitators to help them.

·         Give credit: The low rate of completion for MOOCs goes way up when students have something invested in the end result. So build in incentives, including certification or “badges” that they can use outside the company and even upload to their LinkedIn profiles.

·         Experiment with format: Don’t just put an existing class online. Think about innovations such as peer assessments -- letting co-workers teach and rate each other -- and “flipping the classroom,” focusing class time more around problem-solving than lectures. Ask learners to watch certain content modules on their own (work) time, then bring them together for interaction and hands-on activities.


·         Underestimate the resources needed: It takes several hours to produce a half hour of online content – and that’s time you’ll need to give both to subject-matter experts and to the learning professionals helping them. Assigning facilitators to monitor small groups is a great idea, but for a 10,000-person class (truly “massive”) that’s 400 to 500 people you’ll need. Make sure leadership understands the commitment required to do this right.

·         Neglect to measure everything: One big advantage of online training is you can track not just who completes a course, but how they proceed throughout it. Set aside time to look for ways to improve your course design and adjust accordingly.

·         Limit your technology: When you design your MOOC, make sure it’s accessible regardless to that Mac-loving designer working from home as well as the PC-at-the-office guy. Mobile access is a must and definitely avoid requiring specific software. Make your MOOC as easy to use as YouTube.

·         Expect MOOCs to fix everything: You still need good content, talented instructors, measurable outcomes and support from management.  Also, beware of setting too-high expectations. As I said in the TechRepublic article, you need to prepare for your company to go through a “cycle of acceptance” before MOOCs truly start making an impact.

You’re still the expert

Don’t get blinded by the bright lights of academics and venture capitalists proclaiming MOOCs the best thing ever. Always tailor your approach (to MOOCs and anything else) to your learning culture. Just because Yahoo gave its employees free access to the entire Coursera catalog doesn’t mean it makes sense for you. But at the same time, do you really need to develop your own basic Excel skills class (or pay a vendor for one) when there are so many free or cheap options out there? Probably not.

Finally, a reminder about that first “O” in MOOC. It stands for “open,” meaning – accessible to anyone. That might sound odd coming from a corporate environment with an emphasis on ROI – and of course I’m not suggesting releasing proprietary information. But a MOOC can be not just a good way to sell your company, but a great way to recruit your next generation of employees.

Follow me on Twitter: @DearbornJenny