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Donald Clark

Wildfire Learning


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Ten big reasons for the rise of corporate MOOCs


TZ member, former CEO of Epic, and learning technologies expert Donald Clark is passionate about many things, and the power of MOOCs is just one of them.

Last week I delivered a presentation on MOOCs to corporate L&D people at Learning Technologies 2014 and was amazed to find that a majority of the packed room had taken a MOOC and, at the end, those who hadn’t certainly wanted to try one.

Seems odd – a corporate MOOC, if only for the primary problem of them being ‘open’. Corporate training is often built as closed, bespoke product, as companies want competitive edge. What’s the point of using stuff that everyone can use? We want to be better. For this reason, much corporate online learning will remain in-house and behind closed doors and this will continue. However there are lots of other opportunities for MOOCs:

Customer learning

Google has an excellent ‘search’ MOOC and there’s every incentive for intangible software and tangible product vendors to help customers use their stuff. SAP and many others are using MOOCs to train customers on how to use their software, especially new products. Just as most have shifted their advertising and training budgets online, so they have shifted their marketing budgets online. MOOCs may well turn out to be a valuable marketing tool, giving you authentic edge over your competitors. Help customers learn how to use your product and you develop a closer relationship with them and keep them.

SME training

Governments have always struggled to deal with the SME market as the SME eye is on sales, marketing, product, delivery and cash - not learning. MOOCs may well be a solution to this problem. There’s already a flood of good, business training on MOOCs. The main benefit is that MOOCs are free, non-bureaucratic, immediately accessible, therefore a boon for cash strapped, small businesses. A more specific species of SME training is supplier training. Large international corporates are competent at training, and well resourced, but they often have problems with suppliers and the vast supplier chain that feeds them. These are largely SMEs with limited resources and low levels of training activity. Having this training online gives a multinational organisation reach. MOOCs certainly have a role here.

Internal training

There is already evidence that organisations are looking at MOOC platforms as an alternative to the traditional, expensive LMS. They are attracted by the low cost, agile and scalable nature of these platforms in terms of their coding structure (Dejango, Python, Ruby on rails etc.), where the rendering and representation is kept separate from the logic and interactions. This is in contrast to the monolithic code and limited single database use of traditional LMS vendors. They are also looking at some of the innovations that the MOOCosphere is coming up with in terms of peer assessment, online assessment and pedagogy. Christian Kuhna of Adidas, understands this stuff and sees MOOCs as an opportunity for both employees and customers. “We want to integrate the great stuff on the internet into our learning offerings”, he said, as well as for use by a wider audiences, such as customers and suppliers.

External resources in blended learning

Internal courses can be expensive to build and deliver and now that there are hundreds of ‘free’ MOOCs out there it makes sense to use and integrate them into your training. This is especially true of business, finance and IT, where MOOCs can be seen by corporates as part of a sophisticated off- and online blend. The blended MOOC is a real option for corporates, where they have the resources to deliver other components internally with face-to-face, tutor support and so on, to balance out the purely online nature of the MOOC.

Flipped classroom

This model is a more specific example of blended learning, where the MOOC becomes that which you study at home for the knowledge and exposition and the internal training gets you to practice and adapt that knowledge, within your organisation. This gives you free external training and internal relevance and competitive edge. One can easily see a cohort of people within an organisation starting a MOOC and moving forward together with mutual support to achieve real learning.

Continuous professional development

This has long been a problem in organisations and often a responsibility that has been long abandoned to the employee. MOOCs can redress that balance, as they are free, or at least very low cost, allowing organisations to recommend and encourage their use for CPD. Rather than relying on over-priced courses from the Chartered Institutes of X, Y and Z, you can point people towards better, more relevant and recent learning in MOOCs by known, inspirational experts, that are hot off the shelf.


MOOCs are already being used in recruitment, with high performing students being recommended, especially to tech companies. The whole talent management process may become infused with MOOC activity, with MOOCs already being taken seriously by employers, who see such learners as having initiative, self-motivation and competences. I’d love to see MOOCs crop up on CVs and the recent tie up with LinkedIn should accelerate this process.


This is an interesting one, as there’s already a good supply, and high demand, for quality entrepreneurship MOOCs at all levels. This is a good sign. I always wince when I hear of ‘Entrepreneurship’ degree courses., usually run by people who have never sold anything on eBay, never mind started or run a business. Similarly with ‘leadership’, so often taught by those who have never led anything other than a course.


Corporates, such as Google and AT&T, already see the value of sponsoring MOOCs. It can be part of their social responsibility push, or simple marketing. Being associated with a free educational resource may well fit high-end brands, especially high-end consultancies and tech companies.

Certification not an issue

Rolls Royce spend £40m on training a year but only £2m on certified training. That’s why the ‘certification’ argument doesn’t really matter that much in this market. Organisations want skills and competences, not bits of paper. This is often a message lost on education providers. It is also a good reason for MOOCs being more relevant, unshackled by the obsession with paper certification.

LMS integration

There is the issue of LMS integration. Companies want data that proves efficacy and competence and want it through their LMS. This is merely a technical hurdle over which most MOOC platform vendors are already jumping. Tin Can promises to provide an interoperability standard way beyond that of SCORM.


When you consider the rationale for corporate MOOCs, Udacity’s move in that direction doesn’t seem so surprising. They have forged a relationship with Google, Autodesk, and other tech companies and this is fine. EdX is being used by the steel manufacturer Tenaris in its Tenaris University to deliver learning to 27,000 employees. Udemy and others already serve this market. McAfee use MOOCs for sales training, essentially a flipped classroom model. MOOCs are no longer just an HE issue. Once an innovative digital genie escapes from the bottle, all sorts of people want to see what it can offer, and corporates are no slouches when it comes to innovation, especially when that innovation offers very low costs, quick access and global, online reach.

PS Try this experiment if you work in training. Just click on each of these links and make a list of any of the courses you think would be useful to your organisation. I think you’ll be surprised.

Donald Clark was CEO and one of the original founders of Epic Group plc, which established itself as the leading company in the UK online learning market. Donald has 30 years experience in online learning, games, simulations, social media and mobile learning projects and designed, delivered and advised on online learning for many global, public and private organisations. He is an evangelist for the use of technology in learning and has won many design awards, including the first 'Outstanding Achievement in E-learning Award'

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