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Why you should embrace MOOCs with gusto


Michael Curry considers the way in which MOOCs can revolutionise workplace learning.

Defining a MOOC

The first place to start is to be clear what we mean by MOOC. The term is used widely but it often means different things to different people. Massive Open Online Courses are web-based classes designed to support a large number of participants. Typically, students enrolled in a MOOC watch video lectures – often sliced into digestible 10 or 15-minute segments – and interact with instructors and fellow participants in online forums. Some MOOCs require students to take online tests, while others require participants to complete peer-reviewed projects. Some MOOCs use a combination of these assessments.

And whilst it may feel like MOOCs are a recent innovation but actually they’re not something completely new. Free university education that is funded by government, as well as distance learning has been around for decades. Just look at the Open University for degrees and Home Learning College for professional qualifications for examples. Yet in recent years, the use of and access to technology has really been the step change in how students can access learning.

Technology-driven change

Technology is dramatically changing the economics of education delivery to the extent where non-governmental entities can afford to provide education at a disruptive price-point based on new business models. Ivy League and other universities have been the MOOC pioneers – such as Harvard and MIT with EdX or the Open University and Future Learn – and MOOCS can create value for them in terms of brand building, international reach and customer acquisition.

MOOCs can reach mass markets at disruptive price-points where universities only need to charge for assessment, certification or value-added services. This also opens up new market segments for them, such as employers. In addition, technology pioneers such as Google and also mobile operators can contribute to educational infrastructure as part of their strategy to be omnipresent for all technology-enabled consumer interactions.

Corporates and employers, including Barclays, Microsoft, O2, can also leverage the opportunity to sponsor, drive and fund initiatives that have a calculated return in terms of brand building and corporate social responsibility whilst professional bodies such as the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM), can extend into international markets. Here, these associations can encourage new recruits into a career-long professional journey of learning, development and support. As technology becomes more accessible mobile MOOCs are becoming more popular, as evidenced by Qualt’s offering of the first mobile skills MOOC as a downloadable app which has seen partnerships with the IDM, AAT and Google, amongst others.

A complete education revolution?

The macro-economic backdrop is being dominated by the continuous evolution and adoption of technology that is changing consumer behaviour, creating new business models and globalising supply and demand. In parallel with this, the way we work is fundamentally changing. We no longer need to be in a physical place, working a 9 to 5, with the same people every day: technology has created a mobile and virtual workforce.

Given this backdrop – and the clear economic opportunities presented by this disrupting landscape – efficient delivery of education can create clear value and competitive advantage. The stakeholders are no longer limited to governments with medium- to long-term horizons because consumers and businesses are not driving the change and they want to see an immediate return on investment. Education will begin to show the characteristics of a faster-moving consumer-driven industry. Innovation is still nibbling round the edges of traditional education but it is rapid and continuous, and will soon break through at many points.

Demonstrating potential in developing markets

The potential of MOOCs to support workplace training and professional development can be seen in developing markets where they’re already beginning to drive change. In India, for example, its enormous population presents significant challenges of scale for which technology must play a role in the solution. It also has an essential imperative to up-skill its workforce because this underpins its GDP and its potential to export internationally. In fact, India’s departing prime minister set an extraordinarily ambitious target of skilling 500m by 2022. Alongside this, the inconsistent fixed-line internet infrastructure has driven a fast-growing mobile internet infrastructure with rapid adoption of smartphones.

Based on this, the opportunity to access professional learning through low-cost (or free) mobile learning applications has particularly emerged.

So, everyone’s a winner?

Universities will continue to have a clear role in higher study that will not be displaced. They are centres of academic excellence and research and hotbeds of inspiration and innovation, as well as being communities and networks. Yet alongside this established position, MOOCs will become more established to provide opportunities across the board, including those looking for vocational and professional skills and ongoing education that fits around life and work, as well as to work-based apprenticeships with centralised remote learning.

The training industry should be embracing these ideas and delivery mechanisms with gusto. They present a great resource that can be used in many ways. MOOCs could be a complementary resource for face-to-face training, either before sessions to get people up to speed or during to add to the expertise of the trainer. And using MOOCs to communicate with trainees after an event offers the perfect opportunity to keep in touch and build an alumni network.

Michael Curry is co-founder of Floream


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