While online learning is not new, it has experienced an explosion in recent years with the growth of massive open online courses (MOOCs), offering classes on virtually every topic under the sun. As MOOCs caught on, the hype continued to build around what they would mean for students, instructors, and higher ed institutions across the world. Now, we’re seeing the same conversation starting to build regarding what MOOCs could mean for corporate training. 

The MOOC Revolution 

Let’s take a look at how MOOCs have started a revolution. 

MOOCs are indeed massive: In some cases, they enroll up to 100,000 students or more per course—as many or more as the combined headcounts of multiple Fortune 500 companies. They are open in that they’re free or highly affordable, and they’re online, so all a student needs to start learning is an Internet connection. Course content is structured into a specific learning curriculum designed to take a student from point A to point B. 

MOOCs caught on partially because advances in underlying technology—more ubiquitous high-bandwidth Internet access and sophisticated video technology—are enabling richer, more fulfilling educational experiences online.   

Also, the timing was right. Culturally, the pervasiveness of the Internet and social media has made people comfortable creating, sharing, and searching for educational content online. Indeed, the first place people turn to learn something new is online. Add to this the fact that advances in mobile technology provide content anywhere and that people are now used to controlling their own media (whether it’s programming the DVR to time-shift TV programming or getting the day’s news through a Twitter feed), and it’s no surprise that MOOCs have caught fire. 

The Corporate Training Evolution 

Just as with MOOCs, on-the-job learning has been booming. Historically, though, instructor-led training (ILT) retention has been low, with employees unable to maintain focus through lengthy classes.  And retention seems to have worsened, which many contribute to the constant bombardment of information via various media. 

Another factor contributing to the demand for more on-demand learning in corporations is the tough reality that the pace of change in business is faster today than it has ever been, with people training endlessly just to remain relevant. As we all know, competition is global, and it is as fierce as it ever has been. 

Meanwhile, budget cuts and the need for businesses to increasingly do more with less are necessitating new ways to train on the job. Indeed, the L&D function is often seen as a benefit, so budgets are easy targets for cost cutting. It is less feasible to fly teams in for an ILT session or fly trainers around the world to conduct sessions. Even if there is budget for training, there simply isn’t enough time to get this done given how fast the competitive environment is changing and how fast business is being executed. 

In addition, newer generations of workers are more digitally competent and mobile than ever. Learning styles will likely evolve for future generations, in which students will expect and demand absolute usability in everything they experience—the software and content experience must be tightly integrated and feel “consumer-grade.” 

At some point, it is possible that we will have a generation of “Learners of One,” people who are more comfortable learning entirely on their own rather than in a classroom setting, and who expect a high “ROA,” or return on attention. 

How Will the Benefits of MOOCs Be Applied to Corporate Training? 

The benefits of MOOCs are clear, and while they need not necessarily be deemed a complete replacement for ILT, they have emerged as an appealing supplement to other means of training.  

When compared to the MOOC experience, designed with today’s high consumer usability expectations, we quickly realize that the traditional learning management system (LMS) has never reached their full potential for a number of reasons: lack of useful tools and functionality, bloated feature sets, and difficulty of use.  

In developing an effective online training program, simplicity is key. Anything that requires too many clicks or makes it any less than simple for the user to figure out what to do will fail. The user interface must be visually appealing, and seen with a fresh eye toward avoiding the feature bloat of traditional LMS, which suffer from stale design lacking in engagement. 

The online, on-demand learning model of MOOCs integrates the content and technology together in a way that reduces complexity for the users, and also allows corporations to leverage: 


●     rich media: video-based rather than text-based

●     self-paced environment: providing control of what you see, when you want to see it

●     modular format: for the easily distracted and/or time-constrained, it provides bite-size consumable content chunks. 

The MOOC model also allows companies to unify the learning experience across a broader organization, giving people across the globe access to the same learning content. Thus, they are teaching everyone simultaneously, disseminating core company values, and providing benefits through the onboarding process.                                             

In addition, being able to produce custom content from subject matter experts (SMEs) before they leave an organization leverages the wisdom found within a company and extends an organization’s intellectual property. Expect to be surprised by new ways of learning and teaching that your employees will develop, and allow your own corporate online community to tailor the learning to your employees. 

For example, if an executive administrator who has been with a company for 30 years and risen to the top shares his or her story via an online course, many other executive administrators will be sure to take that course to hear his or her stories. Is this the type of content a corporate instructional designer would think about? If a veteran mechanic on the verge of retirement has volumes of unspoken knowledge about the company’s systems that nobody else has, how does the company capture that knowledge before he or she leaves? 

An online learning platform makes it easy to create new content and share it within the organization in a form that is infinitely (re)usable among employees—the keys will be to find that content and have a robust discovery mechanism since you don’t want employees spending too much time hunting and pecking for just the right thing. It is important to leverage real-time feedback on training, which provides social proof to the content being shared by allowing everyone to immediately see which pieces of content others like.

The bottom line is that MOOCs have democratized education and made it possible for students to learn anywhere, anytime. Increasingly, they will be leveraged in corporate training to create efficiency, improve productivity, and energize and develop an ever-changing workforce.


MOOCs: Now What?  

There are a number of steps to consider when developing an online corporate training program that leverages the power of the MOOC model: 

●     First and foremost, seek out a user-friendly platform and use it to deliver all content to employees, if possible. 

●     Understand that different workers crossing different generational bounds will learn differently—and tailor your training delivery accordingly. 

●     Leverage your own organization’s leaders and proprietary content to build your corporate university. 

●     Create individual and team learning plans, aka “course playlists,” to be shared between employee and manager where progress can be tracked.