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To MOOC or Not to MOOC, That Is the Question


Mon Jul 22 2013

To MOOC or Not to MOOC, That Is the Question

Dovetailing neatly with the crowd sourced learning trend discussed in last week’s post, The Wisdom of the Crowd, is the concept of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Again, this was a huge trend in 2012, but if you’re not aware of them, MOOCs are a type of online course aimed at large scale participation and open access via the Internet.

The roots of MOOCs lie in distance learning, and they initially took hold in further education. Again, the United States has seen commercial models emerge from the likes of Coursera and Udacity. Meanwhile the concept has spread to the UK. For example, JISC has funded the Open Learning Design Studio’s MOOC (OLDS MOOC) on “Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum,” which began in early January 2013. 


Collaboration is key

The open nature of these courses means there are likely to be large numbers of learners and subject matter experts involved. This affects the instructional design. Everyone on this type of course needs to be able to connect and collaborate with each other to make it work. Crowd-sourced interactions, peer reviews, and group discussion all suddenly become more than a nice to have—they are now of fundamental importance to the structure of the course and the learning experience.

Indeed, collaboration is a major key for success, whether that’s in terms of feedback and debate between learners, or in the development of the course material itself. In this scenario, learners will need to become more connected and collaborative than ever before.

Don Taylor, chairman of the Learning and Performance Institute, recently wrote about the relevance of MOOCs to those of us involved in workplace learning and development: “MOOCs are a symptom of something larger—the seismic shifts that are taking place in our profession. In a few years’ time you may be asked to justify your training course against one provided by Harvard, by a local college in Hyderabad and by an online training company in Singapore. You’d bet start preparing your answer now.”

Different types of MOOCs


New variations of MOOCs are now even starting to appear. A blog post by Martin Lugton describes the differences this way: xMOOCs include discussion forums, and allow people to bounce ideas around and discuss learning together, but the centre of the course is still the instructor-guided lesson. cMOOCs, on the other hand, are based on a connectivist approach in which learners set their own learning goals and types of engagement.

But it is the cost of MOOCs and the crowd sourcing of content that can provide corporate organizations with the means to create enough cost-effective, regular material to truly democratise learning. The combination of a collaborative ethos and easy-to-use technology for authoring and publishing content can be realised in the model that my business partner, Martin Belton, has termed a mini-MOOC.  This might sound like an oxymoron, but in practice could really work as it’s not its size that matters.

A mini-MOOC can be executed primarily in two different ways. The first is organisations within a particular industry work together to create an online course on an area that is currently affecting their industry. If several training managers, for example, can collaborate to create relevant content in the first place and share it via a single platform, it taps into a collective wisdom that can then be shared across an entire industry. This leverages a broader bank of knowledge than individual organisations would normally have access to—not to mention the potential cost savings.

Internal MOOCs: where L&D steps in

The flip side of this is an internal model. This comes back to breaking down those corporate silos and getting the best information out of your best people, then using it to help others. . For example, if there is a need to improve sales training, the L&D team work with the high flying sales people internally and get them to contribute to the development of a mini-MOOC. Their contributions could be in the form of recorded interviews, or input into forums and learner feedback that can be used to form part of an online sales course that can also include e-learning and assessments.


This not only taps into tacit knowledge that might otherwise never leave those sales people’s heads, but helps create genuinely valuable learning resources and a single course that becomes the de facto standard for sales across that organisation. The L&D team is at the heart of this process, facilitating the collaboration, supporting the creation of user generated content, managing the inputs, and distributing the outputs.

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