Everything you need to know about MOOCs

What is a MOOC, how does it work, and what benefits could this online training tool bring to your organisation?

‘Are you the proud owner of a MOOC?’ It’s a question still likely to draw blank looks in some HR circles. Or indeed the retort that MOOCs are far too dangerous to be kept as domestic pets, and best appreciated courtesy of David Attenborough…

MOOC (pronounced ‘mook’) stands for Massive Open Online Course, and is an acronym becoming increasingly important in learning and development. Myles Runham is former BBC Academy head of digital and now a consultant at Myles Runham Digital and Learning. He is heartened that although MOOCs didn’t pick up much momentum when they first started appearing in 2008, things are now looking up.

“They seemed to come in quickly and get written off quickly,” he says. “However, now they are starting to grow in an interesting way. People are starting to use them, both in a professional and a personal setting.”

So just what is a MOOC and where should they be used? We give the lowdown…

When is a MOOC not a MOOC?

A MOOC platform is accessed through the internet and will host a wide variety of different learning resources, potentially including guidebooks, filmed lectures, audio recordings, or forums where users can help each other. MOOCs also allow participants to upload their own content, enabling the student to become the teacher and share information that can benefit others.

MOOCs shouldn’t be confused with SPOCs (Small Private Online Course) but often are, with some organisations thinking they have a MOOC when they really have a SPOC. Rather than being massive and open, a SPOC is small and private, often only accessible locally, and often not available for anyone outside a single organisation to join.

Why might I need one?

Many large firms are already utilising MOOCs to provide an economical and interactive way of training staff. One such company is German multinational software corporation SAP. So far SAP has delivered more than 70 MOOCs, with 370,000 unique learners spanning engineering, technical developers, students, and sales and marketing disciplines. Grainne Wafer, global vice president at SAP SuccessFactors, explains that one of its MOOCs (openSAP) has around 55,000 employees taking part. This only represents 15% of total users, with 85% external to SAP.

“The openSAP channel was built to reach customers, partners, prospects, students, and just about anyone who wants to develop their mind, and it’s great that it’s having such a huge impact for SAP internal learning,” Wafer says. “Our MOOCs are designed to align with busy schedules, allowing people to fit in 20 minutes or so when it suits them.”

Mike Sharples, professor of educational technology at The Open University (OU) and co-author of OU’s Trends in Learning 2016 report, explains that the benefits of MOOCs extend beyond the business.
“There is a new economy of learning,” he says. “Because your MOOC can be accessed by people from other organisations your training methods could have a worldwide reach. The quality of your company training, if it is of high quality, could raise standards globally. You might also be building skills in areas in need, which helps to build a more diverse talent pool.”

How do I make my MOOC really take off?

Check it out for free

If you’re not convinced a MOOC is the right step, why not dip your toes for free? “Many providers offer free enrolment for individuals,” advises Runham. “Sign up for one or two that are publicly available and get a clear idea of what they can offer your company.

“Make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to get out of one, and what problems you want the MOOC to be a solution for,” he adds. “Don’t get one just because it seems new and interesting; only if it can offer real value to your training programmes.”

Use the talent you already have

One of the best things about MOOCs is that they allow you to capitalise on the combined knowledge residing in all corners of your organisation. “Here at SAP we have many thought leaders and bloggers,” explains Wafer. “You can try to tap into knowledge that is already available. If you have social media gurus
and authors in your firm they usually want to be involved in creating content for your MOOC to help get their message out there. It’s win-win, because you get some great, engaging content and they get to share their knowledge.”

Don’t be too protective

Offering your employees’ knowledge to other companies for free might sound scary. After all, if your rivals are subscribed to the same MOOC they will be able to see the content you are putting out. However, don’t forget that top talent in those firms will be seeing your contributions and might decide your workplace is somewhere they’d like to join. You’re also helping to train up those in your supply chain, meaning the smaller enterprises you rely on for success will be getting a skills boost too.