MOOCs: A learning solution more viable for corporate training than for higher education

My ongoing experiment with MOOC teaching, along with recent readings on this subject, lead me to believe that massive open online course (MOOC) is not a viable alternative to college education, but it can play a role in corporate employee training.

MOOCs don’t provide for an effective learning experience

The lack of interaction and feedback makes MOOC less effective than a regular online course. Due to the large number of participants in MOOC courses, there is limited interaction between instructor and learners, and it’s difficult to organize group activities among participants who don’t know and see each other and have various levels of commitment.

In my Writing for the Web MOOC class, I see participant comments such as

I think everybody would like to have a feedback (recognizing the job, a suggestion, advice, etc.).

I wish I could have had more individual feedback from the instructor, but that would be impossible in this setting.

One result of this less-than-desirable learning experience is the low participation rate. As I observed of a MOOC course offered by University of Massachusetts, learner participation drops dramatically as the course proceeds from general discussions to concrete coursework.

A recent news report also shows lack of interest in MOOC – it was big news last fall when Colorado State University-Global Campus became the first college in the United States to grant credit to students who passed a MOOC course. A year later, not one student has taken the university up on its offer.

The power of communities and peer-to-peer engagement adds to a MOOC

MOOCs can prove instrumental in employee development and organizational learning. A key is to combine MOOCs with moderated, face-to-face study sessions organized by corporate training personnel.

A good example can be found in a recent article about how a large company works MOOC courses into their organization’s learning activities. They encourage employees to check out and take relevant courses offered via Coursera, for good reasons:

MOOCs make it convenient for the staff to enroll for courses that add value to their current profile and also get them ready for the next role within the organization. Also, learning is increasingly becoming self-directed, and MOOCs offer the flexibility to employees to choose what they want to learn.

Instead of just encouraging employees to take MOOC courses on their own, they form “study groups” to support one another in a MOOC course. The study group meets weekly to watch some of the course videos, to discuss the course material and to check on one another’s progress.

And the offline face-to-face group meeting has proved helpful:

Initially, participants display high levels of enthusiasm, but as the course goes through the test of time, they find it very difficult to sustain the same enthusiasm. This is where our experiment of running a MOOC as an in-class session has proved to be effective.

About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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