RIP Corporate MOOC

One of the emerging forms of elearning in recent years is the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Introduced by institutions of higher learning, some of the most well-known MOOCs are Coursera, edX, and Udacity. “Massive” refers to the large number of students who enroll in these courses, commonly numbering in the tens of thousands and sometimes breaking six-figures. “Open” means anyone can enroll for free. “Online” means all you need is an Internet connection and a browser to attend—there’s no physical campus. “Course” refers to a curriculum of study.

Even more recently, even bigger buzz in the learning & development community has built around the “corporate MOOC.” For example, Forbes analyzed how MOOCs will revolutionize corporate learning and development. But the buzz has left me wondering if the corporate MOOC really is a MOOC at all.

Some corporations claim to start a “MOOC” behind their firewall for only their employees. For example, Microsoft claims to have cracked the code on the successful corporate MOOC. But when you look at the numbers, they are talking about a class of only 1,014 students. That might be a lot of people to fit into a classroom at the local community college but it’s infinitesimal compared to the attendance in a traditional MOOC. And wanting to put 20,000 people on the sales force through a training program, Microsoft will have to hold that class almost twenty times for the one course. So is this really a massive course?

Offering a course behind the firewall raises another question: is this really an open course? MOOCs traditionally allow anyone with Internet access to enroll in their courses for free. That’s one reason why the enrollment is so massive. But if a corporation only allows its own employees to attend classes, it’s not open.

What you’re left with instead of a MOOC is a corporate OC. And since online course is just another way of saying “e-learning,” these corporate MOOCs are really doing little different than they did before the traditional MOOC came into existence. Large corporations have been putting thousands of students through online courses behind their firewall for decades.

Another form of corporate MOOC that Forbes featured is where a corporation’s employees get part of their professional development in classes at an established MOOC like the ones I named at the beginning of this article. But when you have hundreds of students from a corporation attending a class of tens of thousands of students in an external MOOC, I don’t think you can really call that the corporation’s MOOC. It’s an academic MOOC that has a pretty normal mix of students from various fields, including corporate students. Corporations have been outsourcing their development to local colleges and private training companies since before the traditional MOOC came into existence.

Are there any corporate MOOCs that really meet the requirements of offering a massive open online course? If there are, I’d like to hear about it. But until I do, it seems to me that the corporate MOOC is dead.

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