Why the term “Corporate MOOC” is buzzwordy

I’m hearing more and more companies mention that they’re developing or have already developed corporate MOOCs.  But I’m not sure they always mean what we think it means.

What is a corporate MOOC?

The idea of a corporate MOOC is very cool.  It means that a company would create some learning content that they would then publish to the world so anyone can learn from it.

Why would a company go to the expense of creating something that they would then give away for free, and risk competitors benefiting from?  There are actually a number of compelling reasons.

One is that many companies recognize that either currently or in the future there will not be enough qualified applicants to fill certain important positions.  MOOCs can be one strategy to alleviate this problem.

Take Google as a hypothetical example.  Let’s suppose that they know they’ll need twice as many Android developers as they currently have 10 years from now, but they can tell that there is likely to be a major shortage of people who have the necessary skills.

In this case, Google could publish and publicize a MOOC about android development today, in the hopes that some of the people who take the course will one day become valuable Google employees.

Sure, the individuals who take this Android MOOC may end up taking their talents elsewhere, but Google will give themselves the upper hand because throughout the course they have the opportunity to reference how great it is to work at Google and how wonderful it will be for the students to apply their newfound skills at their company.  It’s a major branding opportunity that until recently simply hasn’t been an option for companies.

In a world where it is becoming harder and harder to compete for top talent, companies that find creative ways to spread their influence and brand awareness into the talent pool will have a valuable long-term competitive advantage.  This is especially true for companies that don’t have the brand recognition that Google already does.

android-udacity-mooc

How do many companies seem to be using the term corporate MOOC?

The above is great, but it seems that what many companies mean by corporate MOOCs is something a bit different, in that they don't actually intend for the content to be open to anyone without restriction.

Why does that matter?  It matters because the first "O" ("open") of the acronym "MOOC" is the one that actually makes it unique.  Sure, massive, online, and courses help describe what a MOOC is, but without the word “open” you’re left with something that we’ve already had for more than a decade - online courses.  And we can assume that without being open they're unlikely to be massive.

The “open” part of a MOOC, therefore, is what makes it a novel and powerful concept.

So why might these companies be saying they’re developing corporate MOOCs if they’re not really MOOCs?  I suspect that the answer is that they’re referring to some of the other characteristics that are associated with MOOCs.  MOOCs are not SCORM content, so they're more flexible.  They’re video-based.  They tend to have assignments and supplemental reading paired with them.  They often have discussion boards where learners can discuss the coursework asynchronously.  They're modern in ways that traditional LMS-based learning content isn't.

Companies are right to develop content that has these characteristics.  But, as I've described, that makes them better online courses, not MOOCs.

Why does it matter if they’re being mislabeled?

moocs-mislabeled

Well, it ends up confusing what the actual term means, and may give companies the sense that they're innovating more than they actually are.  And it distracts for the fact that with actual corporate MOOCs, they have an opportunity to actually do something different.

L&D practitioners should think about one or two areas that their company could provide unique thought leadership in, and consider developing genuine corporate MOOCs to share with the world.  I suspect that they would find the downsides to be limited, and the potential benefits quite profound.