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Happily Ever After? MOOCs and Industry Unite for Professional Development

Happily Ever After? MOOCs and Industry Unite for Professional Development
As the need for employee ongoing learning becomes increasingly apparent, Massive Open Online Courses could become a highly accessible source for continuing education and professional development.

Are MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and industries officially in a relationship, or is it complicated?

At minimum, the chemistry is there, and rumors are spreading about a long-term professional development relationship.

Fueling the move towards industry, MOOC providers face increasing pressure to become profitable and increase student engagement. From the industry perspective, companies are exploring open online education from multiple angles: employee training, connectivist problem solving, recruitment and even public relations strategy.

Meanwhile, MOOC awareness has reached critical mass, and career professionals are increasingly eager to polish their skills or align with emergent global competencies. Increased specialization and ongoing education has become the new normal in not just healthcare and technology, but in more traditional careers too.

As a recent example, Coursera announced a professional development category for education, giving K-12 educators new opportunities to improve their skills. Udemy for Organizations offers companies their own branded training library and promises on its website to keep employees “ahead of the curve with the latest and greatest skills to be successful on the job.”

Other projects aim to play matchmaker for worldwide learning communities with multinational corporations, small business and non-profits. Amit Jain is a team member of Coursolve, an initiative that connects MOOCs with organizations to empower students to solve real-world problems. By matching companies to MOOCs such as Coursera’s “Foundations of Business Strategy,” Coursolve is helping organizations to mentor students while having their challenges addressed with fresh thinking from a global classroom. Students are reaping the benefits too.

“Integrating real-world problem solving into MOOCs holds particular promise for boosting students’ skills development and improving their educational experience,” Jain said. “It’s worth underscoring the global impact that MOOCs can have on students seeking professional development.”

The model appears to be delivering better experiences and career opportunities for students, with Coursolve seeing companies and students stay engaged with one another long after course completion.

So with the apparent shift towards professional development, what industries are likely to fall head over heels for MOOCs?

Here’s a brief look at three of the most eligible fields:


Berlin-based iversity is now enrolling for the Fall 2013 Design 101 course for “design newbies” who want to “playfully explore the theories of design through practice.”

If MOOC providers are providing introductory-level courses for design theory, what’s stopping design professions such as industrial design, civil engineering and architecture from delivery of professional development using an open, online approach?

The need for ongoing innovation and collaboration makes the design field a great candidate for MOOC professional development. While most firms value fresh ideas and teamwork, it’s truly the lifeblood of design industries.

In some professions, raw talent and drive alone is often enough to succeed (e.g. whiz-bang teenage computer programmers or sales and marketing all-stars). While ongoing professional development may be critical for those professions as well, bona fide design professionals require some amount of formal mentorship, as well as deep knowledge of industry regulations, bylaws and trends. Massive online professional development can help.


Arguably, no other industry puts as much value on education, competency and innovation as healthcare. With healthcare professionals already entrenched in continuing education and certification, it seems only natural that eventual widespread MOOC adoption will occur.

Healthcare is moving towards MOOCs on multiple fronts. Industry-focused MOOCs are popping up, such as “Intro to Pharmaceutical Manufacturing” by GetReskilled. Other efforts may focus on global competencies or objectives such as the “Triple Aim” — the global Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) initiative to improve patient care and public health while lowering costs.

Starting in September 2013, the IHI will organize a collaborative learning community to pursue and target results around key health issues across geographically-dispersed communities. While not a MOOC by name, the “IHI Triple Aim Improvement Community” is described as a 10-month collaborative, results-oriented learning opportunity.

Restaurant and Food Service

Various food science online courses may be popping up, but what about professional development of skill sets that prepare students for management, food safety or culinary development?

The sheer scope of the industry is immense. According to the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), the restaurant industry employs about 10 percent of the American workforce and, worldwide, the numbers are staggering. The NRAEF already supports professional development training programs, including management, culinary, food safety and employee skills development.

In what might be the first MOOC taught by a celebrity chef, Udemy is offering “Become a Raw Organic Chef!” by Chef Bryan Au. One needs to look no further than cable television to know demand is there and, like it or not, celebrity chefs may be taking over additional MOOCs sometime soon. It remains to be seen if such MOOCs help can turn foodies into food professionals, but the appetite is there.

Will They Go All The Way?

We’ve arrived at a pivotal moment in the industry and MOOC courtship, and the answers to some interesting questions may unfold in the months ahead:

  • Are industry-sponsored MOOCs coming, and is this a good thing for learners?
  • What incentive do industries have to jump on board?
  • Which organizations or professions will lead the way, and why?

By most regards, all the elements for MOOC-based professional development are in place today and the impetus may now be on industry to provide their commitment.

If MOOC providers partner with companies and not just universities, they might find a new level of user engagement and profitability not yet seen. If industry can harness the ideas of students, they’ll potentially find new ways to innovate, improve outcomes or even help bottom lines.

While it remains to be seen if industry and MOOCs are a match made in heaven, it seems increasingly likely that love is in the air.

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