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The Underpinnings of the Industry-Wide MOOC

The Underpinnings of the Industry-Wide MOOC
Connectivist, industry-wide MOOCs could provide the answer for corporations looking to reduce costs and increase engagement in corporate training initiatives, but the concept faces a number of challenges that could affect its adoption.

Somewhere, a classroom of caffeine-addled employees is being subjugated to the final day of a week-long corporate training session or workshop.

Another day, another set of case studies, corporate videos and team-building events, followed by an instructor-goaded reflection or maybe an online quiz. It could be new hire training, a skills development course or a corporate initiative run amok. These captive “students” are paid regular salary to sit there, which is the foundation of their perfect attendance.

Sound all too familiar?

Let’s face it: most on-the-job training is about as fun as watching ice cubes melt. For many employees, corporate education lacks engagement, transferable credit or a sense of purpose. Companies continue to make huge investments in staff development, mentorships and corporate training, yet outcomes aren’t being measured. Try as they might, few organizations are in the business of educating people, and it shows.

So, are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) the solution for these corporate training woes or for filling the skills gap? Possibly, although the traditional MOOCs or “xMOOCs” (e.g. Coursera, Udacity) are video-centric, led by instructors and linear in lesson plan. They offer no certificate, no end-product and seemingly no purpose other than to educate hobby learners. To date, there are no industry-strength MOOCs.

While exciting and highly entrepreneurial, hype alone isn’t enough to bring large companies and industry stalwarts into the business of online education. Enter the connectivist MOOC (“cMOOC”) model for business, where employees not only learn together online, but innovate and solve big problems that impact the bottom line.

Connectivist Learning in Industry: Powered by Profit, Education Will Be the Byproduct

The cMOOC is based on the connectivist learning theory, which asserts that knowledge rests in the diversity of opinions and that a learner can exponentially improve his or her own learning by plugging into an existing network.

When applied to industry, could the cMOOC speed up innovation and skills development while increasing profit for all?

While regulatory bodies and professional organizations already exist, they’re largely esoteric and not focused on educating their members (e.g. World Health Organization and its ICD-10 diagnosis codes for health professionals, ISO 9000 for manufacturer product specifications). High-quality, high-priced industry consulting firms are easy to come by, too, yet they tend to hoard knowledge rather than make it open and accessible.

Using an open education model, the industry cMOOC could represent an “all hands on deck and then some” approach to solving problems. It could help manufacturers improve a product design, or help civic leaders from hundreds of cities optimize a common community development project. It could even help the aerospace industry lasso a meteorite. In the connectivist industry, participants and their ideas would naturally be vetted against one another. The best ideas and designs would survive, and everybody would learn along the way. In the industry-wide cMOOC, the outcome would be paramount, and education would be the byproduct.

Industry-wide cMOOC participants may receive financial incentive to succeed. They could receive an industry certificate, boost the credibility or prestige of their company, or even earn a performance bonus. One comparable sample is seen today with the X Prize Foundation, where large corporations sponsor cash prizes for the organization that solves a particular problem. In the industry-wide cMOOC, such rewards could be privatized amongst conglomerates or aligned to very unique challenges in niche industries.

So What’s Holding Industry Back from the MOOC Movement?

In general, companies don’t want a level playing field; they want an advantage. There exists general paranoia about trade secrets and intellectual property — and rightfully so.

Companies are also worried about attracting and retaining top talent. The prevailing perception is that if you train your employees too well or reimburse their tuition, they could be seen as a flight risk or head hunter bait. An industry-wide cMOOC would represent a similar double-edge sword. Employees are disengaged and as the job market gets traction, employee retention concerns will increase.

In conclusion, connectivist MOOCs might be coming to industry, but they will be late to the party. The industry-wide cMOOC will have to answer its own unique set of questions.

Who will fund the industry cMOOC? Who will reap the rewards, and who will own resulting patents and designs? Who will control editing rights to the content and the analytics around learner performance? Will regulation take away the open education approach, resulting in a MOOC hybrid for industry?

Through the emergence of industry-wide cMOOCs, crowd-sourcing could lead to the next technological leap, if not for the greater good, then for the greater profit. Or, if for nothing else, at least for the bored employees in corporate training programs everywhere.

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P2P Foundation, “Connectivism Learning Theory – Siemens,” P2P Foundation website, accessed from

Connectivism. “About Connectivism,” Connectivism—A learning theory for today’s learner website, accessed from

Victor Lipman, “Why Are So Many Employees Disengaged?,” Forbes Magazine. January 18, 2013. Accessed from

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