CorporateUniIn this series, we’ll explore some major Megatrends in how and why MOOCs are being used in corporate training and development programs. The goal is to establish an overall picture of the current place of corporate MOOCs, where they are likely headed, and the challenges they may face on the way. In this first article, we’ll examine MOOCs within the context of the recent rise in corporate universities, which has been driven in part by some of the same forces behind the development of MOOCs.

What is a corporate university and why have they become popular?

Pepperdine University professor Mark Allen has defined a corporate university as “an educational entity that is a strategic tool designed to assist its parent organization in achieving its mission by conducting activities that cultivate individual and organizational learning, knowledge, and wisdom.” Corporate universities are distinct from training departments and traditional universities in that they focus more on helping an organization achieve its mission rather than specifically on helping individual employees do their jobs better.

Corporate universities have been in existence in the United States since 1956, when GE established the first one, Crotonville, to train executives in general management. Today, many companies have their own version of the corporate university, whether it is located on a physical campus or, as is happening more and more, online.

In recent years, corporate universities are becoming more popular, for two main reasons:

  • Companies are finding that they can greatly benefit from training at all levels that is tailored specifically to their organizational needs.
  • Companies are finding that graduates of traditional universities don’t have the knowledge and skills the organizations require, especially when it comes to leadership positions. As Doug Guthrie wrote last year in Forbes, “Many corporations are creating their own internal universities because they feel business schools have failed at training the managers and leaders needed to run their companies.”

How do MOOCs fit in with corporate universities?

In many ways, the reasons corporate universities have expanded are some of the same reasons that MOOCs are becoming so popular, especially for a growing crop of non-traditional learners: the courses provide a way for learners to get the personalized education they need to succeed in their job and advance their career, and both students and employers are finding that traditional colleges and universities are not satisfactorily preparing graduates to enter the workforce.

Recently in corporate universities, the dominant model of education has started to change. Moving away from instructor-led training and traditional computer-based training, companies are starting to transition toward more connected digital learning environments, including MOOCs. One of the biggest stories of the past year was the announcement in November that multinational steel manufacturing company Tenaris would partner with MOOC provider edX to expand the firm’s training and education offerings to its 27,000 employees worldwide. Under the agreement, Tenaris can both develop MOOCs on the edX platform and license courses developed by others.

MOOCs can provide several advantages for corporate universities:

  • Collaborative company-wide training. The courses are a way for companies to provide training to employees not only across departments but also around the world. This expands the reach of the corporate university and creates an organization-wide atmosphere of collaboration that is rarely present in either traditional instructor-led or computer-based training.
  • Both in-house and licensed courses. Like Tenaris, companies can both develop their own MOOCs for organization-specific training and use MOOCs developed by others for more general training needs. Licensing courses is significantly less expensive, both in money and in time, than developing them.
  • Training integrated into work. Through on-demand access to learning resources and personal learning networks, MOOCs integrate learning into the regular course of work. Rather than taking time away from work to attend courses at a corporate university (which is often physically located in a different place), employees have access to the knowledge resources they need exactly when they need them. In this way, MOOCs make workplace learning less like sitting in a classroom and more like just doing your job.
  • Less expense, greater flexibility. MOOC platforms are both less expensive and more flexible than many traditional learning management systems (LMSs). They also allow companies to more easily incorporate learning resources from across the Internet into their courses.

Overall, MOOCs are powerful tools for corporate universities to have in their training toolbox.

What are some challenges to the adoption of MOOCs in corporate universities?

It’s difficult to know exactly how many companies are using or considering using MOOCs in their corporate universities. At this point, we can identify at least three main challenges to their adoption:

  • Lack of knowledge about MOOCs. Many business leaders aren’t familiar enough with MOOCs and are wary of adopting a model that is largely untested. This is changing with time, as many companies are currently facing a widening skills gap, and therefore are becoming more willing to experiment with methods that hold promise as ways to train employees more quickly and more effectively.
  • Limited availability of platforms. Until recently, companies didn’t have much choice when it came to MOOC platforms. Coursera and edX, the two major ones, targeted mainly academic institutions. Today, there are more platforms available, including, which is a partnership between Google and edX to expand the edX platform to many types of organizations. Many traditional LMSs are also enhancing their systems to support MOOCs.
  • Limited learner tracking. Learning in MOOCs takes many forms, from the traditional video-watching and assessment-taking to curating shared resources and interacting on social media. Big data is just starting to be incorporated into MOOCs in a meaningful way and new programs, like Tin Can (the Experience API), have huge potential for allowing organizations to track all of their employees’ learning activities.

More and more, corporate universities are moving their programs online to benefit from the increased access, efficiency, and collaborative opportunities a virtual learning environment can provide. MOOCs are the next phase of that development, representing the possibility of providing engaging, effective training to all of a company’s employees, regardless of whether they are located around the globe.

Copyright 2014 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– offers 25+ years of training and talent management helping executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.

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