trainingThis is the last article in our series about how businesses are using MOOCs, as identified by Bersin by Deloitte. In previous articles, we looked at ways MOOCs are being used even before employees are hired, to build talent pipelines, as well as in more conventional training environments, such as for onboarding new employees, self-directed employee development, and workforce training. This final article examines three uses of MOOCs that go far beyond any standard conception of training: educating partners and customers, brand marketing, and collaboration and innovation.

Educating Partners and Customers

MOOCs are excellent tools for workplace education, but there is no rule that says that education needs to be limited to the workplace! Innovative organizations are using these tools to provide education to partners and customers as well.

For example, on the customer side SAP has offered a couple of MOOCs for software developers. Last fall, the company ran a course on how to develop SAP mobile apps so companies could use the software to give employees secure access to data on their own devices. The goal of the course was to educate customers about what the software can do to enhance the increasingly popular BYOD (bring your own device) environments. SAP executive VP Bernd Welz said: “It seems we are really on the right track regarding how to best give people a greater understanding of SAP’s innovations.”

Businesses are also using MOOCs to educate members of their partner networks. For example, BloomNet is a wire florist retail network owned by 1-800-FLOWERS. The parent company has recently partnered with Udemy to offer courses on everything from finance and accounting to customer service and social media to BloomNet members, which are located around the world.

These types of outreach simply weren’t possible before MOOCs came on the scene.

Brand Marketing

MOOCs thus far have not taken over higher education—only a few institutions accept the courses for credit and only a few students have taken advantage of the credit opportunities. But that hasn’t stopped colleges and universities from continuing to devote resources to developing MOOCs, which now number over 1200. If they aren’t actually using these courses for enrolled students, what benefit are schools getting from MOOCs?

One answer is brand marketing. Now, you may argue that elite schools like Harvard and Stanford don’t really need to spend much time marketing themselves—their names are prestigious enough. But smaller, less well-known schools have been experimenting with MOOCs as a way to showcase and promote their traditional degree programs, a kind of try-before-you-buy model.

Companies are doing this as well. For example, Bank of America has partnered with Khan Academy to launch the website Better Money Habits, where anyone can go to learn about budgeting, credit scores, savings, and more. Udacity has a full slate of industry partners who work with the company to develop course content and projects, which serve triple-duty as learning resources, customer education, and marketing materials. Just like in higher education, these partnerships represent powerful ways for businesses to gain exposure, reach new audiences, and create new markets for their brand.

Collaboration and Innovation

The final way companies are using MOOCs is to find innovative solutions to business problems through collaboration. For example, Coursolve is an organization that connects businesses with MOOCs to give students the opportunity to solve real-world problems, and businesses the chance to have their problems solved. Last year, nearly 100,000 students participated in the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business MOOC “Foundations of Business Strategy,” offered on Coursera. Through the course, students had the opportunity to work on solving real problems from a list of companies that included GE, Johnson & Johnson, and Samsung, alongside many small businesses. For participating businesses, this model provides the opportunity to have ambitious, highly motivated learners working to solve their problems for free.

Stanford’s NovoEd MOOC platform is entirely dedicated to real-world problem-solving through social learning and collaboration. Top students in the “Technology Entrepreneurship” course have the opportunity to work with Silicon Valley mentors and show their ideas to investors. Last fall, selected teams from “The Finance of Retirement and Pensions” MOOC competed for the opportunity to present their ideas for pension reform at a symposium held at Stanford this past January. Courses like these are not about learning knowledge and skills to be applied at some unspecified later date; they are about learning knowledge and skills that are immediately applicable to a problem at hand.

As you have hopefully realized from this series of articles, MOOCs are much more than new models of training or new technology-enabled learning tools. They are exciting new digital learning environments, but this description doesn’t even come close to capturing their range of potential uses.

After analyzing the ways companies are using MOOCs, it occurs to me that what really sets them apart from traditional training programs is that MOOCs are all about relationship-building. Instructor-led training is often focused squarely on delivering content, but the Internet has made all of the content we could ever possibly want available at our fingertips. MOOCs are different. They contain content, but their goal is what people can do with the content, and that doing takes place in the context of relationships: between companies and employees, companies and customers, companies and business students, and so on.

MOOCs expand the concept of training and development from something employees sit through for a few hours every year to something entire organizations engage in every day. By embracing this concept now, companies can start building those learning relationships that will prove essential to their success in the future.

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.