So, your company has decided to “go MOOC.” What now? Global blue Computer NetworkThere are many options to consider when implementing a MOOC into a training program. The first, and most important, decision is what type of MOOC to use. Although the MOOC model popularized by Coursera is considered the standard format (mainly because Coursera is so big), it is not the only option, and it may not be the best option for your organization. MOOCs differ greatly in delivery format, the active engagement of learners, and the types of outcomes they can produce. Which style of MOOC is most effective depends on the training goals of the organization and the learning outcomes the employees are expected to achieve.

UK elearning entrepreneur Donald Clark has categorized MOOCs into eight different types based on their pedagogical approach and the needs of learners. This taxonomy is useful in determining the right type of MOOC for different training needs.

Transfer MOOCs

Transfer MOOCs lie at the “most traditional” end of the MOOC spectrum. These are courses designed for classroom delivery that have been put onto a MOOC platform. Most of Coursera’s offerings are transfer MOOCs. These courses deliver content primarily through “talking heads” videos and assigned readings and they assess learning outcomes using online quizzes and tests. This type of MOOC would work best for training for which the main goal is knowledge transfer, such as employee orientation and business etiquette training.

Made MOOCs

Clark identifies “made MOOCs” as courses (like those offered through Udacity) that were originally designed as MOOCs, rather than for classroom delivery. Their videos often feature whiteboard problem-solving sequences rather than talking heads. These courses have an interactive approach that goes beyond just knowledge transfer: students interact with the software by solving problems and receiving instant feedback. Time management, project management, financial training, and courses involving individual training simulations lend themselves well to the made MOOC format.

Synchronous MOOCs and Asynchronous MOOCs

MOOCs can be delivered in a synchronous or an asynchronous format. In synchronous MOOCs, everyone follows the same class schedule and may even be required to log in at the same time, for example, to attend a webinar or a Q&A session with a keynote speaker. Asynchronous MOOCs are entirely self-paced. This format is ideal for people who are very busy and in cases where synchronous participation is difficult, such as for employees in different time zones. Although corporate training has traditionally been done in a synchronous fashion, this trend is changing. Between 2006 and 2007, self-paced study jumped from 15% to 20% of all training hours and that number is continuing to grow.

Adaptive MOOCs

Adaptive MOOCs are newest players on the field. They use algorithms and assessments to personalize the learning experience based on the needs of the learner. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of the algorithms, which are largely still in development, but this type of MOOC has huge potential for corporate training. For example, training simulations incorporated into adaptive MOOCs could be used to scaffold employees on an individual basis to reach the desired learning outcomes or level of mastery.

Group MOOCs

Group MOOCs are the response to the need in certain classes for peer interaction and subjective, personalized feedback. These MOOCs cater to subjects and courses whose goal is synthesis and creation, rather than just knowledge transfer. Learners complete projects in small groups and also assess the work of other groups. Stanford`s NovoEd (formerly Venture Lab) runs several business and entrepreneurship courses as group MOOCs, and Instructure`s Canvas Network offers MOOCs that combine the transfer and group MOOC models. The applicability of group MOOCs to corporate training is nearly endless. Both soft and hard skills can be taught through group work, including human resources, leadership, presentation skills, technical skills, and any training involving role-playing or group simulations.

Connectivist MOOCs

Although connectivist MOOCs are often considered the “least traditional” of the group, the very first MOOCs were actually built using a connectivist framework. According to connectivist theory, the knowledge network created by engaging with the content and with one’s peers is more important than the knowledge itself. A connectivist MOOC is less a course than an opportunity to build a personal learning network by gathering and creating online resources and collaborating with others. This model works best for a group of learners who each bring their own skills and expertise to the table, for example, training programs aimed at networking or projects requiring the cooperation of interdepartmental teams.


Currently, most MOOCs are created to last a certain number of weeks, rather like academic courses. Mini-MOOCs are short courses aimed at teaching individual skills or tasks with only one or two clearly defined learning objectives. Think of a mini-MOOC as just a single learning unit. This format can be used effectively for rapid learning and on-demand training, particularly for technical skills.

There are many MOOC options to choose from, and the right choice for your organization will depend on several factors, including the type of training, the desired training outcomes, the resources dedicated to the training, and the knowledge of the training staff. These models are continuing to evolve and in the next few months and years, we will undoubtedly see many more course formats that fall under the “MOOC” umbrella. Although the landscape is changing rapidly, organizations cannot afford to be left behind. As Brian D. Voss, VP and CIO at the University of Maryland, has urged educators, it is time for corporate trainers to “get in the game.”

Copyright 2013 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– offers 25+ years of training and talent management for executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. 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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