As the need for an educated global workforce continues to grow, so does the demand to train those employees and help them become life-long learners.

And, although many believe that MOOCS — massive open online courses — may provide the answer, it is still in the conceptual phase when looking at it from a business perspective.

Gaining popularity

MOOCs are websites offering learning to several thousands of people at the same time. And, even though they have been around for a while, they’ve only gained popularity recently thanks to some big name universities, which have started offering free access to some of their course materials. However, many MOOCs are not modeled around a traditional lecture, but rather an experience that allows learners to share their skills.

Do they really work?

There is no doubt that the free aspect of MOOCs is appealing to companies, especially since it allows them to show their employees of opportunities being offered to manage their careers, rather than improving immediate job performance. Additionally, with the need for educated workers growing, a plan that includes a low-cost, high quality education could possibly transform corporate training as we know it.

Software giant McAfee, for example, was recently cited in a Forbes article for incorporating a form of MOOC called, “flipping the classroom,” into its learning program for new sales hires. According to the article, this helped combat an intense onboarding program — more than 80 hours of training and a good amount of pre- and post-program work. McAfee’s reason for doing so was to encourage learning by providing materials to discuss, instead of having a program led solely by an instructor. Its officials were cited saying that “flipping the classroom” helped boost productivity and reduce onboarding times. However, they didn’t state what specific value MOOCs actually provide, or if they were even critical to the onboarding program’s success. This is because a “flipped classroom” setting allows instructors to help revisit concepts with students they don’t understand.

That unfortunately, is not the case with MOOCs.


MOOCs are designed to run themselves, meaning that lectures or training materials are prerecorded by someone. And, since assignment grading is done by peers and/or a computer, students can choose if they want to do an assignment at all.

Additionally, the average dropout rate for existing MOOCs is 90 percent, according to a recent survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed. So, while anyone in the world can access these courses, it doesn’t mean that they are actually learning anything. In McAfee’s case, the learning content likely is exclusive to its new hires and not “massively open.”

Another drawback involves the credentials provided to students who participate. Since there is no financial obligation, students or trainees do not have to actually complete a course and, there are generally no prerequisites to taking courses.

Additionally, there is little or no money in it for those providing the content.

Lack of personalized education

MOOCs have the potential to become nothing but advertising vehicles for educational institutions. It is true that MOOCs provide an opportunity to potentially cut costs, but as a college instructor and someone who also works in the training arena, I believe the learner misses out on the personalized education needed to help retain important information.

There is little doubt that MOOCs could alter the way learning now takes place. However, creating effective training materials are still going to cost companies a lot of money. Companies should instead, analyze specific company needs and create strategic programs that can leverage the medium and not let it become the center of focus.

Training leaders need to ensure that employees use their scarce training time effectively and include making MOOCs part of the training paradigm.