DECEMBER 5, 2017, Redstone Arsenal, AL – It’s no surprise that the Internet provides numerous training opportunities for employees who want to improve their skills and advance their careers.
“Massive open online courses,” known as MOOCs, are online learning courses that are available to thousands of students at a time. And, many of these courses are absolutely free while others are provided at rates drastically less than traditional courses.
First introduced back in 2006, MOOCs have definitely gained momentum and are being taught by professors from highly recognizable institutions of higher learning. A recent MOOC offering entitled “Think Again: How to Reason and Argue” was available to an unprecedented 180,000 students online and co-taught by two professors from Duke and the University of North Carolina. Over 13 million users now attend courses via “Coursera” (for profit) and “edX,” (nonprofit) consortiums led by Harvard and MIT. Between the two, there are more than 1,200 courses being offered online for participants worldwide. “Khan Academy,” another outlet which began as a series of YouTube videos, is also helping boost these numbers by committing to provide free, world-class instruction to anyone, anywhere, at all levels from kindergarten through college and into careers.
This affordable, flexible way to learn new skills, all while keeping up with the latest technological advancements, has caused the MOOC phenomenon to bleed over into corporate America. Now, more seasoned professionals are getting on board with these online courses and taking advantage of the many opportunities to further develop their technical and leadership competencies on their own schedule, while keeping their hard-earned dollars in their pockets. Because these courses are free and accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, they are a great alternative to traditional classroom courses, especially for curious people who aren’t necessarily seeking a credential.
The MOOC impact is being strongly felt by education systems worldwide and forcing them not only to improve their standards but to also ensure that they are making quality education options available in all fields, to all students, regardless of background, education levels and economic status. A prime example of this happened in 2013, when Georgia Tech announced an unprecedented all-MOOC master’s program in computer science that, at $6,600, was just a fraction of the cost of a comparable on-campus program. It’s no surprise that about 1,400 students enrolled.
MOOC coursework typically follows the same basic format as general courses offered by online colleges (e.g. written materials, videos, audio lectures, quizzes, etc.), with students/instructors interacting in online discussion boards and forums. Course subjects range from computer science, to math, business, humanities, social science, engineering and education, to name just a few. Although some schools are apprehensive of the value of MOOCs, the number of providers continues to grow. In fact, some of the major players in the MOOC landscape currently include Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Duke University, Carnegie Mellon University, MIT, UCLA and Harvard.
While the Army does not endorse any one specific program, MOOCs are freely accessible courses, delivered to large cohorts of learners.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs):
- Typically do not have entry requirements
- Usually run two or three times each year
- Led by academic instructors and supported by teaching assistants
- Typically require 1-2 hours of study each week for about 5 weeks
- Comparable to standard college courses in terms of content and study level
- Meet most academic standards
- Typically do not have formal credits assigned to them
- Statements of participation are often available
- Depending on the course, MOOCs “may” be accepted by supervisors when awarding continuous learning points (CLPs)
Employees should discuss CLPs with supervisor via IDP or informal meeting beforehand.
MOOCs and Professional Development
• Free or Low Cost – One of the key components of most current MOOC courses is that they are offered for free or at a nominal fee. Since lack of money is often an issue when it comes to professional development, providing no or low-cost options is a dream come true for most supervisors and employees.
• Flexible – One of the most important features of online education is that it provides flexibility, both in time and location, for those participating in it. Nowhere is this more important than for civilians’ continuing training. Most employees work long days that often do not allow much, if any, time away for training, which makes finding time for professional development a challenge. MOOC-based learning is often on-demand. This means that employees can log on when it is convenient for them to complete training. This also gives supervisors the freedom to allow some telework options for their employees. A supervisor may give an employee a day or half a day a month/quarter to work from home or another location to complete/attend an online training event. Specifics can be laid out ahead of time during the IDP discussion and supervisors can track time invested to training by the length of the class and statement of participation received by the employee upon course completion.
• Adaptable – Not only do MOOCs provide flexibility, in many cases, the content that they provide is also adaptable to different circumstances. Supervisors and employees can review competency gaps and choose available content to meet the specific needs of a particular employee. This feature also allows those responsible for managing training and professional development for the workforce to customize experiences for employees based on competency analysis and needs assessments that identify gaps across functional areas.
• Ongoing – Just like any kind of training or learning, return on investment for these courses must be reinforced over time (e.g. this is not just a one-time event). Employees must have opportunities to practice, implement, ask questions, try again, and integrate new skills and information on a schedule that works for them and allows them to retain information. MOOCs, if designed with this strategy in mind, have enormous potential to meet this need. The on demand, 24/7 nature of MOOCs also provides employees with a medium for discussing and sharing ideas and best practices with a diverse group outside of their daily work environment.
How to Find Useful MOOCs for Professional Development
While the Army does not endorse any one site, the first step in finding useful content for continuing professional development is to look on the Internet for MOOC sites to see what they offer (e.g. Coursera, edX, Udacity, Udemy, etc.). Don’t forget to look beyond courses specifically designed for professional development, but also focus on classes offering the latest trends or technical expertise in a particular career field. Some subjects covered (not all-inclusive) on MOOC sites include:
- Art & Culture
- Biology & Life Sciences
- Business Management
- Computer Science
- Data Analysis & Statistics
- Economics & Finance
- Education & Teaching
- Energy & Earth Sciences
- Environmental Studies
- Food & Nutrition
- Health & Safety
- Philosophy & Ethics
- Social Sciences
By TANYA ALLBRITTEN, AMCOM G-1 Chief of Training