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MOOCs – the future of corporate CPD?

In recent years, the MOOC – or Massive Open Online Course – has been causing a stir within the higher education scene in the United States. Branded as a tool to democratise education, MOOCs offer learners the opportunity to take specially designed online courses delivered by Ivy League University professors at their own pace, in the comfort of their own homes, and more often than not, for free.

The first MOOC was launched in 2008 and within four years their growth in popularity and demand in the United States led to the New York Times dubbing 2012 ‘The Year of the MOOC’. Since then, the popularity of MOOCs has spread across the globe. In 2013, the Open University – the UK’s high successful distance-learning platform – launched FutureLearn which hosts specialist MOOC courses from the top universities in the UK and abroad including King’s College London, Cardiff University, Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Edinburgh. MOOCs are now offered from universities across Asia, Europe, South America and Australasia.

The business world has taken notice. The notion of the ‘flipped classroom’, whereby traditional classwork is replaced by specially designed homework which learners discuss and mark among themselves, is becoming an increasing popular concept with employers and is a format in which the MOOC excels. In addition, the MOOC’s offer of cheap and easily accessible courses catering for learners of all levels has the potential to dramatically affect the future of corporate training. A recent report from Duke University and RTI International found that over 70 per of employers surveyed could envisage using MOOCs in the future as part of their CPD training provision.

So why are there not more businesses switching to MOOCs? One explanation may be the lack of universally recognised certificates and qualifications awarded at upon completion of a MOOC. Although some course providers award their own approved certificates, currently these are not widely recognised as an equivalent to a qualification achieved from the university itself. Duke University’s research suggests that this could change in the future, with over half of the employers surveyed stating that they would consider using MOOCs during recruitment as an indication of a candidate’s character i.e. motivated, organised, interested in personal development .

There are also a limited number of business centric courses – a large proportion of MOOCs focus on computer science and technology – although this looks to change in the future with the growing interest and level demand for MOOCs on all disciplines.

As MOOCs continue to grow rapidly in popularity and alter the education and training landscape as a result, could they also pave the way for a new approach to employee CPD training?


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