MOOCs: the Next Evolution in E-Learning?

By Garry Kranz

Apr. 6, 2014

Robert Hall doesn’t consider himself an expert on massive open online courses, otherwise known as MOOCs. But after creating learning content through MOOC vendor Udemy, Hall is the go-to guy at Marek Bros., a Houston-based construction company.

Hall, a project manager by trade, used Udemy’s open-source software to develop instructional videos about new processes for managing construction-related bidding data. Frustrated by the inefficient way data were managed, Hall took it upon himself to find a better way. He created 15 videos, each between two and four minutes in duration, that show which formulas and protocols to follow when employees record various information on spreadsheets.

Hall’s co-workers frequently call on him to explain the various new rules. Rather than address each individual inquiry, Hall refers them to the corresponding training content. “If they have a question about a certain process, I’ll advise them to watch my five-minute lecture on that topic. It gives them a good refresher and they can see it as often as they want at their convenience.”

Marek Bros., a company with 2,000 employees and offices in Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas, is emblematic of the small steps companies are taking with MOOCs, a technology that enables anyone with a computer and Internet access to create and consume learning content.

Industry observers believe MOOCs will follow an adoption path similar to that of e-learning, which likewise germinated within universities before being embraced by corporations.


Use of MOOCs has been confined mostly to academia, although momentum is slowly building among corporations. In January, Seattle-based Intrepid Learning Solutions launched its branded Agile Corporate MOOC, becoming the first vendor to squarely target the corporate market.

Udemy’s platform provides access to several hundred pre-designed modules, ranging from courses in Microsoft Corp.’s productivity software to management courses from The Jack Welch Management Institute. Organizations can use Udemy’s platform to create customized courses for free, or pay a subscription fee that grants access to branded programs and expanded services.

“We’re a little bit different from academic MOOCs because of our emphasis on skills-based content,” said Dennis Yang, president and CEO of San Francisco-based Udemy.

Here’s how a MOOC typically works: Hundreds or even thousands of students enroll in self-paced digital courses of study, which typically include virtual “lectures,” completing online graded exercises and extensive participation in collaborative online forums.

Industry observers believe MOOCs will follow an adoption path similar to that of e-learning, which likewise germinated within universities before being embraced by corporations.

“There could be a huge demand for MOOCs as the corporate content market gets consolidated. If companies are able to get low-cost to free learning content through a MOOC, they’ll be interested,” said Josh Bersin, president of research firm Bersin by Deloitte.

Hall doesn’t speculate on when MOOCs might go mainstream. His focus is on the videos that should enable Marek Bros. to boost its bottom line. “It gives us a better idea of what our market share is and what it should be, which helps us change behavior to improve results,” Hall said.

Which is what learning is all about.

Garry Kranz is a Workforce contributing editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.comFollow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

Garry Kranz is a Workforce contributing editor.

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