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Organizational Analysis, with 50,000 of My Closest Friends

Have you tried a MOOC yet? That’s a Massive Open Online Course…but you’re forgiven if you thought it sounded like a new cheese snack for kids (They’re Moooocalicious!). It’s likely that 2012 will be remembered as the year that MOOCs hit the mainstream. Udacity, Coursera, MITx and edX- premier institutional organizations are offering their courses to anyone, free, online. Is this the future of education and learning? Does it signify that open education ideals have been realized?

The goal of open learning like MOOCs is to use the internet to create truly accessible education. Participants need only an internet connection to access top-notch educators from world-class intitutions. Theoretically then, courses offered in a MOOC format could provide high-quality education to people, and employees, all over the world. The MOOC model is still in its infancy- currently you cannot obtain a University credit for completing a MOOC the way that a paying student can; but there is talk that in future certifications, course credit, or some kind of equivalency could be offered for a fee, keeping the content open, but creating a potentially viable revenue model for these MOOC enterprises.

So, do MOOCs stand up to the hype? In my still-limited experience, I would say YES….and also no. I’m currently entering the 8th week of a 10 week course offered by Stanford via Coursera: Organizational Analysis, along with 50,000 other students from all over the world. Coursera was founded by two Stanford University Computer Science professors, and currently boasts well over 1.5 million students, partnering with several top universities all over the world to offer 200 of their courses online, for free, to anyone with an internet connection.  A sample of their current offerings include: ‘Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach’ (Duke University), ‘A History of the World Since 1300’ (Princeton University), ‘Mathematical Biostatistics Bootcamp’ (Johns Hopkins University), ‘Heterogeneous Parallel Programming’  (University of Illinois) and ‘Equine Nutrition’ (University of Edinburgh).

Registration was free, and easy. Professor Daniel McFarland posts weekly video lectures related to assigned readings, (some of which require a small licensing fee via on online repository). A course wiki allows students to post questions and comments, respond to these and, critically, allows us to ‘up-vote’  comments and questions that we’d like to see addressed (in the same manner as ‘Liking’ posts on FaceBook). Each week, Professor McFarland selects a few of these popular discussion questions from the wiki to address in a series of short videos, or ‘Screen-side Chats’  In this manner, Professor MacFarland can address wide-held, crowd-sourced questions, individually name (and thus engage) students who have made particularly insightful comments or questions, and draw our attention to these discussions, promoting additional interaction amongst students. Video lectures are punctuated by quiz questions, checking our knowledge and encouraging a minimal amount of interactivity, and additional quizzes are posted for completion weekly. In this particular course, students have been given the option to follow the ‘Basic’ track (read, watch lectures, complete quizzes, and comment on discussion boards), or the ‘Advanced’ track, in which they submit papers for peer-review.

What’s MOOC-tastic?

  1. Terrific content: challenging, but approachable concepts and readings are explored at a level that assumes learners will have had some exposure to the social sciences, but there has only been one allusion to Wittgenstein…so far
  2. Excellent instructor: very engaging, and successful at creating the illusion of connection between faceless students and himself, particularly with his less formal, ‘screen-side chats’
  3. Genuinely global student roster: Using the wiki, fellow students quickly began discussion threads for people in particular professions, industries or geographic regions (some have even held live meet-ups locally). A thread for HR professionals was started, and HR people from Nepal, Sudan, Poland, India, and the Philippines introduced themselves.
  4. The cost:  obviously…

What’s Less than MOOC-tacular?

  1. The format: Coursera is a vehicle for educational institutions and educators to offer existing courses in a MOOC format. Thus, the experience is rather like a traditional online course, only slightly more chaotic. I believe other platforms (Udacity, MITx) may have somewhat different approaches…I’ll explore them next.
  2. The limited interactions between students: while the wiki enabled discussion threads and ‘up-voting’, and there do seem to have been some real-life meet-ups, it felt a little too chaotic and students too numerous to establish any strong or significant connections. A Twitter chat, or Twitter “office hours” would have been a welcome addition…
  3. The cost: While this course was free, and licensing fees for the reading excerpts were generally very low (usually $2 – $7), some students pointed out in discussion threads that these costs are well out of reach for many students in developing countries. There was at least one instance of a student offering to pay these fees for a fellow classmate, which is heart-warming, but clearly not an adequate solution to make this course truly accessible to all.

To me, MOOCs seem to be a great leap towards the larger promise of open learning and social collaboration. As HR professionals, we should be aware of the cost-effective and high-quality learning experience these courses can provide to the motivated, self-directed learner, and also to the idea that MOOCs represent: the shifting landscape of knowledge sharing and global collaboration that digital and social technologies make possible- this is guaranteed to have far-reaching impacts on global organizations.

Have you taken a MOOC? Would you consider it? What about recommending MOOCs to your organization’s employees as part of a development plan?

For more info, check out this great interview with Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi Jane,
    I think MOOCs are a very exciting new option in education. I did a Coursera statistics course in Sept/Oct and am just coming to the end of Writing in the Sciences.
    As you know, you can do the courses for free, in your own time and at your own pace.
    If anyone’s interested, I blogged about the stats course and the social medial implications of it here:

    November 15, 2012
  2. Hi Emma,
    Thanks for your comment! I checked out your blog post- sounds like we had a similar experience with Coursera. Well done for getting through a Statistics Course – seems like tough subject matter to me! I’ve signed up for a second Coursera experience in January: “E-Learning and Digital Cultures”, and I’m really looking forward to it.

    November 15, 2012

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