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Free massive open online courses and the future of corporate training

It’s Learning at Work Week and Mark Lester, Global Head of Education Partnerships at FutureLearn discusses how free online courses can make a difference in corporate training.

If you are a corporate L&D manager or CEO of a SME and have not heard of massive open online courses (aka MOOCs), then you will do soon.  If you have ever dreamed of giving employees high quality online learning from world class university brands across your operations or global supply chains, at low cost, then you need to get on top of this new force sweeping global higher education.  Well over 10m people are now studying on these free courses worldwide, covering game theory and ethics to finance and medicine.

According to leading L&D consultants, Bersin by Deloitte, and other leading pundits, massive open online courses are going to disrupt corporate training. According to Bersin, 70% of Bersin by Deloitte members are interested in exploring MOOCs for corporate training, and while only about 7 % of organizations are currently using them, nearly 1/3 have plans to start doing so (see report).  Besides training, they see potential for building talent pipelines, onboarding new employees, brand marketing and partner education.

And the corporate training market is ripe for disruption. Firstly, the industry is highly fragmented with thousands of providers delivering courses of unknown and varied quality. Secondly, research shows that online learning is taking hold of the industry in the US: 17% of employers consider online education to be as valuable as in-class education for credentials and skills.  And over half believe the quality of education is equal to or better than in-class education (NOT YET SOLD: What Employers and Community College Students Think About Online Education, September 2013, by Public Agenda).

FutureLearn is pioneering quality assured online courses from over two dozen of the leading research universities and business schools in the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. These courses are engaging, rich in discussion and delivered seamlessly across mobile and tablet devices, and thus producing learner satisfaction levels of over 95%. They also offer Statements of Participation and rigorous assessments to test learning under exam conditions in centres across the world.

FutureLearn’s platform is underpinned by learning design expertise from the world’s authority on distance and online learning, The Open University, and executed by UX and agile development professionals steeped in the world of broadcast media and digital industries. It has developed revolutionary tools to facilitate group learning across thousands of learners, innovative peer review technology and advances in formative tests that reinforce learning rather than simply score performance.

With over a dozen business-related courses already on people management, coding, entrepreneurship, innovation, branding and finance, and more in the pipeline, corporations will have a rich mix of courses to choose from in the next few months.

But some of these courses will now start to offer professional recognition, which will be truly transformative and set such courses far above anything being offered by typical training providers. For example, FutureLearn is working with professional bodies, including the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and global accountancy body, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) to recognise courses for formal continuing professional development (CPD) or towards actual professional qualifications.

British Telecom (FTSE: BT-A.L) has spotted their potential and is working with FutureLearn to commission and sponsor courses to support their own employees and entice more students into the engineering and technology professions, and in doing so, positioning itself as an enlightened and socially responsible business.

Other businesses are getting in on the MOOC phenomenon. Christian Kuhna of Adidas sees these courses as an opportunity for both employees and customers – “We want to integrate the great stuff on the internet into our learning offerings”. Google and AT&T are sponsoring MOOCs; Johnson and Johnson’s subsidiary Ethicon has developed a course showcasing its applied research and strategy to experts to help tackle obesity.

The world of learning is changing and corporations need to wake up to the potential it offers, and fast.

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