Massive open online courses (MOOCs) offer an incredible value for enterprises looking to increase skills and knowledge within their workforce. What began in the realm of academia has evolved into a powerful platform for enterprise training, continuing education and professional development.
The IT industry evolves at a break-neck pace, and organizations that aren't committed to ongoing learning and education are at a distinct competitive disadvantage. But spending thousands -- even millions - to send IT workers to lengthy training classes or even back to college for additional degrees just isn't cost-effective or practical.
"MOOCs and online learning are addressing three of the biggest obstacles to learning in the enterprise: the cost, inevitable technology obsolescence and accessibility," says Ryan Corey, co-founder of online enterprise learning platform Cybrary.
Inside the cost of training
The cost of sending an employee or employees to complete training is one of the biggest prohibitive factors to continuing education in the workplace. N2Grate, a technology solutions provider for the U.S. government with a staff of about 30, was spending approximately $2,500 per employee for a week of training, plus travel expenses, averaging $7,000-$10,000 per year per employee, before finding Cybrary, Corey says.
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Now, N2Grate is saving $7,000 to $10,000 per employee, and expects to save $50,000 over the next year on employee training costs. That's not even taking into account the cost of lost productivity and reduced hours for employees attending training.
MOOCs are also better equipped to provide bleeding-edge technology topics and training than traditional approaches, which are often based on outdated curriculum.
"For the money, it's so impractical for enterprises to pay for a class now knowing with absolute certainty that 12 months from now the technology will be completely different," Corey says.
Even if an enterprise shells out for a training course, without enough interest or attendance, there's a good chance the class won't even happen. "In the cybersecurity space, for instance, there's so much cutting-edge tech and zero-day threats. Even if a company has one dedicated malware engineer and they need him to go to training, there's a good chance the training company will cancel the course because the subject matter's too specialized to attract enough students," Corey says.
Comprehensive enterprise training is also hamstrung by time. Understaffed or busy IT departments often can't spare the time to send one or more mission-critical engineers to training, and employees often can't fit a strictly scheduled course into their after-work time. Because MOOCs are online and on-demand, coursework and study time can be squeezed in almost anywhere and students finish at their own pace.
The quality of MOOC course material is often as good or even better than curriculum available through traditional training providers, community colleges or universities. "MOOC providers are employing subject matter experts with incredible experience and skills. Because they're virtual, they can be picker about which instructors they choose and what content is presented," says Corey.
Why MOOCs are differentiator
For workers, being able to access cost-effective, convenient and high-quality training is a major career differentiator. The IT industry often seems more like a traditional trade, in that IT professionals are judged mainly on their ability to perform certain tasks or be intimately familiar with specific technologies. MOOCs are uniquely designed to target "trade" workers by providing specific measures of performance.
"That's why certifications are such valuable benchmarks. It's a performance-based analysis of your skillset that can be validated," Corey says, much in the same way completing a MOOC course can.
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Being able to "upskill" so quickly and efficiently will definitely offer students an advantage in their workplace, but with the sheer number of available MOOCs, there's concern that MOOC completion will become commoditized and lose its value as a metric, says Mike Feerick, CEO of global MOOC provider ALISON.
"With the sheer amount of access and the volume of content available to so many, workers will have to adapt and start building their skills and knowledge now. But there's so much to learn and so many different paths, it'd be very difficult for two IT pros to have exactly the same expertise - you're still able to uniquely distinguish your value," Feerick says.