MOOCs – An L&D Practitioner's Experience

In 2013 I participated in a Learning Cafe working group on MOOCs for Workplace Learning with colleagues from other corporate organisations.  The group concluded that:

Learning-Cafe-Call-on-MOOCs2-276x135MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) can be a mainstream employee learning option.  It offers cost effective solutions for organisations with the benefits far outweighing the challenges.  L&D/HR need to be proactive in exploring and including MOOCs in learning strategies.

I was invited to be a panellist at EduTECH 2014 alongside two fellow working group members. Jeevan Joshi (Learning Cafe founder) summarised the Working Group’s activities and findings, while Tim Drinkall from NBNCo and myself each spoke about our own experiences exploring MOOCs.  I presented two perspectives: (1) MOOCs for my own professional development; and (2) MOOCs as an employee learning option in my organisation (where I focus on technical capability development for Supply Chain roles).  The views presented in this blog post are entirely my own and do not represent those of either Learning Cafe or my employer.

In summary my experience suggests that:

  • MOOCs are a valid option that L&D professionals should include in their professional development portfolio; and
  • MOOCs will only be a valid mainstream option for technical capability development when (if?) courses are developed on relevant subjects, and where the organisation supports the learners to apply the content in their workplace and learn from the experience.

MOOCs for L&D Professional Development

I have enrolled in three MOOCs for my own professional development (PD), and completed one.  Personal motivation was the key to my MOOC completion, driven primarily by relevance to my immediate needs.

In most instances MOOCs are a self-directed learning experience, for which barriers to entry are very low (no entry criteria, no/low fees).  I did not know any other participants, few people were aware that I had enrolled, and there were no adverse consequences for non-completion.  This was a low-risk PD experiment.  My completion of these MOOCs was dependent on intrinsic motivation.  While all three subjects were of interest to me, only the course that I completed addressed specific skills that I had an immediate need to apply.  While I skimmed the content in the other two courses and initially made an attempt to join the overwhelmingly large and relatively chaotic online discussions, the subjects weren’t a high enough priority for me to allocate time to these MOOCs.  Having said this, I did get value from being able to skim the content and look more closely at anything that caught my eye.

SMOOCThe MOOC that I completed was Social Media for Active Learning from Florida State University (FSU).  It ran for four weeks with topics on curation, social media lessons, Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and privacy & ethics (the latter an important and often overlooked aspect of this subject area).  Each topic could be completed independently.  Weekly content was presented via three short videos, a one hour webinar (recorded for those who not attend live), and linked readings and tools. To earn a topic badge required posting in response to three discussion topics (self-selected from a longer list), completing and posting a project, passing an online quiz, and providing feedback on the topic.  (As a slight aside, I was surprised that I enjoyed earning the topic badges, and suspect that I may not have completed the final topic were it not for the desire to complete the badge set – this has shifted my view on using badges in my work.)

SMOOC Badges

The content and activities were relevant, practical and well-presented.  I particularly liked the use of separate discussion threads for each question which made it easy to follow a conversation without interference from other discussion threads.  With the exception of the recorded webinars all content ran well on my iPad, so it was convenient to work on the MOOC during my daily public transport commute.  There was a lot of feedback provided by the FSU students who formed the course support team.  Some discussion did occur on Twitter and my PLN expanded slightly.  I really enjoyed the social interaction in this MOOC and looking at the project work completed by others.  Most pleasing of all was that I was able to use some of the project outputs in my workplace, and immediately apply the knowledge and skills I picked up during the course.

I now regard MOOCs as a useful additional option for my ongoing PD, particularly where I have an immediate opportunity to apply the content.

External MOOCs for Organisational Technical Capability Development

I joined the Learning Cafe working group as I was attracted to the idea of “free” courses from reputable institutions that could be incorporated into the suite of learning options in my organisation.  My organisational learners work predominantly in manufacturing, maintenance, warehousing, distribution, supply planning and scheduling. Over the past year I have searched several times for MOOCs relevant to the technical knowledge and skills of these learners.  Alas, there are very few on offer.  Even if there were relevant MOOCs available there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Effort needs to be put into finding and evaluating a MOOC just as it does any other type of formal learning.  (Note that I am deliberately discussing formal learning options at this point).  Some learners may require support to effectively engage and learn in a MOOC environment, especially where it is true to the pedagogy of interaction on a massive scale.


Looking at learning through the lens of the 70:20:10 framework (which is used successfully in my organisation), generally a MOOC has the potential to address theory (10%) and the social (20%) aspects of learning.  However, for technical skills the experiential learning (70%) requires hands on application of skills in real world context.  Some highly motivated and adept self-directed learners will be able to generate the application and reflection required to create experiential learning from a MOOC; many will require support to achieve this.  That support may come from an internal group of peer learners undertaking the same MOOC, an interested leader, or an L&D practitioner.

Another option is to blend a MOOC in full or part into a learning program.  This is one of the opportunities that Donald Clark sees for use of MOOCs by corporates. In a similar vein, the content of many MOOCs is open source, hence provides another source for curation of material for use in formal and informal learning.  This is the extent to which I have used MOOCs within my organisation at the time of writing.

These are some of the activities into which L&D effort may need to be invested in order to effectively utilise MOOCs for mainstream learning.  Refer to for a framework that identifies other considerations for the introduction of external MOOCs into employee learning.

MOOCs as a Model for Internal Program Design

For many L&D practitioners who have worked within the constraints of ‘traditional’ course design and the limitations of their LMS, enrolling in a well-designed MOOC will expose them to a broader range of learning methods (e.g. online discussions, use of current resources curated from the internet) and provide examples of how to use these methods well (e.g. discussion thread structure in Social Media for Active Learning MOOC) as well as what not to do (e.g. a lecturer presenting to a camera for an entire series of videos).  This is one aspect hotly debated in Ryan Tracey’s post on the pedagogy of MOOCs.

I also think there is something in Tanya Lau’s point in response to David Kelly’s post on MOOCs and the Corporate World:

Perhaps in a corporate setting, MOOCs could play this role – … something which can also help people to build their internal network (…and break silos!?) across the organisation.

I am lookbanner-mocm-registrationing forward to exploring MOOCs further on the upcoming MOOC about Corporate MOOCs, which commences on 16 June 2014.



  1. #1 by Ryan Tracey on June 13, 2014 - 12:10 am

    I enjoyed reading your post, Michelle. I am always interested in the views of professionals such as yourself who draw from their experience. For the record, I pretty much agree with all your conclusions about MOOCs, and I am keen to see where they go from here – particularly in the corporate sector.

  2. #2 by Michelle Ockers on June 14, 2014 - 7:49 am

    Yes, it will be interesting to see the different ways in which corporates extract value from moods/the MOOC model.

  3. #3 by tanyalau on June 14, 2014 - 10:14 pm

    Hi Michelle,
    thanks for tweet-pinging me on your post. Not only did I enjoy your post (and discovering your blog too!), the topic of MOOCs in corporate / L&D environments is something I have been thinking about of late too (and was in fact also in the process of writing a post on…).

    Thanks for linking out to Ryan’s post too, I hadn’t seen that and I was interested to read the comments.

    I also agree with the conclusions that you’ve made re the potential for MOOCs to contribute to professional development, and depending on context, the possibility of utilising them as an ‘off shelf’ online option and/or incorporating them as part of a broader formal learning program. I think though, it does depend on what type of MOOC and what your objectives are.

    These applications are perhaps most suitable for well defined goals and supporting the development of ‘foundational’ knowledge that Ryan mentions in his post – for which highly structured, content driven (x)MOOCs can be pretty effective for > and which is very much aligned to the way formal learning / training is both used and designed, particularly in the corporate environment (i.e. specific, well defined learning objectives, structured, linear content-focused course with defined start & end points).

    And I think if we’re talking about *introducing* MOOCs into (conventionally conservative) corporate environments starting with MOOC models which don’t dramatically diverge from existing pedagogical frameworks is a sensible approach.

    However: I am most excited about the possibility of what might happen if we took a (c)MOOC framework and adapted it for a corporate context – how, & what it might look like, what could be achieved. As you’ve mentioned in your post, the social and project aspect of the MOOC is often the most engaging aspect. But this is often peripheral (if present at all) in the xMOOC format. In contrast, cMOOCs have connection (with other participants, with ideas & concepts) at the core – pedagogy and structure is explicitly designed to support this: connection rather than just content access and individual knowledge acquisition. They tend to be smaller (not massive – 100s rather than 1000s) – so conversations tend to be more constructive, meaningful and stimulating rather than chaotic, disorganised and inaccessible as they are in the more massive xmoocs.

    Personally I’m a big fan of cMOOCs – although I’ve only participated in 2, they have probably been two of the most impactful personal and professional development experiences I’ve had – not simply because they exposed me to a whole range of new perspectives – and changed my perspective, thinking & mindset on a whole load of things (which has had a flow-on effect on the way I approach what I do at work) but what has been absolutely critical, and the thing that has had the most lasting impact have been the people I have met, had conversations with, and created stuff with on these cMOOCs. Some of these connections have become close members of my PLN and led to number of ongoing collaborations after the event which have contributed far greater to personal and professional development than any course has and could ever do (Third Place L&D meetups, OzLearn chat, edconteXts, emergent collaborative art, participation in research….etc).

    So: how might cMOOCs be adapted to add value in a corporate context? I’m wondering if the mooc framework could be set up such that it directly supports the workplace goals: by using a connectivist, problem based learning approach, where participants collectively work on a relevant, ill defined problem; objectives aren’t always clear from the outset – and where there certainly isn’t any single ‘correct’ answer to the problem >> much like in the real world. This was the approach used in the ‘Exploring PLNs’ cMooc and it was very effective. And if the experiences ARE actually open, there is the potential to support global, cross-organisational / cross-context, (as well as intra-organisational) collaboration and knowledge/experience sharing – which could be the most exciting of all > not just breaking silos within organisations but across organisations and contexts (e.g. institutional: where you might possibly have say ppl from higher ed, teachers etc collaborating with corporate). We know that innovation comes from taking ideas and applying them in novel ways or contexts – it commonly happens at the boundaries of CoPs or in open, diverse networks – thus this *could* be a way of pitching it to corporates who are generally pretty guarded about ‘sharing’ organisational knowledge. Sure we might be a little way from this and yes there may be barriers to getting there, but I see this as one of the most exciting and inspiring possibilities for MOOCs, or an adaptation of a cMooc type format.

    Anyhow…it seems I’ve written part of my blog post in your comments area…oops that wasn’t intentional. I’ll stop now…I’ve registered for the Mooc and corporate Moocs too, so will be interested to continue (and hopefully expand) the conversation with you there too. I’m also in the #CLMOOC (connected learning MOOC) at the same time ( if you’re interested) which is more a collaborative cMooc style experience / community based on making stuff, playing, connecting & reflecting. I’ll be comparing pedagogies across both these MOOCs as I progress. *Also really looking forward to chatting more – and properly – in person at the third place meetup!!

    • #4 by Michelle Ockers on June 23, 2014 - 8:12 am

      Wow Tanya! You have written a whole new blog post here. I really like your expanded thinking about how the cMOOC model could be adopted and adapted in a corporate context. It plays well into the 702010 framework too. It would need a bit of shaping and ‘selling’ to try it out in most corporates in that the outcomes are less-defined than everyone is used to seeing, and it’s as much about innovation and problem solving rather than learning – it’s a bit of all of these things really. Worth some experimenting.

      • #5 by tanyalau on June 23, 2014 - 11:29 am

        Yeah…I think sometimes moocs do themselves an injustice by calling themselves moocs -and in particular with all that the ‘c’ for ‘course’ entails. It instantly creates expectations of a formal course experience, which, if you’re aiming to introduce a connectivist approach in a corporate environment, probably creates the wrong expectations for people. If I were to try pitching a cMooc inspired experience, I wouldn’t call it a ‘mooc’.
        That’s why I liked what Elliot Maisie said about this in the Mooc on corporate mooc’s video about how the ‘C’ should really be ‘collaboration’ rather than ‘course’. That’s probably more along the lines of how I’d think about pitching it. And in terms of defining outcomes – I think all we’re talking about here, is the creation of an output rather than simply completion (e.g. a real world ‘artifact’ of some sort – e.g. a proposal, project brief, portfolio or other ;deliverable’) as a way of demonstrating competence / mastery – often much more meaningful and effective than a score of completion certificate.

  4. #6 by Activate Learning Solutions on June 16, 2014 - 5:06 am

    Thanks for a great post Michelle – and detailed! It’s great to read how other people have experienced MOOCs. I have done many in my time – some finished, others not but each one has been memorable in that I have used the information or created something from it – or simply connected with others. As long as it’s not seen as the panacea for all training woes, “Let’s build a MOOC” without exploring what actual business problem they are trying to solve, I still believe that MOOCs do have a place in suite of different learning methods and media. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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