Massive Online Open CoursesA major role of social business is in the facilitation of knowledge sharing and learning.  Much of that learning has traditionally happened via the informal, tacit exchange of information provided by conversations between employees.  If you wanted to go on a course or something you’d have to go off to a classroom somewhere.

The world is changing however, and there is an increasing array of free online learning available from the finest universities in the land.  The movement is collectively known as Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) and provides a telling contrast to the picture painted by rising tuition fees and income inequality.

A number of start-ups have already entered this arena.  Coursera for instance provide online courses in maths, science and humanities from universities such as Stanford and Princeton.  Udacity provide courses in computer programming and software design, whilst Harvard and MIT have launched edX recently too.

Such an approach gives the learner the freedom to do so when they need it, at a time and place that suits them.  Yet the traditional learning system hasn’t really kept pace with this.  The way most courses are taught has remained the same for the past 100 years.  There’s a growing recognition that the workplace of today doesn’t look like it did in 1940 or 1970, yet the classroom has changed very little since then.  It seems impossible to suggest that the dramatic changes in the way people interact with each other and with technology will have no impact on the way they learn.

“The whole notion of going to a bricks-and-mortar school makes no sense to many people when the confines of space and time have been eliminated,” notes Douglas Shackelford, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and dean of its new online business degree program, MBA@UNC. “I have one student who works for a Fortune 100 company. He tells me he has five people on his team on four continents, and he has never met any of them. The idea that he would go back into a classroom to do his MBA seemed like something his granddad would have done. It’s a Facebook world now.”

We now live in a world where employees are comfortable with online technologies, many having grown up with desktop sharing tools and discussion boards.  There is also a greater understanding of how people best learn online.  Coursera for instance slice lectures up into easy to digest 15 minute chunks, which is ideal for the busy executive.  Professors are available to answer questions online via forums, just as fellow students are encouraged to help one another.

Just as organisations can, and should, be tapping into the collective intelligence of their entire workforce and other stakeholders, so individual employees should be actively engaging with this global student body.

In April, Coursera announced it had secured $16 million in funding from two Silicon Valley venture capital firms. Udacity is also venture backed. MIT and Harvard contributed a combined $60 million to launch edX, which is overseen by a nonprofit, but program directors have said they plan to make the initiative self-supporting.

The MOOC are here to stay.  The only question is when you encourage your employees to dive in.  If you’d like an overview of MOOC’s check out the following video.