Online Workforce Education: MOOCs, SPOCs and CMOOCs

Online Workforce Education: MOOCs, SPOCs and CMOOCs

This article was updated on July 27, 2018.

The next frontier of business and education will enable individuals to connect from faraway places and attain a higher level of connection and learning and productivity than prior models. ADP Research Institute® finds in its report, "The Evolution of Work: The Changing Nature of the Global Workplace," that "an even faster-paced global transformation is underway," with 82 percent of surveyed employees reporting a positive feeling about using "tech to learn anything, anytime, anywhere."

Online workforce education, in the form of massive open online courses (MOOCs), small private online courses (SPOCs) and corporate MOOCS (CMOOCs), is one of the best ways HR leaders can help organizations meet these employee needs.


The idea of massive open online courses (MOOCs) emerged less than a decade ago when several universities began publishing coursework through RSS feeds or hosted web applications, allowing the public access to materials that were previously only available to paying students. These first MOOCs simply provided a self-study option — similar to reading a textbook without actually attending the associated lectures — to interested parties far and wide. That is, until startups like edX, Udacity and Coursera began snagging enrollees by the hundreds of thousands for classes offered by education giants Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Princeton and Duke, among many others, according to The New York Times.

The success and evolution of these MOOCs also ushered in their less-talked-about cousin, SPOCs. Small private online courses may fit the niche between traditional in-person or distance learning opportunities and MOOCs. Harvard Magazine posits that "small is beautiful," enabling learners to make meaningful connections with educators, while those same educators can reach a different-than-typical population with important learning opportunities.

CMOOCs and Organizational Learning

Based on the availability of MOOCs and the specificity of SPOCs comes the third member of the online learning family, and the one most applicable to businesses: CMOOCs. CMOOCs are already changing the face of business and talent development. To be successful, CMOOCs must feature five attributes: flexibility in design, application to the corporate learner's own projects, content that is dynamic instead of static, diversity in delivery types and time-dependent course-completion expectations, according to the Association of Talent Development.

Look critically at the training courses you offer in person, online or that you send your employees to participate in externally. Then, consider how a shift to CMOOCs can benefit your entire organization. As an HR leader, you can take advantage of this paradigm by not only supporting employees as they seek out outside SPOCs in which to enroll, but by also aligning your internal training department with the principles of CMOOCs.

Global Availability, Local Functionality

One key drawback to traditional corporate training opportunities is logistics. How can the appropriate groups of workers come together for on-time, on-target training? In-person training carries scheduling and cost bugaboos. Remote training that relies on conference calls and online slide sharing carries with it additional scheduling issues, and may pull too many employees away from their day-to-day functions to simultaneously attend sessions.

CMOOCs can help organizations avoid all that. While some degree of face-to-face interaction may still be desirable or necessary, CMOOCs can be delivered to workers in areas around the globe at non-synchronous times and as necessary to fit other operational demands. Additionally, the same training can benefit all workers, or it can be specifically tailored by laws, regulations and practices that vary by locale. Utilizing CMOOCs doesn't require recreating the wheel. Forbes offers examples ranging from tech giant Microsoft to finance leader Bank of America as just a few of the global corporations currently taking advantage of MOOC technology to train their workforces across the world.

Opportunities in Your Own Corporation

The corporation you represent has several opportunities to bring the positive outcomes of MOOCs and SPOCs in-house. First, you can work with your employees to make available the sheer number of current public MOOC offerings, potentially with the benefit of corporate sponsorship for course-completion certification. Second, for learning that is entirely specific to your own organization, you can use the principles of SPOCs to create CMOOCs. Third, you can partner with industry leaders or organizations to design and deliver CMOOCs that have applicability at more than just one organization.

To successfully implement online workforce education, you should consider the diverse needs of both your organization and employees, and remember that the use of one learning type does not have to preclude the use of others. You can employ MOOCs, SPOCs and CMOOCs together to build a full library of educational offerings to meet your employees' need for learning and better position yourself as a market leader for years to come.