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On-demand: The Future of Learning with MOOCs

As Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) gain more momentum and credibility, people are beginning to consider the impact of on-demand learning to both the college experience and professional development.


In a great article titled “The Future of Professional Development: Online, Free, and Just-in-Time,” by Jeff Selingo, the author of College (Un)Bound, we consider the impact of MOOCs on professionals in the workforce.

College Unbound book

In his article, Jeff points our that the need for refreshing our professional skills and knowledge is never-ending, and brick-and-mortar colleges and universities aren’t keeping up.  MOOCs, however, are not only keeping up, but pushing the pace even faster.


It is also interesting to note that, according to Jeff, the typical student in today’s MOOC is actually, a young, white, employed American man with a bachelor’s degree and a full-time job.”

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]according to Jeff, the typical student in today’s MOOC is actually, “a young, white, employed American man with a bachelor’s degree and a full-time job.”[/pullquote]

This suggests that although MOOCs might have envisioned themselves as providing far-reaching educational opportunities to the developing world, they are actually used more frequently by professionals looking for some supplemental training or personal development.


I believe this further enhances the role of MOOCs in a Homemade MBA, and further challenges the role of the traditional MBA.  Why would you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and two years of your life to learn a predetermined variety of business subjects when you can learn the specific subject you need for your job by taking one or two MOOCs for free, while you are currently working on the job or project that demands the specific knowledge?


For example, let’s say you are assigned to a new project in which you must decide if it is best for your company to purchase an asset versus leasing the asset.  Instead of telling your boss, “I’ll be back in two years – I need an MBA to answer this question properly,” you enroll in an accounting MOOC and a corporate finance MOOC, while also doing some basic internet research on the subject.  You now have instant access to a range of material, including Ivey league courses and professors, with the click of a mouse.  You can watch the relevant video-lectures, read course notes and texts, and practice examples used in MOOC homework assignments to test your learning.


After a week of focused effort, you have learned the specific accounting and finance content you need to make your specific lease vs. buy decision.  In the accounting MOOC you learned how the different transactions impact the company’s balance sheet (among other things).  In the corporate finance MOOC you learned how to forecast the cash-flows of leasing vs. buying, and learned how to calculate which route has the most attractive Net Present Value (NPV) or Internal Rate of Return (IRR), or whatever metric your company prefers to use when evaluating investment decisions.


Now you can go back to your boss with a solid, well thought-out recommendation based on the same knowledge that your MBA-holding colleague has.  The difference?  Your knowledge was acquired for free in a MOOC, as and when required.  Your colleague paid $250k and two years of life for the same knowledge at a brick-and-mortar MBA (and hopefully is able to recall the material now – likely many years after attending accounting and finance class).


On-demand.  This is the future of learning.


Disagree?  Let me know why in the comments section below.


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