The Use of MOOCs and Online Education is Exploding: Here’s Why

The folks at Class Central just released their data on the growth of online courses (MOOCs) in 2015 and the data is amazing. More than 35 million people enrolled in online courses this year, doubling the enrollments from 2014.  (That’s equal to one out of five working professionals in the US!)

Today there are more than 4,200 MOOC courses available (many more if you include the corporate training programs from companies like Udemy, BigThink, Pluralsight, Lynda, NovoEd, and Skillsoft).  These academic-authored programs cover many topics, and are expanding into general business areas more each year.  The most popular courses continue to be computer science and other engineering related subjects, but it’s expanding.  You can look at the top 10 most popular courses from Coursera and courses in financial management, negotiation, and business management are doing very well.

 

Fig 1:  Distribution of Courses (from Class Central)

Now that we have all this great content available, the big trend is the availability of credentials – tests and accreditation you can receive for a fee. Most of the MOOC providers now offer such credentials (there are over 100) and they include tools like Nanodegrees (Udacity), Credentials of Readiness (Harvard), XSeries (EdX), and many more.  It’s not yet clear how well these credentials will be recognized by employers, but that’s where this market is going.

In the corporate space, video-based self-study courses are exploding everywhere. Providers like Udemy, SkillSoft, Lynda (LinkedIn), Grovo, and BigThink are now exploding with expert content. Other companies with professional education include SkillShare, Pluralsight, General Assembly, Floqq, Iversity, and many others. Most of these companies focus on technical education – software skills, IT systems, and other technical topics.

(By the way, the use of online video has been transformational, as I wrote about earlier.)

Why MOOCs are Taking Over the World?

Why this incredible growth?  There are some fundamental things going on.

First, we now have bandwidth and easy access to content from any device.

I’ve been around online learning for almost 20 years now, and we had a similar craze like this in the early 2000s.  Most of those companies are now gone (DigitalThink, NinthHouse, and others), because bandwidth was a problem and frankly we had two recessions to deal with.  (The 2000 recession decimated these companies.)  It was too expensive and IT departments often blocked the content.  We also had to deal with Flash technology (which didn’t always work correctly) and there were no mobile players.

This time you can find a course, register, and start it anywhere. The videos play from any device and you can start a course at home, continue it at work, and finish it over the weekend. From anywhere.

Second, we now have Freemium business models that work.

The second problem that plagued online learning companies before was the need to charge a lot of money for courses.  We charged quite a bit at DigitalThink and frankly once companies realized they could build their own content they just stopped buying from us.

Today companies offer most of their content for free, as a trial or free offering – and then they charge for higher-end content, accreditation, or a more complete integrated offering. So you can try a course, learn something, and then decide later how much you want to pay. So much easier to get started, and eventually you do find that it’s worth spending the money.

Third, the value of education is now higher then ever.

As I like to put it, in today’s economy “The Learning Curve is the Earning Curve.”  Today our skills drive our earnings. The radical expanding of the job market to contract, contingent, and global workers has made it easier than ever for an employer to hire “just the right person” for every job.  That means that you (or me) as a professional better stay current on what’s going on!

Everywhere I go I run into people who are re-educating themselves.  Software engineers are learning how to develop on mobile platforms.  HR professionals are learning about statistics and behavioral economics. Marketing professionals are learning about SEO and micro-targeting. And we’re all teaching ourselves about work-life balance, wellness, mindfulness, and healthy eating.  (A topic that gets discussed in my house almost every day it seems!)

I was in India with a team of very senior executives a few weeks ago and one of the leaders told me “I just took a course on cognitive computing and taught myself Python.”  I asked him WHY?  He put it well:  “if I’m going to hire people to do this stuff I have to understand it myself.  So in a few weeks I figured it out.”  He is a natural learner – but he’s essentially demonstrating what I have learned in my career – if you’re continuously learning, you’re always adding more value.

Fourth, the content is fantastic.  And we can easily rate it.

The final thing that is driving this explosive market is the quality of the content itself.  We have name-brand universities all over the world building fantastic content. The fears of professors giving away IP are over.  Business leaders and professionals like me can author courses, so you can find just what you want by the teacher or professor you like.

The content has to be good because we can now rate it, rank it, and comment on it. Like I talk about it “Feedback is the Killer App,” the social world we live in now forces content providers to be better than ever.  (Believe me I know this, I’m a content person and I worry about my content all the time.)

Mark my words.  Online learning is still just getting started.  I’ve watched my own children adapt to courses and learning online and it’s natural, powerful, and useful. In 2016 we are going to see a new world of curation and collaboration tools to help us harness all this content in the corporate world.

What’s Next?

As the content market continues to expand, we are going to see a few big things happen in the coming years.

  • Employers start paying attention to accredited non-degree content.I hope this happens, but it will take time.  Employers will start looking at these courses as predictors of skills and success, but it’s still early. Companies still rely far too heavily on pedigree diplomas, but as the online learning market becomes more validated and mature you will be able to put real money on your accredited MOOC education.  Companies like Degreed and others are trying to spur this along.
  • More vertical content becomes available.More specific vertical content is still needed.  How about sales training, for example?  We ALL sell things all the time (including ourselves). Where’s the world’s leading provider of sales training, authored by leading sales people? It will come.  For example, my course on 21st Century Talent Management (free) has been very successful, and we don’t market it at all.
  • Curation and rating services.We need more “directories” and validated rating services to find content.  There will never be one big “portal” with all the content in the world (people keep trying this but I don’t see it happening), but there could be some big bad rating services. This will help us find what we need.
  • Better corporate learning tools.And finally, for those of use who serve corporate training, we desperately need better interfaces to publish, share, and track this content in corporations.  This is also coming (many vendors are working on this, and the new X-API will help).  I particularly want to credit Pathgather, Degreed, OpenSesame and other pioneers who are working hard to make this happen.

The day is coming when anyone with a computer or phone can learn just about anything. Sure, online learning will never fully replace face to face education (read my article about the limitations of online learning for leadership and management here), but for many of the things we want to know we CAN learn them online.  And it can be quite enjoyable and recreational as well.

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About the Author: Josh Bersin is the founder and Principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, a leading research and advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, talent, learning, and the intersection between work and life. Josh is a published author on Forbes, a LinkedIn Influencer, and has appeared on Bloomberg, NPR, and the Wall Street Journal, and speaks at industry conferences and to corporate HR departments around the world. You can contact Josh on twitter at@josh_bersin and follow him athttp://www.linkedin.com/in/bersin . Josh’s personal blog is at www.joshbersin.com .

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  • Jennifer Schmidt Pritchard

    I’d like to bring up that I’m taking a Cousera class right now about people analytics, and your articles are often listed as recommended supplemental readings.