MOOCs can teach us something

The best training will blend a traditional classroom setting with state-of-the-art online tools to assure the highest-quality content is available to all.

The debate over “MOOCs” (massive open online courses) is one of the biggest issues facing higher education today. They create the potential for greater worldwide access to a quality education than anything previously imagined. Further, MOOCs can make quality education affordable to many rather than just the elite.

However, MOOCs also threaten the stability of many long-established brick-and-mortar educational institutions. Why? Once you get beyond “tier one” colleges and universities, the success rate of some traditional institutions is questionable at best: expensive tuition, mediocre professors, and low graduation rates. 

While many of us look back fondly at our four years on an idyllic college campus, that is not the experience for the majority of Americans – much less those in other parts of the world. And if technology can make education more accessible, affordable, and accommodating (virtual, on-demand versus having to be in a classroom on a specific date and time), there's little question MOOCs are an idea whose time has come.

Still, the future is not about the disappearance of college campuses, yet it will look very different. Think of a hybrid model.

Why not watch the best professors in the world teach Shakespeare, ethics, or American History and then engage in a physical class in a more interactive discussion on the subject? After all, why should many people go to physical classes and often be taught by mediocre professors in a rather passive setting due to the need for the lecture? Watch a better lecture on your own time and use the classroom for real engagement and stimulation.

Why am I devoting so much time to higher education in a column about corporate communications? Because there is a key lesson corporations can learn from MOOCs.

There is a growing scramble in the communications and marketing functions to find talent with the new skills required for our business: deep digital literacy, business analytics, and multiplatform storytelling, to name just a few. Where will the people with these skills come from?

While you might be able to hire a few, the truth is demand way exceeds supply. So, for the most part, this talent must be developed in-house or it won't exist at all. But who will teach that and how will it be developed?

Corporations need to innovate and think differently. The best training – now and in the future – will blend a traditional classroom setting (or conference room, if you like) with state-of-the-art online tools to assure the highest-quality content is available to all communications staff regardless of their geography.

Right now, the biggest, most forward-thinking companies are doing this. It's a trend that needs to accelerate. However, it takes an innovative, collaborative mindset.

Relatively few companies have access to the financial resources, talent, and technology required to create world-class training in their companies. I'd encourage CCOs to engage with one another, to consider third-party partnerships, and look at a range of hybrid options to achieve the training needed to provide staff the skills that will benefit both them and the organizations for which they work.

Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a digital and management consulting firm. He can be reached at His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function. 

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