Article / SD Times

SD Times: What MOOC’s moment means for managers

Do you need to ramp up parallel programming expertise on your team? University of California, Davis associate professor John Owens will simultaneously teach thousands of developers across the world how to use the CUDA environment to maximize GPUs for free in Udacity’s “Introduction to Parallel Programming” class. Or perhaps the robotic car programming class by Sebastian Thrun, cofounder of Udacity and one of the inventors of Google’s self-driving car, is more your company’s speed.Prestigious names like Thrun and Ivy League providers are fueling today’s massive online open course momentum (for academics, anyway). Will it hold true for those seeking Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert or Cisco certification?“On the academic side, there’s already a hierarchy,” said Bryant Nielson, managing director at CapitalWave, a New York-based financial training company that is now launching corporate MOOC-based continuing education. “Anything delivered by Harvard is very attractive, more so than Penn State. In the corporate arena, it’s entirely different. They don’t care as long as it’s high quality.”Since the term was coined in 2008 by Canadian academics, MOOCs are exploding the Ivory Tower. Coursera and Udacity, startups that matriculated from Stanford, are gaining registrants in the tens of thousands. Noted professors such as Gregor Kiczales of the University of British Columbia, or Rob Rutenbar, head of computer science for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, are available to engage developers as they delve into new areas or fine-tune design skills. Microsoft’s Virtual Academy is considering MOOC-like offerings to complement its Jump Start and Live Q&A series, according to a recent blog post by Matt Calder, publishing manager for MVA.Learning together
What makes MOOCs more attractive than other forms of online education, or the plethora of college and conference lectures currently available on YouTube? The time-boxed nature of the courses is key, which means short lectures reveal information sequentially to a group of students who bond over their typically six-week-long journey via forums and peer reviews (in this respect, Khan Academy doesn’t qualify as a MOOC because courses are on-demand). Testing, certificates or badges (such as Mozilla’s Open Badges) are motivators, too. Finally, the platforms themselves offer useful metrics that make students feel like they’re progressing toward their learning goals, as well as analytics that can feed back into better pedagogy.Benefitting from high-profile coverage that comes on the heels of students’ tuition protests and other economic woes, MOOCs have enjoyed some popularity. “The three big MOOCs were launched a year ago,” said Nielson. “I was aware of Khan Academy for a couple years, but not sure how it was going to be impactful. We started pitching in January, and just signed very large corporate MOOC contract yesterday.”

He cautioned, however, that corporate MOOCs are a different beast: “A MOOC for the commercial market is only a framework. The idea of having 10,000 or 100,000 people sign up is motivating the academics. In corporate, it’s not. It’s the video delivery, the engagement through testing and online discussions. It straddles instructor-led and e-learning, but it’s not a siloed event like e-learning. It’s going to be incredibly disruptive.”

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