MOOCs for Small Business: Learn More With Less

Most small business owners are adept at doing more with less and tend to acquire skills and knowledge on the fly.

From business development and sales to human resources and accounting, the skills required in small business are wide-ranging and demanding. And with entrepreneurs particularly short on free time, finding training or education opportunities to fill gaps in that skillset can be especially challenging.

Here’s where MOOCs might just be the answer. Learn how MOOCs (massive open online courses) can help small business owners access highly flexible training opportunities across a broad range of subjects and skills.

MOOC’s Canadian Connection

MOOCs were largely a product of the open educational resources movement, with the term MOOC first coined in 2008 by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island. Cormier’s inspiration for the original MOOC concept was a course called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK08), which was led by George Siemens of Athabasca University and Stephen Downes of the National Research Council.

The course consisted of 25 tuition-paying students in Extended Education at the University of Manitoba, as well as over 2,200 online students from the general public who participated for free. Course content was available through RSS feeds, and online students could participate through collaborative tools, including blog posts, threaded discussions in Moodle, and Second Life meetings.

Where to look for a MOOC

While there are numerous MOOC providers these days, a few of the top providers are working with some of world’s most renowned institutions and most successful companies.

  • Coursera delivers course content designed by Stanford University, Princeton University, and even the University of Alberta, which offers a Software Design and Architecture Specialization , as well as Dino101 — a for-credit Paleobiology course billed as one of Coursera’s top-rated courses.
  • Udacity offers content created by Google, Facebook, and Udacity’s corporate training options include “project-based programs focused on the latest technologies.” Participants can earn a Nanodegree in areas like Google AdWords or Mobile Web Specialist .
  • edX connects learners with content designed by Harvard University, MIT, and the University of British Columbia, which offers a self-paced Introduction to Marketing course that can be taken for free (a certificate of completion costs $150 USD) or taken for credit towards a Micromasters Program in Business Fundamentals .

MOOC Benefits Compared to Traditional Learning

  • Less expensive

While MOOCs have evolved from the early days when the ‘O’ for ‘open’ meant ‘free,’ the basic tenet still functions in that MOOC programming is considerably less expensive than traditional classroom learning opportunities. In many cases, course content is still free, but there may be fees associated with licensing, platform subscriptions, certificates of completion, or transfer credit towards certificate or degree programs.

  • No travel or classroom time required

Courses are delivered online and, typically, coursework and materials can be accessed and completed around the participant’s own schedule, which is particularly important for SME owners who must juggle day-to-day business operations at the same time.

  • Highly flexible content delivery

Many MOOCs have the option of starting at any time and coursework is broken up into short, buildable modules. Participants may have the option to complete a few specific modules or can receive a specialization (Coursera) or Nanodegree (Udacity) upon successful completion of a series of modules. Flexible learning options help provide valuable ‘just-in-time’ skills, which is really helpful for entrepreneurs who find themselves looking to add skills as their business grows.

Free Learning: Do We Get What We Didn’t Pay For?

It seems unlikely that Harvard University or Google would risk diminishing their brand by delivering sub-standard educational programming, but there are some important aspects to consider.

Statistical analysis of MOOC uptake has revealed that completion rates tend to be low — the numbers vary from about three to 15 per cent. Several different factors are likely to blame, but the challenge for many seems to be the self-directed nature of the learning experience itself. Researchers did find that learners who made some sort of financial investment in the course (even $50) had much higher completion rates (closer to 70%).

As with any business activity you take on, whether it’s revamping your company’s visual identity or completing a two-week course in App Marketing, a good return on investment always starts with an investment. Making the most of MOOCs will still require an investment of your time, focus, and energy, as well as a plan that applies the concepts you’ve learned into the context of your business.


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