MOOC-based learning in enterprises – How digital learning will shape education in enterprises in the long term

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) have become an integral part of university education. However, in companies, Small Private Online Courses (SPOC) create an interesting and efficient form of learning -conveying formal learning content and enabling continuous and collaborative learning at the workplace.

Digital learning is becoming increasingly important. While a few years ago it was almost exotic to supplement classroom training with web-based learning formats, today it is almost inconceivable to design learning processes without digital learning formats. Companies, training institutions and associations are working on digital learning strategies. Digital learning will radically change learning and training processes and all related business models and value chains.

This development is also becoming apparent throughout universities. As early as the late 1990s, several innovative universities started to record lectures in the lecture hall and published them via various channels. This laid the foundations for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).

The beginnings

The first MOOC in an academic environment was initiated by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. The first MOOC to be internationally recognized was that of Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig. In 2012, Thrun, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, faced the problem that his lectures were always overbooked, and the lecture hall accordingly overcrowded. His decision to put the lecture on the web as a recording through “Artificial Intelligence” led to 160,000 people worldwide registering for this course. 23’000 successfully completed it and 248 students achieved a score of 100%, not to mention nobody from Stanford.

This was the initial spark to offer new web-based course formats to many interested students in public. Start-ups were founded, which are meanwhile recognized players on the MOOC market (EdX, Coursera, Udacity, Iversity, FutureLearn etc).

The most important formats

Soon different variants of MOOCs were developed. The x-MOOC (x for extended) offers course material online and structures this material in “cohorts” (classes) and on a weekly basis. Thereby, xMOOC follows the model of classical knowledge transfer in the lecture hall. This is enriched by exercises, discussions and support – mostly provided by volunteers (peer coaches).

The c-MOOC (c for connected) combines several web-based communication tools and social media platforms. In doing so, it invites the participants, in addition to the prepared content, to create their own contributions, network them and upload them to a suitable platform. The network character of cMOOCs promotes the spontaneous and creative style of these online courses, but requires a good degree of self-organisation, self-orientation and self-learning competence from the participants. In return, the participants are rewarded with a high degree of interaction, a lot of exchange and new contacts.

MOOC-based learning in companies

The MOOC idea has not only fallen on fertile ground in universities (also in Switzerland; leading, for example, the EPFL in Lausanne), but also companies have discovered a new and interesting training format. The basic methodological and didactic ideas of x- and c-MOOCs are adopted. However, in contrast to universities, web-based courses in companies are neither “massive” nor “open”, but only “online” as well as “small” and “private”. For MOOC-based learning, the term “SPOC” (Small Private Online Course) has therefore established itself in companies.

SPOC „Blended Learning 2.0“ at Credit Suisse

A concrete SPOC implementation can be illustrated here using Credit Suisse as an example. Credit Suisse conducted an 8-week online course on the topic “Blended Learning 2.0” from June 2016 to September 2016. The course was divided into 6 modules, comprised 1 coaching week and 10 work packages with tasks (e.g. concretely trying out and testing new tools) and was completed by 20 participants from all over the world.
Each new module was introduced in the previous week with an introduction video and opened with a live session on Monday. On Tuesdays and Wednesday’s, it was self-study, on Thursdays it was possible to talk to experts during live sessions and on Fridays the results were recorded in a blog post and the module of the following week was presented. An exchange via an online learning community was possible at any time.

The participants commented on this course format as following:

  • « I’m happy that you made me too try out and check out tools »
  • « I appreciated the coaching session very much »
  • « Great experience! »
  • « I liked the icebreaker very much »
  • « Most beneficial have been the new tools and ideas »
  • « It was amazing to get to know the different tools – it was valuable »
  • « It was very demanding in terms of time »

In addition to the many positive experiences, the last statement also points out a difficulty. SPOCs in companies are an excellent and efficient form of learning, but they must also be didactically -and methodically adapted to the time and local work situation of the participants. Just as MOOCs must be continuously improved to offer university teaching adequately online, SPOCs in companies must also be further optimized and further developed. But the first steps have been made.


MOOCs and SPOCs can be implemented de facto with simple “onboard tools”. However, the more specific and integrated a learning platform is, the more learner-friendly, attractive and sustainable the web-based learning process can be:

  • Supporting the participants of a MOOC-based course as comfortably and needs-oriented as possible has proven its worth. For example, if a course content cannot be completed in week 1, an extension or a postponement is automatically offered.
  • When editing work packages that, for example, require documentation of the working processes, it can be helpful if the learning platform can be accessed via an app. This allows simple video documentation to be posted to the correct learning community.
  • In general, video plays an important role in MOOC-based courses. This concerns the creation of video clips, but also the searching of video archives and the finding of very specific and topic-relevant passages. Also, in this case, learning platforms should provide support.

In addition to the technical aspects, the personnel also play an important role. A successful SPOC must be accompanied. The coaches must have their own concrete experience with MOOC-based course formats in order to support the participants competently.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) have become an integral part of university education. However, in companies, Small Private Online Courses (SPOC) create an interesting and efficient form of learning -conveying formal learning content and enabling continuous and collaborative learning at the workplace.


MOOC-based learning processes are still a young but increasingly important learning format for companies – especially when they operate in a global context. This form of learning combines formal content with workplace-related topics, connects people and creates new insights. Many expectations in this new course format have not yet been fulfilled or been properly implemented. However, the critics of MOOC-based learning processes are answered with a quote from Roy Amara, the former president of the “Institute for the Future”:

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

Also see:

SPOCs: Success factors for MOOC-based learning in companies

  • Exclusivity: The SPOC offer should be perceived as exclusive: not a free course for everyone or an obligatory compliance learning program, but an exciting learning experience that immediately contributes to personal work success. The successful participation does not only promise a recognized certificate, but also a personal and company-wide competitive advantage.
  • Respect: Participants are treated as professional, critical, motivated and thoughtful adults with limited time resources and not as course participants who must work through the same learning content stereotypically. This attitude manifests itself both in the tone of the interaction between lecturers and learners and in the expectations of active participation in online learning communities. Participants with special skills and expertise are also involved in the design of the SPOC.
  • Influence (Empowering): Participants should realize that their inputs have an influence on the flow of the course. Their inputs are recognized, assessed, estimated (e.g. highlighted in forums) and recorded. Moreover, they have an influence on other participants, on the reward, the badges (course points) and the certificate result. Coaches may point to particularly good contributions or work results, e.g. in the form of a short video contribution.
  • Expectations/embedding in the workplace: Clear information is needed on the expectations of participants, e.g. in regard to participation in online learning communities. This includes information on the scope, time, method and type of contributions. These exact details also help the participants in planning and embedding the learning tasks in the work environment.
  • Content: The learning content should be relevant, practical, helpful and new. Attention should be paid to ensure that both internal and external content (e.g. Management School, universities, renowned specialist companies) are taken into consideration.
  • Competition: The learning processes may and should also include playful aspects. Gamification elements and competitions (leaderboards, peer-to-peer comparisons, etc.) can provide additional motivation.
  • Reward/Certification: The final certificate should be recognized and should also add value to the personal CV even outside the company. With this in mind, it makes sense for a company to strive for external certifications and to establish cooperation’s with corresponding certification bodies.

Sebastian Kölper, Junior Consultant, Digital Learning
Ivan Inderbitzin, Senior Author/Instructional Designer, Digital Learning