What do Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) mean for your members?

For years now, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have had professionals in higher education worried about free online education disrupting the accepted on-campus learning model. So far, not much disruption has occurred, though the potential is still there. What do MOOCs mean for your association and for your members? Younger, more technically savvy professionals might try free options for continuing education, so the availability of free content can have an effect on member recruitment. That said, MOOCs can also be a gateway to drive more professionals from your industry to your association for your mentor programs and to build face-to-face relationships with peers.

Benefits of MOOCs for professionals

Internet only barrier to MOOCsThe idea behind these open courses is to lower the barrier to entry for constant learning to anyone with an internet connection and a computer or mobile device. Professionals looking to continue learning can access MOOCs to stay on top of their industry and technology as it evolves. Some of the benefits of this system for your potential members include the easy access and the flexibility.

Accessing MOOCs is affordable and flexible for learners. If a professional tries a course and decides the topic isn’t for her or that she doesn’t have the time to devote to it, she can easily drop the course with no financial guilt.

Your potential members recognize that the industry is always evolving. MOOCS can fulfill the need for continuing education, allowing college graduates to stay updated in their fields, if what they’re looking for is the information as opposed to the information’s relevance and potential impacts. That forward thinking positioning is something free online course systems are less able to provide than are associations like yours.

In addition, MOOCs help refresh knowledge of the learner’s field, especially for those reentering the job force or looking to change lanes in their careers. Trying an introductory class about a different focus within your industry is an easy way for professionals to dip their toes into the water as they make the decision to switch gears.

Challenges of MOOCs for professionals

If learning through MOOCs is free, why would anyone pay for content? Professionals will find drawbacks to turning to free online courses for their continuing education.

Many in education assert that face-to-face teaching is a necessity for true learning. Inspiration won’t likely come from a lecture; instead, it more likely comes from a teacher making a relevant connection for students to better grasp a concept. An in-person instructor or peer can more easily do this than MOOCs presenters, who must generalize for a worldwide audience.

Overall, MOOCs lack personal attention and mentorship. While a potential member of your association can Google industry topics and read plenty of articles about innovations, one-on-one conversations and in-person strategy sessions give professionals context and keep them engaged with learning. This is something MOOCs simply can’t do.

Next, when it comes to learning through free online courses, the burden is solely on the learner. No course instructor will see that a learner is falling behind and call to check in. No mentor will encourage the learner to keep at it, even when the course seems like it’s taking forever to complete or is more difficult to complete than the learner first imagined. MOOCs don’t offer any sort of give and take. Learners only get out of them what they put in, so only devoted professionals will benefit from these courses.

These challenges for MOOCs present several opportunities for associations.

Opportunities for associations to capitalize on MOOCS

First, MOOCs get members used to accessing a learning management system (LMS), so if you use a similar platform to offer your online continuing education, your members will easily adapt to the design. Second, the free online courses give members an appetite for continued learning. While these courses give members facts, they don’t take the extra step and teach members what to do with those facts. MOOCs are thought of by many as digital textbooks


Your association can pick up where this free system drops off by helping members develop the skills to analyze, contextualize and create new systems from the facts they learn. UpAbility can help you offer your specialized content to benefit your members. Give us a call today to get started!