Some Thoughts on “Industrial MOOCs”—In a European Context


Over the last two weeks I have attended two, 2-day summits here in Silicon Valley that both addressed a variety of issues and developments at the intersection of learning/education, innovation, technology, jobs/work. The fascinating discussions at these summits led me to reflect on what the potential role might be of MOOCs—e.g. Massive Open Online Courses (a topic I have covered in various previous blog posts)—or MOOC-like courses and online learning experiences, in a broader, industrial context. A recent MOOC-related development in Europe around SAP and a number of other players further piqued my interest in this topic.

Growing MOOC interest in Europe

The MOOC tsunami over the last year or so has been mostly a North American phenomenon—with the “cMOOC” (connectivist MOOCs) camp in Canada around the work and thinking of George Siemens, Dave Cormier, Stephen Downs, and others, and the “xMOOC” camp in Silicon Valley and Boston. While most of the action, including MOOC platform development, is still primarily centered in North America, this is now starting to change.

Growing number of educational institutions in Europe are joining the Coursera parade—see the latest additions here--and let me add that I found it especially interesting that IE Business School in Spain (the top ranking business school in Europe, according to Financial Times) has now joined Coursera, as VERY few other business schools have so far joined the parade.

I am also intrigued that the UK-based consortium, FutureLearn <>, has decided to launch its own initiative and build its own platform rather than use any of the existing, US-based platforms of Coursera, Udacity, or edX, for instance. This move may not be surprising, given the role Open University has in this consortium, as it has been one of the pioneering institutions for online learning in Europe for many years. It will be interesting to see how their platform and its activities will evolve in comparison to what we will see in the US and Canada.

Industrial MOOCs in Germany

While I find all the incipient MOOC initiatives in Europe interesting—and I hope to see greater activity on this front in the Nordic region also (and a leading Norwegian academic, June Breivik at BI (a leading Norwegian business school), recently encouraged Norwegian universities to wake up to these developments—I am especially intrigued by two developments in Germany:

  • iVersity’s platform development. This Berlin-based startup has expressed interest in developing “industrial MOOCs” and informed me that they were in discussion with a number of large German enterprises about building enterprise-focused MOOCs. Unfortunately, they have been silent for a while so I am not sure whether, or when, they will reveal what, if any, progress they are making on this front.
  • SAP’s “Academic Cube.” I have followed SAP’s involvement in learning for a number of years and have been intrigued by its learning-related acquisitions (including SuccessFactors, which in turn had previously acquired Plateau, an LMS, product and knowledge, capital and talent management provider, and Jambok, a social video and mobile learning provider). And the SAP-connected Hasso Plattner Institute (focused on IT systems engineering) has also shown growing interest in MOOCs over the last year. So perhaps it should not have been surprising that SAP recently announced that it has been involved with a number of other organizations (both enterprises, research organizations, and academic institutions) to build “Academic Cube.” This effort will connect new forms of learning (e.g. MOOCs or MOOC-like courses) with ICT-related jobs, and job openings at major German enterprises.

The connection of MOOCs to learning and training needs of enterprises is interesting, and raises questions as George Siemens recently noted in a Google Plus session that he was skeptical to industrial application of MOOCs. But perhaps SAP and its partner, and particularly EIT ICT Labs—a powerful knowledge and innovation community with a large number of European partners—which will now apparently take over the management and development of the Academic Cube platform and initiative. Can EIT ICT lab create a platform what meet the needs of European industry, and enable “next-generation” industrial training and learning, and at the same time come up with a sustainable business model to enable long-term financial support for this initiative? I hope they can, and in so doing will add another interesting element to the growing “MOOC, or MOOC-like” learning ecosystem that I hope will emerge around the world.


Eilif Trondsen