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The rapid advance of computers and the internet has provided us with some amazing teachers and tools for education. The popularity of educational and informational content on the internet is a testament to the fact that people truly want to learn, and that computers are an excellent tool for doing so.

This is great news for the eLearning industry. If a significant portion of the online world is interested and motivated enough learn new skills and facts online, surely eLearning organizations can reap the benefits of such a fertile environment.

Enter the Massive Open Online Course or MOOC. A MOOC, as the name implies, is a structured class distributed through the internet that is free to anyone who wants to take it. Experts in any given field can put together a course, which allows learners to complete it at their own pace.

A major strength of the MOOC lies in the fact that they can support a social component. In a traditional classroom, students may converse with one another and their instructor in order to clear up any confusion and benefit from multiple perspectives. MOOCs take advantage of this dynamic and much like a traditional classroom, allow students to network and collaborate with their classmates.

The freeness of these courses also broadens the student base by making the expert knowledge more open to those who may not have had access to it otherwise. It is important to note, however, that although participation in a MOOC is free, some may require a payment to have your achievement officially recognized and certified by the experts in charge. But the knowledge itself is completely free.

MOOCs take advantage of all forms of media. A course may be laid out with certain lectures or lessons in video, audio, and text while also taking advantage of interactive components, each tailored to suit the needs of the concept being taught. Having a variety of different ways to stimulate the brains of different types of learners is the true beauty of a good MOOC.

It may seem at this point that MOOCs are a purely academic form of eLearning, but they have also seen a fair amount of use in corporate eLearning as well. Companies as large as AT&T, Yahoo!, and even Google have been increasing their use of MOOCs for many different purposes. Though the obvious use of these courses would be for employee training purposes, many corporations have taken things a step further. Hundreds of companies are paying top dollar for eLearning platforms to identify their most talented learners for employment opportunities. Organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have taken to using MOOCs to teach the public about financial and debt management skills. Still others are using MOOCs as a means of internal career advancement (i.e. “Complete this course and we will give you new opportunities and responsibility in the company”).

So whether it be for personal education or for corporate use, it’s apparent that, when used properly, MOOCs can be a versatile weapon in the arsenal of eLearning professionals.

Have you taken any MOOCs yourself? Does your company use them in an interesting way? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.

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