How can you deploy MOOCs when creating a data science culture? Do’s and don’ts.

7 June 2018

MOOCs (massive online open courses) are incredibly popular with data scientists due to the many advantages that these courses offer. But what does that actually mean for organisations’ development? And how can a manager ensure that MOOCs are deployed in the best possible way for their employees’ development? And in what situations in a MOOC absolutely not the right thing to use for your own or someone or something else’s development? That’s what we are going to explore in this article.


The advantages of MOOCs for organisations

Let’s start with the advantages that MOOCs offer organisations. The costs per course are often incredibly low (for example, spend €10 and you can already have a great data science course and if you double that you can get a subscription with unlimited access).

In addition, with their wide range of courses and low costs, they facilitate you in finding courses which are congruent with the data scientist’s individual development plan. This means the data scientist is much better equipped to manage his or her own development. You no longer have to wait for courses that can be attended by the whole team. This, in turn, is beneficial for job satisfaction and the added value of the data scientist, which in itself is beneficial for the organisation too. One possible disadvantage is that MOOCs require a necessary level of discipline from the participant as the courses are mostly self-study modules.

MOOCs are also particularly useful for technical skills such as learning analytics or specific tools. To train soft skills, it often takes more than online training alone.


Advantages MOOC's


Deploying MOOCs

Therefore, MOOCs can be a highly worthwhile medium for organisations and teams seeking to develop. Individual competencies help to develop the team. But how should a manager manage this development? In other words, how can a manager make sure that individual interests and courses are in line with the organisation? And how can you ensure it isn’t too “casual”?

Plan a MOOC day!

Select one day, or just an afternoon, each week or month and make that the team’s official study day. In that time, everyone will get to work on a MOOC. It doesn’t need to be the same one for everybody. In fact, for mixed teams it is actually a much better idea to be doing different courses. Together you look for MOOCs that are in line with the individual’s interests and the organisation’s vision. The personal development plan can be used as a basis for this. A stumbling block you may encounter is the aforementioned “casual” nature of the courses. An online course can easily seem to be less important than the rush job that has just come in. Here lies an important role for the manager: that one afternoon or day is MOOC day, so you close the shop. Make sure that everyone switched off their e-mail, switched off Lync (or any other chat) and that the rest of the organisation knows they have to wait until tomorrow.


Deploying MOOC's


A MOOC is unsuitable for some people

The MOOC is not a product development tool for every organisation. If there is a lot of routine or standardised work to be done, this impacts upon the development needs of the organisation. The emphasis will usually be on developing the primary process. And not on developing the individuals that have to carry out this process together. Also, the prevalent culture in an organisation is important to successfully deploying MOOCs. If the organisation does its thinking at the central management level and on the collective level, the MOOC is less of an obvious solution. After all, a MOOC is purely aimed at completing an individual development need and at creating diversity of knowledge in a certain area.

What’s more, a MOOC is particularly good for developing knowledge and technical skills. If an organisation is looking at developing various soft skills of its employees, then more traditional course types often work better. Human interaction and direct feedback produce the best results when training soft skills.

When considering whether or not to deploy MOOCs, the “unknown, unloved” rule sometimes plays a role. MOOCs are often so specialised that HR departments have difficulty determining whether a particular course is suitable for their organisation’s development. Distance from the subject matter unfortunately still regularly results in them selecting a training provider or training institute that they know about already.


Do not use a MOOC if



Choosing MOOCs are suitable when:

  • In teams that are not dominated by routine work and where development of the individual will lead to development of the team.
  • There are enough working hours available. MOOCs are relatively cheap. The costs lie in the hours (office hours or other) rather than the registration fees.
  • You designate a MOOC day. For one afternoon each week the “shop is shut” and the team are all busy with MOOCs and development. The purpose of this is to overcome the stumbling block of their “casual” nature.


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