Using MOOCS to Increase Top-Line Growth and Bottom-Line Cost Savings

Janet L. Walsh

Business strategy and competitive advantage for organizations is advanced by workforce productivity and workforce education. Using a MOOC strategy (massive open online course) increases business top-line performance by developing workforce skills and reduces bottom-line training costs. Implemented correctly this strategy can add skills and knowledge to the workforce thus increasing organizational capabilities. This strategy can reduce training and human resources costs because most MOOC courses are free.

Business leaders may be reluctant to consider MOOCs because they are a new learning paradigm and have changed the way we think about education. Business leaders may question the validity and robustness an online educational curriculum. Distance and online education however has been part of educational options since the dawn of correspondence courses for rural locations and for returning servicemen. Today online education pioneered by the University of Phoenix and Devry University, firmly imbedded in the educational curriculum. Early concerns about measuring student performance, technology, and plagiarism have been overcome. Distinguished universities including Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Trinity College, GA Tech, and Peking University all provide distance learning programs and participate in MOOCs. MOOC providers include: Coursera, iversity, edX, Open Learning, Udacity, Peer to Peer University, Khan Academy, Udemy, Saylor, Future Learn, Canvas Network, and Alison.

MOOCs have distinguishing characteristics that are different than in-class education at these universities. For example courses are taught exclusively online and access to professors is limited. Students are encouraged to join discussion groups and post comments and questions among their study groups. Advertising on some pages helps pay professors and maintaining web-based infrastructure. To receive a certificate of completion or performance may require additional costs and test taking. These courses work best for people who are interested in learning, are comfortable working in an online environment and are dedicated to the learning activity.

As a supplement to a corporate organizational development program these courses are invaluable. We recommend businesses consider adding them to their portfolio of workforce development options. To implement these programs successfully we suggested identifying courses that fit the business strategy objectives, targeting groups of employees for training organizing them into a learning cohort. We suggest requiring evidence of participation including certificates. Tying these programs into compensation and performance management outcomes can help close the loop on corporations “walking the talk” with respect to workforce development. Finally requiring an end of class presentation such as a “Lunch and Learn” expands the knowledge across the company and recognizes the participant’s efforts.

I have taken two Coursera courses in this environment, Dan Ariely’s “Behavioral Economics” from and “Paleobiology” from the University of Alberta. Frankly both courses were outstanding and I learned a lot. I particularly liked the interactive training videos, online quizzes, and the four to eight bite-sized lectures (5-15 minutes) that I could squeeze in over lunch, while getting dressed in the morning, or in the evening over dinner. More than just an educational book on tape, these programs captured my attention, imagination, and allowed me to apply the knowledge to both my business as well as my personal interests. So, from a personal perspective, these are very good programs and I’ll be doing this again, but see for yourself. Here is a sample of courses offered in early 2013 by the leading providers of MOOC education that might be applicable to your global business.

Consider the following:

Monte Carlo Methods in Finance: Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (

Do you know how to measure the risk of an investment portfolio! In this course you will simulate the time evolution of prices of financial assets, use the Black-Scholes model to price European or Asian options and compute the Value-at-Risk of a portfolio. The approach is hands-on with a strong emphasis on practical simulations that you will program, run and explore in your own computer.

Chinese Law and Society: Shanghai Jaio Tong University (

This course would be of interest to companies expanding into China. This course is taught in Chinese but offers a number of English language resource documents which may be very useful.

Content Strategy for Professionals: Engaging Audiences for Your Organization. Northwestern University (

This professional Content Strategy MOOC is for people anywhere in an organization who have content development experience and now want to significantly improve their abilities to understand audiences and develop strategic words, pictures, graphics, and videos to convey their organization’s most important goals. Content Strategy practitioners know how to use words, pictures, video, and social and mobile media to interact with their most important constituents with trustable, actionable information that the audience values and will use. The strategic content they produce enhances the audience’s lives and deepens their understanding and engagement with the organization.

Fundamentals of Global Energy Business: University of Colorado (

Learn about diverse and integrated markets for primary energy, and the essential considerations driving business leaders and policy makers in development of global energy resources.

This course provides an introduction to the business of primary energy production. We will examine the nature of demand and supply in global energy markets, and business considerations for participants in those markets. Students taking this course will be able to identify the distinctive challenges facing enterprises engaged in development of primary energy resources. The course is intended to provide a broad perspective of the challenges for businesses and policy authorities engaged in diverse but integrated global energy markets.

Introduction to Salesforce App Development: ($150.00 USD)

After completing this course you will have built your own web and mobile app. You will become familiar with the concept of abstraction and how to think about concrete problems in their most general sense — a concept critical for all developers. In addition, you will learn how to map out a data model, create data visualizations, and automate manual processes after analyzing your abstractions.

What kind of apps can you build? Well, Facebook uses a Salesforce app to manage their entire hire-to-retire process: collecting resumes, sharing feedback, making job offers, and developing talent. And the Obama 2012 campaign built apps to mobilize their vast volunteer network and visualize the pulse of the nation in real-time. What will you build?

How to Build a Startup: (

For those of you who are keen to start your own business but reluctant to lose money, consider this course. Learn the key tools and steps to build a successful startup (or at least reduce the risk of failure). An introduction to the basics of Steve Blank’s famous Customer Development process, where entrepreneurs “get out of the building” to gather massive amounts of customer and marketplace feedback, and then use that feedback to continuously iterate and evolve their startup business models, improving the chances of success at every step.

China (Part 2): The Creation and End of a Centralized Empire: Harvard University Extension Program (

Expanding into China? Is your leadership team fully aware of the history, geography, philosophies, literature, politics, economics, art, and ecology? This course in Modern China presents a dual image: a society transforming itself through economic development and infrastructure investment that aspires to global leadership; and the world’s largest and oldest bureaucratic state, with multiple traditions in its cultural, economic, and political life. ChinaX introduces new features to make the riches of Harvard’s visual collections and the expertise of its faculty more accessible to learners worldwide. We will engage intellectual and religious trends, material and political culture, the local diversity and the national unity, art and literature, and China’s economic and political transformation— past, present and future.


  1. Janet Walsh is the president and CEO of Birchtree Global, LLC. Birchtree Global increases the financial performance of clients by establishing them in new markets and increasing the productivity of their workforce. She can be reached at