Friday, April 05, 2013

Is there a place for online training companies in the MOOC discussion?

My daughter teaches an upper division finance course, in which spreadsheets are an important tool. In order to take her class, the students must have passed two classes -- an introductory information systems course, which includes learning to use Excel, and a prerequisite finance class.

She tells me that a number of her students do not understand that you can enter a formula into a spreadsheet cell. Others may understand that they can enter formulas, but lack basic arithmetic skills like understanding percents and rates or converting from one unit of measure to another.

It turns out that they do gain rudimentary skill with Word and PowerPoint in the introductory course (or before they get to college), but we are doing a bad job of teaching rudimentary spreadsheet skills.

What can we do? One approach is to put off the introduction to spreadsheets until they are needed in an accounting or finance class, and present them there, but that would lead to curricular redundancy.

How about a short course on spreadsheets that focused on just the features needed for subsequent classes? That sounds like a good idea to me, but it is less than a typical college course -- perhaps one unit. That would be administratively awkward and, more important, we do not seem to be capable of teaching spreadsheet skills to a significant number of our students.

How about a spreadsheet MOOC? That would pay off in terms of economy of scale, and we should be able to spend the resources on it to become really good spreadsheet teachers. We could even make the course modular so a given school could elect just the spreadsheet features they wanted their students to master.

Cool, let's do a MOOC, but who should teach it? Today's MOOCs are offered by university professors, but would it make more sense to turn to an organization with expertise in training?

I Googled around and found two organizations with Excel training online, Udemy and Lynda.com. Would they be better candidates for teaching a spreadsheet MOOC than a university? Would they be willing to sell wholesale to a university -- giving us reduced prices for, say, 100 students and tailoring the course to the features we want covered?

Udemey charges $99 for unlimited lifetime access to their 16-section Excel course. What would they charge for, say, 100 students who had access to only 8 of the sections for one semester?

Lynda.com charges $25 per month for access to all of their training material. What would they charge for, say, 100 students who only had access to their Excel course for three months?

Universities around the world are beginning to offer MOOCs and we are thinking about giving credit for completion of MOOCs offered at other universities. Perhaps we should also think about giving credit for or requiring completion of courses taught by training companies.