Like any disruptive technology, the idea of massive open online courses (MOOCs) is spawning devotees and detractors faster than you can click to the next screen. According to a recent article in The New Yorker, 11 universities in the California State University system are incorporating MOOCs into their curricula, and prestigious universities like Harvard, M.I.T., and Caltech are pouring tens of millions of dollars into MOOC development. In Europe, the Hasso Plattner Institute has offered MOOCs for the past year, including its latest, entitled “In-Memory Data Management 2013.” In the meantime, defenders of the status quo worry about replacing professors with computer screens while warning that MOOCs will never live up to their hype, given everything from high drop-out rates to limited access to the necessary high-speed internet connections.
Access to a quality education is at the heart of the MOOC debate. Kathryn Jablokow, an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University is gearing up to teach her first MOOC, “Creativity, Innovation and Change,” following the school’s initial sign-up with Coursera in January 2013. With enrollment of her course projected at well over 100,000, Jablokow is upbeat and excited about its potential: “I like to explore the interesting and slightly risky. Every time we have a new technology that seems to be unusual compared to what we already have, it takes a while for people to figure out how it fits. That’s how I see MOOCs.”
SAP offers new openSAP MOOC for developers
While academia debates the role of open courses in higher education, innovative companies like SAP are using MOOCs to quickly educate the next wave of experts in new technologies. Following the success of its first MOOC in early 2013, SAP has announced open enrollment for its second openSAP course, entitled “Introduction to Mobile Solution Development,” aimed at mobile software developers. Participants in the course, which runs from September 9 through October 28, 2013, will learn how to develop applications for SAP Mobile solutions that give companies and their employees secure anytime, any device access to information. The focus will be on supporting employee-owned mobile devices and maintaining control over the cost and complexity of development.
Next page: First SAP MOOC exceeded expectations
SAP didn’t know what to expect when it launched its first MOOC earlier this year, “Introduction to Software Development on SAP HANA. But with over 40,000 registered students from 158 countries who watched 500,000 video lectures, completed 500,000 self-tests, and submitted 70,000 assignments, SAP considers the pilot an unequivocal success. In fact, the course’s 30 to 60 percent completion rate was five to seven times higher than the completion rates of academic MOOCs, which average six to eight percent.
“We are excited about the large number of developers that participated in our first MOOC. It seems we are really on the right track regarding how to best give people a greater understanding of SAP’s innovations,” says Dr. Bernd Welz, Executive Vice President of Solution & Knowledge Packaging at SAP.
Praised by beginners and experienced developers
Feedback from thousands of students bears this out. Not only did they participate through online and private discussions, but many attended in-person meet-up sessions in Walldorf, Germany, Bangalore, India, and Sofia, Bulgaria. Experienced developers called the course one of the best SAP learning experiences, while beginners appreciated their first professional opportunity to learn SAP HANA. A sampling of tweets and posts on the weekly discussion board shows how students appreciated the flexible format and digestible content:
“Bravo sir! SAP HANA MOOC is a triumph. 20 minutes and I’ve learned more than in last 20 months.” –Alan F.
“Impressed that #openSAP works on all devices. I’m in a bus on my iPad and it works great. Need to get week 2 submission done.” –J. Appleby
“#openSAP is doing a super job at listening and reacting to participants. Great job guys. Thank you.” –Decian
“I like the way the instructor delivered each week’s session clearly and effectively. It improved my understanding of SAP HANA.” –Doss
“It’s a really nice course that covers a lot of interesting and practical subjects—great for developers like me and the weekly exams help people keep pace.”
“A very good platform for working people as they can learn at any time of the day.” –R. Day
Next page: The outlook for MOOCs
At Penn State, which is a member of SAP’s University Alliances program, Jablokow says it’s too early to say whether or not MOOCs will have the impact everyone imagines. However, she’s certain it won’t be “at either extreme to save or destroy the world.” She thinks it makes sense to experiment and find out what MOOCs can and cannot do.
Meanwhile, Hasso Plattner, chairman of the supervisory board and cofounder of SAP, couldn’t be more upbeat about the value of MOOCs, which are complementary to SAP’s comprehensive fee-based educational programs. “The breakthrough for me is the interaction between the students,” he says. “We could not have trained that many people in this short period of time. The real-time speed of HANA and the lifestyle of the Facebook generation fit perfectly.”
Finding their place in education
From experiences and observations like these, it’s clear that MOOCs are claiming their rightful place in education – not only in the academic world, but in business as well.