Cracking the Successful Corporate MOOC

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) must be well tailored to company objectives, tightly embedded in the corporate context, and designed with learner engagement and motivation specifically in mind.

Just a few months ago in December 2014, more than 850 Microsoft sellers graduated from an eight-week customized online course. The course shared many similarities with corporate MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), except its unusual results: an 85 percent completion rate, 95 percent satisfaction, and a level of learner engagement and commitment that exceeded our greatest expectations.

We developed this customized online course in partnership with INSEAD, the international business school based in France, and learning technology provider Intrepid Learning, Inc. Our results prove that Massive Open Online Courses in corporations can work and can avoid the high dropout rates that have plagued many MOOCs. The secret sauce: The course must be well tailored to company objectives, tightly embedded in the corporate context, and designed with learner engagement and motivation specifically in mind.

Where It All Began
In spring 2014, the Microsoft Readiness team was contemplating the results from its sales readiness program: 4,456 sellers trained over the last 12 months. That’s 407 different classes delivered in 53 countries, or 33 classes per month delivered by 82 different trainers. This was a great amount of work delivered by a world-class team. But considering that Microsoft’s total sales population is close to 20,000, it would take four years to reach all key roles. That seems like a decade in the software industry (or any industry) exhibiting rapid changes. Clearly, Microsoft couldn’t be successful by training 30 sellers at a time in the classroom.

We needed a scalable online alternative, and wondered if the MOOC model could be leveraged for our needs. Enter Intrepid Learning, with its online learning platform and instructional design expertise in that space. Intrepid helped us build our strategy, a key component of which was a partnership with global business school INSEAD, which provided dynamic professors and an innovative executive education curriculum.

With these partners, we envisioned four MOOCs on Business Strategy, Financial Acumen, Business Model Innovation, and C-Suite and Industry, with plans to reach thousands of sellers across Microsoft in a minimum amount of time. After a twoday intensive design workshop, a course structure emerged. Each course would be eight weeks long (20 to 30 hours each week) and require each student to demonstrate his or her capability at the end through a peer-reviewed test. It would be 100 percent asynchronous to allow for maximum flexibility.

We filmed the first video lectures of the course in an INSEAD amphitheater in Fontainebleau, France, and put the finishing touches on our iteration of Intrepid Learning’s MOOC technology. Between the brilliance and energy of the professors, the interactive format of the MOOC platform, and the tight alignment of the course objectives to our business strategy, we felt confident our students would be motivated, entertained, and impressed.

In reality, we were the ones impressed. The course officially opened on October 13 with 1,014 students and 27 observers. The first three weeks, the students took the collaborative forums by storm, demonstrated by nearly 3,000 messages during week 1 and 2,845 during week 2. The course ended on December 19, with a total of 31,320 messages exchanged and 650 final assignments reviewed. Completed by sellers carving precious time out of their busy days, the final assignments were robust, impressive, and way over the minimum requirements.

Win-Win Solution
For Microsoft, this initiative provides the agility necessary to design impactful training tightly aligned to business priorities. For INSEAD, it delivered the foundation for the school’s new tailored corporate learning offering, INSEAD Customized Online Solutions. For Intrepid Learning, it proved again that the company’s instructional design and learning technology delivers real benefits for learners and organizations. And for the learners, this was impactful training they enjoyed, made full use of, and already have utilized in their work.

Thus, we are seeing the possibility for a new form of customized, scaled online solution to learning. We hope your organization can benefit, as well. 

Ludo Fourrage is the head of Virtual Learning at Microsoft, looking after sales and technical training, compliance, onboarding, and six video production studios worldwide. He and his team are developing online solutions addressing critical readiness needs: case study discussions, online collaboration, breakout workshops, coaching sessions, MOOCs, Webcasts, assessments, online peer review, and accreditation.