Live, Learn, And Prosper With SPOC

To go where online learning has not gone before.

Yes, I love Star Trek, so I couldn’t resist the word play with the title of this article.

In this Earth-bound reference, SPOC stands for Small Private Online Course and is a form of the popular MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Apparently, University of California Berkeley professor Armando Fox coined the acronym, SPOC, to differentiate a more localized use of the more commonly known MOOC.

Here is a quick explanation of a MOOC for the uninitiated. A MOOC is a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a large number of people. MOOCs are aimed at unlimited participation with open access via the Web, so you can connect with others to collaborate and learn together. You can take these Internet courses without paying for them, although you may have to pay a small fee if you want some form of certification of completion.

MOOCs are not linear learning experiences. You typically work with other people, as well as through all the social media and conventional communication channels. These channels can consist of Websites, blogs, tweets, and downloadable articles. They allow both independent learning and the chance for networking with like-minded learners.


SPOCs have opened up a whole new universe for learning application. The neat thing about SPOCs is how the flipped classroom is much more personalized than it could ever be with MOOCs. For example, you can flip the classroom by learning from an online video “lecture” and then come to class later on to gain one-on-one assistance from the instructor and apply what you have learned. This way, students already know the core content of the subject matter from the online delivery of the course before coming to the labs or one-on-one sessions. Students can explore firsthand the application of the learning content while already prepared through the online knowledge they have gained.

SPOCs are better able to draw upon this blended learning and flipped classroom approach to learning. They combine access to all the typical online resources and technology, along with personal interaction with faculty and other students. Initial research results are showing improved learning, as well as better student outcomes, with this combined approach.


SPOCs will always be much more tailor-made with a small group than the typical MOOC. Students obviously can train or learn whenever and wherever they want to. The small size allows a course facilitator or faculty member to be more engaged with students.

Naturally, this technology-delivered learning affects how teachers teach and how learners learn. For example, learners can work with each other in more compelling ways, such as online lab exercises, through discussion forums, and in meetups such as online weekly Google hangouts or study groups. Gone are the days of trying to find a spot at the local library or trying to mesh individual schedules off campus. Now it all can be done online. SPOCs open up far greater accessibility to knowledge and learning unavailable before to most people.

Features such as assessments and interactive labs provide opportunity for more personal, as well as immediate, feedback not available through MOOCs. It has been found that SPOCs allow faculty to organize their time for more student involvement such as project-based work rather than marking assignments or preparing lectures. Faculty can decide how to use certain parts of the SPOC content with their assignments or examinations, thus making learning more fluid and rewarding.


In contrast to MOOCs, which have been providing course content by institutions for free, Small Private Online Courses allow an opportunity to deliver learning for a fee but still at less expense than most vendor-based learning programs or the cost of sending people away to off-site courses. Colleges, universities, and businesses can create SPOCs, and either charge for them or license them. Money also can be saved through using SPOCs by having course material delivered to students by another expert or lecturer. Unlike MOOCs, which do not provide credits, the limited enrollment size of SPOCs provides the opportunity to offer courses for credit and also for a fee.

Colorado State University – Global campus has capitalized on the SPOCs-for-fee concept by designing customized learning programs for the corporate marketplace. They actively meet with corporate Learning directors to draw on their faculty’s expertise and create programs that will help employees from these companies. Examples include:

  • A multinational construction company using a leadership training program for certification in leadership, which earned university degree credit
  • Providing its standard Bachelor’s of Business Management program courses for a large natural gas producer and marketer

Learning institutions likely will continue to expand with the use and development of SPOCs.

This learning methodology can help vulcanize the application of evolving knowledge and practices across multiple industries. In so doing, SPOCs are here to stay—hopefully, we all can live, learn, and prosper through them.

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer of Rideau’s Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training firm specializing in helping companies “get recognition right.” Its focus is on showing leaders how to give real recognition to create positive relationships, better workplaces, and real results. For more information, contact RoySaunderson@ or visit

Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP
Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP, is author of “Practicing Recognition” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: For more information, e-mail him at: or visit: