I first wrote about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in January, 2014. At that time there were 990 MOOCs being offered. According to Class Central (a website that aggregates worldwide MOOC offerings), by the end of 2015 that number increased to 4200 courses offered by 500+ universities from around the world serving over 35 million students; and it continues to grow with just under 6,000 MOOCs currently being offered by 600+ universities.

Not only is the MOOC landscape expanding, it is evolving. Back in 2014 most MOOCs were free, and they could not be used for credit as part of actual degrees. Today, there are still plenty of free options available. But you can also use MOOCs to obtain official certificates of completion (with identify verification) that can be used for college or continuing education credits, or even to obtain “credentials” for completing a series of related courses in a specific subject area—all of which require paying fees ranging from $25 to $1000s, depending on the subject and number of courses required.


MOOCs for Small Business Networking

While you might think that MOOCs are filled with college-age students looking for inexpensive alternatives to costly universities or access to courses from top-tier schools to which they could not gain admittance—that is actually not the case. A recent joint study by Harvard and MIT, based on the two schools’ MOOC offerings (HarvardX and MITx on the edX platform) found that 47% of students were over age 30, 71% already had at least a bachelor’s degree, and 39% were teachers (often of the very subject covered by the MOOC).

So even seasoned small business owners are likely to find themselves among peers when enrolled in a MOOC. That can be an opportunity above and beyond the core course offerings. With a MOOC you not only get to take classes from experts and professors at top universities like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, for free, at your own pace, and on your own schedule, but you also have the opportunity to participate in course forums, discussion boards, and assignment grading with a wide variety of people interested in the same topic. Think of it as a networking opportunity to connect with potential customers, partners, and vendors.


Finding High Quality MOOCs

As with any educational offering, quality and rigor among MOOCs varies. However, a recent study has found that your odds of ending up in a time-wasting turkey are pretty low. It reports a “massively unequal distribution of massive open online courses toward some of the most expensive, highly valued, and heftily-endowed universities in the world,” with 20% of all MOOC offerings coming from the top 5 schools on the U.S. News and World Report’s Top 100 National Universities list, and 56% from the top 20 schools on the list.

Along with the prestige of the University offering the course, and the individual professors teaching it, user reviews are another great way to gauge the quality and usefulness of a MOOC. You’ll see them on the details page for most repeat courses. For totally new courses, it can be helpful to look at reviews for other courses from the same university or professor.

Also check-out Class Central’s Top 50 MOOCs of All Time, which is updated regularly. The list is based on reviews from Class Central members, and is broken down by subject. There is a brief description for each course, along with a link to a page providing a video overview, detailed reviews, and information you need to register.

Class Central also publishes a monthly listing of all courses starting in the current month, along with a top 10 course list for each month. (See the August, 2016 list and Top 10). You can also subscribe to their newsletter to have the course list delivered to you monthly. Also helpful is the MOOC List website which offers a full searchable list of MOOC offerings. You can search by subject category, date, language, sponsoring university, and platform.


MOOC Suggestions for Small Business Owners

There are over a dozen platforms offering MOOCs, with Coursera and edX being the clear market leaders, and hosting offerings from those top universities. Browsing either of the catalogs on those sites is bound to yield many interesting course choices that will help enhance the skills you need to profitably sustain and grow your small business. The following are a few courses, starting in the next couple of weeks, that you should consider.

  1. Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses, Part I (Coursera: August 29, 2016 start)
    The first of a four part series from University of Virginia, the class consists of video lectures and readings designed to explore, “common growth challenges faced by existing private businesses when they attempt to grow substantially.” Audit for free, or pay $49 for a certificate.
  2. Marketing Analytics: Products, Distribution and Sales (edX, August 30, 2016 start)
    In this course from UC Berkley you’ll, “Learn how to identify what your consumers want in a product and the best distribution and sales channels to engage with your chosen markets.” It covers conjoint product analysis, decision trees, store distribution decision models, and sales processes for storefront and e-commerce channels. Audit for free, or pay $99 for a certificate.
    (A Similar course, Customer Analytics, from the Wharton school at University of Pennsylvania is available from Coursera starting on August 29. Free to audit or $95 for a certificate)
  3. How To Create a Website in a Weekend! (Coursera: August 29, 2016 start)
    If yours is one of the 47% of small businesses that do not have a website, then this course from the State University of New York is for you. With 4 modules, you’ll learn how to plan and create a basic website using WordPress, promote it via social media, and further customize it using basic css and HTML programming tools. Audit for free, or pay $29 for a certificate.
  4. Cybersecurity and Its Ten Domains (Coursera: September 9, 2016 start)
    This cybersecurity course from the University System of Georgia is designed to provide an introduction to the field. In addition to video lectures from industry experts, the course includes community discourse and online interactions with other students. Topics include: governance and risk management, compliance, business continuity and disaster recovery, cryptography, software development security, access control, network security, security architecture, security operations, and physical and environmental security. Audit for free, or pay $49 for a certificate.
  5. Leadership Communication for Maximum Impact: Storytelling (Coursera: August 22, 2016 start)
    This top rated course from Northwestern University, “helps leaders find their own story through personal branding; develop storytelling success with all constituencies; initiate an effective voice for crisis; interact well through social and third party media; and communicate a vision for innovation.” Get full access to the course for free, or pay $79 for a certificate.
  6. Introduction to Negotiation: A Strategic Playbook for Becoming a Principled and Persuasive Negotiator (Coursera: August 29, 2016 start)
    This 4.8 star (out of 5) course from Yale, helps “develop a framework for analyzing and shaping negotiations. This framework will allow you to make principled arguments that persuade others. It will allow you to see beneath the surface of apparent conflicts to uncover the underlying interests. You will leave the course better able to predict, interpret, and shape the behavior of those you face in competitive situations.” The 9 week course uses case studies as a basis for you to practice your own skills by negotiating with other students. The course is designed to foster interaction and discussion amongst students, and is thus a good choice if networking is one of your goals. Get full access to the course for free, or pay $49 for a certificate.


Make the time to take a class, and participate in all available class activities. You can expand your current expertise, delve into a passion, or simply learn about a new subject or field. And, you might just find yourself with valuable business connections in the process.


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Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I’m the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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