MOOCs: The Future of Education

May 2018 Insight cover imageTake a class from Harvard from your couch, for a low monthly fee.


What’s a MOOC? Massive Open Online Courses, aka the wave of distance learning that is transforming both brick-and-mortar and online education. MOOCs are websites that offer courses, certificates and degrees “in bulk.” Many courses have 25,000 enrollees in this digital approach that cuts out the classroom. Along with the MLS, education usually tops the list of values delivered by REALTOR® associations to members. As education evolves, it is important for members to be aware of these new options as they gain traction.

MOOCs began in 2010, triggered by technology, with the goal of providing educational opportunities to anyone with a keyboard, sans the high-priced tuition. Harvard, Georgia Tech, Stanford, UNC and Georgetown University, each offer courses through online platforms such as edX and Coursera.

Coursework ranges from single class business applications for improving Microsoft Excel skills, to certificates in HR, to full degrees. The playing field is somewhat chaotic, as the medium adjusts to the growing high degree of interest. Fees range from monthly subscription rates, to a course fee, to a degree fee, depending on the platform. Coursera offers unlimited classes for $49 monthly, while edX charges a fee per class or series, with many courses being offered without cost, and some at $99 per course or $400 for a certificate.

“Professional development is critically important for maintaining relevance in today’s work environment,” said Taylor Oldroyd, CEO of Cape Fear REALTORS® in Wilmington, N.C. “One class at a university is costly, and instructor fees are on the rise. That’s why we’ve been looking for options, such as MOOCs.”

Cape Fear REALTORS®, which has 14 staff, recently piloted Coursera with one staffer. With a favorable result, the entire staff has been enrolled in the enterprise program for businesses and nonprofits. “The enterprise program allows each staffer to take one course at their own pace during the year, and is costeffective,” said Oldroyd. Coursera’s year-long enterprise program costs $100 per employee for one course, or $400 for unlimited access.

MOOCs attract a wide range of students globally, based on a 2017 study by Harvard and MIT. Tech courses are the most popular, yet of the 4.5 million enrollees, only 244,000 received a certificate or completed a course, representing 5.5 percent of enrollees. Further, some people simply do not like the online approach that lacks classroom interaction.

Still, as university tuitions continue to rise, education options off campus increase in popularity. In a recent survey, 72 percent of Coursera participants reported career benefits, and 61 percent reported educational benefits. This trend fits well with existing REALTOR® association education efforts, and may provide a powerful synergy in the future.

“MOOCs are a useful educational option for leaders in the REALTOR® profession to grow their knowledge base,” said Oldroyd. “We plan to continue looking into other applications, for instance, the delivery of industry designations or real estate continuing education.”

Positioned correctly, MOOCs could assist not only with the building of exemplary staff, but broadening educational options for REALTOR® members. This, in turn, adds to the industry knowledge base, which will be an important key to maintaining relevance in the next decade.

“Looking farther down the road, as associations partake in knowledge-building programs, they need to evaluate how to capture that knowledge,” said Cheryl Ronk, president, Michigan Society of Association Executives. “It is important for organizations to consider creating a knowledge management system—of which MOOCs can be a part—that keeps documents, webinars, video training, MP4, quizzes and self-assessments to both advance the industry and enhance the value of an association.”


Potential class size for MOOCs.

The monthly rate for a Coursera unlimited class.

Cape Fear REALTORS® staff members who enrolled in the Coursera enterprise program.

The percentage of Coursera participants who indicated career benefits from MOOCs, as reported by the Harvard Business Review in 2015.


Shane Johnson, JD, CAE, is the Chief Operating Officer for Cape Fear REALTORS® in Wilmington.

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