If you haven’t yet heard of SPOCs, you’re not alone, although many e-Learning and educational professionals feel this term is set to replace MOOCs as the future of learning.

SPOCs are designed as a response to the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). It stands for Small Private Online Course. As compared to the typical MOOC, which as the name implies, is open to the public, SPOCs are targeted to about 20 participants.

While MOOCs have revolutionized the world of online training and education in many ways, SPOCs can be best suited to the needs of businesses when it comes to training and developing employees.

An Overview of SPOCs

Employee training is a great place to utilize SPOCs because they’re incredibly personalized, and they can be used when an organization is undergoing a fundamental shift, embarking on a new program or is planning to move to a more robust level of digitalization.

While the overall goal of a SPOC is to provide skills training, on a more micro level the goal is to achieve real results—meaning training is designed to be incredibly actionable.

This compares significantly to MOOCs, which tend to have larger and more abstract conceptual goals.

SPOCs are also able to be easily disseminated to remote workers throughout the globe, and each area of a SPOC is highly specific to the organization.

Despite the advantages of using SPOCs for business training, there’s still the concern of high dropout rates and a lack of engagement, much like what’s seen with MOOCs. To improve upon the engagement levels seen with the traditional MOOC, many educational institutions and companies are offering perks such as certifications for completing courses or training. There are also some companies requiring employees pay a fee to participate in SPOCs, since this tends to reduce the likelihood they’ll drop out or fail to complete a course.

Regardless of potential challenges, SPOCs not only work well for companies that want to provide individualized training, but they also tend to be ideal for multinational businesses, and those with highly specialized employees. These expert employees can be spread out around the globe, but they may still need to be trained together and in a collaborative environment.

Harvard’s View of the SPOC

In the summer of 2015, Harvard Magazine published a feature piece on SPOCs titled “Is Small Beautiful? Online Education Looks Beyond the MOOC.”

The feature piece highlights the enthusiasm that once surrounded MOOCs. Back in 2012 it was promised that online education was going to change the world, and The New York Times dubbed it “The Year of the MOOC.”

What people began to notice, however, was that there were problems with this new wave of education opportunities. One of the biggest problems? Most students were dropping out before they were able to earn a certificate.

Stanford president John Hennessy gave an interview with the Financial Times and said there were two big problems with MOOCs: the fact that they are massive and that they are open. In the years since 2012, most people have realized many of the failings of MOOCs can be solved by “scaling” them down as Harvard Magazine puts it, which is what led to the SPOC.

The advantages of a SPOC in the academic sense is that professors can provide more personalized and targeted learning. This unique benefit is now being translated to business-based education.

Using SPOCs to Train Employees

While a lot of the attention this far has been given to the educational uses of SPOCs, they’re an ideal training model for businesses as well.

Consider these SPOC-centric training tips:

  • Determine if a SPOC approach makes sense for your organization. As mentioned above, one of the best uses of this type of training delivery is within multi-national corporations where employees are located throughout the globe, but still need to collaborate when it comes to training.
  • SPOCs may sound great, but you should be aware of the resources required to execute this type of training. It tends to work best for larger businesses with more significant training budgets, because even though it’s online training, it’s usually done in real time, meaning you need to have an instructor for these courses. Instructors should also be well equipped to provide a high level of feedback and interaction with trainees, as well as a strong support system.
  • Consider offering a SPOC-like training model to boost global collaboration between employees not only in the same department, but also in different departments. SPOCs are a good way to promote cross-training and get people working with one another, outside of their own department, job function or even geographic location.
  • One of the ways MOOCs tend to differ from SPOCs, at least in the educational world, is that they’re often marketed. With MOOCs there is the idea that if it exists, students are going to come to it. SPOCs, on the other hand, are being advertised to lure in the most interested and engaged students. A similar approach can be taken in the business world. Develop marketing plans for your training that builds interest and drives employees to look at courses as something outside of the typical employee training scenario.
  • If you’re introducing SPOC training, or something similar, think about making enrollment a competitive experience. This will help you develop a more robust culture of learning within your business, and it will also lead more trainees to not only enroll in training but complete it.
  • Consider a multi-level enrollment process. You may initially allow any employee who wants to participate in training or development to sign up for a course, but their continued enrollment could be dependent on their initial level of participation and engagement. Only the most involved students would be allowed to progress to the next level in this situation, and if the training features a certification or recognition at the end of completion, this two-level enrollment process could be even more motivating for employees.
  • SPOCs can not only be a solid training tool for multi-national companies but also for companies that have a large number of remote employees. It’s an incredibly valuable training tool for remote workers because it creates a stronger onboarding experience and provides them with more training support, without requiring these employees to come into a shared space for training. It’s also a beneficial way for remote employees to get to know one another, which will encourage future collaboration, even if they never actually work together in person.

What do you think of the rise of SPOCs versus MOOCs and how do you see these models impacting business and employee training in the future?