Boston's EdX partnership with MIT should spur CIOs to consider creating their own massive open online courses to fill skills gaps.
The total cost to develop the classes was about $250,000. The classes are being run again, and Erlichson said they now take less than five hours of his time a week. 10gen expects 50,000 students to take the classes in the first year, meaning it has invested about $5 a student.
Of course, completion rates in MOOCs are an issue -- 5% of attendees completed the first EdX course, for instance. Erlichson said of the 30,000 people who have taken his two classes, about 18% completed them. That still more than quadruples the 1,000 or so students who have taken 10gen's in-person training classes.
The in-person classes are primarily attended by students in the U.S. and western Europe, said Erlichson, while a large number of the online students were from eastern Europe and Latin America. The top six were Russia, the U.S., Ukraine, Argentina, Spain and Bulgaria. More than half the online students said they would use the projects for work.
He sees a bright future for MOOCs in companies. "A lot of companies are going to do it," he predicted. "It's extremely effective from a cost standpoint and you open up new markets." Erlichson also thinks it will help address the skills gap, at least for technology firms. "The skills that go wanting in software right now are some of the easiest things to teach online," he said.
One educator is not so sure. "The dropout rates are pretty high for those types of classes," said Jesse M. Thompson, executive VP and CFO at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, Mass. America's community colleges are often cited as the institutions best placed to help address skills gaps.
But Thompson is excited by Bunker Hill's own collaboration with EdX. Bunker Hill is one of two community colleges offering an EdX class on introductory software for credit to its students. It is combining the online course with a classroom led by faculty members. Combining online classes with on-site support could prove effective at increasing class completion rates.
"In the long term, (MOOCs) could have some impact on this whole skills gap, but it's too early to tell right now," Thompson said. "Especially as it relates to community college students."
But if other companies can do what 10gen did, MOOCs might mean they can address their own skills gaps.
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