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Boeing and NASA Partner with MIT’s Professional Development Arm to Produce Online Courses

Written by Laurie Pickard
2 minute read
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One of the big trends that Class Central reported on in our 2017 MOOC roundup was an increasing focus on online degrees and corporate learning, since that is where the big money is in online learning. One example of how this trend is playing out was featured in a panel session at this year’s SXSW EDU conference, titled Reinventing Corporate Education. The panel was hosted by edX CEO Anant Agarwal, who was joined by representatives from the Boeing Corporation and MIT’s corporate learning platform, MIT xPRO. The panelists discussed a partnership between MIT, Boeing, and NASA to develop a set of professional development training courses on the topic of “Architecture and Systems Engineering: Models and Methods to Manage Complex Systems.” These courses were offered on the MIT xPRO platform and made available to employees of Boeing and NASA, as well as the general public.

Mark Cousino, the Boeing panelist, described the challenges he faces as Director of Learning Strategy, Design and Technology. “You think about the explosion of AI, analytics, cyber security, all those topics that maybe weren’t degree programs 3 to 4 years ago.” Then, he added, you also have to think about all the people who are already in the workforce and need to be upskilled. “The other challenge we face is scale.” Boeing has 150,000 workers around the world. Therefore, Cousino said, an effective corporate training program needs to operate globally and at scale.

To address these challenges of upskilling at scale, enter the MOOC model. Universities like MIT have spent the past several years figuring out how to offer university-level content to thousands, even millions of learners around the world. Now, they are able to use their MOOC-making capabilities to get into the lucrative professional development market. In the Boeing-NASA-MIT example, in the first run of the course around 5,000 people completed all four courses and earned a certificate from MIT. At a price of $2,500, the series potentially made $12.5 million in revenue in its first run. It is important to note that of those 5,000 learners, half were neither Boeing nor NASA employees.

MIT xPRO uses Open edX, which is the open source version of edX’s MOOC platform. If you’ve ever taken an edX course, you would find the course format very familiar. However, the courses themselves are offered not on edX but on MIT xPRO’s website. EdX itself plays a key, behind-the-scenes role in the partnership as the host of the white label Open edX platform on which MITxPRO operates. EdX also hosts a variety of other white label platforms for higher education and industry, including Harvard’s Global Medical Academy, McKinsey Academy, and Israel’s Campus-il.org.

You can listen to the whole panel on SXSW EDU’s website here.