Following his time as a developer with the German armed forces, Daniel Paulus wanted to change career-lanes. He decided not to invest the pre-vocational training money he had been given by the German armed forces in traditional continuing education and training, instead completing a so-called nanodegree as a Machine Learning Engineer with the online provider Udacity.
For about three months, he spent ten hours a week watching learning videos and working on his own programming projects: "I'm a very practical person and so I really enjoyed it," he said. It also benefited him. Following the course, he succeeded in joining the American company Sauce Labs.
Courses like the one Paulus completed are known as "Massive Open Online Courses", or MOOCs for short. Around ten years ago, the first were launched mainly in the university sector. The idea behind them was to make training accessible throughout the world and often free of charge. Today the provision has diversified. There are both short and long-term MOOCs for employed persons and for students. A fee is now required for many of the courses. Although the number of courses on offer is substantial, they primarily cover digital and innovation-based themes.
Compact delivery of knowledge in just a few days
"MOOCs for continuing vocational education and training and competency development are now relatively established," says Jochen Robes, a consultant and lecturer at Darmstadt University who has been involved in the area for a number of years. He explained that when the MOOCs first appeared, there was a lot of hype. Loads of people from everywhere enrolled - but most did not complete the courses. Today, things have calmed down and the dropout rates are much lower; not least due to the fact that many of the courses come with a fee. MOOCs are also becoming increasingly important for companies as continuing education and training programmes. After all, the world of work has changed.
"Some of what employees studied ten or 15 years ago is now simply outdated," explains Friedrich Schweizer. He is a software developer with BMW and is benefiting from a MOOC about self-driving cars. He also completed a nanodegree from Udacity, one of the larger platforms with over 10 million learners. "I originally studied aerospace technology," explains Schweizer. "My degree was very hardware heavy; at BMW, software had a bigger role to play." The online course helped him to close this gap.
At Audi, employees also have the opportunity to continue their training with online courses. "At our face-to-face training courses, knowledge is imparted in just a few days in a compact way. There are increasing numbers of people here who also want to continue their training over several months and learn online," explains Malte Sommer. Together with Vandana Zitterell, he is responsible for competency development in Big Data and in artificial intelligence at Audi.
830,000 registered users
Online courses enable participants to determine the time, location, and speed of learning themselves and to directly apply what has been learned afterwards. "What impresses us is that participants enjoy the courses, they are practical and participants work with the latest information," says Zitterell. He adds that the next step is now to integrate online courses within the company's continuing education and training landscape and to ensure the quality of the content.
Companies such as SAP also use MOOCs in order to explain their own software and for marketing purposes. The company established its own MOOC platform in 2013 for this purpose. Clemens Link, who had previously completed a MOOC himself, came up with the idea. He was particularly attracted to the idea that anyone with internet access can learn together with others.
SAP has already provided 180 courses in this format; all are free of charge. 830,000 users are registered, and approximately one in every four who enrol also completes the course. It takes approximately three months and 20 employees to turn the idea into the finished course. SAP course certificates frequently also appear in the job descriptions of other companies. SAP sees this as evidence that they are being taken seriously.
"Everyone has a preferred way of learning"
According to consultant Jochen Robes, many providers who have not emerged from the MOOC environment are becoming increasingly important in Germany. One of these is "LinkedIn Learning". According to them, more than half of Dax companies use this for staff training. Many SMEs are also using the offer. Overall, online courses provide a broad range of education and training catering to virtually all tastes. Their predominant advantage is the flexibility, but it's also one of the biggest disadvantages.
It takes a lot of perseverance and initiative to stick with it through to the end. The company is aware of this. "Everyone has a preferred way of learning," says Vandana Zitterell from Audi, for example. Some prefer to learn in a group in traditional face-to-face training, while others prefer to learn independently and online” So MOOCs are not a 'must', but maybe a sensible addition.