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When will professional associations start to take MOOCs seriously?


You would think that MOOCs and professional associations would be natural bedfellows.  On the one hand you have organizations that have a sizable number of professional members, with all of them tasked with providing an array of professional development opportunities for their members, and of course promoting the professional advantages of lifelong learning.

On the other hand, you have the MOOCs providing a high quality, modular and easily accessible means of learning for professionals to study a whole range of topics, from whatever Internet enabled device they wish to use, and all for no financial cost.

It seems something of a no brainer, doesn’t it?  Yet MOOCs have been around for a few years now, and the number of professional bodies that offer courses on the main MOOC platforms is almost non-existent.  Jan Grimes, executive director at the Illinois HomeCare and Hospice Council summed up the situation nicely in a recent interview when discussing the need for professional bodies, like her own, to provide low cost education for their members.

“It’s why we exist, right? We don’t exist to gain members, we exist to help, educate, and advocate.”

Which seems to be the situation in a nutshell, for far too many professional bodies are only interested in the membership numbers.  The education side of things is therefore merely a means to an end.  When they have such a mindset, it’s perhaps not surprising that offering a free course of study in management, or accounting, or whatever else is kinda hard to square off internally.

Except that narrow view assumes that professional bodies only compete against one another.  The reality is really very different, and they are in fact competing against all of the other source of learning available in the world.  For instance, there are currently over 100 MOOCs available on business and management, all for free, all from reputable universities around the world.  Why pay for professional body membership when all of that is at your finger tips?

Of course, the value of MOOCs is quite obvious for the professional, but they also offer numerous advantages to the professional body.  With student bodies of up to 100,000, it’s quite likely that a MOOC will attract a huge number of people that until that point had been blissfully unaware of the very existence of the professional body providing the course.

“We need to talk to those outside our network,” Grimes says. “We want to move the needle, not just in our state but nationally. For more people in the healthcare world to get out of their silo and to understand that caring for patients is a cross-continuum experience—that’s far bigger than whether it gains us a member. It’s why we exist, right? We don’t exist to gain members, we exist to help, educate, and advocate. That’s what this MOOC is doing.”

It’s nice to see a relatively small professional body, and a regional one at that, take the bold leap into the MOOC world.  Oh for the big, international bodies to be so brave.  I won’t be holding my breath.

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