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MOOCs Shift From Curiousity to Employability

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With huge investments and lots of fanfare massive open online courses (MOOC) are the higher ed topic of the year. They've been around for years, but when more than 100,000 people signed up for a Stanford artificial intelligence course it was obvious that MOOCs had arrived.

Because MOOCs primarily serve non-consumption (in the parlance of Innovator's Dilemma) at this point -- they will complementary not competitive to traditional higher for the next few years.

Companies are joining the MOOC party, especially those that promote open resources. In June, Google ran a power search MOOC. Today the developer of MongoDB, the leading open source database company, announced today that they will offer two courses on the edX platform.

MongoDB is a leading unstructured database with more than 150,000 downloads per month. Mongo is a hot skill set, usually #2 after generic HTML 5 jobs on recruiting boards.

The free open source database was launched in 2007 by former DoubleClick Founder and CTO Dwight Merriman. Under the new 10gen education program founder Merriman will be teaching a MongoDB DBA course. The MOOC will allow thousands of interested coders to learn directly from the guy who wrote the code.

The two classes, MongoDB for Developers and Mongo DB for Administrators, will begin in Octorber and will hosted on edX, the Harvard and MIT online content partnership. The courses will last about six weeks and will include interactive projects and frequent assessments.

This is the first EdX partnership with a non-university. Anant Agarwal, president and first professor at edX, said, "We are pleased to team with MongoDB on its new 10gen Education program worldwide. EdX utilizes MongoDB and our new collaboration is the natural evolution of our relationship with 10gen."

Andrew Erlichson, VP Education at 10gen, anticipated building the courses on the EdX stack and "contributing code improvements to the university partnership." Erlichson wasn't sure massive open online courses (MOOC) would change the higher ed landscape, but he was certain that they would reshape professional development. He noted that a soft launch of the courses quickly resulted in 5000 sign ups, about three times the normal annual training quotient for 10gen.

Another reason to pay attention to this deal -- 10gen has raised more than $75 million and is backed by leading venture funds including Sequoia, NEA, Flybridge, Union Square, and In-Q-Tel.

MOOCs won't have much impact on first tier higher education, but as Andrew pointed out, they are expanding professional learning opportunities. As certification and market signaling options expand (as noted here), MOOCs and other anywhere, anytime learning options will devastate expensive weak-brand third tier colleges and put tremendous cost pressure on state universities.

MOOCs and other learning resources are reshaping how people prepare for employment. With clarity around job requirements, lots of learning options, assessments that let learners show what they know, and portfolio and recommendation systems we will see less consumption of traditional higher ed and more consumption of free or cheap just-in-time, highly relevant skills training.

Tom Vander Ark is CEO of Open Education Solutions and a partner at Learn Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in educational technology.