Aquent Aquent

Making MOOCs Work: Aquent Gymnasium Continues to Grow

By Matthew T. Grant

Making MOOCs Work: Aquent Gymnasium Continues to Grow

Last week, Aquent Gymnasium launched three new short-format courses (each one lasts about an hour): one offering an intro to Node.js; one on Grid Layout in Bootstrap 3.0; and one on time estimation and time management.

The fact that we launched these courses said a couple things to me. First of all, it said that we continue to innovate with the MOOC format. Initially heralded as a disruptive technology that was going to change the educational landscape, MOOCs have struggled (and, in the eyes of some failed) to deliver on their initial promise.

We have long thought that this "failure" stemmed from the association between MOOCs and the relatively archaic and bureaucratized environment of higher education. By taking a private sector approach to MOOCs, working closely with our customers to develop curriculum, and developing a viable business model around our use of the technology, we are showing that the potential for MOOCs, far from being non-existent, is actually for the most part untapped. 

The flexibility of this private sector approach allows us to experiment, leading to the release of these shorter courses (Gym Shorts). Will they be as successful as our longer courses? We're not sure yet. We are sure, however, that our approach gives us enough agility to respond quickly to the needs of our students and release courses, long and short, as soon as they're ready to go. 

Continued Growth

The other thing this launch told me is that, innovation aside, we are continuing to grow. This time last year (June 2013) we hadn't even opened yet. Today, we have six courses on offer with a steady pipeline of courses in development. 

More importantly, people keep signing up. As of today, we have had over 28,000 students register and enroll in our programs. Our most popular course, thus far, has been Coding for Designers (our first course), followed by Responsive Web Design. The enthusiasm for these courses has not been surprising given, on the one hand, the need for designers to know more and more about the technical implementation of their work, and the dawning realization across the web that sites need to get responsive or else. 

We realize, of course, that not every course is going to attract the masses. In fact, by delving into more esoteric areas of front-end development such as jQuery and Node.js, we fully understand that the potential audience will be more narrow. But that's the beauty of our model. As long was we can tie revenue to this initiative on the back end (which we can), means that we can cover both the higher level topics (UX Fundamentals, JavaScript Foundations, etc.) and get into the weeds if that's what students (and our clients!) are looking to do. 

People Are Talking

It's great to be able to help designers and web professionals acquire new skills. It's also great to be able to provide our clients with both free training resources and talent who have current, in-demand skills. 

It's also great, though, to be recognized for doing something new and interesting. Thanks to our efforts with Aquent Gymnasium, we've caught the attention of Fast Company, Fox Business, ForbesInc., and even Investors Business Daily. We've also had the opportunity to share our thoughts on this and related subjects with outlets as diverse as Wired, The Boston Globe, Direct Marketing News,, and, most recently, MarketingProfs.

This kind of attention testifies to two things. On the one had, MOOCs are still news. As I mentioned, they have so much untapped potential that people are very curious to hear about ways that that potential is being realized. 

On the other had, I think it shows that Aquent Gymnasium is, as my colleague, Carolyn Hyams, said in, "content marketing at its best." Why? Because it provides our constituents with truly valuable content while generating ever-greater awareness and revenue for our brand. 

What's Next?

Which all goes to show, I believe, that Aquent is making MOOCs work. We're attracting and teaching thousands of students, we're diversifying our course offerings in terms of content and format, and the entire initiative is integrated into our core business, which means that it can fund itself. 

What do you think? Have you taken one of our courses? How did it stack up? Is there something you would like to see us teach? Leave a comment and let us know!

Image Source: Mike Licht/Creative Commons

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