Enter the GROOC: Better Than a MOOC?

online education moocs

Now we can call a MOOC for what it is: Missed Opportunity for Online Collaboration. Otherwise known as the Massive Online Open Course, the MOOC possesses a major downside – students get flexibility and independence in their studies, and even the freedom to learn – usually for free – while wearing nothing but last week’s underwear, but usually work without the benefit of team-based collaboration.

Now, renowned management expert Henry Mintzberg, creator of the organigraph, double winner of the McKinsey Award, professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Canada – and harsh critic of MBA education – is pushing the MOOC in a new direction, and giving his creation a new name.

Enter the “GROOC” – a MOOC for groups.

By adding the element of social learning – “a pedagogy whereby learners engage each other in the process of knowledge creation” – the GROOC is intended to fill in the missing piece of the MOOC, leveraging the power of peers that is absent from most MOOCs but for online forums and chats.


“It’s an attempt to sort of cover what the weakness of the MOOC is, which is that people don’t necessarily get to interact with each other,” Mintzberg says. “Some of the most powerful learning is not done individually by reading a book or listening to a lecture, but in groups, sort of taking ideas and kicking them around.”

GROOC students can use a matchmaking platform to link up with others, or enter the course in a pre-made group. “Somebody could come in and say, ‘This is really intriguing so I’m going to bring my friends in.’ People may come with teams, or they may create teams, or they may get together with other local people that they can get together with face to face,” Mintzberg says. “Some people might be sitting together in the city somewhere saying, ‘You know we should start a meals-on-wheels program for older people.’ There may be a little group within an organization such as Greenpeace.

“Somebody in Peru might say, ‘We really want to help poor kids to learn better. Let’s form a group and see if we can do it and use this MOOC to try this.'”

As Mintzberg’s examples suggest, the GROOC is not for students plotting world financial domination. In fact, it’s the opposite. Titled “Social Learning for Social Impact,” the course is intended to follow the path set by leading social impact initiatives including crisis-aid group Doctors Without Borders, micro-finance pioneer the Grameen Foundation, and education organization the Khan Academy.

Henry Mintzberg, professor, Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University

Henry Mintzberg, professor, Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University

In short, the GROOC, comprised of seven two-week sessions, is for students who want to learn how to improve the world through the key element of the course: “radical renewal.”


Mintzberg is a well-known critic of traditional MBA programs. In The New York Times in 2012, Mintzberg described the rise of MBAs as “a menace to society.” In the same article, Mintzberg attacked case-study learning.

“The philosophy of the case study method is that you simulate management practice on the basis of reading a 20 page study,” Mintzberg said. “George W. Bush went to Harvard Business School and I don’t think he even read 20 pages. But he’s a good example of how disastrous that approach can be.”

In 2004, Mintzberg suggested to CNN that every MBA student should come out of school with an emblem on their forehead of a skull and crossbones and the words “not prepared to manage.”

The emblem MBAs should wear on their forehead, according to GROOC pioneer Henry Mintzberg

The emblem MBAs should wear on their forehead, according to GROOC pioneer Henry Mintzberg

Mintzberg’s GROOC course is intended to serve students at varying levels of social engagement, from those who are already working within the social sector or on a social initiative, to those just pondering collaborative work on a social initiative. All students, according to program materials, should be “concerned about where the world is headed and contemplating ways of responding.”

Asked whether the notoriously low completion rate for MOOCs would hamper team-based learning as people dropped out, Mintzberg notes that the GROOC is experimental, and he believes  most teams could survive the loss of a few members. “All groups have turnover and problems,” Mintzberg says. “People look at the dropout rate in MOOCs – instead of saying, ‘We signed up 100,000 people and 90,000 dropped out,’ imagine saying, ‘10,000 people completed this course.'”

McGill plans to launch Social Learning for Social Impact in September, 2015. Pre-registration is underway now.

“Open badges,” which provide online verification of course completion, will be issued.


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