How Massively Open Online Courses could enable Economic Development

Massively Open Online Courses, commonly referred to as MOOCs, have gained in popularity since Harvard, MIT and Berkeley publicly came together and joined EDX.  The academic institutions made their courses free and available to anyone with an Internet connection. As seen below in the Google Trends graph, MOOCs are at their peak for search volume.

MOOCs for Economic Development

Search Trends for Massively Open Online Courses

What are MOOCs and how can society benefit from them?

MOOCs are just that, they are massively open online courses. Imagine a Massively Multiplayer Online game, like World of Warcraft, but substitute the game element with learning, researching and teaching. What you’re left with is a MOOC, which is an attempt to democratize education by making it widely available.

I jumped on the MOOC bandwagon as soon as Harvard announced that their CS50 offering would be available through EDX last September. I am ashamed to admit that I am only on Problem Set 2, which is technically the third week of material. Through this experience I have learned a load about Virtual Machines and basic principles in using C as a programming language. Beyond the hard facts, I’ve also learned that MOOCs are widely popular across the globe.

On twitter I’ve made several friends talking about #CS50 and #EDX, which has opened an international discourse revolving largely around knowledge and problem solving. Having been out of graduate school since 2009, this is the first time in a couple of years that the intellectual stimulation, in the form of classroom discussion, has come back into my life. MOOCs are a great way to encourage people to collaborate across political borders, no matter how far they have progressed through the material.

I realized that other people were thinking about MOOCs when I heard a radio segment on my local NPR affiliate. The conversation was geared towards how mid-level, and potentially overpriced, institutions would survive if universities like Harvard, MIT and Berkeley were giving away their course lectures for free. Since then, several other universities have teamed up with EDX to make their educational content available. The University of Texas System, McGill, Australian, Wellesley, Georgetown University, University of Toronto, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, TU Delft and Rice have all gotten on board and made select curriculum available to the public for free.

What amazes me is that universities are not the only driving force behind pushing free, high caliber education. Despite being a college dropout, Bill Gates has gone on the record saying that access to education is one of the most important problems that needs to be solved in America.  In an Ask Me Anything interview conducted on Reddit, Bill Gates said “My foundation has funded a lot of MOOCs focused on community college kids or kids who have to take remedial math.”

I believe that Bill Gates hit the nail on the head with his comment about using MOOCs to get Americans up to speed with remedial math courses. This shows that people, such as Microsoft’s founder, are thinking about how open courses could be used to even the playing field; without charging tuition and subsequently sending the rest of our society deeper into student loan debt. If adopted by Community Colleges and other State Universities, such as what has been done by the University of Texas System, we could collectively educate society on the hard sciences and humanities at no cost to the student.

How Massively Open Online Courses could enable Economic Development

MOOCs could be used in conjunction with development strategies by local governments in order to prepare workforce for economic success. For instance, take my hometown of Albany, the state capital of New York, and examine the recent boom industry of Nanoscale engineering. Public and private funding has been used to turn UAlbany into a global epicenter for nanotechnology. As much as New York loves to import high skill labor into the state, it would be strategic for the state to make available course content that could get anyone interested up to speed on the subject matter.

Not everyone has access to the Internet, but Albany has several public branch libraries with accommodating hours, each city neighborhood has a branch or is within a bus ride to one. Partnering up with the brick and mortar institutions could assist in developing a new era of human capital.  No longer can cities depend on the giant brand name corporations to employ their residents and provide them with a comfortable retirement.  Cities, regions and states need to be smart in planning for clustered growth by focusing on core industries.  This is important because it allows for the comforts of co-location and cohabitation among companies within a certain industry, which would allow for more options and experience for the area’s workforce.

A city and it’s culture cannot survive without a plan.  MOOCs could be designed for, and adapted by cities, so as to develop the right kind of worker for a given industrial cluster.  A city like Albany could benefit from teaming up with the University at Albany even more.  Doing so would give the city of Albany a leg up on preparing it’s residents for the jobs of tomorrow.  Investing in the human capital locally could also enable and empower an educated workforce to spawn their own innovative ideas and start a business of their own.

Education is a central tenant to the function of economic development.  Without a talented workforce, a business cannot survive.  MOOCs make education free for all, but could also be used in a more directed manner by aiming to develop a smarter, more prepared workforce.  MOOCs could also be leveraged to prepare regions for the declining role that giant name brand corporations have on cities.  Investing in MOOCs could also energize a new wave of educated professionals looking to innovate tomorrow within your town.

Thanks a ton,


How can the Madison Pour House fill Mahar’s shoes?

Ways that the Madison Pour House can fill Mahar’s shoes


No one wants to admit this, but beer culture will continue to thrive in Albany long after Mahar’s shuts their doors tonight.  For so long, it seems that Mahar’s has operated in an economic vacuum by creating a beer club environment for their friends.  That client base is one thing that Mahar’s had going right, but that was largely due to the dedication of the regulars and long time patrons of the bar.

Today’s post isn’t so much positioned to expose where Mahar’s failed, but to make recommendations for the Madison Pour House.  So that they can continue a legacy of beer connoisseur culture at the Madison Avenue Split.  The Albany beer market has evolved over the past couple years.  Today we have several specialty beer bars in Albany Proper. The Merry Monk, Olde English Pub, Gastropub and the City Beer Hall are just a couple that have opened up shop within the last couple years.  They offer comparable selection, but also add value by pairing pub fare with their high brow ales and lagers.
I’ve made recommendations to the guys behind the bar at Mahar’s, but it seems as though they sat stagnant for too long and allowed the rest of the city to play catch up.  Having earned a Mug, I’ve spent plenty of time making sense of Mahar’s business model while enjoying casked condition stouts and porters.  Below are a couple recommendations that I’ll provide in this open forum for the Madison Pour House to ponder over.
1. Keep the Beer Tour
What made Mahar’s special was their beer database.  The software isn’t anything too complex and could easily be recreated, but the Madison Pour House needs to update the algorithm as much as they will need to update the old, dusty interior.  The beer tour is great because it keeps people coming back, one of the flaws of Mahar’s beer tour is that it wasn’t smart enough.  There are several ways to build out a more sophisticated beer tour, a way where by BM&T Management can leverage their assets on the Madison Split block.
2. Build a Smarter Database
I chose Mahar’s as my bar when I moved to Albany in 2006 because I knew that was the best pub for me to get up to speed on beer culture.  Mahar’s database has tracked and associated 180 beers with me, but never did Mahar’s database use that database to add value to our relationship.  The Madison Pour House needs to have a database that is capable of making recommendations to their patrons.  This is to say that a relational database needs to be created so as to correlate customer trends.  Build a database that is capable of tracking what time of day the customer had the beer, the origin of the beer, the style of the beer, the alcohol by volume, who brewed the beer.  Having this information will allow the database, and application to show customers that you’re capable of making sophisticated decisions without having Bill behind the bar.
3. Leverage Assets on Madison Ave
As many of you may know, BM&T Management largely owns the Madison split block.  Some may think that is a local monopoly, but I say it works because the company has managed to cultivate several unique locations that are all within walking distance.  As it stands today, someone drinking a beer at Mahar’s would have to walk over to Junior’s or the Point to grab a bite to eat because of Mahar’s limited food menu.  My recommendation to BM&T Management here is to have the option for the Madison Pour House Beer Tour carry over into any of the other locations.  This would be strategic because it could extend and integrate the beer culture throughout Cafe Madison, Junior’s and the Point.
This isn’t to say that the other locations need to have the same level of detail when it comes to beer connoisseurs, but the option should be made available to patrons that wish to drink on their Madison Pour House beer tour when they’re casually dining at one of BM&T Management’s other locations.
4. Use the Beer Data
Mahar’s did little to nothing to take advantage of all of their rich data.  There are several ways that Mahar’s could have used their data to build revenue streams.  Say if Mahar’s took their slowest day of the month and turned it into an event where customers were able to drink a beer that they’ve already had, and make it count towards their beer tour multiple times.  This could be beneficial for the Madison Pour House because it can be used to determine which types of beers that customers are more likely to choose when they have the option to drink beer that has already been crossed off of their beer tour.
Assuming that the Madison Pour House does keep the beer tour culture, allowing customers to drink from their beer tour list could provide multiple advantages.  First, it would ensure that the beer inventory continues to be consumed, but without penalizing customers whom have already had that given beer.  Second, it can show customers value by giving them a reminder of what they have had before.  Currently there isn’t a way for me to tell which beers that I did have at Mahar’s and the business could be missing out on a potential sale if that item was listed.  Thirdly, allowing customers to see what they have purchased in the past shows them what they have invested into the businesses.  This is important as it could build a long standing relationship with the business.  Finally, allowing customers to purchase beers that have already been purchased could be marketed as a special event.  It wouldn’t be an every day phenomenon to let customers have beer tour items counted twice.  This could be used to drive customers into the the establishment on a particular slow day, and could be used for a marketing campaign.
5. Keep Using the Beer Data
Having a rich database can inform business decisions.  If the BM&T Management Group had customer level data for their Madison Pour House, that could be carried over to the other Madison Avenue locations, they would be able to anticipate trends and better manage their beer inventory.  No one else in the capital region would have as much rich customer data as the Madison Pour House could provide.  Even if the Madison Pour House had to build their data from the ground up, without having Bill and Mahar’s original dataset, they would be able to more accurately collect data that better reflects what the beer connoisseur market looks like today.  The value here is that the Madison Pour House can use their beer tour data to determine return on investment for different styles of beer, as well as different breweries and any other traceable item within the database.  The Madison Pour House could leverage this data in order to make smarter business decisions and to ensure that their beer menu is the most carefully cultivated one in the Capital Region.  This is vital to the Madison Pour House as they have big shows to fill – let’s not forget that Mahar’s is a multiple time ‘best beer bar’ winner in the area.
6. Add Charcuterie to the Mix
Okay, full disclosure here.  This is a purely selfish recommendation.  Personally, I love pairing beer with cured meats and cornichons.  However, the market is evolving and BM&T largely caters to anyone looking to dine out.  The Madison Pour House needs to be strategic in capturing their niche.  Ultimately BM&T Management Group needs to be able to fine tune the Madison Pour House so that it doesn’t cannibalize any of their other locations.  A unique, small eats menu would be perfect for the Madison Pour House because it cuts down on the amount of cognitive dissonance that could be faced by customers.  If the Madison Pour House wants to keep Mahar’s current customers, they need to ensure that they can take what Mahar’s did and make it better with a much needed face lift.  A full menu might not be the most important piece to the Pour House’s dynamic, but some locally sourced charcuterie from the Cheese Traveler, located on Delaware Ave, could really enhance the beer culture and experience as a whole.

Albany’s Beer Culture will Survive

Mahar’s has a long standing reputation among my friends and the professors that I have studied under.  It’s hard to deny the impact that the place has had on me, but I believe that Madison Avenue needs to continue to develop economically.  It’s a pocket in Albany that has only been on the rise and I firmly believe that the Pour House has the potential to push the revitalization further.  Unlike other mug owning members of Mahar’s beer tour, my mug was never etched.  I would love it if the Madison Pour House kept the rich beer tradition going at the Madison Split in Albany, with or without the mug.
Thanks a ton,