What Are Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs)?

Online courses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. By this point, most of us have heard of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)—but have you heard of Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs)? 

SPOCs are digital learning platforms that provide innovative and accessible educational opportunities. But this approach to online learning has some major differences with MOOCs and other course offerings, especially when it comes to professional education.

What Is a SPOC (Small Private Online Course)?

To define Small Private Online Courses, or SPOCs, you can say they are online classes with limited enrollment, often offered by universities to individual learners or employees within organizations. SPOCs, specifically those offered by Emeritus, are usually created and delivered by or in partnership with top-tier schools and provide a level of access to renowned faculty that simply isn’t possible in other online course settings.

These cohort-based courses combine digital elements like video and interactive peer-to-peer exercises with discussions and lectures (live, recorded, or a mix of both)—factors that make them more appealing to professionals and organizations.

While SPOCs range in length at Emeritus, most land around seven weeks to eight months, with prices ranging from $2,500 to $8,000 for individuals. Discounts apply if you enroll as a group with your colleagues.

Screenshot of a SPOC offered by Emeritus with UC--Berkeley.

MOOC vs. SPOC: Are Small Private Online Courses Right for You?

The types of online classes that are typically classified as MOOCs are usually free or low-cost and open to anyone worldwide with internet access. When they first came on the scene, education experts lauded them as a key solution to unequal access to education, and major institutions including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology jumped on board.

However, completion rates in free online courses are consistently low, and research shows interventions designed to help students finish courses haven’t significantly moved that needle. Due to their large size, MOOCs typically rely on recorded lectures and digital grading, though some programs offer additional features (like certificates of completion) for a fee.

In addition to expert teaching, SPOCs provide participants with the opportunity to learn from a network of peers across organizations and even continents. It’s no surprise that completion rates are much higher. At Emeritus, we average 90% completion, with over 100,000 students a year from 80 countries. 

Graph showing 90% completion rate for Emeritus SPOCs

While free online courses like MOOCs can be a helpful resource for learners driven by personal interest or hoping to learn the basics of a specific topic, SPOCs may be a more practical choice for professionals looking to upskill or reskill.

How Are SPOCs Formatted?

While SPOCs overall vary in format, what sets them apart at Emeritus is their blended approach to teaching and learning. At Emeritus, courses are designed to provide both theoretical knowledge and tangible skills for professionals facing real-world problems. 

Our model combines synchronous and asynchronous learning, allowing students to connect with their peers while balancing their personal and professional lives. Small class sizes mean that hands-on work—both individual and in groups—is overseen by professors and experts in the field. 

At the end of Emeritus courses, students earn a digital certificate of completion and emerge equipped with new insights to bring back to their organizations. That’s why 94% of past participants report that their coursework had a positive impact on their career development. 

By Rachel Hastings


Upskill and Reskill With Small Private Online Courses

Interested in learning more about how SPOCs can help your team or company upskill or reskill to meet the needs of today’s workforce? Get in touch with Emeritus.

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