Fasten your seatbelts because eLearning is taking off—literally. While the veneer of civility in airline travel is long gone and the airlines no longer feed your stomach, they are beginning to feed your mind. We’re not talking the usual mainstream drivel; second-rate, release-to-DVD; or other warmed-over offerings—we’re talking first-class eLearning selections at 35,000 feet.

Your Head in the Clouds

Flight attendants have always struggled with the best (read easiest) way to pacify their captive audiences, and today it’s harder than ever, since passengers have to fork over additional money for meals of mystery meat and unrecognizable sides, and in many cases, a bottle of water. Today, JetBlue and Virgin America, two innovative leaders in the airline industry, have found a way to engage discerning minds above the clouds—by offering the best of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to their inflight audiences.

JetBlue Mines Coursera

JetBlue and Coursera are cooperating to offer passengers access to some of Coursera’s most popular lectures. Fly-FI Hub, Jet’s Blue’s inflight entertainment center, hosts the lectures through a “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) system where passengers access the lectures through their own devices instead of through airline headsets. The Fly-Fi Hub offers 10 selections per flights, including selections from The Wharton School, University of Edinburgh and Berklee School of Music.

Virgin Goes Intergalactic

Well, not yet, but while we wait, passengers can take advantage of selections from The Great Courses, a catalog of more than 14,000 lectures, on Virgin America flights. With diverse offerings such as Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Inexplicable Universe” from the course, The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries; “Becoming a Spy” from the course Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History; “Cook Like a Pro Chef: Lessons From The Culinary Institute of America” from the course, The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking; and many more; passengers will find something to while away the hours while enriching and expanding their minds.

MOOCs for the Rest of Us

Why limit MOOCs to inflight enjoyment? Businesses can leverage their eLearning dollars by augmenting their enterprise-specific eLearning courses through the MOOC universe. Leadership training and soft skills are two areas ripe for the pickings. For companies just transitioning from traditional classroom training, a combination of MOOCs and social learning can bridge the gap until the company implements an eLearning program.