A few days ago, the Linux Foundation announced a partnership with edX to offer the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for training Linux and open source engineers. What were the origins of this deal, and what comes next? Here's what Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, had to say in a recent conversation.

The idea for transforming the Linux Foundation's existing Introduction to Linux course into a free MOOC distributed through the edX platform owes everything to the chronic shortage of software developers and systems administrators with expertise in Linux and other open source platforms, Zemlin said. "The problem for us is that technical adoption has outstripped the availability of labor," and while the Linux Foundation's ongoing efforts to provide training in more traditional settings (which will continue after the MOOC launches, by the way) address that challenge to an extent, expanding to MOOC offerings promises to help a much larger audience acquire Linux skills.

In turn, the MOOC graduates—who will receive a certificate after successfully completing the Introduction to Linux MOOC—will help meet the hiring demand of the "8,000 employers looking for Linux talent today," Zemlin said.

So far, the Linux Foundation has no specific plans for developing additional MOOC offerings beyond the Introduction to Linux MOOC, which will become available in early summer 2014, according to Zemlin. But the Foundation hopes its edX MOOC will inspire other organizations in the open source space to pursue similar initiatives aimed at increasing Linux expertise within the IT workforce. "We want to see a broad ecosystem here," Zemlin said.

He added that in certain respects, organizations such as the Linux Foundation are better equipped than more traditional educational venues to provide the skills needed to train a growing workforce for the open source ecosystem. Linux developers are "producing a code base that changes nine times an hour," which means the Linux Foundation has "specialized knowledge" that cannot be communicated in a traditional classroom setting, Zemlin said.

The fact that a lot of potential students for the course also lack ready access to a traditional classroom setting—which may be out of geographic or financial reach—makes the Linux Foundation's inaugural MOOC all the more compelling. The open source ecosystem's foray into the MOOC world remains humble for now, but this could be the beginning of a much bigger trend that will have important ramifications across the channel.