Monday, January 19, 2015

MOOCs in Workplace Learning – Part 1: Some Points to Consider


MOOCs – you can love them or hate them but you can definitely not ignore them. Despite countless stats on MOOC dropout rates, MOOCs are appearing everywhere. And IMHO, we will continue to see this phenomenon rise. 

Having taken the world of higher education by storm (though not everyone will agree), MOOCs are all set to disrupt/re-invent workplace learning. Just as the advent of e-learning created a shift in training paradigms a couple of decades back, MOOCs are set to create another shift today. With the rise of MOOCs, we are also likely to see social, collaborative learning take root in organizations. And learning design will move from fixed course formats to a blended modality of curated content, custom-built content and user-generated content including ongoing conversations. Needless to say, none of this will be easily achieved. Workplace learning designers, consultants, organizational leaders and change agents, and employees will have to work in collaboration to bring about this shift. I have been writing about MOOCs in the space of corporate learning for some time now. Here are the links to some of the older posts:
In this post, I want to focus on the questions that the corporate world is likely to ask when thinking of going the MOOC way. 

Q: How do we define a corporate MOOC? How is it different from the xMOOCs we are familiar with?

While definitions of MOOCs abound, none of them are fixed and final given that the form itself is still evolving, I have highlighted a few characteristics of a corporate MOOC rather than pin it down with a definition:

They will be “open” to everyone inside the organization: 

So far, corporate courses have been designed with a fixed set of target audience in mind and with the intent of imparting new knowledge and skills or bridging existing skill gaps. Course design have been based on an analysis of past performance data or a prediction of skills the organization might need in the future. MOOCs, on the other hand, although designed with a primary target audience in mind will be open to anyone and everyone in the organization. This will provide the employees with an opportunity to acquire skills and knowledge in their areas of interest beyond the purview of their current roles thus equipping them with new skills, a critical aspect of professional development. Moreover, by opening up cross-functional knowledge to the organization, corporate MOOCs can be very effective in bridging silos, if effectively launched and facilitated.

They can be “semi-synchronous”: 

MOOCs can have a blend of modalities from videos and podcasts to reference links to blogs and articles, excerpts from books, whitepapers and so on. Apart from the content, MOOCs are characterized by the discussions that take place around the content – in the forums, on Google hangout, over twitter... Some of these discussions are asynchronous as in the case of forums giving workers the opportunity to respond at their own pace, and some may be synchronous giving distributed employees an opportunity to interact with their peers and colleagues around a topic over a google hangout session. This semi-synchronous aspect make MOOCs appealing and effective for a wide range of topics and audience base. 

They can serve different purposes: 

Some of the uses of MOOCs are listed here:
  • Build talent pipelines -  
  • Onboard new employees – McAfee and Intel 
  • Provide self-directed development – Pitney Bowes 
  • Workplace training – Yahoo! 
  • Brand Marketing – Bank of America 
  • Collaboration and Innovation – Google’s g2g 
  • Train channel partners and customers – 1-800-Flowers.com 
(Ref: ASTD_TechKnowledge Presentation)

They will reflect the organizational values thus strengthening the brand: 

Corporate MOOCs—even when created from open source content curated from the web—will be put together and customized in ways that represent an organization’s unique vision and values even though the knowledge being shared is generic. Thus, MOOCs provide a good platform for organizations to create a strong brand presence in the minds of employees – both existing and prospective. MOOCs also provide organizations with opportunities to introduce their experts to the larger community thus motivating the individuals concerned while strengthening organizational value and brand. 

They can become platforms for capturing tacit knowledge: 

By virtue of having discussion forums and user-generated content capability built into MOOCs, they help organizations to capture the much needed context and tacit knowledge. In this age of complexity and rapid change, MOOCs can – if well facilitated – become triggers for innovation and creative problem-solving in the context of each organization’s specific needs. 

Corporate MOOCs will differ from the MOOCs we are familiar with from Coursera and Edx in some of the following ways: 

  1. The audience size will be limited to employees, prospective candidates, partners and maybe customers, depending on the purpose of the MOOC; thus, “massive” will be re-defined by each organization. ** 
  2. They will be “open” but only within the organization unless the organization chooses to make it public for specific reasons. 
  3. MOOCs, while primarily “online”, can spill over into the real world, especially if colleagues are co-located. Discussions can take place in the online forum or offline over lunch and coffee. MOOC topics can extend into brownbag sessions.
  4. While we still think in terms of “courses”, IMHO corporate MOOCs will consist of shorter programs designed following micro-learning principles and good instructional design basics. A set of videos accompanied by some reference links to blogs and articles, recommended books, podcasts, etc., can be put together to design a “program”. However, this will require good content curation and facilitation skills. Corporate MOOCs can also include custom-built content if the topic requires it.
**This also implies that an organization consisting of 50 employees may not need customized MOOCs. They can probably learn via more informal and social means—both synchronous and asynchronous.

Q. What is the value proposition of a MOOC in workplace learning? Why should an organization go the MOOC way?

Distributed organizations with dispersed employees working across different time zones face unique training challenges. Traditional e-learning took off because organizations were seeking more efficient and cost-effective ways to reach requisite training to their employees without the administrative overheads of running ILTs. The premise of traditional e-learning was fixed courses disseminated via an LMS. There was no scope to add context or additional information without up-hauling the entire course. Traditional courses were pushed to the employees by the organization. The employees had little say in what they received. 

MOOCs, on the contrary, while designed and facilitated by designated individuals, take on a life of their own once launched. Discussion forums, continuous addition of user-generated content, reference resources, and peer-to-peer knowledge and experience sharing make MOOCs a more democratic and fluid experience. Organizations seeking to engage the new generation of employees must look toward more fluid and participative learning methodologies of which MOOCs could well be one. MOOCs by virtue of being open can be accessed by the employees as and when they want to. Thus, MOOCs have the potential to take an organization to the next level in the journey of learning evolution. 

Note: Making a MOOC mandatory can be counter-productive. While courses can be made mandatory, a MOOC requires willing learner participation and collaboration. And these cannot be mandated. If certain programs has to be mandatory for compliance or regulatory reasons, it is best to leave them as courses. I will discuss this in greater detail in a later post. 

Q. How can an organization prepare itself to launch a MOOC? What is the ground work required to be done?

Just as putting in place an enterprise collaboration platform doesn't make an organization social, launching a few courses with discussion forums attached to them and calling them MOOCs won’t turn them into one.

There is some ground work that an organization must do before launching MOOCs. MOOCs succeed because of the communities that form around the topics and the richness of the discussions fostered by these communities. However, communities don’t form by themselves. MOOCs require efficient content curators, SMEs for technical topics, and experienced community facilitators to be successful. While fairly simple in structure, putting a MOOC together requires design thinking that puts the learner at the center. It is important that organizations recognize the need for skills like content curation and community facilitation when setting up MOOCs without which it will just be another course with a forum attached to it that no one uses.

In Part 2, I will explore the design aspects of creating a MOOC in detail. 

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