Monday, January 26, 2015

MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 2: Designing a MOOC

@ignatia (Inge de Waard) describes MOOCs thus in her Master’s Thesis, which I have referred to: 
“MOOC is above all referring to a pedagogical model with independent learners, access to information, opportunity to create emerging, spontaneous, yet not directed learning communities, etcetera. As such the term MOOC can be seen as a new educational term.” ~Analyzing the Impact of Mobile Access on Learner Interaction in a MOOC.
Corporate Learning will be transformed and will take on more importance wrote Josh Bersin in his HR predictions for 2015. Job fragmentation, task specialization, globalization, economy of individuals, and a global talent pool are all impacting the job economy. Jobs and roles are rapidly evolving with new ones emerging, and old ones getting automated or vanishing altogether. All of these are putting organizations and individuals in a tough spot. While the onus of continuous professional development is gradually shifting to the employees, there is an increasing dearth of skills required to successfully run today’s organizations – from skills like leadership for a networked age to understanding analytics and its impact on various organizational functions. There is an urgent need to re-imagine workplace learning for the networked world.

Organizations can no longer hope to recruit experienced people and expect they will have the necessary skills. The new age of work requires novel and emergent skills, people with learning agility, and organizations that will enable and empower their employees. Thus, along with coaching and mentoring, there is a growing requirement for organizations to build and facilitate an environment of continuous learning. The technological affordances of social and mobile add to the ability to provide an ecosystem of continuous and pervasive learning. In the context of this need for continuous learning, MOOCs can play a critical role. Organizations are beginning to realize this and are seeking to shift their learning strategy to more fluid and dynamic methodologies like MOOCs, social and informal learning. In this post, I have explored some of the ways that corporate MOOCs can enable and foster ongoing learning and the building of personal learning networks (PLNs) in organizations.

The MOOC format provides scope for bringing together diverse learning forms – formal, informal and social, and different modalities – elearning modules, videos, podcasts, book excerpts, articles, and links to blogs, communities, etc. Dialogue is an important aspect of learning and the MOOCs support conversation. Moreover, providing MOOCs on mobile devices further augments interaction and networking thus increasing the participation level. MOOCs can enable learners to learn whenever there is a need by facilitating seamless switching between formal and informal modes, and social or individual learning.  MOOCs may possibly herald a more agile and mobile working & learning methods, global collaboration and a changing relationship with knowledge. It’s a fundamental shift in the ways we interact with data, with knowledge, with people.

“Creating support for optimized individual learning (such as creating personal learning environments) is as important as collaborative learning and peer-to-peer learning in this networked world. A factor affecting personal learning, mentioned in MOOCs for example, is coping with the abundance of information. Coping with content and lots of information is a part of seamless learning because the capacity to do so affects effective learning.”
The characteristics of seamless learning described by Wong and Looi in the MSL (mobile assisted seamless learning) framework quoted in the same article appositely describe MOOCs. These are: 
  1. MSL 1): Encompassing formal and informal learning 
  2. (MSL 2): Encompassing personal and social learning 
  3. (MSL 3): Across time 
  4. (MSL 4): Across locations 
  5. (MSL 5): Ubiquitous access to learning resources 
  6. (MSL 6): Encompassing physical and digital worlds 
  7. (MSL 7): Combined use of multiple device types (tech) 
  8. (MSL 8): Seamless switching between multiple learning tasks 
  9. (MSL 9): Knowledge synthesis (prior knowledge, new knowledge, multidisciplinary learning) 
  10. (MSL 10): Encompassing multiple pedagogical or learning-activity models (facilitated by teachers) 
“According to Vygotsky (Nassaji & Swain, 2000), knowledge is social in nature and is constructed through a process of collaboration, interaction and communication among learners in social settings.”
I have written about what defines a corporate MOOC in Part 1 of this post. In this post, I will focus on some of the design considerations and organizational requirement in building and launching a MOOC. Just to set the context, corporate MOOCs can serve different purposes some of which are listed below: 
  1. On-board new employees 
  2. Self-directed development 
  3. Build talent pipeline 
  4. Workplace and on-the-job training 
  5. Brand marketing 
  6. Collaboration and innovation 
  7. Train channel partners and customers
While creating MOOCs for each of the goals above require different design decisions and approaches, there are some fundamental requirements that are common to all types of MOOCs. I will briefly touch upon each of those in the post here.
“…ubiquity and pervasiveness are essential requirements to support formal and informal learning and to allow all learning community members, from a variety of locations, to cooperate with each other by means of a large variety of technology-enhanced equipment.”
IMHO, the following design principles need to be kept in mind when designing a MOOC:

Micro-learning principles: I have written about this here: From Micro-Learning to Corporate MOOCs and Micro-Learning: Its role in formal, informal and incidental learning. No component of a MOOC should ideally exceed more than 10~15 mins to consume. Given that today, a MOOC participant is likely to access it from a mobile device, the design must consider learner behavior when using a mobile. Research says that while a user will check a mobile device upto 150 times a day, they will do so for short durations.

Social learning principles: One of the key components of a MOOC is the ability to discuss and collaborate with fellow participants. MOOCs also provide opportunities for peer-feedback and group projects. These social learning components are not only good to have but also essential in today’s world of increasing complexity, need for speed and agile learning. It’s become imperative for organizations to enable collaborative learning if they wish to survive in the face of rapid change.

“Pull” learning: Participation in a MOOC cannot be mandated; it needs to be facilitated. Employees will come if they find the content relevant, the discussions meaningful, and the communities engaging. These require adept facilitation, good design and effective content creation and curation. Moreover, participants need to have the freedom to drive their own learning – by using both formal learning pathways as well as the informal components.

Constructivist Learning Theory: In constructivist learning, learners “create” their own meaning through interaction in context (situated learning). MOOCs, by supporting collaborative and cooperative learning, use constructivist theory as the underlying design. Participants learn as much from one another as from the content.  
“…there is a shift toward constructive learning, in which learners are given the opportunity to construct their own meaning from the information presented during the online sessions.” Ally (2008)
Connectivist Theory: According to Siemens (2004), Connectivist Theory is for the digital age, where individuals learn and work in a networked environment. This is the defining theory behind how a MOOC is designed. The original MOOC (in 2008) was designed to illustrate this theory in practice—how learning happens in a connected and networked world with ubiquitous access to the learning device (mobile devices), the content and the communities (via social platforms). Thus, a MOOC takes advantage of the affordances of the social, mobile and networked nature of today’s participants.
I have replicated the diagram from Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning to show the different learner interactions points in a MOOC. MOOCs by their nature make learning broader and deeper: broader by extending the learning experience beyond fixed content and deeper by providing opportunities for further research, dialogue and user contribution.

A MOOC has the following core components: 


  • Custom built – The base content of a MOOC can consist of custom-designed content as required by the org and the purpose of the program. To reiterate, whether it’s a video or an e-learning module, the design should ideally follow micro-learning principles. Today’s employees will mostly access the MOOC components from their mobile devices while on the go or during a lull at work or when they feel the need to refer to something. They will want the information to be easily accessible and presented in a manner that lends itself to quick assimilation. 
  • Curated – In this era of information abundance, not all content needs to be created from scratch. It is perfectly possible to curate content from the web with the help of a subject matter expert (SME). It is important to check for IPR and creative commons license, and in some cases, permission from the original content creator may need to be sought. In most cases, content on the open web are free to use for reference. 
  • User-generated – The beauty of a MOOC lies in its fluidity and open endedness. A MOOC is launched with some pre-defined content but evolves with every addition of user-generated content. This shared content creation is a powerful learning tool and is what adds value to a MOOC. 

Discussion Space & Facilitators 

  • This is the heart and spirit of a MOOC. The discussions, if energizing and inspiring, will spill over outside the limit of the MOOC platform into coffee hours, lunch conversations, twitter, and other offline and online spaces. To build a thriving discussion around a topic, it is important to have experienced community facilitators, clear guidelines, and thoughtful conversation triggers – questions, observations, excerpts from the course, personal experience related to the topic – anything that will stimulate discussions. 

Synchronous Learning through Video Lectures 

  • Imagine the potential impact of such lectures should holographic technology enter the scene. Refer to this article on Potential and Applications of Holograms to Engage Learners. Otherwise also, learners can join lectures / video sessions at the pre-determined time and get a chance to hear an SME (subject matter expert) explain a concept, process or idea.  Such synchronous learning moments energize those learners who want and need some direct guidance even as they make the shift from directed to self-directed learning. 

Participants and Communities 

  • A MOOC is only as good as the participants. Without collaborative participation, a MOOC is just another course. Hence, it is critical for an organization to foster an open culture that promote collaboration, sharing and learning from one another. The MOOC itself – if well designed – can push the learner to engage in self-driven and authentic learning activities. It must encompass personal and social learning along with its formal components. 

Program Outline and Objectives 

  • MOOCs typically provide an overview of the program along with an outline, a recommended learning path, and objectives. While it is not mandatory for participants to follow one single path, it helps to anchor those who are new to the MOOC way of learning. 

User Guide 

  • There is likely to be a significant number of individuals who have not taken a MOOC earlier and may struggle to figure out how it works. A user participation guide along with what to expect as the course evolves, how to go about building one’s PLN, and some fundamentals of social learning will make it easy for those new to this learning format. 

Mobile Accessibility 

  • Research shows that learner interactions are enhanced by enabling mobile access to MOOCs. Since dialogues and networking are integral to MOOCs, mobile access strengthen these by increasing the opportunities to effortlessly engage in such interactions without the constraints of time and location. Making a MOOC mobile compatible helps frequent dialogues with colleagues and peers, retrieval of information at the point of need, quick addition of content by the users, documentation of personal experiences through various means – videos, photographs, podcasts, micro-blogs, etc. – and sharing of the same with the learner community. These varied communication and collaboration methods enhance learning in context. Thus mobile access enables continuity between the contexts of formal and informal learning. Mobile is changing how we perceive learning – the shift from learning as discrete events to be attended as a separate activity is being replaced by instantaneous access, informal communications and an integral part of our day-to-day activities.
In conclusion, Malcolm Knowles in his Theory of Andragogy (adult learning) has said: 
“…it is no longer functional to define education as a process of transmitting what is known; it must now be defined as a lifelong process of continuing inquiry.”



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