Sunday, February 8, 2015

MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 4: Their Role in Corporate Universities

The world has gotten complicated. Organizations are struggling to keep up with the shifts:

  • in technology that are vastly impacting how people work, 
  • in the demography of their workforce which has become culturally diverse, multi-generational, and globally dispersed, 
  • in the nature of work that has moved from complicated to complex and emergent, 
  • and with the general fragmentation and breakdown of all aspects of the known ways of doing things. 
We live in an age of dramatic oxymoron - unemployment is high yet there is a talent shortage. It is no surprise that skills required to meet this changing trends are in woefully short supply. The formal education system still functions as it always did churning out graduates ill-equipped to meet the demands of the current day organizations. The skills shortage looming ahead is alarming to say the least. It's roughly estimated that only "20% of the workers will have the skills needed for 60% of the jobs (mostly because the job haven’t been invented yet) by the end of the decade". 

This infographic of a Deloitte Survey spanning 90 countries look at the talent issues that can threaten organizational effectiveness. "Critical new skills are scarce - and their uneven distribution around the world is forcing companies to develop innovative new ways to find people, develop capabilities, and share expertise" (Ref: And this interactive dashboard lets you explore the trends using different filters and parameters. Leadership, retention, HR skills, and talent acquisition occupy the #1 slot as per the Top Ten Findings of the Global Human Capital Trends 2014 Survey. In the same survey, HR and talent executives graded themselves a C-minus for overall performance, citing a large capability shortfall, with 77% of respondents ranking the need to re-skill HR function among the top quartile of their priorities (Ref: Today, we live in an era where 85% of the value creation stems from brand, intellectual property, and people - all intangible assets. 

To add to this, we will have a workforce largely made up of millennials (those born after 1980) by 2020. Millennials will  soon rule the world: But how will they lead is an incisive article by @Josh_Bersin on the way Gen Y views the world of work, leadership, career progression and learning. They are going to change the nature of organizations and the way work is perceived. And it is time to start equipping them to fulfil their potential. They will expect and demand to learn differently -- social, mobile and cloud will play a big role. Forward looking and thinking organizations will need to / have already stepped in much ahead in the process - way before sourcing and recruitment can happen - to build the requisite skills in the emerging workforce and to keep the existing workforce employable and their skills current. 

While we recognize that the onus has gradually shifted to the employees to keep themselves marketable / employable with updated skills and deep specializations (free agent nation), we also have to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone will know how to go about it. Organizations, in their own interest, will have to step in and create an ecosystem (often perhaps in partnership with academia) to build the workforce for the future. There are many organizations like Infosys which is stepping in at the K-12 and pre K-12 levels to enable youngsters to prepare for the new age skills

None of this information is new. This was just to set the context, a prelude to what this post discusses. This post, as the title says, is about Corporate Universities (CU) and the role of MOOCs therein. My intention was to set the context for why I feel CUs are set to make a comeback. CUs are not new and the most famous is perhaps GE's Crotonville established in 1956. A well-designed Corporate University (I will discuss the design aspect in a sequel to this post) is aptly positioned to tackle both business issues and talent issues. It is time to accept that talent management is a critical business need and a business process; it is not an HR/L&D process. The latter are enablers and ensure the implementation of the process. A CU is in a unique position to understand the immediate as well as the strategic, long-term requirements of an organization. It can help an organization with its capability building at an individual level and provide opportunities for shared vision, systems thinking and team building at a strategic level thus providing the entire gamut from tactical learning to integrated and strategic learning. 

Josh Bersin in the presentation 21st Century Talent Management points out some of the following as imperatives for a holistic talent system (slide #9): 

  • Creating Magnetic Employment Brand 
  • Changing Corporate Culture
  • Rebuilding Management Skills and PM
  • Improving Time to Competency
  • Creating Talent Mobility

Take a look at the presentation for a deeper insight. 

It doesn't take too much of reflection or analysis to see that these were precisely the goals and vision that CUs were set up to meet. CUs were created to meet the unique needs of each organization including their culture, strategy and vision. I am not saying that all orgs need a CU but then maybe some do... A CU will ideally target all aspects of an organization's business development needs including talent acquisition, succession planning, career development, and team building. I will not go into the details of how a CU needs to be formed. There is enough material out there on this. 

I will highlight a few shifts and trends that will likely have an impact on the role of a CU in today's world: 

  1. Capability development and continuous learning will be critical to business success 
  2. Gen Y's will expect to grow rapidly in their career and lead at an early age 
  3. Employer brand and employee engagement have become interchangeable 
  4. HR will have to adopt Analytics in a big way  
  5. Social, mobile, and collaboration will be everything (almost)

As Josh Bersin has said, "Our candidates today are not looking for a career; they are looking for an experience." 

In the past, CUs were seen as an overhead and an administrative burden. However, in today's uber connected, mobile, cloud-based and networked world, a CU can very well reside - at least partially - in the cloud. The physical overheads will still exist, but to a lesser degree and for more focused reasons. In an age of all-time low employee engagement, CUs help organizations to not only create a strong brand presence but also to communicate the org's inherent and deep interest in facilitating continuous learning and growth for the workforce -- strong "pull" factors for today's generation. CUs also help to build strong customer relationships by bringing customer feedback into the programs, and enabling critical skill building like leadership, which is #1 priority for all orgs across all sectors as mentioned above. 

One of the methodologies that IMHO CUs can adopt is MOOCs. I have written about MOOCs in workplace learning here (launching a MOOC), here (designing a MOOC), and here (some points to consider). It is perfectly possible and feasible to tie up with established MOOC providers to design courses specific to the needs of the organization as Tenaris did when it partnered with edX to provide training to its 27,000 employees. "Bank of America partnered with Khan Academy to create, a cobranded MOOC to educate consumers on personal finance. SAP developed the openSAP MOOC platform to educate its ecosystem of developers and partners on SAP technologies" (Ref: 

Not all MOOCs need to be custom-built either. Training and programs related to strategic and operational competencies unique to the organization can be designed in-house while more generic industry and academic specific competencies can be acquired via open MOOCs. Employees can be directed to "open" MOOCs to acquire the relevant certifications. MOOC-providers like Coursera have also started Specialization tracks where a targeted sequence of courses lead to certifications. LinkedIn has tied up with Coursera to facilitate direct publication of these certificates to one's profile. Thus, CUs can benefit by integrating MOOCs into their larger organizational learning strategy. By taking a blended approach with MOOCs as one of the methods, CUs can become more effective in disseminating the necessary programs. Here's an article on the 12 success factors of a CU published in the CLO magazine 10 years back but still relevant. 

MOOCs have the advantage of scalability and the ability to target a large and distributed audience base. The design of MOOCs also foster the building of communities and cohorts. MOOCs can have the following advantages for CUs: 
  • Provide opportunities for subject matter experts to become learning facilitators
  • Reinforce learning through critical social learning conversations and collaboration
  • Expose the entire workforce to a variety of courses thus bridging silos and enabling people to find their interests
  • Enable peer-to-peer collaboration and learning 
  • Personalize learning by connecting it to people’s daily work 
  • Grow a more skilled workforce

Sites like facilitate the creation of MOOCs by various target groups from educational institutions to businesses and non-profits. 

Reference links: 

  1. Spending on Corporate Training Soars: Employee Capabilities Now A Priority
  2. slide #5

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