Wednesday, March 12, 2014

MOOCs, Workplace Learning and "Heutagogy"

Before I dive into the topic for today’s blog post, here are some data on MOOCs curated from different blogs, articles and sites to show the diverse reactions MOOCs have received so far:

“Fewer than 10% of students enrolled in Udacity actually finished their online courses, and not all of them received a passing grade.”
“…course completion rates ranged from 2% to 14%, with an average of 4% across all courses.”
“Udacity is now working with industry, where the motivation for completing an online course is directly related to employment. It has partnered with a number of companies to teach courses on the use of their products, at the end of which students receive a certificate of proficiency.”
“In 2014, Udacity will offer an online-only computer science master degree in partnership with Georgia Tech and AT&T Inc., which while not as far reaching as MOOCs, further stretches the boundaries of online learning. It will cost $6,600 for a three semester course of study, about one-third of the in-state tuition and one-seventh the cost for out-state students. The course is hosted on the Udacity platform, but otherwise taught and managed by Georgia Tech faculty. Upon completion, students are awarded a Georgia Tech diploma. AT&T is underwriting the overall cost of the course, with the hope of expanding the pool of well-trained engineers.”
“Rolls Royce spends £40m on training a year but only £2m on certified training. That’s why the ‘certification’ argument doesn’t really matter that much in this market. Organizations want skills and competences, not bits of paper.”
MOOCs--for all the debate, angst and confusion surrounding them--have changed the face of online education and learning for good. We can love it or hate it, but we can’t ignore it. Nor can we go back to a world where MOOCs didn’t exist. In this blog post, I am going to discuss why I think MOOCs are here to stay, and the impact they are likely to have on workplace learning and the way we learn.

Here are some questions that are floating around:
  • Will the MOOC model crack the workplace training and performance challenges?
  • What is needed to make a MOOC successful in the workplace?
  • What are the characteristics of a MOOC in the workplace?
  • And most importantly, will the dropout rates in corporate MOOCs be as high as that of “open” MOOCs?

All of these remain to be seen, and I honestly have answers to none. My intent is to start a discussion and share some of my musings on this topic.
MOOCs, IMHO, are here to stay. Their avatar may change just as cMOOCs morphed into xMOOCs which are on the verge of morphing into … well, it remains to be seen what.... But MOOCs have the potential to resolve a few challenges that are unique to the networked, connected and complex work situations of the 21C. MOOCs—and especially xMOOCs—give the impression of being structured with a set curriculum, timeline, course-end certification and so on, and this is surely one way to perceive them. 

The other way to approach MOOCs—and this is how I approach them—is as a series of connected, curated and aggregated micro-learning modules (mostly videos as of now) surrounded or supported by social and collaborative features like a forum, hangout, and meetups. There are also quite extensive reference lists in most MOOCs for the avid and the interested. Many MOOC-ians from a specific course also get together and arrange meetups in the real world. In some cases, the professors have been known to host hangout sessions as well. MOOCs can thus be a happy blend of the offline and the online, the synchronous and asynchronous, and offer a complete course for those who wish to take it but does not stop anyone from dropping in and out of the course as well. Typically, what happens in a MOOC doesn't stay in a MOOC and spills over into the non-MOOC world in interesting  and diverse ways—via blogs, tweets, facebook updates, face-to-face meets, lunch and learn sessions, and so on. It depends purely on the learners’ intent how they wish to approach a MOOC.

I am happy to forego certification and just take what I need. I have been simultaneously participating in 3 MOOCs recently—Gamification, Model Thinking and Globalization of Business Enterprise. I have been a lurker on the forums. Have I been able to keep up with all the lectures and quizzes? Of course not! Will I qualify for a certificate? Absolutely not. But does that mean I have not learned? Not at all. I have gleaned immense insight from all the three, and while I may not have completed all the quizzes, I have definitely applied a lot of what I have learned in my day-to-day work. The Gamification course came at the right time and helped me frame a solution for a client proposal. I have been treating the MOOCs a bit like a cross between knowledge nuggets and performance support.

Here is an interesting interview with Kevin Werbach that sheds quite a few insights on the nature of MOOCs. I particularly like what he says here although I believe the experience is not only dependent on what he instructor is trying to do but also what the learner wishes to experience:
“Many people fail to appreciate that MOOC are fundamentally about creating room for experimentation and there’s no one way to do MOOC. The end result of MOOC depends on what the instructor is trying to do. For example, if I wanted to develop a MOOC whose primarily concern was a higher percentage of people passing the course, I would design a certain way than if I was primarily concerned with the learners applying the knowledge to the real world. This means that I have to make choices in terms of what I want to do and going forward.”
This is not a post in defense of MOOCs. I am just thinking aloud as to why I think this dissemination model could work well in today’s connected and complex work environment. I will not get into the details of what “openness” implies in a corporate MOOC and what is the exact number of participants that denote “massive”. We’ve seen this number dramatically shift from the early cMOOCs to today’s xMOOCs.

The MOOC dissemination approach offers an opportunity for organizations to integrate the three aspects of the Pervasive Learning model popularized by Dan Pontefract. MOOCs have the potential to incorporate micro-learning components, learning flows, and social learning aspects like discussion forums. A well-designed course disseminated the MOOC way via a platform has the potential to enable the following:
1.       A platform for employees to come together and network (especially in a geographically distributed organization)
2.       An opportunity for employees to “learn together” using technology as a medium
3.       A motivation for employees to share their thoughts, context and experience via the forum/discussion boards
4.       A reason to “narrate their work” on the platform thus possibly inculcating a culture of “working aloud”
5.       A chance to facilitate the growth of user-generated content

The actual “course” content—the micro-modules—could serve as the basis for discussion-starters or be the anchor around which conversations take place. Learners can be free to chart out their own path through the modules. I will discuss the design aspect of corporate MOOCs as I see them in greater detail in the next post.  
All of these may sound a bit far-fetched at the moment, and there are likely to be plenty of raised eyebrows and skeptical hmms. And I am an idealist—I admit that upfront. But I do believe that if organizations can foster an environment that: 
  • Promotes trust 
  • Celebrates openness and transparency 
  • Encourages trying and failing rather than “who made this mistake” outlook 
  • Perceives individuals as individuals, and bans the use of words like “resources” to refer to people 
  • Believes in some form of the directive that governs agile retrospectives: “Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

In short, design a social business. Then, MOOCs with their blend of structured modules and social learning components have a good chance of success.

Where does Heutagogy come in?
MOOCs are primarily learner-driven and learner-directed. For organizations, this has a direct implication and reflects the motivation employees feel, the autonomy they enjoy and the purpose in their work. If the three aspects are in place, most individuals will feel the impetus to learn what they need in order to accomplish their tasks. And inculcating this culture is perhaps of paramount importance today—when the most meaningful and creative work fall in the Complex domain for which training is anyway not the answer. This is where the principles of Heutagogy come in. “A heutagogical learning environment facilitates the development of capable learners and emphasizes both the development of learner competencies as well as development of the learner’s capability and capacity to learn” (Ashton and Newman, 2006; Hase and Kenyon, 2000). 

One of the reasons that the MOOC model hasn’t delivered the desired outcome for higher ed could be that students haven’t learnt “how to learn”. There are plenty of other reasons I am sure, but this might just be one. Conversely, in the workplace today, employees need to take charge of their own learning not only for the organization but also for their own professional development. And this ability is what will distinguish talent. An organization’s prime responsibility today would be to create an environment where employees perceive the need to learn and engage in pulling that learning. Creative and complex work requires dialogue and exchange of ideas. And MOOCs could enable that as well so long as we don’t get fixated on the formal course structure and curriculum. As I have mentioned earlier in the post, MOOCs potentially offer multiple ways for learners to approach them—linearly or otherwise.

And organizations—especially those involved in complex, innovative work—would do well to help their employees become better learners. L&D could function as facilitators and connectors thus enabling a culture of sharing, cooperation and collaboration.

In summary, here are some possible advantages of MOOCs in the workplace: 
Click on the image to see a larger version
In the next post, I will delve deeper into the importance of Heutagogy in today's workplace and the design aspects of corporate MOOCs they way I perceive them. 

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Heutagogy, Self-Directed Learning and Complex Work

Pedagogy had always established an unequal relation between the teacher and the taught. Andragogy stepped in to rectify this and foster awareness about how adults learned. However, the premise was that there was someone doing the "teaching" so to speak. While the principles of Andragogy clearly stated what it takes to motivate adults to learn, the role of a teacher / the expert remained undisputed. Knowles (1970, p7) defined self-directed learning as: “The process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” 

Then came Heutagogy advocating principles of self-determined learning. 
“A heutagogical learning environment facilitates the development of capable learners and emphasizes both the development of learner competencies as well as development of the learner’s capability and capacity to learn" (Ashton and Newman, 2006; Hase and Kenyon, 2000).
"Heutagogy applies a holistic approach to developing learner capabilities, with learning as an active and proactive process, and learners serving as “the major agent in their own learning, which occurs as a result of personal experiences” (Hase & Kenyon, 2007, p. 112).

IMHO, a heutagogical approach is essential today. And I have attempted to discuss “WHY” I think so in the post here.

As the Creative Economy, the Knowledge Era, the Connected Age—call it what you will—sets in and its impact begins to be felt in all spheres of life—personal, professional, institutional—it is becoming imperative to take charge of one’s own learning, development and career graph. Job descriptions are giving way to or soon will give way to competency-based profiles (primarily because it is going to be difficult if not impossible to capture aspects of jobs we are not even aware of). It is going to be up to each individual to pick up skills and knowledge on the go even as they do their work.

Will past experience help? Of course! But not in the usual way we recognize, that is, replicate what we did in the past to be successful today. Past experiences can help us to make sense of the present, analyze and see patterns—but our responses must be driven by the context and reality of the present. This is where we enter the Complex and Chaotic domains of the Cynefin framework. In the Complex domain:
“Complex – relationship between cause & effect can only be perceived in retrospect. We should Probe – Sense – Respond & we can test emergent practices.”

As long as the work environment hovered between the Simple and Complicated domains, organizations and their L&D departments could take charge of the “learning”—via top-down training programs, elearning courses, and refresher training and help people apply the best practices and the good practices—pillars of what made the Industrial Era so successful. The L&D and HR had to ensure that employees received some 12 days of training per year and hope that this would make employees effective and efficient at their work and deliver business results. However, with the passing of the Industrial Era, this model has gradually failed leading to training departments being questioned on their efficacy and worth. The reality is the context has changed so dramatically that the cure of the past is no longer successful in solving the challenges of the present. Even instructionally sound programs based on the principles of Andragogy have failed to meet the needs of the hour.

With the advent of the creative economy, there is barely any hope that such training programs will work to build proficiency and capabilities that can meet the demands of the day. In the creative economy, all meaningful work is happening and will continue to transpire in the Complex domain where the “relationship between cause & effect can only be perceived in retrospect”. This calls for responses on the go and the ability to extract learning.

I have captured some of the key aspects in the diagram below:
Click on the image to see a larger version

With respect to extracting learning, Charles Jennings has written a very insightful post here:

Quoting him here:
“The model of ‘learn then work’ is replaced here with ‘work then learn, then work in an improved way’. Learning is not only embedded in the workflow, but new learning is continually extracted from experiences and exchanges with colleagues, customers and the entire value chain.” (The highlight is mine.)

What Charles J has said is similar to how response happens in the Complex domain of the Cynefin framework and leads to emergent practices – “working in an improved way”. And it can only happen in retrospect.

This ability to respond requires employees / learners who are able to “extract learning” and know “how to learn”. He further writes that: “Examples of this type of workplace learning include narrating work and sharing with colleagues – often achieved by micro-blogging on a regular (possibly daily) basis; active participation in professional social networks is another example.” This ties back to the concepts of micro-learning and learning flows discussed in the blog posts here and here.

What have work in the Complex domain, the Creative Economy, and Learning Flows got to do with Heutagogy?

A fair bit, I think. A heutagogical approach emphasizes that learners negotiate their learning and learning outcomes. This is also closely tied to the concept of capability:
Capable people are those who: know how to learn; are creative; have a high degree of self-efficacy; can apply competencies in novel as well as familiar situations; and can work well with others. In comparison with competencies which consist of knowledge and skills, capability is a holistic attribute.” (The highlight is mine.)

Today’s organizations require people to be capable, to drive their own learning and cooperate to learn together. In return, organizations (if they wish to survive, grown and retain talent) have to let go of the cultural and structural relics of the industrial era, be transparent, and support and sustain a culture of cooperation. The L&D department needs to facilitate and empower all employees to become learners – “learners who have the capability to effectively and creatively apply skills and competencies to new situations in an ever-changing, complex world”.

It is no longer very important (at least in most occasions) to be trained on specifics. If the value of what the organization is seeking to do is evident to the employees, if they are made to feel as much a part of the organization as those in the C-suite, and see how the outcomes achieved will impact them personally, they will take the onus to drive their own learning. This, however, is proving to be the toughest part with most organizations used to creating monetary value for stakeholders, and not emotional value for employees.

In the next post, I am going to delve deeper into various aspects of Heutagogy and how it could be one of the fundamental principles behind the success of courses disseminated the MOOC way—whether by institutions via platforms like EdX and Coursera or by corporates seeking to optimize learning and performance in the workplace. 
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Friday, March 7, 2014

From Micro-Learning to Corporate MOOCs

I have recently been exploring micro-learning in some detail. And wrote about it in my previous post. Particularly interesting for me is the relation between micro-learning and learning flows as described by Jane Hart. As an extension, I have also been wondering how micro-learning and learning flows could map to MOOCs.

I see MOOC as a dissemination model that offer a unique opportunity to integrate both—micro-learning and learning flows. It is an approach that – if done right – can integrate all aspects of the Pervasive Learning model – Formal, Informal and Social – popularized by Dan Pontefract in the book, Flat Army. I will discuss this in a later post. In this post, I am going to focus my attention on how micro-learning and learning flows can be an integral part of a MOOC and how this may benefit the corporate world. As is evident, I am referring to xMOOCs here and not the original Connectivist cMOOCs that fired our imagination a few years back. Since then, with the advent of the elite academia into the MOOC world, and platforms like EdX, Coursera and Udacity, we have seen a surge in what has come to be known as xMOOCs—the online, semi-synchronous version of classroom lectures and face-to-face group discussions. And lately this has been morphing into another avatar – the corporate MOOCs. The infographic here indicates that 2014 could well be the year of corporate MOOCs. The infographic further delves into types/use cases for corporate MOOCs, namely: 
  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
I will skip the use cases for now and stick to a more generic discussion of how MOOCs can be designed to facilitate workplace performance, just-in-time learning, and collaboration. 

    While many organizations are still hesitant about this MOOC phenomenon and are not quite sure how this will impact their training and performance outcome, some of the bold and brave have tentatively ventured into this realm. With declining training budgets, complex work situations, and an exponentially rising need to be on the cutting edge in their domain, organizations are desperately seeking solutions. Training the way we knew it is no longer working. A distributed workforce, constantly changing ecosystem and automation have put an end to that. However, organizations are not yet ready – and perhaps with good reason – to completely let go of training and let people learn as they work. Training is still seen as a necessity but is in desperate need of a makeover. 

Enter micro-learning, learning flows and MOOCs…
At present, the video lectures that have become such a ubiquitous aspect of xMOOCs represent micro-learning being no more than 15 mins on average in most cases. Now, it is not difficult to imagine a world where the video lectures are replaced by various forms of micro-learning. Refer to the diagram below for some examples.

Click on the image to see an enlarged version

These micro-components could be part of a formal course (so to speak) that an individual could go through – not necessarily in a linear manner although that can always be an option. A learner can dip in and out of a course taking whichever micro-module fits their need at the moment. They can come to the course throughout all the Five Moments of Learning Needs as described by Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher. 

                                              Click on the image to see an enlarged version

The micro-modules should also lend themselves well to mobile access thereby adding convenience, flexibility and learner control.

The learning path through the micro-modules will be unique to each learner and their role, performance needs and prior knowledge, skills and experience. This should ideally be left up to the learner to decide. This takes care of the formal part and organizational need.

There could potentially be learning flows supporting the course – especially the Themed Flow and the Circular Flow that Jane Hart describes. This, IMHO, will offer the following advantages:

  1. Facilitate a social learning experience 
  2. Facilitate capture of tacit knowledge through experience sharing and discussions 
  3. Enable communication within cohorts and connect learners to relevant content and expertise 
  4. Help to add context to the existing content – thus taking care of relevancy
  5. Initiate a “working out aloud” habit where Working out loud = Narrating your work + Observable work
For more on Narrate Your Work and why it matters, here are a couple of posts I recommend you read: 
  1. Dave Winer: Narrate Your Work
  2. Harold Jarche: Narration of Work
However, I digress! Let me get back to the topic in hand. With the formal and social component taken care of through the micro-modules and learning flows respectively, the next big consideration would be the learner – the motivation they feel, the autonomy they perceive and the purpose behind the MOOC. If these aspects are designed into the course, corporate MOOCs could well deliver value for money.

It is perhaps also important to remember that the roles of the L&D team must change to facilitate this shift from linear training – whether ILT or WBT – to a more networked and connected learning model. Trainers will now have to don the hat of facilitators and connectors. Instructional designers will have to think in terms of micro-modules, learning paths and the course as a journey rather than a defined and structured path.

I have created a diagram to represent both the virtual and real world components of MOOC – as we all know what we learn online doesn’t stay online but comes back to the offline world in various forms. Neither world is sacrosanct but is thinly divided, often merging. 

Click on the image to see an enlarged version

And here are some more reasons to invest in corporate MOOCs in this post by Donald Clark: 10 Big Reasons for the Rise of Corporate MOOCs. 

I would love to know your thoughts on corporate MOOCs and what could their efficacy and potential need be.

Related posts:
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Thursday, March 6, 2014

From Courses to Micro-Learning

Micro-learning, micro-content, Learning Flows, and mlearning are some the current and upcoming trends in the world of learning and development. They all have a common denominator—they require very little “at-a-stretch” time commitment from learners/users.

Wikipedia describes micro-learning thus: Micro-learning can also be understood as a process of subsequent, "short" learning activities, i.e. learning through interaction with micro-content objects in small timeframes. ~ Wiki

Some of the key characteristics of micro-learning are given in the diagram below:
Click on the image to see an enlarged version

And here are some examples of micro-learning forms:

                                              Click on the image to see an enlarged version

Wikipedia also has a set of dimensions for micro-learning that I found rather useful. I have put those here for reference.
                                              Click on the image to see an enlarged version

Jane Hart has written a series of blog posts on Learning Flow which she describes as a “… continuous steady stream of social micro-learning activities – accessible from the web and mobile devices”. Here are the links to the related posts:
  1. Beyond the Course: The Learning Flow—A new framework for the social learning era
  2. The Learning Flow and the User Experience
  3. Three Types of Learning Flow
All of these are pointing to a shift that is in motion—a shift from long courses with a defined structure and curriculum that trained users on good and best practices based on the past. The “Era of Courses” reflected an age where work was stable, experience of the past could be encapsulated and translated into courses that future workers could take and be successful in their work and performance. Businesses grew and became mega-businesses. Accumulated experiences counted. The future reflected the past. And economy of scale was the order of the day.

Then came the Internet, the Big Shift, and automation. The predictable and routine work which had been the premise of training began to crumble. Routine work gave way to novel work and exceptions became the norm. And training became a specter “Wandering between two worlds, one dead, The other powerless to be born.”

In this space of uncertainty, L&D and training departments strove to remain relevant, keep up and match the speed of change. But that proved to be a failing endeavor. Training and courses as we knew it when the world of work was certain are about to leave center stage. Today, workers need bursts and nuggets of learning a.k.a. performance support. Lengthier, knowledge-driven courses will still exist but will become optional and can be taken at the workers’ discretion. Individuals will take those courses where they see personal and professional benefits—but they may not be driven by the organization where they work. This is directly evident in the MOOC phenomenon as seen on Coursera or EdX.

Learning design will have to increasingly revolve around micro-learning concepts that are device, time and location agnostic. While micro-learning can be viewed as a support to more formal and longer courses, this equation may change. Workers used to Googling to solve their queries and problems are likely to bring that same paradigm to learning. They may well expect a collection of micro-modules to be available which they will dip into as and when needed. Each worker will chart out their own path through these micro-modules based on their role, performance need and prior experience and knowledge.
 The big question is how corporates will take advantage of these trends and phenomenon that have organically grown out the changing technology landscape.

What will be the role of learning designers in this new landscape—curators and aggregators, facilitators and collaborators, connectors and change agents? It’s time for us to rethink our identity and role in the context of workplace learning and performance. 
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Monday, March 3, 2014

Drivers of Workplace Learning in the Creative Economy

Using the Cynefin framework as the anchor, I have tried to map out different aspects of workplace learning and performance, capability development and talent management. I have been inspired by various thought-leaders in the L&D and OD space, namely, Charles Jennings, John Hagel, Harold Jarche, et al.

I am just building out the diagram and welcome all inputs and suggestions.

Refer to the following posts to understand concepts like extract and embed learning, and economy of scale vs. economy of creativity better. 

Modes of Organizational Learning

Organizations as Communities — Part 2

Yesterday, in a Twitter conversation with Rachel Happe regarding the need for organizations to function as communities, I wrote the follow...