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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