Monday, June 30, 2014

Role of L&D in the 21C Workplace

It is increasingly becoming evident that L&D department in organizations can no longer function the way they used to, at least not if they want to be relevant and be a business partner to the organization. The impact of technology, globalization, ubiquitous connectivity, remote work and distributed work teams, and economy of individuals to name a few drivers have changed the face of workplace learning and performance dramatically. Refer to Ross Dawson’s The Future of Work for a detailed overview.

Workplace learning in many places is still struggling to come out of the Industrial Era where workers were trained on best practices, put to work, and their efficiency measured by supervisors. The more of the same task they performed, the more efficient they became. And time to production improved. Economy of scale was achieved. Gone are those days and those requirements. Repeatable tasks are performed more rapidly, with greater accuracy and more cost effectively by machines. Somewhat complicated tasks are being outsourced but even the face of outsourcing is undergoing rapid change. But I will leave that discussion for another post.

Most of the work in today’s organizations require some or all of the following key skills: 
  1. Problem solving 
  2. Critical and analytical thinking 
  3. Pattern sensing and meaning making (connecting the dots) 
  4. Networking and collaborating 
  5. Exception handling

Ability to learn rapidly is perhaps the mega-skill that makes the rest possible. Today’s workers can no longer rest on their laurels and past success doesn’t necessarily imply future success as well. This is the world of work that L&D must support today. And this means reskilling for L&D as well. They must support an environment where continuous learning and innovation are the key differentiators. And this mega-shift calls for some key role changes and skill acquisition for L&D.

From course designers to learning facilitators – Given that till date, L&D has been tasked with designing courses based on TNA, task analysis and skill gaps, this is perhaps one of the fundamental and most difficult shifts. While courses will still have their place, the approach to course design itself will need to become more dynamic, rapid and inclusive of informal and social components. The courses will serve very specific needs for specific groups. For a more holistic performance support and knowledge sharing, L&D will have to shift to enabling learning at an organizational as well as at an individual level. Some of the related skills required to do this are given below.

Proficiency in social media usage – While we would all like to boast about being social media gurus, using it effectively for learning and enabling others to do the same calls for a different understanding of social media. It goes beyond a Facebook status update. It is essential that the L&D team members develop the skills of building their own PLNs. This will not only help them stay on the cutting edge in the space of L&D but will also enable them to support others in building their PLNs. This requires an ability to connect to the right people on social media, filter and curate the right content in the right context. 

Facilitating self-driven learning – As course designers and course disseminators, L&D role has been more of that of the sage on the stage. However, with the need for learning new skills becoming more dynamic and skill requirement more complex, workers must know how to “pull” what they need to drive performance. This requires them to reach out to the right people, access the right content and use their own PLN to acquire the information or skill required.  All of this doesn’t happen overnight and requires time to set in place. It requires L&D to don the hat of coaches and mentors as well as facilitators who support at the point of need.  

Managing/facilitating communities and networks – IMHO, learning in the workplace will increasingly take place in communities – these could be communities of interest, communities of practice, or even communities formed out of project groups. Some will be temporary like those of people coming together for projects; some will be long term, like CoPs where workers from across the organization come together to evolve their domain, learn from each other and add to the knowledge pool. While people may still come together to share and learn as they often do without L&D intervention, support from L&D in this area will not only make it more efficient and bridge silos, it will also benefit the organization immensely by providing a platform for the capture of tacit knowledge residing within. 

Driving change management – L&D today needs to be the harbinger of change and also the driver. It is not enough to acquire the abovementioned skills and then expect the change to take care of itself. Moving to a new way of working and learning takes time, perseverance and belief from a set of people and L&D has to lead the charge. This means getting the buy-in of key stakeholders and talking the language of business. This also means having a very clear change management plan in place that includes various phases of the shift from short term goals to long term vision. Short term goals can focus on low-hanging fruits so that some quick results can be shown thus fostering trust. Bersin’s model below captures the shift. While the model has certain dates affixed to each stage, each organization will evolve at its own pace and the dates are indicative only.

These are some of the critical and macro-level shifts in the role of L&D that are becoming apparent. There are more micro-level ones like: 
  1. The ability to put together a course rapidly from existing content on the web, OERs, and internal content 
  2. Being up-to-date with different technologies that can impact learning 
  3. The capability to gauge what kind of support is required for optimal and timely output – a course, a Job Aid, initiating and facilitating a forum discussion, curating external content and sharing internally, and so on.
The role of L&D will continue to evolve and expand. It is going to become strategic and critical but the onus lies on us to keep honing our skills and shaping our capabilities to meet the constantly changing needs of the workplace. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

11 Differences between a MOOC and an Online Course

I love this definition of MOOCs by Ignatia Inge deWaard in her e-book, MOOC Yourself: “A MOOC is a non-defined pedagogical format to organize learning /teaching/training on a specific topic in an informal, online, and collaborative way.”

This captures the key essence of a MOOC highlighting the key differentiators between a MOOC and an online course. I think the confusion between a course on an LMS and a MOOC—especially now that MOOCs are all set to enter the workplace where course tracking has so far been the norm—is going to be rampant. Hence, it is essential to identify the key aspects of what makes a MOOC a MOOC.

Here are some of my thoughts: 
  1. Unlike an online course which focuses more on content, MOOCs focus more on context. Good content is a prerequisite to creating a MOOC but what keeps it going is dynamic building up of context around the content. 
  2. Online courses are close-ended with static content. The content in a MOOC is not static. It evolves dynamically through learner participation, creation of user-generated content and collaboration. The base content is just a starting point for any MOOC. Each MOOC will gather around it a repository of content – reference links, resources, participant blogs, podcasts, videos, and so on – over and above the initial content used to start the MOOC. 
  3. Courses are assigned to learners, typically by the organization they work in. Sometimes, learners will sign up voluntarily for a degree or a diploma. However, in either case they will learn in isolation, as individuals. In a MOOC, learners come together voluntarily to form cohorts and groups. MOOCs have the potential to give rise to Communities of Practices or enhance the learning within an already existing CoP. I believe MOOCs and CoPs are going to have strong bonds going forward. 
  4. Courses are either bought off-the shelf or custom built. MOOCs do not always require custom-built content to set up unless the need is very specific. MOOCs on various topics can be set up using blended content – some custom designed and some re-purposed from OERs and other available content from the net as long as one takes care to note the various IPR-related policies. 
  5. The content in a MOOC can be replaced/updated quickly because a well-designed MOOC should ideally be based on the principles of micro-learning with no learning byte exceeding a max of 10~12 mins ideally unless the topic calls for a longer chunk of learning for it to be meaningful. 
  6. Courses are designed by learning designers and SMEs and disseminated to the learners. MOOCs flatten the world of learning by bringing everyone on the same plane. A learner can become a facilitator and vice versa. The roles blur making learning a democratic process rather than a hierarchical one. 
  7. Courses are close ended with a defined start and end point. Learning in a typical MOOC is not confined to a specific “digital space.” It spills over with participants tweeting about their experience, blogging about it, holding meetups and Hangout sessions. The offline and the online world can come together with the boundary of a MOOC being essentially porous. 
  8. MOOCs require a set of digital skills beyond the ability to take courses online and attempt multiple-choice questions. MOOCs require online collaboration and facilitation skills. Participating in a MOOC is a two-way process—participants are consumers as well as creators. 
  9. MOOCs enable building of PLNs (Personal Learning Networks). Participants in a MOOC typically come together from varied background; and without that particular MOOC, this diverse group of individuals may not have had any reason to come together. The common MOOC topic thus fosters “weak ties” among unlikely individuals opening the door to innovation and learning. 
  10. Online courses require basic computer skills of navigation. However, MOOCs can be effective in fostering some of the critical 21st Century skills like collaboration, self-driven learning, pattern sensing and problem solving. Participants in a MOOC “learn how to learn” in the course of a MOOC, with each one finding their own strengths and weaknesses. 
  11. Courses are built around pre-defined objectives and may or may not cater to just-in-time learning. MOOCs are fundamentally build on the principle of just-in-time, “pull” learning empowering the learners and treating adult learners—well, like adults. This is perhaps one of the fundamental reasons why MOOCs have seen such popularity. It is immaterial whether everyone is completing all the MOOCs they attend or not. The fact is people are signing up, voluntarily, and taking what they need. The power is back in the hands of the learners. 

Corporates looking to implement MOOCs within their organizations will need to look at some of these characteristics before putting a set of courses on a platform and calling those MOOCs. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What Makes a MOOC a MOOC?

MOOCs have taken the world of higher ed and corporate learning by the proverbial storm. When George Siemens, Dave Cormier and Stephen Downes came up with the concept in 2008, they had a vision of how a “learning design” based on Connectivism could change the face of learning and collaboration. The OER movement was the trigger for the MOOCs then. The MOOCs evolved and morphed as all things new must going through its various avatars of cMOOCs, xMOOCs, with more to come.

None of this is new information or insight. Then why bother writing about it you may ask.
As a learning designer in the workplace learning and “performance” space, I encounter this query quite often —“how can we design learning/training programs for employees that are cheaper and yet more effective”—often enough to realize that corporates are desperately looking for a learning model / methodology / format that will enable new skill acquisition, just-in-time learning, and provide employees with the skills required to perform better. Most organizations (hopefully) have accepted that learning is crucial to their strategy for growth and performance, and if done right, has a direct impact on the bottom line. However, the flipside is that training and other forms of structured, top down learning—the pillars of organizational learning so far—are tottering. They are no longer cutting the ice. Employees are rejecting them; L&D is desperately trying to prove the ROI of these programs while employees are finding their own means of acquiring the required skills and knowledge.

Added to this is the relentless pressure to do more with less – both on organizations and on employees. Many smart employees who have invested time and effort in building their own learning networks are turning to their PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) for help at the point of need. They are using various tools for PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) and taking onus of their own learning. Refer to Harold Jarche’ blog for a deeper understanding of PKM.

However, not everyone comes with the skills of knowing how to learn and require support. L&D needs to be – no, actually MUST BE – in this space enabling employees “learn how to learn”, facilitate networking and knowledge sharing skills, and help to connect the edges of the organization to its center such that all can benefit.
Into this space enters MOOCs! MOOCs, apart from being massive, open and online, has certain underlying characteristics that – if tapped into – can lay the groundwork for building a learning organization.

I will try to define what I mean by a learning organization since definitions abound. For the purpose of this post, this is how I choose to define a learning organization. 
  1. It’s as flat as possible and even if hierarchies exist, they do not interfere with knowledge sharing, empowered decision making or trust. Trust, respect, and sharing are the mantras. 
  2. It encourages – no, celebrates – diversity, and not only the obvious ones of gender, race, and religion, but the more subtle and hidden ones of thoughts and opinions, approaches and skills, experience and background. 
  3. Knowledge sharing is actively encouraged, facilitated, and rewarded. Knowledge hoarding and hoarders are weeded out. 
  4. Everyone is encouraged to build their own PLNs – both within and outside of the organization. 
  5. The organizational walls are porous such that the outside can flow in without too much of a challenge while sensitive information is protected. 

Looks like a tall order but not impossible for certain!

How does all of this relate to MOOCs? The nature of the MOOC model has the potential, IMHO, to trigger some of the movement towards enabling organizations becoming a learning organization, and I have expanded on some of the thoughts below.
MOOCs, based on the principles of Connectivism, comes with aspects of collaboration included. One cannot put up a set of courses on a platform and call that a MOOC unless the following also exist: 
  1. The employees can access any course at any point of time 
  2. The courses are curated and updated regularly to keep the content current and relevant 
  3. The employees have the ability to form groups, discuss and learn from each other, i.e., the principles of Peeragogy is applied. The learning is not restricted to only the MOOC content. 
  4. User generated content is encouraged and feeds into the courses keeping them contextual and current 
  5. L&D dons the hat of community managers, curators and connectors enabling employees to find the right course, access the right discussion forums and reach out to expertise when needed

All of this implies a MOOC philosophy that is not course-centric but learner-centric. Access to good quality courses via a technologically sound platform is the bare minimum—the hygiene factor for starting a MOOC. What will make MOOCs successful in an organizational setting is the philosophy driving the whole endeavor.

My concern is that organizations will jump onto the MOOC bandwagon gunning for a platform with a set of courses, much like when organizations tried to become social businesses by putting an enterprise collaboration platform in place and claiming to have become an E2.0 org. The philosophy behind a MOOC is very different. The word Open can imply much more than access to all employees. For successful MOOC implementations, organizations must re-visit the word Open from the aspects of transparency, collaboration and cooperation.

MOOCs designed around relevant content should act as triggers for collaboration and social learning. Hence, the role of an enterprise community (learning) manager could become even more imperative in the success of a MOOC. Participating in a MOOC is not only about going through a series of courses; it is more about the forming connections, making sense of complexity and enabling each other see new insights in the same course. Hence, the discussions or context will be more important than content. This is what will differentiate a MOOC from any old course running on an LMS.  

The allure of reduced cost and wide dissemination of courses with the help of technology can blindside organizations to the actual requirements. However, alert and knowledgeable L&D departments will realize that going the MOOC way requires 1. a comprehensive change management strategy, 2. a sound content management plan, and 3. a focus on community management.    

While MOOCs have the capability to make learning more effective at a reduced cost, the approach requires a fundamental shift in how we typically think of learning. While the “C” in MOOCs stand for courses, a MOOC is much more than a course. Learning cannot be and shouldn’t be controlled and managed the way it used to be during the LMS era. 

Organizations will have to trust that employees will cherry pick what they need to and want to learn as and when they need it. Rather than tracking course completion, it’s time to track performance output. Measures for evaluating the impact of a MOOC on employee performance will need to be thought through and directly linked to the organizational goals and vision. 

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...