Vector Big Data. Broken textBig data is revolutionizing all fields, and smart organizations are taking note. According to a 2011 report by global management firm McKinsey: “The use of big data will become a key basis of competition and growth for individual firms. From the standpoint of competitiveness and the potential capture of value, all companies need to take big data seriously.” Now, in 2013, massive open online courses (MOOCs) are bringing big data to education. With courses enrolling upwards of 100,000 students each, an enormous amount of data is being generated and preliminary reports are starting to come in.

The current available data come from three reports on three MOOC ventures: Duke’s Bioelectricity (Coursera), a group of six MOOCs offered by the University of Edinburgh (Coursera), and MIT’s Circuits and Electronics (edX). Here is a brief look at what the data show so far and what corporate trainers can learn from them.

Who Takes MOOCs?

MOOC students are older than traditional university students: Duke and Edinburgh reported that, respectively, 86 and 72 percent of students were age 44 and under, with one-third of Edinburgh students falling into the 25-to-34 year-old range. These data show that MOOC participants are more representative of the workforce than of the university population, a trend that should be encouraging for corporate trainers because it suggests both that employees are voluntarily engaging in challenging educational pursuits and that the MOOC format appeals to these independent learners.

Why Take a MOOC?

One of the biggest questions has centered on why MOOCs are so popular. Why would so many people sign up for these courses, which for the most part do not provide any formal recognition? Well, according to the data, most people take MOOCs just for fun. Eighty-seven percent of students enrolled in Duke’s Bioelectricity course because they were interested in the topic and 95 percent of students took one of Edinburgh’s six courses to learn new things. Professional development was also a significant factor, cited by 32 to 44 percent of students across the courses. More than 55 percent of students in MIT’s course enrolled to increase their knowledge and skills in general. These numbers are very encouraging for organizations and trainers – employees want to learn new things and to improve their careers, and they are taking proactive steps to do so.

How Do People Learn in MOOCs?

This is an interesting question. MOOCs are having a major impact in the education sector and one of the main reasons is that they are challenging traditional models of classroom delivery. So, what do the data tell us about how people learn when that learning is self-directed?

Most people in the Edinburgh courses spent between 2 and 5 hours per week on their MOOC, and both Edinburgh and MIT reported that videos were the most popular resources. This is not surprising as video lectures represent the main method of content delivery for most MOOCs. The more interesting results involve participation in discussion forums. Although discussion forum participation was not huge compared to the overall course enrollment, MIT found that 52 percent of students who earned a certificate in the course were active forum participants and that 90 percent of forum activity comprised reading discussion threads without posting to them. In addition, the forums were the most popular resource for students completing homework problems. These findings are particularly significant because, as the authors of the report note, forum participation was not required and was not part of the main course activities.

For corporate training, these results show that employees can do some L&D activities independently (i.e., watching videos), but that they also need opportunities to interact with one another. This is where the MOOC format has a major advantage over traditional e-learning. Whereas traditional e-learning often involves employees sitting in an isolated space interacting only with the computer, MOOCs capitalize on the power of social learning through discussion forums, blogs, wikis, virtual conferences, shared workspaces, and more.

What Determines MOOC Success?

There has been a lot of hype over low MOOC completion rates, and much of this hype is overstated. A large percentage of people sign up for MOOCs without ever intending to complete them – they just want to see what the courses are like. So it doesn’t make sense to criticize MOOCs for losing students they never really “had” in the first place. Both Duke and MIT analyzed factors that contribute to MOOC completion and success. Here is what they found.

Duke reports that four factors contribute to MOOC completion: formal recognition of accomplishment, professional development, participation in forums/interaction with other students, and MOOCs taken as supplements to credit-bearing courses. Going beyond simple completion, the MIT researchers investigated the factors that determine MOOC success. They found the strongest predictor of achievement was whether or not the students worked offline with someone else on the material. Collaborating with other students or subject matter experts translated into a three-point increase in score over working independently. For corporate training programs, the implications of these results are clear: learners are most likely to complete MOOCs when they are taking the courses for a purpose and their achievements are recognized, and interaction with fellow learners is essential for both motivation and learning.

Duke also identified three factors that prevented students from completing their courses: lack of time, insufficient background skills, and trouble moving from concepts to applications. In implementing MOOCs as part of corporate training programs, organizations must consider these factors and ensure that their employees are receiving adequate instructional support.

How Do Learners Rate MOOCs?

Finally, a major boon for MOOCs is that students really, really like them. Duke reported high ratings for both student attitudes and student-reported learning outcomes, and 98% of Edinburgh respondents reported that “they felt they got out of the course what they wanted.”

As L&D budgets are slashed and organizations consider their training needs, many companies will start turning to MOOCs to deliver their training programs. As with any educational program, the keys to success in training MOOCs are engaging employees and facilitating their learning as effectively as possible. MOOCs are still very new and the data are just coming in, but they can provide valuable information about how people learn and interact online.

Copyright 2013 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– offers 25+ years of training and talent management helping executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.

Learn more about Bryant at LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bryantnielson

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes.

For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive.

Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City.

He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should ‘engage and inspire’ students to greater productivity and performance.

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