Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are the education and training story of this decade (at least so far). In barely three years, they have expanded from a single course on artificial intelligence taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig in the fall of 2011 to thousands of MOOCs taught by instructors from leading colleges, universities, and companies on various platforms around the world. It’s impressive.
However, while there is growing awareness of the existence of MOOCs, there persists a good deal of confusion about what they actually are and what they can do. This is unsurprising for two reasons:
- MOOCs have changed considerably since they first came out, and they are continuing to evolve as both the pedagogies and the technologies
- Many types of courses fall under the MOOC umbrella. Education insiders have developed an entirely new vocabulary surrounding the courses, but in popular parlance, they are all commonly referred to as MOOCs.
The goal of this article is to clear up some of the confusion by exploring what a MOOC is and, perhaps more importantly, what it isn’t, and clarifying the roles MOOCs can play specifically within the context of corporate training.
A MOOC is a framework, not a platform.
One of the biggest sources of confusion I encounter is the idea that a MOOC is an online learning platform, a learning management system (LMS). This misconception is understandable, since the language we use often equates MOOC providers like Coursera and edX with the courses themselves, but it is a misconception nonetheless.
By Bryant Nielson, Managing Director On September 17, 2014 NO COMMENTS
From the outside, corporate training appears to be something of a paradox. On one hand, it is becoming ever more necessary for companies to provide training, especially for recent college graduates: according to a Gallup survey, only 11% of business leaders believe that college graduates are adequately prepared to succeed in the workplace. Corporate training is also a huge factor in company success—a 2000 analysis by Laurie J. Bassie found that investing $1,500 per employee per year leads to 24% higher profit margins and a more than 200% increase in revenue per employee. On the other, research suggests that as much as 90% of what is learned during training is lost in a short period of time.
Given these data, it’s obvious that training is one of the key drivers for companies’ success. But the data also suggest that many organizations aren’t doing it as well as they could be, which means they are likely not achieving anywhere close to the level of success indicated in Bassie’s analysis.
I’ve written before about various ways massive open online courses (MOOCs) can improve upon traditional training, for example by better meeting the needs of today’s corporate learners and by making elearning more interesting, more interactive, and more relevant. This article addresses three common problems found in training and discusses how MOOCs provide solutions to these problems.
By Bryant Nielson, Managing Director On September 3, 2014 NO COMMENTS
Your training programs need a reboot. You need to train more learners and get them up to speed faster, and you need to do it on what seems like an ever-tightening budget. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are potentially an excellent solution to help you meet your training goals. But is your company ready?
Rolling out new training initiatives is always challenging, and it’s important to assess the climate in your organization to ensure it is up to the challenge. Below are several questions to ask yourself to help you decide whether your company is ready for a MOOC.
Do you have a large number of employees who need to learn the same things?
If your organization’s training needs can be satisfied by a series of one-time seminars each delivered to a different small group of people, a MOOC is probably not the best option. But, if you have a large number of geographically diverse learners who need consistent, standardized training, MOOCs can provide huge benefits. According to Bersin’s 2013 Corporate Learning Factbook, companies spend anywhere from $100 to $500 per employee per year teaching core business skills like basic management, office productivity, and Microsoft Office. MOOCs can teach these skills just as effectively and at a significantly reduced cost.
By Bryant Nielson, Managing Director On July 31, 2014 NO COMMENTS
How does your company currently get buy-in from employees for your training programs? I’m willing to bet that for a reasonably large percentage of organizations, that question isn’t even asked on a regular basis. Training is too often imposed on employees in a top-down fashion—e.g., “The new course on [fill in the blank] runs Monday through Wednesday from 9 to 5. See you then.” If you ever wonder why employees seem less than thrilled to attend training sessions, and then proceed to forget most of what they learn, a lack of buy-in is probably the culprit.
MOOCs are different. They are flexible training formats in which the learners have full independence and control of their own learning experiences. Because they are bottom-up approaches, gaining employee buy-in is absolutely crucial to their success.
So, how do you do it?
By Bryant Nielson, Managing Director On February 17, 2014 NO COMMENTS
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are a rising trend in corporate and workplace training. The courses are still fairly new, and many questions remain to be answered. Currently, one of the hottest topics is how to measure the success of a MOOC. Although once everything is up and running, the marginal cost associated with MOOCs can approach zero, they still require significant upfront investments of both time and money. Organizations interested in using MOOCs as part of their training programs need to have a clear idea of the benefits they will realize—preferably reflected in their bottom line.
In the previous post, I outlined the four-level model of evaluation developed by Donald Kirkpatrick. Here, we’ll explore how MOOCs and the data that comes out of them can be used to measure success at each of these four levels.
By Bryant Nielson, Managing Director On December 16, 2013 NO COMMENTS
How much of their essential job skills and knowledge are people in your organization learning from one another? 10%? 20%? Probably closer to 80%. Do you know what they are learning? Does it align with the goals of your training program? Well, that may be difficult to judge, but one thing is certain: they will remember it. Regardless of how much time and energy you put into creating content and designing your training, your employees will learn more from their peers. In a previous set of articles, we looked at the advantages of using a massive open online course (MOOC) to incorporate informal learning into training programs. Here we will focus more specifically on peer learning and how a MOOC can be used to facilitate, structure, and assess it.
Peer learning is a powerful learning tool, but one that is largely unharnessed in any organized way, often because of the belief that it does not allow for very tight control. One method that many companies have embraced is mentorship, and research has shown that employees who have mentors feel more supported by the organization, show stronger organizational commitment, and are more likely to stay. But peer learning takes place in many other ways—people give one another advice, opinions, and ad hoc lessons all of the time, over email, the phone, and even the water cooler. Although these interactions are casual, they nevertheless account for a large amount of organizational learning, and companies can benefit from not only encouraging but also facilitating them.
By Bryant Nielson, Managing Director On December 2, 2013 NO COMMENTS
It seems like at least once a week there is a major news headline declaring that our educational system is broken, and looking at the data on how U.S. students compare with students in other countries, it is hard to doubt that this conclusion is true. The training system is broken as well. Results from an ASTD study suggest that as much as 90 percent of new skills learned during training are lost within one year, which means that despite large expenditures on training programs, many companies are not realizing significant returns on their investment (ROIs). What’s worse, many companies do not systematically analyze these ROIs, so they really have no idea what they are getting for their training dollars. Part of the problem is that the traditional models of education and training aren’t brain-friendly, meaning that they are completely removed from how people actually learn. For many years (and even centuries), the commonly held belief was that exposure to information equaled learning. But this simply isn’t true: spending an hour listening to a classroom lecture or attending a four-hour seminar with no follow-up does not translate into meaningful learning, yet this remains the dominant model in many organizations.
There is some good news to be had in all of this: broken systems open the door for innovation, and that is exactly what is happening right now in education and training. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have swooped onto the scene, threatening commonly held beliefs and business models left, right, and center. I’ve said before that the main influence of MOOCs is pedagogical—they are changing the focus from knowledge to outcomes, from what students know to what they will be able to do. Using MOOC tools, instructors can design courses that do translate into meaningful learning because they are more closely aligned with how people actually learn.
By Bryant Nielson, Managing Director On November 25, 2013 NO COMMENTS
So far in this series, we have looked at ways massive open online courses (MOOCs) have led educators and trainers to rethink how content is delivered and the role of social media in the corporate classroom. This article focuses on a topic that has historically been an albatross around the neck of training and development: assessment.
Assessment in corporate training is complicated by a couple of factors. First, there is a widespread misconception that exposure to information equals learning. The result has been an overabundance of objective testing methods that assess information recall but little else. This practice is probably responsible for the fact that employees retain only about 10 to 15 percent of what they learn in training sessions—information is easily forgotten; only when we apply that information does it become knowledge. The second complicating factor is even more troubling: many organizations don’t assess employee learning at all. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last year, corporate training researcher Eduardo Salas noted that one of the biggest mistakes businesses make in training is failing to evaluate employee learning. If they do, he says, “they usually stop at the first level of evaluation—the reaction data. Companies think that if there is a positive reaction to the training, people will learn. But what we know is that the correlation is very week between reaction to training and actual learning.”
By Bryant Nielson, Managing Director On August 19, 2013 NO COMMENTS
So you are ready to design your own massive open online course (MOOC) and you want to incorporate social media. How should you go about it? What tools should you use? When the first MOOCs hit the net, the only real option was blogs. Then Coursera, Udacity, and edX popularized discussion boards, similar to what is used in non-MOOC elearning. Since then, social learning tools have exploded onto the market. At a minimum, most MOOCs today use discussion boards, blogs, and microblogs, and many have some kind of dedicated social network.
Training MOOCs are by nature different than academic MOOCs. One difference that affects the use of social media is the potential audience and the type of content. Organizations need to decide whether to make their MOOCs truly open and host them publicly on the Internet or whether to restrict part or all of the courses to authorized users. The deciding factor may be the amount of proprietary or competitive information included in the course content. For example, a business etiquette course may be hosted on the Internet, while a sales training course may be run on a private intranet. Different social media tools are available depending on whether or not the training will be made public
Another difference is the number of social media tools used in a given course. In some MOOCs (particularly connectivist MOOCs), learners are encouraged to connect with each other over as many platforms as possible. In a course with tens of thousands of students, this can lead to an overwhelming amount of information being posted, so most students pick and choose how they will engage with the content and one another. In a training MOOC, this model may or may not be appropriate. To prevent learners from spending all day surfing social media sites, instructors can limit the tools to a couple of platforms or divide learners into small groups for discussion and collaboration.
The following presents a review of the main types of social media and how they can be used in training MOOCs.
By Bryant Nielson, Managing Director On August 12, 2013 NO COMMENTS
Over the past few months, we have explored the social component of massive open online courses (MOOCs) from several angles. We have examined the role of peer learning in organizations and the importance of creating personal learning networks. We have also reviewed the major technology-enabled learning tools that MOOCs use to support social interaction. In this article and the next, we will put it all together by looking at why businesses should use social media in their training and development programs and various practical ways to implement peer learning through social media in corporate MOOCs.
Many organizations are wary of social media, mainly because of a lack of control and the fear that social networking on the job will quickly devolve into “social notworking.” This fear is probably largely unfounded—companies were also suspicious about email and the Internet, but there is little doubt (and a lot of empirical research) that these innovations have improved, not harmed, productivity. In today’s environment, businesses that do not adopt new technologies are setting themselves up for failure. According to a 2012 Capgemini report, digital leaders—defined as those companies that use new technologies such as social media, mobile technologies, and analytics—are 26 percent more profitable than their competitors and generate both more revenue and higher market valuation ratios.