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.
Problem 1: Employees aren’t engaged.
Probably the number one thing keeping corporate training programs from producing results is that employees aren’t engaged. This can be the result of many different factors—learners might not find the information valuable or relevant, the training might be too advanced or too easy for the audience, or the seminar room simply might be too warm and the instructor’s voice too soothing. For whatever reason, although employees want more specialized job training, traditional programs just aren’t doing it for them.
Too often, the blame is placed where it doesn’t belong, like on the subject matter. Take, for example, compliance training, which has a reputation for being particularly painful. However, it is essential that compliance training is done well, for legal reasons and because it is critical to business success. As Lorri Freifeld wrote last year in Training Magazine, “Among all of the issues the Learning function deals with, compliance is the one that can have the greatest consequences if it is mishandled.”
Perhaps the biggest contribution MOOCs can make to a corporate training program is to increase employee engagement, especially for the boring stuff. If you doubt the power of the MOOC format to make things interesting, consider the success of Jim Fowler, an assistant math professor at Ohio State University whose Calculus One MOOC has attracted more than 145,000 students. It is one of the top courses on Coursera and has been so successful that Coursera moved the course to an ongoing enrollment model so students don’t have to wait to get started. Calculus—the course that many people spend their student years actively trying to avoid!
Millions of students have participated in MOOCs. Hundreds of thousands are probably participating in them right at this moment. Those kinds of numbers are a testament to the courses’ power of engagement.
Problem 2: It is unclear if learning is actually taking place.
Seat time is not a valid assessment of learning. Neither is the ability to hit “Next” on a PowerPoint slide nor learners’ reactions on a happy sheet. Despite the fact that these types of assessments don’t measure learning, they are the most frequently used methods of evaluation in many training programs.
Inadequate assessments lead to third major issues. First, they don’t tell trainers what, if any, learning is actually taking place. Second, they don’t function as part of the learning process. Third, they don’t provide any motivation—a learner who knows that a happy sheet will serve as the course assessment probably won’t put as much effort into it as a learner who knows that the assessment will require a demonstration of skills and knowledge.
MOOCs typically involve much more assessment than either ILT or elearning. Not only are there a higher quantity of assessments, but they are more diverse and more meaningful as learning activities. Assessments can include short quizzes, end-of-module exams, participation in course discussions, simulations, presentations, collaborative projects, and so on. The more creative, and the more realistic in terms of what learners will be expected to do on the job, the better.
Problem 3: Employees quickly forget what they have learned.
This scenario probably sounds familiar: You design and deliver what you feel is an excellent training course. Everyone does well on the final assessment, so you confidently report to management that your company’s employees are now fully trained in X, Y, and Z. But a few months later, when a situation requires that training arises, it’s like you never delivered the course at all.
In a 2012 interview with The Wall Street Journal, corporate training expert Eduardo Salas said: “There are a number of myths that organizations have about training. The first myth is if you send an unskilled employee to training, when they come back there is immediately a changed, improved, skilled worker.” One of the major implications of this myth, according to Salas, is that organizations don’t provide employees with enough opportunities to practice and apply the new skills they have acquired.
The forgetting that happens following training is more than just an annoyance. It costs money, both in mistakes and in the necessity for retraining. It can also potentially lead to lost clients, a damaged corporate reputation, and other negative impacts that are difficult to pinpoint and measure.
MOOCs extend the scope of training beyond what happens in the actual course. Learners can return to the material weeks or months later if they need a refresher. The most successful MOOCs also involve real-world situations, including simulations and assessments based on problem-solving, which provide learners opportunities to practice, over and over if necessary.
Engagement, meaningful learning, and retention over time—these are three of the biggest challenges trainers face, and MOOCs provide powerful solutions for addressing all of them.
Copyright 2014 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.
Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– 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