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Megatrends in MOOCs: #10 The Changing Role of the Instructor

By Bryant Nielson, Managing Director On May 28, 2014 Under eLearning, Featured Posts, Learning & Development, MOOC, Training

corporate-instructorIn this series so far, we’ve explored how massive open online courses (MOOCs) are changing the nature of learning. We’ve looked at how they can help foster learning organizations, promote lifelong learning, facilitate collaboration, and even provide just-in-time performance support. But one of the biggest transformations that has been brought about by MOOCs, online learning, and the Internet in general is a shift in what means to teach a class. The role of the instructor is changing, and while the initial reaction has been one of shock and fear (educators are afraid of losing their jobs), the truth is that this shift is actually very good news—for companies, for employees, and for trainers.

Here’s why: If your company is anything like almost every other organization, you have probably noticed a skills gap between what job applicants and employees can do and the skills you need them to have. Likely, you are observing the biggest skills gaps in the areas of computer and mathematical occupations, architecture and engineering occupations, and management occupations. And these gaps are costing you money—a recent CareerBuilder survey showed that “on average, a company loses more than $14,000 for every job that stays vacant for three months or longer” and “that one in six companies loses $25,000 or more.” The answer to bridging these gaps is training, but while 80% of college graduates expect that they will be provided with formal training on their first job, only 48% actually receive that training. Clearly more training is needed…and fast. The new role of the instructor in MOOCs means that companies can train more people, more quickly and more effectively, than ever before.

The 21st century trainer

The 20th century trainer had two main roles: content creation and content delivery. Yes, ideally trainers would serve as facilitators, providing meaningful learning experiences and engaging learners. But be honest, with 100 PowerPoint slides to get through in two hours, how often did that actually happen? Corporate training didn’t get its snooze-worthy reputation from being meaningful and engaging.

MOOCs and other digital learning tools have redefined instruction for the 21st century. They allow trainers to spend much less time on content creation and practically no time at all on content delivery, which means that they can spend more time guiding employees through the training, assess their progress, provide remediation when necessary, and overall ensure that the training is resulting in real, meaningful, and actionable learning.

Let’s look at how MOOCs have transformed the two main roles of the 20th century trainer:

  • Content creation. In the past, trainers would spend a good deal of time creating content from scratch. Now, at least for more general courses, like Communications Skills, Microsoft Excel 101, and How to Negotiate, content creation is no longer necessary. There are plenty of excellent resources available online, and many of them are free. Rather than creating content, trainers can now spend their time curating it. Not only does curation take less time than developing a course from scratch, but when something in the content needs to be changed (as it so often does), it’s usually a fairly simple matter to find a new online resource and upload it into a MOOC.
  • Content delivery. MOOCs have nearly eliminated this role altogether. When developing MOOCs from scratch, trainers may make videos and tutorials, and put together documents and activities, but then the content is delivered online. The advantage of this is that the marginal cost, in terms of both time and money, of delivering that content to additional learners is functionally zero.

Just because trainers’ role in creating and delivering content is changing doesn’t mean half your T&D department is out on the street. Writing for The Evolllution, Kyle Peck from Penn State University, had this to say about the new role of instructors (he’s writing about the higher education space, but his message is equally applicable to corporate training):

“Technologies will re-place higher education. I didn’t say ‘replace’; I said ‘re-place’….People can learn without being taught. Technologies can do a better job of conveying information and developing understanding than can lectures….Knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient, for success. Employers are looking for people who can and will do things and do them well….the role of the teacher changes, becoming more focused on the development of skills and attributes and on high-quality assessment and comprehensive feedback, rather than on the dissemination of content.”

In a corporate environment, the message is essentially the same—moving to MOOCs means that trainers can focus on helping employees to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs.

Challenges to the changing role of the instructor

As with some of the other topics we’ve explored in this series, the main challenge to this trend is changing the attitudes of organizations and of trainers. On the organizational side, moving to a digital environment doesn’t mean that trainers are unnecessary. As Jessica Miller-Merrell wrote on the eSkill blog, “There will always be a need for someone who can interface with employees directly, think strategically about what works best for them, and determine what the training needs are. It’s true that the value proposition for corporate trainers may change, but it won’t go away.”

On the trainer side, T&D departments need to embrace their new roles, which may be a challenge for some. They also need to let go of the “not invented here” ideology and be willing to use the many excellent resources that are available online.

There is no question that the role of the trainer is changing, and that there is a good deal of resistance to this change. But organizations and trainers that embrace the shift will find that when trainers need to do less creating and delivering, they can do more engaging and facilitating, which will lead to more effective training. It’s a win-win-win situation (companies-trainers-learners).

Copyright 2014 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

Bryant Nielson - EzineArticles Expert Author