We have finally come to the end of a long road. We have looked at how MOOCs can foster learning organizations, encourage lifelong learning, and be used in competency-based training. We have explored how gamification, mobile learning, and microlearning are changing ideas and practices surrounding corporate training. And we have seen how MOOCs are changing the role of the instructor and causing us to rethink the credentialing system.
Finally, in this last article in the “Megatrends in MOOCs” series, we’ll look at one of the most underestimated, but potentially most powerful, aspects of MOOCs—their role in building relationships: between companies and their current and prospective employees, companies and their customers, and even between business partners. It may see strange to say, but one of the largest impacts MOOCs have on training may not have anything to do with actual training at all.
The importance of relationships
Contrary to popular opinion, as we become more dependent on technology,
our relationships are becoming more important. This is true in our personal dealings, but it is also an essential tenet of business in the current landscape. In an age when customers can sink a business by posting negative reviews, and employees can take to Facebook and Twitter to broadcast their frustrations, relationships are paramount to business success. Strong employer-employee relationships are associated with higher productivity and increased loyalty; positive customer relationships bring not only repeat customers, but also positive reviews on influential social media sites. No business that hopes to succeed today can ignore the importance of building relationships with these various audiences.
MOOCs as relationships builders
Currently, MOOCs are being used to facilitate relationship-building in organizations in a couple of main ways.
First, they can help foster relationships within organizations. Higher education institutions have recently started experimenting with this idea. For example, Harvard now offers MOOCs specifically for its alumni, with the goal of strengthening the relationship between the school and its alumni (and hopefully collecting more alumni donations). As Ovum analyst Navneet Johal writes, “Institutions can use MOOCs to reframe and re-energize the mission of alumni in a way that makes graduates feel valuable as opposed to making them feel like money banks.” MOOCs offered to alumni “can also contribute to graduates’ success by offering continued learning through their careers.” The MOOCs serve as a way to keep everyone connected—professors, students, alumni. In organizations, MOOCs can play a similar role in fostering connections across teams and departments: they provide a way for employees to collaborate, discuss, and create the personal learning networks that drive learning and innovation.
Second, MOOCs can help companies develop relationships with new and potential employees. This also mirrors a movement in higher education, in which MOOCs are being used to prepare students for college before they ever set foot on campus. Companies can offer pre-hiring or pre-start MOOCs so that when new employees arrive for their first day on the job, they are ready and able to dive right into meaningful work.
Third, MOOCs are a new type of social media (a recent Ed Tech Magazine article called MOOCs “the next social networking platform”) that can not only help companies realize the value of social learning, but also can foster relationships between employees, between companies and customers, and between others on both the public and the private stage. People interact within MOOCs on discussion forums, but also outside of MOOCs on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Often, these social media feeds are incorporated directly into the course, but they can have a life long after the course itself has been completed. In this way, MOOCs help employees build and maintain social networks within and across organizations. They also allow companies to identify potential employees, as well as give businesses an outlet to engage with their customers on a personal level, including publicly responding to customer complaints and requests.
Challenges to MOOCs as relationship builders
The biggest challenge to using MOOCs effectively in a relationship-building role is that it requires companies and training departments to let go of a certain amount of control and allow training to transcend the classroom. Both traditional e-learning and instructor-led training are usually fairly well-controlled environments, but with MOOCs, you put the courses out there and they often take on a life of their own.
Organizations that are willing to embrace a small amount of uncertainty have the potential to be amply rewarded—collaborations between employees can lead to new innovations and advancements that would not otherwise arise, allowing customers to engage with the company via MOOCs can lead to new insights about the target market, and companies willing to look past traditional credentials may find their next star employees in unexpected places. Organizations not willing to take this risk may find themselves out of touch with their customers and unable to attract and retain the next generation of talent.
The major MOOC providers (Coursera, edX, and Udacity) have been around for about two years now, and their massive growth during that time has established their place as a force in 21st-century education, with incredible potential in workforce training. MOOCs are still very much in their infancy, but they are evolving quickly. The 13 trends we’ve highlighted in this series represent the major current experiments and future directions MOOCs are likely to take over the coming months and years.
But that doesn’t mean you need to wait to implement MOOCs in your own organization. Smart companies are starting now to take advantage of the opportunities offered by this new and evolving digital learning environment.
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