Learning OrganizationThe Internet has had profound impacts on education and training—not just on the practical aspects of how it is done, but on something much more fundamental: it has changed our core conceptions of what it means to teach and to learn.

By far, one of the largest disruptive effects of MOOCs and other digital learning environments has been to move education out of classrooms and into the real world. When you can learn anytime, not just from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays for example, learning becomes an integrated part of your life. Not something you do at a special time and in a special place, but something you can engage in wherever you are and, most importantly, whenever you need to. This new model of learning is turning out to have huge positive implications for organizations that are willing to embrace it.

As we saw in the previous post on MOOCs in corporate universities, the ultimate goal of employee training and development isn’t just to help individual employees do their jobs better, but to help the organization as a whole achieve its strategic objectives. Today, with business moving and things changing so quickly, the only way for a company to even keep pace with the competition is by ensuring that its employees at all levels are constantly updating their knowledge and skills, challenging the status quo, and looking for new solutions to problems. In other words, it needs to be a learning organization.

In 2012, Josh Bersin identified five key factors in building a learning organization. Although MOOCs as we know them today didn’t even exist when he wrote the article, the courses provide effective ways for companies to achieve all five factors.

1. Remember that corporate learning is “informal” and HR doesn’t own it.

Training and development programs are often overly formalized, though business leaders, HR managers, trainers, and employees alike all know that the most effective learning takes place on the job, not in the classroom. Bersin writes: “Our research shows that companies which adopt ‘formalized informal learning’ programs (like coaching, on-demand training, and performance support tools) outperform those that focus on formal training by 3 to 1. In these companies, the corporate training team doesn’t just train people, it puts in place content and programs to help employees quickly learn on the job. This means developing training in small, easy-to-use chunks of content and making it easy to find as needed.”

These elements—on-demand training, performance support, on-the-job learning, bite-sized content—are some of the main advantages offered by MOOCs.

2. Promote and reward expertise.

Workers are becoming more specialized, and learning organizations are those that recognize and reward the development of expertise. MOOCs offer opportunities for workers to enhance their skills and become increasingly specialized by providing flexible, engaging learning activities that employees can engage in on their own time, or even just while waiting for the elevator.

3. Unleash the power of experts.

Too often in traditional instructor-led and computer-based training, subject matter experts are tapped to develop or vet content, but then their participation is over: the actual training is delivered by an instructor who may be an expert in training, but isn’t an authority on the particular topic.

MOOCs allow employees throughout an organization to learn directly from experts in a couple of ways. First, the experts can actually teach the courses, or at least specific modules within a course. Second, they can participate in the social aspect of the course, by moderating discussion boards, hosting social media conversations, participating in Q&A sessions, and so on. Through networking in MOOCs, a company’s experts can actively contribute to its organizational knowledge base in a way not possible in traditional training.

4. Demonstrate the value of formal training.

MOOCs won’t necessarily replace all of the formal training in an organization, but they can provide a platform to demonstrate its value. Bersin notes that those in leadership positions need to promote training opportunities and “help people make time to learn.” In companies with a lot of formal training available, MOOCs can offer an opportunity for employees to try out courses and learning pathways before deciding whether they want to pursue them in earnest.

5. Allow people to make mistakes.

Organizational learning can only take place when people make mistakes. That doesn’t mean getting multiple-choice questions wrong; it means making mistakes on meaningful assessments. By using real-world problems and facilitating the development of organizational learning networks, MOOCs provide an environment where people can fail safely and then have access to learning resources, including colleagues and experts, to learn from those failures.

Challenges to MOOCs and learning organizations

One of the main challenges of adopting a culture of organizational learning is the same as one of the main challenges to using MOOCs in corporate training: the willingness to give up control. In instructor-led and computer-based training, the trainers have complete control over what content is delivered and how. This is not entirely true in MOOCs—although the organization can control the content of the core resources, the real learning takes place in the networks and interactions among people. This can be difficult for some companies, but as Bersin’s research shows, businesses that are willing to take this path find themselves amply rewarded via improved organizational performance.

To compete today, businesses need not just to provide training, but to adopt a new philosophy of learning. MOOCs can provide the technological and social framework to facilitate this transition and create a culture of organizational learning.

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

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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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