shield-229112_640Aside from the time savings, the cost savings, and the boost in learner engagement, one of the biggest areas where massive open online courses (MOOCs) provide benefit is education research. MOOCs generate a huge amount of data, which can be collected and analyzed to gain insights into how people learn, what teaching methods are most effective, and many other areas related to learning.

Here we’ll review some of the new research that has come out of MOOCs and other technology-enabled learning environments and explore what the findings mean for corporate training.

Online learning works, so let’s shift the conversation to how to make it successful

Despite a plethora of research that online, blended, and other technology-enabled learning works just as well as face-to-face learning, many companies still hold tight to the belief that there is something special about in-person instructor-led training (ILT).

A new analysis by MOOC pioneer George Siemens will hopefully finally put this issue to rest. Siemens and colleagues analyzed a large number of studies that included several types of digital delivery. They concluded that ”distance learning is more effective, or at least as effective as traditional classroom instruction.”

Siemens commented: “This is essentially about building a foundation so that we can get past the ‘but does online learning work’ argument that often arises in the conversations. It works. Now, institutions must begin preparing their system for the digital movement.”

If we can get past this argument, we can instead focus on what factors determine the success of new digital learning environments, which Siemens and his colleagues also explored. Most of their findings are not too surprising, but there are a few that challenge current assumptions about how people learn best. Here’s what they found:

  • Distance education is “far more effective for adult professional learners” than for college students [emphasis in the original].
  • Pedagogy is more important than technology.
  • Asynchronous delivery is more effective than synchronous delivery.
  • Student-student, student-content, and student-teacher interactions all have a positive effect on learning outcomes, with student-student and student-content interactions being the most important.
  • Academic support is important for student success.

Implications for corporate training

There are three main implications of this analysis:

  1. Online learning works, especially for the target audience for most corporate training programs (i.e., adult professional learners).
  2. Asynchronous courses, like MOOCs, may work better than synchronous online courses.
  3. Interactive activities, like collaborative projects (student-student) and simulations (student-content), are essential for effective online learning.

Trainers who are set in their traditional ways are likely to be surprised by #2 and #3. But these findings likely reflect the changing preferences of learners and the growing availability of educational content. Asynchronous courses may work better because people want to have control over their own time and schedule — convenience is one of the top reasons people sign up for online courses. And with content available at the touch of a finger, while interaction remains important for learning, that interaction doesn’t necessarily need to be with instructors.

Having some skin in the game boosts participation big time

The fuss over the generally low MOOC completion rates has for the most part died down. The focus is now on how to increase engagement. Research out of edX suggests that learners who have some skin in the game are much more likely to follow courses through to completion: almost 60% of learners who pay for a verified certificate complete the course, as opposed to about 5% who don’t.

Implications for corporate training

Obviously, you can’t charge people to attend your training courses, but giving them a reason to be invested — for example, some sort of formal recognition or reward — can boost their motivation to participate.

We need to focus on measuring learning, not just participation

Earlier this year, Justin Reich, of HarvardX, published an overview of the state of MOOC research (watch a summary video here). One of his main conclusions was that MOOC research needs to focus more on measuring learning, not just participation. Measuring learning is a much harder task — requiring first the identification of what metrics are most appropriate — but it is the only way we will be able to determine the true effectiveness of different learning environments, which will become even more important as new digital tools and technologies emerge.

Implications for corporate training

Measurement has also been a long-standing problem in corporate training, where too often training effectiveness has been measured by attitudes toward training or by time-on-task, rather than by metrics that reflect actual learning.

In corporate training, there are two basic types of training metrics: those that are directly related to a course and those that are reflected in what employees can do after they have completed a course. Whereas the former might be required in certain circumstances for compliance, what we really need to focus on is the latter. Employee retention, sales, revenue generation, customer service results — these are all metrics that L&D departments should be using to measure the effectiveness and the ROI of their training programs.

Read more about the Top 10 Training Metrics.

What all of these studies suggest is that the way organizations approach training needs to change — enterprise L&D needs to become more technology-enabled, it needs to focus on learner motivation, and it needs to track metrics that accurately reflect success.

Copyright 2015 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

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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.