For more than a year now, this blog has focused on massive open online courses (MOOCs). We’ve looked at what they are, the technologies that underlie them, and their place in organizational and employee learning and development. At this point, it feels like a good time to take a step back from the ROIs and the how-tos, and explore the top reason MOOCs are having such a huge impact on corporate training.

MOOCs are not just fancy new technologies to attract and retain Millennials. Nor are they just more efficient methods for companies to save time and money while also delivering high-quality training. Over the past few years, especially as the skills gaps continue to widen and digital technologies pervade every aspect of our personal and professional lives, some of the fundamental ideas that have defined training for decades are shifting. Training is not only moving from in-person to online, but from just-in-case to just-in-time and from knowledge transfer to performance support. MOOCs have become popular largely because their flexible format allows companies to deliver the type of training required in the increasingly ad-hoc, BYOD environment that is the modern workplace.

Training with a purpose

The educational needs of students in a college classroom are different from the training needs of employees at a company, but for many years the two followed roughly the same model: learners would sit in a classroom and (supposedly) gain knowledge and skills that they would use at some undetermined point in the future. In workforce education, this model resulted in formats like extended new-hire orientation sessions, once-a-year training retreats, and half- or full-day seminars offered every so often.

The problem with this model is that the training is often delivered without regard to employees’ actual needs. If we’ve learned anything at all about best practices over the years, it’s that training must be relevant. Just-in-case, in-advance training simply isn’t immediately relevant, so it really should come as no surprise that employees forget pretty close to all of it.

With digital learning environments, training has become more ad hoc—delivered just-in-time and for a particular purpose. Although employees still need quality conceptual training, they also need access to knowledge and resources that they can use as performance support.

The advantage of MOOCs is that they provide the best of both worlds. MOOCs are highly flexible learning environments that can be customized by both trainers and learners to meet the needs of the organization and the individuals within it. The combination of resources, including videos, tutorials, and simulations, and social forums, where learners can collaborate with subject matter experts and with one another, provides the opportunity for learners to gain conceptual knowledge and also to access performance support resources at the moment a problem presents itself. They provide learners with the training they need—where, when, and in the format they need it.

Learning on the go

The BYOD trend, which is continuing to rise dramatically, has largely been driven by employees—they want to use their personal laptops, smartphones, and tablets at work, and evidence suggests that they are doing it, regardless of whether their organization supports it. According to Adrian Drury of tech research firm Ovum, “Employees are finding ways to do it [use their own devices] whether IT knows about it or not. Really what we are seeing is enterprise multi-screening in exactly the same way as we see multi-screening in the home. We are seeing multi-screening in the workplace [because] people just want to use the right screen at the right time to get the job done.”

MOOCs that are responsive—i.e., they provide support for all operating systems and mobile platforms—make it possible for employees to use the “right screen at the right time,” which might be their computer while at work, their smartphone while at a customer site, or their tablet while on the train home.

BYOD mobile learning is really only starting to take off, but it is going to be big and companies that embrace it will reap vast rewards. According to a 2013 survey, 99% of mobile learners believed that the format enhanced their learning, and 100% said they would complete more training using this format. I challenge you to find any other training format that inspires that kind of optimism.

MOOC providers and learning management system vendors are still working out how to make the courses 100% supported. Currently, although learners can do some things, like watch lectures and tune into social media chats, on their mobile devices, the ability to participate fully in a mobile MOOC is not yet available everywhere. However, just a few months ago, U.K. company Qualt launched the first mobile-only MOOC platform, and other organizations are rushing to follow suit.

The corporate training landscape has fundamentally changed. New technologies, the skills gap, employees’ demands for more flexible training—these are all factors driving this evolution. Because of their flexibility and their customizability, MOOCs are uniquely positioned among training formats to meet the learning needs of the 21st century workforce.

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

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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.