Just in case you’ve been under a rock lately, here is a newsMOOC update: the nature of training is changing, and fast! The recent explosion of massive open online courses (MOOCs) in higher education has brought with it a whole new set of technology-enabled learning tools. Education and training are no longer delivered exclusively in closed classrooms by experts, and learning is no longer something people do in isolation surrounded by textbooks. Today, through computers and mobile devices, education can happen anywhere and at any time, and learning involves students not only actively engaging with the content, but also using various tools and platforms to interact with instructors and fellow learners. In the education sector, this is known as Learning 2.0, and the corporate sector needs to be prepared: Training 2.0 is coming.

What exactly does this mean?

There continues to be plenty of controversy surrounding MOOCs, but one thing we can all agree on is they are changing the way we think about education. The main drivers and implications of this change are huge improvements and innovations in learning technologies. Technology-enabled learning tools are not a panacea, but they can go a long way toward solving many of the challenges facing training departments today, including high costs, a lack of qualified employees, the rapidly changing business and technology landscapes, and long training development times coupled with the need to educate employees quickly. Over the course of two articles, we will examine the main “MOOC tools” – online technologies that have made it possible to deliver highly engaging training programs to any number of employees, anywhere, at any time.

Learning Management Systems

The basic frameworks that support MOOCs are learning management systems (LMSs), which are essentially systems for organizing and delivering content, administering assessments, and tracking learner progress. LMSs are not new. In fact, they have been in development for nearly 100 years (check out this excellent Mindflash infographic on the history of the LMS), but MOOCs, social media, and the demands of educating hundreds of thousands of people all at once have moved LMSs from mere online content delivery portals to fully interactive learning tools. Even though MOOCs utilize many different learning tools and social media platforms, most are delivered within the context of a learning management system, and most LMSs today can support all types of multimedia, interactive media, and social media. There are many LMSs available and many different considerations when conducting an LMS vendor search, but this is arguably the most important tool in the MOOC toolbox. Whether you choose to deliver content via text or video, host webinars or Google+ Hangouts, or use discussion forums or Twitter feeds, the LMS must be user-friendly, intuitive, and easy to navigate for both the instructors and the learners.

Content Delivery

Traditional training and education are based on the model of “talking heads,” presenters who stand in front of a class or a video camera and talk…and talk…and talk.  But plenty of research shows that people don’t learn from listening to someone talk. In fact, studies suggest that learners can initially pay attention to a lecture for about 10 to 15 minutes, but then they need something else to do. And that is just at the beginning – as the lesson goes on, the amount of time people can pay attention shrinks to the point where at the end of an hour, they can effectively absorb only a few minutes of information at a time. Clearly, content delivery needs a boost.

MOOCs incorporate several different tools for content delivery and these tools are becoming increasingly interactive.

  • Videos. Videos are the mainstay of most MOOCs, but even within this category the options are diverse. MOOC giant Coursera builds its modules around short talking head video lectures (usually less than 15 minutes), often with comprehension questions and other activities distributed throughout the lectures. Udacity’s courses are presented using pencasts – the students watch videos not of the instructor, but of the notes the instructor writes on a whiteboard. Using this technology, instructors can even write questions on the board for students to answer interactively. Screencasts are digital recordings of computer screen output. These videos are excellent for technology training, such as software tutorials – using a split screen, learners can simultaneously watch the tutorial and work interactively with the software.

Training videos do not need to be pre-recorded. Learners can also participate in live webinars and speaker sessions. YouTube and other services allow live video conferencing where presenters can moderate and respond in real time to questions and comments posted via instant messenging. The sessions can be archived for both current and future course participants. Other video tools include films, whiteboard animations, voiceover PowerPoint presentations, and Prezi presentations – you name it, your MOOC can handle it.

  • Text. Even standard text is becoming much more interesting through MOOCs. Although text-based course content can be presented as Word docs and pdfs, most text is organized into hyperlinked web pages for learners to navigate. This not only allows learners to control the pace and sequence of their learning, but also provides a level of interactivity missing from traditional text-based materials. Text content can also be delivered in interactive slideshows using PowerPoint and other presentation software.

The best part about all of these video and text resources is that they, along with audio and other multimedia files, can be accessed directly through the LMS or they can be downloaded as podcasts for learners to access on their phones or other mobile devices.

  • Games and simulations. Corporate training is increasingly becoming gamified, and both serious games and simulations are being used to train employees in areas ranging from first responders to financial services. Using gamified applications in the context of a MOOC brings these two powerful ideas together into a highly engaging training program, providing maximum opportunities for learners to interact with the content, with instructors, and with each other. Incorporating games and simulations into an LMS-based MOOC also provides companies with essential data about how well their training programs are working as learner progress and achievements can be systematically tracked and assessed, and modifications and adjustments to the program can be made quickly in response to learners’ needs.

This article has briefly reviewed the main content delivery tools used in MOOCs. In Part 2, we will turn to the real meat of Training 2.0 and the MOOC revolution: social media.

Copyright  Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.


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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.