Press Online button.The entire corporate and workplace training landscape is shifting. I’m not talking just new technologies or new formats, though these things have certainly been some of the major players. I’m talking an entirely new concept of what training means. There are two main forces driving the shift in training:

  1. ROI. Businesses have historically been very bad at measuring the return-on-investment of their training programs. Trainings are too often evaluated based on hours of seat-time, rather than by any real assessment of knowledge and skills. But many companies have started to wise up—the current business environment is too competitive for organizations to invest time and money in training without observing any impact on the bottom line. And when you start to actually look at the numbers, it becomes apparent that many traditional forms of instructor-led training are frankly not worth it: people forget 90 percent of what they learn sitting in a classroom, often by the time they walk out the door.
  2. Content is no longer king. In 1996, Bill Gates wrote a famous article in which he declared content to be king. But today, content is everywhere—we have more content available at our fingertips than we know what to do with! The trick now is for companies to realize value from that content, which in training and development means knowledge and skills that can be immediately applied on the job—in other words, providing relevant training that employees can actually use.

The need for real results, coupled with the abundance of content, has meant that training models based solely on knowledge transfer are becoming obsolete. What is replacing these models? A combination of knowledge transfer and performance support.

Performance support is just-in-time learning that puts the knowledge employees need in their hands exactly at the moment they need it—not before (when they are unlikely to remember it), not after (when it is no longer useful), but right then and there. Performance support can take many forms: the quintessential types are checklists and other job aids, but in its broadest definition, performance support can include apps, YouTube videos, wikis and other knowledge bases, and even other people. Effective performance support is embedded (i.e., the learning takes place in the course of, rather than separate from, the work), guides workflows and processes, and gives people real-time access to the information they need.

The idea of performance support is not new, but new learning-enabled technologies and digital learning environments are expanding its possibilities and bringing it to the attention of many organizations. Now, companies that want to effectively train their employees and ensure employees actually remember what they learn are looking for ways to integrate both knowledge transfer and performance support into their training programs. Massive open online courses (MOOCs), which are the rising stars of the corporate training world, provide the perfect opportunity for businesses to do exactly that.

Performance support has not been a large focus of the MOOC discussion thus far, but now seems like an excellent time to open the conversation. As Gary Wise recently wrote on his Living in Learning blog, “MOOCs came from an academic birthright, and they are structured to accomplish the transfer of knowledge in some very innovative “flipped classroom” approaches that are less structured and open to participants to discover and learn through multiple forms of content delivery, media, and venues. Perfect. This will work in the corporate world as well. My question is why stop here? Let’s flip the whole dynamic learning and support ecosystem, not just the classroom.

MOOCs are more than just online courses—they use new technologies in an innovative format, but more than that they represent a new way of thinking about workplace training and development. The features of these new digital learning environments enable them to serve both as training courses and as performance support that can be used long after the courses are completed. Here are several aspects of MOOCs that blur the traditional boundaries between training and performance support:

  • Course archives. The key to using MOOCs both as courses and performance support is the availability of various resources in easily accessible archives. For example, for many MOOCs on Coursera, students can login even after the course is over and still have access to the materials, discussion boards, and so on.
  • Content. OK, I know I just said that content is no longer king, but some MOOC content is different. Most of the content in MOOCs is delivered as short videos. These resources, especially task-specific tutorials, can be used later as performance support. In a sense, a MOOC can be seen as a way to guide learners through a curated collection of relevant resources that they can later access at the point of need.
  • People. In addition to delivering knowledge and skills, one of the main goals of MOOCs is to foster connections between people. Through discussion boards, social media, virtual collaborations, and so on, learners develop their own personal learning networks that last long after the course is over. These networks, which may contain fellow learners, trainers, and even experts in the field, remain accessible via Twitter and other social networking sites and provide additional places employees can turn for answers to questions and solutions to problems.
  • Resource sharing. Trainers can analyze workflows and create checklists, but often the best job aids are developed by the people who are actually using them. MOOCs are built on a philosophy of sharing, and by encouraging learners to create and share resources—via social bookmarking sites (e.g., Delicious and Pinterest), wikis, and other user-contributed knowledge bases—organizations can harness the knowledge of both instructors and learners to create highly effective performance support.
  • Mobile learning. MOOCs haven’t gone completely mobile yet, but it’s coming, and soon all of these resources and more will be available to learners wherever they are.

MOOCs and performance support are both on the rise in corporate training. Separately, they have the potential to change how companies think about and implement their training programs, but their benefits will be significantly compounded when these trends converge into an entirely new model 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.

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