The education and training worlds are fond of buzzwords, too many of which tend to be old ideas wrapped in shiny new packaging. But there is one buzzword that is set to transform the way we think about education from higher education classrooms to corporate training and development departments: unbundling.

We are all familiar with the concept of bundling—we use Expedia to get better prices by bundling our flights, hotels, and car rentals together, and we bundle our cable and Internet packages to save money as well. While bundling may be great for saving money on vacations and utilities, the all-in-one format that is currently the standard in education seems to have run its course. Now, thought leaders are exploring ways to improve education by breaking it into its component parts.

One of the biggest current proponents of unbundling in the education sphere is Anant Agarwal, MIT professor and president of massive open online course (MOOC) provider edX. In a December Huffington Post article, Agarwal characterized unbundling as focusing on three major aspects of education: time, function, and content. Briefly, the idea of unbundling time refers to moving away from the traditional four-year degree formula and instead imagining “an alternative path of lifelong continuous education,” which may involve formal classes at various institutions, MOOCs, real-world experiences, and pretty much any other form of learning. Unbundling function refers to partnering with other organizations to provide services like facilities management, healthcare, food service, and other functions that are not central to the main goal of providing an education. Finally, unbundling content refers to using various forms of content—digital textbooks, MOOCs, open educational resources, etc.—depending on the needs of the course and the learners.

Agarwal’s vision is a new system that takes advantage of new educational technologies, like MOOCs, to provide the kind of education modern students need: one that emphasizes learning as a lifestyle and takes into account knowledge, skills, and attitudes obtained from many different sources. This vision is pretty revolutionary, but colleges and universities are starting to take note—already MIT has released a report describing unbundling as a new model for education.

Organizations can also benefit from unbundling their training and development programs, particularly as it refers to time and content. First, unbundling time. Time is perhaps even more of a pressing issue for companies than it is for higher education institutions. Employees need training, and that training needs to be delivered quickly, efficiently, and often—in today’s rapidly changing environment, a continuous program of training is the only way to ensure that employees’ knowledge and skills are kept up-to-date and that businesses remain competitive. Most traditional training programs, which rely on one or a few days of instructor-led training over the course of a year simply don’t cut it anymore. Not only do these programs focus too heavily on “seat-time,” but learners are apt to forget almost everything as soon as they walk out the door because they don’t have an immediate opportunity to apply it. The MOOC format can help organizations to unbundle time by providing on-demand, widespread access to training courses, resources, personal learning networks, performance support, and more, when and where the employees need those resources. Training time becomes embedded in the workday, rather than taking place outside of it.

Organizations can benefit from unbundling content by using a variety of resources located around the Web—articles, YouTube videos, even full MOOCs—as learning materials for their employees. There are many excellent resources out there, which in the context of a MOOC can be curated and shared through social media, social bookmarking, wikis, and so on. Unbundling content gives trainers the greatest flexibility in designing courses and gives learners the opportunity to participate in the creation of an organizational knowledge base.

There is another type of unbundling happening in education that has particular importance for organizations: unbundling learning from credentials. As corporate branding, marketing, and training guru Jeanne Meister recently told Online Educa: “Unbundling learning will be the future, as providers detach the coursework from the certificate, allowing learners to participate in various strands of learning, and opting in to a verified certificate of completion. Online learning modules are not completed with a degree or certificate but also include the ability to share one’s increased knowledge on a social network. Using education to advance your personal brand and long-term employability will become increasingly important as employers use data analytics to find top talent online.”

The MOOC format is ideal for unbundling time, content, and learning in a training context: courses can be long or short—designed to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners; content can be created or curated by both instructors and learners and shared across an organization’s learning network; and training certificates can be unbundled into mini-credentials, like digital badges.

Overall, using the MOOC format to unbundle training will result in some huge benefits for organizations:

  • More focus on knowledge and skills acquired, less on time spent in a classroom.
  • Better development of and access to organizational knowledge through collective creation and sharing of learning resources.
  • New forms of credentials that represent real knowledge and skills that can be applied.

Unbundling is likely to be a major topic of conversation in the training sphere this year. As you make your training and development plans for the year, think about how using an unbundled MOOC format can help your organization meet its goals in 2017 and beyond.

Copyright 2017 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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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.