This series is exploring the seven main ways companies are using MOOCs as identified by Bersin by Deloitte. In the previous article, we looked at building talent pipelines and onboarding new employees: two uses for the massive courses that come at the very beginning of (and even before) a company develops a formal relationship with its employees. This article focuses on two subsequent aspects of that relationship—self-directed development and workforce training—which fit more neatly into traditional ideas about job skills learning and development.

Self-Directed Development

Many different types of learners take MOOCs, and they do so for many different reasons. One of the major reasons millions of people spend their free time taking online courses is to enhance their job-specific knowledge and skills to advance their career. In fact, more than six out of ten MOOC students take the courses either to learn more about their current field or to prepare themselves to enter a new one. That’s a huge number of learners engaging in self-directed development.

I’ve written before about how companies can reward employees who take personal initiatives toward professional development, and in the roughly nine months since I wrote that article, many businesses have started doing exactly that. Companies including Yahoo!, Jardine Lloyd Thompson, and Deloitte now encourage their employees to enroll in MOOCs, and Yahoo! even reimburses employees for the expense of earning a verified certificate.

MOOCs used in this way are essentially free training for organizations. Companies that wish to take advantage of their employees’ personal initiative can do so by vetting relevant MOOCs and providing support for employees who are taking them. For example, T&D departments can maintain and distribute a list of recommended MOOCs and their start dates and even organize local seminars and discussions for employees who choose to enroll. They can also develop supplementary materials and activities to convey proprietary content and encourage critical thinking and interaction among employees. There are many options for how to incorporate employees’ personal learning initiatives into an organizational training program. The important thing is for companies to recognize and support this learning; otherwise, they risk losing valued employees to a company that does.

Workforce Training

Of the seven ways companies are using MOOCs, this is the one that is most familiar. The annual cost of job training and certification has reached $160 billion, or nearly $1200 per employee, and results of a recent study by Skillsoft suggest that while nearly all CEOs recognize the importance of workforce training, they are looking for ways to make that training faster and more efficient. In fact, more than 40 percent of CEOs say the length of a training program is even more important than the content. According to Skillsoft managing director Kevin Young, “The research shows that business leaders increasingly appreciate the value of learning. However, while training budgets themselves are not being cut, the time businesses have available to undertake training sessions is clearly shrinking….Courses need to be more succinct and to-the-point than ever, delivered in highly relevant, bite-sized pieces.”

MOOCs have huge potential in workforce training programs because they are designed to provide training in those “highly relevant, bite-sized pieces” that companies need, at a cost that is relatively low and with an efficiency that makes traditional training look like the Pony Express. These features of MOOCs are especially important now, as knowledge is changing quickly and employees need immediate solutions, not long-drawn-out training programs. Coursera’s head of business development Julia Stiglitz made this point in a recent CNBC article, noting that “the companies are looking for new ways to train their employees and get them up to speed on skills that may not have been relevant five years ago.”

The list of companies that are using MOOCs in their workforce training programs is impressive and growing. It now includes Google, which had 80,000 employees enroll in a Udacity programming course; steel manufacturing giant Tenaris, which is using edX’s platform to deliver training to its employees; and communications company Telus, which has trained more than 40,000 employees via a MOOC-like digital learning environment. Programs like these have met with success. According to the CNBC article cited above, business software management developer Brightpearl has been using Udemy to train salespeople, with the result that the salespeople trained online produced more than 30 percent more revenue than a comparable group taught through traditional instructor-led training. Results like this suggest that these new digital learning environments are not just cost- and time-effective, but also pay off with increased productivity.

Much of the writing I’ve done on this blog over the past year has focused on using MOOCs in the ways described in this article. But these represent only two of the seven ways companies have found to capitalize on what is not only new educational technology but an entirely new approach to organizational education and communication. In the final article in this series, we’ll look at three uses of MOOCs that definitely do not fit neatly within the bounds of traditional training: educating partners and customers, brand marketing, and collaboration and innovation. These three uses extend the reach of MOOCs way beyond a company’s relationship with its employees to influence how it interacts with its partners and its customers.

Copyright Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

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