Massive open online courses (MOOCs) recently celebrated their seventh anniversary. What started as an ambitious experiment is now becoming a standard component of education. Learners around the country and around the world are taking MOOCs. Even many students at traditional brick and mortar institutions are taking MOOCs, sometimes as standalone courses, sometimes as part of a hybrid learning program.

And there are new developments all of the time. Just this month, Coursera and the University of Illinois announced that the school’s entire MBA program would be put online in a MOOC format. Students can take the courses for free; they can sign up for paid course sequences called Specializations, such as “Digital Marketing” and “Improving Business Finances and Operations”; or they can complete the entire curriculum and earn an iMBA from the University of Illinois. This last option costs $20,000, but that is about $80,000 less than what an MBA costs elsewhere.

Last week, we started looking at new research coming out of MOOCs and its implications for using the courses in corporate training. This week, we’ll look at three lessons that corporate trainers can learn from MOOCs, even if they haven’t yet adopted the format in their organization.

Activities, modules, and courses should be short

This is a topic we’ve touched on several times, but it bears repeating: course content and activities are most effective when they are bite-sized. This is in direct contrast to how traditional corporate training is delivered — i.e., in long sessions — which is often determined more by budgetary constraints (such as instructor costs) rather than by learning considerations.

But plenty of research has now been done showing that after a few minutes of a lecture learners are more likely to be thinking about what they eat for dinner than about the course material. No matter what type of course you are designing — in-person, online, or hybrid — it’s time to start putting learners first by keeping it short.

Personalization is the key to boosting engagement

Learners start to tune out for many reasons — they may already know the material, or it may be too advanced, or maybe they just have something else on their mind. Personalized learning, which is tailored to individuals’ learning needs, styles, and schedules is the best way to engage learners because it allows them to participate in the course when, where, and how they want to.

A study recently released by edX demonstrates the incredible power of personalized learning. edX experimented with adaptive MOOCs, courses where some students took interactive, personalized lessons rather than just watching passive videos. The results were staggering — while students watching passive videos dropped out in droves after about 4 minutes, those who took interactive, personalized lessons stayed with them for about 22 minutes. That’s a 450% increase!

The lesson for corporate trainers is that whether you are delivering traditional instructor-led training or designing a traditional e-learning module, make it active and, to the extent that you can, make it personalized. Even just allowing students to learn at their own pace can make a difference. The 2013 Towards Maturity Benchmark study found that 88% of learners like to be able to learn at their own pace and 75% are happy to engage with online learning without prompting.

There is much more to training than just content

The main focus of most training efforts is on content and content delivery, but this is really only part of the equation. And the truth is, it isn’t even the most important part — the most important part is the learning.

In an article for the Vanderbilt University blog, Derek Bruff writes that one of the lessons from Vanderbilt’s first MOOCs was “there’s more to MOOCs than lecture videos.” He continues: “Sure, lecture videos are part of that experience, but students wanted meaningful, tractable assignments and both informal and formal feedback on their learning. Our teams had paid attention to such things before the launch, of course, but student requests and feedback in those first days made clear that producing high quality lecture videos was only part of the whole picture.”

We can extrapolate from this lesson to training of all kinds — whether it is ILT, e-learning, MOOCs, or some hybrid format, developing and delivering the content is only the first step, not the final one. The real value comes in providing meaningful learning experiences, including feedback and opportunities for learners to share what they know with one another. These things are often missing in corporate training, which is part of the reason why in most organizations it isn’t very popular.

When Stanford, Harvard, and MIT originated MOOCs, one of their stated goals was to provide a laboratory of sorts for education research. Thanks to this research, we are now able to identify training methodologies that work best and implement them in all of our training courses and programs — online or off.

Copyright Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.


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