In the previous post, I examined how much MOOCs cost compared with instructor-led training. What we’ve found is that for a 5-day training course for 500 people, a MOOC can translate into savings of about 65%, and that’s just the price of instruction alone. When you factor in all of the true costs of ILT — such as the cost of employees being away from their desks, not to mention travel — the savings rate can jump to 95% or more.

That’s a significant number. Other than eliminating your training programs entirely, what other action could you take that would reduce your training budget by 95%? Nothing.

However, despite the incredible potential for savings, many companies are still hesitant to adopt MOOCs. So, the question we need to be asking isn’t “How much do MOOCs cost?” Because obviously that isn’t the problem. The real question is “Why is 65%, or even 95%, savings not enough to convince more companies to give MOOCs a try?”

The answer in many firms is that MOOCs require a fundamental change in attitudes toward training — at the executive level, the manager level, the trainer level, and the employee level. And change is hard.

Let’s look at some common barriers to organizational change and how they might play a role in resistance to MOOC adoption.


Probably the top reason that 65% savings isn’t enough is simply that people are afraid of change. In a company considering a MOOC, a lot of this fear-driven resistance is likely to come from the training department itself.

When MOOCs first came onto the higher education scene, many faculty members at colleges and universities opposed the idea because they were afraid that they might be out of a job. Note that this has not happened. Hundreds of colleges and universities offer MOOCs — some even for credit — and there have not yet been mass layoffs.

MOOCs do, however, change the role of the training department. Rather than focusing on content delivery, trainers can turn their energies toward on guiding learners through the training. They become facilitators whose primary job is to ensure that the training being provided is doing what it’s supposed to do: lead to the development of new knowledge and skills. This is a change and it may be scary, but no one becomes a teacher merely to deliver lectures. People become teachers because they actually want to teach.

Fear of change can come from other places as well. For example, employees in some companies might be afraid of using the technology or executives might be afraid that MOOCs mean they lose control over the training programs. The antidote to this resistance is knowledge.

Lack of planning and buy-in

Any organizational change requires adequate planning, which includes getting buy-in from all stakeholders. It would be a mistake for a training department to just announce that ILT and traditional elearning are out and MOOCs are in. Most people haven’t even heard of MOOCs!

Before embarking on a MOOC training program, there needs to be a robust PR campaign to educate people at all levels of the company about what MOOCs are, their benefits, and, of course, how they work. Here are some strategies for getting MOOC buy-in from executives and managers as well as buy-in from employees.

A lack of knowledge about the current state

You know the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what if it is broke and you just don’t know it?

Many people in T&D departments still don’t understand how broken the current models of training really are. For example, if a company uses happy sheets, but not performance metrics, to measure the effectiveness of its ILT programs, who’s to say they aren’t working? There’s no data showing that people aren’t learning.

Of course, there also isn’t any data showing that they are. Where there is data, what it tells us is that people forget quite quickly, especially when they don’t have the opportunity to review or to apply what they’re learning. And unfortunately, that is the current state of most of ILT.

Again, the antidote is knowledge. Decision-makers need to be educated about the true state of ILT before they will be open to considering MOOCs.

How do you create organizational change?

How do you get past these barriers and create an environment where MOOCs (or any innovative idea, for that matter) won’t face such resistance?

In their 2005 book Blue Ocean Strategy, Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne identify common hurdles to organizational change and ways to overcome them. Here are some suggestions for how to apply these principles to MOOCs:

  1. Start by getting buy-in from the people who have the most influence in the organization. This could include executives, department managers, head trainers, and even certain employees.
  2. Find ways for people to experience why the change is necessary. For example, start collecting performance metrics for your current training programs. If the results don’t live up to expectations, even trainers afraid of losing their jobs might be more open to trying something new.
  3. Look for ways to redistribute resources toward high-impact areas. We’ve already seen how MOOCs can save significant resources. In the next post, I’ll make the case for applying the principles of A/B testing to using MOOCs your training program and outline some strategies for how to do it.

Overcoming resistance to organizational change is difficult, but the positive impacts usually far outweigh the headaches in the beginning. In the case of MOOCs, making the change can result in not only huge savings, but also much more engaging and effective training. Shouldn’t it at least be worth a try?

Copyright Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.


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