In 2013 I participated in a Learning Cafe working group on MOOCs for Workplace Learning with colleagues from other corporate organisations. The group concluded that:
MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) can be a mainstream employee learning option. It offers cost effective solutions for organisations with the benefits far outweighing the challenges. L&D/HR need to be proactive in exploring and including MOOCs in learning strategies.
I was invited to be a panellist at EduTECH 2014 alongside two fellow working group members. Jeevan Joshi (Learning Cafe founder) summarised the Working Group’s activities and findings, while Tim Drinkall from NBNCo and myself each spoke about our own experiences exploring MOOCs. I presented two perspectives: (1) MOOCs for my own professional development; and (2) MOOCs as an employee learning option in my organisation (where I focus on technical capability development for Supply Chain roles). The views presented in this blog post are entirely my own and do not represent those of either Learning Cafe or my employer.
In summary my experience suggests that:
- MOOCs are a valid option that L&D professionals should include in their professional development portfolio; and
- MOOCs will only be a valid mainstream option for technical capability development when (if?) courses are developed on relevant subjects, and where the organisation supports the learners to apply the content in their workplace and learn from the experience.
MOOCs for L&D Professional Development
I have enrolled in three MOOCs for my own professional development (PD), and completed one. Personal motivation was the key to my MOOC completion, driven primarily by relevance to my immediate needs.
In most instances MOOCs are a self-directed learning experience, for which barriers to entry are very low (no entry criteria, no/low fees). I did not know any other participants, few people were aware that I had enrolled, and there were no adverse consequences for non-completion. This was a low-risk PD experiment. My completion of these MOOCs was dependent on intrinsic motivation. While all three subjects were of interest to me, only the course that I completed addressed specific skills that I had an immediate need to apply. While I skimmed the content in the other two courses and initially made an attempt to join the overwhelmingly large and relatively chaotic online discussions, the subjects weren’t a high enough priority for me to allocate time to these MOOCs. Having said this, I did get value from being able to skim the content and look more closely at anything that caught my eye.
The MOOC that I completed was Social Media for Active Learning from Florida State University (FSU). It ran for four weeks with topics on curation, social media lessons, Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and privacy & ethics (the latter an important and often overlooked aspect of this subject area). Each topic could be completed independently. Weekly content was presented via three short videos, a one hour webinar (recorded for those who not attend live), and linked readings and tools. To earn a topic badge required posting in response to three discussion topics (self-selected from a longer list), completing and posting a project, passing an online quiz, and providing feedback on the topic. (As a slight aside, I was surprised that I enjoyed earning the topic badges, and suspect that I may not have completed the final topic were it not for the desire to complete the badge set – this has shifted my view on using badges in my work.)
The content and activities were relevant, practical and well-presented. I particularly liked the use of separate discussion threads for each question which made it easy to follow a conversation without interference from other discussion threads. With the exception of the recorded webinars all content ran well on my iPad, so it was convenient to work on the MOOC during my daily public transport commute. There was a lot of feedback provided by the FSU students who formed the course support team. Some discussion did occur on Twitter and my PLN expanded slightly. I really enjoyed the social interaction in this MOOC and looking at the project work completed by others. Most pleasing of all was that I was able to use some of the project outputs in my workplace, and immediately apply the knowledge and skills I picked up during the course.
I now regard MOOCs as a useful additional option for my ongoing PD, particularly where I have an immediate opportunity to apply the content.
External MOOCs for Organisational Technical Capability Development
I joined the Learning Cafe working group as I was attracted to the idea of “free” courses from reputable institutions that could be incorporated into the suite of learning options in my organisation. My organisational learners work predominantly in manufacturing, maintenance, warehousing, distribution, supply planning and scheduling. Over the past year I have searched several times for MOOCs relevant to the technical knowledge and skills of these learners. Alas, there are very few on offer. Even if there were relevant MOOCs available there is no such thing as a free lunch. Effort needs to be put into finding and evaluating a MOOC just as it does any other type of formal learning. (Note that I am deliberately discussing formal learning options at this point). Some learners may require support to effectively engage and learn in a MOOC environment, especially where it is true to the pedagogy of interaction on a massive scale.
Looking at learning through the lens of the 70:20:10 framework (which is used successfully in my organisation), generally a MOOC has the potential to address theory (10%) and the social (20%) aspects of learning. However, for technical skills the experiential learning (70%) requires hands on application of skills in real world context. Some highly motivated and adept self-directed learners will be able to generate the application and reflection required to create experiential learning from a MOOC; many will require support to achieve this. That support may come from an internal group of peer learners undertaking the same MOOC, an interested leader, or an L&D practitioner.
Another option is to blend a MOOC in full or part into a learning program. This is one of the opportunities that Donald Clark sees for use of MOOCs by corporates. In a similar vein, the content of many MOOCs is open source, hence provides another source for curation of material for use in formal and informal learning. This is the extent to which I have used MOOCs within my organisation at the time of writing.
These are some of the activities into which L&D effort may need to be invested in order to effectively utilise MOOCs for mainstream learning. Refer to moocsatwork.com for a framework that identifies other considerations for the introduction of external MOOCs into employee learning.
MOOCs as a Model for Internal Program Design
For many L&D practitioners who have worked within the constraints of ‘traditional’ course design and the limitations of their LMS, enrolling in a well-designed MOOC will expose them to a broader range of learning methods (e.g. online discussions, use of current resources curated from the internet) and provide examples of how to use these methods well (e.g. discussion thread structure in Social Media for Active Learning MOOC) as well as what not to do (e.g. a lecturer presenting to a camera for an entire series of videos). This is one aspect hotly debated in Ryan Tracey’s post on the pedagogy of MOOCs.
Perhaps in a corporate setting, MOOCs could play this role – … something which can also help people to build their internal network (…and break silos!?) across the organisation.
I am looking forward to exploring MOOCs further on the upcoming MOOC about Corporate MOOCs, which commences on 16 June 2014.