To MOOC or not to MOOC

Ben Crowley2 Blogs Leave a Comment

‘To MOOC or not to MOOC’ by Bert De Coutere, Training Journal, January 2014

I have chosen this article to review because, as the author states early on, MOOC is the ‘new big thing’ in learning, even though its impact has so far been felt mainly in academic circles.  As I mentioned in a previous review, MOOC is an acronym that, on the face of it, seems to be the antithesis of everything that MTP stands for.  ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ does not bring to mind the essential elements of learning that our clients are looking for – targeted, tailored, carefully designed solutions.  Only the reference to ‘online’ seems to fit with modern trends.

The author – from the well-respected Centre for Creative Leadership – suggests that MOOCs have shown the fastest adoption rate of any learning development in the last fifteen years.  He admits that this development has mainly been via academic bodies; the impact on business training has been relatively slight.  Apparently the launch of MOOCs in 2012 has been followed by much challenge in academic circles but, in the case of business applications, the debate has only just begun.

Apparently over 10 million people have started MOOCs but that number is brought into perspective when it is revealed that many such courses have drop-out rates as high as 90%.  Some of the academic bodies who are providing these courses to anyone who logs on – often without charge – say that this does not matter; it is a form of self-selection where only the able and the well-motivated survive. 

There is clearly a mismatch between the original concept of the MOOC to provide generic training for the masses and the trend in the corporate world for more and more focus on company strategy and systems.  But the surprising result of the author’s research is that the majority of academic students who log on to MOOCs are experienced company personnel who seem to want more than their employers are now providing.

The author argues that there is benefit from businesses adapting some of the more successful elements of MOOCs and integrating these into their Learning & Development strategy.  I could not help but agree with this analysis because it is exactly what MTP has done with several of our major clients, though we have been careful never to use the MOOC acronym; our learning solutions are not massive and not open and are not always courses.  The key MOOC feature that works for us and our clients is the creation of bite sized learning segments, delivered by a facilitator and recorded in parallel with a tailored Powerpoint presentation.

The article suggests that a key potential benefit of MOOCs is for businesses to make learning available to a wider audience but the author rightly questions whether those involved in corporate training will accept the high drop-out rates and the principle of self-selection.  His research indicates that the minority who stay the course will learn as much as a group selected by internal company processes.  He therefore suggests that this self-selection could be a better way of choosing the right people to take in-company courses but it is hard to see company Learning & Development Managers taking the same view.  Learning has to be geared to job requirements and, though this self-selection approach may choose those who are keenest and brightest, learning must be applied to provide value to the business.

Towards the end of the article, the author suggests two possible approaches for L&D Managers.  Either direct employees towards publicly available MOOCs – which are usually free – or create your own.  The first proposal is relatively risk free and is difficult to argue against, as long as the content is broadly in line with knowledge that can be applied; why not encourage employees to better themselves at zero cost? 

The creation of ‘in-company MOOCs’ does however raise the question of definition; when is a MOOC not a MOOC?  The author suggests that there are some key principles to apply:
·        – You must create new content and not recycle existing material
·        – Create short videos of bite sized learning as mentioned above
·        –  Develop insightful discussion questions
·        –  Create links for ‘deeper diving’
·        –  Allow for continuous updating
·        –  Support with facilitation in the early stages.

The only possible conclusion from this list is that a learning solution with these features can no longer be described as a Massive Open Online Course.  It is a learning solution of the type that major companies have increasingly been developing in recent years, effectively an interactive and tailored on-line learning programme.  It is also true that most L&D Managers who have gone to the trouble of developing such a programme will not be happy with drop-out rates of 90%!  The author argues that this should be accepted and ‘is putting the learner in the driving seat’; I would suggest that this is too idealistic a view in the tough economic conditions of today.

After producing the above list, it is not surprising that the author finishes by admitting that MOOC is a ‘blurred concept’.  Apparently there are subsidiary acronyms emerging like SPOC (nothing to do with Startrek but Small Private Online Course) and DOCC (Distributed Open Collaborative Course).  Our view at MTP is that our adaptations of the best features of MOOC must avoid any reference to the original concept; our bite sized modules are therefore being branded as ‘Interactive Podcasts’.  MOOCs are an interesting development but for business training we should be selecting the elements that work in a business context, not jumping on the academic bandwagon.

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