How to Use MOOCs in Workplace Learning?

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, have been a major driving force in the online education market development. These offerings have enables unparalleled access to education for many. More and more providers of this type of online education are emerging every day. Overall, the market is so huge. There doesn’t seem to be a learning topic that you wouldn’t find a MOOC for. While these learning offerings come with their own challenges, it seems reasonable for professional organisations to at least explore possible use cases. So, this article will detail how to make the most out of using MOOCs in workplace learning. But first, let’s look at some of the challenges.

Challenges with MOOCs

In the context of corporate learning, MOOCs present a few challenges that hinder their implementation and impact.

  • MOOCs are one-size-fits-all rather than personalised experiences
  • They alone don’t address specific, contextual business problems
  • The style of learning is mostly formal and long-form

Now, these challenges are real and they may seem dreadful. However, we can solve, at least to an extent, all of them. Let’s take a closer look.

How to personalise MOOC learning experiences?

MOOCs initially started out as a medium for universities to transfer their offering online. Universities, by default, teach us abstract thinking, concepts and wider skill sets through standardised curriculums. The learning is a lengthy process (many years), and there’s fairly little personalisation within the chosen study topics and course offerings. In organisations, however, people (and the business!) demand faster and more relevant learning. For both, personalisation of learning is very important. While it might be unlikely that the MOOC provider lets you re-engineer their content, there are still a few things that you can do.

For instance, you could address the relevance problem by using your internal learning platform to collect data and recommend relevant MOOCs based on that. E.g. by completing some internal training on UX design, you can give your learners the option to take up a MOOC on the subject, in case they develop an interest for the topic and wish to know more. Another way to personalise could be based on perceived difficulty. For instance, you could require employees to complete specific learning paths or jump on the career ladder before offering them particular MOOCs. This will also help you on the cost side, since providing everything for everyone is just unfeasible for the business.

How to make MOOCs relevant to the business?

Another problem, also related to personalisation, is that MOOCs don’t address specific business problems – the very thing modern L&D should do. In organisations, we are not learning for the sake of learning per se. Rather, we are trying to solve business problems by evoking behavioural change initiated by learning. On this mission, another level of personalisation of learning is required. Just delivering information and knowledge (what MOOCs do quite well) really falls short in providing the context and practical applications by which to apply the newly learnt in the workplace. Your people can learn all they want, but if they don’t bring that back to the workplace and change their behaviours, your corporate learning is a waste of money.

So, how do we solve this? This does require a bit of design efforts. However, a good goal would be to view MOOCs as resources to tap into, and then design an organisational learning approach for making sure the learnt gets transferred to the workplace. It’s important to bridge the gap between the “abstract” level of learning and what the organisation needs. Often, this is just communication. Hence, you should make clear why a particular MOOC is offered and how the learning outcomes from that are intended to support the business. Further, you should always be specific in outlining the expectations after the fact. Finally, the real results can be evaluated with learning analytics, comparing learning results to performance data.

Refrain from using MOOCs where they don’t work

As mentioned, MOOCs mostly represent a long-form, formal approach to learning. And in that capacity, they work quite well. However, you shouldn’t rely on them for most of the other needs. According to the 70:20:10 framework, only a small part of workplace learning takes place formally. Even though some MOOCs do incorporate social elements, that ‘social’ is not contextual to your organisation. While that ‘social’ certainly helps to facilitate the learning process, you’re not transferring knowledge within your own organisation by offering MOOCs. Hence, for internal knowledge transfer, mentoring and coaching, you should look for other alternatives.

Moreover, MOOCs are not experiential either. Rather, they are quite the opposite – learning often abstract concepts at a distance, without exposure to a practical environment. As learning is increasingly moving into the flow of work, this “70” becomes perhaps the most crucial thing to get right. That type of workflow learning is much more about just-in-time, on-demand performance support rather than traditional long-form education.

Final words

Overall, MOOCs are a great addition to the workplace learning mix. They enable us to offer high quality content on topics that we cannot justify designing learning experiences for ourselves. As MOOCs are often certified by accredited institutions, offering them can also provide an incentive for your staff to stay with you, as they’re also adding to their own personal learning portfolio. Nowadays, some more sophisticated internal learning platforms also enable you to curate, offer and recommend MOOCs within your own system, which helps you to provide the learning where it is needed.

Fundamentally, the use of MOOCs is similar to designing any other kind of learning. It’s about finding the ways and developing a strategy for using the available resources where they best fit. And remember, if you need help with that, or with your learning strategy overall, we are here to help. Just contact us.

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