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Naveen Narayanan

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Beyond the brick in the wall

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Naveen Narayanan gives the community an insight into how online courses are changing corporate learning and development.

The student population is in the middle of a massive mindset shift. Take your typical Gen Y student today. He/she is non-traditional and needs flexibility due to family and work demands. As one can imagine, they form a complete contrast with what education has stood for over the years. So while there have been innovations and offerings of a million different choices in almost every industry, why can’t the same happen with learning?

Why should you be limited to learn what someone offers as a curriculum inside the boundaries of a classroom? To beat this impediment, all you have to do enrol in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). MOOCs are online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for students, professors, and anyone with a mind to learn. They are a recent development in distance education that have successfully connected employees to a variety of knowledge bases from which they are free to choose whatever course they like and finish it within their preferred timeframe. They have been built for a world where information is omnipresent.

The era of the MOOC

Institutions and organisations are beginning to recognise that adult students and professionals behave more like consumers than students and seek programs that fit around their busy schedules, not the other way around. In this respect, MOOCs fit the bill.

Any company worth its salt will realise the importance of continued efforts to encourage their employees to educate themselves. Cyclically companies employ downsizing and cost-cutting strategies. Learning and development, which is considered as a value adding component in companies, is facing similar issues. Strategists are looking for a solution that will help them to train their employees, make them industry-ready, and elevate their competency level in a way that does not compromise budgets and yet ensures training modules are effective.

MOOCs happen to be the knights in shining armour that can help organisations achieve their business objectives. They can help employees learn how to engage in better risk management with their clients and adapt quicker to the changing needs of the market. MOOCs make it convenient for the staff to enroll for courses that add value to their current profile and also get them ready for the next role within the organisation. According to Forbes, more than 50% of employers think that MOOCs are equal to or better than classroom education. 1/3 of the L&D professionals who have taken a MOOC have rated it good or excellent, and only 2% said it was below expectations. The statistics are clearly in favour of organisations adapting to this new development.

What's in it for the learner?

With MOOCs, the learner takes on a role more expansive than ever before, acting as teacher, learner, and peer reviewer. Companies adopting MOOCs have to trust the learner to do this, by incorporating more opportunities for peer reviews and peer-to-peer dialogues into the course. What has prompted learners to engage heavily in such a new sphere is that MOOCs are open and online.

They could also be broadly defined as an event, where people who care about a subject get together and talk about it. Participants can pause, rewind lectures and continue at their own pace.

The modus operandi

The MOOC has tried to redefine access to knowledge. It isn’t a school or 'just' an online course. It is a blended mixture of cognitive and new age learning that has forced us to restructure what education has come to mean today. We have to go from lectures on the blackboard to gamification, online lectures, online video demos etc.

Its incorporation into L&D is seamless. The biggest advantage is accessibility; anyone from anywhere can access it. Secondly, the flexibility of MOOCs mean that the learner can complete the coursework at his/her own pace.

Case in point: it is a digital world out there and Millennials no longer respond to one-way classroom-based conversation. So while that exists, why fight it? Take online technologies, combine them with knowledge and blend them into their lives.

The opinion stands divided on whether MOOCs will challenge the foundation of the traditional education system, but nevertheless one can see their growing importance. We are at a crossroads and it is up to us to either stagnate or enable intellectual curiosity and finally move beyond the walls of a classroom and start transforming organisations from within.

Naveen Narayanan is global head of talent acquisition at HCL Technologies

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