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MOOCs and the future of your training strategy


David Marshall reviews the opportunities that exist now for organisations that get on board with MOOCs and looks at how they can be integrated – even at this early stage of their evolution – into internal training strategies.

Massive Open Online Courses – or MOOCs as they’re more commonly known – are a hot topic in the education and training sector at the moment as organisations try to find a viable business model to make this type of social education and learning pay its own way. But while this detail is being resolved, there’s a great opportunity for organisations to take advantage of MOOCs and overhaul their own training and development offerings. Before we can go too deeply into a discussion of MOOCs and training strategies it’s important to establish that we’re all familiar with what a MOOC actually is:

  • Massive – in that thousands of people around the world can participate in them at the same time

  • Open – to anyone that wants to do one

  • Online – because you need a computer to be able to access them

  • Courses – since they’re structured learning programmes, not online courses you can access randomly

At the moment, MOOCs are primarily being offered by universities and higher education institutions that have large volumes of research knowledge and output that they’re keen to share with the outside world. The courses enable experts and researchers to share their know-how and capability on a plethora of topics with anyone who’s mildly interested in the topic.

FutureLearn, owned by the Open University who has partnered with over 20 of the top UK and international universities, is an example of one MOOC provider that offers free courses on a range of topics including innovation and enterprise and basic computer programming to the secret power of brands and how to make better personal and professional decisions.

Why should I think about using a MOOC?

MOOCs can offer your organisation the opportunity to access the very best and latest thinking that you might not otherwise be able to afford or access as a small business or a company with a capped training budget. And although, as a participant on a course, you’re not able to dictate or influence the content of it, you are reassured and aware, from the moment of enrolling, who will be ‘teaching’ and the topics that will be covered. But the actual content of a MOOC, at least at this stage of their evolution, isn’t really the issue for your business; MOOCs are changing the way people learn and it’s this fact that you need to get on board with to take advantage of them before they become mainstream.

MOOCS are the very definition of dynamic social learning. They offer participants – and probably a good number of your employees are already enrolled on one somewhere – the opportunity to interact, connect and engage with people all over the world. It’s not a one-way learning environment. Rather, MOOCs are interactive, dynamic and evolving, using quizzes and tests, as well as videos, podcasts, blogs and participant forums to engage with learners and help people to retain the knowledge on offer.

MOOC developers are learning from different sectors, particularly the broadcasting industry, where narrative and story are crucial for creating content that truly engages and makes learners want to learn. This contemporary approach to training and development will appeal to a strong proportion of most workforces and the ‘try before you buy’ aspect to courses ensures organisations can test drive courses and topics that would have been unaffordable at one time.

There’s also the flexibility of MOOCS over more traditional learning, allowing staff to learn about a new topic with as little as two hours’ investment each week. And based on what’s in the market at the moment, courses last anything from four to ten weeks. Whilst this is a commitment, it’s certainly less of one than an evening class where you also have to be in a certain place at a certain time. Learners on a MOOC, in contrast, can ‘attend’ their weekly class any time of the day or week.

Of course, at this stage of their development there’s bound to be drawbacks. The lack of corporate control over content has already been mentioned and there’s also the fact that apart from confirmation that you’ve completed a course, there’s no qualification or certificate for participants. However, such drawbacks are not sufficient, in my opinion, to stop MOOCs from changing the way organisations think about delivering training and organisational learning.

MOOCs and your training strategy

As noted already, as MOOCs become more mainstream they will encourage elearning to become embedded as an established and effective way for people to learn. No longer do we have to rely on classroom-based PowerPoint sessions for organisations to hope the message has got through; learning technologies are changing and MOOCs can let people access information in their own time, letting them engage in their preferred way.

I’m not saying you need to re-build your training strategy to put MOOCs at its core. But what I do recommend is approaching the idea with an open mind and perhaps enrolling in one for yourself – whether on a personal or professional development level – to really find out what they’re all about.

MOOCs, for your training strategy, are about the way people learn, not what they learn. You need to be encouraging this social and engaging style of learning within your business. Getting on board now and getting a taste of how MOOCs can work for your business is too good an opportunity to miss, so don’t delay. MOOCs are coming so get involved now and see what they can do for you.

David Marshall is the chief executive of Marshall ACM, a leading elearning provider that specialises in equality and diversity training and mobile learning

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