Phillip Raskin, Learning and Development Director, Asia, for public relations firm Golin says the “M” in the now common term Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is sometimes confusing.
“The word ‘massive’ sounds like a huge, huge number, and much as massively multiplayer online role playing games don’t need a million people online at any one time to be successful, I think MOOCs can be ‘massive’ with only a few hundred or even fewer people,” he explains.
From Raskin’s perspective, the key is the interaction and the quality of content.
“I’ve taken courses online where we started with 60,000 people globally and ended with less than 5,000, and the forum conversations were dominated by just a handful,” he states.
“And I’ve taken ones where there were far fewer of us, but it was a group of much more engaged people who contributed and interacted the whole way through.”
He stresses that for corporate learning and development (L&D) professionals such as himself, “MOOC means that whatever the size of our organisation, and the openness of the course, it is specific to our employees and their training needs.”
There are of course, other interpretations of what exactly constitutes as a MOOC.
Michael Choy, Director of Dioworks, an e-learning design company in Singapore, says a MOOC is any piece of structured online learning package with clear learning outcomes that anyone with a computer and internet can access.
“The autonomy lies with the individual and not with the systems administrator or the designer.The MOOC can be offered for a fee or free of charge,” he explains.
Examples of renowned global MOOC learning providers include Udacity, edX and Coursera.
The potential of MOOCs is there for all to see.
According to the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD’s) Learning and Development Annual Survey Report 2015, 13% of survey respondents expected MOOCs to grow in use at their organisation over the next two years.
In addition, the Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report highlighted that the last three years had seen a spurt of new learning offerings, including MOOCs, comprising of more than 400 universities that now offer free or low-cost courses.
MOOCs are not the only platform increasingly gaining traction; online learning and training are also rapidly entering the fray.
Tellingly, 80.6% of respondents to BLR’s Training and Development Survey Summary – 2015 expected to use online training tools in the year ahead.
Furthermore, the CIPD Spring 2015 Employee Outlook Survey found that online learning (29%) was cited by employees as among the top five L&D methods employed.
Charting the transformations in L&D
Raskin says transformations have mainly occurred in two places on the HR landscape: employee behaviour and technology.
“All of us have had increased demands on our time over the past five years, meaning less time and less focused attention span for learning. A lot of this is due to the second reason – technology – as we now have so much at our fingertips thanks to smart devices and ‘always-on’ connectivity that it’s sometimes hard to sit still,” he elaborates.
Nevertheless, Raskin says this also presents HR professionals with an opportunity if they can tailor their programmes and offerings to this new environment. They will need to utilise more on-demand online courses that can be accessed across multiple devices, in addition to finding the right opportunities for live training and mentorship, he says.
“Because for employees today, the need to continue to improve and widen their skill set has never been higher,” Raskin explains.
Bryan Tay, Director of training consultancy Dioworks, says there is a lot of buzz in Singapore over the implementation of the SkillsFuture initiative, which includes a push towards workplace learning and technology-enabled learning.
“The impact of this initiative cascades down to the individual level, empowering staff to source for and to determine their own professional development,” he elaborates.
Another significant move, he says, is the professionalisation of adult educators, led by the Institute for Adult Learning Singapore and the Workforce Development Agency.
“Technology has also enabled learning to be realised in different ways,” says Tay.
“For example, Dioworks is the local partner of Udemy to help promote and drive the adoption of MOOCs in Singapore. All these initiatives help to create a vibrant L&D marketplace that benefits organisations and individuals in professional development and lifelong learning.”
See: Do You Know Who Sits Where at Work Can Impact Employee Performance and Productivity?
Rewiring the L&D hardware
Raskin believes L&D has now evolved from an organisation simply sending employees for training to having dedicated departments craft their own organisation-specific blueprints.
“All organisations, but especially those that sell services, have to tailor L&D to their staff, as well as to each team’s overall business goals in order to really be successful,” he explains.
“Because we’re in the age of the employee, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach, so we’re in the business of creating frameworks that cover many different types of employees and many different job functions.”
His counterpart Choy says there is no clear-cut evidence of such a shift, as L&D departments are still sending employees for training, especially those at the supervisory or operational levels.
“Capability wise, organisations do not seem naturally inclined to develop their own L&D blueprints although that is an important part of the HR function,” he states.
“Organisations would do well to place more emphasis on developing strategic road maps for the development of staff across all levels.”
According to Raskin, if an organisation is not using online training or MOOCs, it is missing out on a huge opportunity to help staff develop their skills.
He says for today’s employee, training has to be always-on, location agnostic, and served in bite-sized pieces.
“They need training to be accessible whenever they want it, from wherever they are at the time and in small enough sub-topics that they can start and stop according to whatever time they have: in the office, during breaks or free time at home, waiting for the train or bus, or whenever else they have a few minutes to focus on it,” Raskin elaborates.
“In a culture where we pick up and leave off our work, not to mention our movies, games, TV and online reading at all times of the day and night, it only makes sense that we provide the same capabilities for our training.”
Still, organisations acknowledge that fusing these new training forms into existing frameworks is a challenge.
The Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report highlighted that only six percent of firms rate themselves “excellent” at incorporating MOOCs into their L&D programmes.
In addition, Choy says while e-learning was established in 1980s and subsequently offered as online packages in the 1990s, there is a huge potential for e-learning and now, more specifically, MOOCs to do more upskilling of workers.
“Imagine the incorporation of learning experiences with the Internet of Things where people are able to quickly activate a learning programme to understand a particular problem or issue and subsequently, have a personal learning tutor to help connect the learning dots together,” he explains.
“We are only at the onset of a major learning revolution, especially when the technology is only starting to make available all these options and when the people are starting to be more psychologically prepared to allow technology into something as personal as learning and reflection.
“Going forward, the pedagogy will have to evolve to catch up with the technology.”
Tapping on the benefits
So, just what are some of the benefits of incorporating MOOCs and online training into a firm’s training mix?
According to Raskin, while reach is the obvious one, there’s much more to it.
“There’s also the ability to be extremely specific in the courses and programmes an organisation creates, and to be very responsive to changes in the industry and also to changes in what teams may need to learn,” says Raskin.
“There are also a lot more opportunities for tracking, quantifying and in my perfect world, eventually gamification.”
In fact, he reveals Golin already incorporates online training and MOOCs into its L&D framework.
“We have our own bespoke Learning Management System, GolinUniversity, which already has a great deal of content that is very specific to the communications industry and to our company, and which we also use as the main point of entry for all webinars and live training,” explains Raskin.
“On top of that, we’ve partnered with other content providers, such as the CEB and most recently (online training platform) Lynda.com to provide additional content within our existing system.
“So now, we have upwards of 4,000 courses we can provide online to our staff.”
Choy explains MOOCs and online learning units enhance the options of training mix for organisations and individuals, in terms of content structure and design, delivery modes, flexibility of scheduling and learning pathways.
“This is in evidenced by what Dioworks is doing in partnership with Udemy, which offers an online MOOC platform to more than eight million users worldwide,” he says.
In fact, according to the Coursera Impact Revealed: Learner Outcomes in Open Online Courses study, which was recently released by Coursera, 72% of online learners who completed online courses on the platform reported career benefits (see: boxout).
What’s the end product?
Tay says cost factors always matter when it comes to L&D. Lower costs mean more options for employers and employees, especially when it comes to upskilling opportunities.
“There are two perspectives to consider. We should not only ask ‘what is the cost of investing in this’, but also ‘what is the cost of not investing in this,” he explains.
“Given that learning will become increasingly ‘mobile’, organisations need to do some serious thinking – not so much on ‘how much to spend’ but rather on ‘what to spend on’ to meet organisatonal needs and manage employees’ expectations.”
From Raskin’s perspective, while organisations can cover a lot of ground with MOOCs they also get what they pay for in terms of online courses. It takes resources to provide good programmes that really engage and support employees.
“An organisation shouldn’t go for online training if their only goal is saving money; they should go for online training because they want to provide great content to a wide audience and make learning more convenient,” he states.
Choy emphasises that the MOOCs selected should fit with the original intent of the strategic L&D blueprints.
“The support structure should also be put in place. Some forms of support, including face-to-face sharing sessions, are critical to anchor learning and to encourage application in the workplace. MOOCs can be a powerful resource to complement coaching and mentoring efforts,” he says.
He says enterprises can also develop their own MOOCs to upskill their staff.
Moreover, Raskin stresses that any firm can find something that works for its employees.
“And if not, there are a number of customisable online portals and learning management systems that will allow organisations to create their own intranets with their own bespoke content,” he says.
“The main thing is to keep the end-game in mind: what are the main things you need your employees to learn and to keep improving at in order to drive your organisation forward?
“That’s how L&D teams can best help their organisations.”
|Revealed: Career benefits of using Coursera
Based on the 52% of Coursera learners who where self-reported career builders:
Source: Coursera Impact Revealed: Learner Outcomes in Open Online Courses study
|Employers open to using MOOCs
A study by researchers at RTI International, a research institute, has found that many organisations are keen on utilising Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), for employee professional advancement.
In interviews with a subset of 20 of these HR professionals, participants signalled that as more workers begin to telecommute or work outside company headquarters, MOOCs could emerge as a more convenient choice for employers to provide training. HR representatives also cited that they liked how MOOCs could help them meet content needs and widen the range of course offerings that could be provided to employees.
Many HR professionals polled were keen to utilise MOOCs to meet employees’ wishes to develop skills such as leadership, communication and management.
Researchers quizzed HR professionals from 103 North Carolina organisations between November 2013 and January 2014, and the study was published in Employment Relations Today.
|Online learning booming in Asia-Pacific
According to a survey carried out by Cegos Asia Pacific in Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, online learning has emerged as the main form of training in all six markets. Across the countries, 59% of learners have utilised it.
The article first appeared on HRM Asia.
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