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MOOCs: The learning solution just a few clicks away

10th Mar 2016
Freelance writer Freelance
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MOOC and online learning expert Sam Burrough tells us about the latest in the evolution of the massive open online course. 

Much has been written over the past two years about the impact MOOCs are going to have on higher education and, to a lesser extent, workplace learning.

However, they are still in their infancy and few learning and development departments have integrated them into their learning strategies.

The MOOC tag is being used to describe almost any kind of online learning that isn't a rapid elearning module. Officially, in case you missed the memo, MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, but the only letter in the acronym you can’t change or ignore, is the “O” in online. 

It’s best to ignore the labels and focus on the experience. MOOCs are scalable online learning experiences that use social technology and create lots of potentially useful data about learners and the effectiveness of your learning approach.

They offer real benefits for learners and their organisations.

Let’s look at three ways you can put MOOCs to work:

  • Publicly available MOOCs - Curate and support your people to take relevant MOOCs on sites like Coursera and EdX.
  • Apply MOOC-like approaches to your current blended or online offering.
  • Run your own MOOC for an internal or external audience.

What benefits do these offer to stakeholders in your organisation?

Publicly available MOOCs

This is the easiest one. Each month there are dozens of courses starting online which cover a huge range of topics, offered by an ever growing range of providers. The challenges here are:

  • How do you find the best quality courses on the right topics and get them to the right people?
  • How do you help people get the most from these courses and apply the useful stuff back at work?

Finding MOOCs is simple thanks to services like MOOC-list.com which aggregates every MOOC on the planet in one useful site. You can use their alerts to keep an eye on what's coming up and then target anything that looks useful at the appropriate team or division. (Alternatively you can try the FT MOOC Tracker)

MOOCs are not for everyone.

Like any kind of pull learning they require commitment and dedication to complete. Typically this could involve a four- to six-week course with up to three hours' study a week. So if you're serious about helping learners get value from MOOCs you may need to support people. Try connecting people who are enrolled on the same MOOC, so they can study together.

Like any kind of 'pull learning,' MOOCs they require commitment and dedication to complete.

This might not seem feasible in smaller organisations, but there are still ways to help people connect, which can make the learning experience more social and effective. Try Group MOOC - an app designed to help MOOC participants organise and manage their study and connect them to fellow learners.

Apply ideas from MOOCs to your learning strategy

MOOCs vary in approach, but even the most conservative designs still offer learners more choice and freedom than the average elearning module. So what can we steal? MOOCs can offer learning experiences that work just like the web, they don't limit themselves to the capability of an authoring tool. 

The basic building blocks of the MOOC are within reach of most training teams. Content is simple:

  • Text, video and maybe simple animations
  • Knowledge checks and short assignments
  • A layer of social interaction, either around the content, or in a discussion forum

This is relatively easy to replicate on existing platforms (with the right mindset), it could be on your learning management system, website, intranet, enterprise social network or even SharePoint.

The downside of this approach is that you might have to work a little harder to create a compelling experience for the learners and to collect the data around that experience.

Run your own MOOC

There are many ways you can do this now. Platforms like Curatr make it easy to run social learning experiences of any size, the CIPD are using Moodle, Marks and Spencer partnered with Future Learn, while the EDX platform is open source and available to download on Github. 

The question to ask first however, is 'why would you run a  MOOC?'

  • You have a large audience. Large is relative of course, anything over 50 can work well
  • You have a geographically distributed audience
  • You want to engage and educate your business partners or customers (and collect useful data about them)

MOOCs and MOOC-like approaches can create learning experiences that mirror the way people use the web, which is one reason they are so popular, but they can also help organisations uncover hidden talent through the enhanced data they generate. That alone makes them worth investigating further for any L&D team.

Sam Burrough is director of online learning at Selzig Consulting

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