FutureLearn is an online learning platform of massive open online courses (MOOCs), owned by The Open University. It is the first UK-led MOOC platform, and as of May 2016 included 83 UK and international partners including non-academic partners including the British Museum, the British Council and the British Library.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: The rise of MOOCs as well as online and social learning means employees have more options than ever before about how to learn. What does this mean for organisations and how can they encourage participation?
Stephen Somerville, Director of Business Development, FutureLearn: The rise of MOOCs, and other forms of online and social learning, means that employees have access to a far greater variety of training options than ever before.
Many of these options are free and available on-demand, enabling professionals to develop new skills as and when they need them, rather than requesting and waiting for more traditional – and often more expensive – in-person training from their employer.
Given the wealth of options out there, it’s important for you to familiarise yourself with the numerous course providers and decide which one(s) you should encourage your teams to use.
Some MOOC platforms focus on specific areas – learning to code, for example – while others, like FutureLearn, offer courses across a wealth of subjects – from business to healthcare to technology.
So thinking about which is right for your business or sector, and whether you are promoting a narrow or more broad-based learning culture is important.
You should be revisiting the criteria you use when hiring, promoting and appraising staff.
Additionally, you should be revisiting the criteria you use when hiring, promoting and appraising staff.
Many commentators believe that MOOCs signal a change to traditional higher education and we’re already seeing some of our university partners modularise their degrees, by offering parts of them through online courses.
With this ongoing fragmentation of qualifications, it’ll be vital for organisations to judge candidates by the skills they possess – and their willingness to keep these skills up-to-date – rather than by more traditional and formal criteria like “a 2.1 from a top-tier university”.
Many commentators believe that MOOCs signal a change to traditional higher education.
Incorporating new ongoing educational criteria to the hiring and appraisal process will encourage employees to take advantages of the opportunities afforded to them through online learning while having the added benefit of positioning your company as a place that values education which potentially makes it a much more appealing place to work.
To help employers recognise online learning achievements, many MOOC platforms provide learners with the option of verifying what they’ve learned. At FutureLearn, for example, we provide Certificates of Achievement to learners who’ve completed at least 90% of a course and scored over 70% across the tests within it.
Looking for this sort of evidence on a CV, LinkedIn profile or CPD portfolio is a way for you to verify that a candidate or employee has actively developed their skills through an online course, rather than passively taken it.
We're also starting to invest in ID verification and have partnerships that give us access to test centres, so that we can closely match the stringency of the traditional sector.
Once your employees are taking online courses, there are a number of ways that you can encourage them to learn. For example, you could think about bringing their learning into the real world.
If you have a group of staff taking a course together, you could set up a Slack channel or organise an hour for them to meet up each week, so that they can discuss what they’re learning, their opinions on it and how they might apply it to their roles.
And once someone has completed a course, you could encourage them to run a “Learning Hour”, to share what they’ve learned with the rest of the team.
Finally, incentivising your staff is a great way to encourage them to complete courses.
Some organisations run “Learner of the Month” competitions to recognise those who’ve developed the most. Or they could pay for their employees’ Certificates of Achievement, as a reward for completing courses. These certificates can be given out at company events and even adorn the walls to portray both the learner’s achievement and the company’s investment in ongoing education.
Incentivising your staff is a great way to encourage them to complete courses.
Certificate prices range from £39-59, so this can cost-effective compared with traditional training.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: How is the skills profile that employees need changing? Are there new skills needed now that haven't been needed before, and conversely, are some skills becoming less relevant?
Stephen Somerville, Director of Business Development, FutureLearn: Evolving technology means that employees will always need “hard” skills that haven’t been needed before, and skills gaps in areas such as big data and cyber security are well-documented today.
But it’s not just tech-based skills that are in important.
Trends such as automation, an ageing population, globalisation and remote working mean that many people’s roles will be displaced or altered in the coming years.
The most-sought after skills will be those that can not be automated and delivered by machine learning or artificial intelligence.
We’ll find ourselves competing for jobs in a much more diverse and international market, and having numerous different careers within our working lives.
In that environment, “soft” skills, which are transferable across roles and sectors – like cultural intelligence, creativity, emotional intelligence and leadership – will become increasingly relevant, while skills that can be easily automated – from admin to data processing to manufacturing – will become less so.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Fast forward 10 years; what skills do you think will be most sought-after in the workplace?
Stephen Somerville, Director of Business Development, FutureLearn: As technology pervades more sectors, many occupations will clearly require more specialist digital skills. For example, innovations in edtech, ehealth and the Internet of Things will mean that everyone from teachers to nurses to electricians will interact with advanced technologies on a daily basis.
It follows that the engineers and data specialists that create and maintain the platforms that underpin these technologies will also be in demand.
We’ll find ourselves competing for jobs in a much more diverse and international market.
The most-sought after skills, however, will be those that can not be automated and delivered by machine learning or artificial intelligence – the ability to empathise; to manage, persuade and teach others; to think creatively; to tell stories to different cultures; and to collaborate successfully with people of different ages and backgrounds.
We believe that the diversity of courses we offer and the social learning elements of FutureLearn – which enable learners to discuss their ideas, and interact and collaborate with their peers globally – can help professionals prepare for these changes.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What skills or attributes do you find define the learners who get the most out of your content? What does today’s successful self-driven learner look like?
Stephen Somerville, Director of Business Development, FutureLearn: Firstly, successful learners understand the value of learning.
Successful learners participate actively in courses.
They might work in a sector such as healthcare or education, where continuous professional development (CPD) and re-certification is a necessity, so learning has a tangible value.
Alternatively, they might simply enjoy studying – they don’t approach it as a chore, but value the satisfaction and opportunities that come with learning something new. Either way, they expect to be learning things, and are disappointed if they don’t.
Secondly, successful learners participate actively in courses.
They don’t just read articles and watch videos, but they contribute to discussions, sharing their knowledge and learning from the experiences of other learners, not just from the experts delivering the course. In some instances, learners, completely unprompted, will mentor other learners, helping to share knowledge and offer guidance, whilst embedding it further in their own minds.
Thirdly, they’re organised – they make time for learning, by allocating a slot for it in their day or week, and stick to that routine.
Self-directed learners know how to keep their learning fun.
Finally, they keep their learning fun, not just taking mandatory online courses for work, but choosing discretionary options such as MOOCs, on topics including history, literature or science, to find new passions and interests.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: HR should be at the heart of the move towards curious, self-directed learning. How can HR professionals encourage employees to get the most out of free online learning resources and apply learnings back into the workplace?
Stephen Somerville, Director of Business Development, FutureLearn: My first tip is to take the time to complete a MOOC yourself, whether for work or for fun. Understanding how they work and what challenges employees might face in completing one will be invaluable.
You’ll then need to give your work colleagues permission to learn perhaps by allocating learning time or allowing for group learning sessions.
Take the time to complete a MOOC yourself, whether for work or for fun.
The next step is promote your chosen course provider(s) internally. You might want to curate a selection of courses – via your intranet, for example – that you think will be relevant to your business or sector.
You might also want to highlight courses that help your organisation in other ways.
We have a great course on Mindfulness, and have been approached by organisations who want to put their staff on it to reduce stress-related absenteeism, so it doesn’t have to directly tie back to your organisation’s specific industry.
Or you might want to give your employees free reign to be curious on a platform that offers multiple courses, encouraging them to take all kinds of courses for both professional and personal development, on the basis that a healthy learning culture is in the interest of all organisations to promote.
You might want to give your employees free reign to be curious on a platform that offers multiple courses.
The thing to bear in mind is that in many cases your employees are already using these types of platform - we have the data to prove it - so you are probably knocking on an open door. The trend we are now witnessing is HR professionals taking some ownership of this area and giving it some direction while working with external providers.
One of the core benefits of encouraging online learning is happy employees and a happy employee is a productive employee.
For more information on workplace learning, visit FutureLearn.
About Stephen Somerville
Stephen joined FutureLearn in February 2016 as Director of Business Development, bringing with him a wealth of commercial experience spanning nearly twenty years. His focus is on building out the B2B commercial strategy for FutureLearn, while providing the necessary foundations to ensure it becomes a sustainable business.
Prior to joining FutureLearn, Stephen was the global sales and business development lead at 7digital for over ten years. He was instrumental in growing their music platform business from early stage startup to publically listed digital music industry stalwart. Before that, Stephen had a variety of business development and commercial roles at UKTV, UPC TV, Yahoo! and ITV.