Services like Coursera, Venture Lab, and Udemy (to name only a few) make free on-line courses available to anyone in the world for free. What is even more incredible is that using these services, you can take a Stanford course facilitated by a Stanford professor on topics ranging widely from software programming languages to creativity. The typical course is structured over four to eight weeks with each week containing some combination of a video lecture, reading, written assignment, and/or individual or team project. There are open and facilitated discussions and participants who complete all of the activities will often receive a certificate of completion.
It is a compelling way to take a course, and you can imagine that you get out of it what you put into it. Recently, I have been thinking about the practical implications for massive open on-line courses (MOOCs), and how they can be designed for the corporate environment.
There are six considerations that learning designers should keep in mind when designing a MOOC in their organization.
Audience, Topic and Content: If everyone in your audience is located on the same floor of your building, you probably don't need a MOOC. However, let's say you have 75 line managers located in three different call centers all over the country and they all need to complete your management development program. Certainly one challenge is whether to send your trainers to each site over and over to teach classes, fly all managers to the same location for training, or do the entire program on-line. A MOOC could work well in this case because all of the managers can participate from any office (or at home for that matter).
Spaced Over Time: MOOCs are ideally suited to take advantage of the spacing effect whereby topics can be covered repeatedly over time to increase retention. A three day management seminar has the exact opposite effect (and is way more expensive, by the way).
Individual versus Team Work: Activities can be designed for both individual and team work. If the topic of the course is how to run an effective meeting, an example individual assignment could be to create an agenda using the course template. An example of a team assignment could be to running a team meeting using the template and invite members of your course team to the meeting. The members of your course team will evaluate your performance, provide you feedback, and you will turn in a summary of the feedback you received and what you will change for your next meeting.
Focus on Performance: Assignments can be structured so that participants have to apply what was learned that week. For example, an assignment could be to use the agenda template to run your next team meeting. See example above.
Structure of Each Week: Each week could be designed with a similar structure which will include a lecture, reading, discussion(s), assignment, and/or peer feedback of previous week's assignments. The lecture could be in the form of completed a Mindflash course on the topic. The reading could be to read an article from Fast Company or Harvard Business Review. The discussion would be a threaded discussion on an enterprise social network, like Yammer. The assignment could be a written assignment or a work project. There are endless ways in which each week could be structures, but you need to get the content out there, discussion on it, and some demonstration that work can be done based on what was learned.
Platform: In order to execute this structure, you are going to need a platform. The Mindflash / Yammer integration is a perfect combination for facilitating the design elements above. Mindflash content can be used for the lecture portion of the course, and Yammer can be used for discussions and for submitting assignments. When the entire course is complete, Mindflash can even produce a certification of completion for each participant.
What potential for MOOCs do you see in your organization? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Bill Cushard, author, blogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance technologist (HPT) with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Allonhill. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.