It seems like only yesterday that everyone was talking about MOOCs. While MOOCs are no longer the latest craze in eLearning, they are still making waves. Some of the most interesting revelations about MOOCs, however, have to do with what MOOCs have revealed about learning, eLearning and workplace training more generally.
Low Completion Rates May Not Be Linked to Low Levels of Learning
A growing body of data on MOOCs reveals that most people who sign up for a MOOC, never finish the course. Indeed, a recent report in the Harvard Business Review found that “More than 50% consume less than half of the course’s content.” While one might naturally assume that this means MOOCs aren’t working, the author of the report (like many other researchers studying the MOOC phenomenon) suggest that low completion rates do not necessarily mean that MOOCS are unsuccessful. As the author of the HBR article observes, “This is wrongly viewed as evidence that MOOCs don’t work, that people are dropping off and not getting value. The assumption behind that conclusion is that you have to complete a whole, semester-long course to get value from online education. As a MOOC addict, I can tell you: that’s not true. Instead, I’ve found there are at least three good ways to learn from MOOCs, depending on your goals and the time you plan to spend.”
Why does this finding matter? In short, what MOOCs have revealed is not that learners, especially adult learners, are disinterested learners but rather than adult leaners have a strong desire to learn and often do not need the added incentive of a credit or certificate to engage in learning opportunities. From a training and development perspective, this is good news. Indeed, it suggests that there’s great potential to tap into adult learners’ desire to acquire new knowledges and skills, especially knowledges and skills that are transferrable (hold the potential to enhance an employee’s currency on the broader job market).
Five Ways the Training and Development Sector Can Learn from MOOCs
While MOOCs may eventually go the way of many other education and training trends from CCTV to Second Life campuses, there are some key take aways from the trend that the training and development sector is well advised to take seriously into account.
- Learners of all ages are ready, able and willing to learn online: Some of the most enthusiastic MOOC students have been older rather than younger learners, including learners who are now retired. The MOOC trend offered evidence that eLearning is not just for Millennials and their younger counterparts.
- Learners do not necessarily need a credit, certificate or badge (remember the gamification trend?) to elect to take and complete a course: Despite the simultaneously rise of gamification in education and training, growing research on MOOCs suggest that a high percentage of learners are willing to take a course without any reward or acknowledgement at all. While they may not finish the course, they are more than willing to engage with the content that is of interest to them and/or required.
- Adult learners in particular may learn most when they have the freedom to pick and choose the content with which they will engage: On a related note, data on MOOCs suggest that adult learners in particular prefer to pick and choose the content with which they engage. While this clearly is not a good idea in some training situations (e.g., compliance training), offering employees the chance to increase their knowledge and skills (e.g., through cross training) has many potential benefits.
- Adult learners prefer to control their time commitment to learning: If MOOCs proved successful, it is precisely because they can typically be accessed anytime and anywhere.
- Massive and online does not necessarily mean impersonal learning or less effective learning: MOOCs (massive online open courses) do not need to be impersonal nor ineffective; there’s a growing body of evidence that MOOCs can support new and innovative forms of collaborative learning. For the training and development community, the take away is simple–rolling out courses, even to thousands of employees, can be done in an engaging and effective way online.
Whether or not one opts to offer MOOCs, the relative success of MOOCs suggests that eLearning is here to stay. To learn more about how to scale up your own online training program, try eLeaP’s free 30-day trial.