Learning & Development

 Maximizing MOOCs for Employee Development

Wouldn’t it be great if you could offer your employees the opportunity to take free, online courses from renowned universities like Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, and others? Courses on subjects ranging from negotiating contracts to high-performance computing–from marketing analytics to Ruby on Rails programming?

You can, through the use of massive, online, open courses (MOOCs). With MOOCs, employees can learn to code, can learn new languages, can hone their business skills, and much more. They’re easy to find, and easy (and free) to sign up for through sites such as the MOOC List or MOOC.org 
While MOOCs have been criticized by many traditional educators and educational institutions, research by Online Course Report (OCR) in 2016 and 2017, suggests these courses not only have efficacy, but that “we are confident in saying that online education is changing the landscape of higher education for the better.”
Criticism, they say, likely stems from professors’ fear of losing their jobs. But, they also point out, it’s not the very-high-end institutions that may be most at risk from this disruption, but the “small schools that may start to feel their stems being picked at: community colleges, liberal arts schools, small private colleges, and non-flagship state schools on the lower end of the rankings.”
The good news for training and development professionals, particularly in an environment of constant change and rapid technological advancement is that OCR’s research suggests that the value of this form of readily accessible, no-cost education can serve to help employees develop the skills they need to address new challenges and opportunities in the workplace.
A TD article offers a framework for how training and development professionals can effectively leverage the use of MOOCs through six steps:

  • Identify desired learning outcomes of employees.
  • Identify and screen appropriate MOOCs.
  • Match employees with MOOCs.
  • Assess the course.
  • Reward/recognize employee activity.
  • Disseminate/share the employee’s experience.

One common challenge with these types of courses, perhaps precisely because they are free, is that the drop-off rate for participation can be significant. A report from Harvard and MIT found that, “of the 4.45 million people that accessed content in a course, just 16.6 percent made it halfway through the course, while just 5.5 percent received a certificate,” according to an article in Associations Now.
Ensuring that employees are involved in the process of identifying MOOCs as an appropriate delivery tool, as well as identifying areas of opportunity for personal development needs can help here. In addition, building the completion of selected programs into the evaluation process can help keep the goal of completion front and center for the employee.