Are MOOCs and eLearning Just Fads?

MOOCs and eLearning

No, BOTH indicate a wave of change that’s affecting learning, be it in college or at work.

According to The New York Times, 2012 was "the year of the MOOC," as several well-financed MOOC providers who were associated with top universities in the USA, emerged.

But before I even begin to share my thoughts with you, let me just explain for the as-yet-uninitiated what the MOOC actually is. The Massive Open Online Course, aka MOOC, is an online course designed for unlimited participation and open access via the web. As well as traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings, and tasks to resolve, many MOOCs also provide interactive user forums to encourage interaction between students and teaching staff.

MOOCs are a very new development in distance education, first introduced in the USA in 2008, so that New York Times statement from 2012 really shows the massive mark that MOOCs made in just four years).

One such ‘massive mark’ made by MOOCs was in 2011, when the prestigious Stanford University launched three MOOCs as courses.

And one of those MOOCs resulted in enrollment by over 160,000 students!

The other two MOOCs which subsequently followed were met with equal popularity. As a result, the founders of that first MOOC launched a company called Coursera, which subsequently set up partnerships with other top universities like Pennsylvania, Princeton, Stanford and Michigan. And if you visit the Coursera website, there are now 10,978,522 Courserians! Now there must be something in it that works, right?!

The learning landscape is changing. FAST!

MOOCs have made a mark because, let’s face it, the history of learning has now changed. Anyone with an Internet connection can take Coursea MOOCs, at no cost, from a top university. Thanks to MOOCs, students can now study a diverse range of courses that aren’t like most mainstream university degree courses: for example, ‘MOOCers’ can learn how to run a clinical trial that will meet standards set by the USA Food and Drug Administration, aircraft design, or environmental law. The Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) give participants certificates of achievement if they finish, rather than course credits or grades.

But what I’m really interested in is the very nature and principle of the MOOC. I don’t know how an HR executive regards them on candidates’ CVs and if they count for anything when assessing someone’s suitability for a job, but in my mind, MOOCs show how the nature of learning - be it in the education sector or Learning and Development in the business world - is changing. And if you’re not part of the change, well, you risk missing the train.

More companies are using online training

More and more companies are showing interest in online and eLearning courses in their company training, as it can offer massive cost and time-saving benefits.

But there’s a big difference between ‘showing interest’ and acting on it! As such, many companies are still choosing to invest thousands for their high-potential managers and leaders to attend training sessions at elite business schools, or to have on-site, bespoke training programmes that deliver specific training programmes designed to meet a company’s needs. It’s the face to face engagement and networking that these courses offer which companies value. I think this explains why they are more tentative about using eLearning systems, or about taking them on as a sole training method. I can appreciate this, as the traditional classroom method really can still deliver outstanding training results when it’s done well by an expert provider.

But don’t just look at training in 2015. Look at changes in the next 5-10 years

That being said, I do think that in 10 years’ time most companies will have embraced online training and eLearning as their primary training method as the variety of training technologies needed to operate it will have become better, faster, more innovative, and even more cost-effective.

As for innovative technologies, I am referring to some of the emerging ‘sci-fi-eque’ programmes like live Holographic Video Conferencing. Take a look at this incredible CISCO Telepresence conference on YouTube from 2011: in it you will see the primary, live speaker interacting with real-time holograms of the other remote speakers. And as this conference took place four years ago, can you imagine what this will look like in just a few more years, let alone in ten?! Watch this space...

But as I said in a previous blog, in the meantime a blended approach to learning will work best as eLearning will only work well when companies know WHEN and WHY to use it.

So just as some educators don’t think online learning with MOOCs has the same value as lessons taught in classrooms, so some companies in the business world think in the same way regarding their staff Learning and Development. I think in time - and thanks to ever-changing nature of technology - many businesses will see eLearning as far more than just a fad. It will be part of a company’s infrastructure.

Benefits of eLearning

Recently, I had a conversation with someone new to eLearning and it struck me that she didn’t fully understand its value. I think this may be the case for many people but I think the noise about it IS starting to finally be heard and with that, comes understanding. Here’s my personal take on just a few of the benefits eLearning offers:

  1. Anytime anywhere access
    Live, face-to-face learning programmes require participants to align their schedules to the training calendar. eLearning eliminates this because the course can be accessed anytime, anywhere.
  2. It’s OK to ‘fail’
    Bottom line, real learning requires some degree of failure. But no one likes to ‘fail’ in a classroom full of other people. eLearning lets participants ‘fail’ without fear. In short, it encourages the exploration and exchange of ideas. With the right feedback from the host you really can create an engaging, collaborative learning environment. Worse case scenario, you can always start again and that’s something you can’t always do in a classroom.
  3. Better retention
    The combination of multimedia and instructional design in eLearning courses, can produce a very rich learning experience that can be repeated and re-used. Throw in some good practice activities and feedback and you have a learning environment that’s going to help participants to retain the content of their course which they can then apply in the workplace to deliver results.
  4. Personalised
    eLearning gives participants the ability to control what they learn in a way that classroom learning sometimes doesn't.
  5. eLearning reaches ALL employees
    If a company has remote satellite offices with staff that wouldn't normally be able to access training on site, eLearning fills a gap in the market and meets a need with far greater ease and convenience for companies. It’s cheaper and more convenient to use than sending trainers to remote offices to deliver training, or the said staff off-site to train.

So just like the principle of MOOCs, which some will dismiss as a fad, the principle of eLearning is that it’s cost effective, efficient and can deliver great results. It’s all a matter of how you use it.

And if Coursera’s MOOCs are garnering such massive support, I think it’s only a matter of time until more and more companies see the value of eLearning as a valuable addition to their Learning and Development portfolio.