MOOCs, Social Learning and L&D

In a previous post, I asked the question “Where’s the new shiny” in L&D. It prompted some interesting responses and it’s encouraged me to keep thinking and keeping an eye on the horizon. As time has gone by, I started noticing more and more people (particularly in Education) talking about MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses.

What is a MOOC? From what I can gather, it’s learning which takes place online, open to anyone interested in the topic. The ‘massive’ part of this is that the numbers tend to be in the hundreds (possibly even thousands). As part of the learning, learners are encouraged to join discussion groups, do pre-reading, and you have assignments to complete. It’s very much in the learners hands what they do with the content, how they interact with others, and submission of materials is driven by the learners.

Isn’t that like Open University?

It might be, but from what I gather, this isn’t about a long programme of activity. You’re not embarking on distance learning over a three-four year period. You’re not attending weekend residentials to meet lecturers and other students. You don’t have major assignments to complete or dissertations to write. You don’t get a degree at the end of it.

As it suggests, it’s a course designed to give you skills in certain areas which are delivered in a short space of time.

What I think has happened here is someone has seen that people enjoy TED talks. They’ve seen that hundred of thousands of people (and occasionally millions) watch these 18 minute (maximum) videos. They’ve seen that Google documents are a collaborative tool which you can use to share and create new learning. They’ve seen that the likes of Dropbox make it easy to share documents online. They’ve thrown it all together and said – we can deliver training to the masses!

In a much lesser and bastardised way, I almost think certain organisational learning solutions like Inductions or appraisal briefing sessions could take a MOOC style approach. Advertise a course is happening for a population at a certain time, create the right conditions for it to happen, make it happen, course finished and everyone’s a winner.

It’s a fascinating development in learning, and one that is still to find its feet. This post from Robert Weeks gives an idea of how it’s not quite delivering as promised, yet.

A different development altogether has been around a phenomenon termed ‘social learning’. This is where L&Ders have become a bit too inward looking, jumped onto the social media bandwagon, and started branding the way people use social media to help their learning.

I can see how it’s a useful way to describe this particular type of activity. The advocates of this field are arguing that it’s an imperative for organisations to get onboard with. They’re arguing that learners are taking responsibility for learning in their own hands and moving beyond the confines of the formal L&D structures we have in place in organisations. These self-directed learners are writing blogs, creating wikis, sharing content, talking online about topical subjects, and generally learning and developing without the direct support of your employer.

Last year, David Goddin was very kind and said I delivered a ‘social learning masterclass‘ when I delivered an open session on Positive Psychology. In this context, David helps provide another aspect to the social learning phenomenon. People were already connected in some way through social media beforehand. People were connected with the content beforehand through the same channels. Delivery of the content in the session was through a variety of techniques which prompted discussion and sharing of discussion. I had a couple of online facilitators to help share the content to people who were interested in the session but couldn’t attend.

This takes me to thinking about the skills of L&D professionals. Donald Taylor posted his thoughts this week about the learning content pyramid and what this means for L&D and the way we produce content. If you’ve not come across it yet, I recommend you taking a few minutes to read his insights on how L&D content is generated in different ways.

Earlier in the week, I wrote about L&D forgetting the end game. It’s really easy to get caught up in getting the design of a solution right, preparing for the best delivery, and creating clear metrics for measurement of the learning. But what we forget is that this isn’t what we’re there for.

The role of L&D has gone beyond being the provider of learning and development solutions. It’s about being the facilitator of learning and development. It’s about being mindful of the technologies that are available and using them where appropriate. It’s about knowing how to use different facilitation methodologies to create different engaging sessions. It’s about understanding human behaviour, and how we can move people to behave differently. It’s about having knowledge of leadership and management models and theories so that we can develop people to lead and manage with tact, grace and resilience. It’s about having business acumen and knowing if a learning solution is actually the right thing for the business. It’s about knowing the goals of the business and not losing sight of how we play a part in achieving them.

It’s not the imperative of organisations to get onboard with. It’s the imperative of L&Ders to take the time and understand what these developments are
and what they are going to do with them. If L&Ders don’t, nothing is going to be adversely affected or stop happening. The worst that will happen is that L&D loses its relevance in the organistions. Therefore it sits with L&Ders to get onboard with this.

We need to worry less about the ins and outs of what we do, and care more about the outcomes we help facilitate and the change we help produce. That’s where L&D will excel.

Are you interested in applying your creativity in an interesting way? I’m asking people to get involved in Learning Stories to see if they can produce a story about learning which inspires someone to act. The deadline for submission is March 21st 2013. Fancy a challenge?

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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