Turn Loose the MOOCs

When I first saw the MOOC acronym several years ago, I thought it was a play on the Moodle platform’s core capabilities. When I learned that MOOCs were massive open online courses, and that MOOC had deep roots in academia, I would’ve bet money on there being a connection with Moodle. To be honest, Moodle works well with a MOOC environment because non-classroom content, specifically, social learning and other informal activities can be tracked and counted toward “course completion”. No parts of what I described are bad news, and nothing contradicts the basis of a Learning Paradigm; but what about MOOCs in a Performance Paradigm?

Here we go…you had to know I would go down this rabbit hole. If you can get by the “C” in MOOC for a few minutes, I think you will see the versatility a MOOC environment can bring to a learning AND performance ecosystem. In fact, I’m building one now for a client that bundles assets that include:

  • Multiple short form learning assets
  • Performance support assets
  • Knowledge bases
  • Legacy document resources
  • Legacy LMS-based courses

Step Away from the Storyboard

Yeah, I know, them’s fightin’ words…but hear me out. We’re looking at this from a performance paradigm first…there may be plenty of storyboarding to do shortly, but our objective here is reducing time-to-business impact not slam dunking a rapid training development effort. Who knows, taking the performance path may set you up with an opportunity to close a tangible performance gap and never have to build any training content at all. Gasp! When I make this statement at conferences you can hear the muffled sounds of sphincters biting chairs all around the room.

The secret sauce is following an intentional design methodology that is shaped by identifying performance gaps as the primary source in a deeper dive discovery than the traditional training needs assessment. What we’re looking for represents the level of discovery a performance consultant should pursue including:

  • Who are the players engaged with the performance that is falling short?
  • What’s broken and what is/are the root cause(s)?
  • When do performance gaps surface? [frequency]
  • Where in the workflow do performance gaps manifest?
  • How are workflows accessed? [systems, business apps, user devices, etc.]
  • Why does anybody give a rip? [costs, waste, lost revenue, other tangible KPIs impacted]

This discovery leads us beyond the common trap of developing training to solve a symptom, and we all have that skeleton stashed somewhere. Seriously, who has the time to waste doing that? Why start with formal learning if a performance oriented asset will do? There will likely be formal learning that is required. Not a problem; in fact, your intentional design methodology should be agile enough to plug that storyboard you’ve been dying to complete with short form assets of learning and performance support. See…I still included the training component. But notice that was not my starting point. Read on…it gets better…

Content in Context

The “context” I’m referring to here is the context of work. After all, that’s where performance matters most, right? I often write about a concept called “the point of work”, and that is the context we are targeting for closing performance gaps discovered earlier. Consider the point of work as the new classroom if you like, but recognizing the application of assets at the point of work represents new kinds of assets…a.k.a. Performance Support [PS]. Courses no longer fit. When your hair is on fire there is no time to log into the LMS and take a course on Fire Safety. You need immediate access to an intentionally designed asset that is task-specific and often role-centric…and business relevant…and effective at the point of work…and accessible at the moment of need. That ain’t training!

The need to access these assets leads us to a not-so-new technology that has made a huge resurgence courtesy of Web 2.0 functionality called Electronic Performance Support Systems [EPSS]. There are many on the market and each one of them has a sweet spot despite doing similar things. For my application, I choose one that has a core competency in single-source workflow documentation. This, to me, addresses what I see as the core capability of supporting a MOOC environment, as well as the standard of contextual delivery of PS assets inside the application workflow. I’ve written about the mantra of “Create-Once-Use-Many-Times” for years…even before MOOCs were consider cool, and your EPSS selection can make or break your ability to re-use content.

I’ve also chosen a Learning Hub…portal if you prefer…to be the point of entry for the MOOC. In the event there are formal courses, I can build a learning path by role for my learners. From the same interface I can access self-directed activities using several different types of simulations built through my EPSS authoring platform using the same single source document workflow. I can even embed those same simulations into Web-based courses launched and tracked for completion in the Hub. Additionally, those same assets are used to support facilitator guide development and participant guides should they be required…and Help Desk support assets, all from the same workflow documentation source.

Forget Captivate; my gold standard until falling in love with my EPSS authoring platform. Now I can fully edit, insert, and/or re-record screen narrations when and where needed in a simulation without re-recording the whole thing. Also through the MOOC/Hub interface I can provide access to pushed end-user notifications, and provide direct access to legacy policy and/or technical assets hosted in other content systems, or buried out on the intranet. The assets only need to be URL accessible.

Almost forgot…I still have a prehistoric LMS in the background that houses legacy course content launched through the Hub and tracking completion status reported by the Hub. I can still include LMS-based courses as part of a learning path so you do not have to sack the LMS to launch a successful MOOC.

Want Proof – Measure It

Okay…so now I have course completion data; performance support asset utilization data; some comes from the Hub reporting capability; some comes from the EPSS content server; and some comes from the LMS. But wait…this is a performance paradigm, remember? I need data that is tied to actual real-time performance, and in this instance I’m in a call center where performance is monitored through a call management system [CMS] with tons of agent-specific data; time on hold, speed of answer, etc. If my performance promise was to improve time-to-competency of the agents, course completion data are not going to deliver the mail. I don’t need proof of potential [Level 1 & 2]; I need proof of performance [Level 3&4].

No small task given the disparate system data from multiple systems. Enter the Experience API [xAPI] a.k.a. Tin Can. I’m aggregating disparate data from learning activities and actual call performance activities and building performance dashboards for supervisors to monitor real time performance across the entire learning ecosystem instead of just the CMS data. By trending performance results by introducing the MOOC and the accompanying technologies behind it, we are bringing proof of sustainable capability to the fingertips of the managers who care most about it.

Summary Thoughts

Wow, I got through that without rising to a rant. Don’t let that fool you, I’m still as radicalized as ever about the concept of a Performance Paradigm, and the additional capabilities of the MOOC just make it easier to evangelize. Layer in new technologies like Hubs, EPSS and xAPI and you have a radical approach to servicing your entire learning and performance ecosystem.

I make every attempt to remain vendor neutral on my blog, so product and platform names have been omitted. I am happy to discuss off-line if there is any interest. But…like I said each vendor has their strength. What met my needs may not meet yours. The trick is not falling for the bright, shiny object syndrome and then trying to fit your learning and performance ecosystem requirements into somebody’s technology. I highly recommend going through the task of a readiness assessment to clearly define your ecosystem attributes to better inform any vendor evaluation/selection effort.

So…combining the capabilities of a Learning Hub/Portal and the right EPSS selection, you have the tools to launch and sustain a viable corporate MOOC…despite what the acronym implies.

Gary Wise
Performance Solutions Strategist
(317) 437-2555

  1. March 22, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    I like how you pulled this together Gary, MOOCs have a viable place in corporate even though they started in EDU. And here is where I think we have an opportunity to leverage resources by joining forces. L&D use the EDU tool and ride their system and, where logical, pull in their instructional resources to instruct, facilitate, and add knowledge. L&D pull in corporate skills to moderate, bring in business specific skills & techniques, and focus on performance success. EDU can meet BIZ competencies and help BIZ not teach core skills (such as reading and communication) allowing each party to be at their best. MOOCs might help both meet in the middle!

    • March 23, 2015 at 8:25 am

      Thanks Bill! I think if I had the choice I would choose “Methods Offering Optimized Capability” as the words behind the MOOC acronym. Not discounting the potential need for a course here and there, but true business value is never generated or protected during training. The deeper I get into what it takes to sustain human performance [capability] the farther away I tend to be from looking at training in most forms as the solution. Call it a curse, but I want to spend my time and limited resources where they are most effective, and that seems to be defaulting to the nearest point to real business impact. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate you, brother!

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