When Are MOOCs Not MOOCs?

This post this likely to twist a knot in a few knickers, but hey…what’s a few knots now and then, so buckle up…this might nudge you beyond the limits of a training paradigm. Traditionally, a MOOC, in academic circles, is known as a Massive Open Online Course…and I have no problem with that. Where I get torqued down tight is when corporate Training tries to emulate an academic MOOC with corporate learning content. When that happens, corporate L&D potentially misses the boat.

Now…notice I said “potentially“…there is no reason a traditional MOOC cannot be used in a corporate environment if the “Course” is truly a course or a curricula open to the world…BUT…unless it is “Open” to a “Massive” audience, the application is a stretch for L&D. Typically, the audience is limited to a behind-the-firewall population; hence “Massive” does not fit the actual population. Likewise, a behind-the-firewall audience is not “Open” other than being inclusive to all roles…but that is also a stretch. True, it could be “Online“, and true, it could be a “Course“, but that would be extreme overkill for what a truly robust MOOC is capable of providing.

I read a question by a colleague on LinkedIn asking if a MOOC was a “thing“. That question prompted this post. I suppose the question will stimulate a debate of massive dimensions, but I really don’t care what a MOOC is as much as I care what we do with one. Plus, it seems that when we define something by acronym we tend to squelch what might actually be accomplished if we’re not skewed into following the definition; all that to say maybe a MOOC really isn’t a MOOC as defined by the acronym. More likely the acronym is biased by a training paradigm…wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.

MOOC 2.0?

In a corporate environment, maybe even in academic circles, MOOC feels more like a concept, or even a discipline than a “thing“. I suggest this because of the very real potential for a MOOC structure to be unleashed to accommodate a holistic Learner-to-Performer Continuum in a corporate learning and performance ecosystem. Wait for it…this could be disruptive…

MOOC 2.0 = Modular Objects for Optimized Capability

[Bah-dump-tsssh…that how I’d spell the sound of a rim shot]

I’m working in a strategist role now with a team to build our first “MOOC 2.0”. We are using a robust Learning Hub platform as the engine to provide MOOC-like access to learning paths that consist of an extended blend of linear and non-linear learning, performance support, and assorted reference objects.

Additionally, we have integrated an electronic performance support system (EPSS) with the Hub that produces single-source content comprised of performance support assets that are integrated into short-form learning objects. This serves up the experiential 70% slice of the 70:20:10 framework where things are flipped and we bring workflows into formal learning. Yes, we still have course modules, and some are linear in nature, but they are all comprised of short-form objects.

MOOC 2.0 and the Continuum

The objective of this “MOOC 2.0” solution is to provide a continuous learning experience that tracks with a Learner from point-of-entry (onboarding) to becoming a Performer at the point-of-work (sustained competency). The solution is holistic because the Hub acts as a single point of access to assets that support the first two of Gottfredson’s Moments of Need that we traditionally satisfy through training – NEW & MORE, to the post-training assets of performance support needed at the last three moments that manifest only in the work context – APPLY, CHANGE & SOLVE. [See Figure #1]

Shift to Performance Paradigm

Figure #1


I mentioned EPSS earlier as our authoring tool for single-source content, but there is another role that falls outside of the MOOC scope. The EPSS provides contextual delivery of performance support [PS] at moments 3-5…AND…through single-source documentation I can utilize those same assets during training by integrating PS within the short-form learning objects for moments 1&2.

What about the LMS you ask? Still there, but it’s behind the Hub. With single sign-on capability I can eliminate forcing Learners to log into a second learning platform [LMS] when old-school e-learning is required. They can access short-form learning objects from the Hub that do not have to reside on the LMS…but in SharePoint…or in another document management system…and earn badges for completing those objects. The Hub marks those objects that are relevant for completion tracking as complete and then notifies the LMS. As an example, the Learner can launch a short-form object from the Hub that has a simulation crafted by the EPSS authoring tool embedded within it…the same simulation is also accessible directly in the hub…outside the eLearning wrapper as a self-paced, on-demand activity.

The Hub can drive linearity by restricting access to select objects to ensure linear consumption to preserve instructional integrity where it makes sense. At the same time, non-linear benefits of a MOOC are preserved, and the learner can explore as they wish where exploration is not locked down to preserve required sequencing. Pretty cool, huh?

Media, Mode & Venue

Does MOOC 2.0 change design methods? You bet, and to build Modular Objects one would expect as much. What I think most significant with this “discipline” is the intent behind building it in the first place – Optimized Capability.

We all see evidence that Training methods are neither agile nor responsive enough to meet neither the increasing velocity of business demands nor the continuous nature of change. We cannot hobble our efforts with a limited scope of transferring knowledge through training. MOOC 2.0 opens up a methodology to move beyond training into the downstream, post-training context where performance at the point-of-work actually takes place…where sustained capability is the ultimate business outcome we seek.

Expanding our scope implies expanding our methods to leverage a broader choice of assets. Through intentional, agile design methods we must now consider what are the best media, mode and venue of the assets…holistically applied…across all five moments of need.

Best Media requires that we ask:

  • Should the assets be text based?
  • Is this a picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words moment?
  • Is video a better choice?
  • Do I have the bandwidth to support video?
  • Is audio required?
  • HTML, HTML5, Flash, XML, Storyline, Lectora, etc.?

Best Mode requires that we ask:

  • Is the media downloadable?
  • Is it synchronous [live]?
  • Is it pre-recorded, streamed?

Best Venue requires that we ask:

  • Is this a facilitated ILT event? Self-directed WBT?
  • Is this a virtual ILT [VILT] event?
  • Are the assets accessed in the work context via a mobile device?
  • Is this a course accessed through the LMS? A practice simulation on the Hub?
  • Are there multiple delivery venues for using these same assets? Help Desk? Client Education?
  • Is this a collaborative social interaction? IM? Live Chat? Webex?

As you can see the diversity of attributes surrounding the choices for designing and developing assets has increased along with the scope expanding to address the learning and performance ecosystem edge-to-edge. The lists above are by no means complete, as I’m sure you may think of other considerations, but I think you can see where the ADDIE design model just imploded as a viable methodology. Take linearity out of the equation and you have so many viable choices and more granular output that exceed what ADDIE was designed to manage. Throw technology into the mix with mobility and bandwidth challenges, and the plot thickens.

Technology for MOOC 2.0

As you might expect, there are technology implications that come with this approach, and a mix of options come into play including:

  • Learning Hub or Portal – for the linear and non-linear learning paths and single point of access
  • Learning Hub for view learning progress and earning badges for completions
  • EPSS – for single-source authoring of performance support assets
  • EPSS – for contextual delivery of performance support objects within the workflow
  • EPSS – for content, workflow management and utilization reporting
  • LMS – for handling eLearning courses and learning object behind the hub
  • LMS – for learning completion history related with learning content objects and courses
  • Experience API [xAPI] or a data analytics tool – to aggregate utilization data from the Hub, EPSS and LMS
  • Experience API [xAPI] to capture performance metrics generated at the point-of-work [like activity in SalesForce.com] that just might serve as source data for driving a real-time performance dashboard or two.

Once again, there may be other technology implications to consider; a good example is the use of legacy infrastructure like SharePoint or myriad other content repositories like policy and document management systems, knowledge bases, etc. The point being this – if you are going to intentionally address all five moments of need in the ecosystem, you will have to first accurately define your content and technology footprint to discern what can be accessed straight-away versus what can be used/converted to short-form objects.

I’ve written this advice that I received from Bob Mosher years ago in many previous posts…”Start small and scale.” He said that specific to implementing EPSS solutions; not because they are rocket science, but because there are so many moving parts and EPSS is a different paradigm from training.

Launching MOOC 2.0 is not a technology GoLive event; not even close. We’re talking about launching a discipline, a methodology based upon a performance paradigm, and the effort is so very far beyond the act of launching a course or a new LMS. Whether you are pursuing an academic MOOC or adopting a performance paradigm and choose to do something a bit more disruptive…like “MOOC 2.0“, you may be tempted to boil the ocean. Fight the temptation and start small with a controlled and measurable pilot. Remember you are initiating transformational change to an organizational training paradigm, and that is a process not just a GoLive event.

So…the concept of MOOC 2.0…really doesn’t exist…unless this blog post goes viral…and I’m pretty sure that will not happen. On the other hand, I could have called it a Workforce Performance Solution [WPS] but that does not have any familiar training jargon in the label, so I thought since MOOCs are making people crazy envious to own one, I’d borrow the acronym and exact some poetic license on it. Whether 2.0 flies or not, don’t let the concept of a course-oriented MOOC hobble your innovative creativity in the context of chasing a performance paradigm. I am thoroughly convinced workforce performance solutions truly are the future regardless of what we call them…MOOC 2.0 is kinda cool though…

Gary Wise
Workforce Performance Strategist
(317) 437-2555


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