Online learning has been with us in various forms for some years. Organisations have applied online learning techniques in some task-oriented areas such as risk and compliance, business processes and technical procedures. Whilst these online activities have not eliminated the need for face-to-face learning, they have nevertheless played a key role in the efficient spread of learning across the business. It is also interesting to note that training or queries for consumer software on laptops is now almost exclusively done via online activity. Gone are the clunky user manuals that used to accompany the purchase of consumer software.
But online learning has assumed a new and exciting dimension with the arrival of the MOOC – Massive Open Online Courses. Essentially, these organisations offer courses from prominent global universities and other learning institutions at no cost to the student.
Organisations such as Coursera for instance have become prominent in shaping this new learning phenomenon. Coursera offers a range of over 200 courses from 33 universities including Stanford, Princeton and Columbia just to name a few. The courses vary in duration and the level of accreditation they provide, and to date almost 2 million people have participated in these courses.
With Coursera, I have recently taken a history course over a 12 week period taught by a professor from Princeton. I must say I have been highly impressed with the content and the format of the programme. Apart from the series of video lectures requiring up to about 7 hours per week, there is also the opportunity to hear from excellent guest lecturers, and to engage with the broader communities of interest in the online class of over 70,000 people from around the world. This is quite amazing – a quality course from a top university at no out-of-pocket cost to me.
But what does this all mean and in particular what does it mean for skill building and for people development in organisations? Is this the end of the university as we know it?
Prof Ed Byrne, the Vice-Chancellor and President of Monash University in Australia, has penned a constructive view on the subject, and points out some deficiencies and challenges in the MOOC model, including accreditation, evaluation and lack of face-to-face experience that students obtain from traditional university courses and personal interactions. These are all valid points, but Prof Byrne concludes that a blend of face-to-face and online learning that we see emerging in the MOOCs may well be the way of the future.
It is too early to give firm answers to the above questions, and to fully understand how this form of learning will play out, but two dimensions are clearly unfolding:
1. The war for talent is now in a more rapidly changing playing field
Development of skills can now occur across a wider spectrum and individual development will take a further step-up in scope and intensity. The development of skills and capabilities (both business and personal) is now experiencing a major burst of momentum. Online learning opened up a new landscape some time ago, but the shift in content we are seeing in the MOOCs is taking us to a whole new playing field. People will have greater flexibility in their development of their skills, and therefore the talent pool for business will be far more dynamic, and with many different pathways for their development.
2. Technology is (yet again) re-shaping the game
Remember what has occurred in other industries, and how they have experienced the blowtorch of industry disruption from new technology. Think of the newspaper industry in the past decade as it scrambled to respond and adjust to the world driven more and more by digital content rather than traditional hard copy papers. Now we are seeing major shifts occurring in education and personal development which will shape powerful changes in the future for individuals, businesses and the global economy. Technology and the emerging phenomenon of the MOOCs will significantly change the education and development models in the future.
Watch this space is a frequently used term. But in this case, I suspect that “get engaged in this space” may be more appropriate.