Tuesday, July 1, 2014

MOOCs in Performance Support

I have been writing about MOOCs and the characteristics of MOOCs in my last few posts. One of my recent posts talks about the differences (some of them) between an online course and a MOOC. The more I mull over some of the core characteristics of a MOOC ecosystem, I feel it lends itself very well to providing performance support (PS) within the workflow. Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher defined the Five Moments of Learning Needs and captures the requirements for a PS infrastructure beautifully in the diagram below:

As I was contemplating the relatedness of a MOOC to PS, it occurred to me that a MOOC has the possibilities of offering the kind of transfer and sustained learning required for innovation and continuous improvement by any organization, especially in today’s world of complex and interconnected learning and the need to do more with less. A MOOC transforms an event (a course) to a continuous and just-in-time learning experience that is accessible anywhere, anytime and, ideally, from any device.

IMHO, here are some of the characteristics of a MOOC that offer the possibilities of PS: 
  1. MOOCs go beyond fixed courses to dynamic context sharing – The “Discussion Forum” that surrounds a MOOC lend itself to dynamic knowledge sharing thus keeping the course content “alive”. In any rapidly evolving field, incorporating every piece of knowledge in a time-bound courseware is not possible. A MOOC ecosystem takes care of this challenge by providing learners with the ability to create, co-create, and share content. This ensures that the course is constantly being updated with new knowledge from the field, and that user-generated content is encouraged.A holistic MOOC ecosystem enables learners to access the core knowledge required via the formal course components while facilitating access to emerging knowledge, enabling discussions around complex and ambiguous situations and helping learners see the emerging patterns from various disciplines. 
  2. MOOCs work very well for a distributed set of learners/workers - A MOOC could be an ideal way to bring a set of workers or learners together virtually, and enabling them to form a community of professionals embarking on the same learning journey. Not only does this eliminate the risk of isolation, it also inculcates the habit of collaboration, knowledge sharing and problem solving. Apart from enabling the formation of cohorts, this aspect ensures that a MOOC offers PS by allowing learners to reach out to their communities at the point-of-need, learn from others’ experiences and share their own unique experiences. A well-designed and well-facilitated MOOC encourages learners to share their learning thus abiding by one of the fundamental principles of Andragogy – all adult learners come with a reservoir of experience and know-how, and it benefits everyone concerned when they can contribute and help each other. 
  3. MOOCs facilitate problem-based learning – Peer-to-peer learning is especially pertinent when engaging in problem-based learning. And today’s organizations need workers to be focused on problem-solving, analytical thinking & pattern sensing, and be adept at exception handling. None of these skills can be truly acquired in isolation or through one-time event-like interventions – courses or programs. Given a MOOC’s requirement for active participation rather than passive content consumption, it fosters the skills of self-directed learning along with those mentioned above, an ability to articulate challenges, share thoughts and ideas, and draw on the network to enhance one’s learning. Problem-solving skills work best when one is able to share thoughts and ideas and get feedback from peers and experts. All of these again tie back to providing a sustained learning environment that is so critical in fostering on going innovation. Most organizations today are looking to nurture skills like adaptability, ability to generate new knowledge and critically reflect on improving existing processes and practice. In this context, the collaborative environment fostered by a MOOC-way of disseminating a course could be an ideal introduction. 
  4. MOOCs tap in-house expertise and make tacit knowledge explicit – “Discussion Forums” and “Ask an Expert” tap into the expertise existing in an organization, often in siloes. Very often, access to expertise gets limited to being co-located. However, a MOOC ecosystem eliminates this challenge by bringing learners in touch with experts on the same platform – a critical condition for a successful PS and capability building strategy. This benefits both the learners and the experts, and above all the organization. The evolving knowledge base of the organization becomes explicit enabling faster learning, reducing loss of critical information and fostering an environment of continuous learning. 
  5. MOOCs bring synchronous and asynchronous, online and offline together – The MOOC can have both synchronous and asynchronous learning modalities built in. Instant chats and webinars (hangouts) can be effective ways to share knowledge or pose a question. A short webinar to discuss a case study or any other learning resource will not only lead to deeper learning but also foster the skills of critical thinking. A recorded webinar can be provided to those unable to participate in real time. The learning from the MOOC need not stay within the MOOC and can be taken outside. “Lunch and Learns” to share knowledge and talk about recent experiences, or to discuss a case-study or a course module can farther enhance the learning experience. 
  6. MOOCs work well when practices are evolving – Courses are typically designed around existing, codified knowledge and are built to share best and good practices, established processes and other critical knowledge required to get started in a field of work. And courses will still continue to be needed. However, MOOCs extend the learning spectrum by adding context to core content. The ability to add and enrich a course with ongoing context facilitates articulation of evolving practices, new knowledge in a specific field, and unique and exceptional situations. If I were to map this to the Cynefin framework (I am partial to the framework and bring it up at every opportunity I get), I would say that a MOOC-like dissemination model takes over where an event-like courses ends. They extend the learning spectrum and facilitate continuous learning.      

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