Control: L&D’s nemesis?

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Lots of discussions around the success criteria of massive, open, online courses focus on completion rates. It’s understandable, most education systems around the world focus on completion in some shape of form – be it time at school or exams and qualifications.

That’s a problem because completion doesn’t necessarily equate to learning anything – it is unclear how much we take away from completing a course, for example.

I think this notion of completion is born out of control – those who control education control what they deem to be the success criteria and completion is a part of that. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, just that that is where we have come from. And I think this informs the notion that completions are measure of success in MOOCs.

But MOOCs provide a very different experience for participants, one that puts them in control. As most MOOCs are free, people are free to choose what to sign up for, what to study, how much time to spend in them. So, they may sign up but not show up, they may stay but not complete. They may complete.

This is challenging for the educational establishment and not just because participants experience them in different ways. It has implications for their future business models – online versus bricks and mortar, for example.

It also challenging for organisations because they too are looking to use MOOCs to develop staff. Traditionally, what is ‘taught’ or what is expected to be learned, has been at the discretion of the business – employees are told what they need to know and what they should learn. But the MOOC experience shows us that people are deciding for themselves what they need to know. And that is challenging.

It is more challenging if you take a wider view that employees are best placed to identify what they need to learn in order to achieve what is expected of them in a particular role. They will tell the business what they need and not the other way round.

If you subscribe to this view then L&D should operate in a very different way. In his talk at the World of Learning conference, Robert Todd, former head of learning technologies at LinkedIn, said that L&D should be the advocates for learners, taking their challenges and needs to the business – not the other way round. That’s an interesting way to look at corporate L&D but is it a view of L&D the profession can subscribe to?

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