I spent a good part of this weekend updating an online course that I teach. It got me thinking further about how this format might be adopted to work in the corporate environment. When I’m designing an online course, what I’m trying to create is an intense guided learning experience with a robust online community to share ideas and learning. That sounds like a good formula for some of our corporate learning needs as well.
To support online learning, I aim to select readings and to create online briefings (a.k.a. e-briefings, narrated slide presentations) that are robust and thought-provoking (sometimes even – egad! – theoretical or research-based). Activities include engaging exercises to solidify understanding of complex topics, challenging application projects that can be done in stages so that I can coach learners through them, and complex discussion/reflection questions to help solidify learning for each individual learner and to generate discussion of multiple perspectives and insights that benefit all learners. When it works, the students benefit both from going at their own pace and from interacting with other learners and with me. Because everyone has to post, I get to monitor more intensely how well each student is grasping, reflecting on, and applying the material. It’s time-consuming from my perspective, because I’m commenting very specifically for many students posting every week. But it can be a very enriching experience for both students and me.
I dont’ think we would want to replicate everything the academic world has done (what business person will agree to write a paper?), but we can certainly borrow a number of techniques. For learners who need more structured approaches, an online course could strike a balance between scheduled learning and completely informal learning. If we’re already aggregating resources for a learning environment, it won’t take much to map out a path for learners to follow to a specific end. An online course can have the additional advantage of time… learners are able to move between a learning mode and an application mode, and they have a cohort of people with whom to share their experiences, successes, and missed opportunities. The best projects for this mode of learning would have these characteristics: the learing goals should be complex, either a knowledge base that needs a deep dive, or a management or interpersonal skill that requires ongoing development. That may be hard to find. 🙂
We don’t have to purchase new software to be able to experiment with this. (Don’t tell the good folks at Blackboard I said that.) An online course can run inside the firewall using internal wiki technology or intranet frameworks, or even within an LMS that supports multiple components for a course. And those of you who don’t need to worry about security or proprietary content can set up courses in Moodle or Ning among other free tools.
Imagine, for example, a three-month program on the manager’s role in developing employees, or a half year invested in learning more about your company’s industry or about general business acumen. Just-in-time learning could be accommodated with a year-long course on a performance management process, or longer term course on the sales process. We might even consider creating this kind of course for on-the-job training. Activities can be designed to be completed with the support of a manager or senior peer rather than with a cohort taking a course all at the same time. Mmm… I’d love to hear from anyone who has had success with this kind of online courseware in a corporate environment.
Perhaps it’s a format whose time has come.