April 2017

squaring the circle of corporate professional development

Traditional corporate professional development is stuck between a rock and a hard place. While on-site training is expensive (trainer, venue, travel, accommodation, catering) and bound to a specific time and location, traditional web-based trainings and elearning courses are scalable, but suffer from low didactic quality and thus fail to achieve advanced learning outcomes. Webinars combine advantages and disadvantages of both of these approaches.

What companies need is an effective online learning experience that enables learners to reach learning outcomes on par with the best classroom training – at scale, anytime and anywhere. We believe that asynchronous, active (“lean forward”) learning and social online courses can help to square the circle. That is: achieve advanced learning outcomes at a reasonable price point.

Where Traditional Corporate Professional Development Falls Short

As I have explained in my post about flexible online learning, classroom learning to this day is considered the gold standard of education. Granted, learning in direct interactions with others can be fun. But as everyone who has ever gone to school will know that is not a given. Even it is though, the practical requirement to be present in a particular location at certain point in time makes it more and more difficult to effectively use classroom training in increasingly global companies. Moreover, due to the fact that all of the learning has to take place in one, usually fairly short, block learners can find themselves overwhelmed by all the input. Corporate classroom training often leaves learners with little to no time for digesting content, entering into discussions with other learners or reflecting on what they have learned. While coming together in a group sure is a powerful way of learning, it reveals certain deficits that flexible online education manages to overcome.

Elearning formats promised a more flexible approach, allowing large numbers of learners to learn outside of the classroom. However, it soon became clear that the WBT format is primarily suited to convey knowledge in the form of content. Learners watch videos or read texts in order to learn certain facts or concepts. In addition they usually answer a few multiple choice questions – but that’s about it. This, however, is not enough to understand a topic in depth, acquire new skills or fundamentally change someone’s mindset. This is why traditional elearning is often one-dimensional and neither encouraging nor challenging. Which is why elearning in many companies is still primarily used in the field of compliance, where the learning objectives are relatively straightforward. For learners to reach more advanced learning outcomes, however, they need to apply their knowledge in different contexts and discuss value judgments with others. Which is why we need a new kind of corporate professional development.

What Innovative Online Education Has to Offer to Corporate Professional Development

Innovative approaches to effective online learning manage to combine the advantages of both classroom learning and traditional elearning. This approach to online education gives learners the opportunity to work at their own pace while acknowledging the importance of the interaction among peers. Messaging, for example, allows students to exchange and discuss ideas with each other. They can even set up working group chats and thus solve assignments and problems together with their peers. Being part of a community is a key aspect of the learning experience – particularly in the field of greyscale learning.

The Learning Journal provides a room for learners to collectively reflect on different solutions to course assignments and motivates them to engage in active learning. Learners can reward outstanding works of others by giving posts a heart. By following the journals of other users, they can keep track of what is happening inside the community. Many of these features are widely successful aspects of other social networking sites. Now it is time to leverage their potential in the field of online corporate professional development.

Our online courses use a broad range of assignment formats. Learners have to write free text responses, record videos, visualise or develop a concept, answer open-ended discussion questions or participate in an essay competition and post the result of their work in the Learning Journal. The assignments are challenging as well as entertaining, but most importantly: educational. This hands-on approach requires learners to apply what they have learned in many different ways and contexts. Sharing their solutions with others enables them to learn with and from each other.

A New Frontier for Corporate Professional Development in the Digital Age

Corporate Professional Development Matrix

We believe that this innovative approach to online education will be able to overcome the shortcomings of both classroom learning and traditional elearning. In so doing it conveniently places itself in the top right corner of the matrix above. On the one hand it achieves advanced learning outcomes by providing high quality content, challenging assignments and a community of peers in a flexible organisational setup. At the same time the courses are asynchronous and require little to no active supervision by an expert. Hence they are much affordable per participant than classroom instruction.

Combining scalability and affordability in this way allows companies to tackle wholly new challenges using digital learning. On the one hand it will help to make digital solutions succeed across a much broader range of subject areas; specifically in fields where it was previously thought to be ineffective such as communications skills. On the other hand it will help corporate professional development to finally deliver on the often-proclaimed aspiration to create a “learning organisation”. Strategic change management initiatives often require the  (re-)qualification of hundreds or even thousands of employees. On-site training programs provide very limited economies of scale and require a lot of time and resources to plan and implement. Exciting alternative solutions that leverage the potential of online learning more fully such as corporate MOOCs (e.g. Deutsche Telekom’s Magenta MOOC) may allow corporate professional development to finally gain the strategic importance HR departments have long claimed, but found hard to deliver on.

The times they are a changin’…

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video role-play

Our newest feature, video role-play training, is currently undergoing beta-testing and we will begin to roll it out to learners within the next couple of days. Besides answering multiple-choice and written work, learners will be able to record video responses on our platform.

This will be especially useful in the context of courses with a focus on greyscale learning in the broad field of communication skills (leadership, sales etc.). Because becoming great requires practice. The ability to record, replay and record again until the learner is satisfied is one aspect that makes video responses such a powerful tool for effective online learning. In addition, sharing video responses in the Learning Journal enables learners to comment on each other’s work, complement each other or point out things that need improvement.

video role-play

Moving Beyond Multiple Choice Using Video Role-Play Training

Video role-play training assignments thus allow us to teach things online that are often thought of as being hard to teach in a digital format. Namely courses on real-life communication skills where there is no dichotomous black or white. Where there are many right and many wrong answers and many different shades of grey in between.

Examples of such courses are those dealing with topics such as sales, leadership or customer care. Consider one example: a course on leadership. This is exactly one of the “soft” or “human” topics that, as it is often argued, can only be taught well in a face-to-face environment. In a traditional elearning format it often is either all theory or a fairly simple “multiple-choice game”. In web-based training one would, for example, watch a video of two people fighting in the hallway and would then have to respond to a couple of questions that offer a few options to choose from. The user has to choose a course of action – that usually results in stating the obvious.

However, knowing what is the right thing to do and actually doing it, are of course two fundamentally different things. The way we envision online education is that after watching the video, students have to use the camera of their device to formulate and record an original response to the characters in the conflict situation in form of a video comment answering the question: “What would you say now? 30 seconds. GO!”

Assignments such as video role-play training allow students to respond to a complex problem in an infinite number of ways and require them to move from multiple choice to infinite choice. Aggregating the user-generated content in the Learning Journal and letting all learners give each other detailed feedback on the basis of sophisticated grading rubrics can take this one step further.

video role-play training

Life Comes in Many Shades of Grey – Online Learning Should Reflect That

In short: with this feature we want to teach learners complex topics such as leadership by moving beyond simple multiple choice formats. We try to encourage them to bring their context and experience to the table. An old person will respond differently than a young person. A woman differently than a man. Yet all of these different answers may well be correct in their own unique way – or not. And that’s for the learners to discuss and work out together. This approach to effective online learning allows them to be creative and to think outside of the box. It also shows learners that a lot of times, there can be many different ways to solve a problem. This truly embodies what we mean by greyscale learning. We believe that video role-play training can help learners to broaden their horizons and to see the bigger picture of complex topics.

 

 

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We envision learning on iversity as learning in a social network. Therefore, we created a social experience for our users that enables them to interact with each other in ways that they are already familiar with from social networks.

The messaging feature, for example, allows learners to privately communicate with others on the iversity platform through a convenient messenger system – one on one as well as in groups. Learners can message each other regardless of whether or not they attend the same courses. All they need to do to start a conversation, is to search the user directory.

When searching for another user on our platform, learners can identify other learners who are members of the same organisation. This is a useful feature to help facilitate communication among people belonging to the same company. However, an organisation is not visible to non-members. That way only members of the same company can recognise each other as such. This is how we avoid harassment of our users, for example by headhunters or competition. Another way to ensure the learner privacy in a social network is the possibility to block other users in order to prevent spamming and other annoyances.

 

Learning in a Social Network – Messaging Feature

 

The messaging feature also allows for group conversations. Here, learners have the possibility to add new members at any time or leave the conversation if they wish to do so. This allows users to turn to their peers when facing a problem and solve it together as a group. The feature makes it easy to exchange ideas and discuss assignments with more than one person; while keeping the discussion among a select group of peers, instead of the entire course community.  Learners also have the option to name group conversations. This makes it easier for them to distinguish between multiple group chats – because convenience is key.

While the discussions feature is course public and intended solely for exchanging thoughts about the course content, the messaging feature can of course be used for personal chit chat among peers inside our social network.

Community Managers – Facilitators of Learning in a Social Network

A course member can be appointed community manager by the course admin and thus gains access to special messaging functions. He or she can send announcements – email messages that are sent to either all course participants or specific subsets of the group – e.g. in order to draw attention to specific posts that are particularly relevant, helpful or controversial. They can also contribute content of their own in order to provide inspiration or feedback. Through announcements, learners of a course are further encouraged to engage with the course content and to think outside the box. Thus, they help with community management and tutoring. They can provide learners with assistance regarding the substance of the course and help to ensure their successful progress throughout the course, fostering effective online learning in a social network.

Recent Activities in a Course

On the dashboard page, learners can see a short preview of recent activities. Like in the picture below, they can see who joined the course, as well as who posted a comment or an entry to the Learning Journal. Much like the newsfeed feature in other social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, the recent activity overview allows users to see at one glance what is happening in a course. This enables them to find recent contributions, active discussions and to connect with other learners – even when they have been absent from the platform for a couple of days. Seeing other users’ activity is a key motivating factor. Instead of learning in isolation you can see what assignment your colleague has been working on yesterday. This can create a healthy form of competition. It also helps to create a sense of belonging where learners feel that they are part of an active community of peers.

Learning in a Social Network – Recent Activity Feed

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