elearning

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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In previous posts, I talked about learning as a process, the elements of the learning process, and our formula for online student engagement. Particularly student engagement (or the lack thereof) as measured by completion rates is often seen as key metric. And to some extent this makes sense. If you are disengaged you won’t learn. But engagement is just the necessary condition for learning. It is what learners do while they are engaged that determines the actual outcome of learning. Therefore, including all three elements of learning in the learning process is the sufficient condition for effective online learning.

High-quality content and storytelling ensure engagement. Active and social learning ensure that learners gain a comprehensive and deep understanding. An understanding that goes beyond the ability to regurgitate facts and answer basic questions.

How do we know this? Because instructional designs that include all three elements (content, context and community) cover all steps of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning (2001 revised edition, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives was originally published in 1956). Ok, let me put this in normal words and less jargon.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Explained

The reason why fun, active, and social learning is effective is that different activities build on each other. These learning activities progressively lead the learner to a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter at hand. At first, after watching a video or reading a text, learners know that a given fact, phenomenon or theory exists. They may also understand it well enough to answer basic questions about it.

But only when they take this new knowledge and apply it in a different context – for example by working on a case study – do they gain a deeper understanding. By analysing and evaluating other people’s work, learners have to confront alternative perspectives and approaches grappling with the same topic. Creating their own work – reflecting on the subject, solving a word problem, drafting a presentation or plan – ultimately demonstrates whether they have mastered the subject at hand. If an online course includes all of these activities, learners will not only know more. They will also be able to apply their knowledge and, most importantly, act differently in practice. THAT is what we mean by effective online learning.

elearning May Be Cheap, But It’s Not Effective Online Learning

Traditional elearning (e.g. in the form of web-based trainings or WBTs) is not much more than an interactive textbook. It’s essentially broadcast learning, where learners passively consume content in isolation. This works well if the objective is to provide them with basic knowledge. They can familiarise themselves with a topic and gain a basic understanding. But this will do relatively little to affect their performance on the job. To change attitudes and behaviour, learning activities have to cover more – ideally all – steps of Bloom’s taxonomy.  

Bloom's Taxonomy - traditional elearning vs effective online Learning

In other words, to achieve the learning outcomes in corporate training and professional development, we need a L&D format that does not just simulate learning. We cannot speak of effective online learning unless it affects the learners’ performance on the job. We design iversity PRO courses on the basis of this understanding of learning and with this objective in mind. The feature set of the iversity platform not only supports a broad range of effective online learning activities. It also provides a variety of ways for users to interact. Organisations can also use the iversity platform in order to host courses that follow these design principles by setting up a branded academy.

Learners reach advanced learning outcomes because we cover all steps of Bloom’s taxonomy and embed content and assignments in a social context. This new form of effective online learning makes it possible to learn topics online that were previously thought impossible to learn effectively in a digital environment. Prime examples of such topics are leadership, communication, and change management.

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E-learning has been around now for two decades. In this time, it hasn’t earned a great reputation. When I tell people that I work in the online learning space, the reaction is rarely one of excitement. People who work in the corporate world usually tell me about the most recent compliance training they had to suffer through. “28 Clicks on “Next”, a few multiple choice questions, and that’s it.” The problem here is that working through content in isolation and without real challenges gives little cause for excitement. We need a new kind of instructional design for effective online learning!

The traditional approach to instructional design: elarning course = content

The iversity Approach to Instructional Design

Unlike other learning solutions that merely provide content, we at iversity understand learning as an active, social process. Education thought leader David A. Wiley summarised this point very well: „If high quality reusable content were all that were required to support learning, libraries would never have evolved into universities. That is to say, interaction with other human beings always has been and always will be an integral part of the learning process. This is especially true when learning of higher-order skills.”

Our fresh approach to instructional design: iversity course = learning process „If high quality reusable content were all that were required to support learning, libraries would never have evolved into universities. That is to say, interaction with other human beings always has been and always will be an integral part of the learning process. This is especially true when learning of higher-order skills.” David A. Wiley

That’s why iversity courses feature more than just content. As well as high-quality multimedia learning materials, all our instructional design combines challenging, open-ended assignments with a variety of ways for students to interact and learn with and from each other, such as the learning journal, a discussion forum and messaging feature. Students acquire knowledge in order to understand a certain topic, but must then apply it in different contexts, actively creating their own pieces of work while analysing and evaluating the work of others.

This kind of instructional design covers all steps of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, allowing learners to reach learning outcomes they would not be able to reach with traditional corporate e-learning formats such as web-based trainings (WBTs). How exactly the approaches differ in this respect is something I will explain in a future post.

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