Webinar Q&A | MOOCs, SPOCs and Other N-Syncs: What You Need to Know

There has been quite a buzz about MOOCs building over the past year or so, but implementation results in the corporate sector have been mixed. MOOCs, SPOCs, and other N-Syncs (near synchronous learning events) can be quite powerful. How do you navigate the complexities to achieve an effective and sustainable solution? As learning professionals, it’s critical that we understand the strengths and weaknesses of emerging approaches and platforms, and the range of N-Syncs (including MOOCs) are no different.

During a recent GP Strategies webinar, I gave a brief overview of MOOCs, SPOCs and N-Syncs and shared design strategies and platform considerations, as well as the importance of ongoing support. If you missed the webinar, a recording is now available. During the session we addressed several common “myths” around N-Syncs and while I shared a few in the recording, the audience added a few of their own. I have captured my original list and have added those shared by the audience.

Common Myths Surrounding MOOCs and N-Syncs:

  • They are just another form of self-paced online learning.
  • They will replace WBTs, ILTs, and VILTs.
  • There is a standard approach.
  • Same old blended learning in a new package.
  • Dropout rates are a fundamental problem.
  • They can’t deliver performance improvement.

Here are the ones the participants provided. I have added a bit more for each.

  • They are only for higher education.
    • Original translations of MOOCs from higher education to the corporate sector did not do so well. With the evolution of the platforms and a shift in the design points, N-Syncs are showing that they can succeed in the corporate setting.
  • They are boring.
    • With the evolution of the platforms and a shift in the design points and support strategy, N-Syncs are showing that they can bring not only improved engagement, but also support transfer.
  • My senior leaders won’t participate.
    • This is dependent upon the design point and quality of the experience. If relevance is achieved through the design and the support, senior leaders will engage.
  • They will put eLearning content developers out of business.­
    • This is less of a threat to eLearning developers, but more of a stretch and challenge. The complexities of the solution push the designer to focus much more on the learner and the experience and less on the form factor of the self-paced asset.
  • N-Syncs can’t be used to deliver complex, proprietary, or legislation-based training.­
    • As a tool, N-Syncs can be used to deliver a range of topics. It may not be more efficient than a 1 hour WBT, but it may be more effective. The key deciding factor is the quality of the design.
  • This will never catch on. You can’t get anything of quality for free.­
    • There are two statements here. The first one is a myth – success will win out. The second I agree with to a point. I am a big proponent of elegance as a design concept, but elegance does not mean easy. By nature, the more challenging the design, the greater the effort required. If you equate effort to cost, then I agree. Perhaps, I would correct it to say – you can get anything of quality with ease.

After the presentation, several great questions came up from the audience. Below are those questions and my best answers. This is an ongoing conversation, and I encourage you to keep the questions coming in via the comments section at the bottom of this page. ­

Q: ­How do you blend MOOCs/N-Syncs with existing performance support systems?­

A: This is a great question and a very important one. Although MOOCs and other N-Syncs can provide an engaging experience, it is still important to connect the learning back to the performance environment. I strongly recommend that you design both a pull and push strategy. You can pull the performance environment forward into the learning experience by including activities that draw directly from the work and require the use of performance support tools. In terms of push, action plans are great vehicles to connect the post-learning and work environments. Another push strategy is the use of peer mentoring in both the learning space and continued into the work environment.

Q: ­What do you believe to be challenges for these in the future? ­

A: Actually, one of the greatest challenges for MOOCs/N-Syncs lies in managing expectations for the experience. Too often, we reduce a learning event to a single description and then get frustrated when it fails to meet expectations. N-Syncs can be powerful tools when designed and supported well. Another challenge, is that the very nature of the solution is driven by increasing design and support complexity. With all the options for learning assets, diagnostics, coaching and collaboration combined with the blended delivery from facilitators, moderators and coaches – mastering this design challenge and establishing an aligned measurement plan is critical.

Q: How has this been applied to new hire experiences?

A: This approach really supports a cohort-driven learning experience, which can be quite helpful for new hires. The collaborative, time-released approach can reduce cognitive overload and enable new hires to add critical context to the content they are learning. The social elements can also help in the development of their internal performance network.

Q: Is there an example or a write-up of a MOOC so we can get a feel of what a good one looks like and what they contain? An example would go a long way.

A: This white paper “Microsoft’s Corporate MOOC: Transforming Training to Increase Seller Engagement” explores a great example of a MOOC that provided essential and transformative training for Microsoft’s worldwide salesforce.

Matt Donovan, VP, Learning Solutions

Matt Donovan, VP, Learning Solutions

Early in life, I found that I had a natural curiosity that not only led to a passion for learning and sharing with others, but it also got me into trouble. Although not a bad kid, I often found overly structured classrooms a challenge. I could be a bit disruptive as I would explore the content and activities in a manner that made sense to me. I found that classes and teachers that nurtured a personalized approach really resonated with me, while those that did not were demotivating and affected my relationship with the content. Too often, the conversation would come to a head where the teacher would ask, “Why can’t you learn it this way?” I would push back with, “Why can’t you teach it in a variety of ways?” The only path for success was when I would deconstruct and reconstruct the lessons in a meaningful way for myself.

I would say that this early experience has shaped my career. I have been blessed with a range of opportunities to work with innovative organizations that advocate for the learner, endeavor to deliver relevance, and look to bend technology to further these goals. For example, while working at Unext.com, I had the opportunity to experience over 3,000 hours of “learnability” testing on my blended learning designs. I could see for my own eyes how learners would react to my designs and how they made meaning of it. Learners asked two common questions: Is it relevant to me? Is it authentic? Through observations of and conversations with learners, I began to sharpen my skills and designed for inclusion and relevance rather than control. This lesson has served me well.

In our industry, we have become overly focused on the volume and arrangement of content, instead of its value. Not surprising—content is static and easier to define. Value (relevance), on the other hand, is fluid and much harder to describe. The real insight is that you can’t really design relevance; you can only design the environment or systems that promote it. Relevance ultimately is in the eye of the learner—not the designer.

So, this is why, when asked for an elevator pitch, I share my passion of being an advocate for the learner and a warrior for relevance.
Matt Donovan, VP, Learning Solutions

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