Using MOOC Data for Your Benefit

Using MOOC Data for Your Benefit

Tap into universities’ wealth of online learner-related data to help your learning and development teams.

For corporate learning departments, any course that’s not a “page-turner” means wasted effort. If chief learning officers could tap into research showing how people are learning most effectively online, however, it could greatly improve learning content. By talking to universities about their approach to, and results from, online learning, CLOs could change the way their learning and development teams design courses and think about learning.

For instance, a plethora of schools publish massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Organizations like edX, launched by Harvard University and MIT, have added dozens of leading schools to present free courses online. Coursera and Udacity have, too. Each of these organizations, and the schools that supply courses, extract heaps of data about what people are clicking on to learn, which in turn demonstrates retention rates. If learning leaders want to understand this data, they can start by contacting the person running the MOOCs for, say, HarvardX or the Harvard Business School. Boston’s Berklee College of Music supplies MOOCs via something akin to a startup, which is run from within the school itself.

“Not all universities are created equal in terms of research or their approach to effective online learning,” said Kevin Wilde, the recently retired CLO of General Mills and current Executive Leadership Fellow at the University of Minnesota. “I would start by asking other CLOs which universities are getting their attention.”

Local universities’ schools of education are another data source. For example, Boston University’s School of Education and Lesley University’s Graduate School of Education both gather data on how best to push classroom learning online. Opening a window to this research could be as simple as calling a university and setting up a lunch to understand what they’re trying to address. Start the conversation by learning about their research agenda and how they’re measuring the ways education can work better. Or, sit down with one of the deans for continuing education or with a university extension school. These professionals often track how people are learning in a business-to-consumer environment.

The goals for adult learning are threefold:

  1. Generate and deliver content in a way that increases its relevancy for a person at a given time and place in their career.
  2. Increase delivery efficiency with respect to quantity and modality.
  3. Deliver learning just in time.

This thinking isn’t new, but the data we can extract to vet the efficacy of our methods is. For example, you can ask a school, “With your MOOCs, what is the optimum amount of time someone can focus before they abort and go on to the next topic in a course?” Or, “what are the user experiences that help learners exceed the average times? Are you, from an instructional design point of view, embedding a game or video that keeps the learner engaged for up to, say, 10 minutes?”

In the past, experts like Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget guided our thinking on the theory and practice of education such as spontaneous learning vs. ready-made knowledge. Now we can add a massively large dataset capturing people’s actual learning behavior. This information offers some guardrails and benchmarks for future instructional design.

Why would a dean in charge of building MOOCs want to meet with a CLO to discuss and share this information? Well, educators often see learning as a vocation. They are also keenly aware that corporate learning and its associated technologies have done a lot more for learning delivery than higher education has been able to achieve on its own. And educators, especially those in charge of continuing education and MOOCs, know that learning leaders often represent a potentially large pool of future students. Passion for the subject, a desire to improve their methods and attracting new students motivate educators.

“Most of the best universities are constantly looking to be more relevant to the business world as a way to help their students succeed,” Wilde said. “A CLO-university connection can benefit both parties.”

an agency of the federal government about the importance of using science to make decisions.

For CLOs the question is: How can you create a diverse environment that leverages the strength of your workforce to make decisions?


This column was originally published in CLO.