New MOOC Models: Blended Learning

If there's one thing we have learned from the rapid changes in education and training over the past year it is that there is more than one way to do things, even in education. New technologies emerge, they disrupt the status quo, and then, inevitably, they change. This is exactly what has happened with massive…

If there's one thing we have learned from the rapid changes in education and training over the past year it is that there is more than one way to do things, even in education. New technologies emerge, they disrupt the status quo, and then, inevitably, they change. This is exactly what has happened with massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Contrary to what many people predicted, MOOCs were not a “one and done” -they have continued to expand and gain credibility, and now you can get a massive online master's degree in computer science from Georgia Tech. And contrary to what many feared, MOOCs have not yet replaced traditional colleges and training programs (at least the last time I checked all of our country's higher education institutions were still standing). What MOOCs have done and will continue to do is change how education is delivered, both online and in the classroom. They have broadened the scope of what people expect from courses and from technology-enabled learning tools. Over a short series of articles, we will look at some new ways MOOCs are being used and how these models can facilitate training and development programs.

One of the main, and possibly least surprising, uses of MOOCs and MOOC elements is in blended learning. Blended learning is a model in which online and instructor-led environments are combined to enhance learner mastery and success. This is not just randomly introducing technology into classes; instead, it is harnessing the power of technology to streamline the educational process, free instructors to spend more of their time actually teaching, and provide learners with the additional supports they need to succeed.

Blended learning is not a new idea in corporate training and development. It is commonly used for onboarding new employees and has many other applications as well, especially when training needs to be delivered to many different people across various locations.

Blended learning helps trainers better meet the needs of learners. People learn differently-with different styles and at different paces. Through blended environments, instruc- tors can cater to the diversity of their learner group. Here are three main advantages of blended learning identified by Michelle Reece and Barbara Lockee in their article “Improving training outcomes through blended learning”:

  • Using elearning methods, trainers can assess learners prior to training, which can inform the development of instructional materials. Blended learning can also facilitate prework so that when new hires arrive for instructor-led training, they are ready to hit the ground running.
  • Blended learning is instrumental in learner retention and the practical application of learning in the workplace. Even after the instructor-led portion of the training is over, online resources such as course content and discussion boards exist for learners to refer to in their work. Elearning methods, like training simulations, can also provide opportunities for learners to practice before they encounter real problems.

So how can MOOCs be used in blended learning?

MOOC methods and technologies can provide the basis for blended courses, while instructors provide supplemental guidance. This idea is already being used in higher education. This semester, professors at Harvard and Berkeley are using the edX platform to deliver what they call SPOCs, or small private online courses. SPOCs are like MOOCs in that they use video lectures, discussion boards, machine-graduated assessments, and other MOOC elements, but they are similar to MOOCs in that they are open only to students enrolled at their relevant schools (and in Harvard's case up to 500 additional participants). Students in Harvard and Berkeley's SPOC take their courses online, but still meet in person for projects and discussions.

The advantages of this format for training and development programs are many:

  • The blended learning model supplements the major advantages of MOOCs (ie, repeatability, scalability, and technology) with the face-to-face interaction many learners require. The team at Harvard sees this as a way to combat the highly high MOOC dropout rates.
  • Trainers can use MOOC elements like video training sessions and even webinars to increase efficiency of the training process so that they can spend more of their time in one-on-one interactions.
  • Blended learning can be scaled more easily across an entire organization than can instructor-led training. This is especially important as companies rely on fewer employees to carry out their training agendas. According to the Big Ideas blog over at Omnipress, the trainer-to-learner ratio is falling and n
  • ow sits at about 5 to 1000. Companies are trying to do more with less.
  • The SPOC model is perfect for companies that do not want to run true MOOCs (due to intellectual property or privacy concerns), but are still seeking efficiencies in their training programs. The corporate SPOC is essentially a MOOC run on a private Intranet. These courses can be hosted on an existing learning management system without having to worry about whether it will accommodate unlimited users.
  • Like in MOOCs, trainers only need to develop the instructional materials once and then they can be used repeatedly. But SPOCs have the advantage of having an in-person instructor available to address changes or new developments in a field or process without needing to redesign the learning resources.
  • Trainers can license externally developed training content, or use freely available materials, as the starting point from which to design a company-specific curriculum.

MOOCs did not kill classrooms; they just made classrooms much, much bigger. Similarly, MOOC methods and elements will expand both the scope and the effectiveness of blended learning environments. This new model will boost onboarding and other training efforts by allowing L & D departments to deliver more personalized training to more people in a shorter period of time.