Friday, February 27, 2015

MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 5: Skills Learners Need Today


While the title of the post specifies MOOCs, the skills and mindsets I have explored in the post are, IMHO, required by all to survive and thrive in the digital and connected world. And participating in MOOCs could well be one of the ways to inculcate and hone the skills. I have been writing about MOOCs in the context of workplace learning from different perspectives for some time now. The earlier posts...
  1. MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 1: Some Points to Consider 
  2. MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 2: Designing a MOOC
  3. MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 3: Launching a MOOC
  4. MOOCs in Workplace Learning - Part 4: Their Role in Corporate Universities 
In this post, the fifth in the series, I want to focus on some of the learner characteristics that make for successful MOOC participants. MOOCs, unlike typical on-line courses hosted on corporate LMS's operate on very different principles. I have written about these in my earlier posts and won't delve into the principles here. I will just call out a few to set the context. 

A MOOC is an intrinsically participative, collaborative mode of learning. While typically designed around a core set of content modules / topics, it has a lose boundary. A MOOC has a core topic and a set of created or curated content modules covering the topic to a desired depth and level. However, it is the discussions, collaborative project works, and user-generated content and context that often spill over outside the course boundary which differentiates a MOOC from any regular online course. In that sense, a MOOC is a dynamic and evolving pedagogical form that allows diverse set of learners to come together and form cohorts, to co-create and build the context as they go through the course. The emergent nature of MOOCs can have interesting outcomes:

They can enable the formation of Communities of Interests (CoIs), which can evolve into Communities of Practices (CoPs) if participants are keen on building the domain knowledge and practices. Having said that, MOOCs require certain skills from participants, which I like to describe as "learning how to learn in the networked world."  

Most learners are used to "solo" learning, both in the academic and the corporate world. The notion of collaborating and sharing to learn more deeply and enduringly isn't yet pervasive. Yet, the new age of complexity calls for collaboration and cooperation. No one can hope to make sense of the emerging complexities either on their own or through standardized and formal courses. It is only through dialogue and discourse that patterns evolve. But needless to say, this whole notion of engaging with any course requires learners to develop certain skills as well as mindset. 

The MOOC format is primarily learner-driven and learner-directed. MOOCs are facilitated but typically not Instructor Led. Hence, these require learners to "pull" their own learning. For organizations, this has a direct implication and reflects the motivation employees feel, the autonomy they enjoy and the purpose they find in their work. If the three aspects are in place, most individuals will feel the impetus to learn what they need to in order to accomplish their tasks. And inculcating this culture is perhaps of paramount importance today—when the most meaningful and creative work fall in the Complex domain for which training will never be the answer. I have touched upon some of the skills and mindsets required to succeed today:

  • Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset - Individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to put in extra effort to learn new things, take charge of their own learning, and possess a resilience that helps them to overcome challenges with equanimity. Those with a fixed mindset are likely to see talent and skills as fixed entities that cannot be further developed. They are more likely to spend time doing work that keeps them in their comfort zone and where they are confident of succeeding. MOOCs, by virtue of being collaborative in nature, requires people to "put themselves and their ideas out there". This can be perceived as threatening to those with a fixed mindset. 

  • Mistakes as Learning Opportunities - Dan Pink popularized the notion of "bunkos" in The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, where "bunkos" are mistakes whose learning value outweighs the seriousness of the error. They are good mistakes. This notion is closely linked to #1; individuals with a growth mindset are willing to make mistakes since they perceive each mistake as a step toward deeper learning. In a collaborative and participatory environment as in MOOCs, discussions often lead to debate, thrashing out of ideas, and exchange of perspectives. In fact, true and deep learning takes place because of these conversations. Those not confident enough to make mistakes and learn from others will not be able to openly collaborate in a MOOC environment. 
  • Autonomous Learning Conditions - MOOCs are essentially an ecosystem that allows learners to pull the learning they want. Even if corporate MOOCs are designed along the lines of xMOOCs (structured, sequenced, with a defined start and end), the discussion forum will require participation. Because of its blended nature - formal course content with informal and social learning woven around it - MOOCs cannot be a top down endeavour. Learners need to take onus of their own experience and engage and be involved. 
  • Power of Diversity - Even within an organization, especially a globally distributed one with a global and connected workforce, an open course has the potential to draw diverse groups of people together. Often, this proves to be a great opportunity to build one's PLN within an organization and to form weak ties. However, this is dependent on each individual's willingness to perceive diverse world-views and frameworks as learning tools. Networks have to be consciously created, cultivated and nurtured. The desire to reach out with the intent to learn is a mindset. 
  • Collaboration and Cooperation - The success of a MOOC lies in the facilitator's ability to create a safe environment for participants. This requires online community management skills on the part of the MOOC facilitator. On the part of the learners, it requires virtual collaboration skills that are becoming increasingly important today. I stumbled across this diagram created by +Dion Hinchcliffe in his insightful post What are the Required Skills for Today's Digital Workforce? 

The skills highlighted in the diagram are precisely what learners (workers) need to successfully participate in a MOOC and thrive in this complex, shifting, digital world. Working out loud and knowing how to learn in a connected world are important to remain learning agile which includes learning from one's networks, sharing and co-creating. 

Finally, the words learners and workers will conflate. Everyone who wishes to escape obsolescence and irrelevance will remain learners. The ability to learn and adapt as close as possible to the speed of change will not only be the hallmark of organizations that thrive but also of individuals who thrive. 

Disruption is what happens when something new comes along that changes the underlying rules of the game. If we are doing the disrupting, it can actually be very good for us. When it’s imposed on us, then the results usually tend to be unfortunate. So we must be doing the disrupting to ourselves, and that begins and ends with shifting our mindset and perspective, especially in deeply understanding the nature of the truly pervasive digital operating environment we now find ourselves in.

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