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Using MOOCs For Employee Development and Organizational Learning

Like any large organization, JLT Group spends a lot of effort on continuing education for their workforce. JLT is one of the world’s largest providers of insurance and employee benefits related advice, brokerage and associated services, and lately their Mumbai, India office, which includes over 850 employees, has started using MOOCs as part of their employee development and organizational learning.

Employee development MOOC

Ken Teegardin via seniorliving.org

We first noticed JLT’s use of MOOCs when a group of employees enrolled en masse in Introduction To Public Speaking, taught by Matt McGarrity at the University of Washington via Coursera.

It turns out that about 30 people in the Mumbai office, in a variety of positions and at a variety of experience levels, have formed a “study group” to support one another in that MOOC.

Managers at the office first started working MOOCs into their organizational learning activities by simply by encouraging employees to take a look at them. As Sunder Ramachandran, Senior Training Manager, explains on his blog, that wasn’t completely effective, so now he is leading a project to use the public speaking class in a more structured way. The study group meets weekly to watch some of the course videos, to discuss the course material and to check on one another’s progress.

We’ve been interested at MOOC News and Reviews in how MOOCs will be used in the corporate world for employee development, either by a single business internally or across a sector. We thought this was a pretty interesting live example, so we got Sunder to participate in this email interview.

Courtesy of Sunder Ramachandran

Robert McGuire

What kinds of challenges does a firm like JLT face when it comes to employee training?

Sunder Ramachandran

Our staff is varied in terms of their background, work experience and, most importantly, their existing line of work. The challenge is to customize learning solutions to meet the needs of this diverse group. At the same time, we want to ensure that overall messaging remains consistent. Also, we have a young workforce, and solutions have to be blended and engaging at all times.

Robert McGuire

What would have been your normal approach to tackling those challenges before MOOCs?

Sunder Ramachandran

We used to rely on traditional classroom-based solutions and off the shelf e-learning, which may not always be contextual to the learner or may lack the level of engagement that a learner in 2013 demands. There was also a lot of premium put on content. In today’s environment, building context is more vital.

Robert McGuire

What are some of the roles and responsibilities of the people who have participated so far?

Sunder Ramachandran

We have encouraged employees across levels to take courses based on their interests. We also recommend courses based on what could potentially appeal to a certain segment of employees. For example, operational executives were recommended the Intro To Operations Management course. Likewise, we did a classroom session on finance for non-finance managers and recommended the Intro To Finance and Intro To Financial Accounting MOOCs as follow up courses.

We also have a monthly lunch & learn session for our senior managers called “Blackboard,” and often MOOCs are recommended as follow up assignments to themes that get discussed.

Robert McGuire

How do you expect MOOCs to help JLT in its business objectives?

Sunder Ramachandran

Our clients are large global organizations looking for astute risk management and employee benefits products. We want our employees to get better at putting our customers first in all decisions and also to be agile and to adapt to the changing needs of the market in which we operate. [pullquote position=”right”]MOOCs make it convenient for the staff to enroll for courses that add value to their current profile and also get them ready for the next role within the organization. Also, learning is increasingly becoming self-directed, and MOOCs offer the flexibility to employees to choose what they want to learn.[/pullquote] Our corporate values are agility, rigor and collaboration and these values get manifested in a MOOC experience.

In the online space, we use the structured MOOCs offered by Coursera, edX and Udacity. Additionally, we also use videos from Khan Academy for themes relating to finance and macroeconomics. Ted Talks are also used extensively to build context in general learning sessions focused on behaviors and attitudinal change.

Robert McGuire

How effective has your use of MOOCs been?

Sunder Ramachandran

We have achieved moderate success. There are always the early adopters, but we have realized the adoption levels are also dependent on the learning styles, and MOOCs may not work for everyone. Overall, this is another learning solution that managers have in their portfolio as they coach and mentor their teams. Adoption of MOOCs has also helped us encourage social and informal learning within the organization.

Robert McGuire

What’s been the response of the people participating?

Sunder Ramachandran

Initially, participants display high levels of enthusiasm, but as the course goes through the test of time, they find it very difficult to sustain the same enthusiasm. This is where our experiment of running a MOOC as an in-class session has proved to be effective.

Robert McGuire

Why did you choose the public speaking MOOC for the study group model?

Sunder Ramachandran

Public speaking is the most essential attribute in the process of being leaders. All organizations regard it to be a “must have” quality in recruits hired to manage teams or businesses. Also this is a theme that cuts across all business units, and we wanted that diversity reflected in our study group.

Robert McGuire

A lot of the discussion of MOOCs is about credentials and university credits. Does it matter to you if a MOOC is credit bearing or not?

Sunder Ramachandran

Yes, it does. With the advent of MOOCs over the years, what continues to hold paramount importance for the participants is the credibility of professors and the pedigree of the university. The possibility of certification motivates the learner and reduces the dropout rates.

Part of it is also cultural. In the Indian context, there is a lot of emphasis on formal accreditation in higher education. This is changing with the new generation of workers who believe in learning being the end goal.

Robert McGuire

What would you recommend to other companies when it comes to MOOCs?

Sunder Ramachandran

The power of communities and peer-to-peer engagement adds to a MOOC, and more organizations must consider the experiment of running the MOOC as part of their learning strategy. Also, there is the advent of social and informal learning, and running a MOOC as an in-class session is a great way of incorporating this. With the variety of course offerings, the possibility for a learner ends where their imagination does.

Robert McGuire

Can you give an example of how some participants have used their MOOC experience to serve your clients better already? Or how you imagine they might in the future?

Sunder Ramachandran

We believe in the 70:20:10 learning framework, and often participants want more information and engagement after completing a structured training or e-learning course. This is where MOOCs help in providing a platform for consistent engagement. It in a way helps us achieve the 20%, which is all about peer-to-peer sharing and spaces for discussions. I remember one business manager sharing how he watched lots of Khan Academy videos on balance sheet terms before his meeting with the CFO of a business unit.

 

Thanks very much to Sunder for making time to talk about how JLT Group is incorporating online education into its employee development and organizational learning. We’ll be checking back in with him after the public speak MOOC is completed.

 

Robert McGuire (52 Posts)

My content marketing services firm provides all-in-one external staff solutions for companies looking to grow their business through thought leadership. I started MOOC News & Reviews in 2013 out of a fascination with the economic, demographic and technological forces impacting edtech, online education and higher education, and I wanted to provide a forum for serious discussion of this new phenomenon. I love building communities of writers engaging in lively critical dialogue about emerging issues.