Last month at the LINGOS Global Learning Forum, one of the sessions focused on MOOC usage in the workplace. To start the session, the moderator asked the audience how many had accessed and used a MOOC for personal or professional development. The majority of hands in the room went up. When he asked how many had completed the entire course, only a few agreed.

training completion ratesTo be fair, I was one that put my hand down for the second question. But that brings up a question that was central to the discussion: are completions important?

We recently published a report, “The MOOC: What Learning Leaders Need to Know.” In it, I write about some key factors, from the history of MOOC usage to corporate applications both internal and external. In addition, I touched on some of the ways companies like Microsoft, Turkcell, and World Bank Group are using these tools to engage learning communities of employees, customers, and the public.

One area that I didn’t discuss was this concept of completions, which we will cover here today.

Do Completions Matter in a MOOC?

We asked in the 2015 State of Learning survey how companies measure learning. The most common answer was course completions, with respondents saying that more than 80% of their measurement is based on that data. However, the follow-up question asked just how effective course completion data is, and less than 20% of companies say they are highly effective for measuring learning outcomes.

It’s obvious that there is a gap there. In addition, as you might suspect from the question that led off this post, completions are a hot button for MOOCs. Just for clarity, the typical MOOCs historically have had completion rates in the single digits.

Sheila Jagannathan, Head of Learning at World Bank Group, said that completions are not her primary concern. WBG looks more specifically at the reach of MOOC content, and that is certainly something to behold. The organization’s courses are public-facing, meaning anyone can access them. As of October 2015, it has launched six courses, and its last MOOC reached more than 40,000 people in 190 countries.

One interesting point raised during the panel made me pause: what if MOOC completions are poor not because of poor content or engagement, but because it doesn’t fit just-in-time learning needs?

The Mix of Just-In-Time and Structured Learning

More often than ever before, learning is being positioned as a just-in-time experience. In other words, don’t load me down with things I won’t need for six months. Just tell me where to find the information and I will access it at the point/time of need. On one hand, this helps to ensure training is a fit for learners and helps to support performance in real time.

But MOOCs are developed as static courses, which means that some of the content might not be immediately applicable for participants. At times, they are also public, such as the award-winning program developed by Rackspace. This is neither good nor bad, but it might be a good explanation for why MOOC completion rates are “poor” by other learning standards.

Logically, we can’t compare completions of a mandatory compliance training course with those of a voluntary MOOC. But it still gives many companies pause when they consider it as a medium. According to our research, just 8% of companies have created their own MOOCs, and about four in 10 have no experience at all. The rest are in the middle of the pack with varying levels of experience with this learning format.

Consider the enrollment numbers for World Bank Group’s recent MOOC. Even if you’re not using MOOCs and don’t plan to for some time, imagine that your own learning content was publicly available on the Internet for anyone to consume. Is it compelling enough to attract and engage learners? If not, how do you plan to resolve that for your own internal learning community?

Ben Eubanks, Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group
@beneubanks

Ben Eubanks

Ben Eubanks, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is an HR professional and industry influencer. His experience working as a leader in the human resources field has provided him with a broad range of experience encompassing smaller organizations, government contracting firms, and the nonprofit sector. He has hands-on experience with various HR disciplines, including recruiting, benefits, employee relations, and compensation.

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