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Is The Force With SPOCs? How Small, Private Online Courses Are Taking On MOOCs for Corporate Supremacy

The EvoLLLution | Is The Force With SPOCs? How Small, Private Online Courses Are Taking On MOOCs for Corporate Supremacy
MOOC providers have turned their attention to the corporate education space, and now another player is entering the fray with a more high-touch alternative.

The corporate training market is large, competitive and immensely promising for education providers who can stand out and serve the needs of the space. Colleges and universities have been competing with non-institutional education providers for years, but as MOOC providers begin to turn their attention here, the potential for online learning in the corporate education space is becoming increasingly clear. In this interview, Liz-Ann Gayle and Idris Croft reflect on the High-Impact Online Programs (HiOPs) they are developing to compete in the corporate learning market and share their insights on how online learning is changing the space.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why are online learning opportunities in such high demand in the customized corporate training space?

Liz-Ann Gayle (LAG): In my view it’s a mix of factors. The first is just that the technology itself has made that more possible. Technology means that online courses are prevalent and they are far more accessible to a wider audience, and education technology is improving day by day so these programs are becoming more cost effective for organizations.

Because of this there has been a shift in the perception that technology-driven learning isn’t inappropriate. It used to be thought that these programs just didn’t have the quality that face-to-face learning had. I think another factor has to do with the world that we live in. From a business perspective, we live in a VUCA environment: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. So in that context organizations need more options to achieve their learning needs, and online just becomes another methodology that’s available for them to achieve their strategic goals. One of the facilitators I work with used to say that if the rate of change outside of your organization is faster than the rate of change within it, than your organization is, at best, stagnating and at worst, it’s probably already dead and you don’t know.

I think the final factor in why online learning is so prevalent is the individual learners’ needs themselves.  Individual learners have to be lifelong learners because that’s the world we live in. We’ve got be able to learn, unlearn and relearn, and I think online learning provides another means to do that.

Evo: What made you elect to develop SPOCs rather than MOOCs to deliver these learning opportunities?

Idris Croft (IC): While at IE we still do produce MOOCs, it’s absolutely correct that we have focused our attentions more on HiOPS in the last year. They are our versions of SPOCS and have now been launched with FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance with content and contributions from the Financial Times and IE faculty. I think it’s the S in the SPOCS that was a big motivator and the fact that we could reach a smaller audience or a small number of participants or students. There were a lot more things that we could do to improve the quality of the learning. For example, due to the smaller number of participants we can have a lot more direct interaction with faculty, whether that’s inside live sessions, in the WOW Room at IE, through the forums or even through the personal feedback on assignments or work.

Also it allows us a degree of autonomy which, if you were using a provider such as Coursera or Udacity, you wouldn’t necessarily have. We can determine how long we wanted the course to run for, what type of content we included, the amount of live sessions and assignments—this is something that is more difficult if you’re following someone else’s model. It’s important in the corporate world to have the ability to customize at the drop of a hat and meet further requirements of a specific corporate request, and we’re able to do that inside a HiOP.

Evo: How do you characterize a great student experience in a HiOP, and what are the elements that you’re bringing to the table to deliver that?

IC: We have a plan with all of the HiOPS we produce so far to make them very practical and relevant to the working environment. All of them have a layer in them that takes them away from a purely academic approach. For example, in a digital marketing course students are given a budget to use on Google Adwords and they have to create their own website. We’re trying to think of inventive new ways to ensure enjoyment and engagement and move away from typical experience in a MOOC where it may just be a collection of short instructional videos, some readings and a machine-graded quiz.

One of the biggest things that we take away from each course is the data that we collect. We can measure the amount of time that students have spent on the platform, when they begin watching a video, whether they check out of that video, how long they spend on each assignment and how often they contribute in forums. These generally give us a good idea of how engaged students are in the course, which we’re hoping is linked to enjoyment.

LAG: In most instances, when you’re running a customized engagement with a client, you’re going to ensure that you have feedback loops in the process.

With these HiOPS, given the fact that there is that close relationship between the faculty and the students, we will be able to receive feedback during the entire learning process, even though it’s quite a short engagement. What’s more, to the extent that the feedback can be implemented in the running of that program, that will happen.

Then, at the end of the process we can take a step back to run through the entire experience and assess what the students got out of it and how those outcomes measure up to the initial reasons for engaging in the educational intervention.

This feedback loop, and the ability to generate a dialogue between the students and the faculty, is something built into the process of the HiOP experience, just as it would be in a face-to-face experience or any sort of client solution that you provide.

Evo: As major MOOC providers like Udacity and Coursera begin turning their attention more specifically towards the corporate education space, how do you plan to ensure the FT|IE SPOCs stand out from the competition?

IC: We’ll be leveraging the power of our faculty and our ties to the Financial Times to stand out from other providers. Here’s an example: The upcoming HiOP on leadership in volatile times features interviews from Financial Times columnists Andrew Hill, John Thornhill, Gideon Rachman and Izabella Kaminska, as well as introductions and interviews from Michael Skapinker. These are five of the most respected financial journalists working today, and they’re giving their invaluable insight to specific areas on leadership inside this HiOP on four different topics. Those in the corporate world will almost certainly read financial publications of some sort to supplement their learning. To have corporate education coming from individuals they’re familiar with and respect, and to have such highly regarded opinions woven into the instructional design of these courses, is something that very few other institutions can compete with.

We’re also looking to use that storytelling method of learning that people are so used to when they read news publications.

Something else that we’re doing is integrating the use of personal action plans. Now these currently are optional documents that each individual can fill out relating the learning to their own specific environment. It’s something very tangible they come away with at the end of 5 to 6 weeks that they can put into practice in their work lives. I think the combination of these three things puts us in very good stead to compete with what’s already out there.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the HiOPs you’re developing and the market space you’re hoping to see them occupy?

IC: We’re actively looking for ways to deliver what clients want right now and in the future by setting these trends. We’re talking to clients constantly on what their needs are and where they would like to grow. Those conversations sparked the production of our latest HiOP Leadership in Volatile Times course, which hopefully should satisfy those that want to equip their leaders for disruptive technologies or rapid changes in the business environment. We’re constantly looking to push boundaries, to reinvent the way that we’re delivering what our clients need in the next few years.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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