One of the privileges of my position as Chief Learning Officer here at Learning Pool (formerly HT2 Labs) is to see how talented learning designers from all over the world approach the task of creating innovative learning experiences like OLXs (Massive Open Online Courses, sometimes also referred to as COOCs – Corporate Open Online Courses).
OLXs are pretty different to a standard piece of corporate eLearning. They are social, open events that ask participants to actively learn by contributing back to the learning experience.
If you’re more used to designing a ‘traditional’ piece of eLearning, this can be a somewhat different kettle of fish (as we say here in the UK). So how do Instructional Designers using Stream LXP (formerly Curatr) approach the design and delivery of a OLX? Is it an event? Is it facilitated? What about content?
I’ve looked at 4 OLXs created by corporate clients, designed in-house by experienced Instructional Designers in Canada, France, UK and USA to see how these teams have approached their takes.
In all cases the designers used the Stream LXP (formerly Curatr) platform, enrolled more than 1000 staff and were seeking to affect some element of cultural change. And, perhaps most crucially, each organisation was hugely pleased with the outcome of having run a corporate OLX.
Top 6 Corporate OLX Design Considerations
1. Course Length
At Learning Pool (formerly HT2 Labs) we see OLXs as events – time-limited, cohort-based events. If you buy into this philosophy then the next obvious question is, how long is this event?
We’ve experimented widely with this idea: having tried a somewhat open-ended, year-long OLX; and have also gone to the other extreme, running one OLX that lasted just 48-hours.
On balance we feel that around 4 weeks for a OLX striving to achieve some element of behavioural change is the right length of event.
This notion seemed to ring true with the OLXs we studied:
- 3 of the 4 OLXs we looked at opted for a single ‘course’ event running for between 4 and 5 weeks
- In each case the course opened up a week-at-a-time, pacing learners through the event in a linear sequence
- The other OLX studied created a connected suite of courses to run over a longer period (but the individual ‘event’ components were of similar length to the other 3 OLXs we looked at; they just happened as a series of events)
2. Course Design
The OLXs studied generally went for a straightforward approach to Instructional Design, first introducing the course concept and then breaking down content into topics, with a different topic to be covered each week.
- Some were quite linear, others branched out slightly, allowing for participants to follow different routes
- Each ended with a call to action and extra resources to help apply the lessons
- One variation on this was a more “storytelling” approach where the structure was based on setting up real-life scenarios and then providing information to help inform the participants (but again there was 1 “story” per week, although the 4 stories wove together in the end)
The fundamental of covering one big idea a week seemed to hold good. Which is pretty similar to what we might expect to see from a more ‘traditional’ piece of eLearning; content, organised logically in some sequence, with a call to action.
3. Amount of Content
A very similar approach was taken across all 4 courses. Each ‘level’ (which equated to a week in most cases) tended to have something like 6-10 learning objects. Typically a learning object was a video or an article sourced from the Web.
- Watching or reading the content alone would probably amount to around 20-30 minutes of material per level but the nature of a Stream LXP (formerly Curatr) OLX is that it encourages contribution.
- Reading others comments and adding your own would suggest a time commitment of around 60-90 minutes per week.
This means that people will be spending 60-90 minutes a week on a OLX when properly engaged in the activity.
All the participants will have busy “day jobs” so finding the right amount of time for this “extra” work is important and a fair undertaking. It would seem that these companies believe 1 per week, give or take, is appropriate for staff taking part in a OLX.
4. Type of Content
Each OLX studied went for a mixture of content types. The blend was slightly different in each case; 1 used specifically created videos (of staff and executives), another focused on curated content from freely available sources.
But in all cases there was a variety of material sourced from a variety of places, some sourced specifically for the OLX, some existing content and some from the internet:
- Videos of talking heads were kept short in all cases (always less than 10 minutes, most around 5 minutes or less)
- In all cases discussion points were used and the conversation flowed freely
- In 2 of the cases User Generated Content (UGC) was requested and the staff delivered
- 1 of the cases featured a synchronous event each week, a Webinar
- The rest were completely asynchronous
Our previous opinion that most OLX designers should ‘think in thirds’ for curating content still holds good; a third being material you have used before, a third being content that is freely available and a third that is created specifically for the OLX.
Each OLX we looked at had an active facilitator who was there to encourage and guide.
- For the 4-5 week events this was quite intensive; for the longer campaign it appeared more ‘light touch’
- In one case a facilitator was present throughout, adding comments to the discussion as an active participant
- But, for the most part, the role involved taking an slightly less active interest (certainly the facilitators were not expected to be present 24×7)
- All were moderated retrospectively; that is to say, participants contributions appeared immediately without the need to be approved
- In each case the facilitator was tasked to create and send out a weekly, or in one case a bi-weekly, email to encourage participants.
We’ve previously studied the impact this type of ‘nudge’ can have on participants and it is clear from our research that these nudges do achieve a bump in returning visitors.
A real feature of each OLX was the pre, during and post marketing activity that each completed. The pre-course activities included presentations, notices, and communications with reminders, reminders, reminders!
A range of really creative approaches were used to tease interest, to showcase what was coming and to make it easy to sign up
- We’ve seen emails
- We’ve seen videos
- We’ve heard of posters being put up in the workplace
The overarching element is that it is not enough to think “build it and they will come” it is critical to create a marketing campaign that is appropriate to your audience and will draw them in.
Designing OLXs for Use in Your Business
Though the similarities in course design were striking, it is not a cookie-cutter approach. We are not suggesting that one-size-fits-all, but these companies were tacitly agreed that a 4-1-1 design was right for them:
- Aim for a 4 week event
- Cover 1 big idea a week
- Look for people to invest around 1 hour a week
In my next post, I will be using the same cases to suggest a tentative OLX Gap Model which will help you to continuously improve your OLXs.
Alan started his management training in the 90s before he moved to academia as a Senior Research Fellow at Warwick Business School and Visiting Professor at the University of San Diego.
He founded HT2 Labs in 2001 as a university spin-off business. His roles within HT2 have been many and varied but he has a real passion for helping staff and customers achieve all that is possible with the hope and aspiration that their lives have been a little bit enhanced through the shared experience.
Alan is an avid follower of virtually all sports, particularly cricket, and a believer that one day the good times will return to Nottingham Forest.