Monday, August 13, 2012

MOOCs as organizational learning tools

[This post is my reply to the following question posed in the #moocmooc MOOC, (which can be found at ): "If MOOCs aren’t a replacement for the classroom in higher education, how else might they be employed in our teaching and learning?" ]

MOOCs, what are they good for?

I've participated in a couple MOOCs so far, and i have to say that they're something definitely special. But both critics and fans will probably agree on one thing: they're not very much like your granpa's learning experiences. They can be so different that, in some cases, it's hard to find "a teacher". So weird that the discussion with other participants can enrich your thought much more than the prescribed readings. And they can sometimes demand so much initiative that overkill doesn't start to describe the feeling that can grab the guts of the "weaker" students.

In my view, MOOCs are really good at:

  • making reflection possible. Individual reflection and collective reflection. And that's not nothing. This is a big deal (to me).
  • making conversations happen that couldn't possibly happen anywhere else in the world/web.
  • creating connections between people, contents, and ideas.
  • successfully demanding people to create stuff and show/share it to the (online) world. "successfully" will not be defined in this post, but it's successful enough that other participants will go read it/see it/link to it and in many documented instances go as far as commenting those artifacts.

MOOCs as organizational development tools

Now, where would those strengths be put to good use? Any educational context, sure. But for me, where the magic could/should happen is within organizational contexts 

[Full disclosure: i am an Organizational Psychologist by training and vocation, and will quite possibly remain so for the remainder of my earthly life]

What i mean by that is that MOOCs, because they're so good at making reflections (individual and collective) happen make them a weapon of choice for any organization to use them to foster the discussions no one has time for within the "normal" time a company has allotted for its activities. 

In this context, i shall define organizational reflection as an active process whereby the organization can look at itself, revise where it stands, make some assumptions it works with explicit and discuss them frankly, seeking to grasp its reality (and the surrounding context) in a way that helps it cope with its past, present and future in a better way. 

Never heard of organizational reflection before? It's because no one has the time it takes to think about those things. Also, organizational reflection might not necessarily be conducive to increased revenue, demands quite a lot of humbleness, and is best served by open minds that can take the positive with the not so positive.

M.O.O.C in an organization:

I think MOOCs can be a super tool to make organizational reflection a possibility. 
  • Massive: Because it is Massive, most everyone (within the organization) can be invited. 
  • Open: Because it is Open (again, within the organization) it can be a superb tool to enhance a strong sense of participation and even ownership. 
  • Online: As it is Online, it can be used across all sites where the organization operates, and can be used asynchronously, which makes possible for everyone to join in when they can, something that would otherwise demand freezing all activities for a huge yet short event. Also, making it online makes following the participation much simpler: who is participating in which discussion, and who hasn't shared anything yet can be fairly easily tracked, especially when the limits of the organizations have been established.
  • Course: The Course part is mostly about defining which aspects (of the organization) need to be discussed: it's an agenda of sorts, used to put forward topics that matter in that organization. The course aspect denotes of course the learning aspect of MOOCs. I won't get into details here, but the potential for organizational learning and even Knowledge Management, as participants engage and share with each others should be pretty obvious.


  1. Like the concept of Organizational Reflection. Can you suggest readings on it? (No management guru stuff please).

    To me, MOOCs have the character oconversations in the hall outside the class--finding meaning together. Or school outside school where YOU decide the curriculum.

    Where I work we have a new college president who came in durring the push to put our classes online, in the midst of funding cutbacks, at the start of a decline in our traditional student base and into an office occupied since 1968 by only 3 other presidents. The college location is also very isolated so we have, through our online course students, the outside world suddenly at the door.

    I'm new to the college but for most of the staff and instructors "the way things are" has gone from a comfort phrase to an intro to the threatening and unfamiliar. Because of this, the idea of openess and MOOCs, which seemed useful tools for organizational learning now seem like too much change added to change overload.

    That said, there must be some way to make people comfortable or at least less confused in their new roles. The current thought here is to establish an all-college communications network which so far looks like just another top-down inniative that begs for resistance.

    Anyway, like your posting and the call to find attributes of the MOOC experience that aren't isolated to inside institutional walls.

    1. Scoot, thank you for taking the time to post a comment.

      Regarding my sources on organizational reflection, i will mention the following sources for the thoughts presented in the post:
      1) My closest source is the Moral Leadership framework as elaborated by Anello & Hernandez at Nur University (published in Spanish only, so far).
      2) On the matter of reflection both individual and organizational, the one great author is none other than Donald Schön, whom you can about in
      3) Peter Senge comes to mind as well, as the one big pusher of organizational learning.
      4) The final big input for "my" organizational reflection ideas is David Kolb, whose Learning Cycle concept i find so useful i use it everytime i design learning activities (a concept that Anello & Hernandez build upon in their ML framework).

      The thing is,as i am this organizational psychologist, i see that the learning cycle as a whole can/should/ought/could be applied to organizations. Except for the fact that within organizations you'll usually find the following situation: about 95% of the available time is spent on doing, maybe 3% on conceptualizing, and the remainder 3% spent on sharing experiences. Notice how reflection can only be done on the remaining 0% of the available time? But hey, we can live/make do without it, can't we?