There isn’t a business with a training department that isn’t constantly looking for a quicker, more effective way to onboard. Essentially, businesses want a new employee to become a net-positive contributor as fast as possible. The reason is purely bottom-line driven: besides the cost of weeks of training, new employees draw salary and benefits during onboarding with no contribution to the bottom line.
One set of figures shows a typical break-even point of 6.4 months — the point at which the value a new employee adds to the business begins to exceed the expense of his or her hiring and onboarding. 6.4 months is a long time.
Cutting back on training doesn’t offer much of an alternative. When onboarding is incomplete or ineffective, it can result in higher failure rates and increased turnover — also costly. What’s a training executive to do?
MOOCs may provide an answer. These Massive Open Online Courses are generally associated with institutions of higher learning. As we blogged last month, management consultancies have recently been evaluating what MOOCs might contribute to business. Among the possibilities cited is more effective onboarding.
The necessity of onboarding is a given, especially in industries like sales and customer service where employees must know products, services, and company processes and procedures inside out before they can do their jobs effectively. Whether delivered through classroom training, eLearning or a blend of the two, much of this onboarding occurs in an upfront time frame.
The delay between training and on-the-job implementation means that retention of the material is often an issue. Unless new information is reinforced on a daily or weekly basis, most employees find it hard to recall much of what they learn during onboarding. They hit the ground running only to collide into a wall.
Traditionally, the wall is lifted by coworkers willing to coach the new hire into productivity. If the employee is fortunate enough to have competent and willing coworkers, he or she is likely to succeed. But what about employees who aren’t surrounded with those kinds of coworkers, or who work in cubicles tethered to a computer with little opportunity to interact with others?
You may yourself have had experience as a customer with such employees — haven’t we all gnashed our teeth at a customer service rep who can’t seem to respond beyond the script provided in the decision tree? Or the sales rep who doesn’t understand the uniqueness of your company’s requirements?
Here’s how MOOCs can change this picture:
One of the key elements of the MOOC environment is social interaction. Participants engage in lively discussions of the material offered in the main lesson, and in doing so, construct new learning and understandings.
The design was born of practicality; with thousands of students at a time, it’s not possible for a single professor to provide learning assessments or to grade work for each individual. So participants do it for each other, learning even more as they interact with others’ ideas.
Sound familiar? The process is similar to what happens when that new employee goes to a colleague to pick their brains about how to interact with a customer — or just to recall an essential piece of information they’ve forgotten.
Except that MOOCs can take that process one important step further by making available more colleagues in more locations at more levels of competency than the average worker will ever find in the office. The sales pro with the right answer or the customer service rep who’s dealt with an unusual customer problem might be a half a world away — or be farther up the corporate ladder than the newbie might naturally interact with in an office environment.
So consider the following as a solution to getting employees up and running more quickly and proficiently: an onboarding process that uses MOOCs to integrate training into the work day so that learning is threaded and ongoing.
This approach braids three learning threads:
1) Technology-enabled education. Some jobs absolutely require at least some classroom training, role-playing and in-person simulations, and most jobs require a certain amount of upfront cognitive learning, like products, services, and procedures, that can be taught either in a classroom or online. The delivery system will vary from company to company.
What MOOCs bring to this: The openness of a MOOC platform like, say, Open edX allows presentations and information to remain accessible to employees long after the upfront portion of onboarding is complete. Can’t remember the benefits of an obscure product offering or how to deal with a particular customer situation? Log in, look it up, and review it. Forever.
2) Task on the job. It doesn’t matter how effective the training is, there is nothing like being on the job to learn the job, and the most extensive and intensive onboarding does not change that simple fact of human existence.
What MOOCs bring to this: An employee’s understanding of information changes with context. It’s not unusual for an employee to discover that a bit of seemingly trivial information is actually essential on the job. MOOCs provide a quick and easy way to revisit learning material within an on-the-job context, enhancing the impact of the training.
3) Socializing with colleagues. Real life rarely conforms to training scenarios, and when it doesn’t, input from a more experienced colleague is critical. Socializing with colleagues provides access to a great database of knowledge than can possibly be offered within an onboarding program.
What MOOCs bring to this: As noted earlier, the interactions possible via a MOOC platform are far more extensive than can be provided within an office-only environment. Employees can asynchronously interact with colleagues and mentors in the next city, state, country — or halfway around the world.
Companies can ensure the expertise will be available by making it a requirement for employees to spend a certain amount of time interacting with others online in order to earn various degrees of certification. The advantage to established workers is that helping others learn enhances their own learning — few people can teach another without acquiring some new understanding in the process.
We offer this MOOC-driven braided approach with confidence that it has a real potential to reduce the time spent onboarding, to increase employee retention, and to speed up the learning curve. The result would be more proficient employees in a shorter time — just what business has been looking for.