The Brass Ring: Collaboration- Driven Learning Online

By Sam Herring, CEO, Intrepid Learning, Inc.

Sam Herring, CEO, Intrepid Learning, Inc.

There’s an outdated “truth” still found in executive education and corporate learning— that to deliver meaningful collaboration and peer-to-peer learning, learners must all be together in a physical classroom. Online is fine, according to this old paradigm, for pushing simple information out fast, but for real learning, the complicated stuff? Forget it. Progressive organizations like Microsoft, however, are proving that old “truth” wrong.

"Modern learning experience technology platforms deliver collaborative learning to global cohorts simultaneously"

Modern learning experience technology platforms deliver collaborative learning to global cohorts simultaneously, and encourage meaningful opportunities to interact, creating engagement levels that rival that of great in-person experiences. Built-in features such as discussion forums, “liking” and sharing, and peer review of final assignments—all foster deep collaboration.

The corporate world’s shift to new learning technologies is in response to the critical need to bridge the skills gap—73 percent of surveyed CEOs in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 2015 Global CEO Survey say that skill gap is a top threat to their businesses. Some corporations are leveraging academic innovations and executive education content to meet it. The prime example: a tailored MOOC-like approach, taking the core idea of academic MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and keeping the massively scalable, cohort-driven, time-bound but semi-synchronous aspects, but eschewing the generic by adding context specific to a particular corporation’s challenges, customers, and culture.

Global giant Microsoft has been expanding its use of corporate MOOCs to great success. With the shift to Microsoft’s “cloud first, mobile first” strategy came a complete transformation, and a crucial need to teach their 15,000-strong salesforce on how to converse effectively with their new buyers: senior business managers who care more about net present value and discounted cash flow than the detailed technical terminology that used to be a Microsoft sellers’ bailiwick. So Microsoft took a tailored MOOC approach using Intrepid’s learning experience platform and content from INSEAD and Wharton.

“The knowledge exchange and collaboration between sellers working across the globe from one another was so impactful,” reports Ludo Fourrage, Director, Virtual Learning at Microsoft. “For example, in the forums, someone in Africa might be in a discussion thread about ways to sell cloud solutions to railway companies with someone in Latin America, in an instantaneous and real-world way. In the old instructor-led model, with each of them in a classroom in their individual regions, there would not be that opportunity.” In addition, the old way would have taken a full four years to reach their sellers worldwide, instead of 18-24 months.

INSEAD’s Professor and Deputy Dean Peter Zemsky notes, "The bi-directional aspect of the technology allows me as professor to be present in the course in a real and immediate way. That kind of dynamic immediacy makes collaborating with the learners—who not only number close to a thousand in a cohort but could be anywhere in the world doing their work at any time of day—incredibly powerful.”

Microsoft is so pleased with the results that they’re expanding the MOOC model to address the challenges of public sector sales, using London Business School content to teach complicated soft skills such as empathetic listening and relationship building—collaborative skills the old paradigm would have you believe are impossible online.

Sarah Curshen, Client Director, London Business School says, “It was great to explore the possibilities of technology-enabled collaboration at scale while designing this course with Microsoft and Intrepid. We are very interested in the opportunities to reinforce complex soft skills which the corporate MOOC approach can allow. We are looking forward to seeing the results.” And since they’re moving at the speed of 21st century business, we won’t have long to wait.

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