Research on online courses confirms imperative for company learning and development strategies

By Elisabeth Goodman, 8th January 2018

What is your company’s approach to training?

MOOC research on learning
Illustration from “Can MOOCs solve your training problems” by Monika Hamori, Harvard Business Review, January-February 2018, pp. 71-76

Monika Hamori is a professor of human resources management at the IE Business School, IE University in Madrid.  She has conducted a research study of more than 28,000 learners in 127 countries, supplemented by the use of surveys and interviews.

Her findings, although mainly confined to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in marketing, confirm some of my company’s, RiverRhee Consulting, experience:

  1. “young, highly skilled managers considered training very important for their career development”
  2. Training is part of their preferred portfolio for learning and development, alongside “high-stake” assignments, support from senior leaders, mentoring, coaching and job rotation.  In the study, the managers ranked it third in importance after the assignments and the support from senior leaders
  3. “training represented one of the biggest gaps between what they valued and what they actually received from their employer”

These are all statements that we could equally have written based on our empirical findings from conversations with delegates and clients around RiverRhee’s management courses. 

Click here for information on RiverRhee’s training, workshops and coaching for managers and teams

We have had both employees and employers say to us that provision of learning and development opportunities demonstrates that employers value their staff and…

…for employers that may be concerned that employee will take what they have learnt to look for jobs with other companies…

Monika Hamori’s findings were that employees who had support for the use of online training courses were much less likely to look for work elsewhere.  Whereas those who were only able to take online courses by paying for them themselves, were more than twice as likely to use this as a route for finding other jobs.

What is the level of adoption of online courses by companies?

According to the article, companies that use online courses (MOOCs) more tend to be those that are already investing in learning and development.  Interestingly SMEs, those with less than 50 employees, are twice as likely to give employees time off to use them than companies with more than 10,000 staff.

Even where companies do support MOOCs, their adoption tends to be fairly ad hoc, through recommendations from peers or people spotting advertisements about them.

How could companies benefit more from online courses?

Companies with learning and development strategies may already be applying the 70:20:10 rule – where only 10% of the training budget is spent on traditional off-site courses and other external routes for development.  70% is through in-house on the job assignments and peer or leadership support.  20% is through other forms of in-house provision.  Whether MOOCs fall into the 20% or 10% category will depend on a company’s spending strategy.

There is a wide range of online courses available covering both technical and soft skills.

Having MOOCs as part of a company’s learning and development portfolio has several benefits:

  • the cost (or fees) can be lower
  • there is no travel needed
  • they can be completed in a way that will cause minimum disruption to work

However, there are also potential disadvantages to this form of learning, such as:

  • limited control of content / quality
  • a variable fit with a company’s and/or learner’s development objectives
  • less opportunity to consolidate learning through interaction / discussion with other learners
  • participant being sufficiently motivated to complete the course

Monika Hamori’s article includes some excellent recommendations:

  1. Establish learning and development as a strategic priority, supported by senior leaders, and have MOOCs as part of this
  2. Ensure that line managers are actively involved (along with learners’ peers) in selecting and supporting the use of MOOCs (more on this below..)
  3. Have learners pilot the MOOCs for each other, to ensure relevance and also to check some quality criteria:
    • That the course has a clear description and learning objectives
    • That it has a reputable author (be it a University or other organisation)
    • That it is hosted on a major (presumably sustainable) MOOCs platform
  4. Consider the range of capability development areas that the MOOCs could support
  5. Use managers to address the potential pitfalls of MOOCs i.e.
    • Discuss the learner’s development objectives for taking the MOOCs.  Relate this to Performance Management and Development discussions, to their work and help them to develop an action plan for applying their learning.
    • Create opportunities for face-to-face discussions with others taking the course

What will be your next steps for adopting online learning or for shaping your learning and development strategy?

Whilst RiverRhee does not currently deliver or make use of online management courses, we’d love to hear about any that people have tried out and evaluated.

We would also be very interested to hear about your experiences with learning and development strategies – whether MOOCs form part of these or not.


About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.



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