AT&T University Pilots Corporate MOOC Program

AT&T University piloted a corporate MOOC on “Business Writing” with 1200 participants and achieved results comparable to the in-person version of the class, with an 80% completion rate and a positive ROI.

About AT&T University:

AT&T University is the company’s flagship development program, offering onsite and virtual classroom sessions to over 100,000 AT&T managers, helping them gain new skills and accelerate their careers.

Amy Rouse, Director, Operations Training for AT&T University, provided details about AT&T’s corporate MOOC efforts for this case study.

Drivers to Launch Corporate MOOC Courses:

The telecommunications industry is rapidly transitioning to new digital services, and a major initiative within AT&T is Capabilities Evolution, to re-skill and up-skill a large portion of its workforce for the job roles that will be needed as the company evolves. With over 240,000 employees, traditional classroom-based learning cannot provide the scale, and traditional e- learning cannot provide the depth of learning that will be required to acquire these new skills. Thus, AT&T University is exploring new models.

Through a high-level strategic partnership, AT&T has been working with MOOC provider Udacity to sponsor and co-develop computer science curricula for Georgia Tech online students and Udacity Nano degree students. Because of this high-profile involvement in external MOOCs, AT&T University explored the use of internal corporate MOOCs, starting with a successful proof of concept in 2013, and a full course launch in 2014.

Target Audience:

The first corporate MOOC course was “Business Writing”, a course that is also taught in an in-person classroom setting. The target participants for the course are employees who want to improve their written communication skills. There were 1200 participants for the six-week corporate MOOC version of the course.

Key Offerings:

Business Writing was selected because it has wide appeal. By choosing an existing class, content development was streamlined, the same instructors could be utilized, and outcomes could be compared to the in-person courses. While the in-person version lasted one full day (and required travel), the corporate MOOC took about 4-6 hours over the course of a few weeks.

The online course design was modeled on Udacity’s pedagogical approach, consisting of custom-designed content, quizzes, and integrated exercises, along with discussion boards for interaction with other participants. Participants could proceed through the material at their own pace but had to complete the course within six weeks. The final writing assignment was graded by an instructor, the same way it would be with in-person training.

Platforms Used:

For this initial corporate MOOC, AT&T University developed its own simple platform, integrating it into their internal social platform and their LMS. Going forward, AT&T University will implement a comprehensive Personal Learning Environment (PLE) platform for all learning in the company, and one requirement is that it will have to offer MOOC-type functionality.

Resources Required:

AT&T University resourced the development of the corporate MOOC within their existing resource pool. They found that, after allowing for some ramp up time, the time and budget to develop MOOC content approximated that of creating Level 3 e-learning training. The cost of creating the first two lessons was almost double their typical e-learning costs, as the instructional designers, graphic designers, and video producers adapted to work with the new format, but the learning curve was fairly quick after that.

AT&T University chose to model their MOOC pedagogy after Udacity’s hands-on learning approach. Internal instructional designers were asked to volunteer to work on the project, and six to eight enthusiastic volunteers agreed to take it on. “They caught on quickly and enjoyed the experience immensely,” says Rouse. This demonstrated that the standard instructional design principles still apply for the most part to the creation of MOOC-based corporate training.

Results / Impact:

The results of the Business Writing MOOC were quite positive: the completion rate was around 80% and learning retention (as measured by a post-class assessment) was high and comparable to that seen in in-person courses. AT&T measures ROI on its courses, and the ROI from this first corporate MOOC was positive—even with all of the ramp up time and technology start-up costs.

AT&T University awarded a badge to participants who completed the course. Rouse notes that “people really covet their badges,” which they post on their personal learning profiles and internal social sites. Another interesting behavior Rouse noted was that many participants went back to the course after it was completed, to revisit the content—thus, the course material was being used for performance support.

AT&T University considers the effort a success and will utilize corporate MOOCs in future training development. Their approach is to assess each learning need individually and determine the best method to create or deliver the instruction, ranging from in-person training to self-paced and online live sessions (e.g. interactive video learning). The semi- synchronous MOOC-type format will fit best when detailed subject matter needs to be learned and applied, but it is not imperative that students interact together in real-time. In terms of what types of subject matter is most appropriate for corporate MOOCs, “the sky is the limit,” says Rouse.

Lessons Learned:

  • Learning how to design for a MOOC requires some ramp up time, but this is something that can be achieved by solid instructional designers—it is not imperative to acquire people with prior expertise
  • Although technical subjects may seem best suited for a MOOC pedagogy, this is not necessarily the case. AT&T University selected a business skills course as its first internal MOOC, which worked out well
  • It is a good idea to choose as a pilot a class that has also been instructor-led. This will best allow you to assess the relative effectiveness of the platform
  • Try to recruit a large number of people for the pilot to test how things work at the larger scale that MOOC-type formats can enable

“One of the benefits of MOOCs over e-learning and traditional leader-led training, is that it is self-paced over a time frame, and more engaging than e-learning” -Amy Rouse, Director, Operations Training, AT&T University

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