LinkedIn Develops MOOC-style Course

LinkedIn developed a MOOC-style course, “Conscious Business” on its LearnIn platform that enabled a rich learning experience through a combination of video content, online assignments and facilitated group meetings.

About LearnIn at LinkedIn:

LearnIn is an initiative LinkedIn launched three years ago to enable learning across the organization, consisting of tools, content, and services. LearnIn projects are considered experiments within the company, in a continual search for effective methods and approaches.

Robert Todd, Director of Learning Technologies at LinkedIn, discussed the LearnIn internal corporate MOOC pilot and provided details for this case study.

A strongly values-driven organization, LinkedIn chose “Conscious Business” for its corporate MOOC pilot course. It is taught by Fred Kofman, LinkedIn’s VP of Leadership & Organizational Development, who also published a book of the same name.

Drivers to Launch Corporate MOOC Courses:

Among the numerous types of learning needs within LinkedIn, one type is for deeply engaging subjects that can be offered broadly across the company. A cohort-based online MOOC model seemed to be a promising way to accommodate a large number of people, while still allowing them to engage with the content in a meaningful way. The first pilot was a hybrid course with both online and off-line elements, but future courses may move to an entirely online format.

Target Audience:

The target audience for ‘Conscious Business’ is nearly every LinkedIn employee. It is applicable when facing difficult and ambiguous situations at work, when it can be challenging to figure out how to apply LinkedIn’s values to that situation.

Program Offerings:

The “Conscious Business” corporate MOOC pilot is a four-week program. The course requires 3-4 hours of effort per week, and consists of both online and offline elements.

Each week follows a similar structure:

  1. The week starts with a key theme and participants do a reflection activity (such as answering “What is a problem you’ve been having at work?”) This ensures that participants are bringing real work situations to the course
  2. There are ~40 minutes of video to watch with simple multiple-choice quiz questions to check recall
  3. Participants apply the concepts to their own situations via guided scenarios
  4. They are then asked to share their thoughts about these topics in the course discussion boards
  5. Participants meet (in person) in groups: small groups are organized by geography, and arrange a time to meet. They follow a specific agenda, and are usually led by a facilitator

There are also additional live video sessions with the course instructor, Fred Kofman—some are ‘master classes’ where he discusses a particular issue with specific participants, and others are agenda-less two-hour sessions where he provides coaching advice in response to questions from the audience.

Expectations are set with participants that they will fully participate in the course (those who cannot make a team meeting are asked to let HR know), and the retention rate in the course is high. In the future, the format will likely migrate to be fully online with teams meeting virtually, without a facilitator. This may present new challenges to address in maintaining retention, but additional LearnIn experiments can help figure out how to address these challenges.

Platforms Used:

LinkedIn modifies the LearnIn platform to pilot new learning programs, including plenty of online and blended programs—according to Todd, “everything we do is blended in some way”. The functionality to have cohort-based online groups was developed for this pilot. As the pilot has been a success, LinkedIn will now make a build vs. buy decision to develop more robust MOOC-style functionality. Because of the pilot, Todd says, “we’re really clear what we like and what we want in a platform.”

Resources Required:

In the spirit of experimentation, the pilot course was built rapidly in three months. LinkedIn utilized contractors to provide development work, while staff provide additional company- specific context. There were additional in-house resources required to facilitate the in- person groups in different offices. In the future, LinkedIn will experiment with facilitator-less groups.

Results / Impact:

The course has been available for cohorts for about a year, and as an experiment has been considered a success. The response from participants was overwhelmingly positive. “People are over the moon with this course,” Todd says. Some participants described the experience as having “changed my life” or being “the most powerful educational experience I’ve had.”

There were some course dropouts during the first week, but in subsequent weeks, there were virtually none. LinkedIn is in the process of measuring impact from the MOOC, and will assign a staff member to this.

Lessons Learned:

  • Make sure you are building something that is made for the employees taking the online course—don’t try to use content from other formats and re-purpose it, as it will not establish the same connection with the audience
  • To give online participants a more personalized experience, include ‘master classes’ or sessions where participants can watch the instructor work with specific individuals and give feedback. This exposes authentic personal interaction through the video format
  • When piloting a new educational experiment, design it so that you obtain what you need to learn, but no more. LinkedIn could have launched additional courses on the same platform, but had already learned the effectiveness of the format, and can thus move on to making a decision about make vs. buy for the platform
  • Design some of the exercises for participants to apply to their own work situations so that they are relevant. However, also utilize exercises using common scenarios so that participants can easily engage in discussions with each other about them

“We never want to solve a learning problem once–we want to solve that class of problem if we can”
-Robert Todd, Director of Learning Technologies, LinkedIn

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