Convenience vs relevance – 7 reasons to avoid massive online course libraries

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In this article, we consider why massive online course libraries exist and if your organisation would benefit from them. Plus, what is the alternative for training content?

Training needs content. Let’s face it – a learning platform without content (which is what many learning management systems are) has very limited value. As a result, some providers offer massive online course libraries – 10,000s or even 100,000s of online training courses. It sounds amazing, doesn’t it? 100,000s of online training courses ready for your organisation. Seem too good to be true?

In this article, we consider why massive online course libraries exist and if your organisation would benefit from them. Let’s begin with the critical question about massive online course libraries…

How important is a huge range of available courses?

Not very important at all. Training has never been about quantity. Think about it – does your organisation have training goals or KPIs about ‘hours of training complete’ or ‘numbers of modules’ completed? Is your training budget established to ‘fulfil a certain number of training hours’? Will you consider training simple success if ‘there is more of it’? Will you rehire that external training company because they provided ‘a lot of training”? Probably not.

Chances are your training goals, KPIs and success measures are based on quality, not quantity. Your training budget is safe when it is delivering outcomes which matter to your organisation. Your training success, for all stakeholders, is measured by improvements in behaviours, skills, knowledge and outcomes. Training has always been about quality, not quantity.

So at this point, you might ask:

  • Won’t having access to more online training courses improve quality? No. There is no correlation between ‘more courses’ and ‘better courses’. In fact, many online course aggregates have no quality control measures at all. They simply aggregate every course from any provider. Their libraries are not vetted or handpicked. They offer no guarantee of quality or outcome. In fact, the opposite may be true. These large libraries need content to bolster their number of courses, so the barriers to entry are very low. It’s like having 100s of channels on your pay TV box, but finding nothing good to watch. We all know that feeling.
  • What about professional development hours – that’s about quantity? Not really. While it is true that some industries have a minimum number of hours of learning to be completed by members, even then we are talking about 10-30 hours of learning. That’s not 100,000s of courses. It’s 2-3 high-quality online courses, a few workshops or webinars and some industry reading.

What’s in a massive online course library anyway?

How do these libraries get so big? It’s important to understand what counts as a ‘course’in these libraries. Courses often include…

  • All sorts of passive, readily available online content. Youtube videos, TED Talks, PDF documents and general website links all count as a ‘course’.
  • Old and out-dated content which is still included. Articles or videos from 10 years ago about Excel 2010 are still ‘courses’ even if no-one uses that software any longer.
  • 20-60 variations on the same topic from different providers. Search for “Diversity training” and you will find 50 providers offering essentially the same course, each with tiny variations. It’s essentially the one course offered 50 different ways.
  • 10-20 copies of the same course but in different languages. That’s fantastic if you have a multi-lingual workforce. If your workforce is predominantly English, then its less useful.
  • Local modules suited only to specific countries. Courses about particular financial regulations from Spain, or hygiene compliance modules from India are all ‘courses. The value of those courses will be highly variable between organisations.

As a result, you may find that 100,000 courses quickly become a few hundred different topics or courses relevant to your organisation.

What’s the experience like for learners in massive online course libraries?

Not great. You know what it’s like to scroll through pages and pages of TV shows and movies looking for something to watch on your pay or stream TV provider? 100s of channels but nothing you want to watch. Massive online course libraries feel a lot like that.

Massive online course libraries essentially give up on curation. They may provide some search capabilities, but when your search returns 40 similar-looking versions of the same content by different providers, that’s actually quite a problem for both admins and learners.

While some online courses in the library are well produced with best practices in online learning, much of the content is passive. It can be older content produced 5-10 years ago by less powerful eLearning software. It may be simply informative content such as articles or Youtube videos, which present content without any behavioural transfer protocols.

How do massive online course libraries impact learner engagement with their organisation?

That really depends, but often learner engagement is poor. There are some scenarios where massive online course libraries can be beneficial as we noted above – multi-lingual courses (although the quality may still vary) or specialist content from expert providers for very specific topics.

Outside of these isolated use-cases, a general learner at a typical organisation often finds the experience overwhelming. Massive online course libraries not only trade quality for quantity, but they also trade quantity for convenience. Modern learners are time-poor. They don’t have time to search huge libraries and find content. Quite the opposite.

Modern learners already have access to general internet content. They can also perform a Google search and receive millions of web pages on just about any topic. Access to a high quantity of content is not a problem. The problem is relevance. The value in a learning platform is providing relevant, high-quality training which allows the learner to quickly improve their skills. Spending time searching for courses, only to find a generic course written years ago and of limited use is not the answer to this question.

Finally, when learners experience different interfaces, branding, navigation, standards and styles between every online course – which is what happens in a massive online learning library – that’s also disengaging. It can appear as their organisation is simply throwing generic training at them – ticking boxes. It’s no wonder learners feel like doing nothing more than ticking boxes themselves when they undertake the courses.

Are massive online course libraries really just about convenience?

Yes. If you are a training administrator. It’s compelling – just sign up and suddenly you can offer 100,000s of online modules to your organisation. Until you realise the effort required to curate such a library. Or perhaps you just leave it to your learners to search and choose what they are interested in.

In which case, it is not convenient for learners at all. It is just a huge amount of effort to even find a course.

What is the alternative if the goal is something other than convenience?

Relevance. As stated above, people are busy. Your organisation is busy. The value of a learning platform is to drive change and help your organisation achieve its strategic goals. The ONLY way this can occur is if the training you are providing is…

  1. Actually found and used by employees.
  2. Relevant to your organisation, it’s culture, it’s operating procedures.
  3. Aligned with your organisation’s strategic goals.
  4. Designed to transfer knowledge and change behaviours.

One great training module, which meets all of the above requirements, may bring more positive change to your organisation than 100 random training modules on generic topics written by assorted external providers. A smaller, more relevant set of training modules will easily create more value than a larger, less relevant library of training modules. It’s not even close.

How does an organisation balance convenience with relevance in training?

Balance is the key word.

There are times where your organisation will need to import content from an external course. It may be quicker or it may be content your organisation does not have internally. This is where an online course library is useful. However, how large does it really need to be? It would need to cover compliance essentials as well as common personal development skills. 100-200 well-written, interactive modules in your organisation’s branding sounds like plenty.

Balanced with this, your organisation needs the ability to create its only training modules on everything else that is unique to your organisation. Your standard operating procedures, your documentation and policies, your processes and software, your values and standards. Training which is highly relevant to your organisation and your learners. With the right tools, you could create unlimited modules!

There is a place for large online course libraries which are focused in their content. Course libraries which provide specialist content which your organisation may not have internally, or can be presented with high-quality learning protocols. Examples include Code Academy or  Kaplan Ontrack.

If you think about the value training can bring to your organisation, and how you will demonstrate that value to support your budget, then your question should really be what combination of online courses will ensure that training is an integral part of the success in reaching organisational goals. Chances are that 100,000 random piece of content from a massive online course library is not part of that answer.

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