What Corporate Learning & Development can learn from Education Hackers and Employees?

My interview with the CEO Nicole Le Maire of NewtoHR on education hacking versus corporate learning?

If you would have asked me about Education Hacking a year ago, I would have probably called your HR Manager and informed the internal security department to have your user account locked. By that time I had seen headlines like: “Teen Used Smartphone, Hacked Department of Education And School To Change Grades” or “Obama to Call for Laws Covering Data Hacking and Student Privacy”.

My perspective totally changed when I attended the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) “Learning How to Learn” https://www.coursera.org/ucsd. The course leader Dr. Barbara Oakley from the University of California introduced two so-called education hackers.

The first, Scott H. Young, was able to complete a 4 years degree program in Computer Sciences at MIT in just 12 months. Scott used the open education resources (OER) from MIT to achieve this amazing result while spending only 2000 USD overall. http://www.scotthyoung.com

The other, Benny Lewis, learned with the help of the internet to become fluent in a new language in just 3 months and was able to do this at a much lower  cost compared to the traditional language acquisition programs. http://www.fluentin3months.com.

In this context the term Education Hacking stands for the self-directed search for a smarter and faster way to education, for personal but also for professional skills.

I was intrigued by these astonishing results and set out to use these freely available resources and tools myself. To my surprise after only 2 months and less than 32 hours of net learning time I was able to read my first book in Chinese. After 7 months I knew more than 2000 Chinese characters and was reading my first newspaper article in Chinese. http://bit.ly/1AaFfk5

When I talked with colleagues and employees about my amazing findings I was quite surprised to hear that most of them were already using all these freely available high quality education resources for their own professional development.

As a large number of academic institutions around the globe, as well as large corporations and startups provide more and more of such educational resources the number of employees who turn into independent learners continuously increases.

What does this new trend in employee education mean for the corporate learning & development organization and for professionals working in this area?

Before I go deeper into this topic let`s start by looking at how it all began.

(Title Picture: Creative Commons License Mozilla in Europe Hack-a-Thon http://bit.ly/1UxYZ0L)

1.    Open Education Resources (OER) – a global movement

One of the main initiators of this OER movement and also one of the forerunners in the academic area was the MIT in Boston with its OpenCourseware project started in 2002. Even though it got a lot of media attention and by 2006 more than 61% of non-US users were accessing it, there was no noticeable attraction for employees. Two things happening from 2004 onwards gave this whole movement a new push.

The first was Salman Khan who published short lessons on K12 mathematic topics on YouTube for his nephews to use in 2005. These short videos attracted more and more viewers over time because parents and children were looking for easy to understand learning resources. Soon the number of viewers surpassed the 100 Million mark. Khan then decided to establish the Khan Academy in 2012.

Khan also influenced Sebastian Thrun at Stanford University to open up the class on Artificial Intelligence to everyone with access to the web. In 2012 Thrun used a similar technology and offered the same instruction online as to his class students. Thrun was surprised and overwhelmed by an online audience of more than 160 000 students worldwide who had signed up. The new term MOOC* for Massive Open Online Course was coined.

This overwhelming success took all the leading universities by surprise and let to a change in mindset. They now fully embraced the idea of open free education resources and started to offer more and more MOOCs. By 2015 there were over 4000 courses available. Additionally this movement was supported by venture capital financing Udacity led by Sebastian Thrun, Coursera and others. These startups provide services for creating MOOCs to universities. In addition aggregators are now providing platforms for an efficient search and easy access to these OER.

Besides MOOCs a lot of investments were made in the area of foreign language acquisition in the recent years. There are several language exchange platforms for people free to use. All they need is internet access and Skype. Online spaced repetition tools help to memorize vocabularies more effectively. And other platforms allow people to correct each other’s written sentences in a foreign language. Last but not least there are now a number of mobile apps available. Almost all of these tools are free and support a specific area of language acquisition, either in the domain of speaking, listening, writing, reading or understanding. What makes them now so attractive to users is the application of the latest research in gamification, social learning and neurosciences.

Clearly this movement has staying power and it will rather increase than decrease over the next years to come.

* Additional Remark: Depending on the view the first MOOCs were actually created and offered by Stephen Downes and George Siemens in 2008 or by Alison in 2007.  

1.1.                   The Impact on Learners

The biggest impact on learners is the democratization of education and the free access to high quality resources. A large part of the offers in the beginning was oriented on personal skills, school topics or academic fields. But the variety of topics in the curricula of MOOC providers is growing. Innovative new content is available faster and large MOOC platforms and OER aggregators make the search and access quite easy. Further new courses target now education of people working in jobs. To give you an example the aggregator class central lists at least 6 MOOCs in the top 10 most popular MOOCs in 2014 that are also relevant for professional development:

1.2.                   The Impact on Corporate Learning & Development

After having a sound education base like a degree or a vocational training certificate employees turn to these new education resources for closing skill gaps or acquiring more knowledge and skills. Often they do it without consulting with their supervisors or HR departments. This can have many reasons. Maybe the internet use policy of the firm allows the use of the internet also for private matters, or because it is generally free and no approval is required or the employees just think that their supervisor or HR departments lack the understanding.

Will thus corporate learning & development departments have to face competition from the internet now?

The answer is yes, but it depends on the view of the corporate learning & development department. Do they see OER as another opportunity to embrace or do they see it as a threat in becoming less important to the development of their workforce?

Let’s look at the benefits first.


One clear benefit that I see is the effectiveness of these tools. People can learn faster and at a much lower cost. They have access to topics that corporate learning & development could not provide on demand and in such a variety. The topics range from soft skills to business acumen to language acquisition. Here lies an opportunity even during periods of economic downturn to engage the workforce by allowing them the freedom to use free available resources on the internet for their development.

Coursera and Udacity are targeting now continuous education for people already at work. They offer so-called Nanodegrees. While attending their online courses is still free, people have to pay for the degree. This is their business model. Facebook and Google honor these nanodegrees. You can say their corporate learning & development organizations have truly embraced this new opportunity.

As it is still early days there are issues to face. For some of them there is a resolution already emerging.


A basic issue is the required internet access. There is a substantial number of companies where users have no or very limited internet access at the workplace.

The misuse of working time for private development with no direct benefit to the company can also become a challenge.

Another key problem of OER is the assurance of their suitability and quality.

Here a resolution is emerging. Renowned providers, quality labels and acknowledged certificates that can be earned are providing a first rating. In addition the social component like openly available user feedbacks and ratings can help.

The recognition of the competencies acquired by people using OER is also something to resolve. Tracking and documentation of OER is not as easy as progress and completions are only tracked within a provider’s platform and no official standard for documentation exists. Public cross-provider LRS (Learning Record Stores) are an answer for this – the first solutions are emerging in the US and more will follow in the near future, also in Europe.

And last but not least the sustainability and ongoing availability of an OER can be a risk. A substantial number of OER come from academic or non-profit organization where funding is not always assured and is a critical topic.


As OER are often focusing on more generic topics in employee development the need to offer these topics by corporate learning & development will surely decrease in the near future. This is an opportunity for corporate training departments to increasingly focus their efforts on strategic, regulatory and other corporate specific topics.

If education becomes more self-driven the people working in corporate learning & development currently handling more generic topics can be freed up in the near future. I will see a shift in responsibilities of the corporate learning function. Their role will include aspects like coaching employees to find the right learning strategy for their employees and evaluating or curating content with users to identify and get access to suitable OER for their development.

Additionally people still need guidance on how to effectively learn and how to best use the internet for learning. Here the corporate learning & development department could offer guidance and workshops for their employees.

Further they could organize an online community on continuous learning on their intranets or if available in their internal social networking platforms for their employees.

Last but not least they should revisit their learning & development policies. What is the acceptable use for the company of these OER resources? Do people need approval from their line manager or their team? What is the freedom of choice? What will they officially support, which degrees will they honor and from whom they expect to use this new type of learning?

Some companies might go as far as giving employee’s unlimited time at work to learn under the condition that they still deliver on their tasks. This is similar to what some silicon companies like Netflix or Virgin offer their employees in the area of time off. They give unlimited paid vacation time to their employees under the condition that they still deliver on their tasks and have an agreement with their team members and supervisor for cover.

To enable the use of OER in the organization the corporate learning & development departments will of course have to familiarize themselves with the specifics of OER and their application. You will find a list of links at the bottom of this post. A good start e.g. is the MOOC on Learning How To Learn. https://class.coursera.org/learning-003/

2.    Conclusion

There is a huge shift from in-house training to the internet and from guided learning to more self-directed learning by our employees. Something that will not go unnoticed by the corporate learning & development departments even though it is early days and even though there are still a number of issues to be tackled.

Education Hackers have shown to an highly interested mass audience that you can accelerate your learning and professional development with the help of OERs. More and more employees are turning to these resources in order to take the initiative of their own development in their own hands.

If people in corporate learning & development see OER as a threat and deny employees the use of these resources for their development, they will in the near future lose the trust of line management and employees.

At least it is now the time for people in corporate learning to familiarize themselves with these new available opportunities.

Have you recently used a YouTube video to learn a specific technique?

Have you searched for MOCCs or other open educational resources lately?

Have you enrolled in a MOOC with a topic relevant to your personal skills in the last weeks?

If you answer one or two of these questions with yes you are on the way to become an education hacker yourself and a trusted source for your employees.

2.1.                   Steps forward

For those not yet familiar with OER and / or MOOCs the best way forward is to try it yourself. There are OER on a variety of topics related to the jobs of learning professionals and HR or training departments.

Corporate Learning 2.0: https://mooin.oncampus.de/mod/page/view.php?id=1348

Flipped Classroom: : https://www.mooc-list.com/course/teaching-flipped-canvasnet?static=true

Dynamic Educators: https://www.mooc-list.com/course/becoming-dynamic-educator-canvasnet?static=true

Learning How to Learn: https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn

If you are interested in gaining more insight or already convinced that OER is something you want to use please look at the following offers:

Whitepaper on Use of OER

A whitepaper with tips and tricks of the different resources and tools and how to use them within your company will be available shortly. Please connect with me on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/peterpalme or on Xing: https://www.xing.com/profile/Palme_Peter or leave your email in this Google form: http://goo.gl/forms/UZ4JrfUJM1

“Education Hacking” Workshop

Additionally a two days pilot workshop on Education Hacking is planned. It will address how to be a more effective learner and how to best use OER and other tools in a corporate environment. With this knowledge you will be able to coach your employees or provide a similar workshop in-house or online to your employees. If you want to get more information or participate in it please click here https://ppalme.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/the-education-hacking-workshop/

The final step could be to search for OER to recommend to learners in your organization or even to integrate in your internal offers. Please find some selected links below.

At this point I’d like to thank Leopold Kause from DidacDesign http://didacdesign.com for his expertise provided on OER, his other valuable contributions and the review of the article.

About me: My vision is to build a truly integrated HR in the cloud and leverage the cloud for learning.

I will give a keynote  speech at on 17.09.2015 at the HR exhibition Zukunft Personal in Cologne on Education Hacking vs. Corporate Learning.

3.    Links and Resources

Generic links:










Beispiele (in Deutsch):


http://imoox.at/wbtmaster/startseite/ https://mooin.oncampus.de/



Non-profit examples:


Non-Profit Beispiele (in Deutsch):



Aggregator examples:



Aggregator-Beispiele (in Deutsch):


MOOCs über MOOCs oder OER (in Deutsch):



OER-Award in Deutsch:


All links have been accessed and verified on September 2, 2015.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: