Corporate universities are still big business, and knowledge management systems and learning methods have become democratized for everyone. What are some considerations for corporate adoption?

I was reading INC. Magazine, still one of my favorites, and an article talked about what industries are best for startup entrepreneurs this year. One of them was online education, especially MOOC (massive open online courses), which are online educational courses open to anybody, anywhere.

While corporations can benefit from MOOC programs, there is also a continuing need for in-house online education, given that many corporations large and small are decentralized these days, and it becomes harder to bring many employees under one classroom at the same time for structured classroom learning programs.

As a professional keynote speaker and meeting facilitator, I still relish every opportunity to be facilitating and sharing my knowledge within a classroom or conference room setting – it is exciting, stimulating, and engaging for everybody in the same room. But the reality is that as the world moves much faster, with less time available to every employee and executive, education is a constant that must continue to be developed and delivered, but classroom environments will become increasingly restrictive.

Therefore, online education becomes a great tool for corporations. In the 1980s, I developed several modules of networked computer-based training for one of the largest disk drive manufacturing plants, running on Apple Macs, with interactivity and testing. It was early days then, and yet, as we look at the online education arena today, the fundamentals have not changed. The need to educate employees within a corporation is still very real, and the tools have become more sophisticated.

So, what are some online education tools we can use?

There are very complex learning, knowledge and content management systems available, at a diverse range of costs. Some are open source and therefore “free”, but can be prohibitively challenging to set up and maintain, more likely tools for technologists than human capital managers. There are also very complex and sophisticated platform tools, but can also be daunting to manage on a daily basis, and can be very expensive to deploy.

So, let’s think simple and small. What are the 3 most common platforms we see around us today, especially for the emerging generation?

The 3 most common platforms seem to be the television (interactive or broadcast), the game console (on large screens or smaller), and the mobile phone (interactive or broadcast). More and more people read the daily news on the mobile phone. More and more people play interactive games that are simple to learn and play, on their mobile phones or tablets. More people watch the television or network-streamed video content on large and smaller screens, rather than read books.

These are realities that cannot be ignored by the human capital manager. We as practitioners must recognize these realities, and work with these realities, and not insist on developing content that are meant for the past decade, for past interaction scenarios, for past audiences.

Therefore, what seems like the 2 common denominators of the emerging platforms for entertainment and education? Yes, the most common denominators are now video, and games.

Games can be very complex to design, and to adapt engaging and complex games for corporate education would be prohibitive to most corporations except the very few. Great games can be seductive and engaging to audiences, but require deep pockets to design a story-line that works with the learning objectives, a game-play that is entertaining and engaging without looking like adapted classroom content, and some rewards system that can work to motivate the learners to continue without giving up. Therefore, while games can be profoundly great for corporate education, it is not easy.

Video, on the other hand, especially against the backdrop of the explosive success of online video, can range from ridiculously simple to produce, to large-scale, sophisticated video productions. And yet, learning and engagement can occur whether the video is simply produced, or expensively produced. It depends on content, authenticity, relevance, and entertainment value.

With this perspective, online video can therefore be an ideal design and delivery platform, even with some limited interactivity, for human capital managers to adapt and use for corporate learning content. The tools can be simple, with nothing more than stabilized mobile phone cameras or HD DSLR cameras, good microphones, sufficient lighting, an entertaining cast (professional, amateur, or even in-house talents), and a good story-line. I have traveled this journey and found it engaging and even fun, and have consulted for corporations and institutions alike.

PS – Here’s a talk I gave recently on online video for marketing (similar ideas that can be adapted for corporate online education):

Human capital practitioners like us can no longer lie back and relax and imagine that past development and delivery experience can be eternally useful. When we open our eyes to new possibilities of learning and engagement, we may realize the tools are available, not difficult to learn and use, and even… great fun.