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What Really Matters Completion or Competency?

by Sean McDonald

As I listened to an interview with Rick Levin this morning, CEO of Coursera, what seems to me as a decreasing value of content, was further being validated. 

When I joined ESI International in 2002, a global project management training firm, I was told our number one asset was our content.  As I learned more about this new market I was in, mixed with the accelerated maturity of the internet age around us, I quickly gave cry to the risks I saw in this belief.  I did what any young wide-eyed professional would do, I pulled together a 20 page powerpoint deck and marched into my CEO’s office.  It was titled “Creative Destruction and the Project Management Training Industry”.  I was dismissed from his office with a smile.  Our courses made money, lots of money.  In the US, I believe revenues were at 80 million around 2005.

Flash forward 10 years.  Access to content has grown exponentially. Youtube, born in 2005, for example, had 65K uploads a day around its one year anniversary.  Today they have over a billion uploads and last stat I saw, which I am sure is outdated, is 500 hours of video uploaded every minute.  This trend surely influences the supply versus demand formula which is a driver in this perceived value of content. Then along came Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) back a few years.  Whoa.  Ivy league access for free!  The buzz was grand and the promise of that platform still is.  Yet what Coursera’s new shifts have suggested again is, it is not about the content. 

What is it about then?

Coursera’s news today suggests for me, that it is less about access to and mastery of a topic. Instead it is more about, in this case for businesses, offering a box to check for training and certificates of completion.  Selling an online learning platform to businesses allows for this reality.  Businesses can check the box of “Training Resources Availability” and individuals can check the boxes of courses taken.  We can’t blame Coursera for pursuing this path, sold this year for $1.5 billion and Skillsoft two years prior for $2 billion.  The market is telling us something about where the value is perceived.

The third leg of the stool, with content and completion being the other two, is about application.  How are we transferring what we are exposed to in whatever the learning environment is, during or after, in a meaningful way?  What behaviors are we adopting, what habits are we shifting?  This is the hard work.  This is what we call development and this takes time. And it is harder to measure than “did you complete this”.

I suppose the market does value this demonstrated application by reputation and ultimately salaries.  There is more here to press upon though as competency matters more than completion..  It is something that continues to drive us at MOR and we continue to put more focus on the application.  If you are going to invest the time in development, make it sustainable, make it stick.