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SPOCS: Specific Private Online Courses

Nick van Dam Ph.D. Amsterdam (NL), December 2015 - Nick van Dam Ph.D. is Global Chief Learning Officer at McKinsey & Company. He is an internationally recognized consultant, author, and speaker, as well as the founder of the eLearning for Kids Foundation and a thought leader on corporate learning and leadership development. At OEB 2015, he will speak on Friday, 04 December in the session "MOOCs at Work" from 12:00 to 13:30.

What are SPOCs exactly? How can we envision them?

Nick van Dam: SPOCs are online courses that use adult-learning design principles and technology platforms which are similar to those found in MOOCs.

For example a SPOC supports

  • individual learning modules that include interactive exercises, videos, readings, self-reflections, cases, and graded assessments;
  • projects involving small groups, e.g. three to five people, collaborating on course-specific projects based on real-world tasks, at the end of which the participants undertake peer grading and provide team feedback;
  • social learning, which features interaction with other students in different community platforms, as well as exchanges with online teaching assistants.

Why do SPOCs play a special role in the education and training of executives?

Nick van Dam: Our research shows that leadership development is a top priority for companies since organizations with top-quartile leadership have been demonstrated to outperform their competition by 200 percent.

SPOCs support the business requirements for leadership development by providing an experience that is

  • scalable because learning needs to scale and fit the way people live and work;
  • applied since adults learn by doing and on the job;
  • social, as it is well known that interaction creates greater engagement and discovery;
  • blended, based on the evidence that integrated learning (digital, field, forum) delivers the highest impact;
  • effective due to the fact that they support the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, as well as the required change of behaviors.

How does this type of education and training differ from existing courses or programs and what is the impact?

Nick van Dam: SPOCs use next-generation learning-technology platforms and evidence-based pedagogy principles that provide immersive, user-centric, and effective blended learning journeys. Participants of our McKinsey Academy SPOCs report a 35-50% improvement in mastery of key competencies after completion of our programs. Additionally, 96% of participants report that they are engaged, and 80% would recommend a SPOC to a colleague.

Who develops the SPOCs, and what accounts for a program’s outcomes?

Nick van Dam: SPOCs are developed by the various vendors who have built the learning- platform technology in collaboration with subject-matter experts, as well as instructional designers.

The success of a SPOC depends on a variety of factors, including the identification of the targeted audience; the quality of the learning-technology platform; the relevance of the course for the audience; the level of expertise of the subject-matter expert; and the underlying pedagogy.

Finally, the adoption of a SPOC can be enhanced by role modeling of participants, the usage of gamification, and the introduction of other incentives for course engagement and completion.