You've probably come across several types of online learning just by being around the internet. They can range from amateur-produced YouTube tutorials (like the ones you use to remember how to tie a Half Windsor Knot) to several-thousand-dollar-per-lesson training organizations. As the interest for online learning grows, the tools to create these experiences are becoming more full-featured and more accessible. This article covers what I would consider one of the best examples of these types of tools—the Open edX Framework—and how it can be used within companies for developing more effective Internal Training.

The Rise of MOOC's

When edX, Coursera, and other Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) came out, they opened dozens of the world’s most prestigious institutions for anyone in the world with internet access to take their classes for free. Ranging from Ancient Greek History to Artificial Intelligence, the courses were full versions of their in-person counterparts from universities like Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, Stanford and scores more. Not only did they open access to such institutions, but the technology behind it offered further enhance the overall class experience through variable speed lectures, more seamless multimedia integration and inline quizzes.

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Open Source MOOC development

And while the MOOC concept opens significant opportunity for anyone to take these courses, edX has also introduced something that allows anyone to also make these types of courses as well: the Open edX framework. The Open edX framework is an open source implementation of the same technology that drives Built on the Django framework, it is possible to download the source code and begin to create an entire "University” on your own in-house or cloud server. Once installed and configured, the edX Studio web application allows for non-technical workers to create, configure, update and completely manage their own courses with no need to delve into the code itself.

Bringing Staff Development into the 21st Century

One of the highest potentials for this framework is for Internal Organizational Training. Almost every company and organization has its own introductory packet for new hires that usually gets lost within the first week. There are training sessions for new and continuing workers that need to be repeated over and over again by the same people. The Open edX platform opens the opportunity to be able to capture these resources online, organize them according to topic, and save them to be able to come back to later. Rather than repeating information over and over again, it is possible to spend that time on continually improving existing content. And the same way that a college might organize courses according to department (Math, English, History), an organization would be able to separate content areas according to its own needs (Human Resources, Company History, Programming skills, etc).

Before ending, it might be beneficial to clarify where something like Open edX would not outweigh other options:

  • Documentation — In programming and development, documentation is one of the most important parts of the entire process. It can also be time-consuming, boring and hard to do right. Nevertheless, documentation should ideally cover as close to 100% of code, processes and systems. Since documentation is hard to do and very hard to do consistently, there should be no obstacles in the documentation process. It should be flexible to reflect changes and updates consistently, and easy to navigate on a granular level. Building courses is a comparatively slower, more time-consuming process than creating and maintaining documentation. Subsequently, building internal courses would better lend itself to processes that change slow enough to keep up with course production.
  • External Training — Before committing to a full course creation, it would be helpful to see if the content already exists so as not to have to reinvent the wheel. For most topic areas, internal courses would probably lend themselves best to company-specific information (or company-specific versions of information). The Git workflow is widely covered in numerous online tutorials, but specific implementations of a company’s Git workflow could be well-suited for an internal course. The edX Studio even offers the ability to combine external content like videos and embedded pages from other tutorials to be able to combine universal and company-specific knowledge bases. With this said, however, if there are indeed globally applicable training that can be produced by knowledge experts within the company, it would likely be rewarding to everyone involved to be able to publish that knowledge externally.
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The potential for online learning is very exciting. And the Open edX platform offers to be a very useful tool in many Internal Training scenarios. While there are assuredly situations where in-person training, documentation and other non-technical forms of knowledge sharing, it is well worth looking into seeing what the framework might be able to do for your company.

How to get started with Open edX

If you're a web developer or systems administrator at your institution and interested in getting started with the platform, start with the OpenEDX main page and Installation Documentation. You'll need:

  • General understanding of Linux system administration
  • VirtualBox for setting up on your local environment
  • General understanding of the Django framework