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The Rise of Online Learning

How much can you learn through the Internet?

Now that it has been up and running for almost two decades, there's no limit to the subjects you can learn about. If yoga is your thing, there's everything from Yoga for Dummies to Sanskrit and the Yoga Sutras. Whether you want to get a buzz out of beekeeping add to your knowledge of advanced mathematics, create infographics, step to the tango, decode the basics of coding, or get clear on Mongolian throat singing, it's out there.

In fact it's a pretty safe bet there's information about virtually any area of interest somewhere on the Internet. (Did I mention Mongolian throat singing?) The question now is not what you can learn online, it's how well you can learn it. Reassuringly for us deeply digital types, there's a growing body of evidence showing that it's possible to learn how to do some pretty serious stuff.

Take educator Salman Khan, who is no slouch in the pursuit of serious. With three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School, he already knew plenty about learning when he started tutoring a cousin through the Internet using a Doodle notepad in 2004. He switched his tutorials to YouTube, gained followers, and in 2009 quit his job in finance to focus on online teaching. His not-for-profit Khan Academy has gone from one guy in a spare room to a full-time team with a new iPad app and support from the Gates Foundation. The site has more than 3,200 tutorial videos available for free, with gamification touches -- badges and learning points -- to motivate students.

It's one thing for an enterprising alumnus to embrace interactive learning; it's something else when his alma maters follow his lead with a new venture offering MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses). In May, MIT and Harvard announced a partnership called edX to provide interactive classes for free to anyone in the world, partly inspired by Khan. Newly launched Coursera is another MOOC, with courses from Princeton, Stanford, UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, and University of Pennsylvania. The Academic Room already offers full-length lecture videos and supporting materials of courses curated from Harvard, MIT, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, Berkley, Duke, and Carnegie Mellon.

Most of the top names in higher education have also been distributing select courses for free on iTunesU, a channel on Apple's iTunes set up in 2007. Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, Oxford, University of Melbourne, University of Tokyo, the Open University, and Stanford all offer materials. Downloads totaled 600 million as of September 2011, half of them in the most recent 12 months. Clearly there's growing demand for serious learning through the Internet.

Learning 3.0 at Euro RSCG Worldwide

My own interest in the subject isn't just, uh, academic; online interactive learning is a hot topic at Euro RSCG Worldwide. We have a network of 11,000 employees widely distributed around the world, and, as with most dispersed organizations, the Internet has become our main way of connecting our far-flung parts. Just binding itself together is not enough, though, for an agency that prides itself on being "digital at the core." In our business the key competitive differences are talent, culture, and technology; we believe in making technology work hard and smart. We need to be sure that all our colleagues around the world are up to date with the agency ways of thinking and working. We need ongoing learning and training to keep our edges sharp. We need to ensure we stimulate creating thinking and interconnect the intelligence that's scattered across the agency network so that we learn from each other. We need global collaboration and knowledge sharing to help make the whole agency smarter than the sum of its parts.

We're digital evangelists, but that doesn't stop us from being digital realists as well. Experience shows that emails and newsletters and blogs and videos and podcasts can only achieve so much. So we've taken a long look at successful e-learning programs and built our own platform; it provides staff around the world with an interactive learning experience accessible via the agency's intranet. The platform launches this month with a new four-module course in one of our signature strengths: trendspotting.

Euro RSCG Worldwide's TrendsU™ program, available exclusively to agency employees, starts with "TU101: Introduction to the Art and Science of Identifying What's Next," followed by three advanced-level courses that draw on the impact of trends in the media, among brands, and on consumers, and concludes with trendspotting for strategic leaders. The course is led by Marian Salzman, our high-profile trendspotter and CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America.

How does it work? The platform delivers audiovisual e-lectures on demand. Interaction with teachers and other students is an essential part of Learning 3.0, so the system is designed to enable participants to communicate with their professor and peers through a dynamic message feed. Having conducted similar sessions face-to-face, we know that real-time dialogue will enrich and deepen the lessons and ideas being presented, allowing for the cross-pollination of ideas and leveraging the diversity of smarts and perspectives across our network.

Social media elements and gamification are built into the system. Following each course, participants are assigned homework; completing the assignment unlocks badges and lets the participant move on to the next course. Completed assignments are visible to fellow participants, not only encouraging people to put out their best work but also fostering the evolution and spread of ideas. Images submitted as part of the homework assignments will be posted on Pinterest in order to invite outside commentary and insights.

So, how are you using the digital space to get smarter?


Naomi Troni is the Global Chief Marketing Officer at Euro RSCG Worldwide. Find out more about Euro RSCG at eurorscg.com and follow Naomi Troni on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@naomi_troni