We kick off the week with insights on digital learning from Professor G Shainesh –  Professor of Marketing at IIM Bangalore. Professor Shainesh has over two decades of international research and teaching experience, and successfully launched a MOOC on customer relationship management. In this interview, Professor Shainesh chats with us about his journey with MOOC creation and the future of blended learning.

What prompted you to create this MOOC?

I have been offering CRM as an elective course at IIMB and other institutions for almost two decades now. When we initiated the MOOCs program at IIMB, I was one of the few who signed up – for two reasons. First, information technology was emerging and it seemed like a great opportunity to use new equipment to enhance the learners’ experience. Second, I thought this was a good way to reach out to a wider audience. I know there are 3000 business schools in the country and many of them don’t offer this course as an elective; not because there is no demand but because they may not have the faculty needed for this course. This was an opportunity to reach out to students in other business schools and also to a lot of learners who have customer-related roles but have not taken a relationship marketing course.

Professor, you have been teaching in a classroom setting for over two decades now, this is your first experience as an online instructor. Would you like to talk a little that experience?

There was one project which was a sort of predecessor to the MOOCs program. Macmillan used to offer a course on CRM through its eMacmillan platform. It subsequently got converted into a book (which I now use as a textbook). But compared to the current MOOC platform, it was fairly primitive. I would just create the text and the editorial team would convert it to PPTs. Both the text and the PPTs would be available and the learners, and twice a month, would have a text-based interaction. But the interactions weren’t necessarily that good.

When these MOOCs were created there was a lot of video recording; the simplest thing to do is record a classroom session. But, while it is a simple option, it was really not that effective as the learners have very small attention spans. The whole 90-minute session needs to be broken down to 30 bite-size segments of 3-4 minutes. That requires rewriting everything you would normally present in a classroom  so that each concept is covered in multiple four-minute segments.

This was not an easy exercise. I had taught this course for so many years; I thought prima facie it would be very simple, but it took a lot to convert each idea into bite-size segments. I also struggled with recording because it’s very easy get distracted and be conscious of the camera, it wasn’t easy to get used to the fact that there was a camera recording everything I was saying. Additionally, in the classroom, there is interaction, feedback and remedial action but when you are looking into a camera, you assume that someone is watching you and listening to you. It’s fairly one-sided and takes a lot of getting used to.

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Professor G Shainesh

This course is running live for the third time now, and the interactions on the discussion forum are still active. What has your experience of a MOOC instructor been?

Once the difficult part of creating the MOOC is done, there’s a huge advantage in terms of repeating it. The first time it was offered, sometime between February to April, I was very curious to see what the learners were saying. I would follow the comments and  contribute to the discussion now and then.

In the first round we had two webinars;  there was a live interaction with students. It was a good experience because you get to know what the learners are saying, what they have understood and what areas are not doing well, so there can be appropriate course correction. I remember there was a lot of discussion around customer lifetime value. It was a simple calculation, but the people who were not familiar with net present value and number crunching had difficulties understanding.

Coming to an experience of an instructor – in subsequent courses, I became more interested with learner engagement. I wanted to make sure learners aren’t just watching the videos and the case studies, but also contributing and sharing insights on the bulletin board and discussion forum. This sharing becomes an important feedback mechanism for us. Engagement can go up and down depending on what you and others have contributed, so it’s a joint collaboration.

Now that the online course is ready, do you use parts of it in your regular classroom? What are your thoughts on blended learning?

I have used it twice – once in a course I offered in Gothenburg University, Sweden. I was going to cover a four-month semester’s content in just seven days. I shared the MOOC links with the students, so most of them went through the course before I had even landed. It was good for them because they had something they could refer back to. The students who had gone through the material on the MOOC were better prepared, which led to a better learning experience.

What’s more, our MOOC also has expert interviews, and these were people I couldn’t have brought into the classroom. It was a great experience in that context. Over here, I did send the MOOCs to the students, but I didn’t link it in class and I could see the difference. The learner was more subdued without the MOOC. Blended learning had made a big difference for the students.

There are a lot of students who have been wondering if there will be a part 2 to the CRM course – perhaps a more advanced level.

Yes, we could make a part 2. The course we have now is very basic and requires no previous knowledge of any management theories. Normally when I teach here at IIMB, the students have gone through basic courses in management so they have a good base in marketing when they take my class in their final year. However, when I was creating the course online, I was conscious of the fact that learners from all over the world may not be familiar with management courses. It was planned as a foundation course in CRM, but we are looking to develop some of the topics to give learners the flavour of an advanced course.

Enrol in the CRM course here.

[This interview was conducted by Shobita Rao, Pedagogical Research Associate, IIMBx]

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