The Key to Creating a Compelling Online Learning Experience

Moving forward, online learning must be approached in a way that addresses both the human need for social interaction, and the modern need for flexibility.

The digital economy is growing at a rapid pace; new technologies and innovations are infiltrating every business process under the sun. Companies are realizing that in order to keep up, they must prioritize corporate training and employee enablement. In fact, a recent study conducted by Deloitte showed that 83 percent of today’s executives identify careers and learning as being important or very important to helping their business grow with technology, instead of being overcome by it.

As the need for effective corporate training becomes more urgent, companies are turning to online solutions, such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), to close the digital skills gap in their employee base. These free online courses can be made available to large groups of participants, spanning geography and time zones, making delivery of the most up-to-date content to employees easier than ever. And the personal nature of the courses means employees can fit in a class despite their busy schedules. However, convenient doesn’t always equal compelling.

Studies show that engagement in online platforms dropped between 2012 and 2016, with only approximately one-third of all participants completing the course in which they were enrolled. To make sure learners are retaining the concepts provided to them and finishing the course, online learning needs to become an engaging experience.


Humans are social by nature. What online learning provides in accessibility, it often lacks in opportunities for interaction and collaboration. This is where highly customized, engaging MOOCs can make all the difference.

As the name implies, MOOCs are open to learners around the globe. Tools such as group projects and peer assessments, however, ensure that learners not only have a connection to the material, but also a broader connection to a world of perspectives. This is especially valuable for global organizations, as coworkers on opposite ends of the world are able to collaborate on the same assessment. Not only does this help to build cross-company synergy, it establishes uniformity in the way in which employees understand material.

Peer-to-peer interaction is undeniably one of the most critical parts of an effective corporate learning experience, however, it’s also important that e-learners are afforded “face” time with professors. Too often, online learning is associated with simply reading through slides and defaulting to an ambiguous Internet search to clarify information. By presenting material through videos and Webinars in virtual classrooms, learners are engaged both visually and audibly by the experts, adding authenticity to the learning experience.

Virtual classrooms give learners the ability to identify with professors, and allow for timely feedback. Similar to a traditional classroom, these online versions are given a capacity of about 20 to 100 participants, ensuring that professors are able to tailor delivery of material to the needs of their audience, and can readily answer questions via chat features and discussion forums.


The words, learning and training, aren’t necessarily the most attractive to an already busy employee, even if they can be delivered on-demand. To ensure learners are invested in an online course from enrollment to completion, e-learning must incorporate elements of gamification.

Unlike traditional online courses, MOOCs that have integrated gamification techniques can offer hands-on workshops and role-play situations that simulate real on-the-job experiences. “Learning by doing” has proven to evoke a 90 percent retention rate of concepts among learners. In comparison, learners who are offered only one-dimensional text-based material generally only remember about 10 percent of course concepts. Cleary, gamified concepts have the ability to transform learning outcomes for learners from simply being able describe concepts to creating the ability to apply them.

By breaking up a MOOC into different segments, or “levels,” gamification gives learners the ability to visualize their “learning journey,” showing them a roadmap to the mastery of content. Earning badges, certificates, or prizes for every “challenge” successfully completed along this path gives participants something tangible to showcase their hard work. This also conjures friendly competition among fellow learners, building on the positive impact of incorporating the human element. As motivation builds, learners will not only push themselves to complete challenges within a single MOOC, they will develop a hunger to enroll in additional MOOCs thereafter.  

If employers take away one thing from the above elements, it should be that the most successful online corporate learning experience is one that keeps the learner in mind. Early e-learning resources served as a catalyst for this by allowing learners to consume course content via a convenient, online channel. However, this is no longer enough. As technologies such as virtual reality, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) continue to advance, learners will expect a learning platform that gives them a sense of fulfillment. Moving forward, online learning must be approached in a way that addresses both the human need for social interaction, and the modern need for flexibility.

Dr. Bernd Welz serves as executive vice president and Chief Knowledge Officer in Products & Innovation at SAP SE. In his role, he is responsible for user assistance content and services in the SAP products, product learning offerings, and the leading cloud learning services, openSAP and SAP Learning Hub, for SAP professionals, end-users, and other external communities. Furthermore, he is responsible for the SAP University Alliances and SAP Next-Gen Program. SAP Next-Gen is an open innovation platform connecting students, researchers, thought leaders, start-ups, and accelerators with corporations and venture capitalists to succeed in disruptive innovation and create exponential business models. Before joining SAP, Welz was a strategy consultant at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, located in Düsseldorf and London. He holds a Master of Science degree in Computer Science and Machine Learning from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst USA, and a Doctoral Degree in Artificial Intelligence from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

Michaela Laemmler serves as dean of openSAP University at SAP SE, a world leader in enterprise software and software-related services. Laemmler joined SAP in 1998 and has spent the last 19 years working within the knowledge transfer area. She has held positions ranging from developing training for real estate solutions, training consultant, and information and product specialist. She moved into management in 2005, starting with the program management team responsible for SAP’s Customer Curriculum. She then moved into the corporate learning area responsible for process and operations management, defining and implementing corporate best practices. Since February 2014, Laemmler has taken on the role of Global Head of openSAP ( openSAP was the first Enterprise MOOC provider to deliver courses through its own platform. As SAP’s platform for open online courses, openSAP supports innovation adoption at scale by spreading key SAP knowledge on innovations across the globe.



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