>Dumbing down of learning

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(Originally posted 18 February 2009).

Learning within the enterprise has always been a fragmented affair. There are dozens of specialised methodologies, packages and even languages devoted to it. It has had its own standards organisations e.g. SCORM and it seems to take several months to deploy a new training programme by which time, the processes/tools or methods it was describing are likely outdated. Actually attending training courses is also tedious; comprised of combinations of self and group study exercises and instructor directed sessions punctuated by role-play sessions or videos to add variety. Occasionally there are also group discussions which are intended to share the group’s experiences but are in practice a mechanism to update course content. E-Learning or Computer based Training (CBT) or whatever you term it, is over-intellectualised.

This is to say nothing of the huge cost (and risk) of fielding several resources (often from the same department) for two to five day training courses every couple of quarters (many times with additional hotel costs and associated travel/carbon footprint costs). This expenditure is routinely tolerated because organisations recognise investment in people is associated with lower employee turnover, which is associated with higher customer satisfaction, which in turn is a driver of profitability. On the employee side, attendance is justified because everyone gives broadly positive feedback at the end of the course because they don’t want to rock the boat; they enjoy their periodic change-of-pace after all. Both parties are complicit in the charade.

Web 2.0 tenets of collaboration, user-generated content, crowd-sourcing and social networking have made it into the enterprise on, by comparison, shaky justification; efficiency savings per head (useless when the person does nothing business-like with the time saved), back-door routes where enterprising individuals have brought the tools in unmanaged (helped because many of them are open-source and free) or loose assumptions that Generation Y are fundamentally different to Generation X and expect these tools to be in their workplace or they will leave. These technologies are all about real-time sharing of information, commenting on each other’s content and utilising the inherent wisdom of crowds; in other words, the precise foundation for effective learning.

Rather than just knowing how to do something because they have been previously trained in it (perhaps some years ago), people will instead look to current solutions; contacting someone else who has done it before or failing that – picking through search results. They’ll have a low chance of finding the support they need and either learn through their mistakes or give-up and escalate it to someone else. Both alternatives carry enterprise cost.

An alternative is redeploy efforts spent on training to build-in learning opportunities (based on Web 2.0) into operational solutions that people use each day. In this way, they don’t have to search for knowledge (it is already there and contextualised for them). It will also more likely be what they need because it will have been created from others that do the same thing each day. Finally, because it is all in one place (the line-of-business systems), it will, (paradoxically for Web 2.0) be easier to control centrally (compliance, consistency etc.). Learning is not about remembering things from years past. It is about being able to find, validate, synthesize, leverage, communicate, collaborate, and problem solve with the facts, ideas, and concepts. In real-time.

This creates new enterprise challenges such as providing usable tools for the production of user generated content and providing an effective incentive mechanism (for them to produce the content). These are being addressed though. MSFT has recently announced Semblio – a product/SDK using .NET/WPF to develop collaborative learning material. The SDK is available now and the product part (for content creation by non-technical users) will come with Office 14. Other mash-up tools e.g. Popfly can also be appropriate for creating learning content and let’s not underestimate the power of video podcasting. 5MP+ cameras (required for workable video quality) are almost main-stream. BT have taken a lead on pervasive, on-demand, pod-cast based learning through its Dare2Share programme.

In terms of incentivizing, management consultants are learning to culture the concept of microcelebrity within the organisation. In many cases, this can be met by technology; implementing (and publishing on the Intranet) a ranking mechanism for training content. In other cases, it will involve some BPR. Whichever route is taken, we’ll all be happier even if we lose our little changes-of-pace.

UPDATE: Mahalo have recently pivoted toward consumer video-based learning. Although the goal of creating “thousands of original, high-quality videos each week” seems unrealistic.

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