Archive for July 2006

Jack Vinson points to a great article by David Weinberger Joho the Blog: Knowledge as conversation. In it he points out: There is a big difference between a relativistic world in which contrary beliefs assert themselves and a conversational world in which contrary beliefs talk with one another. In the relativistic world, we resign ourselves to the differences. In the conversational world, the differences talk. Even though neither side is going to “win” — conversation is the eternal fate of humankind — knowledge becomes the negotiation of beliefs in a shared world. What do we need to talk through? What can’t we give up? What do we believe in common that seems so different? What should we just not talk about? These are the questions that now shape knowledge.

Knowledge is not the body of beliefs that needs no further discussion. Knowledge is the neverending conversation. And much of that conversation is precisely about what we can disagree about and still share a world.

It is for exactly this reason that I believe that robust discussion engines must be part of online collaboration platforms. The ability to sustain dialog is what provides the opportunity to develop a sense of the other person, to explore differences and get beyond the surface, to understand the underlying beliefs and values and find common ground. Blogs, with their “Hyde Park” approach to parallel publishing, are not optimized for this.

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Corporate Trainer, RIP?

Parkin’s Lot’s most recent post bemoans the decline of the corporate trainer and suggests that trainers may go the way of the woolly mammoth and the ivory-billed woodpecker. I’d say, not so fast.
It’s undeniable that the role of corporate trainer is shifting in a lot of ways to that of vendor management. And when you have a training department who’s mission is to get content to the masses, then it makes sense to look for more cost-effective ways of doing that – via off-the-shelf content libraries, outsourcing and even customized e-learning.

But the decline in corporate training that is associated with this movement is only part of the puzzle – the remainder really lies with how organizations define training, and how they differentiate their corporate training from outsourced training where it really counts.

Let’s face it, there are lots of areas in an organization where content doesn’t need to be delivered by a corporate trainer to be particularly effective – IT training, project management training, desktop skills are all good candidates for vendor-produced and vendor-delivered training. If those are the core competencies of your training department, you should be worried about the future, since most, if not all, of that training can be delivered at a fraction of the cost.

Even when you get into operational training – product information, ERP rollouts and such, there are some arguments that it can be delivered pretty effectively using some custom learning that doesn’t require the face-to-face training that is the training department’s bailiwick.

But, BUT, when you start considering the things that really make your organization “go,” that differentiate you from competitors, then you move into an area where there’s not just tolerance for corporate trainers, but their roles are critical in the successful implementation of the training – if they do it right.

If it’s just about delivering the content that’s related to what we call your organization’s “secret sauce” then guess what? It’s no more critical to have a corporate trainer to complete that function than it is to have one to teach learners how to create an Excel spreadsheet. But if the trainer and the training department make it about delivering content, then interacting about content, then taking the information back to the workplace and instantiating best practices as they relate to business-critical skills, competencies and processes, then corporate trainers become infinitely more valuable, and no longer in danger of extinction.

Of course to perform this type of function – translating training to true performance – trainers need to look beyond their traditional toolsets and ask how they can extend unidimensional (e-learning, F2F training) or even multidimensional (traditional blended) learning to deliver coaching, mentoring and performance tracking. The answers are certainly not simple, but the prospect of extinction seems to be a mighty compelling reason to search.

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Infosnacking: Word of the Year!

The folks at adweek point to an article in News Observer on infosnacking. It means — checking e-mail, Googling sports scores, shopping online and surfing the latest headlines — while at work, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which has selected the term as its 2005 Word of the Year, despite its staggering lack of popularity.

May not be popular but it sure is catchy. Infosnacking. Not inforereflecting, infoconsidering, infodwelling – or even infoenjoying.

At my weekly weight watchers meeting (sigh), the leader was talking about consuming food versus enjoying it – how we eat standing up, while watching TV, while driving, while online. We are a snack-based culture.

We even snack on our information.

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How will the remixing of micro-content which dominates discussion of Web 2.0 affect e-learning? Some people believe that it will resemble individual content authoring via blogs. We don’t think so.

In eLearn magazine, Stephen Downes writes:

What happens when online learning ceases to be like a medium, and becomes more like a platform? What happens when online learning software ceases to be a type of content-consumption tool, where learning is “delivered,” and becomes more like a content-authoring tool, where learning is created? … Insofar as there is content, it is used rather than read and is, in any case, more likely to be produced by students than courseware authors.

He answers his own question:

The e-learning application, therefore, begins to look very much like a blogging tool. It represents one node in a web of content, connected to other nodes and content creation services used by other students.

We think this is only half the story – and it isn’t the important half.

Downes continues:

It becomes, not an institutional or corporate application, but a personal learning center, where content is reused and remixed according to the student’s own needs and interests. It becomes, indeed, not a single application, but a collection of interoperating applications—an environment rather than a system. E-learning 2.0.

Well, perhaps, among those operating in a purely academic context, where learners are presumably pursuing their own personal learning goals. We think the answer looks a little different in the business world. In business, we aren’t really looking to facilitate the development of personal learning centers, so much as we are trying to develop more effective strategies for getting work done. And we understand that few employees, who are being evaluated on their effectiveness in moving the organization toward organizational goals, are interested in developing a collection of interoperating applications to serve as their personal learning environment.

At Q2Learning, we do think that real learning looks a lot more like a conversation than like a book. We’ve also paid close attention to the studies which suggest that keeping learning activities close to the job is what gives it meaning and staying power.

As an example, our eCampus is designed to make it simple to create learning activities in which content is presented, and then put to active use by learners in their daily responsibilities. Our take on “learning 2.0” is that it’s important to bring distributed learners together to have conversations about just how that attempt to apply the concepts works out in the field, the challenges they encounter, and the strategies they employ to overcome those challenges.

Absolutely — learning 2.0 platforms like the eCampus must make it simple to include learner-generated micro-content into learning activities. Blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds –all these can and should be available to learners.

But we believe that content is just the beginning, the jumping off point for deep learning, which is what takes place when people think together about what helps them be effective, and why.

We believe that learning 2.0 platforms must support these dialogs in both structured learning programs and more informal communities of practice which weave together a variety of collaboration tools as well as content generation tools. The intelligent use of discussion forums, web meetings, email, instant messaging, and chat is every bit as vital to the design of learning 2.0 as sexy content publishing tools. In fact, we believe that this weaving of interaction into the mix is at the heart of how to transform e-publishing into e-learning.

Web 2.0 and eLearning 2.0 don’t have to be trapped in the highly individualized and idiosyncratic paradigm which requires each individual to structure his or her own learning. Organizations, are, after all, about joint efforts. Tools which help learners work and learn together can facilitate the development an effective team culture. Investing in such tools and developing learning programs within them is a powerful way for organizations to develop the competence and agility required to be competitive in today’s markets.

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