Jane Hart's Top 100 Tools for Learning: Looks Like Workplace Learning is Still Web 1.0
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More Thoughts on Why Workplace Learning Is Largely Learning 1.0

A few days ago, I posted on Jane Hart's latest list of 100 Tools for Professional Development, picking up on Jane's point that it seems that there's a tool divide between workplace learning professionals and educators. According to Jane's survey, while corporate e-learning staff may use social media for personal learning, when it comes to designing learning for their organizations, they're primarily using authoring and presentation tools--more "Learning 1.0" types of approaches. I made a few suggestions about why I thought this might be the case and wanted to add a few more thoughts that I picked up through comments and some blog posts elsewhere.

Learning as Transaction
Art Gelwicks brings up an interesting point that learning in many organizations is about ticking off the boxes--"you've passed Module X, which will now be recorded in your file." He says:

". . . most corporate educational approaches are targeted to a deliver and account mindset where the content is made available, completion is mandated, and success is noted for future review of the student (employee). There’s no easy cost justification to the back and forth of web 2.0 tech for businesses to rationalize their use beyond PowerPoint and Webex."

Learning in this kind of environment is less a social process and more transactional. Technology is seen as a tool to make it easier and more efficient to deliver and track learning units, while social media tools might actually  detract from an organization's ability to keep track of what's been "learned."   If your approach to learning is in fact more transactional, where the goal is to basically to transmit information and manage who has completed various modules, then authoring and presentation tools would more naturally be the elearning tools of choice.

I'm not suggesting that this is because elearning professionals WANT to have a transactional approach. I suspect that usually its management pushing this idea, in part because it seems so cut and dried. Real learning is messy, which isn't always attractive to a lot of people.

The Tools are TOO Inexpensive
Over at WikiPatterns, Stewart Mader suggests another reason why social media for learning might be resisted in many organizations:

Sandy Kemsley’s fourth challenge to social media/enterprise 2.0 in organizations:

The fact that these technologies are inexpensive (or even free) and quick to implement causes them to be discounted by executives who are used to spending millions on information management systems.

This sounds so counterintuitive, but it’s a by-product of software vendors creating a skewed system where their high prices force potential customers to spend a great deal of resources (people, time, and money) deciding to use a tool. When they finally decide whether to go ahead with the tool they have no choice but to do it to justify the expense of deciding to do it!

In many organizations, not only has a lot been invested in making the decisions, when it comes to learning, much has also been invested in setting up and training staff in the use of various authoring tools and systems, particularly at those organizations where LMS systems are in place.

I suspect that what is also at work here is our own human belief that if it's free, it can't be valuable. Many (most?) of us have not yet adapted to a world where you don't have always to pay an arm and a leg for value. Social media in some sense seems "too good to be true," since we tend to think that higher price means higher value, even if that's not the case.

Loss of Control and Power
Stewart's post  led me over to Sandy Kemsley's post on social media adoption in the enterprise, where I found another issue that may interfere with using social media for learning in organizations:

Resistance to adoption isn’t correlated with age, it’s correlated with position in the company: higher-level people are more resistant to bringing in Enterprise 2.0 technologies because it represents a democratization of content and a relative loss of power at their level.

In comments on my original post, Bud Deihl echoed this idea:

Two of my friends in the corporate world have emphasized how communication and training is really controlled. Their materials must be approved and in many cases very tightly controlled through password protection, so other companies cannot see their information.

Regardless of the reasons for control (as a form of power, as Sandy suggests, or for competitive advantage, as Bud indicates), the key issue here is that use of social media for learning does mean giving up a level of control. You have less control over content, less control over how it's used and less control over how people interact with it. If control is a major aim, then social media tools are clearly not going to be attractive.

I question, though, the kind of learning that takes place in a tightly controlled environment. If learning is measured by how well you perform on a test, then control may have less impact. But if learning is, in the end, about changing workplace behavior (which I think it is), then learning in controlled circumstances is inherently problematic because people typically don't WORK in controlled circumstances.

To my mind, one of the major advantages of social media is the fact that it provides a forum for learning that's perfectly suited to a constantly changing world where nothing is really controlled. You are able to build up a network of people with whom you can brainstorm solutions to problems and troubleshoot issues as they arise. You create a platform for learning every day, rather than "learning as event," which keeps your skills sharp and evolving.

I don't think that it's a coincidence that blogs, wikis and the like have developed at this particular point in time. I think that they've evolved because we need these types of tools to manage the complex skills and systems necessary to function in a global economy. Old command and control, behind the firewall approaches create "friction points" that simply don't work in this kind of world.  The global economy by its nature is about eliminating those places in the network that create hitches in they system that impede the movement of goods and services to their destinations. I'd argue that eventually, the learning systems we use will have to catch up to this paradigm if organizations are going to survive and thrive in the global network. That's something social media is well-suited to support.

What are your thoughts? Do these points make sense? Where am I off-base?

Comments

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Michele

This is a great posting. I hoped that my original comments would stimulate some debate and some thinking how we could breakthrough the current organisational view of e-learning. You've certainly pulled together some very important reasons for the current situation. Next thing is how we can actually influence the situation. As I mentioned before my 25 Tools resource is intended to help people understand the value of free tools and get them thinking in a more Web 2.0 way. But of course it is only a drop in the ocean!

Thanks, Jane--I'm hoping that we can get some conversation going too. Although I think that lack of skill/familiarity is part of the issue, like everything in organizations, I'm seeing some entrenched beliefs and attitudes as potentially even bigger culprits. Hopefully we can all explore this further.

The second reason is one I've seen played out at my job, even though one of the reasons I was hired was to help them use social media and web 2.0 tools in general. It's hard that they still don't "get" it, so that priority has been downgraded to we-may-get-to-it-one-day. Totally bums me out.

I really like what your doing on your blog. I have a great personal interest in developing my own personal learning environment. The company I work for doesn't really have the resources for developing staff in a formal way. I'm a VP and have been in some from of this company for nearly 17 years. I have survived because I learned to "learn" on my own. Big companies = big training budget. Small companies = training is a personal mission. Many thanks for the good info.

May, I can appreciate your frustration, especially when you thought that one of the things you'd get to do in your job is help people use social media.

I think it's interesting that organizations will cut staff to save costs but wouldn't see free tools as an option. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have organizations that won't do training at all because it's "too expensive," despite the fact that these free tools make everyday learning both inexpensive and ongoing.

Dan, I think you bring up an excellent point about learning in small organizations and I like your notion of learning as "personal mission" in those places. Although I think I'd add to that and say that even for people who work for large organizations learning needs to be a personal mission, simply as a matter of survival. You can't rely on your company to equip you with the skills you need to be marketable. That's something everyone needs to manage for themselves personally.

Michele, while I believe most of the reasons listed so far play some part for their reasoning of "we-may-get-to-it-one-day," the main reason is that their end-goals are quite different. In the workplace the goal of the majority of learning programs is to deliver a specific product and/or service; while in education it is mainly for the sake of learning itself.

I work in a manufacturing plant (it is one of the top 100 places to work for), thus our social media needs are quite different from an educational organization's needs. We need to continuously focus on delivering our products and services because the competition out there is frankly quite brutal -- they love it whenever we stumble.

While some of our learning is transactional in nature, mostly compliance training, the majority is directed towards delivering the best product and service possible. Thus, our learning is mostly focused on performing our processes and systems correctly, and secondly on keeping everyone up-to-date when the processes and systems change. . . and they change almost daily. If you are standing still in today's business world you are going to get clobbered. Since our processes and systems are specialized for us and constantly in flux, the best experts are within our organization, thus we relay on social media that best supports it -- face-to-face, two-way radios, email, internal iChat, cellphones, intranet, and rarely nowadays the telephone. While we are all connected to the internet, it really does not play a big part with workplace learning because we can simply do it better. . . at least for the moment.

Also, I will argue that "loss of control and power" is not a real block in today's organizations, at least the better ones. One of the reasons we are always changing, even though we are a big organization, is that we do listen to and adapt to new ideas, no matter where they come from. Yes, we occasionally do get someone who thrives on control and power, but it does not take long for them to fall flat on their face because we simply move to fast for them.

Michele, I've been following this dialectic and it's grown into a fascinating debate.

Having reviewed all the posts and comments to date, one of the interesting subtexts that has arisen is the suggestion that in some indefinable and unspoken manner "2.0 is better than 1.0".

I'm assuming that this is in some moral or ethical dimension, because I don't think that there is any research or evidence to support a general statement that all learners acquire new / enhance current skills, knowledge and experience through the Read/Write Web as compared to other means of digitally-mediated learning.

As I mentioned in my comment on the original post on this topic, workplace learning is not necessarily in the 1.0 realm, but because of the proprietary nature of the content, it is not freely available via open-to-the-public read/write Web tools. As a result, Learning 2.0 initiatives in workplaces are not as visible.

But just because you can't see it in the public domain doesn't mean that it isn't there.

As I demonstrated with the Equivalency Table in my original comment, Workplace- and Formal Education groups have a 75% overlap in functional requirements and in many cases use the same tools (audacity, PowerPoint, Moodle etc). As I also pointed out, Moodle is more popular in the workplace than in institutions on Jane's Top Ten Tools list.

Let's think about this a little: to take Martin Dougimas' Moodle project as an example - as well as the high workplace take-up, it's philosophy and paradigm are based on a Social Constructivist approach - I would assert that if workplace organisations were so anti-Web 2.0, the last thing organisations would implement would be an platform that positively supports forums, discussion boards, blogs, wikis and other means of learner, expert, and instructor interaction.

We have a saying in Ireland - "Horses for courses" - I guess it would translate to "the right tool of for the right job." Ultimately, the two groups under discussion here have two divergent purposes which have been well elucidated elsewhere in this discussion so I'm not going to repeat them here. It's understandable that the ways and means they employ to undertake their objectives should differ.

If I may offer a different view on some of the points made above:

1. The Transactional Nature of Workplace Learning.

Last time I looked, formal educational institutions used ongoing coursework, projects, essays, and end-of-semester examinations to "to make it easier and more efficient to deliver and track learning units, and to keep track of what's been "learned.""

2. The Tools are TOO Inexpensive.

Have no doubt - these tools are NOT free. Every time someone publishes content to a platform like YouTube, Flickr, Jing, and Ning, that material is being saved to a commercial organisations' environment for their own (presumably revenue-generating) purposes. They're not charities. If you want to read the small print and terms of use (I've included a link to the YouTube TOU at the end of this comment as an example), you'll see that using this channel could potentially carry a high cost.

Similarly, if you use Jing, you're using Techsmith's network to carry your content.

Without going into the gratis / libre debate, what you have here is, as the saying goes, "free as in beer, not as in speech."

Moodle is Open Source Software proper; it, like Apache, PHP etc are commonly used in the workplace.

3. Loss of Control and Power.

"Two of my friends in the corporate world have emphasized how communication and training is really controlled. Their materials must be approved and in many cases very tightly controlled through password protection, so other companies cannot see their information."

Yes? And?

There are many reasons why workplace-developed content is restricted or managed. One is as Bud Deihl mentions "..., so other companies cannot see their information." Proprietary knowledge is a revenue generator, training makes money for organisations. Similarly, formal educational institutions charge fees to enable learners to access knowledge. Online academic resources like ERIC (Education Resources Information Center) are also subscription-based.

Crass commercialism aside, there are very good pedagogical reasons why organisations control learning content. If for example, you're delivering a course on Health and Safety, fraud law, or how to use an software application, you would want the people creating and delivering that content to have a high degree of competency in the subject they're teaching. In other words, they should be qualified or certified to teach the content in the syllabus. Attaining a qualification means attaining a prescribed standard, which is, of course, controlled. Is there anything wrong in maintaining control to ensure quality?

I'm forwarding these counter points not to dismiss Web 2.0 learning tools, but precisely because I use them, both personally and in a workplace environment, and I am aware of their benefits and their limitations.

I don't feel that this should be a binary "this good, that bad" discussion. I would assert that every channel that enables learners to access information has value. Can we not agree with Seymour Papert's Principle:

"Some of the most crucial steps in mental growth are based not simply on acquiring new skills, but on acquiring new administrative ways to use what one already knows?"

YOuTube Terms of Use link:
http://code.google.com/apis/youtube/terms.html

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