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?