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Personal Brand, Professional Brand, and Perceived Bias in Social Media

May 17, 2010

So apprarently, my spirited defense about LMS value and role in the future of our industry has kicked off a lively debate. I’m glad. As I noted to Janet Clarey (@jclarey) a few nights ago on Twitter, I think it’s long overdue.

I will admit that I’m a bit disappointed by the lack of comment by other vendors. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt though as it’s a very tough line to walk when we as vendors or employees of vendors start engaging in these kinds of debates. Do we mention what competitors are doing? Do we call them out by name and praise them for cool stuff? If we do, does that conflict with our responsibilities to our brands and company success? Do we rip them for not being innovative enough and dragging us down into the sea of their discontent? In other words, where does one’s personal brand intersect with the company brand? In my case, where does “dwilkinsnh” end and Learn.com begin (or vice versa).

I’m not sure there are too many other folks in our space that maintain a professional blog and personal brand as I do while I also representing and helping to craft a company brand. I know Tom Stone is out there too, but who else? It’s unchartered waters, and a very tough balancing act.

And I suspect we’re going to see a lot more of this over time. As we see increasing levels of comfort with social media and user-generated content, more and more people will be creating content — whether it’s comments, microblogs, YouTube, or blogs. What happens if a competitor runs an idea generation contest with a big cash prize, and you have a great idea. Can you contribute? I mean, you obviously can’t contribute anything you’ve learned from your own company, but what about ideas you’ve had on your own? Can you separate the two? What would a court say? Leaving aside the legalities, is it ethical to contribute to a competitor’s success if it means betting against your own company? Banks apparently do it all the time, but it seems kind of unsavory right?

With regard to the current debate I seem to have sparked, there lots of things I’d like to say, but don’t, for fear that people will wrongly assume I’m speaking on behalf of Learn.com in this channel. I understand that. There is obviously some amount of overlap between my brand and the company’s, and as I’ve continued to take on roles of increasingly leadership, that overlap is increasing. I sort of picture it as a Ven diagram with two circles, one is my personal brand, one is the company’s brand. If I were the janitor, these would be almost entirely separate. As a district manager, maybe more overlapped. As a VP of Product Marketing, maybe a lot overlapped. And as CEO, they might as well be the same circle.

Which means I’m probably long overdue for a disclaimer: Let me be clear that I am not speaking for Learn.com with regard to this debate. This is not a Learn.com blog; it’s a David Wilkins blog and extends back across three companies. The views up here are my own and the extent to which I reference my employer, it’s in support of my own personal opinion and a reflection of my own personal experience. That also goes for my Twitter account, SlideShare accounts etc… They are all dwilkinsnh, and that’s obviously me and not the company I work for.

Given the above, let me also cover some related matters. A few folks have come pretty close to describing my position as “of course he feels that way, he’s an LMS vendor.” Given my comments above, I can see why, but it’s still disappointing. Intentional or not, in effect it’s a “fruit from the poisonous tree” kind of argument and even in some ways an ad hominen attack (even if unintended), especially when you consider the body of my work. For example, in this blog, I’ve written over 100 posts, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve blogged about LMS. I’ve been speaking, publishing and doing webinars for over 10 years and I think I’ve maybe covered LMS three or four times. Over the last 12 months alone, I presented at over 30 national, regional, and local events, including a Training 2010 keynote where I covered social learning. I’ve also been invited to present at the Web 2.0 consortium and the Conference Board, both of which are invite-only. Over the last six months, I co-created a Social Learning Strategy checklist with Kevin Jones, Social Strategist at NASA, and I created a Social Learning Assessment tool to help newbies better define and articulate their needs based on their culture, business problem, and talent profile.

So in this case, my company brand affiliation, in some people’s eyes, actually undermines my credibility in addressing this topic. Of course, I prefer to believe that it gives me a broader view… ; ) I have to live in the day-to-day reality that our clients live in, and I need to keep up with research by Gartner, Aberdeen, Forrester, and Bersin. So as much as I obviously want to move the industry forward toward a greater reliance on social and informal models, I also need to be acutely aware of how ready our clients and prospects are, what the analysts think, and where all of this is ultimately going. I’m a “strategy meets implementation” kind of guy. It’s great to have big ideas, but if you can’t get them implemented, they are pretty worthless.

As we continue this debate, I hope that we can focus on the merits of the argument and not make assumptions about people’s bias. One could just as easily posit that consultants recommend solutions that lead to more consulting work and analysts recommend solutions according to the vendors that best “educate” them via paid analysis work. This is not the world I want to live in. It’s superficial, and doesn’t reflect the current and growing complexities between personal and company brands. In this new world, it will continue to be critical for all of us to reveal our affiliations and connections, but it’s just as important that we don’t make judgments based solely on these relationships.

Dan Pontefract I think has provided one of the best and most professional responses to date, and I agree with about 90% of his post. I’ll be replying later today. Dick did a great job in his second comment in laying out a broader case. I actually with about 90% of what he says too. The debate here is less about the role of social and informal in the end-game, and more about the role that formal learning and LMS platforms play in getting us there.

I’m sold on social and informal learning as a dominant model in the workplace (and I’ve been doing a lot of the “selling” too… ; ) In my opinion, there has been comparitively little talk of what the end game looks like, the role of LMS and formal in the end game, and how we get from here to there. If we’re going to get serious about a move toward greater organizational support for social and informal learning models, we need to start talking about these issues. Theory and generalities are great, but we also need tactics, strategies, and starting points. We need to actually “do” this stuff somewhere in accordance with existing company rules about privacy, security, data storage and retrieval, compliance, HIPPA, Sarbanes Oxley etc… So for those of you wondering about my bias, that’s my bias – that we stop talking about how great social and informal learning will be in our heads and start figuring out how to actually get it done in real companies with legitimate IT, legal, and compliance challenges. And when we do, it’s my contention that leading LMS solutions will start to look a lot more attractive since they have built-in support for these enterprise-level requirements.

A Defense of the LMS (and a case for the future of Social Learning)

May 12, 2010

For some time now, I’ve seen a growing negativity toward LMS solutions by a pretty wide group folks in our space.  Many of whom I really respoect.  I see it in blog posts, comments, posts, LrnChat discussions, and all sorts of places.  90% of this negativity seems to be directed at the formal nature of LMS, the percieved lack of flexibility, or the lack of learner “control.”  In just about every case, the argument seems to be that “social” or “informal” will fix all this — social platforms like Jive or Sharepoint or maybe just loosely joined collections of social apps, like WordPress, Twiki, and Yammer.  One post I saw even suggested that Google Analytics could be used to replace reporting in an LMS (arguably the most ridiculous thing I’ve read in some time).

Suffice to say I don’t buy any of the above arguments and I largely disagree with my professional colleagues.  Not because they are wrong about social, but because they get so little right about LMS.  In my opinion, many of the critics are operating from a limited or outdated data set.  Here’s my take: if you haven’t used an LMS as a learner in the last couple of years or implemented an LMS to solve a real world business problem, I would humbly submit that you lack the necessary frame of reference to make sweeping statements about the whole industry.  And if your only experience is from five years ago or even from yesterday, but you’ve only ever used one solution, then, again, you don’t really have the breadth of experience necessary to judge the 200 or so vendors in this space.  Not even close.

As fate would have it, I do have that experience and frame of reference.  As the VP of Product Marketing at a leading LMS vendor, I’m involved in planning our own product’s future, and I’m required by the nature of my role to keep up with what competitors are doing and what industry analysts say about our space.  I’ve also been in the L&D, EPSS, HCM, Knowledge Management, Tech Writing, simulation, gaming, social learning “improve organizational performance through people” space for over 15 years.  In other words, I have a pretty good breadth and depth of perspective on this issue, and I can say, unequivocally, that today’s LMSs  do a hell of a lot more than track courses and curriculum and are just as valuable as “social systems.”

Let me also just say, before I defend the central role of LMS solutions, that I obviously agree there is a significant role for social interventions (I mean really, just read the title of this blog or any of my 100 or so other posts or my SlideShare presentations or webinars or published articles etc…). This week alone, I’ve done three social learning webinars or presentations, one of which was on the intersection points between HPT and Social / Informal Learning.  Needless to say, I’m not exactly a Luddite or knuckle-dragging LMS defender when it comes to technology or new approaches.  That said, I don’t think that this is an “either / or” type of inflection point (any more than the rise of “e” learning and WBT was).  This is an “AND” join.  And one really necessary part of the “AND” in this equation is formal learning and LMS.  It’s time someone said so.  And I guess that someone is going to be me (because as much as I love @Quinnovator, his “case for LMs” was a pretty weak case…; )

Argument #1: LMS is an essential business application (whether Jane likes it or not…)
Even if you wrongly believe that LMS’s are only about tracking courses and assessments, reporting on compliance and certifications, and pushing content onto new hires or to address learner skill gaps, LMSs still deliver unmistakable business value.  Why?

While it’s true that 80% of companies valuations today come from intangibles like “know how,” human capital, talent etc…, it’s equally true that codified best practices, processes, and knowledge still exists, in abundance.  It’s equally true that depending on your organizational focus, you will need some perentage of your workforce to just “know stuff” or to develop unconscious competence.

I used to have this argument with EPSS advocates all the time too.  Their view was that all systems should be so easy to use, no one should ever need training (a nice goal but absolutely impossible to achieve in the real world), or if that wasn’t possible, that we should layer additional interface and support tools right into the experience to minimize what they needed to “know” to effectively do their job.  Again, great in theory, ridiculously hard in practice (though attainable with the right teams).  My argument was simple, even assuming that all of that works as designed, there is still a butload of stuff that people need to “know” to be effective.  There is a butload more stuff that they need to be able to “do.”  Not by looking these up by reference or by relying on the system, but through instant, millisecond decisions based on knowlegde and expertise that is second nature.

The same holds for social and informal learning — “phone a friend” works great on “Who wants to be a Millionaire” and in real life too, but just as often, we’re actually on Jeopardy and we better know some shit right then and there.  While social and informal learning can help with this, formal training via simulations, assessments, role-plays etc… provide a far more efficient model to drive higher levels of competence to the masses on specific known skills and knowledge.

It’s also true that on the other end of the spectrum, we have a lot more people who need “Intro training” and “How to be a [insert job role here].”  According to the Department of Labor, 50% of the US workforce has been at their current company less than two years.  Can anyone say “onboarding” training?  Also according to the DOL — new hires entering the workforce today will have 10-14 jobs before the age of 35.  Granted most of these will happen earlier in their careers, but even among older workers, job hopping is very common.  Again from the DOL as of 2010: “Among jobs started by workers when they were ages 38 to 42, 31 percent ended in less than a year, and 65 percent ended in fewer than 5 years.” (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/nlsoy.nr0.htm) In other words, among even the most experienced workers, 1 out of 3 is switching jobs every year.  Suffice to say, US companies are doing a whole shitload of onboarding and job-role related training.  All of which should be standard and automated.

Hire me into the HRIS, push my data via data feed or web service, create me in the LMS, assign me my Onboarding plan and assign me a Job Role related plan.  Bam, bam with no need for manual process. Oh yeah, also assign me any required Compliance Plans or Required Certifications or CEU’s — cuz, you know, there is that whole get fined “millions of dollars for being out of compliance” thing that businesses need to think about…  Oh yeah, also drop me into a new hire community automatically based on my hire date, and as part of my Job Role related learning plan, also grant me access and send me a link to a relevant community of practice or discussion forum(s).  Wait, you mean LMS’s can do that?  Yeah, welcome to the future…  Well actually the past since our LMS has been doing all of the above for over five years now…

While I touched on Compliance and Certification above, let me just add to that a bit here.  I’m not sure that critics of LMS understand how big a deal this is.  This is not a nice-to-have.  It’s not a “do it because we have to” and therefore, “spend as little as possible” kind of issue.  This is a “do it right or jeopardize your company” kind of issue.  If you are in healthcare, finance, pharma, manufacturing, or one of a dozen other industries there are certain kinds of regulatory compliance you need to show.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as OSHA training, but other times it as complex as JCHAO reporting.  And if you are in pharma, not only do you need to show compliance reports, you are also need to demonstrate support for digital eSignatures and audit trails to prove unequivocally that the people who took the training and assessments to satisfy compliance are in fact, who they say they are.  Crazy?  Yeah, it’s insane.  It’s also a reality that businesses need to accept and address head on.  Wishing it wasn’t so and downplaying the importance of this by suggesting companies lead with social and collaborative systems (which support none of the above) is professionally irresponsible.

LMSs are 10-15 years deep in this functionality and it’s not frivilous depth.  None of us in this space sit up at night thinking about multi-year recertification tracks for compliance plans and the associated reporting because we like it.  We do it because our clients need it and have demanded it for 10+ years, along with hundreds of other nuanced features like ILT waitlisting prioritized by group membership.  Sure, it sounds ridiculous — until you realize that it’s again tied to compliance.  For Group A, the training is optional, for Group B, it’s a mandatory part of the annual compliance plan.  So even though a member of Group A is wait-listed at higher in the queue than the member of Group B, we add the member of Group B to the class when an opening occurs to satisfy the organizational compliance need.  Good luck designing all of those thousands of nooks and crannies into a pure social platform.  I’ll check-in on you in a decade and see how it’s going…

Argument #2: Modern LMS solutions are way more than a pure LMS

But of course, LMS’s do way more than this.  Claiming they don’t is like saying that all Outlook does is email.  Umm, calendaring, to-dos, contact management?  Ditto for LMS.  Current versions of industry-leading LMS solutions can:

  • Manage files – video, audio, PPT, PDF, docs, spreadsheets, including support for learner uploaded materials
  • Manage certifications and CEU’s – a must for multiple industries (healthcare, legal, higher ed etc…)
  • Manage compliance – not just the courses and assessments, but digital eSignatures, renewals, notifications, reporting etc…
  • Manage skills and competencies and link learning to them so that when learners have performance gaps, they can remediate
  • Manage forms and workflows to automate paper processes and streamline approval workflows
  • Manage Performance Appraisal process including 360 and ad hoc assessment models and again, remediate with training assets
  • Manage career planning and succession planning both for the learner pursuing new career options and the company looking to fill gaps
  • Help employees find mentors and tap into shared expertise around content via discussions and ratings and reviews (at a minimum)
  • Manage goals, both individual and organizational, and map informal, social or formal learning to these
  • Organize learning assets by Job Roles so that learners can be automatically assigned job role related learning, including participation in Job role based communities of practice, discussions, wikis etc…
  • Automatically assign training and learning assets to new hires, including video, audio, content categories, discussions, chat etc…
  • Manage ILT events, including classrooms, assets, instructors, waitlists etc…
  • Manage WBT and CBT assets, using multiple tracking protocols
  • *Enable collaboration on all of the above via Virtual Confernecing, Chat Rooms, Discussions, Ratings and Reviews, Blogging, Tag Clouds, and Wikis
  • Enable collaboration outside of all of the above on anything via Chat Rooms, Discussions, Ratings and Reviews, Blogging, Tag Clouds, and Wikis
  • Enable expertise location by making certain parts of learner profiles searchable – user-generated fields, HR fields, and even fields from third party systems
  • Enable creation of sub-portals to support communities of practice, eCommerce, extended enterprise spaces (partners, resellers, clietns, alumni) and much more
  • Support the embedding of widgets, RSS feeds, and iFrames into any page or portal interface to bring outside content in
  • Support the external embedding of LMS features into other systems via deep links, iFrames, and widgets, such as our integration with Taleo TBE
  • Manage users groups and display page regions, whole pages, or even whole sub-portals based on group affiliation
  • Support SSO (Single Sign-on), data feeds, RESTful API’s, SSL, email and calendar integration, and mobile deployments to ensure maximum integration into a workers daily workflow
  • Support the creation of formal WBT courses, assessments, and surveys, including support for learners to create these assets themselves
  • Support the scheduling, creation, and management of virtual conferences, either through integration with external VILT tools or through built-in tools, including support for learners to schedule and record their own virtual conferences
  • Support full UI configuration through WYSIWYG editing to enable even novice users to brand the UI and create custom client interfaces at will
  • Support for “Learner-administered” pages or whole sub-portlas by named users or by group affiliation.
  • Support the use of professionally developed, industry-specific WBT by pre-testing and validating integration; as an example, we have tested and validated over 30,000 titles from leading vendors in every major industry
  • Support for custom data fields and reporting of same from any external feed – TM systems, ERP, CRM, production tools, etc…

Not every vendor can do all of the above.  In fact, many don’t.  But we can.  And there are a few strong competitors who can claim a similar list.  Do all of our clients use all of these features? No, of course not.  But when they are ready, we are ready.  Look at that list again — which of these things would you remove?  Talent?  OK, fine, then buy our Advantage version.  It doesn’t have any talent stuff.  Social?  So you don’t want to rate courses or ILT events or discuss content or company initiatives? (So that means you don’t support ratings and reviews or discussions in Amazon, right?  Same model.)  You don’t want to use tag clouds to search?  You don’t want to find mentors by areas of expertise?  You don’t want communities of practice that support the sharing of formal, informal, and social content in the same shared space?  Pray tell, where else will do that?  Surely not social platforms which do not yet support formal content in any meaningful way?

How about course creation, survey creation, assessment creation, and virtual conferencing?  Sure you can get these elsewhere, but you also need to pay for them and then you need to separately deal with integration (which is still nowhere near as baked as pundits would like to think). Assume minimally, you’d want to buy licenses for Lectora, Question Mark, Survey Monkey, WebEx.  Any idea how much licenses for this stuff would cost if you bought licenses for your whole company so everyone could contribute and create?  Or are you still thinking old school that only ID people and trainers should make this kind of content?  Anyway, don’t bother. It’s not even worth talking about; the costs are off-the-charts.  In our solution, this stuff is baked in.  Any and all learners can be granted permissions to create these types of learning assets.  And further, since they can also be granted rights to create files, it’s a five step process for a user to load a user-generated a video or podcast or to include one in a course.  Buy a $99 Flip camera, record a video, load it (via your Windows file management model or YouTube), drop the video into a page or course, publish it.  Done.  Sure it might be this simple to do the same thing in Jive.  Except there I don’t have the option to track it or make it part of a larger course or curriculum.

Learners can also be granted rights to administer pages or even whole sub-portals.  So this means that they can create content that is department-specific, product-specific, subject matter-specific, or cohort-specific.  A lot like how Best Buy uses wikis.  Imagine learner-granted control over any page in the solution, the ability to create new pages, or the ability to administer whole subportals.  All with the ability to include discussions, ratings and reviews, any file, RSS feeds, and embedded content from outside sources.  This is different from a Jive or SocialText how?  Oh yeah, we also support all of the company’s needs for formal content, like classes, courses, job-role related learning etc…  Am I saying that all LMS’s are equivalent to a Jive or SocialText, no.  I am saying that some are a hell of a lot closer than you think.  And I am most definately saying that LMS’s have a shitload more social features than the formal features that social platforms offer.  Maybe the craziest part is that for many LMS’s like ours, these social features are either free or cost just marginally more than the base offering.  If I’m to believe Jane and others, my only course of action is to buy two systems with duplicate registration, duplicate user management, duplicate reporting, duplicate searching, etc… despite the fact that formal and social learning content are really just different ends of the same content continuum.

Argument #3 — Market maturity and System Maturity
As I noted in my intro bit, I speak about this social stuff a lot — easily 30+ times a year, in addition to engagements with our LMS clients and consulting clients whom I help to guide through the maze of social learning strategies and approaches.  Unfortunately, my overarching conclusion is that L&D folks are not ready yet to jump with both feet into social platforms.  Most don’t even have a toe in the water yet.  I’d suggest that 75% or more would have no clue where to begin.  When I mention stuff like Records Retention and the parallel between email records and discussions or microblogs, their heads usually start spinning.  When we start talking about moderation strategies like “seeding” or community concepts like group identity and trust, heads occassionally start popping off necks like popcorn.  This is new territory.  In addition to the tech like wikis, blogs, discussions, tagging etc…, there is a whole new set of concepts and approaches L&D professionals need to adopt.

This is first and foremost a cultural shift, not a technology one, and most orgs are not “there” yet and, more to the point, most L&D folks have neither the clout nor the expertise to drive this change.  ISPI approaches like HPT and performance consulting are a perfect fit, but again, there are only a couple of dozen folks out of every hundred who are ready for this.  So needless to say, L&D and Performance Consulting folks have a ways to go before we’re ready, as an industy, to move to *predominantly* social models.  I’m not even sure most Corp Communication and IT groups are ready.  Marketing, which is easily five years ahead on this front, is still very much a mix of old school “I’ll talk at you” models and newer more conversational / interactive approaches.  According to a recent survey of over 1300 marketing professionals, 65% have been using social media in their strategies for less than a few months (http://marketingwhitepapers.s3.amazonaws.com/SocialMediaMarketingReport2010.pdf). In other words, 65% of marketing professionals are literally just starting, despite the fact that as an industry, marketing is the vanguard of this transformation.

So from a market maturity perspective, my take is we’re seeing that the bleeding edge is just starting to do social learning or informal learning (via officially supported process or tools), but not yet as the predominant learning model.  Given the evolution and growth of social strategies in the marketing function (which faces nearly zero regulatory pressure, far fewer privacy and workflow concerns, and has much greater latitude in systems and process) I’d guess that widespread adoption in L&D is minimally five years away, maybe even seven years.  Again, I’m talking here about official platforms, policies, process etc…  Of course social and informal learning is happening all around us all the time and *is* the predominant model of how people learn.  It’s just not the official model.  And as much as I’d like to flick a switch and make it so, the real world doesn’t work that way.  Aside from the change management angle, there are numerous regulatory, reporting and privacy issues at play that most social platforms are only beginning to address at required depth.  Companies are right to be cautious and to think this stuff through.

In addition to market maturity, there is also the issue of systems maturity.  By any measure, leading LMS solutions are way ahead of most social platforms when it comes to Enterprise-readiness.  Nearly every major LMS supports SSO (Single Sign-on), data feeds, RESTful API’s, SSL, email and calendar integration, as well as virtualization, redundancy, langauages, foreign data and time formats, foreign currencies.  LMS solutions also have deep support for privacy, people data, reporting, analytics, groups and sub-groups, tracking, auditing trails, automated provisioning, notifications and alerts, permissions, etc…  As with everything else in this post, this is not a knock on social platforms.  It’s a matter of experience and longevity in the market.  LMSs already have a huge list of required elements that social platforms are currrently rebuilding from scratch.

Which brings me to my next major point — systems and market co-evolution.  As the market matures, do you really think LMS vendors are going to sit still?  Nearly every major LMS vendor already has a legitimate social story that in some cases includes communities of practice, ask an expert, discussions, wikis, blogs, ratings and reviews, tagging, page-level editing, shared spaces, groups and sub-groups, social profiles, chat, virtual conferencing, support for user-generated content like video and audio.  Some LMS’s even support mobile access.  Is all of this as elegant as it might be in Jive or SocialText?  Maybe not.  Is it as open and supportive of first time contributors?  Maybe not. A lot of it could be a lot better.  But many of the core pieces are there.  And nearly all of the back-end pieces are there.

We’re talking mainly about changing the user experiences, changing permissions, and continuing the current migration to a learner centric view of the world.  We’re not starting from scratch, not by a long shot. And if my estimated time horizon is correct, the LMS market has about ten releases (assuming 2 major releases a year) to migrate toward a full-on Web 2.0 / learner-led model.  Any of the leading LMS’s could do it in two, maybe even one really big one.  In other words, when the market begins to make a real push in this direction and it’s not just bleeding edge companies going “full social,” but a larger percentage of the market, every leading LMS vendor will either already be there or be a single release away.  Ask yourself, over that same time horizon, is it reasonable to assume that social platforms will build out all of the formal learning support that organizations need?

So let’s review the calculus of this:

  • LMS are a must-have application for businesses.  Any medium to enterprise level organization needs one.
  • Leading LMS solutions already have 75-80% of the essential “social media” applications and user experiences that can be found in social platforms.
  • Social platforms, by contrast, have less than 5% of the essential “formal” functionality that can be found in LMS solutions.
  • There are multiple years until we reach a point where most organizations regard social interactions and collaboration as either a core part of learning or a core part of their business.

And so, based on above, the advice to companies just starting out with their learning strategy is to start with a collaborative system?  I’m sorry, I must have misheard you cuz that makes no sense.  Shouldn’t the advice be: “Take advantage of all of the social stuff your LMS vendor already has to offer and then request some more.  And while you are doing that, educate yourself on social concepts and tools so you know what the hell you are talking about…”  I realize that message isn’t as exciting or provocative as “minimize your use of LMS and start with social” but it’s a hell of lot more realistic, practical, achievable, and in line with current trends toward system integration and suite approaches, than a strategy that specifically advocates the creation of a brand new silo in a domain area where they will have minimal industry support to draw and virtually no personal or professional experience.

Argument #4 — Integration and Suites
All of the talk about leading with collaborative systems and minimizing LMS completely ignores the other dominant trend in our space which is the trend toward unified systems, in particular TM suites.  Every major TM vendor now provides Recruiting, Compensation, Succession Planning, and Employee Development of which L&D is a piece.  Many leading LMS vendors offer some subset of this functionality as well.  And in at least two major cases, there are integrations between TM and LMS suites: us (Learn.com) with Taleo and Geo with SuccessFactors.  The reason for the integration and the consolidation of the space is because buyers and vendors both see the same challenges in having multiple systems that share the same people, overlap in their processes, and offer different answers to the same problems.  Unified suites enables better and more integrated use of data, simpler reporting, easier user management etc…  TM vendors clearly want to be the system of record for employees’ talent profile from on-boarding to retirement (and beyond). And clients want it to.

TM Suites seek to source the best candidates, to grow them into roles, to manage them, to reward them, to train and develop them, and to elegantly off-board when the relationship ends.  Do you think TM vendors will site idlly by while Social Platforms begin trying to own user profiles, reputation management and the like?  Will TM sit by when social platforms introduce organizational network analysis, peer recommendations, and ask an expert models?  I don’t think so.  Social stuff and formal stuff should be part of the same unified Talent Profile.  End of story.  I haven’t heard one word lately about TM’s role in all of this, but it seems clear to me that if LMS isn’t the place where social happens, another viable option is TM vendors.  I mean SuccessFactors just acquired CubeTree for crying out loud.  So rather than do my collaboration and social networking through CubeTree functionality that’s included in SuccessFactors, I’m instead going to go to a different system that does that same thing, but requires a separate login, manages my profile separately, reports separately, and has a different UI.  Why in the hell would I do that?  Because social is cool?  It makes no sense.

Social is going to be absorbed into existing enterprise-level systems in the mid to long-term.  Just like eCommerce was eventually absorbed into brick and mortar companies.  Sure, Amazon is doing great and I love them, but Walmart online isn’t exactly a chump competitor, nor is Best Buy online or Target or…  Once it became clear that eCommerce was viable and something consumers used as a decision criteria on where to shop, brick and mortars adpated and enabled eCommerce models with very robust websites.  Some like Best Buy and Walmart also take advantage of their brick and mortar legacy, enabling you to pick up a web purchase or return a web purchase at a local store to avoid shipping fees.  Pretty cool stuff and not something Amazon can offer.  And that’s why none of use the term “brick and mortar” anymore.  It’s just how business is done.  Social is going to be the same.  Once it reaches a certain level of maturity, it will just be how work is done, and it will be part of every system we use, woven throughout the daily work experience.  One or more of these systems will vie to be the system of record to maintain profiles and unified profile and activity data.  In some cases, LMS will win.  For other clients, TM will win.  For still others, ERP and HRIS will win.  In other words, the status quo but with social stuff woven in.

The End Game
As far as the specific question of where learning should happen:  what I want is a system that can support all learning, not just formal, not just social, not just informal.  Not just stuff that happens in the system, but through aggregration and feeds, stuff that happens outside the system.  Not just stuff that learners are assigned, but the stuff that they pursue on their own.  And sorry, but I want to report on all of it.  You know why?  Because reporting matters.  It helps you see trends.  It helps you see impacts.  It helps you see correlations.  More than that, I want analytics on all of the above, not Google Analytics, but actual analytics.  I want to know whether the people who spend more time in collaborative exchanges outperform those who learn formally.  Or vice versa. Because at the end of the day, while it might be nice if employees love to learn and love each other in their networks, what I really care about is whether the company outperforms it’s competitors, mitigates risk to the greatest extent possible, and delivers value to shareholders.  That’s what business systems are for.

You know what else I want?  I want a single system of record for user profiles at any given company.  I want a consolidated view of their skills, certifications, formal learning, informal contributions, user-generated content, peer reputation, performance reviews, job history, self-identified expertise, job title, location, contact information, professional networking affiliations, and formal hierachical relationships – all in one place that’s searchable and browsable based on various levels of permission.  I want to mine that data when and where I need it.  I want users to mine each other’s data when and where they need it.  And through that process, I want to make faster decisions, generate trust and self-efficacy, and tap the full potential in the intellectual crowd and cloud within our company walls and beyond it, in our extended organizational network.  Speaking of organizational networks, I also want to map all of the above through organizational network analysis so I know who my key influencers are, who my rising stars are, who is a high potential, and who lives at the periphery so that I can remediate, integrate, or terminate.  And once I’ve done that, I want to assign formal leadership and SME development plans to my high potentials to keep them motivated and accelerate their growth toward the next stage of their careers.

I want a system where a learner can share what they know on any subject at any time, via a variety of tools including blogs, wikis, ratings and reviews, discussions, microblogs, “courses,” virtual conferencing, games etc…  I also want a system where they can do this ad hoc or in response to some other learning that’s happened, whether formal or informal.  I also want them to be able to attend formal classes, read official files, take professionally developed WBT’s and simulations, watch official videos and read official blogs.  In short, I want the flexibility to do it all.

You know what I don’t want?  I don’t want a future where, on an institutional basis, formal learning happens in one place and social and informal learning happens someplace else.  That’s one of the reasons why LCMS as a stand-alone model failed – it tried to create a separate system for just a few kinds of content that LMS’s manage and deliver.  Social and informal learning will of course happen where they happen.  That’s part of the deal.  We need to be willing to mash-up content and link to content and reference content where ever it is.  But if people start arguing that social learning can *only* happen in Jive or SocialText or related systems, and that somehow social learning in an LMS is less valueable, which seems to be the case lately, then frankly I start losing my cool a bit because it makes no sense. At all.  None.  Zero.  In fact, as I noted above, a very strong case can be made that in the long-term “social software” will be absorbed into other systems, and the three most likely candidates are LMS, TM solutions, or ERP / CRM.

Does this mean that I’m not a fan or Jive, SocialText, WordPress, Yammer, or one of 50 other awesomely cool and innovative technologies?  Of course not.  I’m a huge fan of all of the above.  I am *not* a huge fan of silos.  I’ve been fighting against them my entire career, whether it was the false silo of EPSS vs training or the false silo of knowledge management vs training or the false silo of LCMS vs LMS.  At the end of the day, everything we do is about driving organizational performance through improved individual and team performance.  Creating artificial walls between content types is insane, and managing them via separate tools that have duplicate registration, user management, SSO, data feeds, reporting and on and on is also insane.  Of course, the reality is that some orgs may need to do that for awhile as the formal and social systems blend toward the middle, but it’s sure as hell not a desired end state.  And we shouldn’t be encouraging L&D groups, many of whom lack even the fundamanetal understanding of social stuff, to start there at the expense of their LMS strategy.

I’ve been saying for more than three years now that we have to look at social and formal content on a continuum, not as separate *kinds* of content.  Instead, I’m reading posts that suggest that we create a new set of silos based on social vs. formal.  And by the way, who makes this distinction?  Is an official blog post or video by a known expert formal, informal, or social?  The tech is social media, but the content is official.  What happens when you have courses that include discussions, RSS feeds, YouTube embedding, and ratings like Composica enables?  When I find a known expert via social networking tools in my LMS so that I can ask an opinion, is that formal or social?  The expert and platform are formal, but I found the person through social networking.  Is this a Jive thing or an LMS thing?  What if I only want to find experts based on their officially recognized skills and certifications?  Oh boy, now it’s really formal! I guess it would have to be the LMS because social solutions don’t maintain this.  But wait, it’s still expertise location which is a “social” concept!  Oh, what will I do?  I guess it lives nowhere. I mean, are we really going to go down this road?  Seriously? After all the experience of the last 10 years, we’re going back to meaningless distinctions between kinds of content? Makes me want to smash my head against the wall honestly.

The reality is that we need formal, informal, and social interventions.  The further reality is that for the moment at least, LMS’s provide a lot more “social” functionality than the “formal” functionality that social apps provide. Way more.  Like 70% to almost none.  I don’t think anyone realizes how much harder it will be for social vendors to rebuild key LMS functonality than the reverse.  And how much less likely.  At another company I worked at in this space, it too almost a full year to rebuild the curriculum and certification functionality, which is about 10-15% of what an LMS does, and that was with a team that had industry expertise, an existing database model, and a bunch of other required elements.

What does this mean?  The most likely outcome is that when social platforms reach enough critical mass and we actually see enough demand in the marketplace, major LMS vendors will rebuild this functionality into their solutions over a few releases (as we and Saba are doing), buy and integrate a social platform (as Cornerstone has done), or deeply integrate (like ElementK).  Social vendors have neither the pockets nor the experience to do the same (short of integrating).  End of story.  It will be LCMS all over again.

And if LMS’s don’t do it, TM vendors will, as evidenced by SuccessFactor’s most recent purchase.  In the meantime, mature companies will rightly experiment with Jive and SharePoint and SocialText etc…  and companies with leading LMS solutions will start using some of the social software they already have in these systems.  What won’t happen is a wholesale abandonment of LMS as a viable solution, not even close.  We need to face that reality and then work from with the paradigm to effect change — like Lundy getting hired at Saba, me helping drive strategy at Learn.com and Tom contributing at ElementK.  Anything else is counter-productive and further muddies what are already pretty muddy waters, even to those of us that “get it.”

I guess that’s all I have to say on this.  I’ll shut up now and let the hate mail flow in.  Please do keep in mind as you rip my arguments that I am a fan of social stuff and have been a major proponent of this model since around 2000 when I helped invent an integrated EPSS, KM, Social, Training platform.  This is not an argument against the idea that we should be embracing informal or social learning models.  It is however, a strong counter-argument against some recent posts and comments I’ve see as to the methods we choose to obtain these results.

Social Learning Assessment and Recommendation Tool

March 19, 2010

Ok, I know I’m way behind on posting.  I despair of ever getting back into any sort of rythym.  Ironically, I’ve never been more active on the social front, its just that the majority of it is happening in person at industry events.  I can’t even count the number of venues I’ve spoken at this year.  I’m also reworking entire websites within Learn.com to be much more social and collaborative, using approaches that include microblogging, idea sharing, discusssions, ratings and reviews, and blog-ish type strategies – all using our own technologies of course… ; )

I’ve also been pretty active in creating assets.  Kevin and I recently created the Social Learning Strategies Checklist which we released under Creative Commons with a Commercial Share Alike license.  And I came up with a new ID rubric that accounts for emergent, collaborative, and codified learning.  It piggybacks on top of a post by Harold and Jay, but also extends it quite a bit to be used as a framework for evaluating the specific type and nature of the learning challenge.  I’ve now extended this even further by making it into an Excel spreadsheet.  Now it does all the math, creates a graph of your “type” and than makes recommendations based on how strongly or weakly you answer certain questions.

While I originally intended it to be used by less experienced folks, I’ve actually found if helpful to use when I’m thinking through my strategies — which is kind of weird since I wrote it… ; )  I think this means there may be some actual value in it.  I hope you feel the same.  Here it is:  ECCO Assessment and Recommendation Tool.  Let me know what you think.

Slides from Keynote at Training 2010

February 3, 2010

Slides

I had the great pleasure to present a keynote address yesterday at Training 2010.  While I’ve presented at dozens and dozens of conferences over the years, this was my first true keynote.  Was I nervous?  Yeah, I have to admit, just a bit.  Complicating matters was the fact that the other keynote presenter (they had two back-to-back) was significantly delayed as a result of air travel issues.  So my directions were to basically go on stage not knowing whether I was going to need to be on for 30 min, 45 min, 60 min or even more.  The conference was also using an audience response system for the first time which I insanely decided to use.  I’m happy to report that it went off pretty seamlessly despite all sorts of potential for disaster.

The good news is that I was able to get the data from the audience response system and boy was it interesting.  I don’t want to spoil the fun, but suffice to say, the training industry is a mess in terms of it’s understanding of it’s role and responsibilities.

For now, I just want to give you the slides.  Tomorrow or perhaps over the weekend, I’ll do a full write up on the preso and the audience polling.

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