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The Future of Training Started Yesterday

February 24, 2009

On Friday of last week, Harold Jarche and Jay Cross wrote a stellar blog post that masterfully argues many of the same themes that I’ve been blogging about and even presenting about over the last few months, but in a much more succinct and digestible form.  In essence, they make the same basic arguments that I made in my last webinar, Social Learning and the Recession and in a few earlier blog posts:  Social Learning Defined and Fixing WBT Courseware with Social Media, among many others.  The gist: we need to completely rethink training departments and responsibilities from the ground up (both literally and figuratively) and we need to recognize that we are midst of a transition to a new normal.  I’m not going to rehash their argument, but I do want to extend it slightly and raise an alarm.  (And again, not to belabor this point, but you really need to read their post; it’s short, well-written, and exactly what you need to hear right now.)

Ok, so here is my warning in brief:  “if you are a training professional and you are not actively developing or implementing your social learning strategy right now, then you need to get off you ass and get started.  Not tomorrow, not next week — today, the moment you read this post.”  Why so alarmist?  It’s simple really.  Everything Jay and Harold wrote is exactly right, but “The Future of the Training Department” that they describe is already here in many organizations.  So that’s a good thing, right?  Wrong.  While the future may already be here, learning professionals are not the ones driving this future; worse, they are often not involved at all.  Most of them are on the outside looking in.  I realize I may need to provide some proof points, so read on.

Image courtesy of Jay Cross and Harold Jarche

Image courtesy of Jay Cross and Harold Jarche

Jay and Harold describe a pyramid where emergent practices come from the workers, established practices and processes come from managament, and workers actively collaborate with each other as part of the normal work experience.  See the image to the left.  This is similar to a post I wrote called Social Learning Defined where I argued that there were three models at play simultaneously:  socializing existing formal models (top-down), the sharing of information “from the trenches” back to management (bottoms-up) and the sharing of best practices and collaborating (side-to-side).  What worries me is that right now, most training professional are still thinking in terms of the “top-down” model.  Even those forward-leaning folks who are thinking about blogs and wikis and social networking are still mostly thinking about how to do this within the formal, top-down framework.  The “bottoms-up, emergent model” and the “side-to-side, collaborative models” are not even a glimmer in most learning professionals’ eyes.

I’m not even sure that most CLO’s see this as part of their mandate yet, particularly since some of these concepts require thinking about the organization and expertise, not just as something within the company walls (whichever of these that are still standing), but outside as well, in the expertise and knowledge of partners, suppliers, customers, and even the public.  IT, Marketing, and Product organizations   however, are actively implementing these strategies and have much more experience in dealing with the “extended enterprise.”  All of this should scare the crap out of you if you are in learning.

IT departments are rolling out Sharepoint solutions in record numbers, effectively taking ownership of the infrastructure to support both emergent and collaboration learning models within the enterprise.  And if not Sharepoint, then solutions like ours — the Mzinga Social Learning Suite, a full end-to-end community, social media, and formal learning solution that addresses this whole triangle.

Externally, for both customer education and customer support, Marketing is leading the charge through peer-to-peer support models aimed at customers as well as customer communities.  Marketing and Product Development are also spearheading initiatives when it comes to emergent knowledge and learning from the public, and sometimes from partners and suppliers too.  Today, learning professionals are not at the front of any of this and in many cases, aren’t involved at all.

For a giant list of real-world social learning case studies, please see this new section of this blog.  In keeping with the model Harold and Jay articulated, I added two new pages dedicated specifically to Emergent and Collaborative case studies that are already in play at big companies.  The key takeaways though are that a) there are a boatload of stories already out there, and b) none of them have been driven by learning professionals.

This is also supported by some recent work by analysts in our space.  Just a few weeks back, David Mallon of Bersin & Associates wrote a blog post about how he’s getting asked about using Sharepoint as an LMS and whether LMS’s can be served up inside Sharepoint in a web services sort of model.  What happens when formal learning is subsumed into Sharepoint?  Guess who’s driving learning then…  (Hint, it’s not you.)

And last March, Carol Rozwell of Gartner did some research about social media adoption inside large organizations which revealed that a significant number of companies have already rolled out social media solutions as established practice.  Many more are well along the path of experimenting and prototyping.  See image below for a quick hit; there is more analysis and info of course in the full report.

Data from Carol Rozwell, Distibuished Gartner Analyst

Data from Carol Rozwell, Distibuished Gartner Analyst

How many learning professionals were involved in these initiatives?  Based on what I know from a number of sources, very, very few, if any.

So, the basic gist is this, Jay and Harold are exactly right in their post, but I worry that we are further along than maybe most of us realize.  This stuff is no longer cutting edge and many organizations already have established practices.  That said, I think there is still time for learning professionals to jump on this train.  And frankly, your organization needs you to.  We possess a unique set of skills that will be critical in this transition to user-generated content, expertise sharing, and collaboration.

Who else in the org understands “real” change management at the front-line worker level?  Who else understands how to distill and communicate specific expertise into broad understanding and clear learning objectives?  Who else understands the importance of communicating in multiple channels to best suit the majority of learners and drive performance?  This is our world.  We need to be at the table to advise IT and Marketing on strategy and design; we need to think about intersection points between emergent, formal, and collaborative models — how do they flow to one another?  how do we report on them so we can measure the effectiveness of our approaches?  how do we still meet compliance and regulatory measurement needs when we open things up?

These are big questions.  Given Mzinga’s combined focus on social learning and social media / community, we’ve obviously been thinking about these intersection points for awhile.  We can’t sell the concept alone though; we need learning professionals who really “get it” and who see the value in combining emergent, formal, and collaborative models into one seamless whole as Jay and Harold have pointed out.  This is exactly what we’ve built with our new Social Learning Suite.  We’re confident we’re going to change the industry – it’s the right solution at the right time.  What’s not clear is whether our partner in this will be the CLO, or the CTO / CMO.

Luckily, we have a ton of experience selling and providing some kick-ass solutions to all three of these buyers so, to some extent, it doesn’t matter much to us.  If we can’t sell the concept to the CLO, we’ll happily sell it to a CTO or CMO.  But selfishly, given my background in the learning space and my belief in the value of instructional design in this whole transition, I really want to see learning professionals owning this future.  I think it’s ours for the taking, provided we all get off our collective asses and get moving on it.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2009 8:31 pm

    In some ways it doesn’t matter if today’s learning professionals embrace the new model, because effective organizations will figure out what to do and who best to do it. Connecting & Communicating is what I have suggested is the main role for learning professionals. That’s what John Chambers is doing at Cisco and he’s getting a lot of other people to do it. Perhaps the question should be, what business are you in? If training is the answer, you may be out of a job, because that’s not enough.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      February 24, 2009 8:38 pm

      Great point. At the end of the day, what matters is that organizations see results whether they come from learning professionals or IT or Marketing folks is secondary. I do think though that instructional designers and trainers have a unique set of skills in terms of digesting and sharing complex bits of information, and it seems to me that this skill set will be increasingly important as we move toward user-generated content and peer-to-peer models. That’s partly why I think learning leaders need to step up. That skill set could be very valuable in this transition to more collaborative and emergent models. BTW, have I mentioned enough times yet how much I like your triangle? ; )

  2. February 25, 2009 4:31 pm

    Dave – good to see you are still “blogging big.” Seriously though, great post. On a small scale, we’ve started pushing social learning through our company using simple tools like Yammer and wikis but in a perfect world, we would love to adopt a social learning suite like Mzinga’s because that is truly the future.

    Rock on!

    Aaron | @aaronstrout

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      February 25, 2009 5:05 pm

      Thanks Aaron. I can’t seem to help myself on the “big” blogging thing… ; ) I know I haven’t been commenting much on your blog, but man you are still kicking ass and taking names. Love the webinars you’ve done and the on-going profiles of social media experts. It’s all really good stuff.

      On the Mzinga front, we actually just came up with a lower-end price point for a lighter-weight implementation of the learning stuff. Basically, we’re giving full community features, but more limited “LMS” features for scenarios like what you describe. We think that the new model for many companies will be lighter-weight formal learning models embedded inside much more robust social learning models so we’re doing our best to stay ahead of that.

      Keep up the awesome work on the blogging and overall social media front. You inspire me.

  3. February 25, 2009 7:51 pm

    You are too kind. 😉

    Very cool that you guys have come up with a light version of the social learning platform. I know we don’t have budget for it this year but maybe toward late fall we can chat.

  4. February 27, 2009 2:59 pm

    “We think that the new model for many companies will be lighter-weight formal learning models embedded inside much more robust social learning models so we’re doing our best to stay ahead of that.”

    Sounds interesting and would like to discuss this some more. My own area of interest is taking the theoretical and figuring out how to make it work in context.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      February 27, 2009 3:41 pm

      Hey Harold,

      I’d love to discuss anytime you’d like. I’ll hit you up on Twitter directly and maybe we can find a time to chat next week. Pretty much all I do “take the theoretical and make it work in context” so I think maybe we’ll have some fun discussing this. Ten years ago, we leveraged John Carroll’s work to built out a real world simulation tool (Firefly), and now we’re trying to do the same thing with some of the stuff you and Jay have been saying for years by applying it to our LMS solution and our Workplace Community solutions.

      I have to say though, it’s been a tough balancing act — companies are all over the map in their readiness for social learning models; we have had to account for the company culture that just wants to “dip a toe in the water” and the ones who are ready to dive in headfirst, plus all sorts of variation in between. So some of what we’ve done is about making WBT more social and enabling the capture of emergent knowledge and best practices at the point of learning, some is about socializing the top-down training within an LMS so people can network, discuss their learning, rate it, etc…, some is about collaboration outside of formal learning through free-standing discussions and expertise location, and some is about capturing emergent knowledge outside of learning through IdeaShare technologies. The basic gist is flexibility so companies can leverage the functionality that best fits where they are today while still having growth options for the future. We still have a lot more work to do, but we’re heading in the right directions I think.

      The other key challenge in this that many people haven’t considered yet are the business models for learning. As much as we are entrenched in specific kinds of learning models, we’re also entrenched in existing ways to fund and pay for them, and existing ways to charge for them. When learning acts like an internal “profit and loss” center, with charge backs for learners who take WBT courses or instructor-led classes, how do we fund and charge for social learning models? When we charge customers by the course, how do we charge for participation in the community? The answer seems obvious, but charging for membership or access to infrastructure requires a different buying mindset and selling pitch than charging for episodic purchase of courseware. Vendors may have this a bit easier because we already need to account for “named user,” “concurrent user,” and “transactional” models, but I think it’s going to be interesting to see how vendors “charge” for community, particularly when the learning is mainly done through community with “LMS-like” functionality as something of an assumed afterthought. Underlying this whole issue of new learning models and paradigms is the question of learning industry economics and how these should be adapted to fit these new models.

      Anyway, there’s clearly a lot to discuss here and more than I can rightly do justice in a comment… ; ) Let’s talk more in person.


  5. February 27, 2009 4:05 pm

    Yes, let’s chat. The business models for learning have interested me this past decade, as I personally experienced two failed business models and witnessed many others. We learn from our mistakes, don’t we? Whatever models work in the future, they will be emergent, not based on good or best practices. Ken Carroll’s language pod services are examples of emergent models for online learning.

  6. March 6, 2009 11:07 pm

    Very interesting blog post. This morning, I was utterly frustated that I could not convince my dissertation mentor (PhD) that the involvment of learning professionals in social media is a valid research topic. This post and the subsequent comments have reaffirm my belief that such research is needed. I know that people like Aaron exist!

  7. dwilkinsnh permalink*
    March 7, 2009 5:56 pm

    Hey Loretta. Thanks for the kind words.

    With all due respect to your mentor, he or she is obviously way off-base. We have an industry-leading LMS and by far, the biggest investments we’re making this year and next is in social media and social networking integration, including solution options that lead with social learning and minimize formal course ware. Every major competitor is moving in this same direction.

    Jay Cross and the US Dept of Labor, among others, have presented empirical evidence showing that the majority of learning in organizations is peer-to-peer, informal, and on-the-job. At the same time, big organizations like Best Buy, Cisco, Ace Hardware, EDR, and British Airways to name just a few are radically transforming their businesses to capture emergent best practices and the “wisdom of the crowd,” including not just employee crowds but customers and the public too. They are also empowering collaboration between employees and partners through discussion boards, blogs, wikis and file sharing. In less than five years, the best companies in the world will be doing the majority of their corporate, partner, and customer learning via social learning systems of some kind.

    Check out the Best Buy story under Prediction Markets on this page Emergent Learning. Maybe even share this story with your professor. This is what most organizations will look like in less than ten years, maybe less than five. Social media will be *the* hot topic in learning for the next few years and then will fade as it become accepted practice. Needless to say, you are spot on and your professor (as is true with too many folks in academia today) is out-of-touch with what’s happening in the corporate world.


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