Photo taken by Jay Cross, 5 November 2010
The Internet Time Alliance is running two major Workshops next week, one in Maastricht in the Netherlands, and one in London. As part of the introduction to the day, each of the 5 of us, is going to explain how, from very different backgrounds we have arrived at the same place in our belief that it is all about working smarter. Harold has written about his journey from ADDIE through HPT and Social Learning here: Getting to working smarter. Below I describe my journey from E-Learning to Social Business and what has influenced me along the way. (BTW this is a longer version than I will be providing at the workshops, but since I frequently get asked about my background and what I have done, I thought I would add a little colour as this might be of interest or use to some.)
My journey began in the 80s when I was teaching IT in a FE college. However, as I was just as interested in how the technology could be used for teaching and learning, I initiated, and got involved in, a number of CBT (computer based technology) projects. When in early 1990 I moved onto become a Senior Lecturer in IT at a university in London, I developed my interest further, particularly when after attending the first World Wide Web conference at CERN in Geneva in 1994, my husband introduced me to the Web. I could immediately see the potential for education, and as I eagerly surfed the early Web to find out about what is was all about, and taught myself to use HTML to write webpages, I developed a series of free online World Wide Web Workshops (WWWW) to share what I had learnt. (This was the beginnings of my whole practice of sharing my work with others)
I also set up the first WBT (web-based course) in my university to put into practice my thoughts about providing education online. Although I was brimming full of ideas of what could be done, I was amazed that others couldn't see the huge impact that the Web would have on our lives, and I remember how aghast I was when my then Head of Department said the Web was "all a load of hype". It was a salutory lesson that not everyone "gets it" straightaway, and something I have had to remind myself about many times since then!
In 1997, as the Web became more and more popular in the corporate sector, I decided to leave education to work in the Internet consultancy business that my husband had set up a few years earlier, where I would focus on helping corporates with the new world of online learning. I was very lucky that my first contract was based in the South of France, where I worked for the Training & Documentation department of a multinational telecommunications company. They were also inspired by the power and reach of the Web, so I wrote a business proposal to build an Online Learning Centre for the Global Help Desk, and then single-handedly specified the hardware and software requirements, installed the server, set up a very early Learning Management System, and began creating initial content for the site (activities, by the way, which it now seems to take an army of people to undertake!)
By 2000 I was back in the UK, and taking on another contract this time with Cisco Systems. They had set up an E-Learning Team in London to implement e-learning in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) region. Cisco was already producing some fabulous stuff for its own internal use, and I was convinced John Chambers was right when he said:
"E-Learning is the next killer app; it'll make email look like a rounding error."
But what really made an impact on me, was the definition of e-learning that Cisco used.
"E-learning is information, instruction, communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing."
This made absolute sense to me as I had by now realised, learning in the workplace, is much, much more than just receiving instruction. However, e-instruction is exactly where many corporates focused their attention, mainly in an attempt to save the costs of running face-to-face events, and in the process disregarded the "information, communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing" aspects of e-learning. So, when Jay Cross, who I had known since around 2001, asked me to take a look at the manuscript of his new book, Informal Learning, and provide him with my thoughts and comments I was honoured and delighted to do so. At last, I thought, organisations would now begin to realise that there was more to workplace learning than just taking courses.
For sure, there are many people who recognise the value of learning informally in an organisation, but there are still many others who don't "get it". It seems there are still some who come from a very traditional training background who still want to try and force-fit it in formal (course) structures, and manage it in their LMS! So there is still lots of work to be done helping them understand what informal learning is all about.
Meanwhile, whilst people have been discussing the merits of informal learning, we have seem the emergence of a whole new range of web tools, which have been variously named Web 2.0 or social media tools. As many of you know all too well, these tools are signifantly impacting all the different parts of our lives - personal, professional and organisational - as they allow us to co-create content, communicate, collaborate and share information in new ways. (Do you recognise those words!) For users of these tools, social media-ted learning (or social learning) provides the means for all of us, as individuals, to find out, discover and LEARN, by connecting with other individuals wherever they may be situated. I have remarked to many people that I believe that Social Learning is now what E-Learning SHOULD always have been:
"Information, Instruction, Communication, Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing"
Over the last few years I have worked with a number of organisations, large and small, to help them understand the value of social media for their business, and that not only that their use for working and learning is merging, but also that these tools provide them with effective ways to engage new and existing customers and clients. My own work has therefore expanded such that I now refer to myself as a Social Business Consultant.
Of course, social media and its role in the business is still in its infancy; much of it is happening at the grass-roots level and happening in a bottom-up way (where some organisations are not even aware of it). And course there are inevitably many people who "don't get it". Those who haven't personally experienced the power of "social" are calling it "hype" or "a fad", and some organisations are desperately trying to re-gain control by banning its use in their organisations or attempting to force-fit it into their traditional, formal structures and processes - usually unsuccessfully when it involves users who have seen the power that social media brings to them as individuals. So in many ways, we are having to start all over again to convince organisations that they need to understand and harness this second generation of the Web.
Fortunately, however, I have been lucky to work with organisations who do "get it", who don't see social media as a threat but as a huge opportunity for them to thrive as a social business, and for them to help their people to work smarter. I look forward to working with more businesses in 2011 who want to do the same.