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Monday, March 10, 2008

Learning Responsibility

The big question for March 2008 is - Scope of Learning Responsibility? Karl Kapp helped me pull this question together and it's been interesting to see the responses so far. I wanted to capture some thoughts as I've been reading these posts so far.

First, my earlier posts Corporate Learning Long Tail and Attention Crisis and Long Tail Learning - Size and Shape lay out that I believe the space in which Corporate Learning (and realistically all learning professionals) operates is changing such that unless they look at providing Long Tail Learning, they will be a continually smaller part of the overall information landscape.

So far the posts have generally suggested a fairly broad view of responsibility for learning professionals. They express that learning professionals have some responsibility for solutions that extend beyond formal learning - whatever you choose to call this: informal learning, peer learning, bottom-up learning, non-formal learning. As Jacob McNulty said in Scope it Out:
I feel that learning professionals should support learning. Period. Whatever form(s) of learning that are most beneficial to the workforce (as well as appropriate members of the value-chain) are the ones that should be pursued.
I like how Clark Quinn broke this down a bit in Scope of Responsibility. He points out that we have responsibility around:
  • Wide range of approaches (resources and job aids, portals, knowledge management, eCommunity, coaching, mentoring, informal learning, etc.), and
  • Promoting a culture of learning
  • Developing learners as learners (or as I would put it - building learning skills)
What's interesting is that there seems to be a disconnect from what is being said in these posts and the reality of what is going on out in various worlds, corporate, education, etc. Or is it just me? Is this happening all over the place and I don't see it? If these kinds of things fall into the responsibility of learning professionals, then why isn't this commonly understood and ACTED upon?

Likely a few different sources of this disconnect:
  • Rest of the world doesn't expect (or look to) learning professionals for anything other than formal learning interventions. When you offer something different, they tell you they just wanted a course.
  • Can you push bottom-up learning from an L&D organization?
  • What does this mean in practice?
These all hurt and I think that trying to address the last bullet helps the most. So, I naturally liked Karyn Romeis - The Big Question for March: Scope of Learning Responsibility suggestions:
I would suggest building solutions which include provision for user generated content. Features such as:
  • discussion forums and/or noticeboards
  • tip of the day/week/whatever
  • FAQs - manned by the champions and drawn from the discussion forums
  • jargon busters' corners (some form of wiki - although it sometimes doesn't to let the audience know that that's what it is!)
The content of these spaces is outside of the scope of the learning professional - although you might provide a starter for 10 to get the ball rolling, but providing the space for this interaction, actively promoting user ownership of the learning process and contribution to the learning content is part and parcel of the provider's responsibility.
Karyn's making a great point. We are used to being publishers and what makes this very challenging is to think of ourselves not as publishers, but as starters, infrastructure, aggregators, etc.


V Yonkers said...

The culture needs to change for our role to change. What you and Karyn are proposing strikes horror in the hearts of corporate management. Most want to be able to control WHAT is being learned as they feel that will align with the corporate culture. If there are ideas outside of the corporate culture, there may be demands for changes that do not align with the organization's vision. Once that happens, all the investment might go to a competitor.

One way to change our roles is to start with the corporate culture and goals and work within that framework. This is what we want our students to do, so we must model how this can be done in our negotiations with the organizations we work with/for.

Tony Karrer said...

Virginia - I'm not sure if you are saying to work within the culture (which you say is scared of this) or to work to change culture?

I do agree that we should model this!

V Yonkers said...

I guess what I am saying is that we should work within the confines of the culture to change the culture (rather than try to change from a position outside of the culture--i.e. we know better than you so you should do it our way will never work).

Anonymous said...

Jeff Cobb (Mission to Learn) and I have been talking about the need for us to be "digital curators," which fits in with what you're saying about being starters and building infrastructure. That feels more and more to me like where we'll need to be, because content isn't going to cut it. Things are changing too rapidly and "event learning" becomes very difficult in that kind of environment. I completely agree with Clark that we have to be building learning skills, starting with ourselves.

Anonymous said...

The concept of "digital curators" reminds me of the role of librarian. Coincidentally, through my blog readings, I believe librarians are having many of the same discussions that are taking place here.

Tony Karrer said...

Michele - Great comment. We are on the same page. By the way, I think Clark was referencing my comment about building learning skills ... so, of course, I agree. :)

Jade - yes, librarians are looking at this, but they take a different lens to it.

Anonymous said...

As I wander around Second Life looking for examples of corporate/organization learning, I've run into any number of librarians.

A few of them, especially newcomers, have seemed quite nervous about virtual worlds -- one said flatly that she wouldn't want to let her users (her words) be exposed to so anarchic and "dangerous" a place as SL.

Most librarians, though, are in a sense curators of information. Their expertise is in knowing structures and paths -- e.g., where can someone go to find out more about management theory or technology in Malaysia.

I do like Paul Saffo's statement, "Technology does not drive change. it is our collective response to the options and opportunities presented by technology that drives change." That relates to Karyn's comment about wikis: what matters to the organization is not the design of the tool but the results gained from applying it to problems that matter.

Tony Karrer said...

Great quote from Saffo.

V Yonkers said...

In New York state, educational media and technology has moved from the education departments to the library and information science departments. In fact, teachers are no longer certified as media specialists, this certification comes within library science.

One of the consequences, however, goes back to the question Tony posed to me a couple of blog postings ago. Educational media is seen as "information" and the "instruction" has been taken out of it.

Laura Jaffrey said...

In a time of cost-cutting and budget restraints, the issue ultimately leads to feasibility, measurable value and results. For this reason, our responsibility needs to expand to include the role of sales person. We may have the most innovative idea that will solve a learning problem, but if we can't sell it by making it clear how it will work and benefit the business (use cases come to mind), the proposal falls flat.

I find it easier to make a stand outside of a company, because I am not tied to a sole client for my paycheck. Sometimes this is a positive, and sometimes it's a negative. It all depends on who you are working with and how open they are to new ideas. I find clients want to hear about what is available and what options they have, and then they often have to sell that idea to someone else. Change is never easy and it depends on how much you believe in what you're selling and what you're willing to stake on that belief.

The challenges learning professionals are facing are similar to those currently experienced by IT (info tech) professionals. We can either sit quiet, do what we're told and let others, who know less about our area of expertise, make decisions for us, or we can become effective at selling the best solutions to match the business. IT is always at the risk of being marginalized as a commodity and questioned that they understand the true needs of the business. Similarly, IT is negatively viewed if they are more attached to the technology than the business. If we as learning professionals don't educate ourselves with how our role aligns with the business and how we can create learning that will help achieve specific business goals, we also risk being outsourced, marginalized and excluded from influencing key decisions related to learning.

My personal experience is that businesses are looking for answers, but they want someone to understand the problems they are facing and offer solutions that align with their goals. This requires a more holistic approach on the part of the learning professional. This is an area where a learning professional, who is not connected to a particular vendor or product, can offer insight and bring real value.

Speaking of value, thanks for your blog, Tony.

Tony Karrer said...

Laura - great comment. And our role as salesperson is a really good call!