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Monday, September 29, 2008

Learning 2.0 Strategy

Over the past two years, I've worked with start-ups and corporations around the world who are grappling a bit with the impact of Web 2.0 on learning. One of the more interesting aspects of this is that I've really changed and refined what I advise both audiences in terms of their learning 2.0 strategy. But, here's what I see in terms of a CLO perspective.

Seven Key Aspects of Learning 2.0 Strategy

1. Start Tactical and Bottom Up

The title of the post is horribly misleading. When I used to work with organizations on defining an eLearning Strategy, I always worked from a very broad view of needs across the organization and the implications that had on people, process and technology. I always felt this worked pretty well and we'd have a roadmap that covered a few years and provided the basis for moving forward. I initially attacked eLearning 2.0 and Learning 2.0 the same way. But, I'm not sure that really works. Instead, I've found that it's much more effective to look at individual opportunities and figure out what makes sense. You need to be prepared to apply learning 2.0 solutions. You need to be able to spot new kinds of opportunities that you might not have been involved in before (see Long Tail Learning).

In defense of the title - I still call it a Learning 2.0 Strategy because you have to be prepared to provide these new services and solutions. But, it's quite a bit different than the top-down kinds of approaches I've used in the past.

2. Avoid the Culture Question

Learning 2.0 implies some pretty significant changes in the way that organizations look at the role of a knowledge worker, management, the learning/training organization, boundaries of organizations, when you reach across boundaries, etc. The idea that workers/learners have largely become the instruments of learning and that learning is not controlled or controllable is something that causes all sorts of culture questions. I get asked at seminars all the time - "How can I change the culture?" Horrible question. There are some gurus who claim to be able to change culture. I don't feel I can do that - even in really small organizations. But I can change particular behaviors. I can provide tools and support. I can go in tactical and avoid the culture question.

3. Avoid Highly Regulated Content (and Lawyers)

If you are in pharmaceutical manufacturing, there are some procedures that are almost there more for legal reasons than for practical reasons. They establish exactly how you are supposed to manufacture everything. This is what's used for audits and lawsuits. A lot of the time, the way people actually learn how to work in this environment is through informal learning. However, you can't afford to have any of that written down (email, wiki, etc.) because it represents liability in a lawsuit. Likely, there is no way you are going to be able to fight this. I can argue until I'm blue that the reality is that there's a whole unwritten code of conduct that should get surfaced so you know what's really going on and can correct it. But the reality is that they want it that way and you can't change it.

However, this is the exception. Many people assume that their content falls into that same pattern. That's not true. If people are allowed to send thoughts in an email, then chances are your content is not that regulated.

4. Learning Professionals Must Lead

A big part of a learning 2.0 strategy needs to be getting learning professionals in the organization ready to Leading Learning and Help Them Acquire New Skills. The good news is that instructional designers and performance consultants have good analysis and delivery skills that are an important part of identifying and making tactical implementations happen. However, because of the ever shifting web 2.0 landscape, learning professionals need to become far more proficient in the tools and the related work and learning skills. They must be prepared to be thought and practice leaders. They must spot and support tactical implementations. This requires up-front support.

5. Prepare Workers for Learning 2.0

I was a bit surprised by the lack of preparation of workers for web 2.0 (learning 2.0) found in the recent eLearningGuild survey. Like preparing learning professionals to lead the charge, you need to be thinking about how you are going to help workers be successful when you use these approaches. We've complained for years that our internal clients thought that just giving someone a tool made them somehow competent in its use. Now, it's us giving them a tool. Don't assume competence. Help build competence. If you are going to be successful rolling out tactical solutions, you need to prepare the workers to be successful with the tools.

6. Technology is Tactical not Strategic

First, learning 2.0 uses Web 2.0 technologies, but it is really more about a shift in responsibility, a shift in tactics, a shift in skills. It really is not about the technology. That said, there is almost always some technology (Wiki, blog, RSS, etc.) that can enable it. But, keep in mind that you DO NOT START with a big technology selection process. Find tactical, simple, solutions that can be applied to the particular problem. If you try to choose tools through an elaborate selection process, you almost always end up dealing with a whole bunch of bigger picture questions that the CIO cares about, but that really are not going to help you.

7. Avoid the CIO

Find out what's already implemented in your organization either by IT or by some rogue group. Find out about tools that you can use as a service (without the CIO's permission being required). Go with one of those two out of the gate for your tactical solution. You can always move it later. But, you won't get started if you have to go through the CIO's office.

I'd be curious what you'd add to the list.


V Yonkers said...

Okay, I just can't let the comment about "avoid the culture question" pass by. The fact of the matter is the culture question is the elephant in the room. Everything about Web 2.0 is about culture if you define culture as patterns of collective behavior (See Cook and Yanow, 2001). I think I rephrase it, "avoid trying to change culture". In other words, situate learning 2.0 into the corporate culture. This can be done by looking at corporate patterns of behavior.

Tony Karrer said...

Great point Virginia. As I said - the question that I get asked is about "changing the culture" not how do you work within the culture. I do think that culture may slowly change based on adopting new forms of collaboration and leverage of networks and going outside the org for expertise. But, you are right, I mean work within the bounds of how things are defined today, but allow for tactical behavior change.

I'm not sure that I buy that culture is "patterns of collective behavior" - that's how it's shown - but often there's a lot of pressure to maintain those patterns which are not the behaviors themselves. Although, I guess you could say that's behavior as well. Again, this kind of rats nest and repeated failure (reengineering anyone?) is why you avoid it.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā kōrua Virginia and Tony!

I've been following this train of conversation a while now. I wonder if CoP and the studies of those may help here. The culture is like what so much of CoP seems to centre around.

Changing the culture is certainly a radical move. If it can be done, it may change other things you don't want changed. I can't help thinking you need to look at this aspect (maybe you have Tony) - I broached it before when I spoke to you of complexity systems;-)

You may be familiar with Nancy White's blog (I could not find it on either of your blog rolls). She has a series of posts on CoP. You may be interested to take a look at some of her ideas. Nancy works with Etienne Wenger, a veritable master of CoP.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Tony Karrer said...

Ken - I do subscribe to Nancy, but it's categorized in my Work Literacy stuff. And, that's a great point that CoPs are a lot about culture.

Okay, so maybe this is my ignorance - I feel like there's top-down, big culture change - and there's showing a small group how to do things in new ways - small behavior/culture change.

When I've talked about adoption of technology, it's always around perceived personal value and ease of adoption - I firmly believe that. Yes, there's an implied small culture change involved, but that's not how people look at it.

john castledine said...


Great list - I'd agree that IT (just like every other part of the business) will have a mix of early adopters/innovators and a more conservative population - and thus it should not be assumed that the CIO will be supportive.

Equally, developing senior leaders sponsorship is something I'd add to your list. If someone at board level is actively blogging, or keeping up with the latest news via RSS feeds etc this will accelerate uptake more broadly.

Hence (8) develop a stakeholder map, and target the activities of early adopters towards building visible support from business leaders.