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Monday, October 20, 2008

New Work and New Work Skills

My recent Survey - Do You Know What These Are? really was all about new work skills - skills we should be learning. Actually, it's also about the fact that there's not really new work as much as there is new work skills. More on this below. I showed these two pictures:

and asked survey takers to answer the following questions:
1) What's your age
* Under 18
* 18 - 26
* 27 - 42
* 43+

2) What is in picture 1
# Not sure
# Know the name of this
# Know how it's organized
# Have used it

3) What is in picture 2
# Not sure
# Know it's name
# Know how it's used
# Have used one

The results are no surprise and were fully anticipated with comments such as:
I haven't used either for several years now.

I don't think I've used one of those since I was at college for the first go-round (80-82)!

I'm under 25 and have used both... assuming by "used" you mean converting the first into shelving for my CDs.

Who still uses CD's? ;)
While I would not claim the survey is scientific, I think the results were quite predictable. I received over 350 responses with only 16 being people under 18 and 48 from people age 18-26.

For the Card Catalog - the percentage of people saying they were "not sure" -
  • Under 18 – 71%
  • 18 – 26 – 12%
  • 27 – 42 – 3.5%
  • 43+ - 2%
For the Microfiche Reader - the percentage of people saying they were "not sure" -
  • Under 18 – 44%
  • 18 – 26 – 30%
  • 27 – 42 – 7%
  • 43+ - 4%
Note: 43+ Baby Boomer (or older), 27-42 - Gen X, Under 27 - Millennial (Gen Y).

I'm actually think that many of the under 27 people who said they knew what it was - thought it was an old computer.

Work Skills Changing

Most of us who used to use these things know somewhat know that they really aren't in use anymore. When I did a presentation in Cincinnati, someone in the audience was from OCLC. He told me that they used to ship truck loads of cards to libraries every day. Now, they can print them using one laser printer. It was quite a while ago when libraries began to put signs on card catalogs telling patrons that they are no longer updating them.

We all know this right?

But are we thinking about the implications?

In presentations, I often will cite this as an example of the kinds of changes in work skills that have occurred and are constantly occurring. A big part of education is learning how to do research and really that's where you learn the foundations of knowledge work.

If you attended college and used a card catalog and microfiche reader, then you very likely were basically taught how to operate when it was hard to find information. Finding content was the biggest challenge. If you were assigned a paper and could choose among some specific topics, you often chose the topic based on what you could find information on. I remember often changing topics when I couldn't find enough detail on it in the library.

Do you remember that feeling of euphoria when you found some content?

For me, this makes me think of my senior year of college. I was part of a team that was working on building a computer player for the game of Othello. Because it was a competition (each team's algorithm would play at the end of the year), I wanted to make sure that my algorithm was really good. I happened to be going on a trip to Washington DC to some kind of meeting for Tau Beta Pi (the engineering honor society). On that trip, while other engineers were over at the Smithsonian, I visited the Library of Congress and found this incredible book that had some great descriptions of strategies to win in Othello.

By the way, while this story may implicate me as a complete and total nerd on several levels, I must say in my defense that I also was part of a small group that managed to get help from a local fraternity to fill a bathtub full of beer to share with my fellow engineers as well as was able to get to Georgetown for Halloween.

Still, the point here is that many of us were taught how scarce and precious information was.

Contrast this with a A Fourth Grader Wikipedia Update. My kids face the problem of having too much information and having to learn how to filter.

And, it's not just access to information that's changed. You were also taught or learned:
  • Taking notes on paper
  • Optimizing use of the library copy machine (actually I believe we called it a Xerox machine at the time) to make copies of pages of books that you would take with you. This cost significant dollars and time. So you definitely figured out what worked here.
and many other things that were artifacts of the time.

Think about how much has changed:
  • PC
  • Laptop
  • PDA
  • Cell Phone
  • Wireless
  • 3G
  • Access to Trillions of Pages of content
  • Access to Millions (Billions) of People
  • Access to Tens of Thousands of Information Services

Are Our Work Skills Keeping Up?

Most people I know have not participated in formal learning since college on foundational knowledge work skills. That's really the last time that someone (a teacher) taught you how to do these things. But, if you learned using card catalogs, microfiche readers, Xerox machines, libraries, etc. then what has taught you new skills?
and the list goes on.

Of course, if you are reading this post (and it's still roughly Oct/Nov 2008), then likely you are a bit ahead of the average knowledge worker. So, maybe you are okay? Well consider the following:
  • I effectively use the Google filetype operator?
  • I know what does the Google "~" operator does?
  • I'm effective at reaching out to get help from people I don't already know
  • I'm good at keeping, organizing my documents, web pages that I've encountered in ways that allow me to find it again when I need it and remind me that it exists when I'm not sure what I'm looking for.
  • I'm good at filtering information.
  • I'm good at collaboratively working with virtual work teams and use Google Docs or a Wiki as appropriate in these situations
My strong belief is that the foundations of knowledge work are changing fairly quickly and most of us learn completely through ad hoc mechanisms that are not likely to yield good coverage. If you could have an expert look over your shoulder at how you do things on a day-to-day basis, you likely could find many improvements. Virtually every one of us would be somewhat embarrassed to have that expert sitting there because we know (in our guts) that we could stand to do things better.

But most of us are not going to have that expert come in to help us. So, instead we are left to our own devices to learn these things. And because this information is horribly scattered and because it's hard to keep up with the pace of change -
Every knowledge worker could use help to improve their foundational knowledge work skills.
Part of the reason that this new work has snuck up on us is that much appears the same. I discussed this back in Have Work and Learning Changed or the Way We Do Work and Learning? My conclusion out of those discussions is that there's not really new work. However, the environment is quite different and this is the reason that these changes have somewhat snuck up on us.

All of this is the foundation of our work on Work Literacy.

I look forward to your thoughts.


John said...

* I'm good at keeping, organizing my documents, web pages that I've encountered in ways that allow me to find it again when I need it and remind me that it exists when I'm not sure what I'm looking for.

The latter is pretty tough to do right. Sure its the holy grail of knowledge management, but current attempts seem to be quite primitive.

* I'm good at collaboratively working with virtual work teams and use Google Docs or a Wiki as appropriate in these situations

These two are pretty different. Wikis have been around a while compared to, say, Google Docs and are far more mature.

Google Docs and groove are great ideas, but they seem to be far from "great". I think the designs need to better consider the issues of synchronous vs. asynchronous collaboration.

Tony Karrer said...

John - thanks for jumping in.

You are right that mechanisms for refinding and reminding are primitive.

That said, many people are operating without knowing about Google History/search or other such mechanisms. They also are not using tagging methods for reminding. Yes, these are primitive and I'm sure we'll consider these the card catalog of the future. But for now, they are so much better than - well what's the alternative again?

Agree that you use Wikis and Google Docs quite differently and with very different purposes normally. Google Docs are often a nice (but yes crude) entry point for this kind of collaboration. And, until the Doc portion gets automatic notification, I tend to use Spreadsheets more. Once you've used it to track project progress - and have gone through a virtual meeting with people updating status real-time, it's hard to imagine doing this any other way.

All that said - one warning about this stuff is that it's highly personal and some people will get higher value from one thing vs. another. I only complain about ignorance of the option, not about people saying - that doesn't work for me because. So, if you say, Google docs don't work because the result needs to be formatted into a Word doc or web page and having to reformat takes too much work - I would completely agree with you.

I'm really hoping other people are going to chime in on this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I'm abashed to say I don't know all the answers to your work skills test... (perhaps because I do know what a card catalog and fiche reader are). I wholeheartedly agree we need to consider helping learners (of all ages) to develop these skills. That, more than learning to use all the web 2.0 tools, may be the best contribution we can make to promote learning 2.0. People under a lot of work stress not only don't have time to use the cool tools, they don't have time to learn how to use them efficiently and effectively.

Tony Karrer said...

Cathy - great point about lack of time to learn new methods and tools.

I do wonder sometimes about things like "cool tools" - and where things cross the threshold from cool tool to mainstream. Most of what we discuss at work literacy are things that I consider mainstream and the early majority is what we consider our audience.

Certainly Google search skills and associated issues of evaluating quality has crossed into mainstream. I would think taping into expertise online has as well. As has better techniques for keeping/organizing.

Anonymous said...

You're right that growing our professional skills today depends on our ability to capture and retrieve the key snippets of information as they fly by.

I've been using Microsoft OneNote for a few years to capture and organize every type of content. OneNote also has automatic OCR of images for searching, real-time collaboration, and integration with Outlook tasks.

While it's great for personal note taking, OneNote is also catching on with some educators as well.

As information/knowledge management tools like this keep improving we'll be better able to cope with the fire hose of information today. We just need to keep improving our skill in using them.

Tony Karrer said...

Cliff - that's a great comment. I've not quite figured out how I want to take notes. I still use notepad or Word and heavily rely on desktop search and putting the right words in the document.

When I looked at OneNote a while ago, I was worried that it wouldn't work as well because of my reliance on desktop search. Clearly it works for you. I may want to try it again.

John said...

Thanks for the comment Tony. You referred to tagging. I have not been successful with tagging. I find it slow, hard to remember what tags I've used (without a big dictionary), and pages seem to go away and I don't know of any tagging that works with the wayback machine. I'm starting to use Evernote to see if that helps. Any thoughts?

Tony Karrer said...

John - that's an interesting comment. I probably am not the best tagger out there. Instead I use tags:

- Like I've used folders on my bookmarks - to categorize content. I don't have a lot of those categories. And, yes, they can get messy when the category is a one off.

- In addition to the subject categories, I will use projects as tags.

- As a method to notify others. For example, wlning was used to send links to other people in that group.

- To remind myself, such as tags blogthis, readthis, etc. Warning - readthis didn't work for me. I just dumped everything in it. But I will tag things with projects.

I'm still waiting for delicious to put cache a copy and full-text search as a core part of their system. You can get full-text search over your links, but it's not nearly as easy as it should be. (I cheat a bit here.) But with full-text search, then you get a bit more in terms of ability to refind if you can't seem to find it via tags.

BTW, I typically am using tags more to remind than refind. I want it to list things out that fit into a project or category or action. I'll see things then that I forgot that I had seen before. If I know what I'm going for, then I most often search.

I should put some of this down in a post on Work Literacy and get others to contribute to it, because I'm sure I'm not that great at it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony.

Another great post. When I saw the title, "New Work, New Work Skills" I had to think a bit about whether or not the work itself has changed or is it the context? As I read further, I see we're aligned with about the effects context and work environment.

Your post got me thinking along tangents,too, about preparing tomorrow's workforce as the information environment continues to change. Specifically, if our institutions are addressing these in current syllabi and whether or not corporate IDs have a larger role to play. I posted about it on another blog, I'll link it below.

BTW, like you and another commenter (John?), I too struggle with notetaking. Have tried Mindjet's Mindmap. That seemed to work okay for a time but somehow still seemed too much. Like John, I'm now trying Evernote which may hold some promise. It syncs to a central server and can allow me to access notes from other computers (mac, pc and iPhone).

Again, great post. Thanks for the insight.

Anonymous said...

(Continuation of Mel's comment above.) Hmmm...The "Create Link" action below seems to be forcing me to create a blogger account rather than simply entering a URL. So, let me just attached the link here:

V Yonkers said...

I agree that times have changed just over the last 18 years since I began teaching. My first international marketing course was based on teaching students how to make decisions using incomplete information, and today it is based on teaching students how to make decisions with too much (and often irrelevant or unreliable) information.

I have previously written about the needs of different categories of workers depending on their jobs and level of job and technology experience. I think we have to be careful that worker needs are targeted for the type of work they do. For example, it is not really necessary that I know anything more than the basic html code (to embed links for example into my blog), but this might not be true for someone designing interactive webs for sales. Likewise, I can get away from using twitter or IM, but not if I had a job that needed to communicate with students or clients on an as needed basis.

I think what is more important is to teach workers how to find, analyze, and implement new tools that meet that worker's needs as they develop. If my clients demand more immediate attention, I need to find a tool that will fit my work environment (e.g. security, collaboration, support, organizational culture) while at the same time satisfy my clients. This might be skype in some instances or a wiki or online forum in other cases.

Tony Karrer said...

Virginia - I completely agree that there are large portions of this that needs to be specific to the person, job, etc. I do think there is some base knowledge that will emerge.

Anonymous said...

i think the latter is pretty tough to do right. Sure its the holy grail of knowledge management, but current attempts seem to be quite primitive.