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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Long Live?

Just got through reading - Long Live Instructor-Led Learning - by Saul Carliner, who is a person I know, like and respect. Wow, did he step in it on this one. Was his purpose link-bait by putting up something that is so horribly wrong as to cause us to want to respond? He had me scratching my head about Long Live what?

Long Live – is actually an important issue being raised through this discussion that I'll get to below…

Let me start with the fact that Saul and his article made no attempt to directly engage with any of the "bloggers" who he so quickly lumps together and dismisses. His article included citations with links, but included no links to the Learning Circuits Blog, nor to the post Workplace Learning in 10 Years that he discusses, nor to any of the individual responses several by well known and respect people from the industry.

Death of the Classroom?

You sometimes will run across posts or presentations that have the title – the Death of the Classroom. I'm guessing that Saul somehow assumed that this is what people were saying in their posts, but didn't actually read the 20+ individual posts when he said:

Nearly all of the contributors predicted the death of the classroom

For a person who is claiming to have done a better analysis and thus has a better prediction of the future he completely botched that.

Instead, what the common theme was that organizations will likely have reduced the amount of classroom and courseware times.

I would argue that today all classroom or courseware should be questioned. Can you reduce it by 50%? Can you make it 5 minutes long and just teach them how to use the rest of the resources? – Tony Karrer

Formal learning will still be going strong but somewhat de-emphasised. Clive Shepherd

we will continue to see ILT, eLearning courses (some of them page turners), and all the other stuff that we see today – Upside Learning

And the list goes on. There were a couple of outliers who predicting bigger change, but that "nearly all" "predicted … death" is flat out a gross misrepresentation.

To be fair to Saul, he points us to some important numbers from the ASTD State of the Industry Report:

Despite a steady climb in the availability of e-learning, the overall percentage of instructor-led training is nearly unchanged: 71.97 percent in 2003 and 70.58 percent in 2008 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). What has changed, though not as significantly as one might expect, is the percentage of instructor-led training offered online, rising from 2.92 percent of all training in 2003 to 6.39 percent in 2008.

This aligns with the eLearning Guild's numbers that I discussed last fall in Training Method Trends.

However, the question was not a current state question – it was a future question. Saul seems to believe that total instructor-led training (f2f and online) will remain essentially unchanged as an expenditure or hours.

I don't know that any of us has a perfect crystal ball. All we can look at is what's been happening and what the environmental forces are and try to predict what will happen in the future. Saul seems to think the future – 10 years from now – will be relatively the same. I believe that most of the voices you will see responding to the big question predict (for a variety of reasons) that time and expenditure on instructor-led classroom workplace learning will be lower in the future (again almost no one said dead, but many predicted lower). A few said relatively unchanged.

I do think it's worth diving into some of the specific posts and thinking about it yourself.

What do you think?

Informal Learning

After his questionable call on levels of instructor-led, classroom training in the future, Saul then tells us…

More flawed than the analysis of the numbers is the proposition that formal classroom learning will be replaced by informal learning, which will primarily occur online through blogs and social computing tools. Although it sounds exciting at first, and certainly appeals to the emotions, several practical issues—all of which are ignored by the contributors to the ASTD 2019 discussion—limit the likelihood that organizations would primarily rely on informal learning.

Hmmm …. don't organizations already primarily rely on informal learning? Is most of what we learn via formal learning or informal learning today?

But I think I understand what he is trying to say with this, but again it's his tone that gets in the way of actual discourse. The common theme in the responses via the ASTD blog are:

  • We are already seeing organizations look at how they can enable greater informal and social learning opportunities.
  • As compared to today, there will be greater emphasis on support for informal and social learning in the workplace.

So, it's a fair question – do we see a greater emphasis in the future for informal and social learning in workplace learning?

Oh, actually, that was the question being raised and soliciting input from various sources.

Blogs and Informal Learning Are Unreliable?

Probably the funniest aspect of Saul's post is when he tells us that informal learning is unreliable.

Another flaw is that informal learning can be inaccurate. In some cases, it's the learner's fault. Research on reading suggests that people tend to read inaccurately, especially online. So someone might interpret a point incorrectly, or mistakenly remember a fact. (As a result of this lack of credibility, people like President Obama don't rely on blogs [2]).

But sometimes the errors in content result from the publication of erroneous content or opinion that is not properly labeled. The potential for those is high in blogs, which many people cite as an excellent learning resource.

In her qualitative study of people who keep blogs on training and development topics, Kristina Schneider found that few of the bloggers differentiated between fact and opinion; nor did they verify the information they published; nor did the bloggers provide disclaimers about the nature of the content they published [3]. As a result, readers might believe the content they're reading is true when, in fact, there's also a chance that it's not.

This is first funny because he's writing an opinion piece himself that is not properly labeled. If anything it is completely mislabeled. eLearn Magazine suggests this is some kind of vetted "Feature Article". But I know that T+D would not have let this out as an article without series editing. It's an opinion piece with no human editor vetting some of the statements that clearly don't pass muster.

A few things from Schneider's thesis -

all 5 bloggers write in the first person and none of them write in an academic style … The bloggers write in a mainly business writing style which is direct and open to opinion-based comments

some blog posts are more editorial in fashion. However, there are rarely no statements such as “in my opinion” or “these are my own thoughts” to indicate what is opinion and what is fact.

None of the bloggers studied have PhDs, yet many want to be seen as, or perceived themselves to be, experts There is no data to validate or invalidate their expert status—the only thing that can be garnered from the interview is their own emic perspective; that is, what they say about themselves and the permission they give themselves to analyse and give their opinions about certain issues within their area of knowledge.

Though some participate in conferences, they speak more about their experiences holding conferences or speaking at them rather than about participating in them to learn. In these cases, then conferences serve marketing purposes first, not professional development purposes.

Should we give her a pass on PhD implies expert? Should I assume that this means that Saul himself goes to lots of workplace training and attends lots of conference sessions himself. Kristina doesn't realize that she's describing most of the consultants / authors who have been in the industry for 20+ years.

Saul should be a bit embarrassed citing this stuff without big time caveats around what the piece is and what it is really saying. Basically, she accurately describes blogging as not having the same quality control standards that a well-edited publication or professional journalist has. That's about it.

When you read the responses to the ASTD Learning Circuits Blog Big Question – these folks are all writing their responses in a blog. I would claim the labeling is actually much better than eLearn Magazine and particularly Saul's piece.

Yes, you should be suspicious of any content you find anywhere (including in a classroom). Oh and when it appears in a magazine and in a presentation at a conference. Did I mention that many of us bloggers are also people writing articles and doing presentations.

Do we really need to revisit this conversation?

How Do We Learn?

Saul later tells us …

Another flaw with informal learning is that people only learn it when they find it or stumble onto it, which might not occur when people actually need the material. In the case of getting to content when they need it, one of the problems with material on the Web is that people do not find it when they need it, or they find material that seems to be appropriate, even when it is not. They might not have assistance in verifying the selection or they might not seek it because they might not appreciate the need.

Saul is right that if you need to ensure that someone has learned something specific – like you need to ensure that they meet a compliance requirement, then formal learning of some form (like courseware) is probably a good bet.

What I don't quite get is how Saul proposes that formal learning can be used. The whole problem is Long Tail Learning. There is just way too much stuff that people need to learn that we have to make choices about what we spend our time publishing into formal learning events. The audience has to be large enough. As concept workers, we quickly go past formal learning opportunities. There's no course on what I do every day. And you cannot Separate Knowledge Work from Learning.

One option is to say that limit of training / workplace Learning Responsibility is formal learning. Once you go beyond formal learning, then there's an immediate question of what else you will provide. I know from Data Driven performance improvement solutions that often informal learning can be very effective in driving results. To me, the answer is pretty clear. You've got to look beyond formal.

Saul is right that it's sometimes hard to find the right information on the web when you need it. I would claim that we need to help people with their Search Skills. I would also claim that this is exactly why Network Learning is so important.

I just don't get what Saul thinks is the alternative here?

Similarly, informal learners might need the information, but can only learn when their time permits. Too often, however, the time set aside for learning is interrupted by something more immediate. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why the completion rates for tutorial-style e-learning are often disappointing.

I'm guessing that Saul wants us to learn absolutely everything via classroom instruction before we ever do anything? I know he doesn't mean this, but … I would claim that if anything, Saul is pointing out the importance of teach informal learning skills so that they can get the information when they need it.

Network Learning?

Next up for Saul is questioning the value of social networking tools for informal learning…

The contributors to the discussion also suggest that social networking tools (also known as Web 2.0) will play an important role in training. But that, too, might be an overstatement.

… even the experts admit that the numbers merely indicate the quantity of people who have access to these tools; the numbers do not indicate the quality of participation. For learning purposes, it's the latter that matters.

I had to check back. Yes, Saul is on LinkedIn and has 226 connections. And he's a first level connection for me.

Saul can you Network Learning and get back to me on the value of being able to reach into a network like LinkedIn to reach high quality individuals for help with specific needs.

Saul tells us …

No single social computing tool is likely to meet every organization's learning needs.

That's some pretty incredible insight. Did anyone suggest that there was a single answer or that any of this wasn't a terribly messy, complex problem? Further, I believe that this is highly personal. Different people will find different styles of use that are effective. But my point is always, that doesn't mean you can/should ignore them.

Long Live?

The real question that is behind the Big Question – Workplace Learning in Ten Years is where we should be putting our time and attention today. I had the opportunity to work with Stedman Graham and one of his favorite lines that I will paraphrase:

We are all equal in this world. We all have 24 hours. What makes us different is how we choose to spend it.

The problem I have with Saul's Long Live article (? or is it a blog post that was not edited ?) is that he's suggesting … what? He exhorts Long Live instructor led. Yes, go team go. You should double your bets on instructor-led training. Don't worry about reducing your spend on instructor-led for the next ten years. And ignore all that informal and social learning stuff. What? Long Live what?

He cites an example of a public foundation that is the primary source of funding for more than 300 nonprofits in a metro area. They use a blended classroom, social learning and performance support solution to helping them. When I think about the particular situation I realize that it would be important for whomever is defining the specifics of the approach to be very much aware of things beyond instructor led learning. For example …

There's a wonderful social learning solution that I believe would fit this situation very well from America Learns. As part of this solution, the normal kinds of reporting done by the individual nonprofits feeds into a knowledge base that then can be tapped by people in other nonprofits. It helps share effective patterns.

I'm sure that there's already a fair bit of informal and social learning that's occurring. I wonder if there's more that could be done to help them better share beyond the formal learning opportunities that Saul describes? My guess is that the answer is very much a yes. Or maybe even it would be that we should give them more classroom training on how to become better social learners. Or maybe it's more time networking. It could be a lot of different things.

And therein lies my main criticism with Saul's piece. He didn't help me understand what he believe is the important places we should spend our time. His main points seem to be:

  • Don't worry instructor-led training is okay (hence the title - Long Live Instructor-Led Learning)
  • Ignore social and informal learning. It has a lot of flaws.
  • Bloggers produce poor quality and misleading information.

Long Live what? If his point was only to say that people claiming the death of the classroom in 10 years are wrong … and that the classroom will still be around in ten years … then I agree. But it just seemed that his argument quickly left that and into a bunch of dubious statements.

I would claim that it's probably much more instructive to go look at some of the individual posts cited and make up your own mind. And I would still ask you to answer the core question:

Where will you spend your time?


Sean Kearney said...

Excellent points, Tony.

There is so much in this post, it's hard to know where to begin with a response.

For me, the unstated heart of the issues you address is the lack of goals and measurements that help determine which approach is better and under what circumstances.

Growing up around baseball, the person who points at a batter with a .400 batting average and yells, "That guy sucks!" is dismissed by most sane people as a nutcase.

In the world of "formal" corporate learning, the authority / expert / designer / trainer / SME has the final word with no requirement to back up their argument with anything but their credentials and "experience."

Those who advocate "informal" learning often argue that the learner is the ultimate judge of what is useful.

And yet, without batting averages and other measures relative to goals, both sides of the table are left with little more than "crossfire" opinions that require shouting, finger-pointing and other theatrics to compensate for weak rhetoric.

Steve Howard said...

re: Blogs are not reliable sources of information.

Yes I know they are not. That's why we have the power to read many b logs, and newspaper articles and books, and talk to friends and colleagues and network and [takes a breath] reach our own informed conclusions.

What's missing is not an understanding that every blog post has a giant, implied "IMHO" appended, but that it is required that every reader doing their own learning needs the skill to "search and sift".

By that I mean, few, if any of us, have ever been formally tutored in any form of critical thinking. So those of us who somehow have managed to figure out a way to read blogs etc critically did so through our own effort with little or no prompting.

We should teach and reinforce the need for critical thinking at every stage of learning. In "the olden days" when we could rely on the (supposed) accuracy of text books, this was largely unimportant. But now, more than ever before it is important for us to be teaching our learners how to understand what they read and how to appraise for themselves if the writer is a reliable, informed source, or a half-baked, self-styled expert in nothing.

But don't listen to me. I have no Phd so obviously I don't know what I'm talkiing about :-)

Tony Karrer said...

@Sean - good point and one of the things I'm grappling with are the intermediate measures of social learning. An MIT study showed that more connected teams were more productive, but I'm not sure that is believed. If we had good understanding of how fast learning got measured, I wonder if we could come up with things.

@Steve - you probably are a blogger as well so we doubly can't believe you. Oh, and you did not mark your comment with a IMHO ... :) ... Otherwise, I would say that's really good way to make the point that I was trying to make.

Steve Howard said...

Tony - darn it you caught me out.

Guess I better start studying for that PhD after all.


Mark said...

Wow. Awesome. Can't type much now, gathering ammo, not attending training and busy not having a PhD. This may be a comment but I have a feeling it may wind up being a post on my horribly unreliable blog.

gminks said...

This post is so apropos with what I have been grappling with. What has happened to the idea of developing what is needed for the audience and learning objectives? I'm sorry, but if my entire audience all of a sudden is not allowed to travel, and my travel is restricted, instructor-led no longer meets the needs of my audience. And I would bet the numbers for instructor led will be dramatically different this year.

This black and white thinking, on both sides of this discussion, is making me mental. We'll never get to the work of integrating the two unless people start seeing this as a process that needs to be worked! (Blog post forthcoming from me).

I so appreciate my social online network that helps recharge me, especially when I start feeling like I am the only one who sees things the way I do! Thanks Tony!!

William Chinda said...

Fantastic post.

They'll find any reason to dislike any new method that comes along, if for no other reason than the old ways are just too deeply ingrained. It's just easier to do the same old thing that we've always done rather than adapt.

Classroom learning shouldn't (and in all likelihood won't) ever die because there are some situations where it's the most effective and efficient. But the Long Tail Theory seems to point to a future where we will have to consider a multitude of different ways of accommodating different learners and different content.

The upsycho said...

There is, as Sean said, so much in this post, one hardly knows where to begin. But I will restrict myself to just one point. The assumption seems to be made that informal learning = social media.

This is not the case. Let me say emphaticially that informal learning has constituted the bulk of workplace learning for years. According to which research you read, something between 70%-85% of what people learn, they learn by asking the bloke at the next desk. Okay, he might not really be at the next desk. He might in fact be on the other end of the phone, working for the helpdesk. He might be your husband (who is often my first port of call when I have a software question). He might be an ex-colleague. He might work two floors down. He might be the author of a helpful article you read in a magazine.

And yes, he might be a she. I used 'he' in the generic sense for ease of expression.

This all qualifies as informal learning.

In fact, reading someone's doctoral thesis also constitutes informal learning if it isn't a prescribed part of an accredited programme you are following.

Informal simply means that the learner is in charge of what, when, how, how fast, how often, how much, by which route, etc. Formal means that someone else has made those decisions and the learner has to comply.

Sreya Dutta said...

Once again failed to make a link to your post. It just doesn't seem to work as I don't see the link coming up below the post.

Tony, your points are well taken, well debated. Thanks for writing it. Here's my 2-cents on Saul's post Long Live ILT? Whats the point here?


Jana Schiff said...

Thank you very much, Tony, for writing this post. In the interests of full disclosure, the following are my opinions, I do not have a PHD but I am also not a blogger (although I follow many bloggers with eager abandon).

Most of the comments to this blog have all made very valid points but I would like to say that I particularly agree with Steve and Karyn. I won’t reiterate what they have said since there is no need, they eloquently made their points.

I can’t let the PHD dog lie, however, although I won’t touch the sample size of five whole bloggers… Some of the most knowledgable, intelligent people I have ever learned from had no university degree, let alone a PHD, and some of the least informed and unintelligent people I have tried to learn from (and failed miserably) have.

If I were given the choice of relying on someone’s information who has 20+ years experience in the industry vs. someone with a PHD but no experience, I would have to go with the experience. I do, however, have good critical thinking skills so maybe that makes a difference.

Donald Clark said...

Karyn's comment that informal learning is "something between 70%-85% of what people learn" and "Informal simply means that the learner is in charge of what, when, how, how fast, how often, how much, by which route, etc." is not really true.

The studies generally make only two distinctions when discussing learning in the workplace: 1) formal learning is directed by learning professionals and 2) informal learning is basically everything else.

Informal learning (at least in the studies) is composed of what the learner themselves choose to learn and the learning that is directed by their managers or an experienced coworker. Thus we basically have three types of learning:
1. Formal is structured by trainers, instructors, etc. and accounts for 15-30% of what people learn.

2. Non-Formal is structured by managers or coworkers and accounts for the part of the remaining 70%-85%.

3. Informal is structured by the learners themselves and is also included in the remaining 70%-85%.

I think it is an important point when discussing the point that a large amount of learning is informal especially when informal learning is now being compared to free-range chickens -- they choose what they what to eat, how they want eat, where they want to eat it, and how much they want to eat.

As a side-note, this oft used metaphor of informal learning being healthy free-range chickens might not be all its cracked up to be. Studies are now showing that free-ranging hens often have more bacterial infections, more parasites, and more viruses, in addition to also being more likely to become victims of violent pecking and cannibalistic attacks.

In light of this we might want to find a better metaphor and definition ;-)

Tony Karrer said...

Donald - I really wonder about these percentage numbers when we are talking about knowledge workers / concept workers where knowledge work and learning is not really separate. Formal training accounts for maybe 40 hours per year? Likely LESS for concept workers. Thus, how can we arrive at any kind of percentage for them?

There are some types of knowledge workers where I can believe these percentages, but not for concept workers.

Donald Clark said...

Hi Tony,
From some of the research I have seen is that these knowledge/concept workers demand even a higher number of hours of formal training than the typical 40 hours because they see the importance of it. In addition are these workers just wandering around the workplace saying "oh, I'm going to learn this, but stay away from that" or are they in many cases being directed to what they need to learn?

Also, is the percentage of "concept workers" now so high that it minimizes the impact of learning percentages of the other workers? The last I saw was that the term "knowledge worker" normally meant those with a college education and they made up about 28% of the workforce. We could also argue that there are those that made it to this level without a college degree, but on the other hand there are those whose college education made little difference and are not really knowledge workers. Thus it would seem that the 28% is roughly correct.

Of this roughly 28%, who are the concept workers? Danial Pink did not write that we are a nation of concept workers but rather we need to become a nation of concept workers, thus I'm guessing it is only a small percentage. And how much help do they need from us? In a Harvard Business School article the authors note that too much data, in addition to relying on information from others (social learning) may actually harm rather than help them -- its makes concept workers less creative. There seems to be a point in which we need to actually shut them off from the rest of the world.

Even Douglas Bowman, a high-ranking Google designer resigned over his frustration with the company's data/knowledge-above-all mantra. And on the other end of the scale we know that if we target informal learning processes at those that are too unexperienced then we loose them because they need more structured means of learning.

Thus we are presently left in the conundrum of the percentage we should actually be targeting these type of efforts at.

Paul Angileri said...

While I've only waded through some of the hubbub, Saul's article does seem to make an assumption that "bloggers" are predicting a total transformation. I don't think anyone - certainly not here - would make such a haughty claim. I don't seem classroom-based learning going away at all. It will pretty much always be around in one form or another.

What I think would help everyone though is for each side to acknowledge the other. This little dust-up seems to be very akin to the one that the Washington media and political bloggers continue to go through, that being that the traditional side sees no point or value in the blogging side, and vice versa. Once everyone comes to the table, black-n-white distinctions start to turn gray, and everyone understands a bit better. Not singling anyone out, but the anti-blogger stuff is getting a bit tiresome.

John said...

I think the issue behind the lack of acceptance of informal learning and collaborative learning is "control". If the training department and its IDers and such can't control informal learning and collaboration, then its clearly "not as good" as professionally-developed learning.

Yes, formally designed learning is necessary for compliance, etc., but if learners learn to evaluate informal sources, those informal sources can be very, very valuable.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tony!

I see I'm late getting here again - no matter. He who laughs last lasts longest :)

I am bound to agree with Schneider, if purely from the observational point of view, though I don't necessarily see the relevance of making the point that the bloggers didn't state, "in my opinion" etc. So what? This assumes that anything put in authoritative academic language, which was what Schneider seemed to be looking for, is anything but someone's opinion. Of course, it's the opinion of the writer. You don't need PhD to work that out.

10 Years Won't Change Much

I agree with Saul in that things will be little different in 10 years time - sorry. All my predictions and future hopes echo these sentiments, and for good reason. The rate of actual change over the past 10 years has been remarkably slow if there's been change at all. Technology has advanced. Yes. Thinking has not.

In fact, I'd say that a lot of what's associated with that has gone round in wee circles - just take a look at where we went with RLOs over the past 10 years, just to mention one technology that should have brought fruit. A big round O.

In my opinion knowledge management is scribing a similar orbit - notice the lower case at K and M.

Advocacy For Change

Tony, I hate to say this, but I've learnt a lot recently that confirms that there are a lot of enthusiasts for change - and energy with them - but they are mainly pie-in-the-sky thinkers. They feel that humans evolve (or should evolve) at a rate commensurate with the development of technology.


I think that even Darwin would be inclined to admit that evolution does not happen just like that - not even over the time since he was alive, and that's a good few generations.

Human behaviour doesn't change measurably either, perhaps for the same reasons.

The Classroom

I don't think the classroom is about to die. And this is where I draw on my teaching experience and a bit of Darwin.

I suspect that the ancient 'class' consisted of a skilled hunter and a few, maybe two or three, siblings. I don't think that there is any system to beat that one, purely from an evolutionary point of view. In my opinion, the natural instinct of humans to lionise a leader and to follow, is a genetic one - in the same way as this same behaviour is genetic in lower animals (geese, ducks, fish, sheep, etc.)

We learn from leaders, not because they know so much, but because we recognise them as leaders (rightly or wrongly). Hitler was such a leader - wrongly.

Our present day soothsayers want to believe (do believe) that the classroom will expire.

I don't, and it's my opinion that it will not happen in 20 years, nor perhaps even in 50 years.

Getting rid of the classroom today is as likely as getting rid of the printed book.

You read Long Live Instructor-Led Learning from a Kindle?

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Anonymous said...

So many people have expressed their views on this blog. That shows how in the free and democratic system one can't get fixed on ideas , no matter who one is! What is important is that our thoughts need to be objective. There can be opinions but then system of collective views/responses by diversified set of intelligent people automatically separate honest opinion from vested opinion. New world order, which allows and facilitates dynamic and free exchange of information can't sustain people who still want to influence others with their charismatic aura or intellectual prowess alone. Academic prowess should win over through merits in functioning rather than in showcasing academic qualification (Ref to number of Phd bloggers). Earning a degree is a personal achievement and a personal historic event- congrats for your historic achievements, what next?. It can certainly make one a member of select club but can't stop others from their positive contribution in this new and very fair new world order.
Can we say that the new world order (refer to phenomenon which of free information exchange which includes informal learning in this context) will increasingly diminish the distinction between privileged (anyone having certain inherited or historic advantaged such a Phd) and under privileged?

Tony as an active participant of this new world order came up with objective expression and so many of us resonated- a collective judgment is clear . I honor the level of respect maintained while responding to objectionable viewpoint. I will assume this can be good example (template) for taking-up issues on blogs- objectively and respectfully whenever we smell a vested interest.