Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Social NetLearning - PCC: People, Context, Content

I'm not quite sure why there is so much angst within the eLearning community regarding terms.  You know the ones I mean: eLearning, mLearning, TWearning (Twitter learning), and my personal favorite - bLearning.  For those of you that missed that blog post, that would be "b" for Blog Learning...or Brent Learning in my case, maybe not yours ;-)

Over the years I've come to the very simple conclusion that learning, training, and education are all very different things.  Yea, yea, I know they are certainly related and bla, bla, bla.  What I mean is that you use all 3 TERMS in very different situations.  Education for schools, training for corp/gov work (and pets), and learning for individuals.

Here is a good example of a battle you should stop fighting:  Training Departments taking responsibility for Learning within Corporations.  Give it up folks.  Making employees learn, without their full and complete cooperation, is NOT possible.  So give up the dream that you are all about "creating learning".  Try it!  You'll find it quite liberating.

After letting go of the lie of learning creation, you are now freed to actually DO something productive for your organization.  Yes, in fact, there is still work to be done even if you don't "create learning".  Remember your instructional systems design certificate course, or masters program that taught you about ADDIE.  The "A" is probably the most important and least used in that system.  Analysis of your People, the Context of their work, and the Content they seek/create, is the most important job to be done.

Most of a Training Developers work starts with the content.  "We need to create a course ABOUT X,Y,Z".  Then you scurry off with your team and do an "analysis" of who is impacted by X,Y,Z and you interview a few of them.  Then you are assigned a "content expert"...ONE, maybe TWO if you're lucky.  And you know the drill from there.  Instead of starting with content you should start with your people and the content will come.

Training is, and has always been, a support function (cost center), yet we operate training departments like little programming houses, or manufacturing units cranking out the eLearning widget of the day.  Shouldn't we be thinking of a support function as SUPPORTING the people that DO the work that makes money for the company?  After all, without THEM the company dies.  No training department?  No problem.  Company still lives. 

People are responsible for their own learning, period!  And people are more connected than ever with access to more people, and content than ever before.  People are empowered to get the answers they need better, faster, and cheaper than waiting for the next opportunity to take a training class.  The paradigm is changing and our internal customers are now in control.  Much like how you as a consumer are empowered to compare products, and purchase online without ever leaving your comfy chair.  Your trainees will no longer put up with being bored for a day...even if they do get to leave the grind for a while.

The context of an employees job defines what he/she needs in order to be successful.  This includes what software to learn, what device is used to learn, and how much time is available to learn, amongst other things.  Your job as instructional designer is more like that of an anthropologist.  By studying the context of an employee's world around him/her, you begin to see where new applications can unobtrusively fit into the existing environment.  You will also discover the content that should be delivered and even gain insight into how often that content should be delivered and in what format. 

With all of the conversations around formal v. informal learning, and classroom v. eLearning we've done nothing but create confusion and frustration amongst ourselves.  The truth is that I can't see ANY method or model that so bad, and useless that it should be completely eliminated.  Getting together with a group of people in a room with a leader/teacher will always happen...ALWAYS!  We will also learn something new through informal means...even in a 140 characters or less.  ALL of the new technologies are offering us new ways to connect people, and deliver content into the right context.  And it doesn't matter what you call them or what they call themselves.

Learning is never about the technology...its about the people.  Instead of cranking out the content, try focusing on your people, context, and content.  Let me know how it goes. 

You can talk to me more about this at...


Anonymous said...

Brent - Thanks for writing this. I totally know where you are coming from and am right there with you.

Trainers, instructional designers and (e)Learning professionals need to stop being "order takers" and start supporting the organization by improving performance, whatever it takes.

Nice reference to anthropologist...can we coin a new term "Learn-thropologist"...although I guess it isn't catchy ;-)

Unknown said...

Great post, Brent. Translated it into Chinese.

My husband (an IT guy) recently had trouble with setting metrics for one of his team,composed of IT guys but focusing an area my husband is not an expert. My question is whether a learning pro (even with expertise on IT issue) can REALLY know the context of an employees job.

bschlenker said...

Hi TrainingInn!
Thanks for translating and asking a great question. The short answer is, yes. But of course it can be more complicated than that. I would need to know more about what your husband is trying to do. Not sure about the connection between understanding context and setting metrics.

Unknown said...

Brant, let my husband work himself out:) A simpler question, what skills should I (non-IT) need to understand the context of an IT guy's job?