Head of Learning Innovation, Huthwaite International | Senior Consultant, Learnworks Ltd
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Not just anti-social

9th May 2013
Head of Learning Innovation, Huthwaite International | Senior Consultant, Learnworks Ltd
Columnist
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I attended a webinar yesterday.  I decided to give the social revolution a chance and so signed up for Learning in the Connected Workplace hosted by the Learning and Performance Institute (the recording will be here shortly).

I anticipated that this would be an audience of the converted. Certainly there were many *waves* between chums across the backchannel.  Many of them continued well into the session – like naughty schoolboys chatting at the back of the class.  It seems for some, social is more important than learning. 

After only three minutes the presenters – Jane Hart and Harold Jarche – were thanked for running this great session. We’d only got to the agenda by this time.  Whatever followed wasn’t going to detract from the assessment.  This was great – regardless of the insights to be shared.

Research which clearly showed that traditional L&D approaches were not valued by those who had used them was described and then the four new skills needed by learners in this hyper-connected world were outlined. 

Except there was a problem here – they weren’t that new. 

Sure,  some new words were being used to describe the learning benefits of seeking, sensing and sharing, but the world of Personal Knowledge Management seemed an awful lot like constructivism – John Dewey’s work on this is around 100 years old, the soviet psychologist Vygotsky described children learning ‘naturally’ like this in the 1920’s and this has been followed up by Kolb and others since.  Lave and Wenger described something which sounded awfully similar as situated learning in the early 1990’s. 

This ‘novel’ approach to learning is upon us because of the ease of connectedness – ridiculously easy group forming – to coin the phrase.  It is unquestionable that the ease with which individuals collaborate and cooperate over time and distance is a recent phenomenon.  But maybe that ‘ease’ is the problem – if anyone can share their thoughts, where is the quality control, where is the authority?  Put simply, how does one filter the nonsense from the knowledge.

Apparently to make it all work we need to think again about the structures of our organisation – in fact we need to ‘invert the hierarchical pyramid’.  Daring and bold?  It was - when I first came across it in the 1980’s – the decade of empowerment (remember that?)  To be fair, Harold Jarche did reference empowerment and adopted a suitably apologetic tone while he did so.  I was still waiting for something new and ground breaking.

Well that’s where the second half of this webinar came in.  Attendance was free so I expected that at some point someone would try to sell me something – it seemed only fair.  What I wasn’t expecting was a qualification programme - the newly announced Diploma in Workplace Collaboration (see here for details.) This comprises a number of online workshops to gain accreditation. 

Now this seems somewhat unusual - rather like being met by a psychic who says “I wasn’t expecting to see you today”.  Yes, in order to grasp the social nettle, it is important that I attend a workshop.  I wasn’t the only one who saw the irony.   To be fair this disconnect was answered.  Harold Jarche was very clear that this is a way he can make a living out of his ideas.  In a case of ‘here are my principles, and if you don’t like them I have another set over here’ this had the tang of North American honesty about it and was all the more commendable for it.  The connected workplace might be the near future, but as with much else based on user generated content, until we find a way to monetise it, we’ll go back to running courses. 

There was a higher purpose of course.  The presenters outlined how people had to be ‘shown how to do this’. Now I may be being literal here, but isn’t that what training does?  Isn’t that what L&D teams across the world have been doing for years? Apparently not.  As Jane Hart told us clearly this wasn’t like traditional training “Where we deliver loads of content and then give you a quiz at the end”. 

Ah!  The truth is out.  This is all new and shiny if what you think goes on in training rooms the world over is ‘loads of content followed by a quiz’.  Now it is certainly the case that that might describe some of what happens in the name of training in organisations, but certainly not all. 

In any case, will the connected workplace revolution be joined by those who currently define training in those terms?  I doubt it.  In fact, the truth is that many, many organisations already seek to encourage self-managed learning, help their people make sense of things through constructivist environments, and share best practice through situated learning.  The internet – from twitter to blogs and collaborative platforms – provide more cooperative opportunities than once were available.  The people who help staff make sense of this are the Learning and Development team.  They are the people who are qualified to help people learn through myriad experiences and collaborative opportunities. 

Some of us call this – unfashionably – training.

Robin Hoyle's book - Complete Training: from recruitment to retirement - is avaialble now. For more details, click here.

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