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The Triumph of Hype Over Experience

1st May 2012
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Otherwise engaged I couldn’t attend HRD12 in person but decided – by way of an experiment – to follow it on twitter.

It was tricky and if I’m absolutely honest without the drive of the experiment I would have given up.
A lot of tweets at #HRD12 were exhibitors trying to entice those who were already there to visit their stands or people being so last millennium, wanting to meet up for coffee. No problem with that, but trying to be remotely rather than face to face social, finding out what was actually being said and demonstrated was tortuous.
When found, there was an issue with partiality. The L&D twittersphere was much exercised by social media and its use. In fact, one could easily have thought that the whole conference was about social media. Twitter with its 140 character limit gives only the bare bones of each pressie  and that passed through the filter of the tweeter’s interests.  And yes I did my reading across a number of tweeters, but for all, the fact they were using social media was the main point. McLuhan was right: The medium really is the message.
I would follow someone who seemed to be tweeting useful stuff and then it turns out they have thumbs that move faster than Usain Bolt being chased by a hungry Cheetah and it is imperative that their followers must know that a) they have had a pitstop at a service station; b) the trains are delayed or c) if they remembered to pack an umbrella. Usually they didn’t, btw. TBH Digital diarrhoea (TM/©) is the new enemy, people.
Wave two of twitter’s focus on HRD12 saw a little more substance as tweets included links to published articles or other resources. These took some hunting down though, because while some informative articles were tweeted, not all carried the HRD12 hashtag. The lonely twit was left to do a fair amount of detective work.
The big social media story was how the wonder of twitter et al will replace e-learning. Ah, at last, the triumph of hype over experience. E-Learning – you may recall is any kind of learning done using a computer or hand held device as a support for capability improvement. Y’know – like trying to attend a conference via Twitter (or am I missing something?). 
We've been here before. Remember that e-learning was going to replace the classroom? And just what is it that they want to replace? After a quick dig around the more detailed blogs it became clear where the problem lies. The people heralding the death of the medium haven’t used it well enough. The e-learning being slagged off by the socialites was described as static, click and go – it all sounded like something produced maybe ten or fifteen years ago. This negative perception of e-learning bears no resemblance to the very best now being produced. Many fellow learning designers know you need to spend a significant amount of time working with those on the front line to help them to articulate what it is they do and capture best practice – serving it up in easily digestible chunks making best use of all multi-media options. Does that sound familiar?
One presenter apparently said: “I recently became a mother and I used my mobile phone apps to learn ‘how to be a mother’. I didn’t ask experts, I asked other people in the same situation as me for their experiences via social media.” So that’s OK then – no health professional was involved in this process, no midwives, no doctors. No books consulted? Nothing learned from the extended apprenticeship in parenting commonly known as childhood? Really? All done by social media? 
I set aside my doubts, but is this even relevant to workplace learning? Is it seriously being argued that the level of focus and motivation to address child rearing issues for a new parent is similar to those learning about how to handle customer complaints in a contact centre, for example?

 “Informal Learning is only part of the solution” says Jay Cross, informal learning’s chief cheerleader.  See here.

I couldn’t agree more, but as usual we are asked to throw out existing practice rather than complement it.

And let me leave you with one thought. That comment about parenting was included in an article tweeted to me on 25th April. I didn’t bookmark the article at the time, and it has just taken me two hours of searching around twitter to find it. Now I might not be the smartest with all these new-fangled interweb tools, but I think I’m probably as good if not better than average. HRD12 mentioned L&Ds new role of curator, helping direct people to the socially generated content they might need. Unfortunately,   I don’t have the much trumpeted curator to help serve it all up to me.

 If I did it might be easier. Perhaps the curator could put it all in one application linked to my development needs. Perhaps I could find it easily by searching a tool called - oo, I don’t know - how about a Learning Management System? Perhaps it would track what I did and remember where I was. Perhaps it would recommend the next resources I might like to consult. Perhaps if I use lots of these resources it would give me some kind of credit. Perhaps I could also download some ideas for work-based projects to consolidate my understanding and help me develop skills. Perhaps it would refer to these combinations of online learning and on the job activity as a course?  
Now what would we call that, I wonder? Any suggestions?
You can read more about my views on Social Media in Learning - at www.learnworks.org.uk/resources
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