At those big training
conferences, I love wandering the exhibition halls. Most of the
old-line stand-up training companies have either disappeared or
languish in lonely obscurity in dark corners, relegated to some
undesirable low budget spot uncomfortably near the trash bins. Hogging
the choice spots these days are the big glitzy elearning booths
with multi-media showstoppers, swarms of fresh-faced sales people,
and dazzling lists of offerings and features. Not the least of their
attractions are innovative giveaways such as boldly emblazoned psychedelic
gel markers and chocolate in myriad forms.
I’m not merely trying
to learn all the latest gizmos, buttons and whistles. What I most
enjoy is actually talking to the people who eagerly staff the eLearning
booths and tallying up the dizzying number of misconceptions, conceptual
leaps and outright hoodwinks they innocently bandy about. I especially
relish chancing upon the elearning booth that suggests they have
the ultimate knowledge management solution. Hmm…really?
Upon closer investigation,
I rarely find anyone at the booth who even can define what they
mean by knowledge management. At the huge Training 2000 exhibit,
I found only two people who had read a book on knowledge management.
No one had read anything on intellectual capital (only the most
powerful new thinking about business strategy and learning of the
last fifty years) or, they would blithely reassure me that developing
elearning courseware allows a company to manage "all"
I don’t think so.
Most elearning companies really offer training management, not knowledge
management. There is a very big difference.
eLearning could be
a cornerstone of knowledge management but most elearning companies
have failed to master the basic theory and practice of knowledge
management. They not only cannot intelligently speak about knowledge
management practice from a marketing perspective, they don’t even
have a coherent internal understanding of knowledge management or
a serious knowledge management strategy of their own. Nor can they
speak the language of business results other than in terms of ROI
(return on investment), completely missing the huge strategic impact
of intangibles and intellectual capital measures.
A couple of months
ago, as I wandered that exhibit hall, talking with people from literally
every major elearning company, I found the prevailing language of
elearning was focused around "build and distribute." How
is that different from the classic industrial age production line
model of design, build, and deliver based on old assumptions about
expertise and learning?
How could elearning
companies expand their offerings to offer real knowledge management
solutions? How would this classic training model have to change
if we really incorporate knowledge management principles? What does
it mean for the kinds of features and services elearning companies
will need to offer or partner with? Let’s see.
just about ROI, it’s more about building intellectual capital.
Knowledge and learning is a much bigger business story than return
on investment can capture. Traditional ROI concerns efficiency
and cost reductionthe classic industrial age
way of telling the business story. The newer and more powerful
way of telling the story about knowledge and learning is to focus
on intellectual capital and build the capacity for the future.
Intellectual capital is not jargon or a buzzword. There is a whole
body of very serious thought and practice essential for anyone
who wants to make a strategic case for investment in learning.
What this means
for elearning? Marketing teams and consultants need to master
this new language of knowledge management and intangibles. Check
out the recommended books and resources list on my
website or browse the articles there.
Want a really rich learning site? Go to Karl-Erik
Sveiby’s website. Karl-Erik is a founding
father of both knowledge management and intellectual capital.
learning communities as well as individual learners. Knowledge
is a social phenomenon. We learn through experience, application,
and conversation in community with our peers. We are on the verge
of an explosion of interest in communities of practice and knowledge
networks. Read Etienne Wenger’s book on Communities
of Practice, or he and Bill Snyder’s article
in Communities" in the last issue
of LiNE Zine, or John
Seely Brown and Paul Duguid’s The
Social Life of Information. Chief Knowledge
Officers and Chief Learning Officers are putting more and more
focus on building learning communities. This learning frontier
is one that few elearning companies are addressing intelligently.
(Please note: a community is not a portal or software.)
What this means
for elearning? Build in the capacity to profile whole communities
of people. Companies need ways to make the experts more visible
to each other and to the entire organization. Some elearning companies
are getting the picture very quickly. Docent, for example, has
a built-in model for developing skill profiles and links to human
resource information systems databases, such as PeopleSoft. Look
for more features that will help people pull up a variety of demographic
profiles like "weather maps" that show the distribution
of skills across entire communities and populations or even communication
are everywhere. The prevailing assumption built into most
elearning models is, "We know what is best. We will tell
you." The usual design process includes identifying the subject
matter expert or experts as partners in the design effort. Seems
to make sense if that were really how knowledge happens. There
are two challenges here. First, only the most routine of processes
and procedures really lend themselves to training and job aids,
including elearning. The non-routine or more expert levels simply
cannot be captured in readily taught formulas. More advanced levels
of knowledge and skills are learned in tacit ways, by actually
hanging out with the experts.
Second, any expert will tell you that people usually don’t follow
a process or formula or steps. They want to tweak it or put their
own spin on it. People, however, will support what they help create.
So the real "experts" are the entire community that
needs the knowledge, creates it, identifies what is most valuable
and continually renews, validates and revamps it. Burck Smith,
reporting in the May/June 2000 issue of e-learning
magazine reminds us that "when distributed
learning or technology replaces a highly formative or socializing
environment…distributed learning and technology perform poorly."
What this means
for elearning? Ultimately this means putting the means of
production of knowledge (and the elearning modules that spin out
of that) in the hands of those who need itthe
communities of practice and expertise within the company and the
extended enterprise. This requires a radical rethinking of how
courses (web or otherwise) are really created. Just as most elearning
is focused on the individual learner, most design work currently
focuses on an individual expert. Upfront work with the learning
community is far more important than most elearning companies
realize. eLearning service providers can contribute more consulting
support to really identify the community of users and the
community of experts. Then they can build in ways to work with
that community through the life of the elearning module to assure
that it is relevant and continually updated.
learning requires quality knowledge objects. Fully appreciating
and utilizing the community of experts and users is the surest
path to high quality knowledge objects. A knowledge object is
any document, schematic, drawing, tool, software, job aid, or
guide that helps people do their work. Too frequently training
courses use obsolete materials or irrelevant examples. The best
of elearning is built around or linked in directly to the actual
knowledge repositories that are continually renewed and updated
by the learning community.
What this means
a recent spinoff from TSC is expanding their offerings beyond
elearning to include people-to-people profiling, people-to-knowledge
capability as well as people-to-learning modules. They are creating
ways for real communities of practice and user groups to create
real-time knowledge objects that can be rolled into elearning
modules. For example, instead of a diagram being dropped into
an elearning module, the module may link directly to a repository
or website that is a real-time resource for a community of workers.
For elearning providers
to really support knowledge management, they would expand their
focus to learning communities and link to the real-time knowledge
object repositories that people use in their daily work. A more
complete knowledge focus would mean having the capacity to:
Connect people to people in ways that build learning communities
learning communities in creating knowledge objects
to those knowledge objects in elearning modules
expertise and learning profiles of the community...
How many of these
steps in creating, socializing, and applying knowledge do you really
support? Do your product and service offerings cover the whole spectrum?
Then you can indeed claim to be well on your way to helping companies
leverage their knowledge assets.
Verna Allee is an
internationally recognized thought leader in knowledge, intangibles,
and new business models. Her book, The
Knowledge Evolution: Expanding Organizational Intelligence is
available in four languages and was declared one of the top 25 business
books in Australia in 1998. You can reach her through her website
or e-mail her at email@example.com.
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