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Five questions...for Larry Prusack

By Lisa Neal / September 2007

TYPE: INTERVIEW
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Larry Prusack was possibly the most fun interview I have ever done; Larry is funny, personable, and opinionated. For the past 20 years, more or less, Larry has been studying knowledge in organizations. He is a researcher, consultant, and writer and has taught in many universities, worked for five major consulting firms, and published nine books on related topics. His new book, The Future of Knowledge, will be out next spring.

Lisa Neal: What do you think of the current state of corporate training?

Larry Prusack: All the money that currently funds training initiatives should be given to charity. Most training is almost worthless. You train a puppy but humans need to learn on the job with their peers. A huge ethnographic study, done by EDC in Newton, Mass. for the U.S. Department of Labor under Robert Reich, found that 85 to 90 percent of learning is informal. But since it was a government study it had no impact on workforce training. In fact, most people learn from others, learn by doing, and learn from stories.

LN: I don't imagine most human resource or training departments will donate their funds to charity. Do you have another recommendation that their CEO will like better?

LP: Use the money to give people time to spend with their peers talking. Connectivity in its various forms is always the best investment. Use the money for off-site meetings, technologies, free time, open spaces-anything that signals and enables people to meet, talk, and form connections.

LN: Have you seen or taken online courses that were valuable?

LP: Anything worth doing can't be taught online, such as swimming, playing tennis, mentoring, loving, or dying. However, that being said, there are some worthwhile instances, such as with compliance training. My wife and I took a class about writing a will but I would have preferred to read a book. At least courses that are rules-based, which lends itself more to a class. Most training doesn't work because it is based on idiosyncratic behavior, not rules.

LN: What do you think of technology in general for communication and collaboration?

LP: Herbert Dreyfus talks about the huge emotional component to learning, which is hard to convey online. Most communication and collaboration works best when you know someone in person. We are meeting in person for this interview. People pay Bill Clinton $150,000 to give talks because they want to see him in person. People travel to conferences to meet people. Once you know someone, working online is easier, but it is essentially not a human activity.

LN: Are you saying this to be an agent provocateur?

LP: No, I say this because all the human emotions that are so important, like empathy, are hard to convey electronically.



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ADDITIONAL READING

    Lisa Neal
  1. Predictions For 2003
  2. Q&A
  3. Storytelling at a distance
  4. Talk to me
  5. Q&A with Diana Laurillard
  6. Online learning and fun
  7. Everything in moderation
  8. eLearning and fun
  9. The basics of e-learning
  10. Is it live or is it Memorex?
  11. Five Questions... for John Seely Brown
  12. 5 questions... for Richard E. Mayer
  13. My life as a Wikipedian
  14. Five questions...for Elliott Masie
  15. Five questions...for Lynn Johnston
  16. Five questions…for Matt DuPlessie
  17. Do it yourself
  18. Predictions for 2004
  19. "Spot Learning"
  20. When will e-learning reach a tipping point?
  21. Q&A with Saul Carliner
  22. "Deep" thoughts
  23. The stripper and the bogus online degree
  24. Five questions...for Tom Carey
  25. Learner on the Orient Express
  26. Five (or six) questions...for Irene McAra-McWilliam
  27. How to get students to show up and learn
  28. Blended conferences
  29. Predictions for 2002
  30. Learning from e-learning
  31. Q&A with Don Norman
  32. In search of simplicity
  33. Five Questions...for Christopher Dede
  34. Want better courses?
  35. Designing usable, self-paced e-learning courses
  36. Just "DO IT"
  37. Senior service
  38. Formative evaluation
  39. Blogging to learn and learning to blog
  40. Predictions for 2007
  41. Not all the world's a stage
  42. Five questions...for Seb Schmoller
  43. Do distance and location matter in e-learning?
  44. Why do our K-12 schools remain technology-free?
  45. Degrees by mail
  46. The Value of Voice
  47. Predictions for 2006
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  56. Serious games for serious topics
  57. Back to the future