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From 'e' to 'we' Learnings

By Bob Little / March 2011

TYPE: OPINION
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No one knows everything, but everyone knows something. Behind this truism lies the principle of empowerment through collaboration. Users of social networking tools, like Twitter, build a community of knowledge on any subject. Each Twitterer acts as a node in the wider learning network. Say you're exploring a theory about a little known or widely misunderstood subject, or you're researching an unusual medical condition, or you're trying to learn more about a 19th century niche art movement. Whatever the query, someone somewhere is going to know something about it.

This is why, in the U.S., more than 80 millions adults use social media for health-related issues—creating or sharing content on blogs, message boards, and chat rooms. It's also the reason why, as long ago as 2009, the Internet surpassed physicians as the most popular health resource in the U.S.

So it's hardly surprising that today's most innovative businesses are already using social networking principles to empower staff—and benefit the wider organization—through collaboration. For example when CSC, one of the largest global computer services companies, wanted to know what its staff in the UK and Ireland were really thinking about e-learning—as opposed to what they might tell the boss—they worked with SkillSoft to develop a social networking model, conducted via the Web, to find out.

Since then, the e-learning provider has launched SkillSoft inGenius, based on the model created for CSC. It's a social learning platform layer built around the knowledge and expertise of an organization's own employees, which extends the value of trusted expert information. Staff can select, share, and comment on relevant texts; tailoring the information to suit their individual companies and building their own bespoke knowledge bases.

This is the latest manifestation of something that was called "knowledge management" (KM) in the 1990s. As we all now know, KM didn't work then—partly because the systems needed to service its requirements (a digital repository and/or learning content management system) were either not invented or not sufficiently sophisticated to cope with demands.

In addition, in those days the "knowledge is power" mindset still prevailed. Consequently, no worker wanted to volunteer everything that s/he knew to the corporate knowledge bank because, once that was done, there was no need to retain that employee.

Fortunately, things have changed. The growth of collaborative learning in schools, among members of Generation Y at least, has been spilling over into the workplace for some years. As these people join the workforce and climb the corporate ladder, the benefits are being felt by all.

Moreover, SkillSoft's approach offers a way to capture corporate knowledge, and today's digital repositories and learning content management systems—courtesy of OutStart and exact learning solutions—appear to be up to the task of collating and then cascading that knowledge. After 20 years or so, effective knowledge management might be within reach.

Of course, this approach is only new in the technological sense.

In 1884 WS Gilbert's libretto for the Savoy Opera "Princess Ida" tackled the subject of women's education, which had gained momentum in the 1870s with the founding of Girton and Newnham Colleges at Cambridge and Somerville and Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford. During the opening of Act II the lady undergraduates of Castle Adamant, the women's university founded by Princess Ida, sing enthusiastically: 'In trying to achieve success no envy racks our heart, for all we know and all we guess, we mutually impart! And all the knowledge we possess, we mutually impart!'

They could just as easily have been singing about Web-enabled social learning, some 125 years later.

About the Author

For more than 20 years, Bob Little has specialized in writing about, and commentating on, corporate learning—especially e-learning—and technology-related subjects. His work has been published in the U.K., Europe, the U.S., and Australia. Contact Bob at [email protected].



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