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