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Work and Learning
New Synergies

By Tom Barr / October 2009

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The days of orchestrating corporate learning through special "events," such as classroom training and seminars, have given way to learning on-the-job. Indeed, working and learning are becoming so tightly integrated that it's often difficult to differentiate between them.

Motorola University, and indeed corporate universities and training departments in general, have undergone or are undergoing quite a transition in the wake of Web 2.0 technologies. System work tools and learning tools are becoming synonymous.

Employee Learning
Let's look at an example. A software engineer encounters a major roadblock while developing a module. To find a solution (and to learn at the same time), he may take the following steps, and not necessarily in the order listed:

1) He searches his online learning management system for a course dealing with the given technical roadblock. Upon launching the course, he navigates directly to the module covering the content. That module contains a partial solution, but also sites a resource URL with further Q&As. The engineer visits that URL.

2) The resource URL, which could have also been found through a corporate system search engine-like query, contains blog listings that also help. Furthermore, the site provides access to a corporate chat room, where he poses additional questions and receives more answers and references. One of the references is a subject matter expert, whom the engineer contacts and, through virtual meeting software, is able to show the roadblock and obtain additional help. The subject matter expert suggests several texts and papers to further help solve the problem.

3) The engineer searches his e-library software for the texts and papers suggested and is able to further narrow the search to just those portions dealing with the roadblock. The authors of the material found are on Twitter, and the engineer gains additional insights by searching their respective tweets.

Note that none of the steps involved traditional learning environments. Even the online "course" that the engineer initially accessed in this example was not really a traditional training vehicle, but rather a series of searchable segments that contained numerous references. If anything, it was more of an e-resource than computer-based training (CBT).

Traditional CBT, in many ways, suffers from the same deficiencies as instructor-led training, especially in technology training. Technology is simply changing too rapidly for these vehicles. The effort involved to keep a well-designed CBT in the technology domain up to date is very often either impossible or economically impractical. What we still call CBT is increasingly becoming e-presentation, quickly reproduced to YouTube-like videos of subject matter experts with a lot of references that can be just as quickly re-made as their content evolves.

Similarly, the effort involved to keep an instructor up to date in a wide range of increasingly changing technologies is becoming unfeasible. To limit the instructor to a highly specialized area, and have him stay current and teach and only teach in that area, greatly restricts his value to the corporation. Web 2.0 allows him to teach others "just in time," worldwide, while doing important development work (and growing) in his area as well.

Rather than being "taught" by a single (and typically somewhat limited) instructor, the engineer in our example had access to numerous resources: e-presentations, blogs, chats, Twitter users, virtual meetings, and e-libraries. And to be sure, the example case included but a small subset of the many tools that are available and increasing exponentially.

Corporate Learning Teams
The job of the corporate learning team has obviously changed. Instead of coordinating "events" and maintaining brick-and-mortar learning facilities and formal teaching staff, in-business educators are now tasked with making online resources readily available, easy to use, relevant, and state of the art.

To do so, there is increasing synergy between IT staff members in exploring and deploying these solutions. Moreover, there is also increasing dependency on the learner population.

Previously, learners were passive recipients of a program. To be sure, they had typically been surveyed, like patrons in a restaurant, to determine what on the learning menu they wanted to order. Now, however, they are the sources of the learning experience, as Web 2.0 allows them to easily contribute to as well as take from the "information highway. They must take ownership of that experience.

In short, just as work and learning are happily melding, and as work tools and learning tools become inseparable, so the IT team and the employee-learners at large are becoming important partners to the learning professional. Perhaps someday (and maybe sooner than later) all three roles will become indistinguishable.


  • Tue, 27 Oct 2009
    Post by Richard Oppenheimer


    Yes, the in-house learning environment is rapidly changing, but when you string out sources like chats, blogs, virtual meetings and e-libraries and equate them to formal or EPSS-type learning, I simply see an environment where learners share nuggets of information about a specific, and limited, fact or idea. If "learning" is simply meeting online to chat about something, then I see little to distinguish it from the old water-cooler bull sessions. While the PLACES and DELIVERY PROCESSES where corporations now host learning have indeed changed, I see little educational value in the anecdotal "learning events" you describe. If an engineer is stuck on a problem, consulting peers through these paths might provide a quick answer to that one issue. You can call that "learning" but I call it problem solving by sharing or brainstorming. Nothing wrong with that, but if you have a group of engineers who have to learn a complex process or new technology, someone has to design and create a course using the traditional tenets employed in teaching adults. You can deliver this information any way you want, but unless you apply the instructional design process to the material and then create the learning content, you are simply hosting a virtual water cooler environment. Both have their place, but I doubt Motorola, or any other major tech company, has dismissed all their ISDs and stopped formal education in favor of random online collisions of people with single problems to solve.

    I support the new environments, but they can hardly replace formal classes designed by experienced course designers and instructors. The "searchable segments" your engineer searched were reusable modules with excellent indexing and cross-referenced indicators that had to be designed and created by professionals who were working from a traditional ADDIE or other process.

    New delivery and search tools will supplement, but not replace, the traditional course design and development processes. Instructional designers and well-trained educators have to manipulate all those fancy tools to create course materials that are based on traditional learning theory. Until research shows that adult learning takes place differently than we currently prove that it does, measureable outcomes are important and basic learning theory is still key to providing those results. I think its great that people have many sources quickly available to them today using virtual tools. But behind every e-library item or learning nugget is a professional who has to write (type) it all out one key at a time after having employed traditional learning theory and techniques. I know this publication is deveoted to e-learning, but lets not forget the genesis of the materials when touting the circuits that deliver them, please.

  • Tue, 20 Oct 2009
    Post by Corinne Miller

    Tom, You are so right about learning and working being so tightly integrated such that they are difficult to differentiate! Because the platform on which people work has once again become the platform on which people learn (for the first time since the 1960s), working and learning will indeed become indistinguishable.