Bringing Down the Mammoth

Below is a interview I did with Bloomfire, leaders in collaborative learning.  I titled it Bringing down the Mammoth because thinking about collaborative learning sparked a vision of an old textbook image showing the hunters all working together and learning-on-the job to bring down the mammoth.  Apologies in advance to People for the Ethical Treatment of Extinct Animals (in metaphors).

Q. Stakeholders of training and development initiatives face different challenges. In your experience, what challenges have you seen?

In reality, there are only business initiatives and business stakeholders. Today most face the same challenge: How to produce the desired business results with smaller budgets and fewer resources. It is on a more macro level for senior executives and a more micro level for individual contributors, but the challenge is consistent across functional areas.

Q. Do you think that technology helps workplace collaboration?

Workplace collaboration has been successful in many organizations long before Web 2.0. New collaborative learning platforms can simplify authoring, sharing, and finding important information. It helps capture and disseminate tribal knowledge that gets passed down from mentors. In an increasing distributed, global workforce, technology platforms that help bridge the geographic divide and allow communities to form and collaborate will provide competitive advantage for their organizations.

Q. Are there technology trends of today that will affect the future of business?

At a high level, cloud computing is driving down the cost and increasing the speed of technology deployment. This makes it easier and cheaper for business leaders to deploy just-in-time, on-demand business applications. Also, the increasing speed and proliferation of wireless networks and devices like the iPad are freeing people up to consume learning and other content effortlessly remotely.

Q. Are the certain innovations that will change the way training and development might look like 5-10 years down the line?

With the rate of change increasing and new disruptive forces emerging, I don’t plan much beyond 24 months. However, some things are clear including:

  • More focus on the 70% of learning that happens informally
  • More use of video, particularly streaming video
  • More realistic remote collaboration with technologies like Cisco Telepresence and holograms blurring the lines of “being there”
  • Training professionals will increasingly be in a facilitator role, helping SMEs develop quality user-generated content, instead of a construction role where they are creating the content and falling behind the demand
  • Computer interfaces will be gesture driven and more 3D, allowing for more rich computer-based simulations of events that happen in the real world (hello Matrix)

Q. Will “online learning communities” be a part of this future?

Communities of practice within organizations and within whole industries will be the standard bearers, the developers of best practices, content creators and the reviewers/authenticators of content. Think Wikipedia on a functional, organizational and industry scale.

Q. Our readers are asking us about these two terms: “social learning” and “collaborative learning.” Maybe you’ve heard of these buzzwords. What comes to mind when you hear these terms? In what ways might these two terms be interchangeable and in what ways might these two terms be different?

To me, collaborative learning is the type of group “project” work that has gone on since the beginning of time (e.g., let’s try working together this way, this time to bring down the woolly mammoth). It is a team working together to learn something new, often while solving a real problem.

Social learning to me is using new “social” Web 2.0 tools and technologies to expand the collaborative learning environment to groups that are geographically dispersed — allowing the same type of collaboration to occur even though people are not in the same physical location. It also means archiving the learning experiences so that other learners can benefit from the resulting content, whether from a blog, course, video, etc.

True collaborative learning is where the culture of an organization supports learning and collaborating as part of how people do their jobs, whether in person or facilitated by Web 2.0 technology. True collaborative learning is the final stage of learning where learning is seamlessly integrated with work; not a separate event or process. In essence, working is collaborating is learning.

Q. How will social learning and collaborative learning be weaved into training and development in the 21st century?

There will be less emphasis on rote memorization, as organizational, factual knowledge is available at the nearest “Search box.” Learning will be more integrated with work. Collaborating and sharing knowledge within organizations will be seen as a key role of all people in the organization. Training and development groups will help facilitate this knowledge exchange but will not control it.

Q. Tom, we appreciate you sharing you time and thoughts. Are there any books, blogs, and/or magazines would you recommend for fellow trainers?

Books: Informal Learning, Wikinomics, The 2020 Workplace, The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning, Socialnomics

Other Resources: Jay Cross, Social Media in Organizations, The eLearning Guild, Amber Naslund