buggy whip makers

24 04 2007

the april big question on learning circuits blog is about content vendors and how to help them solve their problems in an ever more competitive marketplace, providing more customized content, which costs more but sells at lower and lower prices.

around about 100 years ago, there were manufacturers who specialized in one thing – buggy whips. fashion accessories of the second half of the 19th century, buggy whips served a major function in transportation of the time. need to go a bit faster? crack! off you go. sudden stop needed? crack! you stop on a dime. the onset of the 20th century saw gas pedals and brakes replacing the need to get horsepower by cracking your whip. unfortunately the buggy whip makers saw themselves as buggy whip makers, not transportation accelerators and decelerators. as the demand for buggy whips died, so did the buggy whip makers.

flash back to the present and there is a strong parallel when we look at learning content vendors. clearly a new paradigm of how learners learn and how they access the content they need is well on it’s way to being cemented in place. i left college textbook publishing after 14 very successful years of publishing and promoting course based textbooks. i left and joined carol vallone and barb ross at universal learning technology (which upon merger became webct) because i just didn’t see the established publishers making the radical shift that is being demanded by today’s marketplace.

i have no interest in bailing out or bucking up content vendors who refuse to listen to what the marketplace is demanding. so part of me agrees with tom haskins’ leave a clean corpse post. if you aren’t changing to meet the market, you might as well send out your finest outfit to the dry cleaners and prepare for the day when people will ask, why did they have to pass now.

wendy wickham voices the feeling of many learning professionals in what i need now. this is not a whining varuka salt, i-want-it now plea, but rather an understanding that learning and development at the speed of business is a “solve today’s problem today” proposition versus a plan for tomorrow environment. perhaps we have forgotten that the rapid elearning movement wasn’t created to eliminate vendors and instructional designers. rapid elearning’s impetus came from the realization that we were taking 12 months to develop a training course for a product with a 9 month development cycle.

for years the content vendors had enough sway to make us learn and teach the way they felt we should. but it is no longer “buyer beware.” it’s vendor beware. if you don’t want to provide what the customer truly wants, someone else will. a classic example is the explosion is the number of cut-rate basic functionality lms’s that have hit the market. in the past few years to compete against blackboard, desire2learn, and moodle.

that said, i agree with claudia escribano in thinking about big questions and valerie bock in formal learning: it’s not dead yet! that there is a valid place for content and content vendors in the learningsphere. high quality content that is priced appropriately has always been welcomed and appreciated. such content is focused on customer/learner needs and provides an extension of what can be provided by other instructional means (ilt, online discussions, one-on-one tutoring, etc.).

i’m a believer that good facilitators and good content serve as accelerators to the learning process. providing best practices, case studies, compendia of relevant facts and resources, guides to prerequisite information to support subsequent content, access to experts in specific fields, are just some of the possible types of content that can be used by facilitator and learners alike to advance learning at a pace that is faster that what an individual could do if they sought out content to learn on their own.

certainly, content vendors are struggling with the change the face today. that’s to be expected. it’s also likely that some of them won’t make it through the change. but that’s natural too. those who understand what their customers want, are willing to drop their previous conceptions regarding what content development is, and embrace new types and forms of content will survive and, likely, earn the types of profits they yearn for today. for those who are whining about not making enough profits or trying to convince us that we should change our approach to learning are just sitting being the steering wheel trying to figure out how to use their buggy whip to get this contraption moving.

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embedding learning into the workflow

17 04 2007

in a webinar by jeffrey mann from gartner sponsored by interwise, mann discussed how to better integrate collaboration tools into the corporate culture. one thing that drew my attention was his frequent use of the phrase “embed collaboration into the workflow.”

my reaction that this seems to be such an odd statement because collaboration is already a part of business processes – either formally or informally. now i’m not clueless, so i get that mann was likely talking about embedding collaboration tools into the business process. although he didn’t talk much about systems integration. the problem that concerns me is that my immediate reaction was to be dismissive of the rest of his message. “if this guy doesn’t know collaboration is a part of normal business processes, then what worth does everything else he have to say have for me.”

malcolm gladwell tells us in blink that i’m not alone in making snap value judgments like this. why do i bring it up here? because in our profession we constantly talk about embedding learning into the workflow. i’m confident that our using this particular phrasing is working to undermine our credibility with the people we are most seeking to impress.

learning is already a part of the workflow. employees are constantly looking for new resources and new ways to do things. good managers know it’s their job to help employees understand their job and how the organization works. customers are patient with new trainees. executives plan out organizational change initiatives to help the company learn how to compete better.

language is a huge part of how we present ourselves and how others perceive us. talking of “embedding learning into the workflow” likely makes us look clueless to our colleagues. how many of our colleague are tuning out our message because of what we are saying?

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the dark side reaches the blogosphere

9 04 2007

while the timing tells you how far being on the news i am, imagine my surprise when, as i was sifting through my rss reader late last Sunday night working on a project due on Monday, my sleepy eyes stumbled across these four words:

death threats against bloggers

what the…..? of course, i immediately clicked through to kathy sierra’s creating passionate users to see what this was about. no, it wasn’t another odd marketing technique from kathy. it was a post announcing that she feels compelled to stop blogging because of the death threats and other heinous comments being made both to her blog and in posts on other blogs about her.

as i read the post, which she has moved off of creating passionate users and links to from there, i was in total shock. shock that kathy has been enduring this hell for months. shock that the outrage hasn’t been louder (after all, i’m just now seeing it). shock that one of the very best blogs in the blogosphere has been swallowed by the black hole of puerile pranks, at best, or a sociopathic stalkers in the worst case.

as i’ve previously written (see The Future of Media, Part 2 on Learning Circuits Blog) there are those who are predicting some dark times ahead for the internet. perhaps, if they are correct, and i wouldn’t bet against them, the anonymous threats against kathy are likely just the tip of a much larger iceberg to come. why might i feel this way?

throughout history, whenever society was presented with new technologies, there was a ramp up time in which scammers and folks with other nefarious intentions were able to take advantage of a public yet unaware of how to identify the authentic from the fake or otherwise protect themselves. when paper money was introduced, counterfeiters had a field day exchanging fake bills for real. when i was a teen, the newly introduced, credit card-sized driver licenses were a snap to fake. postal scams and telephone scams both were prevalent as those services spread to every household. atm’s and public phones had their dangers until we learned to silence the beep-boop-beep’s that told the sharp eared scammer standing just out of sight that you pin is 3-2-3.

why would we think the advance of the internet isn’t going to be the same or worse. most of the innovations i mention above were regulated as they were introduced. but the internet we’ve created is regulated by no one. and we’re proud of that. we should be. but let’s not be naive and believe there won’t be a downside to that freedom. currently there is no way to truly verify that someone is who they say they are on the internet. even those cryptographic “words” we have to decipher to enter a comment on this and many other blogs and websites don’t keep out the spammer’s robots (just look at the recent comments over there in the right sidebar and you’ll see what i mean). in the discussion of tim o’reilly’s blogging code of conduct, several people point out that requiring an e-mail address means nothing because there are numerous ways to get an email that doesn’t identify you nor can be linked to you. is it more anonymous for me to be “anonymous” or to be “diane armstrong”? (even kathy suggests in her last post to her blog that she might create a fake persona to continue her blogging under.)

maybe we thought the blogosphere was a different part of the internet. a safe haven from the ills of the world due to our collective commitment to authentic discourse and honest disagreement. in many ways it is true. the rallying behind kathy has been much like a neighborhood watch being formed. the blogosphere has shown it’s compassion and willingness to protect it’s turf. but even neighborhood watches often can’t do it all. fortunately, organizations like sxip, openid, lid, oasis/saml, pingidentity, and others are working on solutions. the question is, will they be just in time or a little to late to avert widespread scams?

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collective intelligence excites execs

3 04 2007

zdnet.com’s dion hinchcliffe provides a tremendous post covering various research reports regarding corporate use of web 2.0 technologies.  not only does he discuss reports by big boys forrester, gartner, and mckinsey, but he includes a dozen or so other small er reports on related topics. what comes out is that web 2.0 is slipping comfortably into the consciousness of executives despite it’s continued concern about these new tools. what’s catching their attention is the idea of collective intelligence.  capturing and sharing as much knowledge as possible within the organization to accelerate innovation and growth.

this post is a great resource that anyone interested in web 2.0 technologies should consider a must read.

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