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Friday, June 17, 2005

Looking back at the Symposium at GMU

While we await MP3 recordings from the Innovations in eLearning Symposium, you might be interested in Godfrey Parkin's summary on his blog:

Learning innovations
I have just spent a couple of days at a small highly-focused symposium titled "Innovations in E-learning." It was put together by the US Naval Education and Training Command and the Defence Acquisition University (DAU), who have among the best and brightest training minds that the American taxpayers' money can buy. They are not short of budget, manpower, or technology, and they get to mess with lots of experimental stuff. I decided to participate because the future of learning matters to me, and because a couple of my virtual colleagues were pretty much dominating the presentations in one stream.

For several years now, Training Departments have been transfixed by the evolving internet in the same way that dinosaurs were probably awe-struck by the approaching comet. So what does the future hold? I'm happy to report that learning will thrive, but trainers will have to merge back into operational roles. Oh, and Training Departments are dead, at least as we know them. As are Learning Management Systems and any other relics of centralized distribution of learning. Learning that is informal, collaborative, contextual, real-time, and peer-generated, will be the mode of tomorrow.

It seems counter-intuitive that military types whose culture is defined by command and control hierarchies would advocate devolution of learning to the swab on the deck-plates or the grunt in the foxhole, but that was the gist of what was being said. Admittedly, it was not being said by the JAG look-alikes or their entourages, but by the civilian gurus who write their white papers for them. And devolution of learning does not necessarily mean relinquishing control – in fact there are some very scary big-brother systems being deployed that (allegedly) will tell anyone with access pretty much what any individual sailor anywhere in the world had for breakfast last Tuesday and, to five decimal places, what his or her competency rating is on any given skill. It is hard to reconcile what they are saying with what they are doing, until you realize that, because these systems are so vast, they take a long time to build and deploy. So at any point in time the military are rolling out systems and policies that have long since been abandoned for something new – which may not see the light of day for a decade.

I was mainly interested in hearing what folks like Jay Cross, Clark Aldrich, Harvey Singh and Ben Watson had to say about workflow learning, collaboration, and simulations. However, in amongst their sessions was a real eye-opener from a VP at IBM. IBM used to be a blue-suit red-tie operation as monolithic as a bank, but it has been doing a lot of shape-shifting in recent years. These days any organization that is unwilling or unable to do that is unlikely to be around very long. It's Darwinian – those who can adapt most readily are most likely to survive in times of rapid change. IBM's consulting wing, adrenalised a couple of years ago by their acquisition of Price-Waterhouse Coopers consulting, is doing what big consulting firms rarely do – they are advocating unique solutions that they don't already have parked in a truck around the corner.



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