Sunday, November 1, 2009

Web 2.0 Learning Shift

A fundamental shift is taking place in the world of corporate learning. Training departments that were primarily focused on developing knowledge and skills by pushing course content out to their target audiences face direct competition from Web 2.0 tools. Many would-be learners no longer wait to sign up for a course to get the information they need. Instead, they turn to the internet using search engines such as Google or Yahoo! (and now bing), or to Wikipedia for quick answers. A number of other factors also point to this being a time for change:

Do More with Less – This has been a corporate rallying cry for decades now and it is not going away. Just when you begin to think that you can’t cinch the belt any tighter, you are asked to punch another hole in it. This is both a budget and a manpower issue, so even if running training courses could still meet the need, this just isn’t feasible.

ILT and eLearning are not the Answer – Been there; done that. People are no longer getting excited by the traditional corporate university model with its catalog of instructor-led training and eLearning courseware.

Remote, Mobile and/or Agile Workers – Offering training in “the office” doesn’t have the same meaning anymore. The number of people working from home, from the road, or from other remote locations continues to increase each year. For these people virtual learning is a natural extension of the virtual workplace.

Social Media Explosion – Like it or not, employees are using social media tools. They are connecting to people outside of their companies and sharing information freely on facebook, twitter, and personal blogs. User created content has become a powerful source of information through these tools.

So where does that leave us?

Well, providing solid content that meets our learners’ needs will always be important, but instead of “courses” or “programs” being central to what we do, we need to think in terms of “environments” and “enablement.” We need to help learners connect to the right resources quickly when they need them – and to each other. Instructional designers and course developers have to make the leap from producing instructor-led training and elearning courseware to embracing a new platform, one on which they can create virtual collaborative learning environments that allow their company’s employees to learn both formally and informally. Learning needs to combine real world experiences with opportunities for reflection, sharing, questioning and refining. Improvements to virtual classroom tools in recent years now allow this to be done effectively.

For many, it is a struggle to make the leap. Creating an environment that enables informal learning requires giving up some control over objectives and measures. By its very nature informal learning will produce its own unintended outcomes. But isn’t it a good thing if people learn more from our design efforts than we put into them?


  1. So... do you want to provide an example?

  2. An anonymous reader asked for an example of this shift in action. So here goes:

    I led a project team that redesigned our onboarding program for Sales new hires. Several years ago, this was done as residential instructor-led training program. More recently, it was delivered as a self-paced online program primarily consisting of content from the residential program repurposed as elearning. The residential program was too expensive to run, and it was hard for learners to stay motivated through the self-paced program, which had a high abandonment rate. So my team redesigned the program as a virtual instructor led program that uses a combination of self-paced activities, virtual classroom discussions, and a class wikispace for collaboration. Each week the learners download an activity guide. They perform the activities in the field alone or sometimes with their manager or a peer. Some of those activities ask them to upload a formal assignment on the class website, others ask them to go to the wikispace and share what they have done/learned with the class. Also, once or twice a week the class participates in a virtual classroom discussion where the program facilitator leads a review and discussion of all of the week's activities.

    The content of what the participants share in their assignments, on the wikispace, and in the virtual classroom sessions is equally - and sometimes more - valuable to the learners than the formal information pushed out by our learning department. Our graduates from this version of the program are outperforming their counterparts from either of the previous incarnations.

    Very candidly, I am new to all of this. That is why I started blogging and engaging in social media. I want to find out more about the power of informal learning. I'm sure there are companies that are way ahead of the curve from where I am, but I believe the model we use for our onboarding program can be applied to management training and other topics as well.

    Thanks for your comment.


  3. Mike,
    I have been considering this same approach for our employee development efforts so I was glad to see your comments and the example you provided.
    I have recently arrived at the conclusion that real learning takes place despite our best efforts at ILT and e-learning. I believe these formats still have a place in our learing process, but they are not delivering the results I expected. As you mentioned, the availability of internet search engines and open format discussion sites have transformed the way professionals continuously learn.
    I look forward to tapping into this technology segment and anticipate having positive results to share with future converts.

  4. Hi, Mike -

    Interesting post, thanks. I have been involved in similar discussions forthe last couple of years in the education sector, *& reached very sinmilar conclusions. If you're interested, you might like to check out some of the discussion of "feral learning" at
    Getting to Know the Feral Learner;
    meaning of learning blog: Feral learning;
    FERAL LEARNING: Training & Development
    Takes a “Walk on the Wild Side”

  5. John and Mary,

    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate you adding to the dialog. Mary - thanks also for the resource list. I will be checking them out.