Why Workplace Learning Is Largely Learning 1.0

Michele Martin has been writing a string of posts about why workplace learning is largely using authoring and presenting tools – more like “Learning 1.0” types of approaches, while the educators are using more Web 2.0 tools like Wikis, blogs etc. She refers to Jane Hart’s Spring 2008 Top 100 Tools for Learning, a compilation of the top 10 tools identified by 155 elearning professionals, a list to which I also contributed. Jane and Michele make interesting observation about the differences between learning in corporate world and an educator’s world.

In the field of education, the onus of learning is on the learner. In workplace, the onus of training is on the organization and training department. If I don’t learn in university, it is my shortcoming. If I don’t learn in the workplace, it is the training department or functional head’s shortcoming.

In the corporate world, spending time on social networking sites is looked down upon (hmm… chatting with your friends?, wasting time trying to find a date, or using company resources to find a job are you…). IM, downloading/viewing videos on YouTube are considered a load on network bandwidth that can be done without. Podcasts are after all MP3 files that can’t be distinguished from music files, and MP3 downloads are restricted. In the educator’s world these tools help the teacher connect to many more students at the same time.

We still can’t measure the learning using Web 2.0 tools. The training department or functional head’s measure of success are the number of training days or number of elearning courses taken by employees. Productivity can be impacted in many ways and it is hard to measure the impact of learning on productivity. I am not sure how many training heads have productivity as a key performance measure of their role that they actually monitor. In the Educator’s world, there is no requirement to measure productivity. Learning is measured through exams.

I will also commit hara-kiri as a manager and say that there is actually lesser time available for using social networking tools and Web 2.0 tools for learning in corporate workplace. Using Web 2.0 tools and techniques requires some getting used to and requires more time. Somehow in the workplace, there just isn’t the time available required to truly realize the potential of Web 2.0 tools. So between gazillion transactions of workload, it isn’t easy to spend time on “learning”. Training is easier because it can be planned with time allocated to it. Educator’s world doesn’t seem to have the same time pressures of the corporate world.

There are also social pressures. Few of my colleagues/bosses wonder how I have so much time to blog and run a team blog, even though most of my posts are on the weekends, and running a team blog is something that a functional head should probably be doing. One my colleagues asked me, so what’s the point of all this blogging, wikis etc. Isn’t it easier to just ask someone in case you need help? And where is the time to read all the stuff… In the Educator’s world there are social pressures to use the tools. It is cool to be up to date with social networking and various other Web 2.0 tools. In corporate world you are expected to know all about them but not actually spend time on them.

With most companies struggling to find talent, struggling with attrition and shortened employment span of employees in a single organization, organizations are spending more on “training” and less on “learning”. Training is measurable; learning doesn’t quite seem to be so easily measureable. Can the organizations afford to take a chance that employees will “learn” on their own? Isn’t it easier that they just be “trained”? Sometimes I see the impact of this in employees not wanting to learn and just waiting to be trained.

While writing this post, I couldn’t help recall Geetha Krishnan’s post where he makes an interesting comparison between education and training.