Monday, August 28

The Innovator's Dilemma of Learning

In preparing for a couple upcoming presentations on eLearning 2.0 and I've been forced to deal with several related problems and have come to a realization about a fundamental problem that we face. First, let me walk you through where this is coming from...

Most conference attendees have done little or no preparation and have not sat down to figure out what questions they should be asking coming into the conference. I've written about the need to prepare before:
More Effective Conferences for Learning Professionals - The most important aspect of making sure you get the most you can from the conference is determining what the questions are that you should use to focus you during the conference. Otherwise, you will swim through the sea of sessions and vendors and will not get nearly as much from the conference.
However, even if you sat down ahead of the conference and really thought about the questions that you face in your job, most of the questions are along the lines of:
  • How do I get more interactivity into my courseware?
  • How do I reduce the attrition rate in my course/courseware?
  • What's the best authoring tool to use to build my courseware?

Sound familiar right?

The problem is that all of these questions assume that we are trying to do more of the same. We are trying to build courses/courseware - and that's dying. We are aiming at helping large numbers of novice/new performers even though that ignores most of the learning that occurs in organizations (see Rosenberg's Beyond eLearning - Is that eLearning 2.0?).

The realization is that we are facing the exact issue described by Christensen in the Innovator's Dilemma. He pointed out that many successful companies become unsuccessful when they continually optimize what they are doing well today only to be supplanted by disruptive innovations, e.g., railroad companies not becoming airlines. In learning, we have similar disruptions going on with eLearning 2.0, changing learning landscape and it provided the realization that we have the "The Innovator's Dilemma of Learning" ...

We are spending the vast majority of our time incrementally improving what we are doing today in learning (courses/courseware) instead of taking advantage of learning disruption that is happening all around us.

I know that most Learning and Performance Professionals will tell you all the reasons that "in their environment" they cannot break out of this mold. The Innovator's Dilemma suggests that you may be right, but it doesn't meant that you aren't heading for a rude awakening when you find out you are in railroads instead of airlines. Instead, maybe we should take Seth Godin's advice around Redefining Expectations.

Let's assume for a minute that you didn't have these barriers in your organization. I'm curious to find out what questions readers of this blog would ask at a conference if they assumed that they were not locked in the Innovator's Dilemma of Learning. Here are some that I might ask of other attendees, presenters, vendors, etc. I'm hoping that maybe even some of the other authors on this blog can begin to explore answers to some of these. Maybe I don't need to wait for my next conference...

  • Informal Learning - How can I provide a development process, tools and systems that foster informal learning in a way that I know will have impact on the performance that I care about and that is repeatable? What can I borrow from KM, collaborative learning, and management practices? What does this look like in practice? When do I use it? When are you using it? What effect is it having? How do you know?
  • Personal Learning - What systems, tools, techniques can I use to make myself a better learner?
  • Reference Hybrids - How have you organized landing pages to support both reference and learning modes? How do you define what will be treated as reference and what as learning? What tools are you using today? What do you expect to use in the future? How do you track this kind of learning? Do you have metrics on impact?

So what are your questions?


dmcoxe said...

Interesting post. I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to what I do before attending a conference. It's an interesting corporate mindset that you view any conference, off-site training session, seminar, etc. as a corporate-paid vacation. Back in my early days of training when I worked for a large northeastern bank there were certain mandatory training sessions we all had to attend and our boss would always say. "Look at it this way, its a day off from your desk and they feed you. Go enjoy yourself.

As far as your question regarding reference hybrids, I have to ask do you envision a black and white answer with reference on one side and learning on the other? Or do you want to envision a spectrum of colors starting from classic training courses ranging to on-demand reference?

I would prefer to see the latter. A new hire would be enrolled in formal learning programs (either classroom and/or elearning). These training sessions would include prework and postwork that he or she would post to a forum or some other message board. Once they have completed the training they can return at any time to the training materials and/or message boards to review earlier or later postings.

At the same time, policies and procedures are posted online with their own message boards that people can post questions to get help and maybe be able to answer someone else's question. Where applicable these procedures would be augmented by smaller learning nuggets that would be available immediately for review. These could be as simple as videos showing how a process is performed or a podcast that discusses the latest changes to a system, but which has not yet been documented by a formal procedure.

Tony Karrer said...

Great comments. Unfortunately, I think that many of us view conferences and training somewhat the same way. We also don't take the time to figure out what our top five challenges are for our learning organization.

I would agree with you on the spectrum of solutions around linear learning experiences to on-demand reference. One of the challenges I've faced around this content is how to present it meaningfully to the user to let them know what's appropriate introductory, linear learning material, and what's reference and what material is found in each. Most users are not familiar with the model and you want them to quickly grasp how you've organized the content.

dmcoxe said...

As far as presentation to the user, are you talking about the learner or management? I think the easier of the two is how to present it to the learner. Falling back on my college days, at the start of each semester every professor I had provided us with a curriculum for the course. In the corporate world you could have something similar provided to the new employee, core requirements would be completion of classroom/elearning training with continual follow up with notification of podcasts related to the subject matter and hyperlinks to significant internal documentation (ie, policies and procedures) wikis and/or blogs.

Presenting this to management for buyin is a whole other story. The mantra in corporate training world has been the four levels of evaluation culminating in the often difficult ROI, how do we know we are getting our return on investment in this radical shift in training? That is a subject I have been wrestling with since I became interested in the possibilities of computers and networks to provide ongoing improvement in the workplace.

Tony Karrer said...

I was talking about the presentation to the learner. I would roughly agree with the need to provide a guide to the content, but in practice the challenge is how to make it very clear who needs to do what at-a-glance so that first time users/trainees and long-time users/referencers can still get quick value.

Tony Karrer said...

On a separate note, I just saw a great post by Scott Bradley Wilson that helps to show one example of the Innovator's Dilemma of Learning.

Darius said...

I find conferences introduce new ways of thinking about a subject or entire new markets that I would never have thought to ask about.

Per the Innovator’s Dilemma, how do we skate to where the puck will be, instead of where it is?

Here are my questions:
· Has the “Serious Games Summit” discovered the next new thing?
· Could MMORPG (or MMOG) type games be considered eLearning 3.0-VR edition?
· Are these games ePractice-ware?
· Are they examples how to make an online guild of learning professionals out of the usual corporate teams?
· How do their members learn so many rules of the game so quickly?
· Can the peer support education network be harnessed in our in-company learning environments?
· Why are their players willing to spend so much time learning and be willing to pay for it out of their own pocket?
· Does one learn as much in solo mode as when one is working as part of a larger campaign?
· Do PC games teach us how to mold the computer eLearning interface around the problem domain so knowledge workers can manipulate the representations of their domain more efficiently?
· Does PC game modding suggest ways employees can mold their own knowledge working environments around their unique needs by simple scripting languages?
· Will today’s and tomorrow’s teens just coming into the workforce expect to learn by the MMORPG pattern?
· Do corporations really want creative thinkers, deep thinkers, new multi-media content creators, and new markets of the likes of SecondLife?
· Are there things corporations do NOT want employees to learn?
· Is it useful to corporations for their employees to see the functioning of the parts of the organization as dynamic living organisms as per “systems theory” and of the organization as part of an even larger system or ecology… to seem themselves and their work in the context of a much, much larger system?
· Or, if employees start thinking strategically, would that interfere with top executive communicating and implementing strategic plans for the future?
· As the internet makes the same information that is available to corporate executives available to all employees, almost instantaneously, is it inevitable that employees will start to think and act strategically thereby making corporate planning more difficult?
· Has Enron made most employees mistrusting of what are the real corporate strategies they’ve been told about? How can eLearning smooth over relations if this has happened?
· Do tomorrow's students want to direct their own learning path?
· Per the Educause ELI 2006 Annual Meeting, college students are now demanding to know why each piece of what they are learning is relevant to themselves and their future. Is this a trend for all future learners, K-12 and corporate?
Diana G. Oblinger
Marc Prensky

Tony Karrer said...

Darius - that's an impressive list of questions and a bunch of them I look forward to hearing answered from others. For some, I'm going to spend some time thinking about them, but you probably just created about 10 blog post topics for me.

Darius said...

Hi Tony,

I've very glad my musings were thought provoking for you. :)

I have a couple more:
· Here’s Dr. Eric Haseltine, Associate Director of National Intelligence for Science and Technology (August 24, 2006) on future trends in portable communication technology and the social and national security info. gathering implications. Will much of future eLearning be taken up by security, complex trust structures, the intentions of those who make the hardware/software of our information and trust devices, and the speed of accelerating change, which keeps leaving workers behind?

· Blizzard has trained millions of Chinese to play an interacting game following complex rules by their game World of Warcraft. Few western companies could claim they’ve done such complex training for so many internationally, especially in China. Is visual modeling the best way to train internationally?

Anonymous said...

Those where but definitely good pointers. I am guilty of such mistake too. But thanks, it is never too late to learn from those mistakes.

Darius said...

New related article.
"Educational Gaming :: All the Right MUVEs

by Mikael Blaisdell

The use of computer simulations that appeal to students’ love of video games has shown compelling educational benefits.