Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What Can Training Departments Learn from Our President's Experiences

A report in the New York Times last Friday provides an interesting parable for the corporate training world that is looking towards Web 2.0 as a new avenue to deliver training. The article, titled Obama 2.0: Who's Leading Who?, notes that the leadership team around our new Chief Executive is discovering that once they let the genie out of the bottle they cannot get him back in. At the heart of the story is the fact that the grassroots elements that Team Obama connected with, in part using web 2.0 technology, are now continuing to demand the face time they had during the campaign.

Not everyone is sure, however, that once in office, President Obama will be able to marshall his online forces and engage them against his targets. Now organized, they may decide to move against him.

That’s already happened, wrote Ari Melber yesterday at the Nation, noting that the previous week a question about whether Obama would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate possible Bush Administration war crimes had been voted to the top of citizens’ questions submitted to the new administration via Change.gov. An Obama spokesman tried to dodge the question, but it didn’t go away:

It is striking that Obama’s aides, who helped win the election by harnessing new media, believed they could just spin away from their online interlocutors. Instead, the move backfired immediately. Bob Fertik, the activist who submitted the question, campaigned for it; and progressive websites, including thenation.com, blasted the dodge. Within a day, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann picked up the story. A day later, Obama was compelled to answer the question in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, who quoted it and pressed Obama with two follow-ups. Obama’s answer, which prioritized moving “forward” but did not rule out a special prosecutor, made the front page of the January 12 New York Times.

So what does this mean for corporate training departments. I would suggest it means the end of the learning management system as a gatekeeper for training. It could signal the end of the existing static training experience (whether in the classroom or over the corporate intranet) in which information is dumped on the learner with a few exercises or multiple choice questions thrown in to break up the monotony. More importantly, learners are not going to stand by and just absorb information and then walk away and do what the training intended them to do. Web 2.0 will no longer allow that.

At least in the classroom they can ask questions and talk among themselves. I think in the elearning environment the days of the standard elearning course has to come to an end. Business likes elearning because the learner can take it at any time, any where. More importantly, the learner can be easily interrupted and pulled out of the learning experience to handle more profitable issues. If the training is programmed with bookmarking, the learner will not even lose their place.

In the future, elearning cannot be delivered in this fashion. The new generation of workers are not going to allow it. They are going to require that they have the ability to communicate with an expert and with one another. It is going to require creation of a cadre who will take the course at the same time and will have access to some form of online chat so that they can talk to one another as well as to a subject matter expert. The SME does not need to actively present the material, but he or she will be actively monitoring the chat session to answer questions as they appear.

Most important, it is going to require that the top-down model of communication in the company is going to have to relinquish some control over the learning environment.

Hat Tip to Will Thalheimer

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