Tuesday, March 03, 2009

March's big question - workplace learning in 10 years

The Learning Circuits Blog's big question for March is

What will workplace learning look like in 10 years?
I hate being asked to predict stuff, because I genuinely don't feel up to that task. I'm just not at a high enough vantage point to have a wide enough perspective, a big enough picture.

I like this conversation between Jay Cross, Harold Jarche and Clark Quinn. Totally raw, all the natural blips left in, rather than being edited out to leave a seamless, slick video. I suspect we might see more resources of this kind serving as learning materials going forward.

I also like Harold's post, which takes a look back at what learning looked like in 1999. It is important not to lose sight of that disconnect between home and workplace technologies. We also need to bear in mind that, while that disconnect is disappearing or even swinging around to the opposite corner for us in some developed countries, those in developing (or even less-wealthy developed) countries are still going to be experiencing a gap for some time to come.

And it is here that I would like to focus my contribution. As the organisational, sector and national boundaries come down and we see online conferences being attended by a global mix of people, we are going to be increasingly impacted by the gap between the leading edge and the developing masses.

For example, I regularly attend (and enjoy) George Siemens's online conferences, but it has always saddened me that we have so few delegates from Africa. Previously, there would be just one or two. This last time around, there was a much larger number. This is an exciting indication that an increasing number of people in the developing world are gaining access to the technology necessary for them to join us in these synchronous online events.


their connection speeds made it difficult for them to attend some of the sessions. So, having finally got the wherewithal to attend - perhaps having had to persuade a few powers that be that it wasn't a waste of time, they found themselves restricted to the outer courts.

Let's consider an analogy: There's a kid who always has to watch the others speed off on their bikes to have adventures and make all sorts of wonderful discoveries. He doesn't have a bicycle of his own, so he can't go. His parents tell him he's too young. Then the day of his birthday rolls around and he wakes to find a bicycle all his very own at the foot of his bed. Hugely excited, he dashes outside to join the others as they set off for yet another adventure. But he can't keep up. His bicycle isn't fast enough, and the training wheels keep catching on things. He has waited all his life for this moment, only to watch the others speed away from him.

So, should the kids with the fast bikes slow down so that he can keep up, now that he has a bike? Or should they keep going at their own speed, leaving him to follow as best he can in their wake?

In other words, as the late adopters begin to trickle on board, with technologies or skills that can't keep pace with our own, are we going to be prepared to slow down so that they can keep up? Are we going to restrict the technologies we use to things that their bandwidths/connection speeds can cope with? Or do we keep doing what we're doing as a way of encouraging them to leapfrog intermediate stages and join the party... bearing in mind that some of the constraints will be outside of their control?

I predict that this is an issue that is going to face us with increasing regularity over the next 10 years.

You might argue that open conferences constitute a separate issue from workplace learning. I don't agree. I suspect that many of the responses to this question will talk about how the organisational boundaries are going to come down and people are going to connect with each other in neutral spaces. So how do we address the provision of learning resources in the face of this kind of inequity?

We can't just stick our fingers in our ears and shout "Lalalalala". The problem isn't going to go away. And it is our problem. We talk about collaboration and connecting and all that malarkey. This is where we get to prove just how committed we are to those ideals when the playing field isn't level.

And it isn't level. Not by a long shot.


Harold Jarche said...

As someone who has hosted several international online events I find that using the right technologies is a fine balancing act. We can keep with less bandwidth-intensive tools (blogs, wikis, forums, chat) or we can get synchronous interaction (web conferences, audio) that sucks the bandwidth.

For now, some mix is probably best. If it's a live web conference, then it should be recorded and available for streaming or download. Multiple backchannels could be available and Twitter may be a good mix. Time zones are also an issue, as many are focused on the Americas and Western Europe.

It's important to raise the digital divide issue.

Karyn Romeis said...

@Harold "It's important to raise the digital divide issue."

And I can usually be relied upon to raise it! I've lost count of the times I have been accused of being an unrealistic bleeding heart. But somebody has to be!

LisaMeece said...

Great perspective!

The danger is that those with the really fast bikes figure that they would simply be giving something up if they slowed down to be more inclusive. I would argue that there is as much to be gained as lost by committing to find ways to include as many diverse points of view as possible. Lower-bandwidth tools like blogs and wikis provide an opportunity for perspective, pondering and analysis that is not always available with in-the-moment technologies.

Just like with the bicycles, getting there faster means you miss some of the scenery - the richness of the experience. I think it's a trade that businesses would be well advised to make more often.

Karyn Romeis said...

@LisaMeece Thanks for extending the metaphor!