Thursday, June 11, 2009

But how do we control it?

Rant warning.

A whole bunch of L&D people get together and talk about the emergence of social learning. Lovely, lovely. Inevitably, several of them will ask, "But how do we control what they're learning?"


We complain that the IT department, as a consequence of the years in which they alone understood the alchemy that made these machines work, has gained far too strong a position. That they have become the gatekeepers of yes and no. That instead of being the service department that makes things happen, they have become the bouncer department that says that things are not allowed to happen.

We complain that the accountants, as a consequence of holding the purse strings, veto us at every turn. That they are so obsessed with the bottom line, that they operate on a law of diminishing returns, trying to spend less and less money. That the first thing to go is always the L&D budget. That instead of being the service department who looks after the company's investments, they have become the Scrooge department that says that things are too expensive to happen.

Then we stand up and say that we want to control what people learn and don't learn? How is that any different?

L&D is a service department, too. L&D should be about finding ways to make it possible, nay, easy for people to learn. When did we become the censorship department?

Now I'm not saying that we should introduce ways of enabling people to learn (to borrow Kathy Morris's phrase from yesterday) underwater knitting. Nor am I saying that accuracy in the workplace doesn't matter. But are we not becoming so obsessed about controlling every aspect of what people learn, that we're in danger of losing the plot?

During one session, yesterday, yet another person asked how you control what people are learning in a social learning environment. How do you know that what they're sharing with each other is accurate? The answer, which came without pause from another delegate, almost had me on my feet, applauding.

How do you know that the stuff they tell each other over coffee is right? Or the stuff they tell the guy at the next desk?
You don't. You live with it. You deal with it. You always have.

Let's consider a scenario. You have developed a rich and varied social learning environment in your workplace. The IT people said yes, the accountants signed the cheque. The miracles have happened and it's all hunky dory.

Then - oh the horror - someone posts something on one of the discussion boards that is wildly inaccurate. What are we to do?

First off, there is a good chance that someone else will notice that this is the case, and respond to it. Presumably, you have identified a few champions in the business who pay regular visits to the board and offer their 2 worth. Or they could alert a known expert in the organisation and ask them to have a look into it.

People are not at greater risk of being misinformed at all. I'd say you have a better chance of correcting misinformation here than you did before.

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