Monday, March 10, 2008

Response to - The March ASTD Big Question

What is the Scope of our Responsibility as Learning Professionals?

[One was a Chief Learning Officer panel discussion where it seemed that supporting informal learning or communities of practice was not something they were considering. There was also discussion on my blog around the fact that in corporations there is a limit to what we can do as a training organization]

I think it is a good question, but I’m going to answer a bit differently perhaps than others on this forum might. First of all, I don’t believe the scope of Learning responsibility is by any means restricted to folks who consider themselves to be learning professionals. The whole notion of E-learning has been more or less predicated upon the ability for IT to provide Learning services (whether this occurs to end-users on Google, or college students exploiting Ipod university or folks receiving corporate training through an LMS makes no difference).

I’ve always had a problem with the term and title “Chief Learning Officer.” I once worked in a company that had one and found it to be more or less irrelevant. Worse than that though for our industry it tends to build up a wall or separation precisely where no such walls should exist. Learning is part of the other core lifecycles of any organization – when it is viewed as part of the whole rather than a disconnected after-thought it tends to be valued from entirely different perspective. I am not in the least bit surprised that the CLOs are slow to adopt social publishing for e-learning as many of these folks are the same ones who insisted that there is only one right way to teach, only one right set of e-learning software, only one set of standards etc.

The rest of the world has been inventing E-learning on their own for the past 5 years since many of our E-learning “experts” essentially turned their back on the core premise underlying the technology that makes E-learning possible. People whose heritage is traditional training may never fully get what E-learning is about and these folks represent a barrier – one that has prevented many organizations from taking advantage of capabilities that exist already, forcing their members or employees to do it on their own.

The short answer is that everyone in the enterprise (organization) has a responsibility to help both the collective group and the individual member grow through education. This is what I refer to as The Learning Enterprise and it represents the single most cost effective method of improving productivity. This isn’t an ivory tower exercise – it is a business survival imperative.

Part b -

Do educational institutions and corporate learning & development departments have responsibility for supporting Long Tail Learning? Do they have responsibility for learning beyond what can be delivered through instruction? If so, what is their responsibility? Where is the edge of responsibility?

Yes, but not the primary responsibility, they share in it of course but the CXO’s are ultimately responsible for all aspects of the organization and this one is perhaps the most important one (even if most of them don’t quite realize it yet). When the folks who are charged with delivering education finally see that their mission is understood and appreciated it will change their effectiveness and overall motivation – making the learning process even more efficient. Ultimately of course, every member of the organization must be motivated to both grow and contribute back…

Part c-

Similarly, does the instructor have a responsibility to help students make sense of or deal with content he or she did not teach the students? In other words, if a student finds information on the Internet or some other place, how much time and attention should the instructor allow for the discussion of such content? Should it be discussed at all if it is non-conventional or generally thought of as not credible or contradicts the instructor? Who determines credible research? Is all non-referred research questionable?

There is no such thing as 100% “credible” research. Every scientist, every researcher, every historian, every human being has agendas and biases. Whether a certain writer has been acknowledged by his or her community doesn’t necessarily validate the credibility of their work, merely the conformity of it. Being from the Dayton area, I’m often reminded of how the Wright Brothers were mocked by the established scientific community of their time. Should their research and findings then been banned because no one would cite them ? They reinvented their field step by step, piece by piece. The unbelievable power of the Internet is the ability to allow greater dissemination for a wider variety of voices – this is a good thing. Educators should not act as gatekeepers and guardians of the ‘sacred’ knowledge, they should be the mentors that help us to think for ourselves.

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

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