As a previous post noted, assessing the business value of instructional design involves more than measuring the contribution of formal training to Level 3 and Level 4 outcomes defined in the Kirkpatrick model. Training professionals also need to understand and support informal learning processes, on-the-job and off, that enhance performance. Most of the learning that produces business value occurs informally, dealing with exceptions to formal business processes, yet most of the attention paid to learning is focused on formal training.
One can reasonably say that Web 2.0 applications, such as social software and social media, are changing the relationships between instructional designers and subject matter experts much like those between customer communities and product designers. Both increasingly involve situations of co-creation.
The emerging recognition of eLearning 2.0’s importance to enhancing collaboration and performance means that training professionals, especially instructional designers, can add value to their employer/client’s business by learning to facilitate and manage the co-creation of learning content with employees, or even customers. Anyone experienced in instructional design in recent years is familiar with the general challenge of co-creation whenever they use information content for course design ( slide shows, documents, etc.) that subject matter experts originally created as a resource for a presentation. The presentation content too often is substituted for observation and in-depth interviewing as a first step in analysis.
Such Rapid eLearning, though shifting content development toward the subject matter expert’s control, maintains the traditional role of training in incorporating design principles. The process of co-creation in eLearning 2.0, on the other hand, shifts control over development and distribution of learning content toward subject matter experts willing and able to share what they know, especially when they see other people who need to solve familiar problems.
Web 2.0 and eLearning
The rise of social software for eLearning, especially social media, makes the issue of co-creation in learning content development increasingly relevant to an organization’s learning strategy. By eLearning 2.0 I mean implementations of social media and social software such as blogs, wikis, twitter, video, podcasts, and other types of Web 2.0 technologies that enable users to easily message one another, generate content and tag it for findability, and share knowledge in new ways, contributing to eLearning communities of practice, customer communities, and social networks. All of these activities qualify as informal learning supported by Web 2.0 applications. As Jay Cross notes,
Learning used to focus on what was in an individual’s head. The individual took the test, got the degree, or earned the certificate. The new learning focuses on what it takes to do the job right. The workplace is an open-book exam.
David Wilkins, the Senior Director, Workplace and Learning Solutions at Mzinga, put it well in the first innovator Profile interview for eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions eMagazine. Mzinga offers a social learning software suite that supports the dual role of employees as producers and consumers of information, what David calls prosumers.
We’re now going from a model where experts mediate and create the content, to where people are on an equal footing with the experts, and contributing as well as consuming content…I think what we’re going to see is recognition of the fact that people are already learning in exchanges in the hallway or at the water cooler that right now are “one and done,” and evaporates after that, that you can’t find or research. ..Think about what it’s going to take to get user-generated content and peer-to-peer exchange. The biggest thing it’s going to take is for people to contribute their expertise, and to comment on other’s expertise. To do that successfully, we’re all going to have to figure out how to better communicate what we know to people who don’t know it. Which is exactly what instructional designers do.
David is essentially saying that organizations need to increase the willingness and capability of employees to communicate what they know to others, as a core skill set. As David further notes,
We have to recognize that we’re not going to be the only people creating content, and that we need to figure out another role within our sphere of influence. That role is to help people get good at sharing…
It really is a tall order, but one that squarely recognizes the importance of engagement to the success of any informal learning process, especially those supported by the application of Web 2.0 technologies (eLearning 2.0).
eLearning 2.0 Terms of Measurement
A 2007 e-Learning Guild surveyon measurement practices reported that only 20% of the 900 respondents were able to do the type of learning measurement of eLearning 1.0 courses that they want to do. Moreover, only 10.9% of Guild members reported collecting data that showed their measurement approach provides very high value to their organizations. Nevertheless, efforts by learning measurement experts are underway to evaluate eLearning 2.0 using the same assessment criteria used for traditional training and eLearning 1.0. Consider the following insight from Will Thalheimer from his article, “Evaluation e-Learning 2.0: Getting Our Heads Around the Complexity,” in Learning Solutions eMagazine:
In measuring traditional Learning 1.0, we measure the targeted work behavior. If we train our learners to do performance reviews, we see how good they are at doing on-the-job performance reviews…Where we target e-Learning 2.0 interventions toward specific behaviors, we can measure using traditional methods. Where the intervention did not target performance behaviors in advance, we might identify post-hoc performances, though such post-hoc analysis is open to bias.
I suggest that, unless the learning is explicitly blended with a traditional class or an eLearning 1.0 course, the terms of measurement for informal learning using Web 2.0 are identical to any other assessment technique for social software and social media. In other words, if an eLearning 2.0 “intervention” (as Thalheimer characterizes it) is intended to support a learning objective for a traditional training course, or an eLearning 1.0 course, then it makes sense to measure it with learning outcomes in mind. Otherwise, the terms of measurement are defined by the nature of the Web 2.0 application (on-line community, social network, wiki, etc.) and the dynamics of engagement with it by people involved in different functional areas.
What experts often seem to miss is the simple fact that loading formal goals onto informal learning processes works best when done implicitly rather than explicitly. Collaboration typically works best when it includes people engaging with one another on topics unrelated to the workplace. Consider David Wilkins description of Intel’s use of wikis in its Intelpedia. He notes that Intel didn’t start the wiki by loading it with work content right off the bat.
The greatest number of posts was around the soccer pickup schedule, and where to stay when you came to Santa Clara. It struck me how wise it was that they didn’t shut that conversation down. What happens when I come into town, and I join that pickup soccer game? What are we going to talk about, other than work? We don’t have anything else in common. And all of a sudden this thing that’s social becomes, like the water cooler, a mechanism to drive cross-pollination. Which is why, when people start with community, you shouldn’t just have a pure work focus. It’s OK for there to be a community of practice on your Web site about knitting, or about a soccer game, or about fantasy football, or conversations about dogs and kids, because people who participate in that way are from silos, and that can be the way to get cross-pollination, and to get people to socially network across divisions or across subject areas.
Many people who use social software and social media for sales, marketing, IT, operations, etc. disagree on the nature of the business value and especially return on investment. I don’t think it makes sense to try and separate the learning content that goes along with those social software and social media initiatives from the information developed out of the functional areas involved. In other words, whatever measures are taken must be integral to the way people use Web 2.0 technologies to get to know one another while solving the problems they face within, or between, functional areas (silos).
Mel Alcaro, at businesscasualblog.com, recently offered an overview of how to use Kirkpatrick’s model to assess social media. The main point I take from Mel’s analysis is that using social software and social media to support informal learning doesn’t mean people must understand and remember solutions to problems they solve for effective learning outcomes to result, as most adult learning theories assume. What matters is that they learn to recognize a problem as that sort of problem and remember how to find its solution, as in Jay Cross’ concept of the work-place as an open-book exam. Social software and social media are merely ways to make solutions to problems findable and shareable, thereby supporting informal learning and enhancing performance.
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