Jay Cross helps people work and live smarter. Jay is the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning. He wrote the book on it. He was the first person to use the term eLearning on the web. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix.
Wow! Access to our deepest capacity to sense and shape the future. Right up my alley. By inspiring authors, too.
Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers
Unfortunately, I’ll probably never find out how Peter and Joe predict the world may change, for they are asking $40 for the book, and that’s outside my price range for unknowns. I may still be smarting from giving up trying to get through The Fifth Discipline despite several attempts. Guess I’ll have to wait for the Presence Fieldbook.
You didn’t need a crystal ball to see this coming. Five years ago, business gurus showed us that profits come to organizations that focus on core and outsource the rest. Don’t do your own payroll; don’t take your own garbage to the landfill; don’t assemble your trucks; stick to the knitting. Outsource! (And I don’t mean “offshore” or “near-shore,” although that could be the choice.)
On Friday I talked with Chris, Sam, and Heather at Intrepid Learning Solutions. They are dropping the L-guide brand that got them started in order to pour all their energy into learning outsourcing. (They manage training for Boeing. See Brad and Heather’s presentation to Emergent Learning Forum last month to grok the dynamics of their business.) They’ve grown from 10 to 80 FTE by concentrating on outsourcing. Forming a long-term relationship takes a while: it requires the sort of trust that only experience can provide. You take baby steps (“out-tasking”) to begin with. As I mentioned to Sam, “You gotta date before you decide to get married.”
Emergent Learning Forum dedicated its July meeting to the topic. SRI Learning on Demand is issuing a report on it. Bersin & Associates’ latest report is titled The Economics of Outsourcing Training Technology and Operations. T+D will be publishing a series on outsourcing. ASTD says it will effect 50% of major training departments.
Accenture, IBM, and even my Workflow Institute talk about outsourcing learning as if it were already here. So far, I see more smoke than fire. The fire’s on the way; IT, call centers, HR, and finance are being outsourced. However, earlier this year, when I asked Accenture for the names of clients who’d outsourced all training to them, I only got one name: Avaya University.
All of which leads me to a release from KnowledgePool. “One of the best-known names in the training and development industry has chosen to focus on its core capability of providing outsourced learning services…. As part of its new focus, the company has launched an ‘outsourcing menu’ – a list of training functions and projects that it can manage on behalf of clients”
“Outsourcing is an attractive, low risk strategy that enables an organisation to increase capacity, reduce administration costs and accommodate fluctuating workloads,” said Rod Edwards, CEO. Low risk? This is the opposite of the message from Intrepid (start small, get to know one another) or Accenture (look for a business partner, not a vendor). One person’s outsourcing is another person’s out-tasking.
Since outsourcing is so hip, Internet Time Group is getting into the game. Need a report? A white paper? Advice? They are all on the menu here. Tell us what you need. We might be better at it that you are. We’ll in-source it for you.
Isn’t RSS wonderful? Actually, I should ask “Aren’t webfeeds wonderful?” because Amy Gahrain’s term describes what we get better than any TLA (three-letter acronym).
This morning, Bloglines led me to a refreshing and informative article by Stephen Downes in College Quarterly. I’m preparing for a conference where my audience will have more educators than business people, so I was scouring the literature when I came upon Stephen’s From Classrooms to Learning Environments: A Midrange Projection of E-Learning Technologies.
When a new technology appears on the scene, it starts out performing an old task in new ways. Hence, we had the “horseless carriage” before it evolved into the automobile.
Horse putting car
Stephen points out how the electronic classroom is evolving into something entirely different, the learning environment. The good aspects of the learning automobile, its radial tires and microprocessor controls for example, are shared, reusable content, syndication, and personalization. Just as the automobile no longer has a way to hook up the horses just in case, the learning environment often exists outside of the classroom.
The transition is not without risks, among them commodification, mistaking a part for the whole, and creating a 24×7 hell for learners. (In my shorthand, this is focusing on workflow while leaving out the flow.)
A few months ago I signed up to be emailed changes from a friends blogs via Bloglet. It seemed a good way for people to subscribe to changes if they prefer email notification to RSS. Also, Bloglet will enable me to alert people to changes on any of my blogs.
How’s about you sign up so I can test this sucker? After a couple of days, tell me if it’s been well behaved and whether it lived up to expectations.
THOMSON TO ACQUIRE KNOWLEDGENET
Acquisition Will Enhance Thomson NETg Enterprise Learning Offerings
STAMFORD, Conn., August 27, 2004 The Thomson Corporation (NYSE: TOC; TSX: TOC) and KnowledgeNet, Inc., a privately held company recognized as a leader in live e-learning, today announced that they have signed a definitive agreement under which Thomson will acquire KnowledgeNet and merge it with its enterprise learning business, Thomson NETg. Terms of the pending transaction were not disclosed.
“Thomson NETg and KnowledgeNet are a perfect fit,” said Thomas R. Graunke, chief executive officer and co-founder of KnowledgeNet. “Both companies have a long history of improving the effectiveness, accessibility and success of an array of training, development and learning programs. By merging our products, learning philosophies and industry expertise we are creating a compelling combination for all of our existing — and new — customers.”
The transaction, expected to close later this year, is subject to customary regulatory and closing conditions, including the expiration of the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976, as amended.
My congratulations to Tom Graunke and the folks in Phoenix. I remember when KnowledgeNet was a pup. When they gave the remote demo (Placeware, if I remember correctly) that landed the Cisco account, I was in the next room working on another project. As they walked out of the room, the Cisco folks appeared quite impressed. The “no travel costs” argument was important back then.
A lesson for training professionals: Thompson doesn’t differentiate learning from information. Neither should you. Both provide value. Training is simply another delivery channel. If it solves the problem, go for it.
“The Thomson Corporation (Thomson) is a global provider integrated information solutions to business and professional customers. The Company generates revenues by supplying its customers with business-critical information from multiple Thomson and third-party databases, and further enhances the value of that information with analysis, insight and commentary. To enhance the speed and accessibility of information, Thomson increasingly delivers information and services electronically.”
KnowledgeNet will be merged into NETg. Joe Dougherty, current president of Thomson NETg, will lead the combined business.
This evening I attended a meeting of BayCHI (Computer Human Interface Group) in South Hall, the oldest building on the Berkeley campus. The topic: It’s More Than ROI: Defining the Business Value of User-Centered Design. Speakers from Leap Frog, World Savings, Adaptive Path, PeopleSoft, and Ask Jeeves spoke of measuring the value of interface design.
I’ve heard precisely the same conversation on the topic of training. How can we demonstrate our value to the business people? Aren’t some worthy activities inherently immeasurable? Why do we always get chopped when there’s an economic downturn?
Sather Tower is directly across from South Hall. It’s foggy tonight.
The difficulty of pinning a credible number on intangibles cropped up. You’d think that in an era where intangibles create half the value in business, more people would have figured this one out. It’s like not believing in microwaves or germs because you can’t see them.
Would any business person in their right mind voluntarily throw away good customer relationships, know-how, and brand reputation? Of course not. Because they have value. So it makes more sense to give them an approximate value rather than factor them into the equation at zero.
My new ThinkPad should arrive tomorrow; I’m like a kid in a candy store. I’ve lost track of how many computers I’ve owned — an early Apple ][, a original disk-less IBM-PC, several more IBM PCs (often with exotic storage media), a Toshiba 1000, a Gateway Handbook, a Dell portable, a Compaq luggable, three or four Gateway desktops, two SONY Vaio laptops, a SONY Vaio desktop, and two ThinkPads. Still, getting a new machine is as exciting as hopping into a new car. The way prices are going, I should probably drive my Honda Accord for the rest of my life but buy a couple of computers a year to keep my batteries charged.
A couple of times today I stopped to reflect on what was going on around me and was simply amazed. I was tweaking a few things on a website. A dozen times in rapid succession, I made a change, then checked the web to see how it looked. Imagine. In less time than it took some of the old machines to read a file, I can go back and forth with a server on the other side of the company.
More astounding still, I can click a button in an email and track the location of my new PC. I know exactly when it passed customs in Shanghai, when it was rerouted to Anchorage, when it arrived there, and when it’s due to depart for California. One long number retrieves this real-time history.
The sweet spot in business is when supply and demand are in equilibrium. Customers buy all they want; you sell all you got. This morning I noticed a perfect example of this in Google’s Gmail.
Google markets Gmail through referrals. Current users can invite others to sign up for the free service. Early users were allotted ten invitations. After that, the invitation button disappeared from the screen.
Google must have caught up with demand, for these two links appeared on my screen this morning:
I assume these will appear whenever Google’s ready to take on more customers.
Most messages I receive are less useful. What are these messages suggesting I do?
Here’s a real show stopper. Maybe I should say “sale stopper.” Barnes and Noble invited me to an online sale. When I try to place an order, I receive this somewhat geeky message:
Now what? I do have cookies enabled. Do you think they’ll notice the problem before they see that online revenues are dwindling?
The human brain is a trickster. It takes in a gusher of visual, auditory, and sensory input, throws 99.99% of it away without our knowing it, and presents us with a coherent picture of the world. The pre-conscious brain chooses the slides in the show we see. It even gives us the illusion that we’re in control.
Brain wave studies show that consciousness lags reality (and then covers its tracks).. Your pre-conscious mind is a lot closer to “now” than you are. The brain decides to hold up your right arm–and you think it’s something you thought up. Hah!
We can only see what we know. People accustomed to medieval paintings couldn’t appreciate the perspective of Rennaissance painters. Caribbean natives couldn’t see the ships of Columbus until perceptive medicine men told them what to look for. Consciousness is low-bandwidth; being oblivious to things we don’t recognize is a survival strategy.
This train of thought was leaking into my consciousness as I read through the agendas of the five conferences I’ll be attending in the upcoming months. From the topics, you’d think that the only thing that trainers see is training.
Despite my fanning the flames for the last year, the training community is taking a wait-and-see attitude about what I’ve been calling workflow learning. Some say they’ll get to it when the time is ripe. Or when the powers that be express interest in the future beyond getting through the next month.
There’s a flaw in this logic. The trickster brain has you thinking you have a choice. Listen up: a new way of computing is on the way. It’s web services-based, decentralized, rich-client, Internet logic, interoperable, process-driven, individualized, real-time, pervasive, and absolutely inevitable.
The new framework will be everywhere within five years. Early adopters are taking advantage of it now. It’s compelling because it routes around IT and hands the management of business processes back to business people. It does this by overlaying what’s already in place instead of replacing it. You can implement it on a pay-as-you-go basis. In time, tapping into real-time process management will be as necessary as having a phone or a website today.
What do senior executives expect from training professionals in all this? Nothing. Why? Because training is not driving this decision. The new computing, what IBM calls “On Demand,” is on the way because it clears bottlenecks, cuts costs, empowers workers, speeds things up, reduces IT busywork, future-proofs applications, plugs into a universal value network, facilitates process outsourcing, puts managers in charge of improving business processes, and lets the organization focus on its core strengths.
It’s difficult to understate how little say-so the training function is going to have in choosing the new approach to conducting business.
Training is but a grain of sand in a very large desert.
Resisting the future is futile. The world grows more complex by the hour, and a return to basics is not going to simplify it. No one’s asking us to make the major structural decisions. Our function is to help people do their jobs well. Our challenge is to figure out how to leverage change, not resist it, for change will happen with us or without.
This is akin to VCRs in classrooms. Every teacher has access to one. Because of sound pedagogy? Because of a study at Columbia? Because we wanted no child left behind? No, no, and of course not. VCRs became plentiful because millions of adults purchased them to watch pornographic movies, and economics of scale brought the price down from tens of thousands of dollars to less than a hundred. The new computing will proliferate because it makes good business sense.
What the Workflow Institute has been calling workflow learning is no more than the optimal way to improve worker performance in the new environment. It’s up to us to make it relevant, timely, easy to access, and enjoyable to use.
Workflow learning is not the right term for this, but it’s the best I’ve come up with. Workflow has the baggage of document handling; we’re more focused on the progress through the value chain. Learning calls up images of courses and class, but we foresee more focus on small bites, collaboration, reference look-up, and imbedded support.
We’re not convening the Workflow Learning Symposium in San Francisco to sell our vision of the future. Rather, we hope to engage you in a dialog about the new technology and how to take advantage of it to improve individual and organizational performance. Maybe we’ll even come up with a new name for workflow learning.