<p>A good teacher knows you well. He knows your strengths, your weaknesses, your fears, your passions. That “knowing” is the key that brings learning to life. While the same fundamental lessons are delivered to every student, they’re wrapped in context that engages and creates meaning. </p> <p>Unfortunately, in organizations of any size today, that context is frequently exchanged for scale and volume. CLOs are failing their organizations and communities if they sacrifice one for the other, only delivering half the equation of how people truly learn and grow.</p> <p>If we were to collectively extend our vision far past the boundaries of the insular world of learning and development, we’d see that there is a broader and valuable shift under way in the way knowledge is transferred. The careful categories we’ve developed for everything from media to people to courseware are quickly becoming outmoded and replaced with a situational context that rests solely with the recipient.</p> <p>The patterns and technologies being developed in this transformation will completely reinvent learning authoring and delivery. Specifically, it will be highly disruptive in the way we classify individuals to provide relevant learning resources; develop effective and efficient distribution for those learning resources; and create those learning resources. </p> <p>While “completely reinvent” may be a grandiose claim, it’s difficult to imagine the creator-contextualized system we’ve built surviving long in a world with such dramatically different demands. For example, consider Richard, a 50-something midlevel operations manager with average technical acumen currently working at a Fortune 100 company. To demonstrate the dissonance between critical needs and available tools, I asked Richard to attempt two tasks: first, to develop proficiency about U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent Nobel Prize win, and second, to better manage a conflict his staff is having over resource allocations for Q4. </p> <p>The first task went well. To learn more about the much-debated prize, Richard headed to Google. Google’s search technology reviewed millions of items and highlighted a select set of results that it determined were the most relevant. Google made a critical value judgment that proved to be incredibly effective for Richard, likely helping him learn more than he could possibly ever need to know about said Nobel Prize. It also recommended alternate topics of interest and neatly assembled a visual model of the available information. </p> <p>And yet, it wasn’t enough for Richard. The context was missing. While high on general relevance, the results were low on personal relevance. In a quest to create greater personal context, Richard then headed to Facebook. He typed “Nobel Obama” into the search field and discovered page after page of highly contextualized links, complete with comments from a wide ecosystem of friends and colleagues. By knowing who had posted what link, with which comment, he was able to discern an entire political and cultural spectrum within the hour. </p> <p>Richard embraced the specialized relevance, including articles from unknown local newspapers, entries in foreign blogs and a survey conducted by a small nonprofit he’s currently involved in. His community had evolved the knowledge and created new entry points, giving him a framework with which to fully internalize the breadth and depth of the prize. In essence, he created his own context based on a public lens he has generated over several years, ultimately making the learning sticky, relevant and actionable. He might have chosen to use the lens of his professional social network, or the one he’s built from his daughter’s social network to better communicate with her. In any case, the resource pool comprised roughly the same 22.7 million results Google returned, but the lens he chose to view the information through completely changed the way he experienced the learning.</p> <p>The second task did not go as well. He began at his company’s LMS, a customized version of one of the better-known systems, where he searched thousands of instructor-led and Web-based titles. Trolling through the results, he was able to uncover a few upcoming classes that would include some exercises on conflict resolution — useful and worth considering, but not immediately beneficial, however. He then went to the corporate portal, a massive system with hundreds of thousands of pages. Searching there uncovered a jumble of nearly indecipherable items, ranging from procedures for reporting workplace violence to some internal blog posts on creative conflict in product design. Frustrated, Richard decided browsing might be a better use of his time, so he then visited the company’s management portal, which allowed him to browse some high-level competencies. There, he navigated through several different layers of carefully authored, passage-aligned competencies before finally landing at a pair of videos that delivered some reasonable advice.</p> <p>Now, this is not a generational story. Richard is all of us. And the insights he needed to source in the second task actually do exist in the company. But, as is the case in so many organizations, there was neither the infrastructure nor the innovation to make a meaningful difference. The resources had been categorized into different competencies, inserted into different parts of the pipeline, obfuscated by countless keywords and shelved into practical obscurity by the ocean of other information. And if Richard is hungry for information, his staff surely starves.</p> <p>Secondly, one might argue that Richard’s online networks know 50 times more about him than his manager does. The company knows only his title, age, salary, where he sits most of the time and, possibly, what he could be better at. His social networks, on the other hand, know who influences him, what he’s likely to do in 18 minutes and what he did 18 minutes ago. Google knows every site he’s visited in the past five years, what he’ll buy in the next 24 hours and where his cell phone and laptop are right this moment. They have intelligence about Richard, while his company has only data.</p> <p>If an LMS could do for its customers what Google does for advertisers, showing items with near 100 percent certain relevance based on trends and usage behaviors, Richard would never be in want. There are powerful network effects to be derived from the usage patterns of hundreds of thousands of learners — it’s about knowing Richard, about knowing people like Richard and about providing Richard with what he needs when he needs it. Until a system can know our learners intimately in all their constant evolution, resources inserted into the head of the funnel will never reach their destination. </p> <p>Within organizations of the size and scope we participate in today, it will continue to be increasingly difficult to develop our people without benefiting from the efficiency of technology. Thankfully, several new tools and technologies are emerging to bring solutions to learning and collaboration challenges. In fairness, some of these tools — inspired by the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon — have thrived without widespread adoption for the past decade, emblematic of the value they bring to the few organizations they work with deeply. </p> <p>These new technologies are generally bolted on to existing content systems; they scan sets of documents, pages and databases to learn about the content and then track user interactions with these documents to develop a comprehensive profile for both the user and the resource. The blend of a rich content profile with a rich user profile allows these systems to make recommendations for resources without managing the resource itself. For instance, the system might recommend a course in an LMS and pass the user through to it without necessarily even knowing it’s a course. </p> <p>The recommendation could derive from similar user patterns; similar search patterns; social proximity; explicit interests provided by the user; or any number of other factors based on users’ varied, unique algorithms.</p> <p>Other systems go so far as to categorize resources based on user profiles, arranging them into “shelves” that are unique for each user and change with continued use and shifting perceived needs. Whatever features each system brings, the lens is always created by the user, both to lessen the transaction cost of finding the content, but also to provide a variable context for everything the learner may come into contact with. The resources are a big jumble with no inherent organization — the organization is subjective and nonessential — and every learner organizes them, or elects to have them organized, by a different lens. </p> <p>As drivers of the next frontier of learning, we need to elevate the technology demands from catalog management to true learner enablement. Why are we discussing models and frameworks and structural considerations in a world of pattern-based search? Why are we implementing a current-generation LMS to do the actual interfacing to learning? (An LMS is a fine system for resource management and tracking, but the “learning” moniker might be a bit untoward.) Who’s managing the process of learning versus the projects and artifacts, and who’s measuring baseline metrics such as dwell, bounce and time-to-task holistically across the learning organization? Who owns learning architecture, learning experience and learning marketing? Where is the intelligence?</p> <p>Each of us lives and works every day in a thriving ecosystem of insights, challenges and opportunities — in a community of people we learn from. We’ve become incredibly adept at using this community in our personal lives, primarily through tools that have created remarkable efficiencies in the process. Those efficiencies were developed by using human interaction — influence, social circles, trust patterns, immediacy and procrastination — as design criteria. They were then scaled to hundreds of millions of users, making the entire Internet feel manageable, comprehensible and totally available at any time. These efficiencies wrap up the world’s digital information for us into our individual screens and enrich our lives. So let’s do the same for organizations, which every day feel less and less legible.</p> <p>Learning systems that recognize who we are, or even help us learn who we are, enable us to develop ourselves at the scale required. Individually, we’re able to construct a lens to view the world around us. Collectively, we can learn from each other’s lenses. Where’s the learning? We need it badly.</p>
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