On Thursday 12 July and Friday 13 July I attended the PLE Conference held at the Deakin Business Centre in Melbourne. It was a collaboration between Deakin University and University of Aveiro in Portugal. I had stumbled upon PLEs through a Twitter stream that piqued my curiosity and after a bit of research realised that I had to learn more about them.
Wiki describes them as systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning using Web 2.0 technologies. This includes providing support for learners to:
- set their own learning goals
- manage their learning, both content and process
- communicate with others in the process of learning
Initially reading more information about the conference on www.pleconf.org I thought that the conference may be too academic and focussed more on university education than the corporate context but the more I read about them, the more I was intrigued – especially around the differences between the two industries and how one is opening up to the web and the other is trying to create boundaries around it. I contacted the organiser and expressed my concern that I may be the only one there from a corporate background but part of me realised that I would be missing an opportunity if I let this go.
The conference program http://pleconf.org/program/program-melbourne/ was varied and it was focussed on universities and the education sectors but it also gave a me an insight into the challenges they’re facing which are not dissimilar to business in many ways. In fact, I found the academic staff asking the same questions that learning and development professionals in business are asking. What are the impacts of technology to our educational (or learning) programs? How to we inspire, encourage and support those who don’t understand or accept social media? How can we use social media in our own educational (learning programs)? What does the future hold for our profession?
One standout difference between academia and learning and development in corporations is that academia is centred around learning pedagogy which is obvious and a critical requirement and I saw that from a focus of assessments and demonstration of competencies through various activities such as e-portfolios whereas this is not considered critical (and becoming less so) with corporates.
Assessment is only considered critical if it is directly related to the job and even then, competency in say, financial education is not only the prerogrative of the organisation but of the individual who is expected to maintain their professional development with the academic institution to ensure their accreditation is current so as not to provide a risk to the organisation. Obviously certain jobs (say in the financial industry) will require heavier training needs and the organisation will provide the support, time and money for their employees to complete these to stay current.
Similarly, assessment (usually as ‘Complete’ or ‘Incomplete’) is needed for mandatory courses across the organisation for any risk, regulation, compliance topics for audit purposes.
In my experience, assessments have not had the same level of focus or development in corporations and reasons may be many and varied. One example has been a client did not want to spend any additional time assessing the competency or the performance as it was seen as additional work over and above what they did and they also felt that it would not be acceptable to their staff to be ‘tested’.
Also, assessments simply don’t have the level of importance or need as the actual training program itself. There have been a few times I have submitted a blended learning proposal to a client and invariably, they ask, “do we really need to have this assessment – let’s get rid of it!” as it adds more time to the learner being away from their desk or increasing the workload of other resources. In these situations, I provide my reasons for the benefit back to their business for completing the whole program and what return it would have on their staff’s performance but many times, when the client demands it, if they want a one day course – you do it in one day (but not without explaining the risks that go with it).
So learning and development in organisations sometimes means comprimising quality to meet business needs and it looks like this may be a point of difference in the education sector.
Another difference was that they were talking about the LMS (as it’s critical to keep track of student results) as it is not as important in organisations. The LMS discussion took me back a few years.
I worked for seven years with a company that designed and developed custom online learning courseware and we were affiliated with another company that sold an LMS platform. I recall the heated discussions between ‘them’ and ‘us’: the LMS vs the Content. The LMS business development managers looked down on the courseware BDMs because everything was based on the dollar value of the sale. One sale of an LMS made up to $500 000 whereas our courseware BDMs would have to work harder and more often to make a sale of up to $30 000. I used to sit and watch them argue over the board room table and I would often add my commentary and ruffle a few feathers. To me, they were both focussing on the media – not the learning content; not the pedagogy; not the client relationship. I recall saying to them one day that I thought the LMS was just like a DVD player – it’s useless until you put a DVD in it. Why are we focussing on the systems and the media and not the experience and the performance?
Their answer to me was”‘you can’t make a sale on something intangible”. That’s when I realised that there’s a huge divide between my world and theirs and if I had to make what I did important in their eyes, I had to show true value of learning. I had to speak their language.
Over the years, I saw the evolution of the LMS in organisations. In 1999 I worked with an IT vendor to create and customise our own LMS for a major telecommunications company. It was the first of its kind and exciting as it then changed the face of learning and development by moving our skills from facilitator-led design to online learning design (they were fairly boring Powerpoint slides). From there, organisations became more savvy and approached specific LMS companies who offered more functionality with their systems such as automatic reporting and then, slowly, organisations saw a need to implement total HR management systems (that included learning management system modules) which quickly made other LMSes redundant.
Today, people in organisations don’t even consider the LMS for their learning -it’s not front of mind – it is merely the means to get to their course, nothing else. It is only important to the administrators of the system who may have to generate a report for compliance or audit purposes, upload a course; or update a course description. For management, it is purely the system to generate reports.
Certainly the fuss that were around them in the early days are long gone and I wonder that in organisations we focus too much on the media and the tools – the overhead projector, Powerpoint, the LMS, the e-learning course, the rapid authorware software, the flip camera, Sharepoint, Yammer…..at the expense of seeing what’s really important and that’s going back to basics of “what is the performance gap”? Explore the gap in performance, consider a solution (where training MAY be an intervention and IF it is, explore the best way to close that gap with the right media). Instead, we focus on our tools and create content that may not meet the real need.
One big difference between our sectors is that education is willing to open up and use web 2.0 technologies whereas business realises that they can control this through social media policies and IT firewalls. They know that they cannot hold back their employees from having social media accounts such as Facebook but they can manage their access during work time. Many companies realise the value of collaboration and have implemented technologies that ‘mimic’ web2.0 technologies such as Microsoft Sharepoint and Yammer so that the information is contained within the organisation. These have varying degrees of success, usually slow to start with as people explore, lurk and dip their toe into social media bu increase over time. Certainly in the organisation I’m currently working at, Yammer has had success but it took a while and we don’t use it as a social learning platform…yet.
Another valuable takeaway was how the conference was structured and that used the social media it was espousing. I saw how the streaming worked; how Twitter was used to connect with people, broaden your PLN and share references.
One of the challenges I considered is the ‘attention’ economy and I have many references to read about this now. Looking around the room, there were times admittedly where I got an ‘extra sensory overload’ and recall feeling the same way when I was in Disneyland in Orlando a few years ago. Back then, it was noise, colour, music, warmth, movement, all whizzing about me that I felt as if I needed to escape somewhere quiet and isolated. Although I didn’t experience it to the scale of Disneyland, my eyes tried to focus on the presenter, his/her screen; the Twitterwall; my laptop; my iphone, others in the room and I knew I was missing information and felt slightly lost. This was demonstrated when the presenters had to repeat instructions for an activity three times before we focussed again – and I thought to myself – should they have had instructions on the screen? Has our auditory senses taken a back step to the visual and the kinesthetic in this new age?
The last session was a panel where the audience could ask questions and I was asked to present the corporate view of PLEs. It was a nice surprise to be asked and admittedly I was slightly nervous but figured that the best learning is to just get in there and do it. For me, this year has been a logarithmic learning curve in social media for learning. Through establishing and growing a PLN on Twitter, exploring and participating in various social learning platforms such as Jane Hart’s Social Learning Centre online workshops and also participating in the development of using these social media platforms in my community service role through Rotary and establishing an e-Club, I have learned so much – and I’m continually learning.
What this has highlighted to me is that I have a passion for learning and development and I don’t want to jeopardise and compromise on quality nor the pedagogy but often must do so to meet client and business needs. I also have realised that Learning and Development professionals in organisations must keep themselves abreast of these changes and be seen as leading the way, align to business needs, inspire business leaders to see these tools as a way of closing skill gaps. If we don’t get onboard with this, I’m afraid that these tools will make our roles redundant.
If you want to see the video of presenters (Melbourne and Portugal) go to: http://www.livestream.com/seca2 (although they will also be available on the pleconf website)
See the Twitter stream at #pleconf
More information on www.pleconf.org