Yesterday I deliverd a one day workshop to 20 learning leaders at the beautiful Rancho Bernardo resort in San Diego. This was a great turnout given that this conference caters to high level decision makers in enterprise learning. The attendees were very enthused about the possibilities that Virtual Worlds can provide to help change the game in learning. Much of our afternoon discussion centered around how to overcome barriers to adoption, whether to leverage open-source, public or private worlds and how much it would cost to implement a virtual world platform behind the firewall.
I am very encouraged that the dialogue amond learning leaders has progressed over the past year from “Should we consider this” to “How do we do this.” By the time Training 09 rolls around I predict we’ll have more than 50 people in the 3Di workshop.
Lorri Freifeld (Executive Editor of Training Magazine) asked me to write a short piece on 3Di for confernece participants.
Here is what I came up with:
Join the Webvolution: The Internet has forever changed Business, can Learning be far Behind
Market economies typically are characterized by extended periods of stability occasionally punctuated by short unstable periods that forever alter the economic landscape. In the past, disruptive technologies such as the printing press and the steam engine were catalysts in redefining the economies of their respective eras. In the information-age economy, the Internet has emerged as the primary disruptive force of our time—driving unpredictable changes in our economy while simultaneously challenging the viability of the 20th century enterprise.
Today, we live in an innovation-focused, knowledge-enabled economy where work is increasing rapidly in complexity and velocity. Computers have migrated from being information crunchers focused on optimizing productivity to people connectors focused on creating economic value through human interaction. In this increasingly flat, transparent, and globally interconnected world, organizations or individuals that cannot change as fast as the environment within which they operate are destined to regress to a mean of mediocrity.
Internet technology makes rich exchanges possible without the need for formal structures. The nonlinear dynamics of this new information ecosystem are challenging the traditional structures of enterprise. In fact, a recent study from IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook suggests that the future might consist of a billion one-person enterprises—people who act as free agents moving freely and frequently from project to project as their skills, focus, and passion shift.
Today, people work, communicate, and learn across time zones and physical boundaries. Information no longer moves in one direction from top to bottom or from teacher to learner. Instead, information has a social life all its own. It moves through time and space based on the desire and ability of individuals to interact with it—and with each other—to make more effective decisions or develop keener insights. In the Webvolution era, information is the currency, individuals are the transport mechanism, and conversation is the transfer mechanism.
As Webvolution unfolds, the scarcity paradigm that undergirds most modern economic theory is reversed. Information is a non-appropriable resource. It can be shared without being given away.
If we take a positive perspective, we can conceive of the Internet as a living information ecosystem, whose central purpose is to promote learning and growth. In essence, people become part of the information infrastructure. They are represented as nodes in a pervasive and persistent network that is aware of who they are; what they are capable of doing; and, perhaps more important, what they are keenly interested in doing. Within this context, the Internet itself can be conceived of as a persistent, worldwide community of learners. Mark Zukerberg, the 23-year-old CEO of social networking juggernaut Facebook puts it this way: “The other guys think communication is a way to get information. We think information is a way to foster better communication between people.”
In this type of information ecosystem the very concept of learning must be recast. Jay Cross puts it best this way: “Schooling has confused us into thinking learning was equivalent to pouring content into people’s heads. It’s more practical to think of learning as optimizing our networks.” Optimized human intuition networks create a meaningful context within which content can be consumed and digested to create new value.
In the Webvolution era, content may be king, but context is the kingdom. The enterprise that is able to network and tap into resource nodes to address a surfaced need within another part of the network will be able to successfully conduct business within a system primarily tuned to optimize learning and growth.
How would our concept of learning in organizations change if we began to view ourselves as facilitators of generative learning in which the full collaborative might of the Internet is wielded to build relationships and foster innovation among people within and across the enterprise?
To achieve this vision, the learning function’s focus and value proposition must migrate from supporting denominator management (i.e., teaching people how to do things we know how to do to cut costs), to driving numerator growth (i.e., enabling human capital to develop ideas and concepts that grow revenue). Unfortunately, learning that is innovation focused has a very different form factor and theoretical underpinning from learning that is productivity focused. Innovation-focused learning is generative and socially constructed. It feeds on context and social interaction to channel human intuition toward rapid collective sensemaking around a given opportunity or issue.
In the enterprise of the future, work and learning become synonymous. Without the ability to innovate and adapt on an ongoing basis, enterprises simply disappear. At the heart of the capacity to innovate is the ability to learn. An enterprise simply cannot innovate or adapt without first learning something new. The flat world economy requires a new vision for learning: one in which individuals and organizations fundamentally change the way they talk about, work with, and act on what is known and what needs to be known in order to adapt, survive, and thrive.
As leaders of the learning profession, we have not taken the time to ponder the profound effects that Webvolution will have on our work in service of the pressing innovation agenda. We quickly must begin to focus on how to leverage the participatory Web to unleash the latent innovative energy that lies dormant within the existing structure of enterprise.
Consequently, the primary challenge for learning leadership over the next few years will be to fundamentally recreate the function to drive the innovation agenda without falling prey to the routinization trap. Attempting to address the innovation agenda with more efficient productivity-focused training strategies and technologies is akin to attempting to play tennis with a golf club. The tool is not suited to the reality of the challenge at hand and must be avoided at all costs.
A bright future depends on bright people. The ability to allow the enterprise to coalesce capability around market opportunity is the pre-eminent challenge for the learning function in the 21st century. Often, past successes instantiate core rigidities that hamper future transformation and growth. In our case, forgetting those strategies and approaches that have served our function well up to this point may be the key to ensuring we are successful in meeting this new challenge.