The good folks at CLO magazine were kind enough to ask me to put together an “In Conclusion” piece for this month’s magazine in advance of their “The Networked Organization: Leading Learning in a New Economy” conference next month.
You can view all the articles in this issue for free by clicking here.
Here is the text from my article
On April 22, 1993, Mosaic Web browser, the system widely believed to have popularized the Internet, was introduced to the world. Sixteen years later, we’re still surfing this ever-expanding digital domain — and so frequently and naturally that it’s practically ingrained into the very fabric of our lives. In fact, much like the oxygen we breathe every day, we tend only to notice the profound impact of the Internet on our daily existence when it disappears.
Want proof? The next time Internet connectivity is down at your office, look around at your co-workers. Most likely, you will see groups of people aimlessly wandering the halls, as if they’ve forgotten their roles in the organization and how they add value. If you detach people from this virtual network, productivity heads south quickly.
The Web has permeated what we do to such an extent that we have become oblivious to the profound impact it has had on how we connect, communicate, coordinate, collaborate and take collective action. Information no longer moves in one direction — i.e., from the top of the enterprise to the bottom, or from teacher to student. Instead, information travels from place to place based on individuals’ desire to make more effective decisions or develop keener insights about a particular situation, or because they are motivated to learn about a certain topic or how to complete a given task.
Like it or not, the invisibly pervasive Web has ushered in the era of the autonomous learner: an era where information accessed within the work context often trumps instruction that is consumed separately from it. An era where a teachable moment that surfaces in the work context is more likely to be immediately addressed via a Google search, Facebook message or Twitter post than an LMS lookup for a course. In the era of the autonomous learner, content may still be king, but context has clearly become the kingdom.
Given this framing, we can begin to understand the Web’s own evolution as an expanding ecosystem that facilitates collective action, learning and growth. During the past 16 years, it has essentially become a ubiquitous and instantaneous collaborative learning platform where subject-matter networks anywhere on the planet can be tapped into for their insight, expertise or opinion. As the Web continues to expand into the third dimension, with the likes of avatar-mediated virtual environments, the confluence of interactivity and immersion will allow these subject-matter networks to operate in a more intuitive and engaging way.
In business today, insights drive innovation, and innovation drives profitable growth. Within the digital network, information is the currency, individuals are the transport mechanism, interaction is the transfer mechanism, and insight is the value-added outcome. These insights are generated from serendipitous knowledge accidents — that magic moment wherein expertise collides with opportunity and entirely new industries are born. The ability to leverage the Web and the emerging immersive virtual environment to instantly coalesce capability around an increasingly unpredictable set of market opportunities is the pre-eminent challenge facing the 21st-century enterprise.
Just as businesses have had to change their strategies and infrastructures to remain competitive in increasingly dynamic markets, learning functions also must adapt to meet the dynamic needs of the enterprises they serve. Consequently, the primary challenge for the 21st-century learning function is to redefine its value proposition from rapidly filling employees’ heads with knowledge via classroom-based learning to applying internal expertise to the problem or opportunity at hand in real time via the network.
Not embarking on this transformation could well result in the learning function becoming captive to its own limiting paradigms and marginalizing its value to the enterprise to the point of its own extinction.