Perspectives from Online Educa Berlin

by | Jan 19, 2011 | Articles

As we say goodbye to the last decade and look forward to the next, are we able to look back at workplace e-learning and say , hand on heart, that we have realised the vision that we had at the start of the new millennium? It was a vision that technology would not only drive new ways of doing business but new ways of learning & improving workplace performance as well.

In December, I took part in Business Educa, as part of the 16th Online Educa Berlin event. This year over 2000 people from 108 countries gathered to both look back at progress made in the field of learning technologies and to look forward at the opportunities ahead.  The opening keynotes touched on the fact that perhaps we have not made as much progress as we thought. Whilst the world around us is rapidly changing – from the way we shop, bank and connect globally to the way we interact with government, learning hasn’t necessarily followed the trend and often we have ended up automating our existing systems rather than transforming learning.

Adrian Sannier, Vice President of Product at Pearson eCollege, outlined that to date, we have been pushing technology into an existing education system and it just hasn’t been accepted in the ways that everyone thought. He challenged that if technology has the ability to help us do new things in extraordinary ways, we have to provide the opportunity rather than constrain technology by applying it to existing systems.

This isn’t just a challenge for education institutions. Our own research published last month highlighted that even in business, where we are less constrained by traditional learning conventions, we are not taking full advantage of these new opportunities. In fact over the last 18 months, whilst there has been a flood of interest in the use of technology in business learning, most of that enthusiasm has been directed into converting classroom courses into standalone e-learning programmes (the staple diet of 10 years ago) rather than transforming learning and performance support to really influence & support business change.

Why is this? At OEB, Charles Leadbetter outlined that our vantage point determines what we see – if we how  technology can  improve systems we end up just improving existing systems. If we ask how we can transform learning completely, we start from a completely different vantage point that will encourage transformation.

Business Educa  was new this year in Berlin and addressed the issue that senior business managers don’t want learning they want results. The conference explored the ways that those results can be achieved through collaborative intelligence and learning. And many examples were shared of how organisations had changed their own perspectives in order to use technology to deliver learning in new ways to improve results. A number of important vantage points stood out for me:

The collaboration vantage point

The opening sessions flagged the importance of team sport working collectively rather than individually to get things done and several Business Educa sessions provided inspiration on how this can be achieved. At an organisational level, Clark Quinn highlighted a great example of collaboration across the workforce with an engineering firm that asked new engineers to get involved in blogging and then the experiences older engineers to ‘correct’ the work of younger colleagues. This allowed sharing of experiences across the workforce whilst addressing different generation’s view of using technology. Collaborations also pays dividends across organisations and Martin Baker from the Charity Learning Consortium illustrated the power of team working to achieve more than working alone.
The customer vantage point

Joe Pokropski, is the Thomson Reuters’ first official Knowledge Network Ambassador and he outlined how their client learning services were transformed by looking at their provision from their customer’s perspective. Instead of looking at how many customers could be trained, their vision became ‘we have to imaging a way to help our customers use what they buy in order to be able to do what they want’ . This changed perspective opened up new ways of learning that also saved the company millions of dollars.

This also works when designing learning at an individual project level, Claudia Punstein from Canudo in Germany highlighted that putting yourself in your target’s audience shoes actually is more important than the technology or the design concepts and shared some really practical ideas to help do this.

The culture vantage point

Our own research has really highlighted the critical role of management and organisational culture in implementing new ways of learning but it was highlighted time and time again across the Business Educa programme, those organisations who consider and adapt to culture are able to implement change more effectively . Svetlana Omeltchenko from  British American Tobacco, shared her story about how they reviewed their traditional approach to learning and e-learning by building a system to connect content and conversations, creating a stream of knowledge for marketing professionals around the globe that connected to the real way that they do business. Josh Bersin highlighted that cultural issues that influence success are primarily driven by management not Learning and Development which creates another opportunity to look at learning innovation from a different viewpoint.

My personal observation is that over the last 10 years, we’ve occasionally glanced up to notice a different viewpoint but generally, we have been driven to use technology to improve what we’ve always done. Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, the chairman for the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID), challenged the delegates at OEB that we need new eyes to see a new future . As we move into the next decade, it is critical that we use those new eyes to consider what we do from a different vantage point if we are to realise the full potential of learning technologies at work.

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