Web 2.0 Learning – Is Now the Time?

Is the market of corporate learners ready to buy Web 2.0 Learning?

Many people predicted and blogged that 2010 would be the year that Social Learning and other Web 2.0 technologies really take off in the training space. And it may turn out that they are right. Certainly the technologies are maturing, and gaining more widespread acceptance by vast numbers of people outside the workplace. I find myself wondering however, is now really the time?

Now you may rightly ask, how could this not be the time? After all if Facebook were a country it would rank as one of the top five largest countries in the world. And you can rightly point out that even local TV newscasts, much less CNN and Fox News, are constantly urging you to follow them on Twitter. Good points, I admit.

What’s got me wondering is a recent post by John Cook, math professor and programmer, on “just in case” learning versus “just in time” learning. He makes the argument that programmers are generally more interested in just in time learning, or finding the knowledge or solution to a particular need right when you need it. Certainly, Twitter, Yammer, social networks and other Web 2.0 technologies can help provide this type of learning, often very efficiently.

Cook makes the case that “just in case” learning is equally important. He uses algebra as his example. If you never learned it, you would never seek to learn it “just in time” because you wouldn’t recognize the need. I know that many of the programs that I have designed have a large “just in case” component. Take Emotional Intelligence as an example. Until you are exposed to the concepts and the resulting shift in your worldview, how do you ever recognize the potential need to learn it “just in time?”

And here’s where I get worried about the excitement and drive to Web 2.0 technologies as “the answer” for cost effective training — many of these technologies require the learner to take the initiative to engage in the dialogue, develop a learning community, explore the network, etc. In other words, it asks more of the learner than more traditional classroom or even elearning sessions. Not in terms of engagement with the material, but more to initiate the learning in the first place.

Many of the people I talk with are working with a fearful and even disengaged workforce due to concerns about the economy and actions their company is or has taken because of it. This is not an atmosphere that seems very conducive to asking them to take more responsibility and initiative to engage in new learning opportunities and methods. This is especially true if the learning will be more developmental (or just in case) rather than “here’s how to accomplish the task in front of you” (or just in time). Most people are already taking on additional responsibilities as organizations are running lean. And while they may find it relaxing and even refreshing to use Facebook and Twitter to keep in contact with friends and family, are they willing to take on more in the workplace?

There are many examples of great technologies becoming available that failed for lack of a market. Is the market of corporate learners ready to buy these new ways of learning?

What do you think?

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