Brandon Hall Group recently held a webinar with BizLibrary, Next Generation Learning Content Strategies: Search and Learn Models, and one of the slides shown was the graphic (above) of the history of learning in organizations. It pointed out that in the 20th century there was time to learn. We measured the shelf life of knowledge in years. We had time to go to a course to learn something that you might need someday.
In the Digital Economy of the 21st century, we quickly realized that everything was changing more quickly, even the pace of change. The idea of learning something someday no longer worked. We based the new model on the idea of now, as in “I need to learn it now”, “Tell me how to do it now,” and “I want that information now.” Now was part of the learning technology DNA of the Millennials, raised with digital technology from the time they could walk, Googling replacing dictionaries, Facebook and Twitter replacing … well there was nothing to replace; it was all new.
The question that came up during the webinar was what is next, what does “???” mean for L&D professionals? I have thought about it and here is my answer.
Learning faster and faster has a top speed limit of now. Even ‘jacking in’ to their headjack for Neo and the others in The Matrix was all about now, only about as direct and fast as you could imagine. So if now is the redline on the learning speedometer, what’s next? The only thing gating the speed is connecting the person who needs to know with the person who has the answer. Taking the time to find the person who knows slows down the transfer. We have the ability to jack in now, we just rarely use it.
It’s called a Community of Practice (CoP). First, let me start with a new idea called the Community of Learners (CoL). Every class, or any learning event, where there are more than two people can be connected into a CoL. That community enables the learners to network, start working together, get used to the idea of a technology-mediated community in which learning a subject is the focus. When that CoL graduates, it becomes part of a growing worldwide always-on Community of Practice. Learning continues. Get enough people connected in that CoP and you will find that the community has encountered almost every problem, dealt with any imaginable issue, all questions asked and most likely answered. It’s not exactly the headjack but it’s as close as today’s technology enables.
I can connect to the CoP with any device, anytime and anywhere. I can read the answer, listen to the answer, watch a video of the answer, or look at a schematic for the answer. I can follow an answer step-by-step if I have a process or procedure question. I can even snap a pic and show the work I did to the people who are telling me what to do, so they can make sure that the red wire goes where the red wire needs to go. Learning, getting the answer now, is an extension of the experience of learning taken away from the Community of Learners. You want to learn about something? You learn to ask the right question, you learn to find the right person, and you learn to use the right community.
Some companies are getting it right. It was apparent in the winners of the Brandon Hall Group Excellence Award winners in Best Use of Blended Learning. These companies are finding out how to move the needle past the top speed of now, into the even faster speed of the community. Their programs shorten the distance and increase the speed between the person with the right question and the person or persons with the right answer. Not all of the programs use the Community of Learners that graduates into the all-knowing, all-powerful Community of Practice. However, they will, because the slow now will always need to push the speed limits of a faster now.