Learn@Work and Work@Learn

Part of the Work at Learning/Learning at Work blog carnival hosted by Manish Mohan.

A few months back, I started two collaborative multi-author blogs for my company (one for my software development team and one for my e-learning development team) and helped a couple of other individuals at work to start their own. I also started a group at Ning and am an active member of LearnHub. My own blog at WordPress is my own anthological meandering. I have used or am aware of most of the collaboration tools available that use Web 2.0 technology or learning 2.0 frameworks.

So all that was great. However, I found that, passion/skill/capability or not, it is probably only people with a high level of self-motivation, the humility to learn, the need to be part of the community and share,  and having an incessant need to improve themselves, that would really be able to leverage learning through this new medium. The other blogs never really took off despite organizational incentives (an elaborate point system that encouraged posts, comments and community participation linked to actual incentives) that I set up.

I find myself asking the question – how many of those would we find in our organization, or in any other for that matter? Are there barriers to entry that we can identify and lower for this kind of a mindset/behaviour? Is this behaviour something that would have existed in physical or other forms even if Web 2.0 wasn’t around? Maybe people who earlier (than 2.0) exhibited the same mindset in an offline/non 2.0 space are the ones who are most geared for the new medium? Maybe the vast majority are resistant to learning per se? Maybe the amount of content is so vast and endless that they give up quickly trying to find the right stuff? Maybe there are personal and cultural inhibitions to being able to articulate their thoughts? Maybe the very concept of being in a community requires them to identify themselves and this interferes with the preferred anonymity of a classroom or prior online space? Are we over-hyping the Web 2.0 phenomenon? Is a PLE going to really help in the mind boggling explosion of content? Is the ability to clearly demonstrate a metrics based assessment and certification system in the traditional approach going to exist in the new approach so that organizations can really track progress and award certifications?

Don’t get me wrong. I love and believe in what is going on. I appreciate the fantastic work people are doing and the exemplary discussions we are having between traditional and new social constructivist schools. My team is a fantastic collection of extremely skilled people. However the questions and experiences so far that I have are a trifle unsettling and demand answers. 

What was great in Learning at Work was that I learnt a whole load of new things using the new tools and gained access to a lot of extremely intelligent and articulate people. Even more interesting was that I could find a way to get relevant information to my teams even if they were not actively blogging or participating in the community through simple emails to various groups. I am now starting focus groups around specific posts or articles I found for each interest group within my organization and creating a collaborative culture in small localized steps. It’s hard work to merge what they need to learn with what interests them, but I am hoping this approach may act to lower their barriers to entry.

5 thoughts on “Learn@Work and Work@Learn

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  1. Viplav, thanks for sharing your efforts… and your questions as well.

    Not every person will see benefit in every tool — and if certain tools are new to you, you might have a hard time figuring out how they could benefit you. Most people, I think, want to appear knowledgeable and competent in their jobs; often that translates to “knowing all the answers.”

    As James Thurber said, though, it’s better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.

    I’m sure that in some ways 2.0 has been overhyped — what new developments have not? We don’t yet have the flying cars or the housecleaning robots that people once imagined.

    Perhaps because I don’t usually think of myself as an early adopter, I tend to think that people don’t want too change too much too quickly. Not everyone feels a need to blog — and you’ll notice that some longtime bloggers are tiring and moving on.

    I do think that informal communities — whether of coworkers in the same office, or of people connected virtually — are, like learning, built by small, repeated interactions.

    What encourages people to help build? I don’t know. For me, a point system (either “rate this post” or “Dave’s made 4,732 comments”) has almost no appeal — but interacting with other people does.


  2. “it is probably only people with a high level of self-motivation, the humility to learn, the need to be part of the community and share, and having an incessant need to improve themselves, that would really be able to leverage learning through this new medium.”

    You’ve identified the core issue. You can’t have a learning organization without learners. Too many workers have been told too often what to do and when to do it. Fostering autonomous learners is going to be disrupive to both the workers and the organisation, but it’s where the greatest effort is needed.


  3. “it is probably only people with a high level of self-motivation, the humility to learn, the need to be part of the community and share, and having an incessant need to improve themselves, that would really be able to leverage learning through this new medium.”

    You have raised an interesting point here. I have felt challenged at times and had reached a similar conclusion in my own efforts to initiate (read motivate) people to participate.

    I soon realised that it is important for us to identify the ‘traits’ of such self-motivated people and work on ‘motivation’ before we want to rope people into accepting and leveraging new information (tools/technologies/methods…anything). So, there is something in the ‘self’ of these ‘self-motivated’ individuals that we need to crack and it may not be about monetary incentives.

    While on the face of it, things may seem ‘self-motivated’, if we dig a little deeper, there are external motivators that are at play – these are catering to the ‘self’ or the ego. For example, sharing allows an individual to become a ‘node of reference’ – people are likely to come back to the individual for advice/solutions – that is flattering to anyone. While to share (or not to) is something that may be a part of our personality trait, the ‘node of reference’ aspect may actually motivate individuals to share.

    So, if we are able to connect the WIIFM (for e.g. node of reference) with the ‘desired trait’ (for e.g. sharing), we are likely to get the trait manifested using key behaviours. The struggle is to identify these WIIFMs, which may be different for different groups of people (I say ‘groups of people’ because psychology can help us identify these patterns and group people depending on their personality traits).

    To make a start, it is important for us to quickly identify this ‘self-motivated’ bunch of people and dissect their personalities, question them – individually and in groups – to understand why they do what they do.

    The next step should be to identify the next set of probable ‘self motivated’ folks. When I say probable, I mean people who we think have the ability and personality that can support the desired trait (in this case sharing) but are caught up in some issues and are not able to contribute (these could be the aspects that you have highlighted regarding the barriers to entry).

    After multiple levels of whys, we will be able to discover these ‘motivators’. These motivators may be something that the ‘probable’ community can relate to and maybe a few from this group will join the league of the ‘self-motivated’! (Sorry for the multiple maybe clauses…while I am die-hard optimist; the reality of learner motivation is still a tough one to crack!).

    So, we keep trying with different groups of folks and even if we are able to rope in 1 out of 20, I would say we did a fine job!


  4. Dave –

    What’s the team like? Have they been together long? Average age? Culture of the organization?

    I find myself asking the same questions you’ve raised when I run across a group of people coasting to retirement.


  5. Thanks, everyone for your insightful comments.

    I think that there is great merit in profiling learners and a great amount of work has being done already especially in mass personalization and stereotyped personalization. But the underlying complexities are exacerbated by the possibly infinite degrees of freedom that the entire teaching-learning process demonstrates. I would love to start a discussion around profiling just for learners to start with. Would appreciate your feedback!


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