Friday, 15 May 2009

To twit, or not to?

Lots of interest in Twitter these days, and not just from celebrities like Stephen Fry and Jonathon Ross. Clive Shepherd, e-learning consultant and chair of the eLearning Network, undertook a three month personal trial, detailed in his article in the current issue of e.learning age, but could reach no definitive endorsement. Clive likes it himself, but says, “whether the benefits I have found are universal, I couldn’t possibly say”.

Without having undertaken any trial, I have reached a similar conclusion. It’s an interesting and laudable attempt to offer something new in the field of social networking, and may be personally attractive to some, but I doubt it will offer enough lasting value to remain as a widely used tool. And its application specifically for learning is doubtful.

I’d liken it to instant messaging, in that it has immediacy, it’s a small-scale app, it appeals to those of limited writing ability (I don’t mean that to sound condescending – that has its place) and it can combine well with other things. But how many of us still use instant messaging regularly? The gap it set out to exploit between email and texting doesn’t seem to exist any more, especially with many of us using the same handheld devices to do both.

To be fair, I’m not a great one for generic social networking sites either – I don’t have a Facebook account, although I am on LinkedIn, a site with a sharper business focus. But I have been using niche discussion forums for nearly a decade, and I was an early adopter of Friends Reunited, perhaps now the most passé social networking site.

My guess is Twitter won’t last. Partly because I question its long term value, once the novelty factor has worn off, and partly because I can’t see how anyone is ever going to make any money from it. But maybe I’m just being a twit.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Learning with technology

The current issue of Managment Today questions the role of HR, and concludes, among other things, “Here’s one way the human resources profession can shatter some of the tired old stereotypes that cling to it: get online”. The article goes on to argue that this is already starting to happen.

By coincidence, the current issue of People Management carries a similar message. Reporting on HRD Week, held in London from 21 to 23 April, its headline says “Embrace online learning, HR urged”.

The message is so consistent, the argument seems rather one-sided.

And yet, we also know there is huge resistance to e-learning. Every year the CIPD annual survey tries to put a positive gloss on what its members report, and yet the survey returns show unmistakeable hostility to e-learning. Hardly any HR professionals rate it as one of the top three most effective techniques for learning, and around half don’t use it at all.

Are HR professionals all schizophrenic, or is there a rational explanation for this apparent contradiction?

I’m increasingly seeing this as an argument over semantics. In my new book, I show that digital technology is an essential part of everyday life, including working life, and naturally that extends to learning. Most people will accept this, but they don’t recognise many technology applications they use as being “e-learning”, which they view as a narrow kind of learning, not often very useful. Trying to persuade them otherwise seems increasingly futile, and a diversion from the main task of getting them to engage with technology for learning.

OK then. Maybe it’s time for us to stop talking so much about e-learning, and focus instead on the broader arena of learning with technology.

Monday, 4 May 2009

The Apprentice is crap

Reviews of business books tend to be anodyne (I say this without yet having seen a review of my latest book) but I read a great exception to this rule in the latest issue of Management Today. Peter York’s review of Linda Gratton’s Glow is as funny as it is savage.

One of only two pieces of praise York had was for Gratton’s focus on co-operation:

“Businesses actually work better if people share and co-operate and merge their heuristics – a hugely 2009 perspective set against the individualist warfare-for-dummies language of The Apprentice – which is so instantly, hideously dated by events”.

Granted, this is a more articulate one-line critique of The Apprentice than my headline, but it’s surprising how many Google hits you get for “The Apprentice” and “crap”.

Nearly two decades ago, I was involved in sponsorship of The Business Game, an early attempt to make business sexy for television. It, and many other attempts, failed, so The Apprentice has at least succeeded in capturing the public’s imagination. But surely to the detriment of the general view of business, if all it is about is seeing who’s best at selling shoddy goods and toadying to Srallun?

The British Chambers of Commerce have even condemned the programme’s portrayal of selling as a profession, and believe it could harm recruitment to the sales profession. And everyone joins in the chorus of how it is guilty of “dumbing down”. Come to think of it, Dragon’s Den is a much better business programme.

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