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June 01, 2009


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Adam Gogolski

Thanks for this post Ellen. Great thoughts here, plus any post in the L&D field that finds a legit use for the word "epistemological" gets bonus points from me. I have a degree in philosophy, and am creator of epistemelinks.com, a large philosophy directory site that has been online since 1997 if you can believe that!

Lots of organizations are just now getting into traditional e-learning. And here I mean the stuff that us more leading edge folks who are talking about social learning/Learning 2.0/etc. consider to be old news or "click-next" formal learning modules. So I'm not at all surprised that so many in the L&D industry are not up to speed on all the latest technologies, on the growing importance of tech-enabled informal learning, and so on. When you have 60+ hours of work to do in 40 hours (esp. when colleagues were let go in the past 8 months), who has time to look into the merits and possible uses of wikis, blogs, forums, twitter, and so on? Even if the boss is vaguely telling you to "start using some of that Web 2.0 stuff" in the training you deliver or the learning programs you create/author/design/manage, if you aren't given the time/etc. to do it, or if the directive is contradicted by other, more clearly defined traditional objectives, then it won't happen. I've heard this countless times from learning leaders in organizations across all industries at each L&D conference I've been to.

You and most of the folks commenting here so far (hi Dave, Will, and Dave!) are the tip of the relevant pyramid: people who speak at conferences, write whitepapers in the L&D industry, and generally stay up on all of the latest technologies, methods, etc. We have a lot of work to do, to help organizations slowly move in the direction of Web 2.0/etc., and I think the a critical personality trait for us will be: patience.

I've been thinking about some of the same insights you shared in this post. For instance, I raised the issue of what the future of the ID role will be -- an exciting future in my view -- at the ID Zone session that Mark Oerhlert and I did at the Guild's AG in March. I got some odd looks in response, but it also spawned some good discussions.

Michael Hanley

Hi Ellen,
I've been following this dialog with interest. I'm have to say that I was surprised that there is still a cohort of people in this industry who differentiate between learning and e-learning. Of course the domains are fundamentally the same.

Humankind has been using some media format to transmit knowledge since the first shaman and folk medicine practitioner passed on their skills by pressing a stylus into a wax tablet (or more likely even, scratched a symbol into the dust with a stick). As you mention, distance education has been around since people could communicate (synchronously or asynchronous) between geographically separate locations.

We can say that digital, network-based technology has enhanced this process, but the fundamental dynamics remain the same.

I am a learning professional. I append an "e-" to the term if I want to differentiate between delivering content via one of the many digitally-mediated learning channels or (for example) in a classroom. Why? Its a shorthand that helps non-experts understand what I'm talking about.
Consider the difference between saying "I'll mail it to you" and "I'll e-mail it to you" to someone. The same information may be transmitted, but the medium is very different.

My view is that how people characterize their activities is central to their identity. If you erase difference, you potentially change the parameters of who they are, which is a shock at best and can devalue personal worth in extreme cases. As it is, things are tough enough for 'traditional' - or what David Wilkins (above) calls "functional" IDs; people like myself tend to disintermediate them from the content design process by going directly to SMEs when designing courseware - and yes, I have a substantial set of ID and broad educational skills to support the technological aspect of my training activities.

I guess you can have your chain yanked if you're of a mind to, or you can get over it and take advantage of the new opportunities that (e-)learning is generating by acquiring the appropriate skills.

ellen wagner

I had one of those great big lightbulbs go off when it finally dawned on me that eLearning equals ID plus Technology. I know that's a simplistic representation, but really, those two things are what distinguish us from regular web developers or regular technical writers (not that there's anything wrong with either, of course.)

And yes, it's true that learning tech innovation is constrained by IT pros. But that's their job. They have to balance our desire for so-called innovation with the IT needs of the enterprise. Security and reliability rule.

If you accept that eLearning equals ID (applying learning to practice) + Technology, then it makes sense that maybe these guys are prospective customers of ours in the same way that HR and T&D people may be.

Thanks, all, for jumping in.

Dave Ferguson

Because I see myself as working in learning, rather than elearning, I was surprised at the second of your two attributes (design for learning, use of internet technology).

You're right, of course. What's more, I think learning has almost always involved technology; what we have available now transcends distance and razes barriers to access in ways unimagined 50 years ago.

People who work in learning and who are comfortable with technology move easily through RSS and social networks and microblogging and the rest. It's easy to forget that the majority--I'd say the vast majority--of people working in organizational jobs with training or learning in their titles aren't in that category. They're grappling with what the organization (or some part of it) sees as immediate needs, and the models they've seen are the models they know.

Bob Mager suggested long ago that "they really oughta wanna" isn't a fruitful approach to change. Your tweets and this post are positive and inviting.


I simply encourage you to be aware that some of the folks that are not using web 2.0 are really not able to due to their IT departments. For the people that I know it is a bureaucracy thing. IT departments that view 2.0 technologies as opportunities for employees to waste time. And, some of these orgs aren't even ready/willing to listen to the argument about the value of 2.0 technology. That's a tough spot - wanting to move forward an use tech, but not able to.

Account Deleted

When we hear others' complain about others, there are two others to take into consideration.

What is it about the current zeitgeist that allows a whole cadre to lay their insulting rhetoric at folks like the "general ASTD assembly" and Instructional Designers?

These criticizing "others" are probably blinded by the frenetic splashing of their own koolaid.

There is just too much koolaid sharing in the learning technology space these days.

Some of us have to really please just get a grip on reality by seeking critiques and critics of their own thinking.

David Wilkins

Good stuff here. I've been talking for awhile about the need for ID folks to stop being the pipes and start being the plumbers. And a related concept of "teaching a man to teach" vs "teaching a man to fish." I hear a lot my own thinking in some of your post.

That said, my favorite part is the distinction (my take) between professional ID folks who design new paradigms to accompany new tech and those functional ID folks who execute on known strategies. I've never thought of it this way before, but I think you've touched on something pretty deep here and worth some more consideration. It's pretty rare for me to run across a whole new line of thinking and this definitely qualifies. Thanks for sharing.

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