The Bunker (Another brief thought from Learning Technologies 2016)

Last week, I posted about Slack and the possibilities it offers for learning to be brought into the flow of work via one of the most useful tools of work. To be clear, this was not about Slack as learning system but as a work tool that, naturally, supports the ways we learn as we work. Learning in the work rather than learning at the place, or during the time, of work.

I also mentioned last week that Learning Technologies had a familiar ring to it for me. This familiarity was born, I think, from the training industry interpretation of what “learning technology” means. It seems to refer to the set of technologies that manage the administration, production and tracking (not measurement) of training and development activity. At its most reductive, it is the set of technologies that Learning and Development (training) departments purchase. (This is not the same list of exhibitors that would have been at a “Technologies That People Use to Learn” event).

That purchaser point of view prevails and tends to dominate what is seen as valuable. ROI is calibrated against the usage of these systems and the completion of the things in them. It often reduces to efficiency scores as a result, cost per x unit of completion. The more the systems can manage for the customer, the better that efficiency score will look. So the training/L&D provider has an incentive to use one (or as few systems as possible) to deliver their offer. Couple this with the apparent simplicity of dealing with as few suppliers as possible, or at least, with suppliers that integrate and the impetus to use a single mechanism becomes very powerful. Personally, I think we need to be very wary of the one stop shop that offers all the tools we needs. This is where the LMS purveyors are placing themselves and I believe it is an error. It makes business sense to offer customers the broadest range of ‘solutions’ but the customer logic and the user logic do not meet as elegantly as the brochures suggest. There should be more than one to avoid being lock into the provider view.

If we want to learn in the work we will struggle to achieve that via these monolithic systems and the ecosystem orbiting them. They are learning (training) systems, rarely the tools of work. Bear with me while I explore a modest metaphor…These systems are like bunkers in a landscape, or an Anderson shelter in a garden, designed to solve a problem of the past but with deep foundations, so expensive and messy to remove. We can chose to develop the bunker and offer a more well appointed one. We can decorate it with portals and deal with the damp and darker corners. Whatever we do, we are unlikely to create a chosen destination or a place people want to spend time. All the decor in the world cannot deal with the isolation, the quiet and the dark. It is a lonely place. Most of the bunkers are well guarded too and removing what valuable trinkets we find in them is more work than most of us are prepared to undertake. Bunkers are designed for those who make and buy bunkers not for garden dwellers.

There are many other experiences out there in that landscape though, beyond the bunkers. With care and attention we can craft an environment of social spaces, interesting sites and zones, play areas and places to relax and ponder. A more welcoming product of curious husbandry and constant tending for any visitors to spend time with. There will probably be a bunker in there too somewhere, but with careful landscaping it may not look so bad.

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