State of finnish eLearning

I attended as an assisting organizer a conference entitled “eLearning & Corporate Competence
at Kalastajatorppa, a Hilton hotel in Helsinki. Attendees included
high-profile people from the sector of eLearning in Finland, both
providers and customers. I was asked by Juha-Matti Arola from KONE corporation to work on the interactivity part of the conference, especially the learning buffet event.

Juha-Matti
was also interested in possibilities of corporate blogging and for that
purpose we created a blog for him. During the conference event we
posted over 10 posts, one being a podcast, right from the event. In
learning buffet we had George Siemens and Stephen Downes throwing a co-presentation about the changing nature of online learning. We used Skype for audio, S5 for slides, Dorgem for webcam, CGI::IRC for
chat (modified to receive mobile text messages) and some other
tools to carry out a very interactive and self-organizing event. Our
blog software, audio editing software, servers and everything else was
also Open Source. Next time I might try Gizmo project for audio, which relies more on open standards.

We also had teleconferences carried out with Centra where people like Jay Cross
gave presentations but my purpose was to show that all this technology
is already available for everyone who wants to be a prosumer, a creator
or a creative remixer in the networked world. The technology is cheap
(often no-cost and/or Open Source) and available for all. The
technology is able to achieve the exactly same capabilities and even
more than commercial alternatives. Online collaboration is already here
and not anymore a luxury of those who have the resources.

You can read all our blog reportages including presentations from
people like Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Jay Cross, Pirjo Ståhle,
Esko Kilpi, Bo Harald and others at Juha-Matti Arola’s blog.

I had a positive feeling at the conference. It seems a lot of people
think that platforms for online learning are dead. The approach to
design a business process for online learning, in which the learning is
only carried out in a separate learning environment and not embedded in
the work practices themselves is faulty. Information system-driven
business process thinking is dropping dramatically. Informal learning
also received a lot of attention and there was a lot of discussion how
we could support informal learning inside and outside organizations.
Our blogging effort and working as creators instead of consumers at the
conference was a living example of informal learning.

Another good thing is that many companies have moved from
technology-driven approach to competence-driven approach.
Technology is a very small part of their offering, the work always
starts from analyzing the needs, capabilities and people before
implementing any technology.

I also had a few good conversations why learning objects are dead as
well. Open Content, Open Source, consumers as creators, social software
and Web 2.0 also became familiar to people who attended the conference.

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5 Responses to “State of finnish eLearning”

  1. smau says:

    I'd be nice if your observations turned out to be valid in general.

    I've been waiting for the death of learning objects and learning as a separate process for years.

    However, there are caveats.

    Learning as a separate process works in organisations due to one reason:

    Lack of time.

    People need to set separate time and place for learning, because work is too hectic to really consciously learn much during the workdays (and at the workplace).

    In an ideal, well structured collaborative expert organisation learning would happen as a part of the job, through meta-cognition, procedural development, active co-construction and reflection in action.

    However, in today's climate which is based on efficiency scaling, everything non-core must be cut out.

    This includes learning. It is seen merely as a timewaster and a cost issue.

    In some organisations management is already proposing workers educate themselves on their own time and expense and work is about PERFORMING fast and efficiently.

    (Of course this notion is silly and contradictory, but they haven't understood it yet).

    To try and implement any type of "learning at work" in a setting like this is a complete dead end.

    Attitudes towards time-use need to change radically.

    Somebody needs to analyze (from an economical point of view) the TCO of learning: how much does it cost not to enable workers to learn, to reflect and change their habits? And vice versa, how much does it cost to enable them to do it.

    This is the ONLY argument business management will listen.

    All the other crap about "life long learning @ work", "taking care of our workers" and whatnot is just pure and unabashed festive speech crap.

    Of course, smaller companies not feeling the crunch of efficiency could implement integrated work-learning situations more likely.

    This is where the revolution, if any, will probably come from.

    - smau

  2. Tleinone says:

    Why is the TCP/ROI asked when it comes to learning?

    Where are the TCP/ROI of advertisement and marketing or let say use of PC/Internet at work?

    Educated people in modern workplaces are good, fair and potentially happy. Can you afford to have bad, unfair and potentially unhappy people in your business?

    I am proposing that from now on we study learning only with the methods of Religious Studies. We should focus on beliefs, faiths, holy books, ethics, rituals and traditions in the context of learning and education. :-)

  3. Tleinone says:

    Correction / update: A link to the Gizmo Project with "G":

    http://www.gizmoproject.com/

    Another FLOSS (GNU General Public License) alterative for VOIP is:

    http://www.openwengo.com/

    Looks interesting.

  4. smau says:

    Why is TCO/ROI asked about learning?

    Because it is asked about EVERYTHING that is non-core.

    (see Geoffrey A. Moore for definitions of core/context in business).

    It is asked about IT as well.

    The last year's hype is "Does IT matter?" meaning, can you just fully outsource it and cut the related costs to minimum.

    Who would have thought anybody could say this about IT in the 90s when spending was on the rise? Nobody. But it is being asked now and IT people are running scared.

    The problem with western companies (on a larger more general scale) these days is that they are almost exclusively thinking about efficiency scaling: what to cut, where and how much, in order to produce what they produce today, but with less costs and more of it.

    They are NOT interested in spending more money, unless it is their core activity (i.e. serving customers, making products, etc).

    Of course, you and me understand that it is hard to serve customers well unless people learn all the time, or make products if they don't learn how to make them better.

    However, to business these are secondary questions. They are not interested in using time/brain-power on it, regardless of all the "people are our best assets" festive speech crap.

    They want to keep to themselves the only core process that make them money directly.

    Everything else they want to cut out.

    This includes learning.

    With competition high for employment in some sectors, it is financially more viable to just fire people when they are not up-to-date anymore and then rehire people straight off school to replace them.

    No need to help anybody learn at work (reduces efficiency). Education has been in this example practically outsourced to society as a cost afflicting process.

    When you combine this with the short visibility POV (i.e. next quarter, not next year, is what matters), you start to fathom how big companies think today.

    And the same questions have been asked about marketing. The old saying goes: "50% of marketing works. We just don't know which half" (hence impossible to cut).

    As to the question:

    "Can you afford to have bad, unfair and potentially unhappy people in your business?"

    I think the answer is:

    YES, if it doesn't hurt my bottom line more than what it saves directly when I cut away the things that make them happy/fair/educated (e.g. learning).

    To pharaphrase the Clinton presidential campaing:

    "It's about the money, stupid."

    Nothing else matters. Really.

    The problem (from our POV) is that the visibily of some CEOs/boards/VFOs is so short in terms of time and shallow in terms of scope, that they fail to see what is beneficial to them (i.e. what is the TCO of, say, learning at work).

    This is why I propose calculating the TCO for them and banging them in the head with it.

    Or the alternative… wait till the business zeitgeist moves from "bottom line is EVERYTHING – nothing else matters" paradigm to something more healthy/all-encompassing some time in the future.

    Let's not hold our breaths though :)

    rgds,
    smau

  5. Teemu Arina says:

    I have to say, Smau has a point here. Its very hard to explain why
    investing in their employees would be visible in the bottom-line in long term unless some hard cash based calculations exist as a proof.

    Luckily, the scenario of managers only looking at ROI these days is not universally applicable. I meet a lot of managers who actually see ROI in learning-at-job. One customer of mine told, that they were able to reduce the ammount of time that it took to hire a new employee to half by putting the people earlier at work and giving them enough space and time to learn. They were able to be productive for the organization earlier, although efficiency increased to a normal level once the learning-at-job period ended. Employees who did this 50% formal, 50% informal performed better in various tests than what the 95% formal did after the same ammount of time.

    Now if we can change our daily working methods to include better practices and opportunities for learning, for example improving problem solving skills or actually sharing and building information together in sales teams etc. instead of every sales man owning their own notes & contacts, I believe there will be opportunities to calculate ROI. Time would also not be an issue if we change our habits to something that is totally different and performs better in a different trajectory.

    Sadly there are no universal truths. Knowledge working methods are highly context dependant.

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