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Online Learning for Trade Associations

Get ICEd!

Posted by Ellen on July 13, 2011

It’s a wonderful thing when you stumble across an article that says exactly what you’ve been trying to find the words to express…. That’s what happened when I started reading Rick Wilson’s article, “Learning Content is Not Your Job Any More: The Effect of Convergence” from  e-Learning Guild’s Learning Solutions e-magazine (June 21, 2011 issue).

I’ll try to summarize without duplicating the article, which is worth the time to thoroughly pour over. He starts with two new rules about learning leaders’ responsibilities:

“Rule One: You are no longer in the business of learning content development and delivery.”

“Rule Two: You are in the business of bringing dexterity to your content.”
This is because of the “convergence” of learning content within an organization: educational events and training aren’t separate from other organizational content, not anymore. Learning isn’t a series of courses, not even within a curriculum. Instead, we’re amidst a convergence of all institutional knowledge.

So instead of spending our time and energy creating new courses and sessions and learning events, we need to devote ourselves to “intelligent content engineering” (a phrase he credits Joe Gollner with) and is, essentially (to paraphrase Wilson), rendering your organization’s content manageable, enhancing its searchability, and producing it “in formats that collectively create remarkable new value for the content.”

How awesome is that?

It’s what’s been called “knowledge management,” but from a learning point of view.

I know I say “This is critical” a lot in this blog, and I always mean it. That’s true for this concept as well.

Here’s why “intelligent content engineering” (let’s call it ICE for short — cool acronym, huh!?) is critical and why it’s such a great fit and opportunity for associations and non-profits…

Wilson goes on to cite these important statistics from Robert Eichinger and Michael Lomgardo from The Center for Creative Leadership:

  • 10% of learning can be attributed to formal instruction
  • 20% “occurs through other people informally, or formally through coaching and mentoring”
  • 70% is the result of “real-life and on-the-job experiences, tasks, and problem-solving”

Some might argue the actual percentages, asserting that the last category is more like 80%, with only 10% coming from coaching and mentoring, but the numbers aren’t as important as the general balance of them (or imbalance, maybe).

Associations and professional societies do a great job of hooking our members up to accomplish the first two, so they can exchange what they’ve learned through the third.

So it’s not that we haven’t created an atmosphere for all three environments to be exploited.

It’s that we could be — should be — doing it better. And we could, with ICE. Two concepts about ICE in particular are essential: search (discovery) and distribution (delivery), “while also promoting contextualizing content,” writes Wilson.

Sounds deep. But we’re already doing a lot of that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and here’s a brain dump:

  • We have lots and lots of tacit knowledge in our organizations. our members are experts on topics specific to the industries and professions we serve. (Member benefit: industry-specific resources)
  • We already connect members to each other so they can share best practices, help with problem-solving, advocacy, and in other ways where lots of heads are better than one. (Member benefit: networking)
  • We already provide our members with excellent (if we do say so ourselves) training to help them become even better at what they do. We do this with our face-to-face sessions and online. (Member benefit: professional development and certification)

But we’re missing something. And that something is an engine that makes it all much faster and easier. It’s more than a discussion list with links… more than a Web-accessible library of white papers, articles and research reports… more than an internal social networking space… more than an online marketplace where members can get books, online courses and tutorials, and other materials.

It’s something bigger than all that, something that ties them all together.

Wilson says the processes we use will have to change; we won’t just be designing and offering FTF and online educational sessions. “Processes remain important,” he writes, “but processing is now about content ingestion, aggregation, cataloging, indexing, orchestration, curation, transformation, and transmission.”

He goes on to say, “Success will require an ability to facilitate an organizational-specific model with variable options for content access and use, including end-user abilities for authoring, publishing, and distributing content. You are going to need provision for managing the content generation from virtual communities, social networks, and exchanges outside organizational control (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, industry blogs, and ad hoc media sources.”

In effect, he concludes, we won’t be developers of educational sessions anymore. We’ll be content curators — adding another voice to others who have predicted this same future for us.

I’ll add a few more aspects to this entire conglomerate that is ICE: the system (whatever it will be that will make searching and accessing all of these resources possible) will have to provide for learners to download, link to, and otherwise “extract” the pieces and parts that are of the greatest value to them. Why?

  • Our members will want to design their own personal learning environment (PLE), and we have to make it easy for them to do that. I’ve said it before — if we can provide them with the *ultimate* environment for creating their professional PLE — we’ll have provided a benefit that puts us ahead of our competition. If we are the conduit — if we become their primary feed, for example — for their Twitterfeed, blogroll, and general Web resources filtered by search/category, then we have made it easy for them to access the latest info and data in the fastest possible way.
  • The increasing creation of personal learning networks (PLNs) means more and more of our members will be sharing resources with more and more contacts. As members link up outside our organization (yes, it happens; get your head out of the sand already!), they’ll come across more and more resources that would benefit all of our members to be able to access. Why not be the conduit for that?!?
  • Most importantly, the system must provide a well-publicized opportunity for members to share *their own* expertise. What blogs to they write? What articles have they published? What advice do they have to offer? What problems have they solved? Including the knowledge intrinsic in your association is what will truly set your ICE system apart from even a very good Google search. Encouraging — urging — members to directly contribute content can pull in remote and otherwise inactive members on the one end and provide a platform for those who wish to increase their professional profile on the other. Regardless of your members’ reasons for contributing, everyone benefits.
  • Your ICE system must be more than a news reader. More than a blogroll. More than a wiki. More than a social network. This is a dashboard portal that delivers immediate access to key resources and quality results from any search. It’s a system that allows members to rate entries and comment on them. It’s a system that allows members to add links and participate in updating and managing it. It’s a churning, ever-growing system.

Future members of our associations aren’t officially called the Google generation, but they should be. They’re growing up accustomed to being able to find answers to their questions, solutions to their problems, and connect to people worldwide with a few clicks. “Time is the new currency,” someone said.

If we don’t create an ICE system for our members, somebody else will. Then you’ll really have something to worry about when it comes to member renewals, don’t you think?

Do such systems exist? Yes. Wilson’s article describes one in place at a large corporation  — but with annual maintenance costs of over $1 million, it’s prohibitively expensive for most associations.

Even so, we should advocate for the development of such systems at lower cost and structured for our needs.

Who’s with me on this?!?

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