aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Flashbacks to Steno Pools

Posted by Ellen on August 26, 2009

Way back in my 20s, I remember reading advice to young women who dreamed of breaking the corporate glass ceiling. Along with dressing for success, we were advised to hone our memories and resist the temptation to carry paper and pens into meetings to avoid being the automatic choice for note-taker. Oh, yes, my young female colleague, that was back in the day when men were made to classes  teaching them to look female co-workers in the eyes, not in the chest.

Not long after women like me started saying things like, “Sorry — I never took shorthand,” the boss faced what seemed to be a sudden shift in office resources: the PC started showing up in offices and on desks, including his. Before long, his secretary was reassigned by the powers that be, and he was expected to turn out his own letters and documents. Steno pools went by the wayside, and the position of “secretary” morphed into “administrative assistant.”

Some bosses took at least one of the many computer courses that came out specifically designed for the “executive” or “manager.” As we trainers know, this is an effective way of creating a safe environment where the boss could try new things and fail without embarrassment. We also know some of the bosses just didn’t show up. They refused to learn the computer, refused to take the classes.

Maybe they couldn’t get past the fear they could fail at something which so many others were succeeding at. Maybe they figured if they didn’t learn how to use that darn thing they would get their secretary back. Maybe they simply lived in denial: ignore that PC and it would eventually go away.

Sound familiar? Though more and more associations are buying into the need to incorporate more elearning into their education curriculums, there’s still plenty of denial floating around.

In his post, “Down But Not Quite Out,” learning and performance specialist Charles Jennings describes how the increased accessibility of training, articles, information — even jokes — on the Web are undoing Learning Tree and Reader’s Digest, two venerable business models now in jeopardy.

Here’s what I think is happening: Learning Tree and Reader’s Digest are like typists in steno pools. Learning Tree, like it or not, is just another training provider in a pool of many others. And just as the PC obliterated the need for the steno pool, the Web and the availability of easily accessible elearning could obliterate the face-to-face training companies as well.

Though steno pools are gone, some people do still dictate and others still transcribe that dictation. Face-to-face training companies won’t entirely go away, either.

Those that stay in business will owe that success to their ability to adapt, to deliver on their strengths and promise, and to provide something essential and valuable. All in a business model that will provide their clients with affordable solutions served up with excellent customer service.

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