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January 11, 2007

The Heart of the Learning 2.0 Matter

by A.D. Detrick

Time Magazine recently announced its “Person Of The Year” for 2006. The winner: You. More specifically, anyone who provides content to the World Wide Web. In the issue, Time profiled a number of high-profile “Citizens of the New Digital Democracy” and discussed their successful rises to 'net prominence. One of the most interesting facets of the profiles is that none of the people profiled have turned their efforts into anything materially tangible. None have used their 'net experiences to nab cushy jobs or glamorous contracts or book deals or an appearance on “Oprah”. Yet they continue to regularly add quality content to the Web.

It strikes me as more than serendipity that – at a time when training departments search for ways to make training more engaging – we find a fast-growing segment of the population who regularly offer expertise and insight. To anyone. For free.

While I am by nature skeptical of claims that say “what works well in situation A will work equally well in Situation B”, I found this issue of Time to be enlightening. While there were neither metrics or processes included in the text, the issue clearly illuminated the idea that many people who have valid information to share will share that information without having to be compensated for it. For me, the issue validated the very heart and soul of collaborative, open learning environments.

I think one of the key hurdles companies fear when implementing collaborative learning environments has been concern over the accuracy/validity of information. In other words, “can we entrust the editing of important procedures to everyone? What if a disgruntled employee or a hacker or a lunatic gets hold of those procedures and messes them up?”

Certainly, those fears may be somewhat valid. But those fears should also be tempered with a realistic counterpoint, similar to what was profiled in Time: people with valid information to share and a forum by which to easily share it will consistently rise to the occasion. They will add value where it is needed. They will clean the errors and they will fill the gaps. Maybe not everybody will do this, but generally, more than enough will. And they'll do it without asking for pay raises or fancy titles. If the Time article shows anything, it shows that people share information because – simply – sharing information makes them feel good.

Which makes collaborative learning far more than a “new fad in training”. Instead, it seems to be a collision that occurred when collaborative technologies finally caught up with an innate sense of human altruism. It's technology making possible something humans have believed in for millenia.

And within that altruism is some real potential for the future of our industry. And the natural beliefs at the heart of it all is a reflection of much of what is good and just in this world. It's a belief system to be embraced.

A.D. Detrick, PMP, is a Senior Technology Lead for a Fortune 25 corporation. He is a coordinator for the Central Ohio ASTD Technology Forum and frequently consults on instructional design/technology solutions.

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