Monday, December 20, 2010

That's all well and good but who's picking up the tab...

We hosted the Internet Time Alliance in London on Thursday last at an event which focused on the practicalities of using informal learning/social learning/smarter working in the workplace.

There was quite a lot of back and forth in the day. I would say that everyone in the room was enthusiastic about the idea that rather than pay people to train your employees it is a good thing that there are internet tools and internet enabled networks that will enable employees to develop themselves for free (or significantly less).

However, for many employers this does not lead irrefutably to switching off the controls of the company firewall and letting all staff use Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube etc etc. For more on this see Jane Hart's post on Top 10 reasons not to ban social media in your workplace)

As with many things, when we got into the detail it was a little more complicated than expected. There is definitely an element on the part of employers that the elephant can't see it's just a twig (learned helplessness). Equally, it's all very well for Jay Cross to criticise the European Commission for not seeing any value in Twitter but then a day later this happens...

On Friday, I heard that Yahoo is puling the plug on Delicious. (Michele Martin writes a very good obituary here). Now Delicious is possibly my favourite web 2.0 tool. I think it is brilliant. Over the last two years that I have been singing its praises, I have often soothed the doubters who question all things free and web 2.0 by explaining that Delicious was a different proposition to all the other start ups as it was backed by Yahoo and so wouldn't fold just as you were getting used to it. (Oops!)

At our event with the ITA last Thursday I had a brief chat with Clark Quinn explaining that I had been an e-learning sceptic in the first generation bubble that burst so spectacularly in 2001. I had persistently resisted jumping on the bandwagon of e-learning as I saw it as a more expensive way of doing something worse (as the poorly animated PowerPoints of early e-learning seemed to me). Eventually the lower price point and less than infinite target audience would catch up with the hugely inflated development costs. Hmmm, parallels?

Now the point for me about social learning is that you are not paying inflated costs for development indeed often the user is generating their own content. And yet Delicious, however useful, did not have a revenue stream and has been consigned to the dustbin.

This leads me back to my underlying issue in social learning. Where is the value added, to whom, how much and how can you charge for it? If you cannot answer these questions, you do not have a business. You might have a movement but is it sustainable in the longer term?


jay said...

Hugh, you gotta read The Working Smarter Fieldbook for that part of the story. Peruse the chapter on making the business case. Then hit us with some hard questions. All the best and have a Merry Christmas!


Gordon Mclean said...

Hey Hugh,

Interesting post. I did a short course at The OPen Uni last year called Beyond Google. It was fascinating: the amount of free material out there is jaw droping. I have 47 lecture series covering everything from Heidegger to the French Revolution on my Ipod courtesy of Yale, Harvard, Oxford and the OU via Itunes, all for free!

However, on the fiscal side, I am reminded of my paternal grandmother. She had a dog. In order to keep it in line she wouldn't feed it on Thursdays. It was always very grateful and healthier as a result.

Like the photo btw. Move over David Frost!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Richard Barclay Higham said...

Great to read about Google Ngrams. I'll give it a go. But have a look at You just enter some text or a URL and Wordle produces a great graphic showing the incidence of words with the most frequesnt showing largest in the graphic. Another dangerous but fun tool!