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Learnscape Infrastructure

Page history last edited by Jay Cross 13 years, 2 months ago

We are investigating how to help organizations implement web 2.0 internally. Look for a report here soon.

Very much D R A F T



Small is beautiful; large is infeasible


Quick! What's this? Amazon's sales frequncy by title? The power-law that shows A-list bloggers rule? It's all those and more. What I had in mind is the distribution of American businesses by size.



Most American businesses are small. Companies with 10 of fewer employees are the major source of jobs in Amerca, followed by those with fewer than 20 and then by those with under 50. For that matter, most major enterprises are really small units working on their own and united only by mutual ownership.



Historically, small organizations have had a tough time implementing cost-effective training. A 20-person company can hardly justify a training director. Small outfits lack the economies of scale required to develop in-house programs. As a result, small companies spend more per capita on training and receive less. In 2005, companies with fewer than 500 employees spent $1200 per person for 26 hours of training. Larger firms spent $881 per person to receive 36 hours of training. (ASTD)


The inferior position allotted to small organizations is about to change.


  1. Everyone can share in the economies of scale offered in a broadband environment where "the network is the computer."
  2. Learning today resides in people, not books and courses. People learn though networks, both personal and cybernetic. Self-service learning is de rigeur. The ability of smaller organizations abilty to turn on a dime may prove more valuable (and value-creating) than the buying power of organizational behemoths.


The Wisdom of Clouds


When I was chairman of a tiny Canadian eLearning company, we had a record high of four sales people. Yet we used the same customer relationship management system as Nokia, Dow-Jones, Fleet Financial, AMD, Air Products, PerkinElmer, Coldwell Banker, ADP, AOL, Cognos, InfoWorld, Sprint, Staples, Symantec, and the Zagat Survey. I could call up prospect reports, sales projections, customer histories -- the whole nine yards. This, in a software company where it was a perennial struggle to get our own code out the door. In return for a very reasonable monthly fee bought us a few minutes on a in someone's server farm, more computing power than the big guys for the time we needed it.


We got our service from Salesforce.com. They could do the job better than we would have ever done. From several thousand miles away, their service was faster than we could have done as close as the next room. Salesforce.com has 27,100 customers and 556,000 subscribers. They've got this one figure out.


Somebody tell me why this wouldn't work for learning as for sales management.


Before the internet, a service like this would have been incomprehensible. After the internet, the question is "Why not?" The metaphor of the internet cloud is sufficient exaplnation for me as long as the system holds up. Think of the internet cloud as B.F. Skinner thought of the human brain. Stuff comes in one end and out the other transformed. You don't need to see what happened along the way to appreciate the outcomes.


Bottom-up Knowledge


Once upon a time, corporate denizens believed that knowledge rained down from the top. The sales force isn't selling the product? Let's give them some wisdom from the marketing department and trainers, neither of whom have ever sold anything in their lives. Customer service is poorly rated? Let's provide training on making eye contact, smiling, and using the customer's name. IT spinning its wheels? Time to buy more training CDs on project management, performance consulting, and agile software development. Too bad none of these well-intentioned interventions don't work.


We have bought into experts, to unchanging truths, to bedrock, to logic, to elders wiser than ourselves, to sacred knowledge, and to belittling children as not-yet-human. In a world where things don’t change, yesterday’s methods will suffice to solve tomorrow’s problems. We no longer live in that world.

When I talk about informal learning with a group, I often begin with a film or story so counter-intuitive that it makes people question their judgment. It loosens them up for considering alternatives. Sometimes I need a reality jolt myself. Our culture’s view of learning has been so well hammered into our heads that it’s difficult to get beyond it to see what’s really going on.


I have heard claims that if you sent all the freshmen at any Ivy League college to Holiday Inns in the middle of Kansas, they'd probably learn as much or more from one another than they would have on campus, directed by fossilized professors professing yesterday's interpretations on today's events. Wisdom resides in people, not in textbooks.


Learning comes from groups, from shared experience, from co-creating solutions....

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