Forum .LRN Q&A: Re: Using web logs for learning

Posted by Kathleen Gilroy on
Dear Bruce,  Thanks for the nice post.  My work has always really been about the belief that people are fundamentally smart (and wise) and have important things to learn from one another.  I am interested in your view that in Berlin you do not have the right cultural basis for this approach to learning.  It has been a struggle to get our clients (and sometimes our participants) to re-frame their models of learning away from the top-down, authoritarian classroom model (even with its Socratic methods) towards an egalitarian, peer-to-peer model.  But if you can get people moving towards peer-to-peer, powerful benefits emerge that cannot be ignored.  In a program that we are managing for the Sloan School at MIT, the discussion on the weblog has opened up very interesting threads on complicated and important issues for the client, a large financial services firm.  I think this is working because we consciously reframed the effort as a peer-to-peer learning program and then built all of our tools and learning management systems (in our case, mostly the people who are doing the management) around the goal of peer-to-peer exchange.  The discussion has been so rich that it is now attracting the attention of the firm's top executives.  I guess my point is that it does not just happen naturally.  It has to be a conscious shift by all parties.  And we sweetened things by offering mini Ipods (pink is my favorite color) to the best posters.
Posted by Bill Ives on
Response to Kathleen Gilroy: I was excited with Kathleen’s comments on egalitarian and peer-to-peer learning. I agree completely with her and especially like the way she has articulated the concept. I want to share an example that occurred in 1997-1998 using the technology of the day. I apologize that this is longer than most forum postings and I will drop much of the context for this reason.

A large health insurance organization was changing their IT platform to web-based and, more importantly, moving to a proactive customer service business model away from the traditional transaction model. This effort involved learning new technology and new business processes and attitudes.  The traditional authoritarian classroom model for training call center workers took 12 weeks and it was then still 9 months before they became fully efficient.  Neither of these time frames was acceptable to transform the entire work force so we integrated knowledge management and learning to both drive down classroom time and decrease the learning curve.

So we decided to turn the traditional learning model on its head. We decided that we were not going to train people at all.  Instead, we were going to put all the procedures, information, and knowledge to provide customer service and process claims in a KM system available on the job.  We made the workers responsible for their own learning but gave them what they needed to do the job. However, we did not just turn them loose on customers.  We put them in a two week simulation where they were given claims to process and access to the KM system to support their efforts. Other off-duty employees called in, simulating real customers. A facilitator, not a teacher, was there to answer questions.  In order to graduate you needed to use the system to actually do your new job. Those who got through quickly were then asked to help slow learners, encouraging team work.

We also knew that not all the procedures would be documented in the initial efforts and not all those that were would be right. So we created a simple wizard to have employees write their thoughts on procedures they found undocumented as well as their ideas on how to do those that were covered even better. We gave them examples of how to right good procedures, in a help file, so they could better respond to this task. In the simulation they were required to use this wizard to encourage it use on the job. An organization was set up to evaluate and process their suggestions.

According to participant feedback this proved to be the most popular learning program that most participants had ever experienced. At one point when the new overall work IT system was being introduced sometime prior to release, the employees got much more excited about the KM system that we introduced along with the IT system.  It even got a standing ovation after a long day of demos and employees said they wanted it right now, even if the overall IT system was not ready.

What excited business leaders was the significant reduction in classroom time and the reduction in learning curve, reducing costs and bringing forward the benefits of the major transformation of the business.  What excited the employees was the egalitarian approach Kathleen discussed, although we did not have the benefit of her excellent peer-to-peer framing of the issue at the time.  I have seen this occur, in part, in other places but this was the most dramatic. It would be even better in today’s tools but worked fine in the old ones.