Many of you may have seen David Carroll’s humorous tirade against United Airlines. Carroll, a Canadian musician, had his guitar damaged by United and although this was upsetting the customer service he received in the following nine months drove him to distraction – United just refused to accept any liability. So he wrote a song, made a video and put it on YouTube. Following over three million hits on YouTube and Mr Carroll’s appearance on all the major news networks, United scrambled to compensate the musician – but it was too late, the damage had been done.
There’s obviously a message here for the big corporate machine: the customer now has the power to expose poor customer service and shoddy business practice. There is also a message here for us L&D professionals. Our customers, the learners, are being exposed to a multitude of technologies at a frightening pace. They get a customer service message from Mr Carroll’s YouTube video, they get information and help on their BlackBerry or iPhone, they network using LinkedIn and they participate in online seminars from home and in the office. We have to embrace the changes and make sure that these technologies are embedded in our learning strategies. We need to break away from the traditional one hour course and leverage the power and the resources that are available to us and all around us.
A recent example is a client of ours who wanted help with a product that their sales people were reluctant to sell. The common view was that the product was too difficult to sell and it was too disruptive for the clients. Our customers asked us to build a one hour course that taught the benefits of the product. After some analysis, we realised that the sales people already understood the benefits but were not motivated to take a risk and try to sell a product that was perceived to be ‘difficult’. We knew we could build a course no impact. So we suggested a competition. We asked all the sales teams around the globe to video their best and worst experiences of selling the product in question. The teams were told that there would be a prize for the winning team and that the best videos would be shown at the global sales conference. We were inundated with videos – some shaky productions created on mobile phones and others that looked like a professional video crew was involved. The videos were made available on a YouTube style website, on various intranet sites and via mobile phones. The result was a learning intervention that was genuine and added real value to the learners. Not a course but a resource that the sales teams could relate to.
As L&D professionals we need to think differently, beyond the course. Otherwise we may find our business partners on YouTube singing ‘L&D, some help you are!’
A little while ago I was on the phone and the person on the other end of the line suddenly interrupted conversation to say ‘there’s a man dressed as a blackberry walking around the office.’ At least, that’s what I thought he said. What he actually said was ‘there’s a man dressed as a BlackBerry walking around the office.’ I must be one of the few people in London who still thinks of fruit before phones.
Since then I’ve been thinking about the impact of technology on our lives these days and the pros and cons of this. In our line of work we spend a lot of our time thinking and talking about how to make more of technology. How can we use Facebook or Twitter to enhance our learning solutions? How can we move from formal training to a social media based approach? How can we deliver training to BlackBerrys and iPhones? How can we find new and ever more numerous ways to reach our clients’ employees?
Now, I fully support this in terms of offering learners an increased level of choice about how, when and where they learn. With most people spending around an hour commuting to work each day, many of those on public transport, it makes sense to offer them the option of using that time to catch up on their learning and training requirements. And I agree with Clive Shepherd that ‘new thinking and new media are no longer the province of pioneers and geeks’ – these things are clearly here to stay (in some form or another) and we need to keep ourselves at the forefront of new developments. But I can’t pretend I’m not concerned about what we as an industry might be doing in terms of contributing to our growing national reliance on – in fact, I’d go so far as to say addiction to – technology.
I’m not suggesting that I’d like to return to the days before mobile phones (being the kind of person who’s usually very early and having the kind of friends who aren’t big on planning ahead, I’d spend a lot of time waiting around or being stood up if I had to rely solely on landlines). But there is a part of me that misses the days when people talking unnecessarily loudly into their brick sized phones was as intrusive as technology got. These days our lives are dictated by the politics of Facebook friendships, network coverage and battery life. Umbrellas have been replaced as the most perilous hazard on the high street by technophiles who stroll and surf the net rather than looking where they’re walking. And romantic restaurants are no longer the domain of loved up couples, but rather of loved up couples, the flashing lights and ‘discreet’ vibrations of new messages and frequent furtive glances just on the off chance that a message managed to sneak through unnoticed.
I’m not alone in this: in an article about the damaging effect of technology on relationships recently featured in The Times, Emma Cook writes that ‘we’ve long know about the compulsive allure of the “CrackBerry”, as well as its younger upstart the iPhone, but with the advent of Facebook, and particularly Twitter, a new level of distractedness is developing.’ And Cammy Bean, devoted to her iPhone, admits that – along with Twitter, blogs, Facebook and emails – it destroys boundaries between work life and home life (a threat which people who work from home are particularly susceptible to: as Cammy says, ‘my office is my home, my home is my office’).
Of course, it’s not all bad, but not everyone has given in to the allure and demands of social networking, video sharing and the blogosphere – and it’s this that I think we’re in danger of forgetting. Not everybody likes the fact that they are contactable anytime, anywhere. Not everybody feels anxious if their BlackBerry is in the next room rather than their pocket. Not everybody defines friendship in Facebook terms. Not everybody understands the draw of real time status updates throughout the day.
At the moment, all this technology means that we’ve got much more choice in terms of how we get information – whether that’s news updates, cinema times and gossip between friends or company updates and training sessions. But we need to make sure we strike the right balance, continuing to capitalise on this without overdosing on it (or, more importantly, forcing other people to overdose on it). I’m all for using Twitter and Facebook to offer people a new way to learn if they want to. What I’m not all for is creating learning solutions that are entirely dependent on these things. Just as some people prefer to learn through video and others through reading, some people appreciate training being delivered to their fingertips when they’re on the train or at home with their families and other people don’t.
So I say, let’s make sure we continue to offer choices, catering to the already techno-addicted, the techno-curious and the techno-minimalists. But I suspect I might be venturing into controversial territory here – am I alone on this side of the fence or are there others out there who share this view?
Saffron is proud to announce that we are the first e-learning company to be awarded Learning Technology Accreditation status from the Institute of IT Training.
The Learning Technology Accreditation is designed for companies that provide communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching, and assessment. The programme covers more than e-learning, extending to generic content, tools, infrastructure and development.
We’ve long been supporters of the Institute, which has played a key role in raising standards in the industry, and we’re proud to be part of this new accreditation programme.
To find out more about this news, please visit this page.
Another week, another piece of strangely named web terminology to get to grips with. Recently there’s been a lot of talk about “the Cloud”. You may not be familiar with the phrase, but the chances are that you’re already using it.
In broad terms the Cloud refers to the Internet in general. The name apparently derives from the squiggly cumulus type design used to represent the Internet on network diagrams or system plans. The concept of a cloud has more importance than that though. It also represents the idea that the user can’t, or doesn’t need to see the inner workings of what’s on the web. The technical details are obscured in the fog. All they need to know is that it’s “in the Cloud”.
So what does this mean in practice? A good example of an application that exists in the Cloud is web mail. Where do you keep your emails? In the past you’d probably have an application installed on your PC where you’d write and store your emails. Now, it’s more likely that this will be done completely online. Not only are your emails kept online, (meaning that they can be accessed from anywhere) but the application has also disappeared. You don’t have to install anything on your PC, so you don’t need to worry about disk space or system specification – you just need to be able to access the Internet, or rather the Cloud. And, as a user, you don’t need to worry about where everything’s kept or how it works – you can just get on with using it. Suppliers of these kinds of online applications tend to refer to them as Software as a Service (SaaS), referring to the fact that the software is no longer an object you own, but rather a service that comes bundled with support, hosting, and unlimited access.
From a business point of view, the Cloud also makes a lot of sense. If the applications your employees use are now completely online, you can drasticaly reduce server space, PC specifications and IT support, among other things. You can also scale quickly and easily; if you need to make an application available to more users, you don’t need to install more software – you just buy more licenses to the service. If an employee leaves, then you can cancel their license and the cost is gone. For example, the client relationship application Sales Force has been an industry leader in this SaaS approach with great success and millions of users world wide. The ubiquity of the information held within the system, the fact that no software or hosting is needed by the user and the fact that other applications (such as iPhone apps) can easily link into the service have all lead to the success of Sales Force. In particular, SaaS is especially liked by small to medium size businesses that may not have the infrastructure to support a locally hosted alternative.
So how does this effect e-learning? In many ways e-learning is well suited to this approach. LMSs are, in a way, an example of SaaS, or the similar PaaS (Platform as Service). They hold training materials and learning records in an online location and allow users to access them from anywhere, without the need for further software. However, often these are hosted internally by companies, or are tailored and hosted specifically for a single organisation. This limits the ubiquity that makes SaaS applications successful with all users, especially smaller companies. LMSs also generally lack the connectivity that good SaaS applications support. In the ideal learning cloud, LMSs would allow data to be exchanged with a number of disparate learning sources, such as videos, presentations, documents etc. found all over the web, not just traditional courses hosted on the LMS itself. This would allow companies to start formalising informal training and capitalise on learners’ appetite for obtaining information from various sources across the web.
Cloud computing and SaaS are already shaping the way we work and are set to change it further in the future. e-Learning is bound to be affected by this too. These are my thoughts on the subject, but what are yours? Comment below if you have ideas on what these changes may be.