Thursday, December 14, 2006

Human Capital Reporting - Don Taylor

Don Taylor has posted an interesting discussion of the state of human capital reporting. A very interesting post/article and quite thought provoking, and some useful references too. I agree that the lack of real metrics is a big limitation in moving the perception of people value in business. Our research also shows that most organisations do not even understand their basic data very well, let alone be sophisticated enough to really understand added value in either performance or human capability.

But even if the lack of metrics is a problem (which it is), I do not believe it is the cause of the problem, just an effect. The real challenge is in getting business leaders to truly understand the relationship between human capital (if that is the term we want to use) and business performance - both current and future.

In the majority, business leaders are simple animals. Their behaviour (as opposed to rhetoric!) is largely linked to what will drive results. If they definitely know that investment in people improves bottom line results more than cutting costs or increasing marketing then they will do it more often. Unfortunately they don't really know that, although plenty of people may try to tell them. In this sense, the human capital debate is in more of the "faith" business (like marketing in some sense) than it would like to be.

Metrics and models help to develop the discussion and start to provide a robust basis for moving from faith to evidence. But this is a long road, and, at least in the short term, basic is better!


Subject Matter Experts as Trainers - Implications for Rapid E-learning

Wendy Wickham has posted a comment on her blog about Subject Matter Experts as trainers. I think this is a very interesting point she is making about the mindset, focus, interest and commitment of subject matter experts in the learning process. I'm sure we can all think of SMEs that are very motivated to pass on their knowledge, and try hard to help their learners really understand their subject. But unfortunately this is still all too rare.

I think a key reason for this is that SMEs assume that learners are in their (i.e. the SMEs) context, not the other way around. Wendy's point 3. The learner typically has to make the leap of understanding to be able to relate what they are being told back to their own needs or problems. In reality this is very challenging, unless the subject is very easy, and of course if it is that easy, they could probably have worked it out for themselves anyway! Context is critical for learning.

One key area of interest for me currently which directly relates to this discussion is the growth in rapid e-learning activity and its potential challenges and limitations . (See the discussion linked to some trends for 2007.

Rapid e-learning has emerged as one of the key trends for e-learning, and in some ways, rightly so given the cost and time to produce custom e-learning content. A big part of this assumes that SMEs can also become e-learning authors, but as you have pointed out SMEs are generally not great trainers, let alone educators. They might be able to generate lots of powerpoint slides but that doesn't necessarily equate to good learning content. Now the problem will potentially be magnified as they start to produce lots of bad e-learning instead.

I say magnified because this problem already exists in current e-learning, and it also exists in SME driven training. But with rapid e-learning, we don't even have the SME face to face to give us a chance to ask questions or examine our context. Their potential to crank lots of bad learning reaches new levels.

Of course this is a risk, and more enlightened organisations are aware that they have to manage quality. But our research with large corporates shows that this is not an easy battle, often taking the form of damage limitation rather than added value!


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

KM and Learning

Jay Cross has posted a relevant (but not necessarily new) question on his blog about the difference between Knowledge Management and Learning. Personally, I think this is a question that the learning technology industry has been debating for some time, and not terribly productively. KM and Learning are still largely separate functions in most corporates we work with. They have separate agendas, separate teams, separate budgets and separate systems. Why?

One of the reasons I think is historical. When KM first appeared it was high-jacked by the IT industry. I remember doing lots of work with Lotus and IBM in those days who were early adopters of the KM story, and have subsequently made large investments of their own resources, and of their customers in progressing the KM agenda. At the time learning was mainly about "training", and maybe it still is in many companies. I believe that, at the time, it was in the vested interest of the KM afficianados to distance themselves from training, and to create a parallel knowledge agenda, which has largely led us to where we are today.

Does this separation make sense? I would argue no, but only if we've well and truly got the message that learning isn't training. This is of course why Jay is currently asking his question. With his current focus on informal learning, the separation looks incredibly artificial. Once we focus on learning from medium other than formal learning materials, i.e. course books or their e-equivalent, the differences between KM and learning very blurred.

For us to view knowledge as something distinct from learning implies that knowledge has a purely transactional value, distinct from it being retained or used by the person accessing it. Yes there are other processes around knowledge, but similarily their are other processes around learning. I think it would be much more useful if these were part of the same not separate agendas.

This also therefore brings me to maybe the real reason why learning and KM are mainly separate - organisational vested interest. Ultimately, in most corporates, these two functions exist as distinct groups, often in different reporting lines within the organisation. Why? If what I've said is true and they should be a continuum of the same thing, surely they should be integrated. The reason why they haven't is maybe more down to organisational politics than it is to an understanding of the real differences or similarities.


Back again

Sorry guys - been out for a while - back on stream now.