Friday, November 21, 2008

Web 2.0 and the Corporate Environment

It has been a couple of years now since the hum of Web 2.0 has been buzzing in the ears of the instructional design field. I remember going to an e-learning conference and there were about four presentations on different aspects of Facebook. That’s all fine and good for informal learning, but what does Web 2.0 have to offer the corporate environment?

Benefit of Web 2.0
Web 2.0’s networking sites and technologies (Facebook, MySpace, wikis, blogs, etc.) are excellent ways for groups of people to build on and share each other’s knowledge. In a “safe” setting, individuals feel more comfortable writing about topics that interest them. Facebook groups are an excellent example of this, where users from around the world can become part of virtual communities of interest/practice. People comment on each other’s submissions, challenge each other, joke with each other, and even correct each other.

If you have a computer problem, you can post your problem online in a blog, and have other people within the IT community troubleshoot your issues. If someone’s idea fails, somebody else will generally suggest an alternate solution. These people are not being paid for their time, they simply take an active interest in being computer savvy. Web 2.0 is already revealing its benefits to the online learning environment.

Pedagogy and Web 2.0
Students in pedagogical environments have also found blogs and wikis useful, as they have been able to provide each other reminders, tips, suggestions, and relevant links to their tasks. Since this is most often a class, there is a teacher that can administrate the blog or wiki to ensure that comments made by students are appropriate. If blogs and wikis go unmonitored, the school runs the risk of cheating, harassment, inappropriate language, and so on. Getting nearly instant feedback helps learners by providing them the knowledge that they need at the right time.

The Corporate Environment
So, in a faceless environment with nothing on the line, and in a monitored classroom setting, Web 2.0 technologies have the capability to be rather successful. But what about the corporate environment? What does Web 2.0 offer the e-learner in a company? Discussion groups have been around for a while, but they are closed off to the public, making their effectiveness controlled and limited. In today’s online world, many corporations use Learning Management Systems (LMS) to moderate and track their learners. Therefore, either the LMS needs to have discussion groups available or the corporation would need to set up its own discussion group for each course offering. Seeing as there is no “teacher” in these settings, there would need to be someone to moderate the discussion threads to make sure that: (a) business processes are adhered to, (b) nothing offensive is written, (c) employees are using their time productively, and (d) employees are qualified at their job.

Whilst employed, people have their livelihood at stake. This makes it much more difficult to admit that one needs the help of others to get their work done. Especially when their questions, issues, or errors can be seen by the people that they work with for an indeterminate amount of time. Depending on the structure and size of the organization, this can lead to feelings of inadequacy, ridicule, and being over self-conscious.

Corporate Friendly Web 2.0 Technologies
There are some technologies out there, such as Second Life, which can use virtual environments for learning purposes. Many of these efforts have been successful as they emulate the private nature of our physical lives. In contrast, wikis and blogs do not mimic this as all comments are visible to everyone. Second Life offers both private and public conversation, most of which are not tracked (or at least not publicly accessible). The down side of using virtual environments includes the high-end hardware needed to run these programs smoothly. Another drawback is the time involved in using such technologies. Since Second Life is an exploratory type of environment, there are few controls in place to limit one’s time spent in the environment, let alone the fact that support for those that are unfamiliar with “gaming” could get in the way of people partaking in this type of online learning opportunity.

It is really hard to envision how wikis and blogs can be successfully implemented into corporate training. According to some of the conference sessions that I have attended, it is apparently possible. Yet, none of the speakers really offered or demonstrated their solution(s) for a typical corporate training solution. One speaker gave an example, but it involved using a blog to acquaint employees with each other for a job they had not started yet, for the purpose of creating a community of interest so as to minimize their attrition rate. Wikis and blogs can be great tools to augment learning, but aren’t really viable solutions in the realm of third party vendor corporate e-learning. Firstly, employees actually need to download and install the necessary software (a challenge not to be overlooked), accept it, be proactive at using it, and be ready to share their talents with others. Secondly, it needs to be adopted by everybody for it to work properly, which is unlikely, given a corporation that may span three or four generations that have varying views on technology and one’s job role(s).

In short, implementing wikis and blogs into a corporate environment is a very exciting prospect as these technologies become more and more common to learners in the workforce and as their popularity strengthens outside the workplace. However, their place and relation to third party vendor e-learning is still a big question mark to most instructional designers. It is my opinion that the current climate of the corporate world is not ready to open themselves up to either: (a) revealing their shortcomings and admiting they need help, or (b) sharing the knowledge that makes them economically viable within their own organization to others. However, when that time of relinquishing the fear of exposing oneself publicly comes around, I believe that Web 2.0 technologies hold a lot of potential for creating solid communities of skilled workers and practitioners.