CSTD-NB Meeting

The NB elearning Industry and the New Brunswick chapter of CSTD will be holding a meeting on 24 June in Fredericton in the Chancellor’s Room at the Wu Center UNB Campus – Fredericton, 10:00 AM – 2:30 PM. Coffee starts at 8:30 AM. On the agenda:

  • International Strategic Plan for eLearning NB
  • Election of CSTD-NB Executive

The interim executive asks:

Do you have any industry issues that you would like to have addressed leading up to and or at the next industry meeting?

Personally, I would encourage all training & development professionals as well as those interested in learning issues to join the CSTD chapter. You can join online, at the CSTD website. This is the first time that I can remember that we have a professional association for our field. A few years back, some of us had considered creating a chapter of ASTD or ISPI. It’s good to have a Canadian organisation that we can belong to now.

Please consider joining, and please consider attending the general meeting. Our chapter will only be as strong as our members.

Here is the agenda (for those not on the e-mail list):

9:30 AM – Learning Industry Networking Breakfast

10:00 AM – Opening, Steve Kelly, CSTD NB

10:03 AM – Presentation: ASTD Expo – Background/Overview – Steve Kelly and Ben Watson, VP CSTD NB

10:15 AM – R & D Community of Practice, Harold Jarche, Jarche Consulting

10:25 AM – LearnNB Web-site, George Butters, Web Developer

10:35 AM – Presentation: International Marketing Strategy – Development Plan and Implementation Alternatives, Gary Stairs, President, CSTD NB

11:05 AM – Break

11:20 AM – Group Discussions (Marketing Strategy Recommendations)

11:45 AM – Group Responses

12:00 PM – Learning Industry Networking Lunch

12:45 PM – Election of Officers

1:00 PM – Announcements/Soap Box

1:20 PM – LearnNB Executive Activities – Alan MacAulay, Treasurer

1:30 PM – Presentation: Innovations Symposium 2005 – Krista Kennedy, Interim Project Manager

1:40 PM – Q&A followed by Adjournment

There is also a discussion document that was sent by Steve Kelly. You can ask me or Steve to e-mail you the PDF, entitled – Four Key Recommendations for the NB Learning Industry 2004-2007.

Blogging from the Inside

This article in Business Week is getting a lot of attention from bloggers like Steve and Yan. It seems that Microsoft, Macromedia, Sun and other large corporations have embraced blogs to connect workers with customers – as recommended in the Cluetrain Manifesto. The author thinks that once company secrets begin to be spilled, there will be a backlash, but for now bloggers inside companies are enjoying the honeymoon.

In an era of fragmented media, with companies struggling to get their message out any which way, blogs are becoming a kind of undercover megaphone. One way to think of them is as the latest guerrilla marketing tool, a new kind of brand bait.

They’ll likely backfire, though, if employers attempt to exert control. "Companies inevitably will try to co-opt blogs," says Dan Gillmor, author of We, the Media, a book about blogging due out next month.

Bad News for LMS Vendors

Sam Adkins discusses the perils of being an LMS vendor in Learning Circuits.

Free is a hard price to beat. Gateway is now giving the LMS service away if you subscribe to their content. This is a sure sign that LMS technology is now a commodity and vendors are competing solely on price. That is bad news for vendors without deep pockets or cash stockpiles. When vendors compete solely on price they start a brushfire of burning cash. The goal is to outlast your rivals. Those left standing will then have pricing power and can start edging the prices up.

Adkins also talks about the rising threat of patent lawsuits – which only those with lots of money will be able to fight. It will be interesting to see what happens with open source learning platforms, and whether patent suits will be launched against the more successful ones. This may be a bit more difficult from a legal perspective though. Who would you sue? Do they have any money? Using open source, and having free and clear title to use the software, may be the best option to avoid some of these legal/patent issues. Any lawyers out there want to comment?

Great Value from NRC’s e-Learning Group

Seb Paquet, who works at the National Research Council’s e-learning group, with Stephen Downes and others, has been asked to quantify his impact on the research community. Personally, I see the connections that Seb and Stephen make on a daily basis. They are two critical nodes in the research dialogue of the e-learning community of practice.

Seb has helped me get started as a blogger and connected me to the work of some brilliant researchers, such as Lilia Efimova. Seb’s contacts helped to connect the open source bloggers at the last Moncton Cybersocial. Without Seb, Steve Mallet would not have showed up. As a result of the connections made at this event, a number of us are already discussing new business relationships. Seb’s published research informs my own research and practice, as many of my clients are interested in this "blogging thing". Seb’s perspective of the global community is a real inspiration for those of us in underpopulated, somewhat rural, New Brunswick. More recently Seb created the Atlantic Canada Bloggers wiki, a great map of who is blogging – the link is shown on my External Links [no longer available].

Stephen’s OLDaily is a great source of information, and I’m not sure how he finds the time to do it. His website is a treasure trove of information, insight, and sometimes contention (a good thing). Stephen’s Edu_RSS and Ed Radio are two small innovations that he developed in response to requests from the community. Stephen is someone who seems to be constantly giving back to the community.

I definitely feel that I am getting great value for my tax dollar from Seb, Stephen, Rod and the rest of the staff at the NRC.

Collaborate to Compete

I’ve been reading Collaborate to Compete: Driving profitability in the knowledge economy, by Robert Logan and Louis Stokes (ISBN: 0470833009). The book’s main premise is that the Internet is the medium by which collaboration has become an essential business process. Collaboration is the key to actually making use of knowledge management. I was initially intrigued by this book because I had read one of Logan’s previous works, The Fifth Language: Learning a living in the computer age, and was interested by the references to McLuhan’s work on communications theory and Toffler’s books, such as The Third Wave and PowerShift.

This book puts together a lot of knowledge management theory and models in an easy-to-read manner. The introductory chapters are a good review of writings on the subject over the past decade. As the authors build on the concept of collaboration and what it means for the Knowledge Age, they use the example of the scientific community. Scientists were some of the early adopters of the Internet and have been collaborating (and competing) within communities of practice for some time. There are no leaders and everyone is rated by peers on the value of his/her ideas. Logan and Stokes believe that large organisations, especially corporations, can create similar collaborative environments, and they provide examples of collaboration using Intranets and IT systems such as Vignette and LiveLink. I think that many of their premises have value. For instance, using the techniques of Marshall McLuhan, the authors state that there are five collaborative messages of the Internet:

  • The two-way flow of information,
  • The ease of access to information enhanced by information design,
  • Continuous learning,
  • Alignment,
  • The creation of community.

However, they fail to show in a convincing manner how collaborative communities can be created and sustained within command and control enterprises. One could take their practical steps in building a collaborative organisation, and have a good chance at success. The problem would arise when the enlightened despot who has allowed this initiative, decides to leave, or is replaced. Scientific communities have succeeded because no one is in charge, and people can come and go without destroying the community.

I believe that the Logan/Stokes model has much more potential outside their suggested areas. Their formula for measuring collaboration quotient could be used when micro-companies decide to get together for a project – a model that they don’t discuss. This book mentions a lot of technologies, especially technology brand names, but fails to mention web logs, wikis, RSS or aggregators – and it was published this year. These are the best collaboration tools on the net in my opinion.

Despite these perceived [by me] limitations, I think that this book would be a valuable asset for anyone working in the field of knowledge management, communities of practice or virtual teams. I will try to apply some of the models and tools and see how they work. Perhaps the best aspect of this book is that it is NOT about technology, but understanding technology.

In closing, we remind the reader that an IT tool like a collaborative knowledge network will not by itself create a collaborative organization. The human side of the equation, in which attention is paid to vision, trust and leadership, is at the heart of a collaborative organization.

Owning your Data

Kathleen talks about blogs as filing cabinets, in that they can become a fully searchable content management system for research and work, while Jay Cross discusses the advantages of using GMail to search through thousands of messages in a single repository. Similar approaches – with what I assume is similar technology – only the business relationship is different. Kathleen owns the server and the data, while Jay will be "renting for free" from Google.

This made me think about what has recently transpired with Dave Winer closing down his free blog hosting site – a lot of people had to find new places for their blogs. I think that I’ll stick to keeping my e-mail on my own machine, with my own backup, and keep paying to have my site hosted on a server whose location I know. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned.

Open Source Distribution

I’m not for or against open source or proprietary software. I’m a pragmatist looking for the best all-round solution for my clients. Because of this mindset, I have been drawn to the open source model. I also prefer long-term solutions that address systemic needs, not quick fixes. Via Steve, I came across this post on the business model for open source distribution. This one really makes sense, and whether you are developing software, buying software or using software, you should read the entire article.

Copyright and patent are weighty protections, but they put the vendor in an adversarial relationship with the customer. Such traditional intellectual property tools hurt users as much (or more) than competitors. Open source allows me to lay waste to my competitors’ profit margins while simultaneously blessing my customers with increased IT flexibility and a more finely tailored approach to solving their business problems.

This is the kind of distribution model that I believe can make major inroads into the e-learning marketspace.

WebCT & Blackboard vs Moodle

In Considering the Alternative, Matt Jadud makes a strong case for the use of open source learning management systems. Even when the institution has made an investment in proprietary technology (in this case WebCT) there are limitations to what you can do. While trying to integrate the existing WebCT platform with a Java application, Jadud found that the only viable options were to upgrade to WebCT Vista, for an additional >$65,000 investment, or leave the platform altogether. His research found that Moodle had all of the features and support of WebCT and Blackboard, for a tiny fraction of the cost.

Jadud concludes:

We believe there are few benefits to the community at large by investing in closed or proprietary solutions, especially when viable, open solutions exist. A course management solution like Moodle would have eliminated any question of whether our investment of integration effort would be possible (as we could easily use Moodle’s extensibility to our advantage) and valuable (as we would leverage one freely available educational product against another).

Why open source & standards are critical to our economic future

Mark Federman once again shows the unintended consequences of extending copyright laws, by using McLuhan’s Laws of Media. As car manufacturers continue to use proprietary code for their chips, only brand-name mechanics will be able to work on your car, and thus spell the end of independent garages.

The U.S. Congress is considering specific legislation that would allow the corner garage to stay in business. So why should our cars be any different than our printers, our DVD players, our computers, and our future information-sucking gadgetry?

What kind of world do you want to live in?

Retention of Staff a Critical issue

The Globe & Mail reported today in the careers section that “managers hold the key to keep staff happy”. It also reported on a survey conducted by Career Systems International that showed the top ten reasons why employees stay with an organisation. The number one reason was “exciting and challenging work”, but the number two was “career growth, learning and development”. Pay was only number four.

This is one more business-critical reason to pay attention to learning issues in the workplace. It’s also why learning should not be seen as “bolt-on” strategy, like adding a training program, but should be integrated into all aspects of work. As reported in this issue, retention of core staff is necessary to stay competitive, and learning plays a significant role. Learning is business, and business is learning – finally.