Monday, 3 March 2008

Web 2.0 Applications in Learning

Last week I presented a session at ASTD TechKnowledge entitled eLearning 2.0 - Applications and Implications. It could just as easily have been called Web 2.0 Applications in Learning.

It was designed to be a small to medium size group discussion, but because the room was large it was very challenging to do that successfully. I discussed a bit of these issues in First Thoughts After ASTD Sessions.

I'm writing this post for both attendees of the session to have some notes and for people who were not at the session to hopefully get value from the discussion that happened there. As such, I'm trying to:
  • Report and discuss the results of an introductory survey that I conduct (thanks to the suggestion via Conference Breakout Sessions).
  • Provide the content. I've embedded all the content from the slides.
  • Provide thoughts around the content and the discussion.
I'm hoping that other people will weigh in with thoughts.

Oh, and I'm going to go in order according to the topics covered in the session.

Existing Adoption

At the very start I asked the audience for examples of where they were currently using these tools as part of learning solutions. There were about 7 examples mentioned including Intuit using a Wiki-like system for customers to ask questions/get advice around taxes, using a group blog with students prior to a formal learning event, the US Army's use of collaboration tools to share best practices in Iraq, and several others.

I discussed the fact that there was a common Adoption Pattern that went from personal adoption to work groups to organization.

– Personal =>
– Work group =>
– Organization

I also discussed that often these things evolve into solutions. This is something that gets discussed as emergent: see Emergent Knowledge Management, Direction of eLearning - Emergence or Big System, and Future Platforms for eLearning.

So while the session focused on organizational adoption, it likely was the case that you should look for targeted adoption opportunities.

Adoption Opportunities (Survey Part 1)

Prior to the start of the session, I handed out 100 copies of a brief survey. I ran out of copies (so there must have been more than 100 people in the room at some point - although people often come to grab copies of handouts and then leave prior to the start). I received 41 surveys back from participants. The participants were Learning Professionals from a cross section of Corporations, Academia, Military, Government (IRS was well represented and a little scary) and Non-profits. I didn't ask questions which would help to better identify participants.

Question 1 - What are the most likely ways / places your organization might or does use Blogs, Wikis, Social Bookmarking, Social Networking or Collaboration Tools? Choose the top 3-5.

Method Count Percent
Alongside Formal Learning
26 63%
Process Information / Training
22 54%
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) / Support Information
18 44%
Commonly used resources, URL's to applications, documentation, Contact Information, etc.
15 37%
On-Boarding process / Corporate Information
11 27%
Online Reference / Glossary
10 24%
Product Information / Training
9 22%
8 20%
Supporting Meetings, Conference Rooms, Phone Numbers, Facilitation Assignment, agenda, etc.
7 17%
Augmenting live conversations, e.g. taking jointly visible notes during a virtual meeting
4 10%

Other methods or comments written in:
  • Communities of Practice
  • For Professional Consulting or Training Areas
  • CoP and Detective training, teaching students, share best practices and poll member, learn from each others membership interest groups
  • Peer to Peer Knowledge Transfer (Across Divisions)
  • Membership Interest Groups (Certain areas of focus)
  • Leveraging our professional team to learn from each other
  • New Results Distribution
  • Performance Support - "reminders"
  • Share best practices and to poll other members
  • To teach students tools they need for success in the workplace and world
  • Developing New Training
  • Currently do not use but will after implementing LMS
In discussing this with the audience, it was clear that people saw a variety of different possibilities. However, a few things struck me:
  • A big reason for the survey was to get people to think about where these tools might make sense. However, the discussion quickly lost steam. There weren't nearly as many suggestions as to where they would like to see adoption as I expected.
  • I somewhat expected that the answers would be scattered. This was more of a prompt than it really was a true survey. And, of course, part of the scattering is that people in different kinds of organizations are going to have different needs.
We had some good discussion around how you might use these tools alongside formal learning. The suggestion by one audience member about requiring blogging (or similar forms) of sharing prior to a formal learning event was great. There were a few others. I discussed my experience from Collaborative Learning Using Web 2.0 Tools - A Summary and particularly my use of the course wiki as the basis for putting course notes, having each team put up their work, etc.

We discussed several other possible uses, but I'm blanking on what they were. Again, though, not as many people jumping in with - "What I really want to do is ...." as I expected.

Target Audiences (Survey Question 2)

Question 2 - What audiences are the most likely to use these tools in your organization?

Audience Count Percent
New Hires 25 61%
Other 17 41%
Operations 12 29%
Managers 10 24%
Customer Service 9 22%
IT 8 20%
Sales 7 17%

Other audiences written in:
  • Professional Trainers and Consultants
  • Clients- Access Knowledge Domains
  • Contractors
  • Work Groups
  • Students
  • Training Department
  • Engineering (Product, Process, Quality)
  • Constituents-grantees
  • Product Developers
  • Members of our Association
  • Trainers
  • Younger Employees
  • Consultants
  • Members
  • Students
  • Clinical Research Associates
Clearly I wrote the question with my normal mindset around corporate use. Many people in academia felt that students were the obvious target audience. I also left out many external audiences, e.g., customers, grantees, partners, members, etc. The fact that so many people wrote them in as targets suggest that this might be an interesting place to look and was certainly something being targeted.

Also, several people wrote in the training department itself. That's actually quite a good point and likely a good way to go after it. It also fits nicely with starting with targeted adoption.


I only briefly mentioned how other organizations are adopting these tools in a big way - The Wall Street Journal - June 18 2007 - social networking at IBM
  • 26,000 registered blogs.
  • 20,000 wikis with more than 100,000 users.
  • No anonymous users.
  • DogEar – Social Bookmarking
  • BluePages - employee-controlled profiles of 400,000 employees
  • Daily online newsletter called w3. Ranking, tagging, top stories
  • Tags link back to the tagger’s BluePages profile
  • IBM owns more than 50 islands in Second Life. Orientations, classes, and meetings are often held in Second Life.

I then asked everyone to call out what they saw as their biggest barriers to getting adoption. No problems getting things here. I tried to capture things down as they were said, here are my notes:
  • Firewalls
  • IP
  • Privacy / Confidentiality
  • Security
  • Control over Quality of Information
  • Strict Control Over Policies – Accuracy
  • Liability / Discoverability / Compliance
  • Change Management – Ready for It / Culture
  • Management Take it Seriously – Away from Work
  • Education of Management
  • Lack of Resources – Mobile Devices
  • Push Back from Workforce - Adoption
This is a pretty good list of commonly cited barriers. I wanted to go through each item and discuss it in detail, but we really didn't have enough time, so I proceeded to hit the items that I thought would be most relevant (and that I already had canned responses).

Note: if anyone has good discussions or references for how to address these barriers, please let me know.

Content Quality / Regulated Content

One of the most common initial objections is what about quality of the content. How do you know what gets put onto a Wiki is okay to distribute?
  • Moderation - On many Wiki software packages you can require approval for posting changes. It takes more work, but initially this is a good way to overcome this objection.
  • Limit Authoring - You can control who is allowed to make changes. Initially, you can start where only your instructional designers / writers are allowed to make changes. Then, maybe open it up to subject matter experts. Then to the help desk. Then maybe to end users / learners. You can also limit what pages can be changed.
  • Version Control - It's easy to roll back changes.
  • Safe Harbor Statements - Clearly mark pages that are controlled and approved vs. those that are not. Or pages that are for training purposes but you need to go elsewhere for the official stuff.
  • No anonymous editing
Does anyone have good examples of CYA language you can put on a Wiki?

Fundamentally, the question is whether this same content is getting distributed through other means (think email or water cooler). If someone is going to post it on a Wiki, they certainly would send the same thing in email. Wouldn't you rather have it out in the open?

Participation / Adoption Rates

Will people really pick these things up and use them?

I cautioned everyone about the 1% Rule that says in collaborative environments, e.g., discussion groups, for every 100 people who sign up, 90 will lurk, 9 will participate in a limited fashion, and 1 will regularly post content.

Without anything else involved, you need a fairly large audience to get significant participation.

Of course, you can try to improve those percentages through:
  • Incentives or requirements (students must blog - it's graded)
  • Community cohesion
  • Focus (short time frame, limited topic)
  • Integrated as natural activity
and other adoption models. Still, be careful about overselling the amount of adoption.

Adoption Patterns

Clearly to increase the chances of successful adoption, you should use patterns that are more likely to succeed. WikiPatterns is a great place to go for ideas around this. So is the look at Training Methods. A few of the interesting patterns that I commonly think about:
  • Starting Point - Never give people a blank page. Start them with initial structure and obvious placed to add content.
  • Barn Raising - Get people together or virtually together to get the content going. They'll learn how to do it and have experience and a feeling of ownership.
  • Honey Pots - Create pages that people are likely to update such as Common Support Issues, FAQ, etc.
  • Agenda - Meeting agendas are a good common editing needs
  • Company Directory / People Pages - Another easy place to start.
  • Time frame / Goal - Starting with a fixed time frame and a particular goal often gets better initial activity.
Selling the Value

Often it can be tricky to convince management of the value of providing these tools. I've not really seen good examples of business cases (future ROI) for using these tools. Rather, I've seen them sold based on specific uses that have obvious value to the organization.

Still, this is a somewhat uphill battle. Even Thomas Davenport, author of Thinking for a Living, has blasted these tools:
blogs have detracted from productivity, not increased it.
– Thinking for a Living
I’ve been on LinkedIn for several years. I never initiate a connection. I can safely say that I have gotten nothing out of the site …
– on his blog
I've already discussed that some people are really not getting the impact of different tools. Getting Value from LinkedIn, Thomas Davenport and Blogging - He is Wrong!, Spending or Wasting Time on Web 2.0 Tools? and have certainly called out the irony that Davenport is writing a blog (I guess he's okay with his personal loss of productivity).

For most organizations, selling the use of these approaches needs to be focused on the specific (limited) opportunity.

The other aspect is that it is often easiest to get these tools in very limited ways, use them in a limited fashion and then grow them. Use a Wiki instead of other approaches to creating web pages (only edited by ID/writers initially). Open up editing slowly.

Then getting people to use them in other contexts is that much easier and you will gather anecdotal evidence of value.

Other Barriers

A few other thoughts on barriers mentioned by the audience that I should more clearly address at some point...
  • Firewalls - You can certainly install tools behind the firewall. See the lists of tools below. You have to decide about inside the firewall vs. SaaS, but this shouldn't hold you back.
  • IP - Making sure it's clear about ownership of content is definitely an issue. Multiple authors - who owns at end. Not sure what else was implied.
  • Privacy / Confidentiality - Limit the visibility.
  • Security - This is no worse than any other form of electronic communication.
  • Control over Quality of Information - See above
  • Strict Control Over Policies – Accuracy - See above
  • Liability / Discoverability / Compliance - Absolutely the contents of your Wiki, Blogs, etc. is discoverable. So, yes, you have to set up policies and alert people just like you do around any form of electronic communication (email, IM). My experience has been that people are more likely to say something problematic in email (they think of it as private) than they are on a public avenue like a Wiki.
  • Change Management – Ready for It / Culture - Incrementally moving into it is needed.
  • Management Take it Seriously – Definitely an issue.
  • Lack of Resources – Mobile Devices - It doesn't take much to get most of these things going. I forget the issue around mobile devices.
  • Push Back from Workforce - Adoption
Again, I'm curious about additional thoughts on these items and/or places I can point people.


The following are resources that I provided as links in my presentation.

Corporate Blogging Guidelines

Feedster Corporate Blogging Policy

Thomas Nelson Blogging Guidelines

Plaxo Public Internet Communication Policy

Hill & Knowlton Blogging policies and guidelines

Yahoo Employee Blog Guidelines (pdf)


Blog Tools

Apache - Roller - Open source

BEA - Pages

Jive Software – Clearspace

Microsoft - SharePoint

Six Apart - Moveable Type

Traction Software – TeamPage


Wiki Tools

Atlassian Confluence

BEA Pages

Jive Software - Clearspace

Mediawiki – Open Source

Microsoft - SharePoint

Mindtouch - Deki Wiki – Open Source


Traction Software - TeamPage

Twiki – Open Source

Social Bookmarking Systems

BEA Pathways



IBM Lotus Connections - Dogear

Scuttle – Open Source

Social Network Systems

Awareness Networks




IBM Lotus Connections




Microsoft SharePoint


Ramius CommunityZero

Select Minds

Sparta Social Networks


Telligent Community Server



Related posts from several eLearning Blogs:

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