Letter from Silicon Valley – Digging Deeper into 2007 Predictions

By Jay Cross, Internet Time Group
1. Work and learning will continue to converge. Nurturing learning ecosystems will supplant much of instructional design. Knowledge workers once had the luxury of time. Some days they would announce, "I'm done," and leave for a game of golf before the sun went down. Manual laborers punched the clock, but early knowledge workers, often analysts and managers, had enough slack in their day to be able to work inefficiently without anyone taking notice. A supervisor with a stopwatch could measure productivity on the factory floor; executives could observe knowledge workers for years without coming up with a reasonable way to measure their performance. Most of us are knowledge workers now. Business has tightened up, picked up a faster tempo, and pushed responsibility down to the individual worker. The slack has disappeared. Most knowledge workers could toil away 24/7 and still not complete what they were expected to do. These days, the inefficient worker falls behind rapidly. In our more transparent workplaces, colleagues see when someone is not getting the job done. Novices are the only workers who have time for classes. Everyone else simply wants what it takes to solve an immediate problem. The answer may be a search, contacting someone in the know, or calling the help desk. It's rarely found in hour-long courses or day-long workshops. If a worker needs a three-minute lesson, he shouldn't be required to spend more than three minutes to get it. For a knowledge worker, learning is the work. Learning must be integrated into business processes. A collaborative business environment speeds up workflow and improves learning. It's not either/or. It's both. Instead of training programs, we need business environments that encourage workers to collaborate and solve problems with one another. Classic instructional design focuses on the gap between an individual's actual and expected performance. Like elementary school, instructional design treats workers in isolation and presumes there's a authoritative answer to their questions. 2007 will see the birth of a new form of nurturing learning, a holistic approach that works to optimize the business, not its training.

2. Talent, wikis, and intangible assets will cross the chasm into the mainstream. Mlearning will not. Human resources (formerly personnel) has historically served as the dumping ground for benefits, payroll, hiring, training, retirement, counseling, performance reviews, pension plans, records, compliance, managing
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contractors, and termination. Heeding the call to "Invest in core competencies; outsource everything else," companies have begun to look at which HR functions are core to the business and which are not. Most of the functions on our list are prime candidates for outsourcing; it's cheaper to process paperwork in India or to handoff payroll processing to a firm that specializes in it. Sourcing and retaining people to uphold the company's values, promulgate its culture, and reinforce its values is core. Talent management combines the functions of finding, recruiting, growing, and retaining employees. Firms are hiring Chief Talent Officers. It's catching on. In 2007, the utility of wikis will force them into the corporate toolbox. Wikis were invented a dozen years ago by a programmer to streamline collaboration among the community developing LISP. For years, wikis were outfitted in geek chic, something only a techie could love. A user begins with a blank page. Many people can write and rewrite what's there. Anyone can create a new page. Font choice, colors, and styles: who needs them? Wikis were very zen. Most people were confused and never came back a second time. Wikis are undergoing a renaissance. Wikipedia, the user-created online encyclopedia, has popularized the concept of wikis. Programmers have cleaned up the wiki interface and eliminated many of its arcane codes. Several companies offer free wikis. Google has purchased JotSpot, a wiki with add-ons for many functions. Another Google acquisition, Writely (now Google Docs) broke new ground by creating a wiki that mimics a word processor. Less proved to be more. Google Docs is intuitive to use. It extends word processing by facilitating collaborative writing. When a document is complete, you can print it or store it -- or publish it to the web, save it as a Word document or PDF, or output HTML code. Wikis help solve an enormous problem that impacts nearly all of us: email overload. Think of the amount of email generated by getting approval of a new policy. The original author emails the first draft to several people. The legal department makes some changes; marketing suggests others; and a wordsmith admin assistance points out a few typos and suggests eliminating passive voice. Now there are multiple versions floating around. Someone makes the changes, which kicks off the same cumbersome review process. On a wiki, the process would be write-once-read-many. Everyone marks up the single draft that's posted on the wiki. Some firms report slashing email volume by 50% with this process. More and more of the world's wealth is intangible. You can't see patents, brands, good will, expertise, culture, and so forth, but they account for more and more of corporations' value. Twenty-five years ago, intangible assets accounted for 38% of the wealth of the Standard and Poors's 500 companies. Old concepts die hard, but I hope 2007 is the year we forget about measuring only what's visible to the naked eye ("ROI") and begin assessing transfers of value. That's where the smart money is headed.
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3. Workforce learning will become increasingly self service, accessible as problems demand. Workers no longer have the luxury of time to sit though training on things they already know. Only the learner knows what she knows how to do for sure; the learner is he who feels the need to get something done. Not only will learners become their own teachers; they will also become their own instructional designers, for they will choose what method they use to find what they need. We are in the midst of a self-service revolution. Banking with an automatic teller machine or putting one's own petrol in the tank reduces the provider's labor costs while speeding up the customer's service. ASTD and Training magazine report on the slow, steady trend away from classroom delivery and towards technological approaches. Information, lessons, instructors, and events are beginning to go where they are needed. Learning faces an over-abundance of resources. Knowledge is proliferating. If someone else were selecting what information I need to know and pushing it into my inbox, I would probably drown. Let me pull what I want from the web. I'll self-regulate -- and quit before going under the surface.

4. Web architecture will cut deeply into the Learning Management System market. The web's flexibility, lower total cost of ownership, and ease of use will reinforce this migration to the web. The learning operating system of the future will be the internet. Learning Management Systems will suffer when companies realize that often they've been measuring the wrong thing. Also, the self-service trend mentioned earlier makes an LMS impractical. But the motivation for moving learning to the web is the age-old triumvirate of better, faster, cheaper. The inherent interoperability of web-based applications makes content sharing feasible. Imagine assembling custom learning solutions by dynamically mixing and matching learning components. Consider the value of consolidating freestanding systems under one portal. Furthermore, a webconnected portal can be the front-end to a variety of modes of learning: performance support, search, connection with peers, and dialog with experts. Web applications have an built-in cost-of-ownership advantage: the entering workforce already knows how to use them. Just about every new hire under the age of 25 already knows how to use a browser, set up IM contacts, write a blog, update a wiki, search a database, and participate in an online community. In addition to eliminating systems training cost, people will be able to hit the ground running.

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5. Just as Salesforce.com enables small companies to use the same applications as large ones, vendors will offer an equivalent learning deliver system online. Learning will be metered on a buy-only-what-you-need hosted basis. Companies will be able to prototype learnscapes, expand them online if successful or pull the plug with no further investment if they don't. We are templatizing common learning environments as proof of concept. When SmartForce tried to market a multi-dimensional, hosted eLearning system in 1999, it failed because the web was unstable, bandwidth was iffy, and standards were not fully in place. Moore's Law accounts for making computers and communication eight times faster than in '99, and market competition has improved bandwidth beyond that.

6. Last year was supposed to be the year of M-learning. Now the forecasts have been pushed ahead to 2007. M-(for mobile-) learning will not make a big splash in the U.S. in 2007. Other civilized parts of the world will plunge ahead, making real progress. There are and will always be a lot more phones than computers. (Wait a few years, and computers will be the size of today's phones.) The value proposition of connecting phones to the web has such potential that it will happen in Japan, Korea, Europe, and other locales with wiser telephone regulator and more current SMS uses. American will be held back by its patchwork-quilt approach to standards, competing telephone companies and the paradigm drag of the incredibly rich but greedy telephone lobbyists. By 2008, envious Americans demand phone-puters with Web 2.0 interface friendliness like they have in other countries. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman joked that he had a campaign pledge that could get him elected president, that we'll implement a telephone network as that in Ghana.

7. Just as Google, Wikipedia, Flickr, Del.cio.us, YouTube, and other social media enlist users to bond and solve problems, learners will use the "read/write web" to create their own content. Workers will develop an increasing amount of their learning content, just as the "read/write web" relies on users to provide solutions to problems. The new wrinkle that makes this feasible is user feedback, folksonomies, and metadata to rate content quality. Feedback enables us to keep high-traffic discussions alive and informed. Folksonomies enable people to find what they are looking for, in their own words. Learning "consumers" will rate any digital content they interact with for usability and relevance. This will enable the cream to rise to the top.

8. The panic over exodus the knowledge in the heads of departing baby boomers will subside. The long-predicted shock to the system will be attenuated by boomers who disengage gradually, performing services as coaches and mentors to bring fresh talent up to that required by professional standards.
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More importantly, the powers that be will find that Generation Y has its strengths as well as deficits. The up and comers may not have read Browning, Pope, or Milton, but they can do things you cannot fathom. Hand a seven-year old a game controller; in no time at all she will understand the rules and be in play. Teenagers learn to learn in groups these days, something very difficult for teens to do twenty years ago. People have the power of their support groups online all the time. Boomers were calibrated in a slower world. Gen Y may learn business like they learn a new gadget; it seems like magic.

9. Experts say that by the end of 2007, most companies will have been penetrated by surreptitious malware. The latest generation of online outlaws are financially motivated. Their attack rate is on the rise. I'm told they have "automated malware-generation kits allow simple creation of thousands of variants quickly — but our security processes and technologies haven't kept up." Because massive security breeches will plague Microsoft Vista upon its release, leading companies to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Training companies that depended on training the masses on the new versions will perish. Leery Microsoft customers will experiment with Open Source LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Perl/Python) as an alternative to Microsoft. Some of the experimenters will every go back to the arrogant, expensive software from Redmond. This is analogous to a strike for higher wages by drivers who delivered milk to homes. The strike wore on for months. By the time the deliverymen returned to their routes, people had become accustomed to picking up milk when they needed it, with their groceries. Home milk delivery never came back. It would be catastrophic for Microsoft if they give companies sufficient time to run Open Software in parallel with Windows. eLearning vendors: get ready to help people learn LAMP. O'Reilly Publishing's CEO Tim O'Reilly asks tech-oriented audiences, "How many of you have used Linux?" Few hands rise. Then he asks how many have used Google. All the hands go up, and Tim explains that Google runs 100% on Linux.

10. Microsoft hates losing ground to upstart Google, first in search, then in advertising, and now threatening the Office monopoly. To try to make up for lost ground, Microsoft will buy Yahoo! Similarly, Wal*Mart, hungry to grow despite market saturation, will buy Amazon.com. To Apple's disappointment, the iPod will lose its luster as a universal training vehicle.

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The U.S. Department of Justice will fail to notice anything anti-competitive about either massive merger of market dominators. Some smart company will license or buy David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology. It's a practical approach to staying on point. And it adapts well to web delivery.

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