Are books for learning?

BooksNot an entirely silly rhetorical question — in our work world of endless data aggregation and analysis, the reading of books remains a curiously solitary and hard-to-track enterprise.

It’s easy enough to hand someone a book. It’s easy enough to require a signature acknowledging receipt and even demand answers to a compliance question or two to check headline-level comprehension.

But it’s hard to do anything with a book approaching a deep and actionable, let alone shared understanding of the content without classes and clubs — meaning that costly in-person conversations in and around the act of reading are still what makes reading, at least the extended kind, real and useful.

But for the corporate world, the idea of reading as a purely personal pursuit may be changing. Three developments — e-book readers, the advent of technology-mediated social reading and the X API (nee Tin Can) — together make books cost-efficient, communal and reportable in new ways.

e-book readers are now ubiquitous and cheap. Even general-purpose iOS and Android tablets support the e-pub standard. New services like Zola make reading a compelling group exercise (it’s very cool). Established services like Lulu let any company build its own libraries for private, on-demand distribution. The X API means that the reading of a book can be recorded by chapter and task in any competency framework a company may need.

Books Redux.

Home schooling, home college, company college

Peabody Institute Chair Hollis Robbins at Johns Hopkins University just wrote a provocative piece in The Chronicle Of Higher Education on an idea so simple and so intuitively right that it feels like it should already be in wide use. Dr. Robbins looks at the broad skill sets of multi-discipline PhDs and asks why one or some of them banded together couldn’t offer the equivalent of at least the first year of a liberal arts university education on a home schooling basis — and do so with better outcomes (and at lower cost) than the students would likely get at a good private liberal arts college or university; the idea being for the students to earn home college credits and transfer in to “formal” programs after they’ve done the first year or two with the private providers.

As you would expect from a humanities professor, the piece is balanced, subtle and eminently reasonable.

You can read the article here.

It got me thinking. The home college idea begs the question — Why couldn’t companies do the same thing? What a perk it would be for employees to be able to get, on a part-time basis, a top-flight liberal arts education through work. For companies of a certain size, hiring three or four full-time PhDs is a small cost. The professors might easily handle up to 100 company students a year. Smaller companies could band together to share costs.

Though such a program could easily be run by a corporate university, this idea is nothing like traditional corporate universities, which are generally driven by line-of-business needs and are vocational in purpose rather than about explicitly building employees’ personal capabilities.

It’s a radical and I think powerful idea. It’s kind of an anti-MOOC (though there’s nothing stopping any such program from incorporating MOOCs into the curriculum). It could also turn out to be cheaper (and a lot better) than sending an equivalent number of staff to community college.

The benefits to the business of setting up a company college might include:

  • An increase in employee engagement (and thus higher employee retention rates)
  • A reputation boost for the company in its industry and communities
  • A smarter workforce (hat tip to IBM) — let’s be honest, though humanities training does not easily translate into job-specific skill-set libraries, the general truth is clear — over the long run, better people means better business

On that last point, one of the downsides of doing what everybody else is doing is that there’s no strategic competitive advantage to be had in the process: your best outcome is to not fall behind your peers. The upside of doing something different, something like Dr. Robbins’ suggests for example, is that, if it works, you’re in blue water.

Mooconomics

An excellent post from John Cochrane (The Grumpy Economist) on what works about online learning.

Read it here.

The flipped classroom discussion is particularly good and has implications for corporate training strategies.

Worth a look.

 

Take no prisoners HR

The Harvard Business Review just published an article on human resource practices at Netflix.

You can find the article here.

It’s not for the faint of heart. The key question? Which members of your team, if they got offers somewhere else, would you fight to keep? Okay now, let’s talk about everybody else on your team — if you wouldn’t fight to keep them, why are they still here?

The article includes a slideshare presentation. It’s worth reading.

Too social?

The main part of the mechanismBrandon Hall Group Analyst David Wentworth just posted an interesting piece on the growing problems with enterprise social network initiatives.

You can read what David is thinking here.

We have always believed in social learning rather than in the idea that HR or learning and development departments would end up “owning” enterprise social networks.

To that end we make a point of including core talent-related social affordances in our out-of-the-box offerings (learning and performance interest groups, forums, news, email, chat, file sharing, etc.) and supplying robust API libraries, including widgets, Google gadgets, macros and plugins for working nicely with clients’ enterprise social network choices, whatever they turn out to be.

We think of it as the good neighbor policy.