Share and share alike

Donald Clark, CEO of e-learning developer Epic, on how a revolution in the
music industry has a relevance for the training community

The now famous Napster music-sharing software, written by Shawn Fanning,
whipped up a storm in the music industry, but proved to be a rip-roaring
success with the young Internet users who accessed and shared music files using
the technology.

The peer-to-peer (P2P) computing sharing theory behind it also has a
relevance for those of us involved in e-learning.

It was hoped that e-learning would lead to a more enlightened, bottom-up
view of coaching with talk of learning cultures, lifelong learning, empowerment
and knowledge management.

In practice, there’s been a strengthening of top-down control with learners
being extensively managed, tested, tracked and reported on. There is a renewed
zeal for knowing who does exactly what and when. We seem to have supplanted one
command and control culture with another. The difference is that this time the
control is a technologically smarter and more detailed form of top-down
control.

It would seem that, despite a mountain of management theory that promotes
empowerment and bottom-up behaviour, we may have ended up with a more severe
form of top-down control.

If one thing causes confusion in the e-learning world, it is the move from
the old style of coaching to the new, typified by the debate on blended
learning. Organisations need to transform their learning cultures rather than
simply swap one delivery channel for another. Unfortunately, most of the debate
is a crude discussion around blending online and offline activities. Both sides
are thinking of command and control delivery.

But the model is the same. The overwhelming success of the Napster model in
terms of its clear purpose, number of users and ease of use is one new model
that must be explored.

The Napster model of "connection not collection" appeals to organisations
that see learners as real people with real motivations. Blending e-learning
with knowledge management may be more to the point.

Imagine a world where learning content is shared, where lectures, trainers,
subject matter experts and learners contribute to and share their created
resources. This is what peer-to-peer computing promises: you simply sign on to
a website, search for a topic and use shared learning resources.

The net effect is to hand power back to the people who are already
practitioners in the learning game. Whether it be within an organisation and
behind their firewall or across organisations with no competitive pressures,
peer-to-peer sharing makes sense.

The democratisation of knowledge is already here through the Internet and
further sharing may be about to explode.

Donald Clark is the CEO of the bespoke e-learning programme developer and
Web design company the Epic Group, www.epic.co.uk

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