My 20 years on the Web (1994-2014)

woman-163426_640People often ask me how did you get into social media?  My answer, is to tell them that I didn’t get into social media, social media got into me!  Here’s my journey through the last 20 years of the Web, and how it has influenced my thinking about workplace learning.

I was introduced to the Web in the early 1990s (when I was working as a Senior Lecturer in a university in London) by my husband who had attended the very first World Wide Web conference at CERN in Geneva in 1994. I could immediately see its potential for education, so I taught myself to use HTML to write webpages and I developed a series of free online World Wide Web Workshops (WWWW)  to share what I had learnt. (This was the beginnings of my whole practice of sharing my work with others)

I also set up the first online course in my university to put into practice my thoughts about offering education online.  Although I was brimming full of ideas of what could be done, I was  amazed that others couldn’t see the huge impact  that the Web would have on our lives, and I remember how aghast I was when my then Head of Department  said the Web was “all a load of hype”.  It was a salutary lesson that not everyone “gets it” straightaway, and something I have had to remind myself about many times since then!

In 1997, as the Web became more and more popular in the corporate sector, I decided to leave education to work in the Internet consultancy business that my husband had set up a few years earlier, where I would focus on helping corporates with the new world of online learning.  I was very lucky that my first contract was based in the South of France, where I worked for the Training & Documentation department of a multinational telecommunications company.  They were also inspired by the power and reach of the Web, so I wrote a business proposal to build an Online Learning Centre for the Global Help Desk, and then single-handedly specified the hardware and software requirements, installed the server, set up a very early Learning Management System, and began creating initial content for the site –  activities, by the way, which it now seems to take an army of people to undertake!

By 2000 I was back in the UK, and taking on another contract this time with Cisco Systems.  They had set up an E-Learning Team in London to implement e-learning in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) region.  Cisco was already producing some fabulous stuff for its own internal use, but what really made an impact on me, was the definition of e-learning that Cisco used.

“E-learning is information, instruction, communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing.”

This made absolute sense to me as I had by now realised, learning in the workplace, is much, much more than just creating and delivering instruction.  However, e-instruction is exactly where many businesses have focused their attention in e-learning – mainly in an attempt to save the costs of running face-to-face events.  So, when Jay Cross, who I had known since around 2001, asked me to take a look at the manuscript of his new book, “Informal Learning” and provide him with my thoughts and comments I was delighted to do so.  At last, I thought, organisations would now begin to realise that there was more to workplace learning than just taking courses!

But it is clear that, over ten years later, there are still many people who don’t “get it”. There are still many who want to try and force-fit (or “blend”) informal learning into some organised formal learning structure, and manage it in their LMS! They just don’t see (or want to see) the importance of autonomous, self-organised (informal) learning, nor how they can support and encourage it, rather than manage and control it.

But in the meantime, we have seem the emergence of a whole new range of social media tools, which have impacted all the different parts of our lives – personal, professional and organisational. These tools allow us to co-create content, communicate, collaborate and share information in many new ways, and they  also provide the means for us all, to find out, discover and learn – by connecting with others.

Of course social business is still in its infancy; much of it is happening at the grass-roots level and happening in a bottom-up way – where some organisations are not even aware of it!  And, inevitably, there are still many people who “don’t get it”.  Those who haven’t personally experienced the power of the Social Web still call it “hype” or “a fad”, and some organisations are still desperately trying to control it all, by (once again) attempting to force-fit it into their traditional, formal structures and processes – usually unsuccessfully when it involves users who have seen the power that social media brings to them as individuals.

Fortunately, however, I have been lucky to work with a number of organisations – large and small –  who do “get it”, who don’t see the social era as a threat but as a huge opportunity for them to thrive as a social business, and for them to help their people to work and learn smarter in this new age of collaboration and knowledge sharing. In the latest version of my Social Learning Handbook I offer lots of advice and suggestions how to do so, that are not just about creating and designing learning for people but to help them connect and learn from one another as a part of their daily working lives.

Finally, when I am asked to provide advice to those who want to help their own organisation move forward into the Networked Era, I say that they need to be fully immersed in the Social Web. It’s no good standing on the periphery, telling others to be social, they need to be able to demonstrate what it means to them to be a networked, connected individual. If they can’t show the value of being social for themselves, why would others take any notice? They need to Walk the Social Talk.