About a year ago, Mario Marino reached out to me and several colleagues with some provocative questions about e-learning in the nonprofit sector. E-learning is using internet technology and your networks to learn in real-time – either as an individual, within your organization, or a network and learning is applied to get results. This e-mail exchange with a dozen or so colleagues evolved into a guest post about one aspect of the topic. Mario and his colleague, Katie Paris explained that this was part of a landscape or mapping process that they were doing to get an understanding of the e-learning space. I was lucky enough to have a number of exchanges with them about self-directed and peer learning models in the nonprofit sector as part of their research process and are referenced in the report.
The product of this learning journey, Just In Time: Beyond-the-Hype Potential of E-Learning, has just been published. Based on a year of conversations with more than 100 leading thinkers, practitioners, and entrepreneurs, this report explores the state of e-learning and the potential it offers beyond the confines of formal education. Many of the techniques are now possible and within the next decade, just-in-time learning will likely become a cultural norm in nonprofits and elsewhere. This report and the advice for getting started goes right to the heart and soul of what I’m currently working in my training and consulting practice.
The report covers how identifies the “seismic and structural shifts” in our society and work place that are demanding that organizations and reinvent themselves and re-imagine their futures. It can be summed in a tagline: “It’s not what you know, but how you learn.” The report discusses the implications of “just-in-time learning”—being able to access information easily and inexpensively at the precise moment of relevance. What’s most interesting to me is how these trends and technological developments in e-learning will impact sectors beyond education, particularly how it will change nonprofits, both individuals, inside the workplace, and networks of organizations working together to solve social change issues.
Here’s some bits from the report that resonated:
- Organizations will move away from “formal” professional development and courses for capacity building and look at self-directed learning that takes advantages of social technologies and networks. That thinking of e-learning only through the lens of education misses the point.
- E-learning has the potential to incorporate “continuous improvement” into the teaching and learning process because of real-time feedback made possible by social media (or learning networks) and digital assessment. But it isn’t the technology that matters. What matters is how instructors and learners, as well as developers. producers, and all those involved apply the information to improve.
- Peer learning is an important concept. Learners, especially younger learners steeped in social media, are using networks to learn from each other in both structured and unstructured ways. This is also an important way that nonprofits are learning from each other and spreading best practices. The point is that we learn best by teaching what we have learned and interacting with others to share ideas and work through problems. E-learning opens up the potential for peer learning’s broad-based adoption.
- E-learning will make it less costly and more feasible for organizations to codify, demonstrate, and share best practices among busy staff members across locations. The tools make it easy for staff to capture, present, and apply what they’re learning. This will pave the way for continuous improvement via an ongoing exchange of views, data, and information.
- The report also predicts the mainstreaming of the “learning concierge” (content curators who help other staff get better at self-direct learning with their networks) I’ve written and taught workshops on this topic extensively over the past three years and it is part of the syllabus of the graduate course I teach).
The recommendations for getting started for organizations include:
1. Put e-learning on the agenda
Begin to identify ways that your organization can capture, share, and apply learning in more agile ways. The report is filled with examples, perhaps a first session is explore the different case studies and adapt a few.
2. Find your e-learning change agent
Consider identifying or recruiting someone who can serve as the organization’s “Chief Learning Officer,” someone who can provide the inspiration and strategy for developing processes to advance the organization’s work through learning. This does not necessarily have to be a full-time position – it is more of a role and has to be a leadership one.
3. Design or Become A Learning Concierge (Content Curator)
Organizations will need to designate or work with someone who has a background in professional development and training as the organization’s learning concierge. This person would assist others in developing their own self-directed learning activities with networks as well as curate relevant learning content to the needs of the organizations.
4. Increase Knowledge Capture
Use video for capturing knowledge from webinars, trainings, skype sessions, and so on – that can be easily remixed into how-to guides and explanations.
5. The Power of Remixable Content
This is a form of content curation – encourage people on staff to curate their own learning and share it. Just like people create playlists on iTunes, this would be having collections of learning resources customized to the needs of the organization and improving staff skills.
How will e-learning impact your nonprofit organization?