Last Friday, David Woolley and I took part in the kick-off of Robin Good's Competitive Edge series on collaborative tools, trends, and practices. Robin has the full rundown and will soon have recordings available. I extracted Robin's transcript of my comments, edited his editing a little bit to restore my original meaning, and post the results below. (I'm not comfortable revising David's words.) For the full impact of the event, visit Robin's informative Kolabora website.
Question: How does the future of conferencing and collaboration look? What are people doing in elearning that is different than before?
JayCross: The future is here! It is just not evenly distributed.
There are some very advanced things going on but there are also some people still finding elearning brand new.
"Traditional" elearning courses are dead. Those types of courses where you have to do course preparation work in advance, where you have to spend a lot of time to read and study stuff on your own, stuff you may never use, or that you may forget long before it is actually useful to you. Those courses are history.
It used to be that..., all the world is a stage and people used to memorize their roles. Well now people do improvisation. They try out new roles and solutions by simulating "what if" scenarios and sophisticated role-playing.
So if people need to improvise while they are meeting online, we need easy access more than anything else.
Simple, intuitive, stupid-proof access to these technologies.
This is where you need to look if you want to see the future of these technologies as well as the future of learning:
learning and work = same same. No difference.
Learning and working meet and melt into each other, to a point where learning is an integral and ongoing part of work. It is work in fact that will need to be changed the most to be able to accept without unneeded restrain those open-ended collaboration traits so essential to the growth of an effective learning culture. (italics mine)
Question: Who do you think has a bigger say in how tools are developed by collaboration, conferencing and live presentation companies today? The end users or the companies creating the technologies?
Jay Cross: Well, in overall terms the workers have a bigger say in what they are going to use and what tools get developed.
We had a history and tradition that has accustomed us to listen to an instructor who is often not even a practitioner. A person who is trying to explain things as if people are missing something rather than taking this coming-together as a unique opportunity to discuss issues, solve problems and share knowledge.
Collaborative software that puts someone on a podium is being replaced by virtual offices and meeting rooms where people share knowledge, ideas, documents and tools as equals..
The companies that don't listen to their customers will be toast. There will be so many options that nobody will go with a vendor that doesn't keep up with what customers really want.
Question: How are these tools changing the way in which organizations operate?
Jay Cross: As I was saying before, we are really in the midst of a powerful paradigm shift.
If you look at instant messaging you can see that it has sneaked its way into the mainstream. The corporate world was not paying attention to its benefits and potential for a long time.
I remember telling Cisco five years ago that "IM is going to be part of learning because it is easy,it's informal, it's immediate, it's kind of fun and it makes for nstant communication between people." Nobody bought it at the time.
Now Cisco and many others are large adopters of IM, and they leverage much of its potential to their benefit.
If someone comes up in the IM arena with something free or low-cost that encourages more of the legitimate stuff, it will win rapid acceptance..
I deal with a company which is one of the leaders in global communications, butI talk to them using Skype.
Question: How do academic organizations and commercial companies meet the challenges created by collaboration tools who disrupt the barriers of command and control and strict hierarchical line of command that exist in most such institutions?
Jay Cross: I follow the corporate sector a lot more than the academic market these days, in part because academics are slow to change. And even slower and less open to change when it comes to changing their professional roles.
We have all heard the griping of faculty members about being bothered by students! Often that is ironic... the students still want to learn something by openly adopting these new technologies but when the faculty needs to learn something new then they prefer to go back to research or to some other safe activity. Except for some leading-edge institutions, academia's use of collaboration technologies has not been directed so much at collaboration so much as replicating traditional lectures, office hours, and workshops.
Jay Cross: The coupling of the power of information systems with communication channels is where the real potential really sits.
If I call somebody at IBM and want to get referred to someone else, they tap into something called Blue Notes and search for the expertise I need. In a matter of seconds they can connect automatically to the right people (further knowing through presence awareness if these people they are looking for are actually there). And then you can set up a meeting immediately instead of wasting weeks trying to get everybody together.
It is these technology combinations that will drive a lot of the future change.
Question (from event attendee): Where should be these real-time collaboration technologies be used? Pre or post an event? Do you know of any examples of companies that have benefited by the adoption of these?
Jay Cross: There are thousands of them!
Here is a philosophical point from Jay:
I made up the word elearning because I wanted to highlight learning, but I don't think learning is at the head of the train.
It is performance that is at the head of the train and only a fool would expect to get results from the technology alone.
It is the technology in support of key organizational goals that is key, and that involves incentives, leadership, innovation, esprit de corps....and this is all mixed in together.
As a matter of fact I'd be somewhat sceptical of any company that would highlight their intense of collaboration technologies if they left out "What is important to us is to serve our customers and this ishow we go about it".
Question: What do you think of the use of video in collaboration and conferencing technologies? Is this a critical component or is this something that in most business and training sessions we can do away with?
Jay Cross: It all depends on context.
Yes, sometimes there is something that you don't want everyone to see but the addition of video to a collaboration session is nearly always a positive and useful addition. Video adds a visual dimension that can be quite important in many events.
There was a famous study at Stanford about a dozen years ago that resulted in a book called "The Media Equation". In this study researchers Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass found that people treat computers like other people, not like inanimate objects.
Our brains are not wired to deal with devices, so we treat them like other people.
To me this is an indication thatyou don't need high-fidelity, full-color, full-screen, full-motion video to make things work. Often a black and white caricature is just enough to enhance the quality level of a conversation and to provide body language feedback which is so essential in direct interpersonal communications.
Video has certainly a role to play.
Plus, let me add if I don't have video, how could I, who enjoy much showing objects during my lectures/presentations, show you something live rather than having to describe it?
It is so much easier to show things instead of having to talk about them.
Jay Cross: One week ago the Emergent Learning Forum met in South San Francisco where we had at least 50 people in our meeting room. At that time we were using Macromedia Breeze to run some live presentations as well as some simulations.
But at all times we displayed a postage stamp view of the actual speaker in one corner of the screen. At one point we switched from the local speaker to a presenter sitting in Philadelphia. WIthout the video, it would have been confusing to tell who was speaking.
And this was just a simple and easy video add-on, that showcases the usefulness under different circumstances of video in conferencing and collaboration events.
Jay Cross: I have been working with a global communication company in Canada, which I could define as a collaboration company offering mentoring on steroids.
Their software is aware of the device, connection speed and whatever else is needed to allow the end user to access the information he or she needs. The user is shielded from having to know which tools, setup, and requirements need to be met to access learning and knowledge that is needed "just-in-time". She goes after it and the system takes care of finding the best way to deliver the message given the tools, technologies, and Internet connection available at that moment. Their technology is all based on interoperability, open standards, and user-centered design.
I am in favor of open source and open standards but one major thing is truly missing here: We do not have standards for human interactions.
If I call you to give you on the phone because your sister died that is a lot different than calling a help desk to get instructions on some item I have just purchased. Our IT systems can't tell the difference.
We really need to do work that is parallel to what is being done in Web Standards efforts, and as of now, on this front, we are really just at the beginning.
Jay Cross: The divergence that David has been referring to is just a sign that there are many opportunities in this field and that there is ample space for experimentation.
This collaboration market is ready to be approached in a multitude of ways and the truly important things that are going to be critical to those who operate in these spaces and industries is the fact that "we live in an unpredictable world".
Since we are here in a more intimate setting than large conferences usually offer let me give you a definition what complexity science means: Shit happens.
A lot of unpredictable things will come to pass in the near future. Count on it. Organizations must be flexible to cope. Rigid hierarchies are not going to function in these circumstances.
For such times we need flexible tools, interoperability, universal access.
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