All right, class, pay attention! Today's lesson is all about learning — the single most important tool for people, teams, and companies that want to get fast and stay fast in the new economy. Today, we're going to learn how learning is changing,how you can promote learning, and how you can become a better learner.
And we're going to have some important guest teachers: 16 of the most experienced leaders in the fields of higher education, organizational learning, corporate education, and Web-based learning. So open your notebook (or your notebook computer), and get ready to take notes. When it's all over, there will be a quiz — in your workplace!
Senior VP of training and education
Despite the recent explosion of educational and training alliances in learning, it's not a given that they will all work. Managing those partnerships, especially the global ones, demands a complex set of skills. For one thing, many alliances aren't the kind that you would typically expect to find.
For example, how do you get a group that includes Columbia, Kellogg, and MIT not only to form content alliances with technical providers but also to work with venture capitalists who can provide distribution and administrative channels? Other examples include the Cisco Networking Academies, in which students get hands-on skills training while they attend high school or college. And of course there's Motorola University's telecommunications academies, which, in alliance with educational providers in Hyderabad, India and Johannesburg, South Africa, combine skills-based training with academic training.
The biggest challenge that all of these alliances face is managing the interaction between the content expert, the packaging expert, and the distributor. It requires an administrative system that can work worldwide for both students and managers. The point is to find a team that can bring together a variety of disciplines and to aim that team toward a common goal.
Bill Wiggenhorn (firstname.lastname@example.org) has presided over Motorola University since it was founded in 1981. As Motorola's global education-service provider, MU designs and delivers a wide range of products and services to Motorola, as well as to the company's suppliers and customers. Since 1990, MU has partnered with universities around the world: Recently, it established the Motorola University College of Telecommunications at the Indian Institute of Information Technology, in Hyderabad, India.
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
In the Internet era, when facts are literally at one's fingertips, marshaling information is no longer enough to constitute learning. Professors aren't as impressed by a student who presents a slew of facts in a paper as they might have been when those facts represented long hours spent in a library reference room. Today, it's what you make of those facts that's impressive.
And that's why, contrary to what today's focus on high technology might imply, the humanities are more relevant than ever. Subjects like philosophy, history, and literature teach you how to interpret information and how to argue a point of view. That kind of sophisticated learning is a requirement for innovation and for entrepreneurship. Not only the written arts but also music and the visual arts will become increasingly important. Music, for example, teaches valuable lessons about time and space. Similarly, visual thinking is critical to using computers and to manipulating images across multiple dimensions.
If we really want a society that can "think different" — a goal that the high-tech world seems to applaud — then technology will not be the death knell of the humanities. Instead, humanities education will attract more attention. Original ideas come from reassembling knowledge in new ways. But you need to have that knowledge in your mind before you can reassemble it.
Leon Botstein (email@example.com) has been president of Bard College for the past 25 years. He also served as music director, conductor, and guest conductor in symphony orchestras worldwide. His books include Jefferson's Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture (Doubleday, 1997). Bard College is a private liberal-arts college that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Sister Joel Read
Just as manufacturers know that you can't let a product go through an entire assembly line and then reject it at the end, so educators need to assess students throughout the learning experience — and not just fail or pass them at the end.
When done well, assessment becomes indistinguishable from the learning process itself, since people integrate information through their own thought processes — not simply by receiving information.
That's why we have no grades at Alverno. At other schools, if you get an A, you don't get a sense of what was good and what you could have improved. Instead, we have eight criteria that students must satisfy at growing levels of complexity. They're given an online diagnostic tool that allows them to save work related to classroom learning, to internships, and to volunteer work. Those online portfolios allow both students and administrators to discern patterns in a student's learning early on.
One of the eight criteria is communication. When problems arise in the workplace, it usually isn't because people don't have the right information. Things go awry when communication breaks down — often because someone fails to see something from a different perspective. That's why we have students work in groups: We want them to learn where their biases are. We assess them in such group situations, but, more important, they learn to assess themselves, so that eventually they become their own assessment centers. They leave here knowing how to live in a world that requires quick decision making — and they leave understanding that there are pieces of information that they'll have to fill in for themselves.
Sister Joel Read (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been president of Alverno College since 1968. Under her leadership, Alverno has won many awards, including a MacArthur Foundation grant for its distinctive approach to education. Alverno, founded in 1887, is a four-year Catholic liberal-arts college for women.
The Masie Center
Saratoga Springs, New York
Now that the Web has become a ubiquitous learning tool, what can we do to make it perform better as a teacher? One big, untapped area is that of membership. The current model of learning and training — whether you're talking about high schools or corporate universities — will have to change to one that keeps its learners engaged over a long period of time. Why? The financial survival of educational institutions and the growing need for continuous, lifelong learning demand such a change.
Think about it: Higher education is the only business that has a ceremony for firing its customers. Colleges spend thousands of dollars on recruiting students, and then, after four years, those colleges make students dress up in a gown, march them across a platform, and then fire them. The only other time that happens is at an execution!
Imagine an MBA program that saw the value of its customers as extending far beyond the years that they spent on a campus. Instead of firing people after a few years, such a program would shift its emphasis away from graduation. Upon acceptance into the program, students would become "members," and they would remain members for as long as they took courses, whether those classes were conducted on campus or online. The goal would be to keep members over the life cycle of their careers — and even into postretirement. In turn, the program could charge fees according to each member's level of involvement.
Rather than offer learning that has an end point, MBA programs could transform learning into something continuous. Educational institutions that survive will move from the Industrial Age "event" model to a model that turns students into members of a network — a network that keeps them engaged over the course of their life.
Elliott Masie (email@example.com) has worked in the fields of technology, learning, and organizational development for 25 years. Before founding the Masie Center — an international think tank that focuses on issues of learning and technology — he was president of a division of Ziff Davis Publishing. Recently, he was appointed to the newly created White House advisory committee on learning opportunities.
Founder and president
Teach for America
New York, New York
The best advantage that a learner can have is a good teacher. And what sets the best teachers apart from the rest? The best teachers drive themselves to be continuous learners: They never shut themselves off from the chance to learn more in order to become even better teachers.
I've seen that point demonstrated again and again. For example, four years ago, Gaston Middle School, in rural North Carolina, was listed in the bottom quartile in the state's performance ratings. A member of the Teach for America corps in that school, a seventh-grade English teacher, told me that less than 40% of her kids passed the state's writing test during her first two years in Gaston. Rather than lowering her expectations, she decided to raise them — to demand more of student writing.
But to get students to work harder and to raise their own expectations, she first had to be open to learning more and to trying new things herself. She had to become more goal-oriented. She had to ask herself constantly, "How do I get these kids to where they need to be?"
To convince students that, regardless of where they were born, they could achieve great heights through hard work, she had to gain their trust. So she visited with students and their families after school, and she took students on trips in order to expand their vision of what their lives could be. She took on a role that went far beyond the traditional role of a teacher.
And when she realized that the school day wasn't long enough for her to reach her goals, she and other corps teachers convinced the principal to extend the school day by one 45-minute class period. Soon students were staying until 7 PM and were coming in on Saturday mornings as well. In her third year at Gaston, 96% of her students passed the state's writing test, and Gaston Middle School went from being in the bottom quartile to scoring in the top quartile of all North Carolina schools.
Wendy Kopp (firstname.lastname@example.org) founded Teach for America after graduating from college in 1989. The program, which grew out of an idea that Kopp developed in her senior thesis, is a national corps of recent college graduates who each commit two years to teaching in an urban or rural public school. Since its founding, TFA has placed about 5,000 teachers in schools whose locations range from the South Bronx to South Central Los Angeles.
Cranfield School of Management
Logic and analytical abilities alone can no longer guarantee success, because the rapid pace of change makes long-term projections unreliable. So people have to be more imaginative and more flexible than ever before — and ways of learning need to become more creative as well. That's where arts-based learning comes in.
Shakespeare has great lessons for managers who must lead amid continuous change. His histories and tragedies — case studies of leadership — contain not only insightful detail but also a kind of underlying mythical element that makes them particularly memorable.
Take Henry V, one of the best examples in literature of a leader's journey through a great project — all in five acts. The narrative gets you inside the characters, so that you learn not only what people think of various leaders but also what those leaders think of themselves.
In Act I, Henry V defines a vision of where he wants to go, he gets people to accept that vision, and he negotiates a way to achieve it. In Act III, he goes into battle and encounters obstacles while still having to keep his troops motivated. Then he hits an even bigger stumbling block on the field of Agincourt, where he finds himself surrounded by an army much larger than his own. Act IV examines how Henry V deals with that challenge.
Stories give us an imaginative reference point. They enable us to learn the lessons of leadership in a deep and memorable way — and, ultimately, they help us to define and to rehearse a vision of the kind of leader that we want ourselves to be.
Richard Olivier (email@example.com) is a theater director and creative consultant. His learning model, called "mythodrama," incorporates organizational-development and theatrical techniques, experiential exercises, and Shakespearean drama. He is the son of Joan Plowright and the late Sir Laurence Olivier.
Chief learning officer and customer evangelist
Saba Software Inc.
Redwood Shores, California
An important missing piece of the e-learning puzzle is the need to link training to performance and learning to standard business results. Making such links will mean figuring out where knowledge, learning, and training have the greatest impact. Learning in the future, therefore, will be directly linked to individual jobs and to overall business strategies.
Now, I'm not saying that reading books about philosophy or studying languages aren't valuable things to do. But the world of training has centered on enrichment learning and professional development for too long. Competitiveness demands that the tide now shift in the other direction. Performance-driven learning is going to make up a bigger and bigger piece of the pie.
As a result, the metrics of success in learning will be linked to traditional financial and performance measures. Varieties of learning that don't translate into customer satisfaction, profitability, growth, or employee retention will fall away. Measures that tell you about the health of your business will be what matter — and smart companies will make those measurements early in the learning process. Those companies will be able to judge the long-term impact of learning from the outset, and they will quickly change what isn't working.
Brook Manville (firstname.lastname@example.org) was trained as a historian, and he taught at the university level before he entered the business world. Before joining Saba Software Inc., he was a partner in McKinsey & Co.'s organizational practice. Saba, which provides e-learning infrastructure to companies worldwide, sponsors an online magazine, LiNE Zine (www.linezine.com).
Glenn R. Jones
Jones International University
Learning shouldn't be limited to a campus or a classroom anymore. If you have two children and a job, you're just not going to make it to a college classroom three nights a week. And then there's the issue of cost. If you don't have the money to go to a traditional college, does that mean that you shouldn't receive an education? Of course not. You should have a shot at the good life, just like anybody else.
The Internet has brought democracy to education. A bachelor's degree or a master's degree is now available to anybody, anywhere, regardless of a person's position in life. Thanks to the Internet, education is accessible without regard to place: You can work toward a bachelor's degree while serving your country on a submarine. And it's accessible without regard to time: You can take courses after your shift ends, even if that's at 2 AM.
What's the biggest obstacle to online learning? It isn't technology. Companies are spending billions of dollars globally to build an online-learning infrastructure that includes undersea cables. And competition among providers is driving prices down. The real bottleneck is cultural. What needs to be overcome is not bandwidth or Internet access, but resistance to the idea of online learning.
The accreditation of Jones International University, in March 1999, was a shot heard around the world. Nobody anticipated that a totally online university could become accredited. That event has put real pressure on traditional institutions to move into the Third Wave.
Do I foresee the demise of brick-and-mortar universities? No. But the efficiency and the effectiveness of online learning will lead both universities and companies to incorporate large elements of e-learning into their educational programs. That's inevitable.
Glenn R. Jones founded Jones International University (www.jonesinternational.edu) in 1993. JIU is an Internet-based university whose enrollment encompasses more than 2,000 students from 44 countries. It offers several degrees, including an MBA. JIU is the first fully online university to receive national accreditation — a process that took four years.
Estee Solomon Gray
Chief e-learning officer
Santa Clara, California
When day is done, I believe that we'll all be staring up at the heavens and saying that live e-learning was the Batman of the new economy — mostly cloaked but always present: "cloaked" in the sense that, with the Internet, "learning" occurs automatically and is melded with "doing."
That's a big shift from the days when knowledge was "matter," when educators packaged material and then funneled it into the heads of learners. The trouble with that system was that, while learners acquired a lot of facts and lots of theory, they ended up with little sense of themselves as doing what they were learning about.
E-technology changes all that. As we work with the Web, learning moves from knowledge as matter to knowledge as practice — which is wonderful. No one wants to feel, "Oh, I'm having a learning moment now."
So, whereas the conventional wisdom of the old economy was that "content is king," in the new economy, context is king. You see that shift, for example, when a company uses live e-learning technology to deliver knowledge about new business applications. Customers learn such applications as they go.
The Web not only allows people to learn in context; it also allows them to learn in communities. There's a whole taxonomy of places on the Net — portal exchanges, community sites, support sites — that serve all kinds of professionals and that mix business with learning. No one talks about those places in terms of learning, but that's why people go to them.
Estee Solomon Gray (email@example.com) founded Congruity, a Palo Alto-based technology-management consulting firm, before joining InterWise Inc. InterWise is an e-learning company whose offerings include InterWise Millennium, a program that provides live, instructor-led learning via the Internet, and Choice 2000 Charter School, a fully accredited secondary school that is entirely Web-delivered.
Diamond Technology Partners Inc.
Belle Meade, New Jersey
A few years ago, my favorite TV commercial was an ad in which two guys were sitting at a computer and putting animated flames onto what would become their company's Web site. One guy said something like "Well, gee, does it sell products?" And the other guy answered, "I don't know. But doesn't it look cool?"
We all have a tendency to fall in love with glitz. And even in learning, glitz matters — but it isn't the only thing that matters. There are Web sites that are wonderful from a look-and-feel perspective but that can't teach a thing. And some of the most boring-looking Web sites can teach volumes. Learning is the bottom line: Does a site teach what it's supposed to teach, as effectively as it possibly can?
The need for e-learning systems that are substantive, as well as integrated into business processes, points to the big breakthrough in learning today: knowledge management — the delivery of exactly the right information to exactly the people who need it, when they need it. A salesman on the road wants to know about changes in his company's product line and about what his competitors are doing. He doesn't want a 10-hour course. He wants to go to a Web site where someone has posted the information that he needs.
That's knowledge management. With that model, the Web begins to look more like a library than like a classroom. You can use whatever helps you learn: courses, articles, collaboration tools like email. And you can draw on information that's organized to be easily accessible. That way, the Web becomes a place where you're learning all the time.
Marc Rosenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a 20-year veteran of the organizational-learning field. Before joining Diamond Technology Partners Inc., he held key positions at AT&T, where he developed that company's e-learning strategy. His latest book, E-learning: Strategies for Delivering Knowledge in the Digital Age, is scheduled to be published this month by McGraw-Hill. Diamond Technology Partners is a Chicago-based e-commerce-services firm.
Professor of educational technology
San Diego State University
San Diego, California
In the old days, training was an event. The training department earned its stripes by putting people's butts into seats in a physical space of some kind. Today, fast organizations do a lot less measuring of people and seats. Businesses want their employees to be with customers, not in classes.
So training is evolving into a system, rather than an event — a system in which technology extends the arms of the instructor into the workplace. It's a big-tent view of training that busts through the walls of classrooms and that insinuates itself into people's lives.
Consider a safety-training class. A facilitator puts some training elements online that allow participants to assess in advance their work site and their performance. That way, they go to class with a much clearer sense of how safety-compliant their work setting is. And because the facilitator already has that data online, she can tailor her instruction accordingly. The result is a class in which the focus goes beyond just building memory. After class, the instructor's arms are longer, because everyone is connected online, and she can easily see where people still need help.
That kind of training, with its focus on improving performance, isn't just an event. Rather, it's a system that creates knowledge bases. And that kind of training isn't just interesting to trainers; corporate leaders and politicians find it riveting as well. Of course, it also represents a major change that will pose a tremendous challenge to the next generation of educators.
Allison Rossett (email@example.com) is the author of First Things Fast: A Handbook for Performance Analysis (Pfeiffer & Co., 1998). She is also a consultant to such clients as Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
W. Earl Sasser Jr.
Chairman of the board
Harvard Business School Interactive
Companies are demanding that executive education become more action-oriented. They want programs that not only change individuals but also change their organizations. So we spend a lot of time working through specific, current, real-life problems that our attendees face, and we allow them to draw upon the host of "consultants" whom they are surrounded by here — peers and faculty members alike.
And now technology is allowing us to extend that learning into the period after people leave campus — to create and then tap into the communities of interest that naturally form in executive-education programs. In the past, we would spend time with whatever group of executives came here for a particular program, arm-wrestling over a topic like "achieving breakthrough service," and then we would simply let that group walk out the door.
Today, thanks to the Internet, we can continue the dialogue between those executives and members of our faculty — long after the executives leave campus. Attendees can continue their learning, and we can use their experience as a research lab that keeps us abreast of what's working and what's not working.
W. Earl Sasser Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the UPS Foundation Professor of Service Management at Harvard Business School, where he has been a faculty member since 1969. Harvard Business School Interactive is a newly formed nonprofit organization owned by HBS.
Director of organizational effectiveness
San Francisco, California
Businesses suffer because people have too many brief conversations. That's especially true when it comes to learning. Learning just doesn't sink in when you cut it up into small bites.
It's up to the stewards of a company to create time for learning — by holding managers accountable for making sure that learning happens. But learning can't look the same way it always has. Not long ago, higher-ups at Levi Strauss & Co. were telling executives, "We want all of you to be a new kind of manager," but the company continued to hold training sessions in the same old windowless hotel rooms. So, of course, people stopped showing up.
Then, last year, when Levi's was shifting its business model to become a brand-management organization, it conducted training sessions in art galleries, in nightclubs, and in other venues that were right in the center of the consumer marketplace. Facilitators gave cameras to Levi's employees and told them to find examples of brand equity being built or being destroyed, to talk to consumers about products, and to bring all of that information back to the group.
That model was a pretty radical shift for Levi's. But if you're going to teach people to be consumer-focused, you have to do it in a consumer-focused way. The learning environment has to reflect your company's message and its culture. Levi's, for example, has a very touch-and-feel product, so the company wouldn't be well served by an entirely self-paced strategy.
Which raises another important point: Despite the buzz about e-learning, we shouldn't lose sight of the enduring value of getting people together. Corporate learning is one of the few occasions when people can make connections across organizational boundaries — and that benefit remains as true today as ever before.
Sindri Anderson (email@example.com) managed worldwide training-and-development programs at Levi Strauss & Co. from 1998 until this past summer, when she took on her current role at Context Integration, an Internet professional-services company based in Burlington, Massachusetts.
Partner and editor
Training Media Review
Corporate e-learning has emphasized the "e" part more than the "learning" part. That's because the first wave of e-learning was driven by a focus on cost savings. The result? E-learning's dropout rate has been high, close to 80% — a rate that would put any brick-and-mortar university out of business. The next wave of online learning must focus on effectiveness.
One problem has been that most e-learning has followed a classroom model. But why bury information in a long, drawn-out, lockstep format? The next wave of e-learning (the one that companies like NETg are creating) puts an emphasis on the learner — by making information accessible in the smallest possible meaningful units and by allowing learners to put together their own courses.
But even that model works well only for objective content, such as IT or finance. Learning skills such as conflict management and customer service will require the next big innovation in e-learning: simulations.
Simulations force you to make decisions — and then show you the consequences of those decisions. They're powerful because they're suspenseful; they show rather than tell. You view scenes online, you make decisions, and then you watch how those decisions work (or how they don't). The effects of your decisions are cumulative, just as they are in real life.
But simulations are expensive to build. The big question is, When it comes to training, will companies shift their focus from cost savings to investment?
Bill Ellet (firstname.lastname@example.org) has taught a workshop on argument writing at Harvard Business School for the past 10 years. Training Media Review is an online service that evaluates media-based business training.
Professor of education
Harvard Graduate School of Education
Respect plays a crucial role in learning. People who feel respected feel freer to be curious and freer to ask questions. Unfortunately, curiosity and questioning are qualities that aren't always rewarded in the classroom, or even in the workplace. But without trust and connection — between teachers and students, between doctors and patients, between bosses and employees — it's impossible to develop the kind of relationship that enables learning.
In my travels to hundreds of schools nationwide, I always ask kids, "Who are your good teachers?" The kids always say good teachers are the ones who hold them to high standards, who believe that they can do good work, and who believe that they have important lives to lead beyond school. Good teachers are those who see their students as worthy and who know their students by name. All of those qualities highlight a teacher who respects her students.
What undermines respect and, therefore, learning? Hierarchy. Rigid power relationships can block communication and can keep people from behaving authentically toward one another. But hierarchy isn't the same thing as structure. Structure creates clarity; it opens a space where people can be free to relate to one another. Watch a good classroom teacher at work, and you'll see how he makes rules visible and clear. Structure makes learning productive. Hierarchy almost always stifles learning.
Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, a sociologist and professor of education, joined the Harvard faculty in 1972.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.