A few years ago I used this space—as I often do—to bemoan what I believed to be a bunch of hooey. Specifically, it was what I perceived as a severely ill-placed emphasis on all things "e." I was sick and tired of hearing accolade after accolade bestowed upon the wonderful world of technology-enabled learning.
Much of that early hype was fueled—quite literally—by venture capital dollars that were pouring into the outstretched palms of every wannabe e-learning purveyor with a quasi-decent business plan in one pocket and the most recent Fortune 1,000 hit list in the other. About the same time, the collective dream of many a training professional around the world came true: A high-profile CEO of a high-profile company publicly declared learning as a strategic priority for his company, and furthermore, he stressed, it was important to the world economy.
The CEO was none other than Cisco's John Chambers. If you bought into his predictions back then, you too thought e-learning would soon be the Internet's next "killer app," and its sheer ubiquitousness throughout the corporate world would soon make the usage of e-mail look like a rounding error.
Although Chambers' prediction has yet to materialize along his originally forecast time line, I do think he was on to something that still might turn out to be rather prophetic in the coming years, if—and I can't emphasize that "if" strongly enough—our industry wises up and stops placing this inordinate amount of emphasis on delivery methodology.
So, for the moment, let's erase the "e" from Chambers' above-mentioned statements and just reflect on the learning. Regardless of how it is delivered, learning—specifically learning that is invisible to the learner and in many cases to the organization—can and someday will elevate training to the ranks Chambers predicted.
So what do I mean by invisible? The answer goes far beyond the irritating likes of Microsoft's Mr. Gem Clip man. It also goes way beyond the oft-heralded 24/7 benefit bestowed on us by Web-based learning. After all, if I have to quit my current task of writing this month's column—even for a moment or two—just to take the latest online course about how to hold my readers' interest by beefing up my witty writing skills, well, that's not really just-in-time, is it? And it certainly isn't invisible.
Ironically enough, we all know that most of the learning (as much as 80 percent anyway) that takes place within organizations happens outside of—and some would say in spite of—corporate-sponsored, formal training activities. If such informal learning is capable of growing to this level on its own, imagine what would happen if some structure and planning went into creating even more invisible learning opportunities.
Now, I'm not proposing that you run out and try to create yet another brown bag or Dixie Cup session at the nearest water cooler. What I am proposing when I refer to this type of learning—let's call it "i-learning" just for fun—is real-time, performance enhancement tools that allow users to accomplish tasks and learn simultaneously ... without even knowing that they are learning something new. Or perhaps they are aware of it, but it's just not important. Rather, what is important is the simple fact that they accomplished the task at hand faster and more efficiently than if they took time away from the job to participate in a formal training session ... regardless of how or where said session was delivered.
When learning truly becomes invisible—and by definition, that really means the learner hasn't a care or a clue as to how the information was imparted—that's when Chambers' predictions will have a chance at becoming reality.
Tammy Galvin is the editor-in-chief of Training. firstname.lastname@example.org