Democratizing elearning

What if workplace learning became democratized. The needs of the learners would rule. The learners would have the right to learn what they needed when they needed it in a way that served their level of understanding. There would be a safety net to catch those that fell short of the performance outcomes. There would be support systems to nurture damaged learners back to being self-motivated, curious, reflective practitioners.

Democratization of workplace learning would over-rule the imposition of most mandatory training requirements. There would be a decline of compliance training driven by policies or fear of competitive rivals. Informal, social, and distributed learning would provide the learners with freedoms, not further accountability pressures. Blogging would enhance workplace learning, (as Dave Lee promotes) rather than increasing the monitoring of blogs by "thought police".

Democratization is part of a natural cycle of governance. It follows a phase of piracy. When the democratizing of citizens, employees, students or patients becomes an established thing -- the closure brings about the next phase. Democracies become bureaucracies. Protecting the rights of the citizens then calls for layers of management, mountains of paperwork, countless committees and oodles of budget overruns.

The staggering costs, inefficiencies and stagnation provokes a privatization phase. An aristocracy takes control, consolidates power, imposes standards, and adds short-sighted incentives. This phase takes away rights of the citizens and expands the ranks of the abused, over-ruled and exploited peasants. This launches a counter-offensive of piracy, Robin Hood tactics, and guerilla warfare. The aristocratic controls are dismantled and democratizing comes back around.

Thus democratizing is on the rise whenever piracy dismantles the aristocracy. Most of the current corporate cultures appear aristocratic to me. Companies have become lean, mean revenue machines with drones making Powerpoint presentations. Needs of the learners are "off-radar". Demands of the manager are "front and center". (as Geetha Krishnan mentioned in his reply to the December Big Question on the Learning Circuits Blog)

Piracy has broken up the consolidated control of the music and film production and distribution aristocracies. Are you seeing any signs of corporations losing their control of: workplace learning, "staying on message" and conformity of employees?


  1. Interesting argument, Tom. The point to consider is that it's the organization that's going to shell out the money for the learning of the learners, and therefore, it tends to call the shots. How do we move this control to the learners?

    The hostel in my business school comes to mind. The food in the hostel used to be managed by the students. There was a student committee that used to be elected (a democratic tradition, surely?) every year to manage the canteen, including deciding on what to sell, defining the price, and managing the accounts and logistics. I believe some companies follow this practice for their office canteens.

    May be a similar approach is possible for training as well? An employee committee runs the training department, and employees get training coupons to use.

    As an aside, you have referred to me as a "her" - I am a "him." Before you apologize, let me tell you that what you have done is perfectly logical - Geetha is typically a girl's name in my country, but my dad decided to cop the trend. So I face this situation quite regularly. :-)

  2. Thanks for correcting the gender bit, Tom. :-)

  3. Geetha
    Thanks for the comment and the heads up about my mistake.

    Your examples of the hostel and canteens are the best solutions possible when the "tools of production" are necessarily centralized. Citizens cannot have a kitchen on their desktop. Then representative governance (electing student managers) assures some responsiveness to the needs of the citizens. Voting is done with votes for the elected students. All this is better than no vote, no rights, no say in what is served or how it's offered.

    Staying with your food service examples, it's possible to set-up service with menus, table service, catering and room service. Then voting occurs by citizens choosing from the menu. If the production of food is liberated further, the customer serves him/herself from a buffet or self-service arrangement and has more control, freedom and rights. Then the voting is done with their feet or wallet. They are free to build their own salad, sandwich or three course meal.

    If food service could be democratized like elearning will be soon, meals could be prepared and eaten online. While thinking of what you wanted to eat, there would be resources for considering the nutritional value of the options under consideration, what you've eaten recently, which imbalances that created, and what you routinely eat excessively or avoid recklessly. You could go into scenarios of different food choices and experience how that affected your energy level, sleep, appetite tomorrow and conduct at work. You would learn to eat better in the process of eating. You would not need formal courses in eating to prepare you for more advanced eating. Your right to eat as you please would be protected by the support system that responded to your level of understanding of food choices and the consequences of those choices