It’s just this thing, you know?

We are on our way towards a place where some of the technologies that currently astound us will be so commonplace as to be boring. This is a truism. It was true of the spinning mule in the 1780s, and it is true of Web 2.0 software today. The longer we are astounded, the less likely we are to prepare for this inevitability, and therefore the worse prepared we will be.

James Dellow makes this point in his blog post, “Time for an upgrade? Wiki 2.0” and Luis Suarez drives it home with a pointer to a really engaging video on the impact of these technologies on learning (and therefore on business).

One of the interesting people speaking in the video is Stephen Heppell, who has been an educational innovator in the UK for what seems like decades (I certainly first encountered him in the early 1990s).

Children are living now in a different space. They are living in what I call a “nearly now”. Nearly now is that space that they text in, the space that they update their Facebook entries in, the space that they twitter in, you know, the space that is not quite synchronous. It’s a really interesting space because it’s not adversarial, it’s not pressured. It’s a space where people can — it’s all the R-words — they can reflect, and retract, and research, and repeat. It’s a very gentle world. I tell you what: it’s a great world for learning. (1’14”-1’45”)

Now we’re looking at a whole different range of schools. We are looking at schools that produce ingenious, collaborative, gregarious and brave children who care about stuff — like their culture. To build schools that do that is a whole other challenge. And around the world, you know, people are testing out the ingredients of what makes that work. Those ingredients are being assembled into some just stunning recipes in different places. It’s a very exciting time for learning. It’s the death of education, but it’s the dawn of learning. That makes me very happy! (4’31”-5’00”)

This idea of the pervasive “nearly now” is implicit in James Dellow’s post, and some of the things he links to. One of those things is an article by by Matthew C. Clarke, “Control and Community: A Case Study of Enterprise Wiki Usage“. He concludes as follows:

I predict that Wikis will disappear over the next 5 to 10 years. This is not because they will fail but precisely because they will succeed. The best technologies disappear from view because they become so common-place that nobody notices them. Wiki-style functionality will become embedded within other software – within portals, web design tools, word processors, and content management systems. Our children may not learn the word “Wiki,” but they will be surprised when we tell them that there was a time when you couldn’t just edit a web page to build the content collaboratively.

As James Dellow puts it: the wiki will become more of a verb than a noun. This is the future that Stephen Heppell sees, and will come more quickly than the mechanisation of the textile industry. We need to be prepared for it, not by resisting it like the destroyers of the spinning mule, but by being open to the opportunities it offers. As Clarke puts it in his penultimate paragraph:

By putting minimal central control in place an enterprise can gain significant benefit from this simple technology, including improved knowledge capture, reduced time to build complex knowledge-based web sites, and increased collaboration. Although enterprise Wiki use requires a greater degree of centralized control than public Wikis, this need not impinge on the freedom to contribute that is the hallmark of a Wiki approach. The balance of power is different in an enterprise context, but fear of anarchy should not prohibit Wiki adoption.

James Dellow is not quite so starry-eyed, but his note of caution is not a Luddite one.

I’m not sure its good enough to add wiki-like page editing functionality to an information tool and expect it to behave like a social computing tool suddenly (if that’s your intent). I think what’s more interesting is the evolution of enterprise wikis, as they add other types of social computing features. Other social computing platforms may also threaten these wiki-based solutions by adding the capability to manage pages and documents.

The key thing here is that we need to blend our corporate demands with the opportunities that working and collaborating in the “nearly now” will bring. The result of that blend will inevitably mean that the technologies will develop in slightly different ways. Modern textile machinery is very different from Crompton’s mule, if only because a modern health and safety regime requires it. Similarly, the openness of some of our current social networking and collaboration tools will need to be toned down in a corporate environment, to allow for the right level of knowledge and information sharing consistent with regulatory and ethical compliance.

As we tread the path that will lead us towards that future, I agree with David Gurteen that it is our responsibility to engage with the new technologies to help work out what the future will look like. As David puts it in the introduction to his latest Knowledge Letter, “I am surprised at just how many people especially knowledge managers are not using social tools (not necessarily internally but on the web for personal use) and consequently do not really understand their power as knowledge sharing and informal learning tools.” It surprises me too. David drives home the link with learning.

…when I ask people why they do not do the same the answer is always “Oh I’d love to but I am too busy. I just do not have the time.” But I think in reality the truth is that in our busy lives we never have enough time to do all the things we would like to do. So we prioritise things and taking the time to learn tends to fall off the bottom of the list.

I think that many people are so busy they have got out of the habit of informal learning – maybe they never got into it. Its not seen as a priority. So can I make a suggestion – if you are one of those people who are not keeping up with your with new developments and thinking in your field of endeavour then take a few minutes to think about how important is it to you compared with everything else that you do. And if you decide it is important then commit to doing it.

As the video above makes clear, the world of learning is changing fast. Our world of work will change to follow it. We owe it to ourselves, our colleagues and our organisations not to sit back and wait for the changes to overwhelm us. The tide is coming in — swim out to meet it.

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