Why Can’t Companies Teach?

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The following article has three websites for digitally-driven learning. Also, The Northeastern Retail Lumber Association has a digitally-driven learning website: ROOTS-Northeastern Retail Lumber Association.

Do you have a teacher, trainer or a coach in your organization?

Why Can’t Companies Teach?

from HarvardBusiness.org by Michael Schrage

With a little luck, persistence and assistance from Harvard’s most successful dropout Bill Gates, Salman Khan will successfully educate more people in math and science over the next decade than Harvard has over its entire history. His Khan Academy is both a remarkable story and tremendously clever approach to digitally-driven learning. I’ve spent hours auditing his online tutorials and find them shockingly good. They rival and complement offerings from MIT’s OpenCourseware initiative and its eclectic collection of lecturing superstars such as physicist Walter Lewin. In fact, I can’t help feeling a little angry about the lectureship quality of my own undergraduate education when sampling what the web has to offer autodidacts.

Toss in pay-to-play educational options ranging from iTunes to The Teaching Company to The Open University and there’s arguably never been a better time in history to be either a casual or serious student. Anyone hungry to learn can access a nutritious high bandwidth educational buffet with tasty offerings from around the world.

Which is why I’m astonished by the seeming poverty and paucity of tutorial innovation inside enterprise firewalls. Organizations — commercial and not-for-profit alike — aren’t adequately leveraging these tools, technologies and techniques for teaching for themselves. Without naming names, I’ve asked scores of people from dozens of Fortune 1000 firms about who the superstar lecturers and tutors are in their organizations. Who are their Salman Khans and Walter Lewins? Why aren’t they giving the internal talks and tutorials to build the human capital capabilities of the organizations? Which of your colleagues should be your company‘s Salman Khan?

This isn’t about virtual town halls or executive webinars where your CEO details the firm’s new strategy. This isn’t even about bringing the training film into the internet era. I’m listening for stories detailing how employees learned, of and about best practice, from the firm’s very best practitioners. Over the last year, I’ve come across only one company where an R&D group had been encouraged to see a digital tutorial given by the firm’s most successful salesperson on how he works to service his accounts. Apparently, the tutorial had a big impact on how R&D and sales interacted with each other. No, I don’t know if R&D prepared comparable lectures to educate the sales force on better understanding fundamental principles of the company’s upcoming innovations.

Many companies now make a practice of video-capture and archiving presentations and panel discussions for later viewing. But the overwhelming majority of the material I’ve seen seems more marketing- or training- than education-oriented. I’ve yet to see a single Khan Academy counterpart in which talented individuals pithily utilize internal digital platforms to educate their colleagues on enterprise issues that matter. FAQs, podcasts and WebEx briefings shouldn’t be ignored. But do they really address professional development needs or human capital aspirations that can creatively impact people’s performance? I don’t think so.

More importantly, most employees probably don’t think so either. There’s nothing inappropriate or wrong with having self-motivated employees logging on to external resources to learn more. Good for them. Similarly, having organizations point their people to The Open University or Khan Academy is fine, as well. After all, organizations can’t possibly do everything well; the idea that every institution should be a citadel of learning is ridiculous. However, every world-class enterprise, or organization that aspires to be world-class, has special skills, insights and competencies that meaningfully differentiate it from the competition. They have fundamental perceptions and practices that their people need to know. There are almost always “go-to” individuals — some are “experts” and others are simply fantastic explainers who are terrific at articulating the underlying dynamics of a problem or process.

Why aren’t they turned into Khans?

Not everyone can be turned into a great teacher or tutor. But nearly everyone can become a better communicator and explicator. The genius — and it is genius — of the Khan curriculum is the simple, easy and accessible way technology is conversationally integrated into knowledge. I defy anyone to spend thirty minutes with a couple of his math or science classes and not wonder why more people and pedagogues aren’t exploring this genre of techno-tutorial. It’s no accident that Bill Gates likes this guy. Almost every organization that cares about communicating knowledge and expertise could benefit from experimenting with Khan-ifying slices of their training and education budget.

Becoming a better teacher, communicator, trainer and coach is becoming an integral part of what leadership means. The rise of innovative technical platforms for tutoring creates imperatives, not just opportunities, for people to push themselves to rethink how they should share their expertise. A bold organization would make — should make — producing Khan-like tutorials part of the management/executive portfolio. Just as it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of clear communications in managing enterprise expectations, it’s impossible to minimize how desperately most organizations need meaningful media and methods to share expertise. As the rise in digital pedagogy successfully demonstrates, the cost and complexity of enabling techno-tutoring has collapsed. How will people like you step up to use them?

Salman Khan did, and he’s educating the world. Surely you can step up, or help someone step up, and educate your organization.

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