Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Web 2.0 - Let's be careful this time...

The Danger of Unclear Expectations

I was recently attending a conference where a presenter was sharing their new Performance Support(PS) strategy and proceeded to demonstrate a web 2.0 application. It was a Community of Practice (CoP) that enabled collaborative document sharing, wiki type message boards, and an instant messaging environment which showed the learner who was "online" based on their login and certain projects/communities they had joined. Now, before anyone misinterprets this posting, I am a HUGE fan of CoP's and believe that they play an important role as one of many potential PS tools. My concern is that it's unfair to position a Web 2.0 tool as a full blown PS framework or strategy.
I have learned to become nervous for technologies like these when they first emerge in our industry. We seem to always be in a hurry to put these new tools into categories before they are allowed to become fully baked. We saw this with e-Learning in the 90's and I've personally experienced it as far back as the laser disk players in the late 70's and early 80's. (No comments on my age pleases!! :)) It's not that any of these technologies are "bad" it's often that we misrepresent them, making promises they can't often keep.

I've been feeling the same way about Web 2.0 technologies lately. They do have many of the characteristics of PS, but before we start selling them as the next generation of the overall discipline let's be sure we're comfortable with all that's comes with the "moment of need" promise. Phrases like "moment of need", or its 90's counterpart "Just in Time", come with some big shoes to fill. To the learner these words equal certain outcomes which many Web 2.0 technologies simply don't support. When positioned this way these outcomes are expected to be contextual, embedded, role based, immediate, quick, and streamlined. If you've ever wandered through a Google search, tried to get a timely and coherent response from a Twitter "Tweet", or read through pages of Wikipedia text the outcomes just shared don't always resonate. Again, these resources are INCREDIBLY helpful and offer a level of support like never before, but in and of themselves, they are not a comprehensive PS framework.

So where does Web 2.0 fit? They are clearly a form of PS, and a good one. If you have read through some of our earlier postings, a PS framework is not driven by any one tool or approach, but is rather an ecosystem of related and well orchestrated tools and resources. Many of you may remember the pyramid pictured on the right which represents a PS framework. This is not a tool based offering, but rather a support journey which a learner participates in. The "moment of need" is represented at the top. It can be everything from an immediate need solved by accessing a few short steps, to a more abstract need whose answer may involve many resources. Either way, individual seeking the support begin the experience at the top and should be allowed to journey deeper if the need dictates. The important thing is that the support needed can be found at the correct level within the framework, AND that the experience is constructed in a way which allows the learner to move throughout as quickly and easily as possible. The danger of most PS solutions is that they are simply a collection of resources without the surrounding framework to help the learner navigate appropriately.

The drawback of many Web 2.0 toolset is that few offer the top layers in a quick and easy way. They tend to involve some degree of navigation, search, sift, and time. The top layers of the PS framework are contextual, quick, brief, and involve very little help from others. Web 2.0 technologies tend to work best lower in the framework where a learner expects the support to be more robust and take more time to explore. These tools are perfectly acceptable at this level as long as the learner understands where they fit in the overall experience. Many will get frustrated with these tools if they are sold as immediate and contextual, and then turn out to take time and remove the learner from the work flow.

As if often the case with any of these tools, it's all about setting clear expectations and teaching the learners when and how to best use them in the first place. Web 2.0 is and will continue to be an amazing part of the PS and learning landscape. We just need to be careful that we use them appropriately and with the correct expectations.

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