The intentional marginalization of blogging in the corporate learning sector

March 14, 2010

Longtime blogger Jim Groom, an Instructional Technology Specialist and adjunct professor at the University of Mary Washington, wrote about giving credit where credit is due (in traditional academic journals) when it comes to using ideas authored in “unconventional academic media,” i.e. blogging, etc.

The catalyst for Groom’s post is an article in the EDUCAUSE Quarterly about the post-LMS Era, a topic he has written about extensively. (There’s actually a lot more to his post – and the comments – than “credit” and well worth a read.)

I came upon Groom’s post at first via a Skype conversation with my colleague Gary Woodill who was pointing me to a George Siemens re-post from 2006, A Review of Learning Management System Reviews, which George wrote while at the University of Manitoba. (He re-posted it to maybe “give it a bit more of an existence.”)

Many of you may not have read Jim Groom’s 4+ year-old blog bavatuesdays before because it doesn’t focus on corporate learning & development however, many of the issues he dives into are the same issues we face in L&D and it’s been valuable reading to me – it’s like an ongoing free education. George Siemens too although, he does write (blogs and journals) about corporate learning – in addition to academic topics – and is always involved in setting up the annual LearnTrends – The Corporate Learning Trends & Innovation Conference. Hybrid George.

Lest you think I’m only talking about bloggers writing about their favorite topic – blogging – this background info provides the type of “implied credit” that exists among a network of bloggers working through contemporary issues.

L&D has a blogger network where generally a first name is all you need to  recognize someone – Tony, Mark, Brent, Karyn, Jane, the other Jane, Harold, Gina, Marcia, Cammy, Dave, Stephen, George, and many others. Those names mean little  to many in L&D and I’m going to guess are not even recognizable for most. Among corporate L&D types, I think reading blogs is still new.

To tell the truth, when I was working in the corporate environment – and even when I first started blogging 3+ years ago – I thought it was like this secret world of narcissistic people who just linked to each other and theorized. I didn’t have much use for it when I was up to my eyeballs in creating Captivate recordings to demonstrate how to use an antiquated mainframe system that still permeate the corporate world due to their tentacle-like properties. Shame on me.

I digress.

The entire ‘credit where credit due’ issue made me think about corporate learning periodicals. I read them less often than I used to but did this morning while my PC was going through some sort of Windows upgrade that allowed me the time to make a freakin’ omelet.

Of course, those that write in L & D periodicals do not have the same issues as the academic/ journal “game” where tenure and 16 pages of citations are the rules. What is a game but rules right?

However, in L&D periodicals, I do think there’s the same “marginalization of blogging” (Groom writes about) and the failure to give credit where credit is due. There’s (still) a certain respect associated with corporate learning periodicals (and many are very, very good and include those that blog) but I often get the feeling that when something is written on a blog (vs. within an article) it’s not taken seriously.

It’s everywhere.  Just the other night I was watching House and the actress Laura Prepon, forever known to me as Donna Pinciotti on That 70s Show, was playing a patient who was a professional blogger. (She looks nothing like Jim Groom : ) I thought they made a joke of her blogging on  the show even though she had a pretty good explanation (the psychological issue of not seeing people aside) of the feeling one gets when writing in an online public space. In my opinion, blogs are frequently viewed as a joke because of the author’s attachment to them and the whole idea that one cannot have a true social connection with online “friends” (quotations are theirs).

I digress again. (This post is long enough be a chapter in a book or an article in a training periodical ; )

Anyway…back to Groom who said, in part, of blogs…

“…we all know that these ideas [like the post- LMS era] have been vehemently discussed and hashed out on the blogosphere, where credit is often and necessarily inconsistent and erratic, but somehow implied–and given we are all working for bigger idea…”

I won’t call anyone out publicly or name the periodical but there’s an article by someone who (best I can tell) does not participate in the “work for bigger ideas.”

Within the article there’s a reference to “subject matter networks” with no attribution. I choked on my omelet and immediately thought of Mark Oehlert’s Subject-matter Experts: The Origin Post. (This same author later speaks about Twitter and I’ve yet to find them on Twitter.)

While the ‘subject-matter networks’ term can be found in  articles that pre-date this (primarily articles about professional development and teachers, see Google Scholar) in the  context of the L&D article, it should have been attributed to the person (Mark) that spent “almost three days of non-stop talking about social media and how it can impact learning” framing it.

What to make of all this? It’s a helluva lot easier to write a static article that outlines the ideas of others than to actually have (and to write about) the ideas. If you think everything on blogs is crap and that content should be cited and vetted like a professional journalist, you’re marginalizing the author’s work being done for the greater good of the industry. And shame on those trying to attain L&D celebrity status at the expense of bloggers.

  • http://www.jarche.com/ Harold Jarche

    Blogs are still on the edges of the mainstream but it's on the edges that real innovation happens. I guess that imitation is just unattributed flattery. The mainstream media have been taking from the edges for a long time, but your post shows that it's harder to get away with. I think we should start naming names.

  • http://janetclarey.com/ jclarey

    You're right of course but I just can't seem to do it (name names). We edge dwellers should probably keep a closer eye on the mainstream periodicals vs. taking them from the mailbox and putting them into the recycle bin (at least that's what I usually do). I find the whole thing extremely aggravating and hope that it's unintentional though I suspect it's not. Thanks for your comment and highlighting my douchebag tag : )

  • http://cogdogblog.com/ Alan Levine

    Seems to me another indication of the importance of tapping into sources outside of our normal circles, be it reading blogs, books, journals, etc but also conferences. It's why as someone who swims in same education circles as Jim, I readbligs and news sites in corporate ltd as well as even more strange ones 😉

    Frankly I rarely put stock into any one persons sweeping generalizations about blogging until I can believe that they truly have read enough of them to do so.

  • http://janetclarey.com/ jclarey

    Strange is good. I find some of my best inspiration comes from unusual resources. It seems easier to spot trends when not so close to a subject. You know, I'm always looking for strange. Thanks for your comment.

  • jimgroom

    I'm fascinated by the portrayal of blogging in Hollywood, and Dave Winer had a post back in November about the portrayal of bloggers in Julie & Julia, wherein the blogger character was infantilized in comparison to Julia Childs—a pretty vapid characterization of blogging and bloggers (http://www.scripting.com/stories/2009/11/22/how…). Even worse, at least for me, was how bloggers are portrayed as obsessed fanatics, which is the case in the 2008 “Made of Honor.” In fact, both examples make the “House” scene look rather even-handed.

    Fact is, the idea mentioned in that House clip is still the issue, how do we understand entirely virtual relationships in a world where it is still possible for many not to have them? Back in 2004 when I cot into blogging I would poke fun at the idea all the time, I thought it was somehow a crude expression of relationships, but I had to experience that space and the social interactions over a period of years for it to become as vital to my idea of self and relations as it is now. In fact, it is a key process in thinking though online education more generally, this sense of connection and a space for the social, irreverent and personal must be built into these spaces to start allowing many of use to re-imagine them. The education I've had over the past 5 years has been crucial in understanding what a totally virtual and distributed classroom experience might be, and it took just about everything I had. How can we expect teachers, business folks, etc. To get this sense without a solid investment in the networks that engender those relationships is extremely difficult, I think therein lies the representations we see right now in mass media, that further suggest some kind of social or emotional infancy—in many ways it reflects the infancy of the idea and these relationships through such media, and what we are seeing is a reflection back of a kind of fear of virtualized relationships. And I cant say that fear is entirely without value, but it always moves towards the terrifying and absurd when framed for comic and dramatic effect.

    I really want to do more on the idea of representing these spaces and relationships online in mass media, because I think it has a ton to tell us about these idea of credit, value, and where our culture is at with the undeniable push towards the virtualization of school, work, and love.

  • http://janetclarey.com/ jclarey

    I love the way you're framing this issue and you're proactive approach. Putting this on a continuum always seems to help me see that among L&D people, I'm not the norm – not at the infant stage. I feel the same about my education in this space over the past few years as you do too – especially it “taking just about everything” one has. I know you're not the norm. I've been in university classes long enough and read you're work long enough to see that. My own fear is that those who need to push forward will not be able to 'give' enough of themselves to see the real value. At least I see this in L&D. Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://www.TechHerding.com dickcarl

    I'm glad to hear that others are guilty of taking the “real” learning publications, all shiny and fresh from the mail, and just recycling them. Sometimes I peruse the titles — almost all a boring re-hash of stuff we were talking about 20 years ago — and wonder just who it is that actually reads them.

    Occasionally, there is an article about something contemporary. Learning communities, user-built content, collaborative models — and it's so pathetically researched and written that I'm embarrassed to see it published in a publication for my discipline.

    I get almost all of my really useful information from the Jane, the Mark, one of the Daves, or someone else who is “just blogging”. And because I have a background with them, I am much more willing to trust what they say than some summer intern at “Chief Learning Officer” mag.

    My own blog? It's so filled with snark, humor, irrational rants and marginal writing that I doubt it will ever show up as a big deal in the T&D community. But I'd give you even money that I'm the Dick that everybody knows.

  • http://janetclarey.com/ jclarey

    In my opinion you are the only Dick that matters in the T&D community.Ya know, I think you'd do an awesome keynote. I envision you opening with Yams and 911 calls. Perhaps a Yam making a 911 call. Dented can and all that.

  • Tony Karrer

    Great post. I've long held that the same people who are blogging are often the ones writing the articles and giving the presentations. However, articles and presentations are a bit better formed (in most cases). So, it's okay to wait to consume things a bit farther down the stream if that's what you want.

    But if you want to engage in the conversation, you should be actively engaged with bloggers and really be blogging yourself.

  • koreen33

    Janet, I think you should name names. If we don't hold the people accountable, then the disrespect, and disregard, will continue. Or just tell me who it was, and I'll call them out. 🙂

  • http://twitter.com/moehlert Mark Oehlert

    Well hello Janet!

    The first thing I'm wondering is if I can implement DISQUS on my Typepad blog…hmmmm

    Second, wow, I guess I have arrived if I'm being ripped off 🙂 I think I 'arrived' though by the “100 Monkeys at 100 Typewriters” method.

    Third, I kinda want to know the name of the publication at least – while at the same time understanding your reluctance – when I wrote the “origin” post, I did Google the term and I found those same older references you probably found, in the same contexts…so I did take some intentional action to at least put a marker out there on the web related to this context (thx for the push there Koreen).

    Fourth, I don't think its blogging per se that is being marginalized here. I think its us. I'm a geek. Big time. I own that. So I'll indulge in a LOTR (Lord of the Rings – for the un-geeks) reference here – instead of watching the Elven folk sail off and the Age of Man begin in Middle Earth, I think we are slowly but surely putting the Age of Gurus to rest. I remember a quote by Matt Drudge, yes, that Matt Drudge – that said “we live in an era that echoes with the din of small voices.” That's us kids.

    Sauron and Saruman are gone. Gandalf and Elrond are sailing west. Aragorn has re-claimed the throne of Gondor…Theodin has passed but…stop it Mark, you've made your point.

    Look at the model the eLearning Guild has taken. Heidi and David are clearly the forces behind it (and Brent and Tim and Luis et al) but they've decided to mainly stay out of the limelight.

    I feel the same about these print publications. They are not the currency I deal in but there they are,every month. Look at the movement away from print and understand that the only reason these mags hang on is that they are driven not by paying subscribers but by advertisers. The only reason that advertisers are still supporting these mags is that the people who DO actually read them are often the ones signing checks. This too shall pass.

    So name the name or don't – I'll understand either way 🙂 Thank you for this great post and discussion and I'll close with this amazing quote by Clay Shirky.

    “The hallmark of revolution is that the goals of the revolutionaries cannot be contained by the institutional structure of the society they live in. As a result, either the revolutionaries are put down, or some of those institutions are transmogrified, replaced, or simply destroyed. We are plainly witnessing a restructuring of the music and newspaper businesses, but their suffering isn’t unique, it’s prophetic.” –Clay Shirky

  • http://janetclarey.com/ jclarey

    I've contacted the writer to give them a change to address it (the use of SMNs). I'll pass that along when I hear back. Love your response here uber geek.

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  • scottabel

    Great post. Just discovered your blog. I'm planning on trying to fit it in to a blog post on my site or in my upcoming book, Social Networking 101.

    Thanks for the good information.

  • http://janetclarey.com/ jclarey

    Nice to have found you too. I'm sure I'll love what you write considering you're last update…Lady GaGa as a Service. LGGaaS.

  • http://janetclarey.com/ jclarey

    The March 2010 edition of T&D (ASTD publication) has an article written by Pat Galagan called “The Vanishing Classroom.” In it, she's interviewing Tony O'Driscoll. Via email, I asked if the term “subject matter networks” was a term that Tony used or something Pat wrote (it wasn't in quotations so I appeared it was Pats). Paula Ketter confirmed that Pat wrote the term “when Tony was talking about tapping into social networks to find experts.”

    Perhaps Pat's use the term was her own. I don't now. I don't have her notes. You be the judge.

    Here's the section verbatim:

    Fuqua School of Management professor Tony O'Driscoll believes there are at least four issues that are marginalizing the classroom as training's primary channel to market. “The physical course package is becoming increasingly untenable as the true costs of travel and attendance are made more visible. Also the new emphasis on corporate social responsibility is putting pressure on the justification for travel,” says O'Driscoll.

    He notes that searching for information within the context of work activity is a lot easier than it used to be. “Folks who are busy option for real-time information via Google rather than information packaged in courses on the LMS,” he says. Employees are also leveraging the poser of Web 2.0 technologies to tap into subject matter networks[emphasis mine].”Got a problem? Post it on Facebook or Twitter, and wait for the cavalry to provide [the answer],” says O'Driscoll.

    The fourth factor impinging on the classroom is relevance. “In a time where the real expertise resides at the edge of the network, and training sits in the middle, it is often the case that the traditional training factory model of seconding SMEs and producing learning modules are teaching old habits as opposed to contemporary best practices.
    T&D is available to ASTD members only.

  • http://janetclarey.com/ jclarey

    Another thing…the article used Tapscott as a source for net gen…a known source for perpetuating hype about the net gen and learning that is not supported by research.

    This from the writer of the article:

    “Three of the four were born after the launch of the Internet in 1962, and the Net Generation, born between January 1977 and December 1997, have been exposed to computers and digital media all their lives. Using these tools is as natural as the air they breath. “

    That 1962 is not my typo.

    I just don't have a lot of confidence in the article.

  • http://janetclarey.com/ jclarey

    Perhaps they were Tony's words..CLO

  • http://gminks.edublogs.org gminks

    Interesting post! One of the first papers I wrote in grad school was about using social networking to enhance learning in a corporate environment. My professor tried to get it accepted into one of those journals but it didn't happen. I gave up on trying, blogging satisfies my need to write and connect. Now I have my main mentor telling me I need to get published – but I *am* published. And the article is published on my portfolio – maybe convincing L&D leaders to read blogs is the answer?

  • http://janetclarey.com/ jclarey

    Trying to convince someone to read (anything) can be a futile activity. Eventually, our current form of self-publishing our work (a blog) will be viewed as legit. Eventually.

  • http://www.allencomm.com/ Liam McCoy

    This is a very intriguing idea. I think that reading and participating in blogs could be a great way for corporate learning to take place. It is hard to say how legit reading blogs are but I think that one day there will be a way to assess the validity/legitimacy of a blogs content. Can’t wait to see where this takes us.

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