Monday, 24 October 2011


Back in the summer I posted a light-hearted series of articles inspired by Susan’s and my many happy days in the African bush during the long part of our lives we lived in South Africa.  The series is not yet complete…… 

With apologies to my good friends, the vendors and some consultants in the e-learning industry!

They look like something from the dinosaur era.  They are largely solitary or at most associating in small family groups.  They have only the elephant as a natural enemy.  Their horn is erroneously highly valued as an aphrodisiac, which means they are highly prized and sought after by hunters. Saner mortals get incredibly excited when they see one. The black rhino is dangerous because it is short-sighted  – easily provoked and very aggressive. Its white cousin is bigger, more benign, but just as capable of causing incredible mayhem and damage. They are thick-skinned.  And in species survival terms, they are successful. 

I am not an expert, but I have sat for many hours watching them.  What do I recall? 

·         They certainly don’t normally do it – communities that is for they mostly walk alone

·         They aren’t a peer species – a strict hierarchy is evident on those few occasions where groups are together. And there is little that is more awe-inspiring than to see an adult bull rhino on the charge after a cow who has in some way broken the rules

·         They are fiercely territorial – and will kill intruders of their own rare species to defend territory

·         Their learning is very directed, with mothers taking great, protective care to teach and shield their babies

·         The learning curve is long – the young stay with their mothers for years before venturing away on their own

·         They do things the same way they have for all those millions of years – at least that is what it appears on the outside

·         They don’t seem to take much notice of what is happening around them – why should they?  They survive well and, poachers apart, have few threats to their well-being

·         They have for millions of years been on an evolutionary route to nowhere – but somehow they survive – perhaps because of their great size

·         In the face of poaching, the conservators who love them have gathered round to protect them and ensure their survival – driven on by fear of the potential horror of a world without them 

So why did I mention my friends, the vendors and some consultants in e-learning? 

In a world in which change is happening fast – as it is in the battle for survival that all wild-life has– I see many vendors exhibiting some rhino-like characteristics. 

The basic need to survive in business seems for many to obscure the fact that the world around them is changing – and moving away from what was once their security. 

No longer does the world at large want courses whether online, or face to face, bespoke or generic as it is increasingly influenced by the social media driven shift towards individuality, self-learning, experiential discovery and a regaining of the power of conversation in community.  But many are still rushing headlong down the rapids to find ever quicker ways of cooking up a new dish to satisfy eager managerial mouths seduced into thinking that “training will fix the problem”. 

Gone are the days of command and control when L&D could dictate a syllabus or curriculum to line, aided by weak senior authorisation that failed to see the hazards of the “mandatory” training  intervention. Business leaders now look at the value add and the costs of L&D – and the evidence of their conclusions is clear in the declining budgets that are repeatedly and depressingly reported.  

Business is too fast and too focused now on changing to survive to have time for obsessive recording and measuring of everything that moves and changes, so the LMS is waning.  But many of its suppliers cling on – adding clever desktops and other functionality (that rightfully belong with the IT department and with business processes) – in a bid to extend their existence. 

Hierarchical and autocratic control is challenged everywhere in our lives, at work, at home and in the wider national and world environments in which we live.  Networked, information driven, collaborative and at the same time individual, we have moved as a global society that does not want prescription, one size fits all solutions, or above all being told what is good for it in the way people learn as they live and work.  The world has become a global social learning environment in which informality, mutuality and collaboration are the energising concepts. 

The vendor community (with its consultants) is rightly admired and respected by its clients for its past assistance and current ability to create ever more clever products.  Why then does it seem to try now to hold back the tsunami of change to an informal, collaborative, networked, more individually directed culture that is sweeping through our world, fuelled by the very tools and platforms that built the industry?  To hear of a vendor telling a client that “it is too soon to engage in social learning, we will help you with that transition over a 5 year period” is about as savvie as Canute sitting on the seashore and daring the waves to come in! 

The hi-jacking and distortion of words and concepts – and their reinterpretation in forms developed out of an inward self-preservation interest – performs no service of trust to those clients for whom the vendors vie so territorially and aggressively.  Trying to stifle insight about the implications of global sociological shift and to shield clients on whom the industry depend from understanding the change is a kind of censorship and misinformation that in our modern investigative society will soon be seen to be hollow.  It will be swept away like the debris of those terrible waves. There needs to be an understanding that it is not just from the viewpoint of L&D that the SoMe tsunami can be seen – other business functions are also aware of it! 

Just as the in-company L&D professional has to recognise the giant wave of the communication revolution, and to work with the line to interpret it and help employees use it to business advantage, so too the vendor industry and its consultants have a duty to do the same for the hand that feeds them.  Those that do will survive.  Those that look inward and persist in building self-preservation strategies will surely go the way of all businesses that fail to understand and adapt to their changing environment. 

The rhino survives, just, but plods its own singular path seemingly oblivious to what is happening around it.  Our modern world and the world of learning is one that calls for rapid adaptation, change and collaboration.  It is one in which survival for client and vendor alike will depend on facing the facts of the changing landscape honestly and collaboratively. 

We must all work together to ensure we discharge our common duty – to help every individual to learn to the best of their ability and to fulfil their life potential.

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