Social snake oil

Knowledge management (KM) was a most promising field until it was hijacked by software vendors who were selling IT systems for six figures. A lot of money went into information technology systems and there was little left to help the individual make sense of it. Dave Pollard noted this several years ago:

So my conclusion this time around was that the centralized stuff we spent so much time and money maintaining was simply not very useful to most practitioners. The practitioners I talked to about PPI [Personal Productivity Improvement] said they would love to participate in PPI coaching, provided it was focused on the content on their own desktops and hard drives, and not the stuff in the central repositories.

Personal Knowledge Management is one counter movement to centralized document repositories. As Mary Abraham wrote, during a recent discussion on PKM: “Perhaps PKM is growing in importance because so few organizational KM methods work for individuals.” As soon as the software vendors and marketers get hold of a good idea, they pretty well destroy it. Maybe that’s why there’s a constant flow of new business books: the authors are trying to keep ahead of the snake oil salesmen.

I saw this happen with e-learning. In the late 1990’s e-learning was an all encompassing term for learning online. However, the IT systems vendors and the course providers (AKA: shovelware) turned e-learning into online courses. Building simplistic document management systems coupled with generic information presentation was an easy way to keep profits high. Now if you say you’re in the e-learning business, everyone thinks you do online courses. That’s why I coined the term, ABC Learning [Anything But Courses]. Yes, I know there are some good e-learning programs, but these are more than information presentation. The better ones resemble simulations.
Is the same thing happening with social learning? Jane Hart recently changed her title to Social Learning Consultant so people will not think she creates online courses. Now social learning is being picked up by software vendors and marketers as the next solution-in-a-box, when it’s more of an approach and a cultural mind-set. In A framework for social learning the enterprise, there is no suggestion whatsoever that an organization can implement some software system and suddenly social learning will just happen. Perhaps PT Barnum was right and there is an innate desire to buy some magic potion to solve all our problems. Why are businesses buying their productivity tools from traveling circuses?

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