Snake Oil Revisited

The Great Snake Oil Post Here’s one of the most popular posts ever posted on LCB. Reposted with the Blogger’s permission. My hat’s off to the Author Sam Adkins. Two years later and it’s still a wake-up call… We are the Problem: We are selling Snake Oil I read these long tortuous posts bewailing the malaise of our educational systems. The problem is not “out there”. We are the problem. We are selling snake oil. We now have ample data to show that: Training does not work. eLearning does not work. Blending Learning does not work. Knowledge Management does not work. Yet we collectively reify our denial and project the root of the problem out to an external institutional framework. We are the source of the problem because we are selling snake oil. It doesn’t work but there is still plenty of money in it. Caveat: My data relates solely to the corporate market. In the corporate world performance is rated on whether you save or make money (or both) for the company. Your value as “intellectual capital” rests exclusively on that. Training does not work. The data is mounting that very little of training makes it back to the workplace. The noise inherent in the knowledge transfer to learning transfer process obliterates up to 80-90% of any usefulness of the training on the job. Less than 30 percent of what people learn is actually transferred to the job in a way that enhances performance. (Robinson and Robinson) “85-90% of a person’s job knowledge is learned on the job and only 10-15% is learned in formal training events”. (Raybould) We have known for 20 years that classroom training only produces very high results for only 2% of the students (Bloom). The famous 2 Sigma variance accomplished with Intelligent Tutoring systems confirms that only individualized mentoring produces effective knowledge transfer. Only in the government has this data been openly communicated. “About 20 years ago, research by Prof. Benjamin Bloom and others demonstrated that students who receive one-on-one instruction perform two standard deviations better than students in traditional classrooms. (Stottler Henke Associates, Intelligent Tutoring Systems: Using AI to Improve Training Performance and ROI, 2003). We spend about $65 billion every year in the US for training that has a dismal knowledge transfer ratio (2%), a dismal learning transfer rate (20-30%) and only accounts for 10% of the way we acquire knowledge. What’s wrong with this picture? eLearning does not work. We have been in denial about this for about two years. The drop-out, no-show rate is peaking at 70-80% and we continue to ignore this. Users hate it because it is a learning product that is fundamentally incompatible with the workplace. “Just-in-time” really means “do-it-in-your-own-time”. Work always trumps any other activity. First-generation elearning is snake oil. Snake oil vending machines (LMS and LCMS) work perfectly. The snake oil cures nothing, the snake oil vending machines work flawlessly. There are now (at least) six learning form factors that co-exist in the corporate market: Text is experiencing a resurgence due to XML and fusing it directly into workflow (see Safari, Outsell and Books24x7 ROI studies). Even when elearning courses are accessed, they are being used as reference. Elliott calls this “successful non-completion”. eBooks are selling like hotcakes in what DCLabs calls “stealth mode”. In the first half of 2002, eBook sales revenues were up by 30% and unit sales up by 40% over the same period in 2002. This compares to an annual growth rate of just about 5% in traditional print publishing. (Open eBook Forum, OeBF). Contextual Collaboration is hot. Cisco buys Latitude. Microsoft buys Placeware (now called Office Live Meeting). Macromedia buys Presedia (Now called Breeze). Why would any worker voluntarily suffer through an elearning course when they can get access to an expert via IM, chat, web-conferencing, expertise mining or presence awareness? Prior to Microsoft’s acquisition, Placeware indicated that 70% of their customers used the technology for training. The data shows that about 40-50% of knowledge needed by workers to perform tasks resides in another human’s head. (Lotus & Delphi Group). Simulation is hot. The high-end industry is booming. The value of the VizSim/VR industry in 2002 was $36.2 billion; over 308,000 VizSim/VR systems were sold in 2002; the most valuable applications in terms of industry revenue are: Energy exploration and productions, Psychotherapy research, Other Medical Research, and Computer Science research (CyberEdge). Simulation tools are now “sexy” compared to courseware authoring tools. Macromedia buys eHelp. Microsoft is working on Sparkle, a Flash killer. SVG is primitive but maturing fast as an XML-native simulation technology. XStream now sells an SVG authoring tool. Visio 2003 supports XML and SVG. Gartner says by 2006 over 70% of elearning will include some type of simulation. So why would we call it elearning then? At what point when you dilute a substance does it cease to become that substance? Simulation is still the only viable way to deal with the affective learning domain. SimuLearn’s Virtual Leader is in a class by itself. Simulation is also the only ethical way to provide experience in hazardous activities (flight training, truck driving, nuclear waste, mining, lumber mills, etc). Wireless is very hot. Even the academic markets are adopting this very fast. The world is changing fast. Our minds are not. Sales Force automation, augmented reality, field-force workflow are selling extremely well. Burst learning is embedded into the real-time workflow. Microvision sells 4,500 Nomad systems to Honda. Mechanics complete tasks on average 50% faster using the hands-free augmented reality systems. Paper-based medical systems generate an average of 40% error rates (39% at prescription, 12% at transcription and 11% at dispensing). Handheld support technology virtually eradicates this error rate. Workflow Learning is brand new and flying off the shelves. Knowledge Products grew by 70% last year and went from $15 million to $25 million in revenues (during a recession and IT spending slowdown). PeopleSoft’s OEM deal with Knowledge Products just took Workflow Learning mainstream to 11,000 PeopleSoft customers. RWD, Epiance, Ultimus, Lombardi all experiencing 40-70% revenue growth. These products across the board are being used to eliminate training altogether. They generate cost savings, productivity increases, and lower cost of ownership by an average of 50%. Microsoft’s InfoPath 2003 now brings bottom-up workflow authoring to 400 million Office users. Hmmm. Must be a fad, huh? Why would customers want learning products that save money, save time, eliminate training, and increase quality and productivity? Courseware is experiencing negative growth and is under siege from low customer demand and the outsourcing trend (See Paul Harris’s stuff in ASTD, IDC, Gartner). Yet we blame it on the economy. Like it will come back next year, huh? The big training outsourcers are winning larger and larger contracts. They take centralized training departments and immediately wean companies off of low-yield, low-margin, high-cost form factors such as classroom or courseware-based elearning. No emotional attachment to legacy training formats, just effectiveness and profitability (Smelling salts to those in denial). Blended Learning does not work. How could it? If snake oil does not work, how could bottling it in a variety of different containers increase its effectiveness? Look at the messaging of any vendor using the term “Blended Learning”. It is a thinly veiled effort to sidestep any complaint over a specific form factor. Customer complains about one and the conversations shifts to another. Clever. Knowledge Management does not work. File management systems work. Content management systems work. Knowledge is not housed in hardware or software. It is a product of wetware. The industry is still hot in Europe but imploding in the US. Vendors are rapidly migrating their products to expertise management, social networking, advanced data visualization and enterprise content management. All of the new second-generation products are very sophisticated (Autonomy, Tacit, AskMe, Insight Experience, Inxight, et al). KM and elearning will never merge. It is too late and doomed to failure. KM is now anathema to customers and elearning is being replaced by collaboration, simulation and real-time workflow products. Merging two mythical creatures just gets you a hybrid mythical creature (shades of Chimera). One final caveat. The vending machines (LMS & LCMS) can easily replace conventional snake oil inventory with these new forms of products. It would be a mistake to equate the failure of training and elearning with a forecasted demise of the learning technology industry. At the June 2003 eLearning forum with all the major LMS vendors, none of them would touch the drop-out problem. “Not our problem” was coming across loud and clear. (Actually, one vendor said to me, “content, what do we care about content?”) Reblogged with permission from original posting by Sam Adkins

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