A couple weeks ago, my seven-month old son started having all the tell-tale signs of teething.
So what did my wife and I do as first-time parents faced with a fussy infant?
Well, we felt like we had a few options:
- Look it up in one of the 36 books we bought about babies.
- Call our moms.
- Show up at our neighbors and plead for help (or leave him there).
- Attend our 13th Baby Care class at the local hospital.
Usually, we turn to one of these options first. But a couple Saturdays ago while I was folding onesies, burp cloths and blankets, my wife hopped on the Internet and did what most of us do when we have an information-seeking problem.
She “Google’d” it.
A friend had told her about teething tablets and gels, so she used that phrase as her search term. Her query turned up over 400 results. What do you think caught her attention – the top hit for a Hylands product or the YouTube clip of “The Doctors” offering a product review?
Of course, she consulted “The Doctors” first.
She liked their advice, but wasn’t totally satisfied and wanted to hear from other moms. So she returned to her original search results and found a few forums where moms like her were providing their unvarnished view of various products.
Doesn’t something similar happen on our jobs?
Our co-workers come crying to us about something: “I can’t do this” or “I need help on that."
Okay, maybe they don’t come crying, but people frequently have job-related questions. They have a concern related to their benefits, or want to improve their skill sets in a particular subject area or just want to get more information about something quickly.
They’ve turned to you for answers and you want to help them.
More often than not, you can field those questions that are related to your area of expertise.
But where do you go for answers when you don’t have a ready response?
I’m assuming your options are not that different from me and my wife when we were seeking medical advice:
- Look it up in some kind of document on your desk or desktop computer.
- View your organization’s intranet.
- Phone a colleague or send the person to someone else.
- Send the person to training.
Those are valid options and I am sure you engage in at least one of these activities every day.
But do you ever turn to the Web for answers?
Do you conduct a quick Google (or Bing or Yahoo!) search?
How often do turn to an online forum of your peers who are dealing with the same questions and encountering the same problems every day?
Do you even know if one exists? (Psst…I know of one for government employees.)
Yet this is exactly how people are learning and developing their knowledge, skills and abilities on the job. In fact, I am currently reading the DorobekInsider’s Book of the Month: The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner.
The authors maintain that “people need to learn fast, as part of the ebb and flow of their jobs, not just on the rare occasion that they are in a class.”
Just a few weeks before reading the book, I had been reflecting on that very notion and presented a few of my ideas at a luncheon keynote for the Training Officers Consortium (in fact, this blog post is that presentation!).
Specifically, I tried to convince them of three concepts:
1. Informal learning is the new normal.
2. The real experts are in cubicles, not just classrooms.
3. Social networks are the perfect, perpetual classroom.
This trend in turning to web-based tools for real-time information signals a profound shift in learning and knowledge sharing. In Part 2 of this series, I will draw upon some of my recent reading and my experiences while an employee at the Graduate School (USDA) and now as the Community Manager of GovLoop (a role that I am more and more seeing as “Chief Learning Officer" for Government), to flesh out these concepts for you.
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