African economies are starting to face a common problem: while investment, resources and labour are plentiful, the skills necessary to reap the full rewards of this richness are often lacking. 2012 research in South Africa, for example, found over 800,000 unfilled positions in high-skilled jobs across all sectors. As industry grows, there is clearly a pressing need to make sure the wealth it generates is distributed to the right places, to the benefit of Africans: another reason why the development of a skilled workforce is a key concern. Jay Cross, a featured speaker at eLearning Africa 2014, is one of the world’s leading experts on learning in the workplace – and, specifically, on informal learning. The News Team caught up with him to talk about his work.
by Alasdair MacKinnon
Jay Cross is one of the great pioneers of eLearning: in fact, he’s credited with the first use of the term in 1998. They were heady times, when the rate at which the eLearning industry would grow could only have been dreamt of, and the power of coming technologies could never have been guessed. “Some eLearning technology today is spectacular,” says Jay, “incorporating the best of web 2.0 technology and tied directly to what it takes to complete the job”.
Jay is the first to admit that much of what he and his fellow pioneers drew up in theory back in the early days never actually materialised. “Our original vision of personalised, cloud-based, eLearning-on-demand has not come to pass. The concept of reconfigurable strings of learning objects never left the drawing board.” What did come out of the early days was an incredibly powerful idea, articulated, by Jay, in 1998, as follows: “eLearning is learning on Internet Time, the convergence of learning and networks.”
The idea of a synthesis of learning and networks underlies some of Jay’s ideas about informal learning. As the founder of the Internet Time Group, he has helped many organisations increase the efficiency of training, often by pointing out the disparity between how companies spend on teaching and how learners learn.
If 90% of learning is informal, he argues, then why are companies directing 80% of their training budgets to class-based courses – courses often aimed only at entry-level employees? “Organisations should invest in learning infrastructure that serves everyone… Since learning is social, mobile, and collaborative, organisations should invest in building social networks, making things available on mobile devices, and adopting cultures of discovery, experimentation, and sharing.”
It is a vision that corresponds well to the situation of African eLearning. While the Millennium Development Goals’ commitment to the provision of universal primary education have focused attention, since 2000 on the development of physical infrastructure, the same period has also seen the flourishing of informal learning networks across Africa, using mobile networks to allow Africans to access and share online content – and not only in the workplace, but across the learning spectrum.
It is at this point, however, that Jay strikes a note of caution. “Knowledge comes in two forms and learning requires both. eLearning focuses on explicit knowledge, that is, things that can be reduced to words. eLearning is not good for sharing tacit knowledge; that takes practice and hands-on learning.
“While it’s certainly possible to leapfrog wired infrastructure, it’s not possible to leapfrog building learning cultures.”
As you might expect, Jay Cross is “not a big fan of lectures”. At eLearning Africa 2014 he intends to tell a series of learning stories, taken from the varied career he has had at the frontiers of learning. Find out more about eLearning Africa 2014 here.