Snake oil salesmen have been around a long-time, as P T Barnum noted “There’s a sucker born every minute”. Sahana Chattopadhyay’s blog ‘Collaborative learning will be up for sale… A “snake oil” for all the learning dilemma’ pulls together a number of blog posts on the same theme that the marketeers and salesmen are taking over informal and social learning and as soon as that happens there is a real risk that the underlying idea will be buried and destroyed.

We’ve seen it for instance with knowledge management systems and elearning. I think it is particularly prevalent where somebody can systematise a solution and sell it to you in a box. I pointed out an example I’d heard in an earlier blog ‘Planning to implement informal learning’.

Buyer beware, means that it is our responsibility to understand and be able to spot the snake oil salesman  (I’m probably preaching to the choir if you’re reading this), but before you buy or implement anything that is being sold to help with informal or social learning it might be an idea to do the following:

  1. Read widely around the topic, see my suggested list below.
  2. Think about how models and trends are going to impact on your organisation.
  3. Pay particular attention to your learning and performance culture, align this properly before you do anything else. Make sure the senior executives in the organisation really understand the impact and changes required of them before you start.
  4. Think about the culture and behaviours in your organisation and how they will interact with any new system. A field of dreams approach of “If we build it they will come” is seldom going to get results, see all the the disappointment around LMS systems.
  5. Be able to answer the question, “how will I know this will add value before I buy and implement it”. (Look for evidence and evaluate – See Owen’s post on ‘How to evaluate new management concepts’)

Reading list:

Jay Cross and the Internet Time Alliance and Jay’s books ‘Informal Learning’ and ‘Working Smarter’ which are available from his site. The benchmark and starting point.

Jane Hart – Social learning expert

Harold Jarche – integrating work and learning

Don Clark – worth thinking about some of the questions he asks about value (not to be confused with Donald Clark’s Plan B who’s also worth a read but less so on this subject)

Charles Jennings – Takes a great performance view of learning

I’d also recommend looking at some of the work of Josh Bersin and in particular the model he presented at Learning Technologies in London about where the market is going. But that’s the subject of my next post….

As a supplier of services in this area, I’d rather deal with an informed and inquisitive buyer who understands the complexity and constraints.  Together we can then find a solution that will work and that we can all feel confident about before we start. Buyers who buy and then are disappointed are not just bad for my business, they are really bad for the learning industry and actually damage the people and organisations we all want to help learn and perform better.