Collaborative Leverage in E-Learning

It Means Applying the Right Tool to the Right Process and Getting a Big Win.

With many large businesses becoming decentralized over the last decade, the ability to collaborate across time and space is even more critical. Collaboration only can really have value in the context of a specific process. Collaboration is a behavior, not a technology, and there are various communication and coordination technologies that enable collaboration behaviors. When those behaviors occur within critical business processes and are applied appropriately, they can result in significant productivity gains.

It is the application of collaborative technology to these processes that are called “collaborative leverage.” Collaborative Strategies has identified six critical processes in any organization that have collaborative leverage:

>> sales and marketing (proposal development);

>> customer service/support (exception handling);

>> R&D (new product development);

>> value network management (relationships with external organizations, DPM, and project management) (exception handling) supply chain;

>> training (internal and external); and

>> decision support/crisis management.

Collaborative leverage occurs when you apply the right tool to the right process and get a big win. This can be an increase in quality of the product or service, the new ability to access expertise, or a decrease in cycle time for many types of tasks, projects and processes.

Training/education is one of the six critical processes that has collaborative leverage. How can these technologies be applied for the greatest level of benefit? There is always the use of RTC (real time collaboration) tools for Webinars and one-to-many broadcast training, but our RTC research shows that 93% of meetings (or Webinars) are fewer than five people, and only 2% of meetings are people broadcasting to large groups. These RTC tools coupled with asynchronous collaboration tools would be great for something like tutoring or apprenticeships, where the tutor would be able to “look over the shoulder” of the student and be able to interact with them around difficult content.

Web 2.0, Collaboration

One of the big ideas in Web 2.0 is evolving your customers into partners through better relationships. This often is done through an online community or enterprise-oriented social networks. The critical part here is not to focus on the specific form of the enabling tool, but to focus more on people and process. Tools are enablers, but training is still about people.

We (Collaborative Strategies – recently did some primary research on social networks in the enterprise and found that 25.7% of the time the training or corporate education group brings the social network into the enterprise. In 31.4% of occurrences, no one is the actual decision maker for social networks, and implementation occurs through organic adoption. With 60.4% of those in the enterprise belonging to one, two or three social networks and with 92.2% having a personal profile on LinkedIn, it is probably safe to say that LinkedIn is almost always one of the social networks used by the enterprise.

Although it was not part of our current research study, we suspect that not many enterprises are using social networks for training and education. Which brings up the problem of appropriate use of technology; I have seen collaboration zealots apply collaborative tools to almost everything, including transactional processes (which are usually without collaborative leverage).

Appropriate E-learning 2.0

The content being taught also can affect which collaborative tools you use. Many of the RTC tools are great for teaching someone how to do formulas in Microsoft Excel, but I would hesitate to use them to teach a course in leadership, which is probably better taught in person. However, with a shaky economy and enterprise travel bans (unless it is directly related to revenue, like a sales call) some groups might look at these tools as a way to get some leadership principles out to their employees. The rationale might be some leadership training (at a distance) might be better than none. I am not so sure this is a great rationale.

Something we have studied is how much effect a project leader has on the success of a project. We found that a prediction of success was many times tied to the communication and leadership skills of the project manager. This is so critical, in fact, that when we run across a situation where a team leader does not have these skills, we recommend training right away. According to poll results from Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), as reported in the March 13, 2007, edition of InformationWeek, about 28% of 1,000 respondents identified “poor communications” as the main cause of project failure.

If Web 1.0 was about content (static Web pages), then Web 2.0 is about people and their (social) interactions, and attention is the currency of these interactions. In my next column I will look at the oxymoron of “attention management” and how it applies to training and e-learning.

—David Coleman, founder and managing director of Collaborative Strategies, has been involved with groupware, collaborative technologies, online communities and social networks since 1989. He is the author/editor of “Groupware Technologies and Applications” (Prentice-Hall, 1995) and “Groupware: Collaborative Strategies for Corporate LANs and the Intranet” (Prentice-Hall 1997). Most recently he has co-authored his third book called “Collaboration 2.0, Technology and Best Practices for Successful Collaboration in a Web 2.0 World” (Happy About Publishing, 2008) with Stewart Levine.  Reach him at (415) 282-9197 or


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