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Has informal learning a chance as bosses crack down on internet socialising?

November 12th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

How ironic. I was waiting for a telephone call to IBL to talk about a discussion for Sounds of the Bazaar podcast on collaborative learning. And my eye caught this article from the Guardian technology page.

“More than 1,700 public employees have been sacked or disciplined for internet or email misuse in the past three years, our research has found.

The figures – obtained from 65 institutions – show how strongly employers are clamping down on staff who spend hours on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo.

Unions say that disputes over the sites are growing at a phenomenal rate and have demanded clearer guidelines for their use. Studies have shown that up to £130m a day in productivity is lost because of the sites, with Facebook’s British members spending an average of 143 minutes a month logged in.”

And I went on to have a great talk with Jaan and Agnes from Berlin about how e-collaboration tools can enhance learning – especially informal learning, boost productivity and promote innovation.

But it seems UK employers just don’t get it. To a large extent it is a question of trust – the very issue I talked with Jay Cross about in an interview a few weeks ago. Informal learning is the most powerful route to competence development and innovation in the workplace. But informal learning means trusting employees – trusting employees to usefully use their time, trusting employees to make decision, trusting employees to try out new ideas.

The public sector is probably the worst place for trust. In many organizations public sector workers are not even entitled to send emails without prior approval. Supervision rules. Why? The work culture of the public sector is still all too often rooted in Fordist ideas of production. Knowledge is carefully filtered and controlled. Strict hierarchies prevail.

I ‘m not sure even researchers and those who defend the workers get it. From the same article: “Cary Cooper, a professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University, said that managers should be realistic. “Britain has some of the longest working hours in the developed world. Employers have created this culture. It is natural for people to have to use work computers for organising their personal life.”

Of course I agree with him. But that is not the point. Social networking is not just about organising ones social life. I certainly do not go to Facebook to arrange to meet my friends in the pub.

Social networking can be about spreading and sharing ideas, solving problems, forming and participating in communities of practice. And to all of you who say I am not being real, I suggest you study how people really use the internet n companies. Most people like to learn, they enjoy learning. Learning is a natural human activity. How sad we are so suspicious of it.

end of todays rant. Time to organise my social life. i am going to the pub.

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