Being a Technology Steward

Any casual observer of current trends in the use of technology will notice some or all of the following:

  • Content is accessible by everyone on an unprecedented scale
  • Everyone can publish content
  • It has become typical for online content to be updated frequently
  • A major challenge for users is processing the vast amount of content and assessing its validity

These trends hold true generally, but are particularly apparent in workplace learning. As we move from a curriculum driven training model to a knowledge on demand model, we put more responsibility on learners to get what they need. No longer can they safely rely on a “training program” to tell them what they must know.

So how can learning professionals bridge the gap? One way is by helping users organize and navigate through the maze of technology and available content available to them in the workplace. Communities of practice have long been a way for users with common goals and needs to share and support each other. Advances in technology only intensity both the need and the benefit that can be derived from these communities.

Like a garden, however, these communities will not tend themselves. They need a gardener. As Jay Cross suggests in his column in the June 2009 issue of CLO magazine, the term steward is quite appropriate. Cross in turn cites this term from the forthcoming book Digital Habitats, Stewarding Technology for Communities by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John Smith. As Cross says: “Technology stewards are people with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs.”

Who would do well in such a role? Well, in the context of learning and performance, clearly a learning professional (e.g., trainer or instructional designer) well versed in technology and the content domain is a logical choice. Again quoting Cross: “They understand how adults learn and how to transform information into learning. It’s important for corporations to benefit from their learning people, not give them pink slips.”

In the face of changing approaches to improving performance, providing our training professionals with new opportunities to contribute is good news indeed.

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