My latest professional role was as a Client Success Manager for a software company. At least half of the job involved being a deep subject matter expert on the product, and being fully aware of all implications of quarterly version upgrades for our clients. This monkey was probably smarter than I was after a quarterly release.
Our initial certification work on the product was well-designed but rather lockstep and focused on passing a certification exam as quickly as possible. This provided us just enough information to be dangerous. The real learning started once we started working with clients.
Our clients typically are trying to shoehorn existing complex business processes into a product which will only support about 85% of what they want to do. Part of our job was first, to understand what the business need was for the remaining 15% of requirements. If there was a compelling enough case or the client wasn’t willing to change, we had to figure out how to work something out in the system.
As we have several hundred practitioners globally, we leveraged several Connectivist ways to help each other and share knowledge:
- Our EMEA team had a Skype chat, which enabled us to ask each other questions and provide answers in real-time. Unfortunately it was difficult to archive the great stuff coming out of this tool for later use.
- Our client success team maintained a secure blog with discussion threads. Practitioners were expected to search carefully to check whether the answer already existed. If not, the question would go to a designated expert and we would normally have an answer on the blog within 24 hours. We could also answer questions if we had a better answer. Several times my colleagues reached out to thank me for taking the time to do this as it helped them out of a jam.
- We were encouraged to provide corrections and additions to the product’s Online Help function. This benefited clients as well.
- Finally for product upgrades, the product managers recorded short videos explaining the new features and impacts for clients. These were assigned to us through our learning management system. We could post questions, which showed up during the video. We normally got an answer within 24 hours and the answers were available to everyone.
- During release testing, clients could post questions on a discussion topic and the product managers normally answered them within 24 hours. The answers then benefited all clients as well as us practitioners.
Dr. George Siemens (2005) mentions these Principles of Connectivism, and here is how this scenario compares:
- Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
Sometimes colleagues had an even more clever workaround than the designated expert. Additionally getting perspective from colleagues about what their clients did helped us tell clients when they were better off changing their business process.
- Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.
We used several highly-specific sources to find solutions to our questions.
- Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
We maintained rich digital sources of information for maintaining and growing knowledge.
- Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
Agreed, it was not possible to know absolutely everything about the product “off the top of one’s head,” but it was critical to know where to find the answer quickly.
- Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
Contributing to the community made one more visible to colleagues and thus, someone who could more easily get help when needed. Although I was in Sweden and far away from the headquarters in California, a lot of people knew who I was.
- Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
Sometimes we could use a part of the system to support a business process, even if it was designed for something completely different! An example: After understanding the business requirements for a training nominations process, I could help the client use the Succession/Talent Planning module to support it.
- Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
Absolutely, which is why these very searchable, digital artifacts were so important to maintain. The product was upgraded quarterly and patched every two weeks.
- Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.
This is the nature of software today. Everyone working in the technology industry is trying to run a marathon whilst simultaneously undergoing open heart surgery. However I think we had less scope for “deciding what is important to learn” in the specific context I mention here, and this principle may be less relevant to the scenario.
Siemens, G. (2004). A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved December 7, 2017 from http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm
No photographer attributed. Retrieved December 8, 2017 from https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/bionics/monkeys-type-12-words-per-minute-with-braintokeyboard-communication