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Stuck in a blog? Gearing up the training appetite


bloggingBlogging and Marmite have a lot in common; there's little room for middle ground in a debate which finds that most either love it or hate it. But are the reluctant missing out? Annie Hayes reports from two very different camps.

A marketing tool

Alan Nelson, managing director of online learning developers Nelson Croom who have recently launched 'Reflections: Nelson Croom's Online Learning Blog' tells me that a major attraction for his company is the opportunity for pulling learners back into material.

"A blog drives things to people and pulls people back into learning, reducing the possibility of people losing interest over time."

Playing safe

And, says Nelson, it's made all the easier by learners signing up to RSS web feed formats which it uses to publish frequently updated content, including blog entries, into a standardised format – most usually one page. Nelson tells me that what this means is that users can find their favourite blogs compiled for them in an easy-to-view page. Of this he says: "A tutor posting an announcement was always useful in the past but it doesn't reach you unless you're logged in – this [RSS feed] is a different way into the learning."

Luring learners is part of the marketing job and as a company Nelson has found that their new blog has added an essential element to the image they are trying to portray: "Our website has to be pretty factual. With the blog we can show that our people are interesting, open and honest, the blog is a chance to produce unmodified and spontaneous content."

David Gurteen, who started off in IT working as an expert for Lotus Notes but quickly became aware that the real challenge was the people rather than the software started his blog a few years back, after he published a regular newsletter: "The items were effectively blog items – rather than create the newsletter from scratch, I thought I'd tag the blogs. A programme stitches the blogs together as one document."

So what's in it for Gurteen? Part of it's a marketing tool, he admits. "I wanted to market myself by showing what I do because I'm selling myself as a person. I love to share anyway." Of course the backlash to this, says Gurteen, is there are those that say blogging is nothing but a tool of vanity and 'inane twittering'. But Gurteen says that marketing aside, there is a very real learning experience that can also be had.

Learning beyond the classroom

With 12 or so items to produce for his newsletter a month, Gurteen is also constantly scouring for new ideas: "To teach something you need to learn something as well," he says. Gurteen believes that blogging holds the key to fresh ideas and says that he can't find the information anywhere else - not in magazines, in classrooms or in books. It's a richness he believes that can only be found lurking in blogs but says that reading rather than contributing can limit the learning experience.

"A blog drives things to people and pulls people back into learning, reducing the possibility of people losing interest over time."

Alan Nelson, Nelson Croom

Donald Taylor, chairman of the Learning and Skills Group, who writes his own blog at believes that blogging offers a further learning angle, as a place to reflect on what you are doing. "If you are a learning and development professional, that can be really useful. But you could do that on paper, so why do it online and, in public? That's the second benefit: because your peers can read what you write, you will naturally want to make sure that it is well-thought and considered. That's a great discipline to have. Thirdly, and related to this, of course they will offer their thoughts and reflections on what you have written, which is really invaluable. After all, no matter how much you know about something, you can bet someone out there knows more."

And connecting to people is what Gurteen refers to when he says it's not enough to simply be passive. member, Mark Berthelemy posting on the subject at Any Answers says the networking possibilities are endless: "I find that the people who blog are those who already have a bigger picture of learning than just the training room/classroom. Blogging and reading RSS feeds are an efficient way of connecting and reflecting."

Why the resistance?

Gurteen says a lack of understanding attributes to the masses that are yet to be persuaded. "They're not understanding it and not wanting to understand it. They're the people that say, whose got time to read those?"

Gurteen presents three different scenarios: "Those that see it, get it, love it and adopt it. Those that never, ever get it and see blogs as vanity tools and the group in the middle that are sitting on the fence and aren't sure." The ratio, says Gurteen, between those groups is very different.

Whilst little statistical evidence exists to demonstrate the proportion of trainers that blog, some indication of overall take-up can be sought from looking at the number of corporate blogs. Work by the Fortune 500 Business Blogging Wiki indicates that as little as 11% of Fortune 500 companies are actually blogging. It doesn't make for impressive reading. Yet there are around 30m blogs on the world wide web, so it's a growing trend, despite reluctance from the big players.

"I don't know how to blog, I don't know which sites to blog on, I can't see the point, I don't have enough time, It's yet another distraction, I already use Facebook, YouTube, so why should I blog?"

Mark Gregory, member on common blogging excuses member Mark Gregory lists the most common excuses: "I don't know how to blog, I don't know which sites to blog on, I can't see the point, I don't have enough time, it's yet another distraction, I already use Facebook, YouTube, so why should I blog? I'm confused about the whole issue, I've survived without blogging so far." It's negative language that conveys the real issues for many, namely fear of the unknown. Jakob Nielsen, a web usability guru says in fact take-up is universally low: "90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action."

And Taylor says there's nothing wrong with hanging back: "It isn't for everyone. Not everyone will enjoy the feeling of exposure that blogging can sometimes give you. Not everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves in writing. It's a useful tool, but there are other ways of getting similar benefits. I wouldn't want anyone to feel pressurised into blogging."

Indeed, many are also concerned with the legal baggage it can bring. Glovers Solicitors recently warned both employees and employers to be aware of the problems that blogs may cause. Sikin Andela, employment lawyer and partner at Glovers says that individuals using a blog should exercise caution when posting comments online, and in particular, those which relate to their employer and the nature of their employment. "It is important to bear in mind that an employee has an implied duty of mutual trust and confidence towards their employers. Any confidential information which is revealed on a blog, or comments which could be deemed to be defamatory, impact negatively on the employer and could mean that an employee is acting in breach of this duty."

Getting into hot water can put many off. But blogging is here to stay and those that get it are loving it and learning from it as well as propelling their businesses and learning forward. What the majority feel about blogging is little more than guess work, as hardly any meaningful research amongst trainers has been conducted. All we can say for now is that early indications show that there is a growing appetite and interest in blogging, even if it's mainly propelled by a silent army of 'lurkers'.


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