jump to navigation

Learning 2.0 Is Like Punk Rock September 12, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I had a fun discussion last night with several friends / colleagues. We were trying to hypothesize why so many (e)Learning 2.0 initiatives don’t get the traction we would expect, both at our organization and at other organizations. Several of us learning tech geeks see such great opportunities with learning 2.0, but it sometimes feels like others just don’t get it. We have fantastic tools at our disposal, like blogs, social bookmarking, wikis, RSS, etc. – and many of these tools are free. However, it feels like we’re pulling teeth when we try to make a business case to show the value and possibilities for these tools. To get around this, we’re seeing more grassroots movements take place. Instead of waiting for top-down direction, employees are installing learning 2.0 tools/technologies and experimenting with them on their own.

Peggy Gartin, a friend and colleague, came up with a great simile: Learning 2.0 is like punk rock. Punk is a music genre that defies the mainstream. It grows from people wanting to express themselves and share their work; they don’t wait for an executive at a record label to provide them with ideas. Punk embraces a DIY (do it yourself) ethic, with many bands self-producing their recordings and distributing them through informal channels (A bit of that definition was borrowed from Wikipedia.). This resonates with what I’ve seen related to learning 2.0. If you try to harness it, control it, and direct it, you’ll lose its magic. It won’t have the same effect. If you force people to use social bookmarking, they’ll ignore it. If you force them to blog, they’ll get writer’s block. On the other hand, if you provide these tools and let people run with their ideas, I believe you’ll see much better results.

Many executives are still in the early stages of hearing about learning 2.0 and they’re still trying to get their hands around it. From what I’ve seen, the key may lie in the everyday learning and technology professionals like you and me. We should continue to test-drive tools and technologies. Experiment on your own and find out what works best for you and your organization. Don’t wait for some suit in an executive office to tell you what to do. We need to be the rebellious ones. Now go forth and rock. 🙂


1. vijay - September 12, 2008

I think I know a bit why people in general are not beelining to exploit (e)Learning 2.0 technologies/services – based on my experience. Although by most measures I’m a savvy computer, internet, and learning technologies user and regularly read blogs like this, it is still not clear which one to start with, how these new ways might pan out in the near future, and how they can be combined. I see two big problems: (1) mind-numbing plethora of new services that make choosing very difficult, and (2) lack of a ‘for dummies’ type of source to get a handle on what they are how best to start.

2. gboulet - September 12, 2008

Punk rock is not for everyone. Some like it, others not. I think social web is the same, some people will use it as their main source for learning while others will just run away from it.

I think the tools should be made available, but learning 2,0 must not be seen as the sole source of knowledge. There will alaways be people who will need the direct contact with a coworker and will rather discuss at the watercooler than online.

3. Peggy Gartin - September 12, 2008

“Learning 2.0 is like punk rock” in all the ways you mentioned, but also in another way – it’s a little scary. If I’m blogging my thoughts, what if I’m thinking something heretical? Heretical is expected in punk rock, but avoided like the plague in corporations. Open things up so that anyone can publish their thoughts, rate their professor, tag any course, and you will get results that might shock you.

But if you look at the music industry before, during and after the punk rock era, you see a shift we could learn from. Punk rock was scary, so big record labels avoided it. But the underground gravitated toward it, so it became something the labels couldn’t ignore. The labels started “adopting” smaller punk labels – ones they could jettison quickly if things went wrong. (Much like a “soft release” of an internal blog framework.) Those small labels made money, so acceptance among the big ones grew. Finally, letting the punks be punk was more profitable for the big labels than promoting ABBA-like pop, and they looked cool by adopting a punk stance (while saying that they’d been there all along).

Institutions and corporations ought to put their fears aside and let their members/employees actively participate in talking about, blogging about, tagging, link-sharing and commenting on learning. People are incented to behave at work – have you ever seen an internal corporate wiki vandalized? – so the risk that someone will say something outrageous or downright wrong is minimal. Even if they do, (1) you have moderators, and (2) it’s internal, so only other employees will have read it before a moderator removes it.

The benefits of allowing learners to really participate in a Web 2.0 learning environment far outweigh the risks. Having people participate in a community engages them in a way that traditional instructor-led learning fails to do. They can go to any social website on the Internet and have their say. And these days, if people have more say outside the office than inside, where do you think they will choose to be?

4. Jenjen - September 12, 2008

I think it’s a great metaphor. Punk rock is at it’s best when it’s by the punks, for the punks. But eLearning isn’t usually by the punks for the punks – it’s by some organization for some group of customers. (Obviously there are exceptions and indie eLearning practitioners but you know what I’m talking about) When punk goes corporate, it loses a lot of what made it fun and gets accused of selling out. Also, the theory of punk rock was anyone could get a guitar, learn a couple chords, and go out there and thrash away. No professional polish required. How many of us want to go throw stuff out there with the professional equivalent of two chords?

5. jpolaschek - September 13, 2008

I agree on all counts. I think our job as technologists is to find a way to bring it into the non-techies life so that they don’t even realize they are listening to punk rock. When they do realize, the conclude that they like it. I think this can be done by making collaborative tools a part of the tools they already use every day. We need to find innovative ways to blend a blog or wiki with their email or word processing application for example. If it’s simple and makes sense, people will eventually catch on and enjoy the rewards.

6. Samir Bhavnani - September 13, 2008

Completely agree that it helps to have a few of the troops be the test drivers, the guinea pigs. Your post also inspired me to listen to a little Clash!

I’d love to hear case studies or your opinion of some success stories with Learning 2.0.

7. B.J. Schone - September 13, 2008

Great comments, everyone. Thanks for your input!

@jpolaschek – Agreed. I’ve heard that you should sometimes refrain from using terms like ‘wiki’ for new users. Show them that you’ve created a simple web site where they can contribute information. That way they’ll be interested in giving a shot, instead of thinking ‘Oh no, another tech tool I have to learn.’

@Peggy – Great feedback. You’re right – we do need to concentrate more on the in-house solutions, or users will go outside the firewall for help.

8. Peggy Gartin - September 14, 2008

Samir, would love to trade success stories with you sometime. In the meantime, here’s my favorite punk anthem!

The Damned, “New Rose”

9. Terie - September 14, 2008

True democracy is not really appreciated. It’s a little like libertarianism for learning — even though learning is effectively PERSONAL.

10. Angus McDonald - September 15, 2008

Maybe it’s more like 80’s alternative music – nobody was much into it in the 80’s (they were cult hits) but now they are lauded as musical inspirations and easily accessed:


Give Learning 2.0 a few years and it will be mainstream, and well understood by business managers, but right now they just have a cult following.

11. ruyoung - October 17, 2008

wired magazine also lists “edupunk” in their recent jargon watch:

Edupunk n. Avoiding mainstream teaching tools like Powerpoint and Blackboard, edupunks bring the rebellious attitude and DIY ethos of ’70s bands like the Clash to the classroom.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: