Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Interview with Josh Little, Bloomfire: E-Learning Innovators Series

New ways to share knowledge take advantage of innovative social networking. Welcome to an interview with Josh Little, CEO of Bloomfire.

1. What is your name and affiliation. What is your relation to e-learning?
My name is Josh Little and I'm the CEO of Bloomfire. Bloomfire is the third online learning company I've started. The first is Maestro eLearning, a creative agency focused on building engaging custom online learning experiences for major corporations and non-profits. The second is Wellness Works, an unparalleled interactive corporate wellness education system that teaches employees to live healthier, more productive lifestyles. Thousands of people all over the world engage in a learning experience from one of these three companies every day.

2. What is Bloomfire and what inspired you to develop it?
A platform that allows anyone to start a Bloomfire, which is a website geared specifically for easily sharing knowledge and the discussions that surround it. You can invite members to find and follow experts, ask questions, and share with others. Members can share and upload documents, videos, or presentations, record a video from their webcam, or create screencasts on the fly.

I developed Bloomfire out of the pain I felt along my career as a public school teacher, corporate trainer, and small business owner. In every one of these roles I felt like I was just scratching the surface of what my students, trainees, or employees needed to know to be successful. There needed to be a better way to rapidly share knowledge with people all over the world. Although traditional eLearning tools allow this, the time and cost to create content was still limiting. I knew that by using the power of the crowd, any organization could harness the the long talk of knowledge, how-to's and tricks if they had the right tool.

3. What makes Bloomfire different from wikis and other collaborative knowledge building tools?
Many people feel the same pain I did and attempt to fill the job with tools such as wikis, blogs, social networking tools, and the like. Unlike these tools, a Bloomfire is purpose built for learning with dirt-simple multimedia authoring tools, video streaming, mobile capability, and a strong set of analytics tools for managers. We can promise to forever deliver on one thing - simplicity. We work tirelessly to maintain a simple, clean, easy to use interface.

4. What are the benefits of informal and social learning?
The ability to harness the informal learning occurring in an organization, customer base, or fan club can bring several benefits. I feel the top three are engagement, reduced mistakes, and increased performance - I'll break these down.

Engagement - People love doing what they are good at and hate doing things that they are not. When I have the right information and support structure around me a stressful, risky task turns into an confidence building experience. Engagement comes when I can be successful at what I do and feel connected to the people around me.

Reduced mistakes - Information is moving at the speed of light. We are in a constant state of learning in order to stay on top of our game. In most instances, we have to figure things out on our own - even if there are other people doing the same thing we are. We are all reinventing the wheel because we have no other option. This practice is so common that it's been given names like "sink or swim" or "drinking from the fire hose." This is a rocky path riddled with pain and frustration. Collaborative learning allows others to groom the path for those that follow.

Increased performance - What if you could bottle the knowledge, skills, tips, and tricks of your top 10 performers? What if this could be shared with everyone else? What kind of difference would that make in your organization?

5. How can you be assured that social learning is accurate and not a way to disseminate misinformation or propagandistic / agenda-laden material?
This is the number #1 objection to social learning - what if someone says something bad or inaccurate? It's also the #1 myth about social learning. The fear is that by giving people tools to publish and share, they will go crazy and use the platform for public domination and destruction. This assumption is absolutely false. In fact, in the over 1000 Bloomfires that are burning today, some of our customers have reported the exact opposite. We have called this condition School Dance Syndrome (SDS) because people come in and sit along the walls watching the smaller number who contribute. And because of the very public nature of your identity in a Bloomfire, it makes for a bad place for subversion.

If someone posts something that is just plan inaccurate, it should be praised that there is a way to flesh out problems before they occur. These are teachable moments that can mitigate risk and prevent future mistakes. How else would an organization know if someone was spreading this misinformation. An online learning community should be viewed as an extension of the classroom. If it's OK to say inaccurate things or ask silly questions in the classroom, then it should also be acceptable that this is done in the online classroom.

6. Please recommend a book you recently read and enjoyed.
While it isn't related to social learning, it is related to building no-nonsense software that people love. The book Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is packed full of smart practices and wisdom that could benefit just about every organization on the planet. I've read it twice now.

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