Let's stop pretending that you have a "partnership" with your IT department. Case in point: At one Fortune 100 company, a learning leader has to ask someone to unlock a hot, nosy and a cramped server closet every Thursday morning to get outside of the firewall and attend our Train for Success meetings in Second Life. Other learning professionals aren't so lucky, they find refugee working from home or at hotel lobbies and coffee shops to join our meetings. It's a funny and sad state of affairs. People who are charged with being change agents in their learning organizations are not allowed to explore the world outside of their own organization!
Our Second Life speaking series features corporate leaders like Nokia, IBM, Intel and J&J who share their experiences of using 3D virtual worlds for learning, collaboration and communication. We frequently go on virtual "field trips." This week will feature a tour of IBM's Green Data Center. Our meetings draw over 50 learning leaders every week, frequently from four continents. Yet, we could easily triple attendance of our meetings if corporate IT departments had any interest whatsoever in improving the state of learning. But instead, they are holding most learning leaders hostage behind a Berlin Wall.
How did your IT department become the Revolutionary Guard and your employees the Twittering protesters on the street? It's not a new conflict. Your IT department didn't want employees to be on the web or have their own email 12 years ago. They didn't want people to instant message each other just a few years ago. These were just "toys," in their view. But what becomes robust business applications usually start off as consumer toys. Twitter was about Demi Moore's breakfast before it helped propel a candidate to the White House and protest a brutal regime in Tehran. We go through the same battles over and over. IT resists the change driven by innovators in your organization. Any learning department worth its salt need to be out on the barricades with their people instead of hunkering down in the bunker with the IT bureaucrats. You need to be Twittering, meeting in virtual worlds, YouTubing and podcasting. If you let IT intimidate you from piloting and testing next generation learning, you're not doing your job. A growing cadre of learning professionals is heeding this call. From hot server rooms in Sweden and Australia, to Panera Bread restaurants on the American East and West coast, they are joining our weekly Second Life meetings, and they are running their own skunk work programs.
In fairness, IT has legitimate security concerns. Opening up the ports to access Second Life is not unproblematic (which is why we'll begin to deliver stand-alone, behind the firewall versions of Second Life to our clients this fall). But you have legitimate "obscurity" concerns if people can't access social networks and virtual worlds like these. If you're not able to attract, retain and empower he next generation workers, they will go across the street to companies like IBM that already has 20,000 employees in virtual worlds like Second Life. As my friend Peter Quirk put it ,Second Life is just the canary in the coalmine. If your enterprise can't manage connections to the Second Life grid, how are you going to connect to the sprawling cloud services of other social networks where all the the real learning is happening these days? The refusal of your IT department to join the 21st century will be taken as arrogance, technophobia, stupidity, or all of the above by your young workers. Learning professionals of the world need to unite against your IT oppressors; you have nothing to lose but your virtual chains!