EdTech & Social Business – The Problem Of Assimilation

Euan Semple wrote a very interesting post a few days back describing the assimilation of social tools in the workplace to strengthen status-quo rather than disrupt it. This is one of the reasons purely bottom-up approaches don’t really pay-off.

Incidentally, I have been reading through some pretty old conversations between Seymour Papert and the Brazilian philosopher and educator Paolo Freire around the future of school and in part 2 of the series one of the things that stands out is this:

The school bureaucracies know very well how to use the computer … in order to reinforce their own concept of school. And I find it very interesting that … in the 1970s the first times I saw any microcomputers in schools, it was always through the efforts of a visionary and rebellious teacher who didn’t like what he or she — often she — was supposed to be doing and saw the computer as the way of doing something different. And often … this is a bit romantic … they felt the potential of this thing and they wanted change.… So it was an instrument of radical change — that’s what they thought it was. And then around about the middle of the 1980s … this computer got into the hands of school administrations and the ministries and the commissioners of education, state education departments.

And now look what they did with them: no longer are there computers in the hands of visionary teachers in the classrooms. The establishment pulls together and now they’ve got a computer classroom, there’s a computer curriculum, and there’s a special computer teacher. In other words, the computer has been thoroughly assimilated to the way you do things in school.

Looks like assimilation is a problem with deep roots in institutions in general and not limited to enterprises alone. Be it schools,  governments or enterprises – many are likely to mangle the “social” out of social business and make it business as usual. Typical manifestations of this within enterprises attempting to use social platforms are:

  • Lots of private groups for no real reason leading to more silos than before
  • Extensive use of folders/sub-folders as opposed to tags
  • Using discussion forums for every conceivable type of interaction ignoring wiki pages, blogs and status updates
  • Building custom workflows for content like documents to keep gatekeepers happy
  • Community samaritans and their contributions are ignored
  • Very few middle and senior managers actually contribute to any conversation – as a matter of fact, they wonder if the people who contribute actually do any work!

The list is potentially endless. What this means is that an institution can choose to deploy a social tool and then take the social out of it by using a deadly web of structure, process and politics. Well, Drucker is right: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and any social business strategy is no exception.


One thought on “EdTech & Social Business – The Problem Of Assimilation

  1. Hi Dinesh! My name is Kenny Song and I saw that you’ve done some stuff with Udacity. We’d like to invite you to join Team Renaissance for the Udacity Challenge.

    Our team is currently the largest in the world, and we have members from 9 different countries. We’re also running an in-team competition for prizes! Oh, and you don’t have to be a high school student to join.

    Thanks! Hope to hear from you soon.

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