Do It Yourself–Now It’s a Management Philosophy?

Originally published on my previous blog in January 2010.  

A few years ago, Harold Jarche commented that the future of learning is Do-It-Yourself (DIY) (Febuary 26, 2007,, in which subject matter experts prepare learning programs on their own, using software that lets them record soundtracks to Powerpoint presentations (like Captivate) or filling in templates from the learning content management systems used in their organizations.
David Merrill calls these people instructional-designers-by-assignment; they’re not professional instructional designers who sought these jobs. They’re people who, by virtue of their ability to explain things clearly or just because no one else was available, are expected to develop learning programs.
Although Jarche and Merrill may have been speculating, they are definitely onto something. The concept has received a lot of attention in the press in the last month or so—especially in the training press.
In her annual predictions for e-learning in e-Learn Magazine, Margaret Driscoll (my writing collaborator for a book and several articles) sees DIY as the dominant trend (
Agatha Gilmore (The New Workplace Mantra: ‘Do It Yourself’, Chief Learning Officer Online, January 2010, reports that the trend has moved beyond mere instructional design; one consulting firm found that it’s standard operating procedure for many training organizations.
More specifically, Gilmore reports that many organizations are in-sourcing work that used to be outsourced. To address this trend, some organizations are teaching their clients how to do work on their own. (I don’t know what’s novel about this; the consulting firm I worked at in the mid-1990s has always offered this service.)
But perhaps Gilmore misses the larger picture. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman sees a Do-It-Yourself economy arising from the two trends noted above–the economic downturn forcing people to do for themselves tasks that used to be performed by others, plus the availability of new software tools to make doing-it-yourself easy (The Do-It Yourself Economy, New York Times, December 12, 2009,
Called the “The Great Inflection,” Friedman defines it as “the mass diffusion of low-cost, high-powered innovation technologies — from hand-held computers to Web sites that offer any imaginable service — plus cheap connectivity. They are transforming how business is done.” To illustrate the great inflection, he describes how an ad agency in Minneapolis could develop a video for a client in a matter of days using low-end equipment; something definitely not feasible in earlier times.
This has profound implications for professional communicators and trainers. For those of modest skill, they can easily be replaced by a combination of subject matter experts and simple software. Yes, trained professionals might be able to produce high-quality work, but the simplicity and cost savings of avoiding these high-maintenance professionals might seem, for now at least, a worthwhile tradeoff.
Indeed, the experience of a Fool’s approach to DIY learning (that’s “fool” as in the name of the company that’s doing this—“the Motley Fool to be precise—not a comment on the strategy) is that “The results haven’t been perfect — not everyone is a natural-born orator, for example, and not everyone sticks to the plan” (Insourcing Education: A Foolish Approach, by Roger Friedman, CLO Magazine, December 2009,
In other words, although DIY does address cost concerns, it may or may not address quality concerns. The producers of the soap opera Guiding Light learned that one the hard way. In a bid to control costs, Guiding Light, too, adopted a DIY approach to rehearding and taping shows. The resulting low-tech production made the show look so amateurish that viewers abandoned it–so many did so that the 72-year-old show was taken of the air.
Professionalism costs, but it might be a life-saver.
Question for discussion: Are you “doing it yourself” in your organization? How is that affecting your technical communicators and trainers?

About idmodelsandprocesses

Exploring, reporting, teaching, and advising on learning and communication for the workplace and consumers.
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