So, I have finished reading the first third of The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century by Thomas Friedman and I found it very interesting and very relevant to our field. The first chapter of the book discussed the flattening affect of the world in the last few years. One quote says that “In some eyes, homesourcing and outsourcing aren’t so much competing strategies as they are different manifestations of the same thing: a relentless push by corporate America to lower costs and increase efficiency, wherever that may lead” (pg 35). I found this to be the core to the flattening affect…corporations are trying to produce more at a lower cost than they are currently doing so they find new methods to doing business, including moving their operations to different countries. This idea extends to training development and people development as well. If a corporation is trying to work at peak efficiency and save time and money, then they won’t want their employees sitting in training sessions all day. They want employees who know how to find information and how to use that information right then. They need performance support tools and smaller segments of information that are just-in-time training instead of long coursework. Another quote that promotes this same sentiment is from pg. 45 “I loved the concept of a company with only two offices – ‘everywhere, and right next to you’ – because it captured perfectly the way the flattening of the world allows companies to be more global than ever and yet, at the same time, more personal than ever.” Isn’t that what companies want in their training also? They want the information where they are, when they need it, and tailored to their individual needs.

The second chapter discussed the 10 forces that flattened the world. I never really thought of the Berlin Wall collapsing as a flattener to the world. I have to wonder if this is in part due to how young I was when it happened. I remember it, but it didn’t feel like it actually affected my life. However, in hindsight it probably affected my life a lot more than I thought. On pg 58, Friedman says that “the political constraint on individual reach collapsed with the fall of the Berlin Wall…and the practical constraint on individual reach collapsed with the rise of the Apple and Windows-enabled, modem-connected IBM PC.” Both of these events led to the world we live in today…a connected world where we can work with others in foreign countries without fear of oppression. There are still barriers of course, but the bottom line is that it’s possible and wouldn’t have been otherwise. I guess I take for granted what the world would have been like if the Berlin Wall had not fallen.

Unlike the Berlin Wall, I never doubted that the Internet and the ability to connect on the World Wide Web was a flattener. Friedman likens the laying of global fiber wiring to the US national highway system (pg 75). I can’t say I disagree with this statement. I have driven from one side of the US to the other and it’s a long way, but I could do it. I didn’t have any trouble getting across the US and I don’t have any trouble connecting to people all around the world on the Internet.

As I sit here, my husband is writing in HTML to help me tweak my portfolio. The only reason he can do that is because of the standardized language used on every web page. Let’s imagine for just a second what it would be like if things like HTML, SMTP, HTTP, etc. were not standardized. How difficult would it be to read information produced in another country or maybe even right around the corner. We could not communicate the way we do today if these types of languages and protocols had not been established in a standardized format.

E-learning would not exist without the capacity to upload. To develop materials and put them on the Internet in some form is what e-learning is all about. We could not function without the ability to put our own content in a form that is viewable to all users. In addition, the newest technologies, blogs, wikis, etc. exist because of the capacity to upload information. The world of knowledge is changing into a dynamic mass of information, where people contribute to the knowledge-base using their own personal computers. We can share knowledge as we never have before and each person has the ability to contribute to that knowledge base.

Outsourcing and off-shoring both presented US companies with another way to develop their products and services. Each offers the company a different pool of resources that were not available prior to this change. This goes back to the idea that the flattening world is due to the fact that corporations want to spend less money and less time to create their products and services. These two situations offer them that chance. However, it does present an interesting dilemma to those living in the US. What will happen to those jobs that we have always relied on? The saving grace for the US is its ability to innovate. We must move forward and find the next new, big thing. This applies to the world of instructional design as well. With the production costs of e-learning being significantly lower overseas, we must market our services as people developers, not just web developers.

Supply-chaining and in-sourcing present a more efficient means for doing business. By each piece of the process being interconnected, companies can produce products and services more quickly. Wal-Mart and UPS both have seen this as the way to move forward. They are not only making their businesses more efficient, but also making other businesses more efficient. They have found a new service to provide others to increase their profit as well.

In-forming takes everything to a new level. People are not being held down by the ability to find what they need. We are not tied to the local library or the set of encyclopedias on our shelves. We, as individuals, can find what we’re looking for, when we’re looking for it. Hopefully, this idea will lead to an increase in knowledge by future generations. It will definitely lead to more control over your knowledge. This has already affected education in an astronomical way. Students have access to exponentially more information than they did when we were the same age. Of course, this also presents teachers with some interesting challenges…plagiarism, buying already written papers, etc. New innovations and technologies always come with new challenges and these are just a few of them facing our future teachers.

Lastly, Friedman refers to the “steroids.” Things that enhance all of these other flattening affects: computing, instant messaging & file sharing, Internet phone calls, videoconferencing, computer graphics, and wireless technologies. Each of these can also be used to enhance education and training. All of these types of new technologies can be used to implement new kinds of training techniques and help to allow us, as instructional designers, customize and tailor the materials we create to meet the needs of our learners more readily.