Peer based learning

I’m delivering a webinar this morning for the Learning and Skills Group on peer learning as a support to classroom based learning. Here’s my notes of what I’m going to be talking about.

On one end of the spectrum you have L&Ders who firmly believe that stand and deliver is still the best way to deliver learning to the masses. At the other end you have self-directed learning. Peer based learning sits towards the self-directed end of that spectrum.

I personally believe that if we don’t adapt our methodologies for delivering learning well, we’ll become redundant through our own actions.

There are several examples of what this peer based learning looks like.

In the classroom environment I’m moving more towards asking people to use their smartphones to research material and read content. It saves me prep time, I just need to direct to a good URL, and boom they’re off. It allows people to read at their pace, take in the knowledge they want to, and then we can discuss this meaningfully as a group.

There are practitioners who are ‘flipping’ the classroom. This is where they send all the reading material ahead of the session, ask people to read it and then use the session to discuss and debate the content.

I grant these are less about peer led examples, but they’re good examples of how we’re creating other ways to support adult learning.

At a previous company we needed everyone to complete Prince2 Foundation certificates for project manager roles. Instead of sending them all on training or doing an in-house session, we bought the materials for everyone, and set them a 12 week deadline to have completed the learning materials. They had to meet weekly and self facilitate their learning with a mentor. On the last day a trainer came to consolidate their learning for half a day and then they sat an exam. We had 100% pass rate every time.

Opening up the way projects are set up with project teams is interesting. If you have business projects that need to be carried out and open these up to the business, you then invite people to step up who are naturally interested and can offer something useful to each project. The projects are guided with mentors from the business and then they are expected to deliver on these.

Instead of holding presentation skills training why not hold an internal Toastmasters group? A set time where people can come, practise their presentation with peers, get feedback and support, and all without formally being told how to structure a killer presentation. (There is a place for that, not everyone needs to know that).

Building on that you can have open mic sessions. Ask a subject matter expert to talk on a topic of their choice with an open invitation for anyone to attend. People interested in the topic will attend, there’s no expectation of people registering, and they’re learning topics of interest.

Communities of practice are where you bring together a group of people who have a common interest, give them the opportunity to talk and bang heads together and they get creative and innovative about what they need to work on next. No direction, no management, no objectives, just people with an interest talking to each other.

The hardest part about these examples is that most of them don’t require management via an LMS. They just need facilitated support and in some cases actual facilitation.

It’s scary reading about these things because it’s easy to think you’re being left behind if you don’t do them. That’s partly true. What’s more true is that if we don’t move in the direction of the above all we’re doing is holding back the genius of our people because of our own ego. We are so desperate to prove our worth to the business that enabling these types of things to happen means that we can’t report on them being L&D lead activities.

The best thing we can do is be brave in our solutions and have the courage to experiment. The one thing I’ve learned in this role is that it’s ok to experiment because that’s a safe way to learn. We can fail well, we can have success well, and we can face cynicism well. Try one idea from the above with your teams. See what happens. Then try again once you’ve tweaked it. Then try again once you’ve got some experience under your belt. That’s what learning looks like.

Join in the webinar if you can from 1000-1100 on the #lsgwebinar hashtag. Have a search, click the link and I’ll see you there.

‘Twas the time before Christmas

‘Twas the time before Christmas, when all through the place,
Not a person was stirring, not even a new face,
The training was frozen for this time of yule,
In hopes that appraisals would be kicked by the mule.

There was plans being nestled all up in their reports;
While holders of budgets danced in their shorts;
And the HRD in her ‘kerchief, and the FD in her cap,
Went and got merry to avoid any more crap,

When out in the business there arose such a clatter,
We jumped out of our seats and had a real natter,
Away to the intranet we hustled along,
To see this new thing of which there was no song,

Amazing to see all these people were using,
A new fangled tool which could cause a bruising,
When what to our sights did we behold,
That people were talking, all forward and bold,

They shared knowledge so lively and quick,
I fought the cynics from throwing a brick,
For fear they were no longer in a tower,
They dared to thrust a policy of power,

And the people fought back with their words,
Trust us, Oh Execs, and follow these hordes,
We’re going to show you a new world!
Just don’t sit there all curled!

They created and shared and amassed a wonder,
Leaving behind the naysayers and asunder,
So up to the rankings of the social sphere,
Attracting and retaining all those who saw clear,

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on Buzzfeed,
The prancing and pawing of our very own creed,
As I drew a breath and was scrolling down,
Was waiting for me a gift of a crown,

In came the reports of people doing well,
And all of us sat and thought ‘What the hell’,
We thought we could keep doing what we knew best,
Until we saw just what had been WordPressed,

Their eyes-how they twinkled! All these people, how merry!
They were learning and applying without any sherry!
Here they were getting together and LinkedIn,
And YouTubing each other without the network sinkin’,

Who knew that people would find a way,
To create their own content and not let it stray,
They were respectful and courteous of all of their parts,
Showing just how to be when we use all our smarts,

With communities together where they could chat and be great,
They learned how to stand on shoulders without a crate,
A wink of an eye, and a twist of a head,
Soon gave all to know there was nothing to dread,

For what came next was the gift of great to all,
When Twitter was freed along with the Facebook wall,
The IT guys were very happy,
That unto them no-one was being crappy,

They left for the holidays all with a real heart,
And away they all flew to grab a shopping cart,
But I heard them all share through their own might,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Gamification in Learning and Development

I came across an article yesterday where the author was trying to connect how we can use gamification in learning and development. The author failed. Miserably.

What he tried to describe was essentially that through the use of exercises, energisers, icebreakers, and the such like, that this is gamification.

He also tried to suggest that in making learning fun, this is too gamification.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, as someone wiser than I said this morning in a blog post of his.

Gamification is using gaming principles to enhance the experience of carrying out an action. It uses things like badges, leaderboards, social sharing as fundamental principles of carrying out an activity.

A recent (and obvious) example is Foursquare – now called Swarm. This was a location based app where you could check in to a location. After a certain number of check ins, you could become mayor of that location. If it was a popular site, like a train station, you would often be competing with others in being the Mayor. If you checked in at numerous train stations, you got a badge for being a ‘trainspotter’. If you checked in at numerous coffee shops you’d get a badge for loving coffee. You also scored points for unique check ins, and those points would place you on a leaderboard. The people you were scoring against typically tended to be your friends on the same platform. Every check in could be shared via social media so others knew where you were and what you were doing.

What Foursquare did was take a very mundane thing – checking in to your location, and made it a fun experience. That’s gamification.

Energisers, exercises, icebreakers and simulation exercises are not gamification. They are good learning interventions and techniques that support learning design. Big difference.

In the L&D/OD context, we would use gamification in the following way.

If you have a management development programme, you could use gamification as a way of encouraging the delegates to engage with the programme. You could give people points for every module they attend, and through that create a leaderboard. If people complete certain modules, or they do other activities which are supportive of their learning, they could earn badges. These badges could go towards showing their contribution to and engagement with the programme.

On your Corporate Induction, you could use gamification in a very similar way I described with the management development programme. What this does it take the concept of completing a set series of tasks and activities which are deemed to be ‘vital’ and create some sense of ‘fun’ in doing them. Through e-learning and LMS, it’s quite easily possible to build these things in and socialise them via the marvel of intranets and internal comms.

It is easier to gamify things like compliance training because it’s one of those activities which a lot of people (if not everyone) have to do, and through these techniques create something more competitive and engaging in the completion of it.

I’m no expert in gamification, and in truth, think it’s quite a unique thing to introduce in businesses as a form of engagement activity. I certainly haven’t used it in my solutions, and I don’t search out ways to do so.

Is it disingenuous to search out happiness?

I’m digging deeper into Positive Psychology by reading Martin Seligman’s book Flourish. And I’ve been revisiting the work of Tal Ben-Shahar and his work on the science of happiness. There’s so much to this field that I’m becoming highly attuned to, and it’s getting me thinking.

The thing about this field of work is that much like the rest of psychology, the evidence for the insights is steeped in research. There have been multitude of experiments carried out to actually ‘test’ if certain things actually improve wellbeing and happiness.

Things like asking people to reflect on their day versus asking people to reflect on #3goodthings of their day. Reflection in and of itself is a useful technique to help you think about what happened in your day. Asking people to reflect specifically on three things that went well creates a sense of enjoyment in your day and a positive emotion linked to that. Done over a period of time, people who carry out normal journalling and reflecting, report no better improved wellbeing, whereas those who write their #3goodthings report increased feelings of positivity and happiness.

It seems obvious, but how many of us truly take the time to reflect on things that are going well? I find it incredibly hard to put into practise and can easily take for granted the things that went well. Articulating it, and writing it down helps cultivate a sense of optimism and hope for things improving and continually being better.

Things like how we cultivate better relationships. Through analyses of conversations between different types of relationships, we know that with your co-workers if you are sharing 3 positive comments for every 1 negative comment, you’re likely to have a healthy relationship with them. In your personal life, that ratio moves to 5:1 because of the bond between couples. What we also know is that moving below those numbers, and moving in the opposite direction of those ratios means that the relationships are likely to be negative and in most cases destructive. If the ratio moves higher in the positive, this suggests the relationships are hiding truths about the reality of working together or being with your partner.

Again it’s one of those things where we might think – yeah that makes sense, but how much conscious thought do we put to these things? After some point, most couples will start to fall into places of comfort with each other, and frustrations and annoyances get shared. It’s when those become more prevalent that the importance of being kind to partners can get lost. The same is true of workplace relationships – when annoyances become gossip become private conversations, goodwill gets lost and we stop being kind to each other.

Things like identifying your signature strengths and seeking out ways to put these into practise in a determined and clear way. Or looking back on activities or events and reflecting on how your strengths were at play during those times. When we play to our strengths, we often complete an activity feeling enthused, positive, ready to try again, and even invincible. You should check out http://www.authentichappiness.org where you can do an online free test to see what your strengths are.

We definitely don’t do this enough. As David D’Souza has commented, when we get to work we experience the reverse Superman effect. As we pass through the doors of being at work, we stop being our best selves, and become these automatons who are there to fulfil a job description and nothing more. Or when we’re undergoing an appraisal, the focus for many people seems to be about what’s not going well and areas for development are made the focus opposed to highlighting and truly celebrating achievements and positive outcomes.

Which is odd because we talk about performance management and identifying talent and coaching the high potentials, yet we’re rarely selecting people on the basis of their strengths. It’s often done on the basis of workplace competencies. We may have hired a person for their strengths, but at some point we will have said or implied ‘no sorry, your strengths are now getting in the way and we need you to just do this’.

Things like helping people build their resilience. When people feel equipped to deal with what comes their way, when they’re not being beaten down by the work or by people (metaphorically and literally), when they really understand how to ‘roll with the punches’, that’s when people can be their best. In a workshop recently a manager shared a reflection on how the previous eight months had been particularly trying but she can look back and sees a strength in her character for having experienced it, and for where she sees herself now. That’s an amazing example of resiliency and the capability and capacity for having that resiliency.

When we have this, through support networks, through friends, through communities, through effective training, through engagement, through inclusion, that’s when we feel special and we feel right. That’s when nothing can beat us down and everything is doable. Yet the focus tends to be “just get on with it, find your own way of dealing with stuff”. We’re passed that now. Or we should be.

Is it disingenuous to search out happiness? There are a good many people who will argue that you can’t artificially create happiness and that it has to be authentic. That doing things like the above creates a formula for activity which isn’t human and isn’t natural. Cobblers.

Is it disingenuous to cultivate happiness? I don’t believe it is. There’s a lot in life to present reality, to be cynical about, to feel downtrodden over, to hate, to resent, to just be negative over. Meaningfully doing things to notice and cultivate happiness means we help ourselves to build our own resilience and improve our wellbeing. If that feels disingenuous, then it is. If that feels like a worthwhile thing to do, then it totally is.

Obvious lessons in running an open workshop

1. Don’t plan to do it two Saturdays before Christmas.

2. Doing it on a Saturday is fine if you give people enough notice.

3. Trying to do it in a 5 week window isn’t enough notice.

4. People being interested is lovely. People booking seats is lovelier.

5. You need to rely on your network if you’re a sole provider to help you spread the word.

6. Or you need to partner with the right big names to get the thing to market.

7. The venue matters. More importantly, how you use the environment and venue matters more.

8. If you’re a sole provider/doing this infrequently, people need a bloody great experience to become your future advocates.

9. Practicality matters a lot. Theory is great, but when people can do things is better.

Big thanks to Phil Willcox, Meg Peppin, David Goddin and Perry Timms for their outright support in my plan to hold a workshop on positive psychology. I had to cancel due to low numbers. Watch out 2015, it’s gonna happen.

Behavioural Economics and L&D/HR

I come across a lot of interesting stuff in my Twitter timeline. I follow too many interesting people you see. Mostly, though, there are too many clever people out there studying the human condition in a plethora of ways which I try to understand better. Even topics like SEO and politics inform how we as humans interact, react and connect. We’re just becoming more and more sophisticated about lots of facets of life. For some, this is too much. We are getting too sophisticated about too many things and no one can possibly understand everything. For sure I don’t understand nearly enough about particle physics and applied mathematics and what actuaries actually do.

But the topics I am coming across are constantly keeping my (short-attention spanned) brain very much fired up. Behavioural economics has been on my mind for a long time. It’s a topic of interest that David D’Souza and I are interested in and we have some good academic discussions about it.

What is it?

Behavioural econonics is about offering people a choice of this or that, and encouraging them to take positive action.

Give me an example.

If organ donors are asked to opt out of being a donor, the registered rate is 80% against asking people to opt in.

Give me another example.

If you send a text message to people asking them to pay their bill, you get a higher payment rate than sending a letter or email.

Isn’t this just clever marketing?

In a way, yes. More than that, though, it’s about encouraging people to do a positive action, with the option of least resistance, and still allows for people to not act.

Where you going with this, Sukh?

I’m interested to start exploring how do we use the concept of ‘nudging’ and applying it in HR practises.

Like what?

You know what’s a pain? Annual appraisals. Forget for a moment that there are other ways to hold performance reviews, what would thinking from a behavioural economics perspective bring to this problem faced by thousands of companies across the world?

Let’s take the problem of completing the requisite documentation that accompanies a review meeting. Normal incentives include hitting 100% completion rate and showing off to the business. Or HR beat managers round the head for not completing the documentation hoping it’ll result in completed documentation.

A BE perspective might suggest that we create a leaderboard for the organisation/department for completed documents. I don’t think that’s clever enough, possibly belittles the process and is a bit like gamification.

What else?

One of the regular problems L&Ders face is a lack of attendance – be that online or face to face. Engagement with the learning content aside, the normal way to deal with this is to beat the manager over the head for not supporting their team member to attend the training hoping that this will encourage better behaviour in the future.

A BE perspective might suggest that we send a personalised text message / social media message to the individual the day before saying something like “Hi Bob, we look forward to have you in the xxx session tomorrow”. That’s too basic an answer and I don’t think it’s well thought through.

I’m at proper early doors with my thinking on the application of BE to workplace stuff.

The challenge of wellbeing at work

I’ve been pondering lately about this whole work/life balance thing. What is it we’re trying to achieve?

See, when it comes to balance, people themselves are often the wrong people to recognise what balance they’re seeking. The phrase of not seeing the wood for the trees is very true here. We want things to happen, often failing to realise we are in full control of what that means.

It also makes me wonder about how we promote wellbeing at work. As a topic, wellbeing is one of the hardest things to get right. There are myriad things we could have in place to support wellbeing, but how does it play out?

Wellbeing at work only really matters if the culture is supportive of it. If the organisation has a blame culture, if it’s frowned on for leaving work early, if you’re expected to work long hours, if you don’t talk with other departments, if you can’t talk to your senior leaders, these are all indicative of things which mean your staff aren’t being cared for.

I see companies striving to have better wellbeing and benefits available for their staff. But it can sometimes feel like a sticky plaster over other problems.

In order for wellbeing programmes to work well, the culture needs to be right first. This isn’t a chicken and egg scenario. It’s about accepting reality. If the reality of the organisation is that wellbeing and healthy individuals are not important, then no amount of investment into personal programmes will make a difference.

There’s no easy answer to how an organisation faces up to that reality.

Additionally, it’s important that you have the right ingredients in place that help people feel secure and safe at work. Pay levels, working environment, IT tech, management structures, learning and development, health and safety, all these things and more have to be right before you can start caring for a person’s whole self.