What’s the difference between using digital tech for learning and personal consumption?

Leading on from yesterday’s blog post, Myles Runham asked the above question.

My assertion was that

consuming digital for personal purposes is fundamentally different to consuming digital for learning purposes.

It comes down to the way we use digital for both and highlights just how poor learning solutions tend to be in this space.

A lot of people with modern mobile phones will have an array of apps to help them get on with day to day life. Mobile banking, social media, messaging, it’s all there and easy to access and in most cases easy to use.

When we’re using these or web apps / websites to help us either peruse life or get stuff done, there’s normally a navigation which makes sense. I want something on Amazon, I search for it, I click buy, and that’s job done. I want to watch something on Netflix, I search for it, hit play or download, and I’m consuming the content. I want to transfer money, log on to PayPal, hit transfer, and make it happen.

That’s the kind of ease of digital we’ve come to not only expect, but are very comfortable with.

Using social media / digital for learning purposes, though, requires fundamentally different digital savvy skills.

If I want to engage with a community on a Twitter chat, there’s several things happening I have to learn about the tool to help me engage with the chat. E.g. you have to know what hashtags are used, and how they’re used. You have to know the format of the chat. You have to know the practice for responding to questions and replying to other people in the chat using the chat tools. Those are specific ways to use, in this case Twitter, to build that learning capability of Twitter.

If you’re learning how to knit, YouTube is a great learning resource for that. You find the right videos and watch them to help guide you, see what others have done, emulate them in most cases, and keep trying to advance your knitting skills. If you want to further engage, you may choose to write in the comments. You may choose to create your own content to share what you’re doing with others and gain feedback so you can develop your knitting skills. You may ask questions in the comments and see what others have to say. All quite different to LOLing or using an emoji at a funny meme video.

So when I say that digital is fundamentally different for learning purposes, this is what I mean. We use the tools, in many cases, beyond what they’re designed for, to allow for them to still use their functionality but in a very different way.

This also then speaks to why many learning tech solutions are so lagging and lacking. Having an app on your phone to consume content is a very consumer based approach to product development. Instead we should be looking to use digital tech to build capability or deliver content in ways that help people in actual work situations. E.g. if you’re working in a project team and are finding you’re not leading the team well, one of the things you might do is watch a video on how to lead a team. What is likely to be more useful in that scenario is for you to have a community you can tap into, where you explain what’s happening and can seek input from others. That’s likely to be far more powerful and relevant in improving your performance as a leader than a generic how to be a leader video or top insights into leadership e-learning.

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Just how important are digital skills for L&D?

The skill set needed by L&D is ever-growing. The traditional skills of being able to design performance enhancing courses/workshops/programmes is still very much needed, as is the need for high quality delivery and facilitation in-person. Anyone who argues that in-person delivery isn’t needed is being disingenuous to its impact and its efficiency.

If you look at the range of job titles on offer these days, it can be really quite confusing about what some roles actually do. I see titles like “Learning Experience Designer” and wonder how this is different to an “L&D Designer”. Yes, I understand that experiences matter, but why are we calling out experience as the key differentiator? I see titles like “Talent Development Partner” (my current title by the way) and wonder if that’s not the same as “L&D Business Partner”? It seems to be the focus of the organisation in drawing attention to talent specifically. I see titles like “Digital Learning Specialist” and wonder how that’s different to “E-learning Designer”? Yes, I understand one references a specific mode of delivery and the other a broader set of interactions.

Moreso, a lot of writers in our space talk about the need for digital skills. The challenge to that is we are still fairly immature in L&D when it comes to digital skills. Yes the likes of LinkedIn Learning, Skillsoft’s Percipio, and other platforms are getting better at delivering high quality content, and in accessible ways, but that’s still several steps removed from digital being the first set of thoughts for L&D. Many in our space think of digital as an after thought. About how it can bolster the in-person stuff as opposed to being a core way the learning takes place.

For me this is about several things.

L&D need to get much better educated in the potential and the utility of digital. I remember recruiting for an L&D Manager several years ago and being shocked at how many didn’t get how digital could be used to effectively deliver learning solutions. I’ve been in many conversations with senior L&Ders and struck by just how reluctant and reticent many are to think and design with digital in mind, instead acknowledging the fact they have amazing digital teams or digital content which is not designed to support performance directly and more often than not separate from the in-person learning experience.

We’re also at a stage where we don’t need to necessarily have the digital skills ourselves in order to deliver better learning solutions. There are more and more people trained in these skills. What we need to better understand is how digital can and should be just as fundamental in the delivery of a learning solution as is the in-person stuff. It still amazes me how we’re not including pre and post in-person stuff with digital delivery to prime people before in-person stuff and support consolidation of learning and sustainment of practice after the in-person stuff. And it doesn’t all have to be webinar or virtual, it can be about using Skype for coaching calls, or Slack for ongoing communication.

There’s an important question here about the need for vendors and our trade representatives to provide much better support and skills development when it comes to digital. There’s a real need for L&D to be upskilled, and not just through playing with the tech, but also being shown what the tech is and what it’s capable of.

And of course there’s our lives experience of digital. Writers in this space say we use digital everyday. Yes, of course we do, but consuming digital for personal purposes is fundamentally different to consuming digital for learning purposes. This is where there’s a disconnect of the hype and the reality. Its fine to say an LMS should be as easy to use as Amazon but if the LMS is built on bad tech, what do you do then?

So, yes digital is an important part of L&D but not because we should be delivering more through digital content, but because we are simply not making the best use of digital content and resources to fully realise what we can support with learning solutions.

Facilitating a product/project review

This week I facilitated a product review and thought it might be helpful to share the process I went through and my learnings and experience.

A product review is where you take the time to systematically review what’s happening with a product, use the session as a lessons learned exercise and use the insights to make ongoing improvements to not only the product but also address any cultural or other team issues.

You can use the same process to do a retrospective on a project, project review, or sunset review at the end of a project / product lifecycle.

It’s easy to assume this will happen, but it’s important for all the stakeholders to be involved in the review. After all it’s not just the engineers building the product who will have a valuable perspective. It’s also the sales people, marketing, product managers, and the leadership. The graphic at the top illustrates an important point about what each department is driven by or what they normally produce. The success of a product is having all departments not just understanding the same needs, but delivering in unison and collaboratively as opposed to in isolation.

I find when doing product reviews that you have to ensure everyone knows about the context of the product. Answering questions like:

  • What is the product?
  • Why was it developed?
  • What are the commercials of the product? (E.g. cost of product, revenue generated)
  • How long has it been in play for?
  • What’s the future of the product?

Those kinds of questions help establish a baseline of knowledge from which everyone can then take part in a more informed review of the product. It also may raise important information that team members may have missed, never known about, or made assumptions about.

The structure of the conversation broadly follows addressing key headings in terms of “What went well” and “What needs more focus”. The headings I used for this review were:

  • Communication – between departments, communication tools used, wider comms for awareness to business
  • Collaboration – how did collaboration happen?
  • Resourcing/delivery – Is the product properly resourced? Do people have the right skills? Is delivery happening against plan?
  • Team effectiveness – how well are the team working together? What processes are helpful? Which aren’t?
  • Leadership – what’s been the leadership for the product? Have there been conflicting demands? Who has the final say?
  • Product direction – was there clarity on the development of the product?
  • Tech solution – was the right tech used?
  • Client engagement – how well were the clients involved in the product development? What are their thoughts on the product?

Against each heading, we had statements which we then explored further by asking what went well and what needs more focus as highlighted above. The headings need to make sense for the product review, and essentially it’s about allowing for a full discussion about the product so it can be better for the future.

In terms of facilitation, I find it best to be fluid with this kind of session. It’s less about timings and more about using the framework to have a structured discussion. What I find regularly happens is that people go off piste with their discussions. That’s fine as long as it’s focused on lessons learned. If it’s rabbit hole stuff then obviously it’s about managing that conversation and bringing back focus to the product review and the headings.

It can also be easy for key voices to continually be heard. That may not be an issue as often people have multiple points of view. As a facilitator the key is to be mindful of overall contribution and that everyone has a fair chance of being heard and being included. It can be helpful to set out ground rules at the start of the session to help establish agreed ways of interacting and contributing for the review.

The product review process naturally drives towards actions and either continuing the same things or changing them. It’s important to find a useful way to highlight the actions so people know what they should be doing differently moving forward.

What I’ve learned about facilitation

The art and skill of facilitation for me has been one of the core skills I’ve developed in my time as an L&Der. When I look back over the years, there have been several moments when I’ve known that facilitation as an enabler is a highly powerful way to work with a group of people.

I’ve invested in facilitation as a skill more so than any other L&D skill. In the early days it was being trained with Roffey Park – an institute in England who have deep expertise in several areas of people development stuff. I was on a 3 day training programme with them and learned how to design for stuff, how to develop an understanding of people and people processes and practise in very different ways.

I remember first experiencing Open Space as a facilitation technique at an OD conference and was wowed by it. Some years later I attended my first unconference and was re-introduced to it and to techniques such as World Cafe and the power of dialogue amongst groups.

With a fab group of Twitter people, I spent a day and half on a facilitation jam and really went deep with thinking on what facilitation means and how to be a facilitator. And years later I attended the Facilitation Shindig courtesy of the amazing Julie Drybrough. I attended the day focused on movement and was introduced to models on constellations and using Lego to represent relationships and the significance of positioning ‘pieces’ in certain places.

And in and amongst the last 6 years have facilitated and supported numerous unconferences where we’ve regularly played with facilitation techniques and invited people to experiment with us.

Last year I ran an open workshop and chose the role of facilitator as someone who just sat back and let the group very much self-direct what they needed and had the conversations that mattered to them. I’ve delivered hundreds of workshops over my time and continue to enjoy them when I get the time.

And digital has changed how we can enable facilitation. Being a virtual trainer/facilitator demands fundamentally different design and facilitation approaches to the digital environment. It’s been a steep learning curve ensuring that my virtual sessions are just as valuable learning experiences as in-person.

What I’ve realised amongst all this is that facilitation is one of those situations where I am at my best. The other is presenting. I take great pride and joy in delivering a great presentation and spend a lot of time thinking about this too. With facilitation I get to truly understand people. It’s where I draw everything I know about emotional intelligence, life, business, marketing, leadership, psychology, wellbeing, politics, and so much more and bring it all in one place. Not because I talk about all those things but because they are ever present.

Facilitation, for me, is a human process. It’s as much about bringing out the best in people as it is helping people move forward. Appreciating people for their input, truly valuing contribution means that I’ve learned how to help people discuss things openly and with care. Being with a group of others and having their time to move things on, that’s a privileged position to be in and one I always appreciate. Having the skill to understand the needs of a group, what their priorities are, and inviting them to collectively act, is pretty aces.

Higher expectations of L&D vendors

In a LinkedIn post yesterday, Sheridan Webb wrote an article about her perceptions of how “L&D” have unhelpful attitudes towards “trainers”. It’s a good thinking piece. I value good writing about what we do as a profession and oftentimes we don’t challenge ourselves enough.

Sheridan lays out several myths of the fallacy of “training” and I agree on them all. They are myths. I also don’t think anyone with actual skin in the game believes these myths. It’s more a recognised reality that the L&D spread is far more diverse than it ever has been before. L&D departments need and require a completely different set of things from their vendors and suppliers. If you’re a one-person in-house L&Der you have to be skilled at a range of things from training to collating learning needs to designing content to curating content to using an LMS and so on. If you’re part of a team often those roles will be split out and you’ll be able to focus on your role more specifically.

I’ve said it before that good L&D is about good OD practice by thinking of the system in which learning needs to take place and what changes to the system need to be made for the learning to be applied, observed and practised.

To take Sheridan’s piece further, I think from an L&D perspective it’s less that training isn’t valued and more that more than training is needed from our vendors and suppliers.

If we’ve arrived at the decision a vendor or supplier is needed, it’s normally for a good reason. For them to be involved with the organisation opens up a whole set of potential discussions and expectations. I don’t want a trainer to just train.

Trainer Insight

When a trainer is with a group of people, and they meet people repeatedly from the organisation, they gain valuable insight. That insight is often about actual lived experience of being in the organisation and they may be hearing things which internal teams are oblivious to. The training environment isn’t a confidential one where things can’t be repeated back. We ask people to respect conversations and not to repeat them, but that doesn’t mean the same thing as their conversations being confidential by default. I often ask trainers to share back their insights so that I’m not missing valuable information.

Beyond the training

By gaining that level of information I’m also much better positioned to understand what’s required to sustain the training. We’ve just invested in those individuals and want to ensure they can put their skills into practise after. What kind of everyday situations are these folks working in which require a different solution and allow them to perform better? As Adam Harwood and David James often say, where’s the friction (between not knowing and not being able to perform) and what do these people need for performance improvement?

That sustained aspect can be different things: shared knowledge from others, a document already in existence, a template others have used, someone else’s experience, a report someone’s already created, and many other things. Those are the things people are typically doing.

Versatility of approach

When I’ve not worked with vendors or suppliers it tends to be because their proposals are about one model or approach. It’s what they got trained in so they’re looking to implement that approach for pretty much everything. Or they’ve developed their own model or theory and want that to be the leader for everything they design.

Except what we need in L&D is vendors and suppliers who are skilled at using multiple approaches, understand them well enough to adapt as needed, and lead with distinct lines of thinking without contamination from other models.

Virtual and digital delivery

I have experienced some fantastic virtual training. Quite frankly if a vendor isn’t skilled at or has the associate network to support them in delivering their content digitally then that works more against them than it does in their favour. Through Twitter, I’ve experienced people using tools like Periscope to visually walk people through simple art techniques, so I’m not restricted in thinking it has to be a high-tech product. More companies are moving to enabling flexible working. The more that happens, the more people at home will be expecting to receive training digitally. If you can’t offer that because of restricted belief about impact of digital training, then you need to go and get properly schooled in how to deliver high quality digital and virtual training.

I hope this offers additional thinking to what Sheridan wrote. As always I’m interested to know what resonates for you and what more you’d like to add.

What is selflessness?

My 11yo son asked me this last night. It was late so I had to give him the short answer – doing things for others without thinking about how it might affect you, and not expecting gratitude or thanks for doing it.

It’s a concept I think about often. In the Sikh religion, acting in service of others is central to what we do. Our first guru – Guru Nanak Dev ji – installed this philosophy with his own actions as well as his teachings. When you go to a gurdwara – Sikh temple – pretty much every moment is designed around service to you. People are there to provide ‘seva’ – selfless work. This can be in different ways – serving food, cooking food, washing dishes, cleaning the temple, cleaning your shoes (shoes aren’t worn in a gurdwara), sitting with the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book) while it’s being read. All these acts are there to remind us that humans are all one regardless of stature or status in society.

Being brought up with this mindset and such way of living, means I’m clearly biased about seeing and living selflessness as a virtue.

Selflessness is, I believe, as true a human quality as there can be. It encompasses so much when we act selflessly. We show our humanity. We display vulnerability. We freely love and care for others. We appreciate others. We empathise and feel the pain of others. We uphold values of right and of good. We value life. We accept others.

Sadly, in modern society, selflessness just isn’t high on people’s agenda. Because everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s out to seek something or do something or achieve stuff. We’re so focused on the getting and the receiving we forget the regular importance of the giving and the offering. To be human is to offer of your best to others.

In recent weeks we’ve seen continued frayed arguments about Brexit. What deal can we get that’s the best? How are we going to cope as a country once Brexit happens? Hard questions to answer with a real lack of leadership or clarity on any of that. When people are faced with prospects that life is going to fundamentally change and you don’t know what that means – both literally and figuratively – they get very protectionist.

Protectionism is the arch nemesis of selflessness. I don’t know how we’ll cope as a nation. All signs point to a very difficult decade while we try and understand what our new future looks like. I’m not hopeful we’ll be taking care of each other as much. I believe in the human spirit profoundly, and I’m sure there will be many moments of pride and hope. Amongst all things, I hope selflessness continues to prove to be an invaluable human quality.

The truth of personality profiling

…is that most of the time, the proper psychometric and personality tools that are out there produce accurate profiles as much as people may not want them to.

I meet people regularly enough who ‘hate’ them because they don’t want to be profiled or believe that they can be profiled. They think they can game the questionnaires so that they are seen in a certain way. That once they get the pattern of the questions, they learn to answer them in certain ways to present a certain profile.

The truth is, personality profiling tools are pretty accurate. Now I’m not talking about ones like Myers Briggs Type Indicator or Belbin or Insights. I’m talking about the ones used by psychiatrists and psychologists for professional purposes. These ones are designed to help these mental health professionals gain insight into a person’s personality, their tendencies, their behaviours, so that they can develop clear plans for support and returning people to health.

The common tools in the market, like the ones I’ve mentioned, are developed to be accessible and developed to be easily interpreted. That means they’re meant to be taken with a pinch of salt in terms of the profiles they produce.

Many, produce what are called Barnum statements or for want of a an easy way to explain them, horoscope statements. What that means is the statements could be applicable to most people. It’s often the combination of different statements that create a profile as we’ve become used to.

There have been many studies where people have been given generic statements written as personality profiles. Each person though they were given an individually written piece. Each person reported that the written profile felt accurate to them. In truth they all received the same wording. A bit worrying for the L&D profession, no?

The important thing to bear in mind is that most L&Ders are not psychologists by profession and not carrying out psychological research to verify their profiling tools and not seeking to develop support plans for each individual. The tools and the reports can produce interesting insights if they’ve been answered in good faith. Many tools will also have an element of ‘self assessing’ where people have to also decide what profile fits them best.

I also meet people who say they can change their personality at will when answering the questions. What they mean is they understand how to answer the questions in a particular way which will determine a particular kind of profile. That doesn’t mean they’ve changed their personality. It just means they’re manipulating the questions. They’re also probably manipulative people in real life. If someone is circumspect enough about a widely available personality tool that they want to manipulate how they’re seen, they’re probably also the kind of person you want to be cautious of in life. They’re also the kind of person who won’t get anything of value from the profile because they’re trying to fudge the whole thing.

In L&D we don’t use personality tools as best as they can be used. We certainly don’t use the ones used professionally by mental health and psychology practitioners.

But for the person who doesn’t believe they can be profiled – they probably can and are just as susceptible to the whole approach as everyone else. As much as everyone is an individual, we are many of us the same when it comes to broad personality characteristic traits.