It’s all about the learning mix

Yesterday, Simon Jones wrote a piece where he wanted to defend classroom based learning. In it he writes 

And here’s the news – learners actually like “old fashioned” classroom based training. They value the time away from their daily role to concentrate on a topic; they normally have intelligent questions about the subject matter and can see how they can apply it to work situations; and they like the fact that they get to meet colleagues (or in certain instances people from other businesses) and can get to know them in a non-pressured work situation.

It’s a valid point of view, and raises the very challenge of what learning looks and feels like in the modern age.

With models like 70:20:10 becoming more popular amongst professionals, it’s quite likely that what hasn’t been articulated well enough is that models like this aren’t advocating that face to face training shouldn’t be a learning solution. What models like this are advocating is that in providing a learning solution, there are a good many ways in which a learner can access and receive that learning, and as experts in learning, we need to understand what these alternatives are, how to make them happen, and how to support the business we’re working with to keep those solutions.

There was an article from Think With Google I read yesterday which shares insights into what people search for on YouTube. It’s a fascinating read as it shows that at home people are watching videos on topics like making food to DIY to braiding hair. They’re receiving knowledge at their point of need. It’s not too much of a hop skip and a jump to take those insights and realise that workplace learning needs to head in the same direction. Workers don’t want to wait for a training course to learn how to do something, when they can easily search for it and gain insights immediately.

What this means for face to face learning sessions is that there’s more pressure on making them valuable events for people to spend their time at. Yes, learners are there to learn from experts, but they’re also there to learn as adults. That means designing sessions which allow for debate, discussion and insights from peers as well as from the experts. It also means allowing for learners to access content in their time, not just at designated times.

Do people still enjoy attending a live training session? Of course they do. As a species, we are social beings. We can’t not enjoy being in the company of others (regardless of comfort levels), and we will always seek to engage and interact with content of interest.

Live training sessions fail to be useful when people attend training that is not relevant to them, not helpful to them, and little effort has been made to understand what their actual performance need is.

Recently, the guys at Looop wrote a white paper on the Empowered Learner, which I highly recommend reading as it clearly states how learners are now better able to use technology to support their learning at the point of need, and how organisations can adapt their learning offer so it’s more responsive. I’m going to be writing more about this white paper in another post.

Simon is right, 

…properly designed, my observational evidence with a number of diverse businesses is that it is still an effective way to deliver training, and should still be an important part of the learning and development “mix”.

Face to face delivery of learning isn’t going anywhere, and it doesn’t need to. It has its role and people are very used to receiving learning in this way. Technology, though, is providing better ways for people to access learning, and that “learning mix” has to include face to face, digital and social methods of delivering learning solutions.

A word on happiness

There is something about the “pursuit of happiness” which has penetrated into the human psyche and set it out as a worthy goal and ideal for us to pursue. The pursuit of something normally means that once we have achieved something, we will have attained it. It further follows that if we attain it, it then belongs to us as a permanent fixture and cannot be lost. So, if we pursue happiness, that must mean once we complete certain goals, it will be ours – and quite rightly to. And if we don’t attain it, then the goals must have been wrong, or they couldn’t have been the right goals, or we didn’t know what we really wanted to make us happy.

Oh how this all takes us away from the reality of being happy.

I’ve written before how happiness is a very transitory experience. We humans are a complex species, fully capable of experiencing a range of emotions in a short period of time. We don’t always understand why we experience conflicting emotions, but it can and does happen. Happiness comes and goes just as easily as it does to feel angry or to feel disgust, depending on what we experience.

What I think we need to talk about more is how to appreciate the experiences we have. Happiness is less about having moments of happiness, and more about how we perceive the moments we have. It’s very possible for two people to experience the same thing and yet have a very different perspective on what happened. It is not our duty to rectify anyone’s thinking on what they experience, because that is the wrong way to think about things. What’s mores useful is to help people understand how to appreciate what they experience. We can’t force happiness on anyone anymore or less than we can force love onto someone.

There is also something for me in how we express appreciation and gratitude with others. If I can articulate why something made me feel happy, and share that with someone, that’s a pretty special thing to do. We want someone else to share that feeling we’re experiencing. It helps others to know what brings us joy and makes us feel happy. As with most things with interpersonal communication, it’s how we articulate things that help others either know what we are thinking and feeling, or not.

In our desire to be happy, we need to understand that goals are important, giving to others is important and expressing gratitude is important. In doing these things, we learn that we can experience happiness when we learn how to appreciate what’s happening at different moments. Sometimes this may be things at work, or on your walk to the shops, or in talking with a friend, or spending valued time with loved ones, or in watching a film, or in reading a book. Whatever it might be, it’s about appreciating that those things are happening at all and how we can find joy in them.

The practise of adult based learning

As L&D practitioners, there is probably a reasonable assumption that we understand what it means to design learning solutions which are suited for adults. After all, we’re working in organisations full of adults (mostly), and our role is to help them develop required skills or learn knowledge which will help them be more effective at work.

The typical approach to going through learning tends to be the method we all know and are familiar with. Turn up to a session, be told what the objectives are, be taken through content, be given a model to work with, do some activities and complete some actions. Hey presto, you’ve learned said skill/knowledge and you’re now going to be more effective.

My problem with this, and actually the problem for the profession, is that this approach assumes much on the part of the L&Der, and takes little account of the adults you’re working with. For certain topics, such as health and safety or learning any range of technical skills, this approach can work because there will tend to be high applicability to the day to day functioning. For most other topics, though, this pedagogical approach just isn’t appropriate for adults.

Consider this, when you have needed to attend a course or a programme, what was useful about the learning you received? Some part of it would have been about the content, but the most part of your learning would have probably come from the discussions had about the content, your experience of the content and your insights you derived from the content. Was that driven by the facilitator, by yourself, or through discussion with others in on the course? Quite likely a mix of that, but most course aren’t designed to facilitate adult learning, they’re designed to facilitate classroom based learning.

Consider also e-learning that has been poorly designed and is simply about click next with screen after screen of text and forced choice questioning. Aside from the UX and Instructional Design of the e-learning, what most likely hasn’t been considered is how do adults learn using a digital tool like this? The best design of e-learning I’ve seen for adults is when the content is engaging, you can develop insights from it, and you’re presented with a range of content including pictures, audio, video, case studies and text (obviously not altogether).

Andragogy, the practise of adult based learning, is a concept I was introduced to a while ago by Conor Moss (the legendary academic practitioner from Sheffield). It assumes at its core that adults are capable of self-directed learning and that given the right environment, they can enter into their own learning, at their pace, with a desire to learn and know what to do next. For any of you who have attended unconferences, you will be familiar with this style of approach. In the formal learning context, I think we can do more of this, and less of the pedagogical approach.

Putting this into practise means doing things like:

  • Asking a group to carry out an activity with a clear brief. Once they’re done, explain the purpose of what the activity was for, and ask the group to discuss their insights as they completed it. Once they’ve discussed it, to share with others in the room about their experience of the activity and what they learned.
  • Posing a question to the group, letting them discuss it and allowing them to direct the conversation as they see fit.
  • With clear guidance on how to use digital tools, asking them to research a topic or read an online article on a topic and then openly discussing and sharing their insights with one another.
  • Carrying out reflective practise in relation to their experience of the topic at hand. When have they had to apply this topic before? What did they do? How did they feel? What was their experience of it? What did they learn? What did they feel challenged by? Reflective practise is a highly useful tool to be able to encourage adults to think about their own experience, derive their own insights and learn something about the topic they may not have considered before.

When I’ve applied an andragogical approach to learning design and facilitation, I have faced some challenges I hadn’t expected.

People still need clear guidance on what you want them to achieve. They can’t just be left to their own devices with a topic. That’s mostly because they’re in unfamiliar territory. But, they have enough wherewithal to complete an activity, so just be clear on why they’re doing something, and what you’re asking them to do, and they’ll be off.

People still need a set time and place to be, in order to complete their learning. Ask them to self select and self motivate, and they’ll get caught up in the day to day operations. Give them a clear date and time to be somewhere to do something, and they’ll make it happen.

You have to help them develop their applicability of the content. They’re quite happy having great discussions, but not all are good at understanding how to apply the content.

I find this approach to learning design and facilitation to be far more challenging as a facilitator and practitioner as it means I need to do more than just know content, deliver content and evaluate content. It means I’m actively working with the content and the adults I’m with to create a rich learning environment. I don’t always get it right, and I don’t always provide the right clarity or guidance I should, and it’s been a really valuable learning journey in understanding how to deliver adult based learning.

What’s next for L&D?

Last week I attended the keynote of the annual Learning Live conference held by the LPI. It was a talk by Jamil Qureshi and he was sharing his insights into human motivation and ambition. It was entertaining and delivered without PowerPoint, which is always fun to see.

I attended by virtue of the keynote being live streamed by Learning Now TV. I was very grateful for this technology being used and helped me feel included. I was able to contribute to the live Twitter feed as if I were present and had fun interacting with others on the backchannel.

I think we’re in a position now, as an L&D profession, where there’s really very little else insight available to us. What I mean is, everything that we need to know about the human condition is available to us. With the speed of information and knowledge now available to us, there’s not a lot we can’t find out about when we need to know.

Keynotes and the likes at conferences are starting to push us to think about similar things.

We need to be more aware of how to use technology to enable better learning. Using Yammer for internal dialogue isn’t the same as using it for learning purposes.

We need to experiment more with learning delivery methods. Lunch and learns and bitesize learning are very common these days. But how do people share that knowledge and how can we know if that knowledge gain was useful to them?

We need to be better at providing coaching and mentoring support to colleagues at all levels across the organisation not just to the top talent. There’s a difference between being a manager who’s a coach and having people practise peer coaching.

We need to advocate for better learning solutions which look at the system not just the stated need. If a person attends assertiveness training but can’t be heard because of a culture where it’s hard to be heard, that’s not an assertiveness problem.

I think we’re at a point where L&D can start to push those boundaries in the organisations we’re part of. As practitioners of the delivery of learning solutions, we’re in privileged positions of insight and business need. Providing solutions which are innovative and creative, though, (Like the LPI did in livestreaming the keynote) thats where the challenge lies for L&D.

And part of me wonders, am I just repeating a broken record?

What is it to be brave?

As ever, I’m often up for a blog challenge. This one comes from Tony Jackson who asks the question, how is L&D brave in what they do? It’s a great question, and there have been some ace contributions from other bloggers too. Check out the #ldbravery hashtag for more.

I find the topic of bravery to be of such interest. It’s one of those words which you really can’t use lightly. It has to be used with purpose. For you to call something brave, something extraordinary must have happened for you to act in an such a way which inspires others to act themselves, or provides deep encouragement of what you’ve done.

I find it hard to look back and say I was brave. That’s a modesty as well as a humility thing. I’m sure I have done brave things. Often, I’ve been brave because I’ve had the support of others to enable me to do that.

For me that’s where being brave comes from. At work I have a good network of colleagues I can talk to and I trust their opinion. I talk openly with my manager and we debate things often. I have good people in my personal network who I can rely on to offer me great advice, deep listening, and the heart of saints. Professionally, all that helps me to be brave when I need to be and when I want to be.

I see being brave in L&D in two lights. One is when we’re confronted with a situation in facilitation or learning event and we need to address it. It’s never acceptable for any one person to purposefully disrupt a session and we need to be able to challenge it.

The second is in the advocacy of what we do with our colleagues. Most people will accept that L&D is a necessary component of a successful business. What most people aren’t aware of, though, is the plethora of ways learning can be supported. Advocacy in the face of ignorance requires us to be brave.

I continue to learn how to do these things well. I have had to do them many times, and I’m sure I’ll continue doing the same. I don’t get phased by this because of the people I have around me. They provide me with reflective practice opportunities which I find invaluable and enable me to learn how I work best.

Please do take part in this blog challenge, it’s brave to write openly and share your thoughts with others.

Speaking truth to power

I don’t recall when I first heard this phrase. It’s one of those, for me, where I have to read it and re-read it just so I’m clear on what it’s saying. It’s a powerful short turn of phrase meant to infer that when the powerful are carrying on regardless, and their actions are causing harm or otherwise, there is a duty on the people to speak truth to them and demand change.

Bit heavy eh.

There are so many things in this turn of phrase to be able to understand and wield. If someone is driven to speak truth to power, there must be something pretty unjust happening, and that individual or group need the confidence to step up and make themselves heard.

We are used to individuals and groups doing this through formal means and we see it on national stage happening often. The Mid Staffs issues of care in hospitals, the CQC involvement in care homes, unions striking because of perceived unfair behaviour by big companies, the way UK politics has taken a beating at the last election. People have ways and means to be able to make their voice heard on the big things that matter.

But what about organisationally? How do we cultivate a work environment where people feel they can speak truth to power? This, I see, is one of those areas where OD truly comes into its purpose. What kind of organisational settings are there where people can feel that if they have a concern, it can be raised with confidence, and without repercussion.

I’m not simply referring to whistleblowing policies, or engagement surveys, or anonymous suggestions boxes or having internal or enterprise social networks. But how does a senior manager confront a senior director about their working practise to let them know there’s a problem with what they ask and it needs improving? How does a team member go to another department and let them know their process is inefficient and they’ve got an idea on how they can improve? How does the CEO of a company challenge his exec team to be more inclusive when he has knowledge that things aren’t right? How does one individual approach another and offer help to complete their project knowing it has little chance of success otherwise?

You can’t write a policy for these things to happen, mostly because these things aren’t about policies. They’re about dynamics between people. Call it culture if you want to, and as Laurie Ruettimann often says on her blog, we all play a part of the culture we are signed up to. You can’t legislate for someone to act in ways where they can speak truth to power. It happens because someone is so pissed off with the status quo that change must happen.

I have no easy answer here. There is no silver bullet and there is no golden nugget. This is one of those topics where people bury their heads in the sand because they don’t want to examine how these things happen. Either because they don’t want to deal with hard conversations like these, or because they’re fooling themselves into thinking they’re already hearing these conversations. This is where OD can influence those conversations to happen, and I think is one of the key purposes of being in such a role.

Sure it’s about trust and honesty and transparency and all of those things. But if you have someone who doesn’t want to be part of that way of doing things, then what? If you have a group of people who persistently don’t act in a certain way, then what? If you have an individual who is the one chomping at the bit and no one else is biting, then what?

What I do believe is that we can influence these things organisationally. We can find the right forums for people to do this. In my work as a facilitator, there are often times when I hear conversations, or edges of conversations and make a call about challenging what I’m hearing. That’s not me speaking truth to power, I’m just reflecting openly what I’m hearing. The truth to power gets spoken by the people present. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Where it does happen, I know that I’ve created the right environment for it to happen. Where it doesn’t it tells me that I have more work to do in helping people raise their voice in a safe way.

What does this post get you thinking?

Being kind, the Internet and good stories

There are a lot of wise people who already talk about the value of being kind to others and showing and expressing appreciation. It’s all easy to understand and we can nod our heads. And I wonder, when we see these things in the world of social media, do we roll our eyes and skim passed as quickly as possible?

I know a good many people in the social space who just enjoy sharing good news stuff and motivational quotes and inspirational stuff. It’s their bag, I get it.

I also don’t knowingly know anyone in the online world who actively abuses others. Trolling, criticising with mal intent, verbal abuse, offensive language intending to harm and hurt, causing threat to others, that kind of thing. I see it plenty and read all sorts of stories about stuff like this, though, and I am constantly amazed at how and why people act in such ways.

One of the things talked about in the world of emotional intelligence is in understanding that all our emotions are useful and helpful to us, and that includes difficult emotions like anger and sadness. Our challenge when feeling these emotions is in being able to find safe and supportive ways of expression that allow the individual experiencing them to know they can do that. And one of the important elements in hearing these messages is in discerning if we need to actively support the resolution of those emotions.

In the online world, it’s so very hard to know what intent a person has when they share difficult messages. Are they ok? Why would they share that? What did they say? That’s just rude. How offensive. They could get in trouble for that. It must be their parenting. Don’t they have a sensor for saying these things?

When we then see people being kind it offers a counterbalance to such activity. When I advocate for #3goodthings it’s often because I want people to appreciate an acceptance of expressing the good they see, feel and experience. Good stories help connect us back to what it is to be human and to have faith in fellow people.

The challenge is in balancing wanting to share the good stuff, while not denying the bad stuff. Bad stuff happens too, and when it does, we need to be able to accept it and just let that stuff happen. It’ll pass and when it does, we can focus on the good.

With thanks to Julie Drybrough and Joey Stephenson for their thinking in helping me write today’s post.