Membership, fairness and doing the right thing

A while ago I recall a consultant I worked with talking to a team about doing things right and doing the right thing. As business decisions go, sometimes we think we have to do things right as the way forward. Less often does it seem that we do things because they’re right to do.

This week I slighted the CIPD and the LPI and that was unfair of me. I accused them both of being arrogant in the digital learning space and that wasn’t right.

I’m not a paying member of either. I don’t have any direct formal relationship with them or with people involved in their activities.

I actively attend their events and have indeed been invited on numerous occasions to be a blogger at their events. So by proxy I am a supporter of both. I’m not deluded enough to think that my word has weight beyond my readership, but I am very aware that writing about them negatively in public, well it just isn’t cricket.

Ed and Andy, please do accept my apologies for the slight against both your organisations.

The CIPD are carving a new way of delivering their learning through digital means. The launch of their MOOC was pretty impressive in support of HR pros who want to understand digital environments better. They’re delivering the Level 5 in CIPD quals through entirely digital means, and that’s ace. Their events and content team are pretty excellent at producing shareable content which is not something a lot of people are doing.

The LPI are engaging with their members and non-member through some pretty impressive digital means. The launch of Learning Now TV is a big step change for the learning community. A regular hourly production of learning content relevant to the current topics related to L&D. If you’ve not watched one of the shows, check it out here. They’ve also created a social network just for L&D professionals called the Learning Professional Network. And very regularly they deliver free webinars for anyone to access and participate in talking about L&D content on a range of topics.

All of us in this space are part of the L&D community. I am an active member of this community. Where there’s good things happening I’m only happy to shout about them and praise them. Where I’ve been unfair and need to explain my support of the community, that’s the right thing to do.

Thinking about holistic learning solutions

Yesterday, I was writing about how LinkedIn has changed the face of learning by buying Lynda.com for $1.5bn. I wrote it in a purposefully polar way because I wanted to see what reaction it would get from people. Here’s some examples of how people reacted on Twitter.

Now the thing is, they’re all right.

What we need to start looking at when it comes to learning solutions as L&D practitioners is less about which method of delivery are we going to advocate best, but which learning solution provides a holistic approach to supporting a person’s development.

What used to be called blended learning is now quite dated and doesn’t quite capture the right ethos of how learning and development can progress.

For some purposes, a face to face workshop or classroom is exactly the right solution. You get to ask questions, debate with others, have your thinking challenged, see reactions, hear alternative points of view, gain live insights and a host of other interactions and connections.

For some purposes, social technologies can and do provide pertinent information which is accessible at the point of need. That’s the biggest win when considering this is a solution. People don’t need to wait for the learning they’re looking for, they can access it right away. The main consideration here is that people need to know how to find the information they’re looking for and that can either be a curated source, or it can be in educating others in how to find good sources of information.

For some purposes, social collaboration tools are the solution. Open, transparent working practices, sharing of information, sharing knowledge, are all ways in which people can develop their skills in safe environments where they are supported by others around them.

For some, coaching and mentoring are the ideal solutions. They have particular needs, understand how coaching and mentoring can be beneficial, have the motivation to act on their own insights and value having private and safe conversations with someone who is able to ask questions which prompt thought and reflection.

For some, being a part of a community of practise is the way forward. Coming together with a bunch of people all interested in the same topic or way of working and being able to develop your own skills as well as the skills of the group working co-actively, with shared interests and shared community.

For some, e-learning is a great tool for delivering their learning of need. It can give them the pertinent information, at their workspace, meet compliance need, and is a useful source of bite sized important information.

For some, watching videos is a highly engaging format of delivery. They get to watch a well scripted production, with useful insights, and some direction on how to develop their thinking.

And there’s a whole list of other types of learning and development activity I’ve not listed. Which is the point.

The future of the learning and development practise lies in the way we advocate for holistic learning solutions.

LinkedIn buying Lynda.com is a significant activity in our profession. It has signalled that there is a step change in the way learning and development operates and delivers its content. 350 million people will now have access to online learning when they want to access it. That’s a strong stance from LinkedIn, and it demands that L&D as a practise meets learners where they are, not where L&D are most comfortable operating.

The world of learning is now social and online

There are regular enough discussions about the future of learning in organisations. What will happen to face to face led sessions? Is e-learning dead in the water? Are social learning technologies the way forward? How are people using peer based learning to support a persons own active personal learning and development? Where will leaders receive their talent development? What role does coaching and mentoring have for future leaders? What’s the role of curation and isn’t that something that happens in museums?

And these are regular enough topics of interest that the L&D world will keep itself busy like a dog running after its own tail.

Well recently there was some big news in the L&D world which signals the future of learning quite solidly. LinkedIn bought the online learning company Lynda.com for $1.5bn.

In a world arguably dominated by big player suppliers like Reed Learning, Hemley Fraser and The Mind Gym, psychometric companies like OPP and Pearn Kandola, and with qualifications being directed by the likes of CIPD and LPI, here’s the first time we’ve seen the floor completely ripped from under their noses. And I bet you none of them saw it coming. They definitely don’t have anywhere near the digital presence for learners to take advantage of like Lynda.com.

I’ll go so far as to say they’re all so arrogant that they probably haven’t even got their own development teams producing digital content. Why would they when they’re winning contracts for big pieces of face to face delivery?

Except those delivery mechanisms are now redundant. Completely and utterly. LinkedIn just told us so. They want their 350 million users to access high quality learning resources on their terms, in their time, at their pace. They can access all sorts of learning content from graphic design to coding to MS Office to project management to Health and Safety.

And for all of us working in internal roles, this is the biggest wake up call we never asked for. Everyone who ever criticised online learning as being inferior to face to face led sessions has been told that those skills don’t matter anymore. Digital learning delivery isn’t just the future of the learning profession, it’s made all other forms of learning intervention meaningless.

Scared by this new future? Well it’s today’s reality.

Talking VUCA

Context is everything. Recently I delivered a workshop on strategic decision making for our senior leaders. I started the session by talking about VUCA. For the uninitiated, it’s an acronym used to describe the nature of change:
– volatility
– uncertainty
– complexity
– ambiguity

It’s origins come from the military where it’s used to describe the different environments they encounter and the types of strategies needed for them. It’s easy enough to see that this same acronym has resonance for the organisational world we live in.

It helps give people another way to consider the range of challenges they face, understand them in a different way and potentially work through solutions. Indeed the people I was with came up with many examples of how they experience VUCA. We’re all subject to factors outside our control, and there is a propensity to want to control those factors as much as is possible.

The things we’re learning in this space are around collaboration, creativity and simplicity. VUCA helps provide a language that people can make the target of their challenges. It might even act as the beginnings of a framework in better analysing these challenges and the nature of them. By it’s very definition it demands intelligence and sophistication in dealing with those challenges.

In this piece from Simon Heath, he argues for the need for simplicity and I wonder, is the answer not ever such? Answers arise and are often the obvious way forward. Sometimes they feel too easy, especially in the work context and it doesn’t feel like it should be that easy. So we write papers, prepare presentations, create fandangled communication campaigns all with the aim in mind of showing how intelligent an answer something is. And yet if something can happen easily, without need for sophistication and it being simple, does it have less worth as a solution?

My call is this. I find using VUCA a useful way to help people understand and potentially navigate the challenges they face. I’ve used it in a number of contexts where it is supportive of the content. The solutions we develop and the answers we seek don’t need to be in the same vain. They might be, and that may be the way forward, but let’s not do that because it’s a default. Let’s do that because it’s the right solution.

Learning, capacity and social

I remember on my degree learning about the development of the human mind in infants. There’s a theory called Theory of Mind which says that as an infant, although cognition is present, it is clearly still developing. An infant can copy human behaviour because a mental process of recognition allows them to.

The infant recognises that the parent is trying to do something like stick out their tongue. After some time the infant can copy and stick their tongue out. They’re able to do this because they recognise the parent is doing something which is something they might be capable of doing. They don’t understand it, but they can copy it.

As we learn more about the mental process of learning with the help of neuroscience we understand better the neuronal process of learning. The capacity for learning is ever present so long as there is no damage to the brain. We are all capable of learning any number of topics and subjects, because we have the right physiological capacity for doing so.

We also know that learning and development of learning is an inherently social process. Studies of children who have been locked away from birth show that the children have severe motor difficulties with things like walking and holding objects and severe communication difficulties with no language capability or ability to communicate needs. They can learn to do these things, and they do, but the profound effect of a lack of social contact in their early formative years is ever present.

Just some stuff to think about out there.

The truth about the Gen Y myth

There’s a truth about the Gen Y mythology which has been staring us all point blank in the face and which I’ve come to realise. Maybe we’ve all known it all along. Maybe we’ve been too caught up in the rhetoric of this up and coming age group that we didn’t let it sit a bit longer. In this day and age of digital and social connectedness we’re all very willing to comment and opine.

It’s bothered me, you see. For everyone saying that Gen Y have no different needs to any other generation, I’ve felt there has been something amiss. I’ve read lots of pieces on the Gen Y myth. I’ve read blogs from Gen Y who think they need to educate everyone else on what their modern lives are like. It’s all been insightful and it’s caused ire and annoyance for many.

We all need regular feedback. We all use digital devices. We’re all accessing the internet. We all want to work for ethical and moral organisations. We all want more responsive performance reviews. We all want flexible working and remote working opportunities. There’s a jazz and it’s playing a tune we all want to groove to.

What’s bothered me for so long I’ve now realised is not that these things are inherent to Gen Y, but that they showed how backward a lot of our working practices are. What’s worse isn’t that Gen Y are coming banging on our doors demanding new and modern ways of working, but that we don’t know how to help the people being left behind.

All those things that apparently we’re all wanting and doing? There’s a lot of people out there not wanting and not doing and very few people are helping them. That’s what the Gen Y problem has been about.

We’re railing against our own outdated working practices, not that Gen Y have the solutions. We’re railing against IT systems that are locked down, not that Gen Y need to access social media at work. We’re railing against pointless bureaucratic processes, policies and procedures, not the alleged free attitudes of Gen Y.

We’re railing against the things we’ve created which once served a purpose and we forgot to question their continued relevance. Gen Y certainly don’t have the solutions to any of these old working practices quire simply because they’re caught up in the same systems.

I’ve just finished writing my plans for OD over the next five years. You know, one of those strategy things. One of the things I’m going to be focused on is improving the digital literacy of everyone who needs it. If we’re expecting our people to be more digitally responsive and able then I have a direct responsibility to support them in doing so. I’m not doing it because Gen Y are demanding it. I’m doing it so that the people I work with have the capacity and capability to use digital tools for themselves, for their learning and for the customers they work with.

Designing learning, learning cycles and styles

I’m probably at risk of writing about my experiences in this blog post which rail against given methods of learning design. It’s quite likely to be heretical and quite potentially blasphemous.

You see, I haven’t used the L&D Cycle, Learning Cycle or Learning Styles for any of my learning design for years. They just started to lose relevance to everything I was doing in the learning space.

When I was arranging for open mic sessions to take place, there was no following of the L&D Cycle. I didn’t carry out and LNA across the business. I didn’t design a full learning solution. I definitely didn’t consider how I was going to measure the impact of that learning solution. I just made it happen. It happened. It continued to happen as a valued business activity.

When I’m designing a course ready for delivery, I’m not concerned about Learning Styles. I develop the content first. That’s always my starting point. Get the content right, and then I can concentrate on other aspects of the course. Where can I include exercises to help people connect the dots? Where can I encourage debate or discussion to cultivate development of understanding of the topic? What am I asking people to do with the content, and how am I going to support them after?

I couldn’t even tell you the last time I used the Learning  Cycle to help me design or prepare for a learning session.

I’ve been designing some e-learning recently and I’ve been highly focused on keeping the copy and text light, creating interactive learning pieces such as watching a video or listening to some audio, and using text boxes to help provide further information as options as opposed to mandatory reading. I don’t care about testing knowledge at the end, I just want someone to complete the thing and relay their experience to me. So far, the work my colleague Kate has done with this is showing that this approach to designing our own courseware has been highly appreciated by people and they enjoy the e-learning.

At one time, those models mentioned above had relevance. They held an attraction and they provided a useful model or thinking on how to design a good learning session. Some, though, like learning styles and learning cycle have since been discredited in academic circles for having no tangible difference on learning outcomes. I mean that’s quite damning. So why would we continue to use them in the learning context?

It’s quite likely I do have methodology to how I design learning interventions. These days, though it tends to be less about which learning theory I’m using to design with, and more about getting the right outcomes. When you add in blended learning options too, then it starts to become unwieldy to consider how each element meets a part of a cycle or a style. There’s far too much fun to be had in getting people doing things, reflecting on their learning, sharing their learning and improving performance as a result. Maybe that’s using learning styles, etc, but I think it’s moved beyond that to be about useful learning experiences.

I just haven’t found a way to categorise that as a concept. When I do, or when you do, I bag the right for commercialising it.