Ethics and Morals in L&D

How often do we as practitioners consider the ethics and morals of what we do? What kind of ethics and morals do we need to consider as practitioners? What part do ethics and morals play in the design of learning solutions?

I don’t know how openly we discuss and debate ethics and morality in L&D. They probably feel like subjects which many would respond in quite a pithy way – “Of course I’m ethical”, “everything I do is about the care of others”, “I have a strong set of morals and would never waiver on these”.

And I’m left wondering, but really, how do we know if we’re crossing ethical and moral boundaries that we may not be clear on?

Let’s take ‘Learning Styles’ as an example. It is very widely reported and researched that Learning Styles as a design methodology for learning solutions and interventions is just ineffective. That is, if you design a learning solution by using Learning Styles as your approach and methodology, you may as well not bother. That’s because the research tells us that people just don’t improve their learning by using these design approaches.

And so the question is raised – should you continue to use Learning Styles, because you believe the theory to be useful and effective even though there is mountains of research saying that it is ineffective to do so?

If you choose to carry on using it, is that the right ethical choice?

This week, I shared on Twitter that I wanted to start a day of facilitation by asking people to draw a shield.

I had some useful and helpful challenge from David Goddin and Simon Heath who helped me explore this some more.

What came out from this for me was that I hadn’t fully considered the connotations of using a shield, even though I’ve done it before and no-one has ever raised a concern about the activity. Now, this was to be the first exercise in a day of facilitation with a group I was working with. It was going to be given time for people to complete and to share what they’ve done. Because of that, I had to be comfortable in what I was going to be asking people to use. The idea of using a shield feels like it shouldn’t be controversial. David helped share an article about how arms are defined. On reading this I realised just how prejudiced against women a shield of arms (or similar) is. The description is heavily aimed at men and in enforcing stereotypes and messaging about men that I think is unhelpful in the modern age. There is a lot written these days about gender politics – how one gender has more power than another, and how the language we use influences these politics in different ways. I was not comfortable in using a shield as a facilitation tool knowing that there are such connotations involved.

So the moral question becomes – should I use it anyway, knowing that I would be reinforcing gendered stereotyping, but would probably go unnoticed by the group?

I chose to not go with the shield. Instead I chose to go with an image of a window.wp-image-964173065jpg.jpg

Stylistically, it’s not too different from a shield. From a meaning point of view, though, a window presents a different interpretation for people – both literally and figuratively.

I updated my blog post yesterday to state that I want to be an ethically and morally lead facilitator.

I’m curious to know your reactions to this decision making I went through, what it encourages you to think about, and how you might want to challenge me on anything I’ve raised.

Open sharing: a day of facilitation

Today’s brief was:

A new service was started about 9 months ago. They’re a team of 7 including the manager. They were cracking on with getting the service rolling and creating processes as they went along. They needed a day to reflect on how they were working together, building relationships, handling change, developing better work processes, and maintaining high levels of client engagement.

*cracks fingers*

We started the day with an exercise in drawing a window with four panes that looked like this:

I changed my mind on how I was originally going to do this exercise. Instead of a window, I’ve previously gone for a shield. After sharing my thoughts via Twitter about the day ahead, there was useful challenge and conversation about the connotations a shield has. In particular, for me, were the strength of gender politics that are associated with a shield and this really made me uncomfortable in using it as a rapport building tool. There is always a decision we can make about the ethics of the methodology. I could have gone ahead with the shield and no-one would have noticed the difference. My decision on this was to be an ethically and morally lead facilitator. So I decided to go with a window and this worked really nicely.

The group drew their respective images, and did a great job of helping others know more about them as individuals.

From there, I wanted to open the group to a different way of understanding each other’s communication styles. I chose to go with four questions:

  • When you’re talking to me, I need to know…
  • When I’m talking, I like to express myself like this…
  • When we’re talking, I feel good when…
  • When we’re talking, I feel bad when…

Each person filled out the blanks for themselves and then had to move around the room and share their responses with others. What quickly (and I’ll admit unexpectedly) happened was a level of openness and unprompted feedback about what people were hearing and how they experienced the other person. Thankfully, it didn’t become nasty, and no-one was being offensive in their approach.

In doing this, we spent most of the morning just focused on this side of things.

After lunch, because of the good weather, I sent the group outside. They had to achieve four objectives:

  1. Find something interesting about the local area
  2. Do something kind
  3. Take a photo of something that made them smile
  4. Reflect on how local facilities could aid in social inclusion for their clients

When they came back, it was great to hear about what that time outside meant for them and what they chose to do to fulfil the different objectives. It also provided them with additional ways to understand their team members, and build that empathy with one another.

The final activity for the day was to list out the different things about their day to day work that needed improving. They came up with a list of about 11 items. Two were discounted as they were too big to be discussed and resolved. The other nine were split into three groups, and I split the group into three groups too. In trying to resolve the items they had to answer three questions:

  • What’s the current situation?
  • What does the ideal situation look like?
  • How do we get there?

They did so well on this. Because the items were shared out amongst everyone to resolve, they all had their own way of understanding what the problem was, what resolution needed to look like and how to suggest ideas for people to make things happen. Personally, when I see that people are involved in this kind of way, they not only have ownership, but they’re actively being given permission and authority to make decisions where they might not have that in a formal structure.

I was (and am) really pleased with how the day went. I wanted to share in this space to demonstrate how so much of what we write about with regards to being better facilitators and better practitioners can be designed in to the solutions we deliver. I purposefully set out to make inclusion a strong element of the day. Prayer rooms were organised, healthy food options were provided, a good environment for the day, useful exploration of the outside environment, healthy conversations with one another, collective and co-created actions for what needs to happen next. It was all there and I hope this write up serves as a way to see it in action (of sorts).

My PLN makes me smarter because of who they are

I mean, that’s pretty much my whole blog post in the title right there.

But as is my privilege, I’ll expand a bit.

I’ve been asked to give some insight into my career to date at a CIPD London meeting tomorrow night, and this is pretty much what I’m going to say.

I never knew that when I started out on Twitter and blogging that I’d be building a personal learning network. I didn’t even know such a concept like that existed. In my early days of being on Twitter and blogging it was all about trying to find like minded people who I could talk shop with. In those early days, I was in a pretty much stand alone role and knew that I just wasn’t being as effective as I could be, but didn’t know how to improve. I didn’t plan anything in using social media, it was a ll a bit of a punt to see where it’d go.

As time went on, I saw that there were others out there I could connect with that were outside of the organisation I worked for. They were in HR, L&D, OD, recruitment and coaching roles. This was cool. And not only were they out there, but they were actively discussing things to do with the broad profession – a set of discussions I could get involved with!

And as time continued to move forward, I started growing more stronger in my digital voice. People were appreciating what I had to say in the digital space and my professional opinions were gaining value because people told me as much.

What I didn’t expect to happen, though, was that I would actively start to learn through this group of people. As much as I respected my actual HR team I was working with, we never really spoke about the profession, where it was headed, why we did certain practices as we did, how to improve things – most of our conversations were about day to day things. In the digital space, I was able to start actively discussing things to do with the broader profession and engage with people from a range of companies.

As happens with these types of affairs, I met quite a few of these online types and got to know them better. We’d meet and talk and discuss things like we were friends – and of course we were, just not as we’d normally define those relationships as having been formed. This whole digital thing was redefining so much about day to day life that you almost forget to reflect on what that means.

And along the way, like I said, I really started to learn from this network of friends. It’s odd to describe them as such. But I trust quite a few of these people (more than a few in truth). When I meet these friends I end up discussing things like:
– my family
– my personal ambitions and motivations
– how I can be better
– discussing ethics
– their interests and their thinking
– digital life
– politics
– the profession
– and so much more that I can’t list it all

Professionally, I’ve grown stronger as a practitioner. I experiment and try things because of what I read about from my network. They help give me that confidence to go out there and be the best I can be, because they’re great at what they do. It’s no one person, and it’s not a homogenous group. There are people in my network who I actively talk with everyday, some I talk with regularly, and some who I just follow and they probably have no idea how much value I gain from them. I’m as much an active user of social media as I am a lurker (by the way, I really hate that word. It’s so surreptitious.)

My day to day practice has improved because of the people I know. Regardless if they practice what they preach, I can practice what I learn. I use social media to help me work things out, express my thoughts and do my thinking as I’m writing. I very rarely write things with a fully formed outcome. And the best part of all this is that I can rely on my PLN to help make me better.

Technology, learning and adoption

While at the CIPD Leaders in Learning event this week, Andy Lancaster shared some helpful insights about the role of technology in learning today. He first described how at the CIPD they’re bringing more of a focus to being a knowledge content provider as well as helping deliver qualifications to HR and L&D professionals. This was really welcome news on my part. The CIPD are a trusted organisation and for them to now be looking at how they can provide knowledge content for professionals is only a good thing. It signals an understanding about how content is used by people and not everyone needs to complete a course in order to understand things better.

The second helpful share was via Jane Hart. Jane regularly asks learning professionals what their go to choices are for learning technologies. She’s currently compiling the 2016 list. From previous years, the top ten tend to include Twitter, YouTube, Google, WordPress, Evernote and Google Drive.

From this you can see that in that top list are some familiar names like Twitter and YouTube. And it got me wondering about how they’ve been pretty consistently there for a number of years. In fact it got me thinking about the adoption curve.

We’re probably at a stage now with social networks like Twitter and YouTube where the late majority are ready to pick up those tools and start using them for their own learning and professional development. Actually we’re probably at a stage where the early majority are ready to start embracing digital technologies to provide learning through additional means.

I think this is helpful because I also see that in the networks I’m connected with there can be a lot of frustration about L&D not stepping forward and becoming modern learning practitioners. The other day I saw someone tweeting about a new group video streaming app and asking if anyone is using it in L&D. It made me think – most people are just about getting used to using Twitter as a way of connecting, for professional networking and for personal learning and development let alone a group video streaming app.

Sometimes in L&D we can be too restless. 

Yes, the world of digital consumer behaviour is moving at pace, and that means apps and websites that were once widely used slowly get overtaken by others. But, just because there are new players coming onto the scene, doesn’t make the older tools redundant or less relevant. It takes time for people to adopt new behaviours and more so when it comes to technology. We know this as L&D professionals and yet can be so disconnected from the workforce that we leave them behind in our drive to be forward thinking learning practitioners.

One of the biggest challenges we face in organisations today is helping people be digitally inclusive and digitally literate. Too many people still shy away from actively using technology to help them be better at their job. It would serve us well in L&D to remind ourselves that everyone is on a journey, and just because they may not be moving at the pace of some doesn’t mean that those at the front are better and it doesn’t mean those behind are missing anything immediately relevant. 

Wild writing reflections from L&D Connect unconference #ldcu16

As ever with these things it’s less about the process and the right way to do things and it’s more about enabling people to experience learning through different methods they may not be familiar with. What constantly amazes me when I come to an unconference is always that people are so pleasantly surprised at how well it all just works.

You come to this morning thing and not sure what to expect. You’re asked to co-create an agenda and make sense of your own thinking and take responsibility for your own learning, and then you’re into the discussions. People’s insights are amazing. They take them into all sorts of directions. No-one’s an expert, no-one is the best pracititoner, or the most influential, or the learning leader, we’re all equal and we all have a shared voice. How empowering is that? How much shared value is there in that? How do we cultivate that in our daily lives? What difference would there be if we tried to do that more?

And here we are. A group of people, some 20 people in London. Most don’t know each other, most are here because they’ve been attracted by a desire to test their L&D experience and do something different with it, to push their own boundaries, to learn what’s going on. And I think back to 2012 when we did the first unconference. 4 hours long was all we did that first time, and today we’ve spent a whole day together.

People’s sharing through digital technology has been really great to see too. Give people permission and the acceptance of their thoughts and tweets and they’ll contribute – not because they’ve been instructed to, but because the design has been inclusive, it’s been acceptant, and it’s been healthy. People’s individual needs are taken care of by them owning what they want and what they choose to share with others.

How do you do this? How do you purposefully set about challenging what you know and letting it just wash over you? An experience like an unconference fundamentally is about being allowed to act like an adult and be fully accepted as one. We’ve used a variety of facilitation techniques to help us over the day. It almost doesn’t matter what that is or how we did it. What matters is that it was created, it was designed to be amazing.

I have big love going out to Michelle Parry-Slater, my London co-facilitator. Fiona McBride, Julie Drybrough, Phil Willcox and Joey Stephenson. Together we’ve created something cool. We’ve done something unique and we can take credit for helping shift and change the conversation when it comes to learning event delivery and experience. There is important learning there for L&D practitioners from all walks of life. This group of people that have helped to do this are amazing and inspiring and I’m proud to have them in my life – both as friends and as fellow professionals.

Is this what wild-writing is meant to be? Has this stream of consicousness followed how this is meant to go? Am I breaking some kind of accepted methodology? When you’ve read this,  how have you felt? How has it moved you? Does it evoke anything in you? For me when I write like this, it’s free. I’m not constrained. It’s just sharing as I’m writing.


Privilege, inclusion and HR

In and around the discussions about diversity and inclusion at work, there is a growing conversation around the concept of privilege and how this impacts on individuals. It’s an interesting and compelling concept if you’ve not come across it previously. When people talk about privilege in this space it tends to be used in the context of race relations – primarily about the privilege that white people have and how this is manifest in day to day life both in favour of white people and against people of colour. It is also present in conversations around gender parity where men have privilege over women and this is present in both overt ways and in systemic ways in society and indeed in organisations. It is also prevalent in conversations to do with sexual orientation and gender identity.

I’m still exploring this concept myself and am careful to pass commentary on it.

If you’ve not come across the term in this context, it can be defined as:

Privilege exists when one group has something of value that another group does not, not because of anything that they have done or not done, but simply because of the groups that they belong to. Privilege most frequently shows up as unearned advantage or conferred dominance.

Peggy McIntosh via this blog post from Joe Gerstandt

Privilege most frequently shows up as unearned advantage or conferred dominance. Pretty powerful words.

And it’s a difficult concept too. It almost sounds like that in acknowledging this privilege it means that you’re a racist, a homophobe or a misogynist/misandrist by being part of any group. It’s less about being labelled in any way and more about acknowledging that privilege exists. Look again at that definition – it’s about the unearned advantage.

It’s as much about enforced societal norms as it is about overt and explicit discrimination as it is about unsaid rules and acceptance of ‘this is just the way things are’.

It’s also almost too difficult a topic to discuss well with others.

“Hey, I want to discuss your white male privilege and why you got chosen for that promotion over me” is a pretty challenging discussion to have. Even if you toned down the language and it became something like “I just wanted to congratulate you on your promotion. I went for it too, and it’s tough for me to understand the decision making of why you got chosen when we have similar experience and qualifications”.

There is a link to other concepts that we may know of such as implicit bias, cognitive bias of different sorts, stereotypes, out and out discrimination. There are those who willfully attack, harass, abuse and hurt others and wear their privilege with pride. There are those who may have only experienced good fortune and may not see that their privilege may have been a helping hand. And it’s almost too easy to use it in argument and say “see, that’s an example of your privilege right there”.

It’s also hard to know how we correct things like privilege.

As with many things to do with improved relationships and improved human connections, it’s about understanding ourselves, understanding what we were brought up with, and understanding how that influences our lives and choices that we make.

As a British-Indian male, raised during the 1980s, attending an independent school, I had privilege all around me and I didn’t even realise. I had the benefit of a private education, which shaped my future decision making around my career. I lived in a certain area which meant I had better choices around social activities and friendships I chose to have. I could make the choice to attend university and had the privilege of not needing to work during that time and lean on my parents to see me through. Privilege positively saw me through most of the first 25 years of my life.

In recognising that we all have privilege in different ways, we can start to acknowledge how that plays out and how we might experience that in different ways. But it requires some brave conversations to be had, and with trusted people who can help us explore things in helpful and supportive ways. As I’ve been exploring what privilege means, I’m also learning a lot about myself and my life choices. Some of that needs resolving and I need to better reflect on things.

In organisations, concepts like privilege raise even more questions – and many of them uncomfortable ones. We build in privilege into employment contracts. As an employee you are privy to certain employment rights at certain times. As well as those rights, you also have organsiational benefits available to you. Many of those are simply not present when it comes to zero hours contract staff – those privileges are taken away. Pay is the most obvious form of privilege in organisations. The more senior you are the higher salary you’re paid, and the more improved privileges are available to you. Why is it more common practise for senior leaders to have privileges such as company car allowances when such a thing would benefit lower paid workers more? Sure we can applaud companies like John Lewis for paying their ‘partners’ a share paying scheme, but that privilege only extends to their partners. Anyone working as a contractor or supplier doesn’t receive that privilege even though they may be part of the company make up.

Privilege also becomes manifest in teams in unspoken and accepted ways. We don’t discuss things like politics, emotions, or sexual orientation because society tells us that the accepted norm is to not discuss these openly and in healthy ways, and instead to accept that they are mostly private topics for discussion at home only. It also becomes manifest in overt and obvious ways. If you have a disability, your organisation or team may need to make reasonable adjustments for you – not because it’s your right, but because the workplace was designed for able-bodied people. Most work environments have to retrofit adjustments when they recruit someone with disabilities as opposed to designing a work environment where people with disabilities are already able to fulfil their duties.

If we care about inclusion at work – and many HR professionals claim they do – we have to start talking about privilege as part of that discussion. From what I’ve understood so far, there is still much to explore in this topic. It’s a hard one to understand, and is harder still to discuss openly. People take offence easily because this isn’t about outright discrimination or negative thoughts about others – it’s about unseen and unearned advantages. Those in receipt of those advantages can only claim that something like privilege is a myth of the minorities – and those in minorities can only claim that privilege is working against them by unseen and unfair systemic practices. It’s not even a chicken and egg thing – it’s a fundamental shift in understanding a broader narrative in discussing race, equality and inclusion.

13 years of L&D later…

I remember when I started out in this game 13 years ago being a trainer and delivering content in a workshop. The content was well designed and thought through. There were workbooks, handouts, acetates for the OHP, and a video to use at different points in the training. The content was good. I was a novice, and really appreciated the trainer notes that helped the discussion move along. It was all about getting through the content. That’s what defined good training.

Or at least, that’s how I defined it.

And I’m confronted with the fact that 13 years later, there are still many L&D practitioners who think modern learning should still look like this. There are still many L&D practitioners who are working in businesses and organisations up and down and across the globe who think this form of training delivery is efficient and right.

And to an extent they’re right.

But just because people expect training to be delivered to them in this way, doesn’t mean this is what’s best for them.


13 years ago, I didn’t know that I could be a better trainer by understanding emotional intelligence. Or that I could improve my facilitation skills by gaining regular feedback on the very same. Or that if I understood the business need I could develop a really relevant training course. I didn’t know that my own development – as a practitioner – needed to move with the times. For about 6 years, I was happy just delivering content, slowly improving my ability as a trainer, but not really doing much more.

Until I started to understand that moving into senior roles in learning and development wasn’t just about delivering training, but it was about providing solutions to the business that helped the business be better at what it does. I started attending all manners of workshops, seminars, conferences, webinars, and all sorts. I got onto social media and started consuming everything I could that informed me better as a practitioner – but more so, helped me be a better human being at work.

As time went on and I started to become better at understanding business leaders, what they needed from L&D and delivering solutions that made a difference that I started to then rethink my whole approach to L&D itself. It was fine that I was working on being as good as I could be, but then I started to grow and develop my understanding of how learning itself works. After 9 years of doing this stuff, you’d think I’d know, but I didn’t – all I knew, really, was how to do training – how people learn, though, was a whole other thing.

And all the while this was happening, technology was moving at pace, as were world events. Terrorism defined the media, disruption was happening in all high street businesses, banks were getting caught out for ridiculously bad behaviour, racist, mysoginist and abusive behaviour was becoming rife. At the same time, human understanding started to explode like never before. Where models like NLP and MBTI had strong holds, these were becoming unpicked. Learning Styles, which was once the darling model all trainers used, was becoming debunked at pace. Emotional intelligence, which was once a very theoretical model, became far more entrenched in evidence and provided a whole new way to articulate human understanding. An unknown area called neuroscience started uncovering the mechanisms of the brain – not just that it worked in certain ways, but what that meant for people. A whole new field of behavioural economics became fresh and exciting helping people to understand that you can encourage good behaviours for the common good.

L&D itself almost transformed over the last decade. People began posting their own how to videos online. People began writing their own thoughts and experiences through platforms and getting them read and shared widely. Online content fast became the go to source for knowing anything. Brands moved away from broadcasting content, to be content providers, helping people know how to do better things with their products, not just that the products exist. We started to learn that there were experts everywhere, and we didn’t need to hold all the information ourselves. Online experiences became more and more about user experience, forcing us to re-examine how e-learning itself works. We learned that in providing online spaces for discussion and debate you can collaborate, meet other people and achieve pretty cool things.

I’m a bit exhausted just writing about how much has changed in the last 13 years that I’ve been doing this L&D and OD stuff.

And yet, there are trainers, HR types, recruitment types, and L&D/OD types who refuse to understand this explosion of new information and new ways of working. The world has literally moved on, and the very people who are meant to understand human insight and provide this knowledge to the organisation are worried about the transactional activities they’re doing and not looking at the stuff which makes a difference.

Which leaves me a bit deflated I’m honest. I’ve been at this blogging lark for a number of years now. I don’t get as many readers as some of you might think – I’m a modest writer with modest readership. But I’ve been writing about this stuff consistently for all that time. And not just me – many other better writers are out there. They’re trying to do the same. Get people to think differently. To work differently. To behave differently. To be amazing all on their own. And for all the people who will share and like and retweet this blog, there are many more who are blissfully unaware the world has fundamentally changed around them. They’re there, getting on and delivering the same old thing in the same old way.