Adapting, change and L&D

There was a narrative a few years back about the changing nature of the world and how it was all VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. This was mostly in relation to organisational change and political change (the Arab Spring was only a few years back). I mean it’s still all that. That hasn’t changed. What we’re also experiencing are unprecedented accelerations in technology and what it’s enabling people to do. And we’re seeing a whole new development of narrative taking place around gender politics and identity politics.

Change is just a constant factor in today’s world. It’s less that we need to be mindful about change fatigue in organisations and in people, and more that we have to develop new sets of skills and attitudes to help people move forward. It’s less about using tried and tested methodologies of change management, and more about building resilience in the system to shift and by virtue of a resilient system, developing the capability of people to stop, change, adapt and lead in new ways like they’ve never been asked before.

In L&D we’re a microcosm of what’s happening in the organisations we’re either part of or working for. And what I see is less of an understanding about the connection between business performance and capability building and more about needing to use the right models and strategies for delivering learning solutions. That’s fine and it’s all good work. But it doesn’t help our business leaders stand up and lead well. Not really. Instead we’ve just replaced the order taking approach of delivering courses or e-learning and replaced it with trying to formalise and design informal learning structures and collaboration experiments. 

None of us have got this right. I know I haven’t. I’m working in a system, part of a system, influencing the system, and a lot of what I deliver is what is needed. It’s not bleeding edge, and we’re not designed as an organisation to be that. 

I started off with a trail of thought about L&D needing to build capacity and capability for resilience in the organisations we’re part of. And now I’m not so sure. I think I’m saying L&D is fundamentally broken and we’re unfit to lead our organisations as they need us to.

Well, that was unexpected. 

How to have discourse on Twitter

This week I’ve been taking some time to enjoy time skiing with the family. It’s been a good break and I’ve been glad to mostly stay away from the news and happenings of the world.

A regular concern of mine in recent months has been the seemingly relentless lack of good form by people commenting on other people’s Twitterings. There are a good many people who take what is said on social media seriously, and when things go left of right, it’s just that much harder to argue that social media continues to be a medium for open debate.

So, as the Internet loves a listicle, here’s one on how we can help each other be better at discourse via Twitter.

1. Recognise that most things on Twitter are just a snapshot of what we know and understand about a person. Just because their bio only states certain things doesn’t mean that’s the entirety of what makes that person. There is always more to the person.

2. If you read something that triggers a reaction in you, that’s not the responsibility of the other person to do anything for you. They’ve written something to share – sometimes that will be to provoke and most times by most users it will be to share their thoughts.

3. Recognise that most people on Twitter are there to be part of a network and a connected world. A good many of us thoroughly enjoy being on Twitter. If the things you’re reading and getting annoyed by are regularly in your timeline, then you need to change either your searching habits or stop following so many accounts where you get updates reinforcing what you believe.

4. If you are reading something that doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to respond with an attack on the person. You are allowed to take the time to understand why you’re reacting like that. If you’re still convinced that you’re right in your assertion, find another way to express yourself that doesn’t involve attacking the person who wrote the tweet.

5. There are trolls. And lots of them. There are also bots. And lots of them too. You can just ignore them completely, mute, block and anything else to get them out of your timeline or notifications.

6. There are people I’ve experienced on Twitter who come across as benevolent ones. And yet they can’t resists getting drawn into arguments or standing up for the crowd. I don’t mistrust their intentions, but I do have little patience for their social outcrys.

7. The current state of world affairs means it’s too easy to comment on things without knowing a full range of facts. We don’t have to respond immediately. We can just allow ourselves times to see what unfolds. A considered response with the facts trumps poor opinion every time.

8. If you see someone being attacked on Twitter, report the attacker. Don’t go after them yourself, cos you’re just increasing the noise from the attacker. Support the victim and help them know they have your support and help. 

9. Surprisingly most trolls and attackers have regular lives and regular jobs like you and me. That doesn’t excuse their online behaviour, but we never really know why someone is behaving so badly when they do. Don’t attack the person. If you know them, maybe check in with them and find out how they’re doing.

10. There are some resilient people on Twitter who don’t give attackers any quarter and it’s great to know people like that are out there. They help us know attackers are unimportant in our lives.

Most people who’ll read this will be in the broad field of HR and L&D. I suspect mostly I’m writing to those who will nod vigorously and agree. That’s all aces, so this is more a call to take the above and not just share it, but consider how we all show up and be present and what kind of example that sets for others. I’m sure I’ve left out other useful advice above, so if you have more to add please do in the comments.

Models, theories and modern learning design

Models and theories are the traditional backbone of L&D. They’ve very much been our go to points for designing solutions, and offering solutions to clients. Most internal people trained through traditional methods will have learned a complete range of models and theories to help them make sense of the human condition and to help them deliver training. Most train the trainer type training, facilitation skills type training, and e-learning design and development revolve around designing against a model or theory.

It’s just the way we were taught how to do things. I think back on all the many different models and theories I’ve had to learn about in my years as an L&D and OD leader and there have been a lot.

And, as Ross Garner said in a recent podcast, no models are perfect representations of the world – even a map is flawed.

Which is probably the one key insight I was never really taught to appreciate in my early days.

And from what I’ve experienced over the years, it’s never really something we’ve been given permission to challenge or understand in other ways.

So, I’ve been adapting my practice to be something less lead by models and theories, and more lead by learning needs and outcomes.

See, what I’ve learned is that models and theories have a place in creating insight into the human condition – but only if you become a practitioner in that world. If not, then why learn about such things at a cursory level? Because that’s the problem most L&D professionals face. We don’t know the depth needed for most models and theories for them to be truly of value to the people we’re meant to be working with. Instead, we’ve just presented a 2×2 grid, or a series of concentric circles, or venn diagrams, or listicles, and using those as premises for where the discussion goes next.


And this is important.

What we know about modern learning means that most of those models and theories are suddenly irrelevant.

Don’t go defending everything you know about the world just yet.

Here’s what we do know about modern learning:

  • because of the ease of technology, and the rapid creation capability of technology, we can create consumable content in minutes as opposed to weeks
  • people really value face to face time when it comes to learning together
  • digital UX means most e-learning is awful to use
  • most people at work want a resource or content to help them do something now, not learn how to do it in 2 months time
  • we can help identify solutions that solve business needs which include a range of options
    • that can be as simple as clear communications
    • it can be as complex as needing a change programme
    • it can be as easy as creating a one page reference guide
    • it can be as involved as needing a development programme

Models and theories may form a part of modern learning solutions. In all likelihood, it’s more about being able to identify relevant solutions for the problems at hand. When I talk with business leaders about what they’re looking to resolve, the elements of the solution I normally propose are:

  • do the working practices support the proposed change?
  • what’s already in place that helps achieve the same outcome?
  • what’s the outcome required?
  • what does the L&D piece actually look like?
    • does it need to be e-learning?
    • could it be video based?
    • what will face to face add?
    • could it be curated resources from online content?
    • is there a compliance need that has to be met?
  • does the team have the capability to get to the end point?

More so – far more so – has been my capacity and capability to enable conversations to happen. Those conversations need to happen in different ways for different people, and in different ways for different teams. As the very wise Julie Drybrough once said “if you put a group of people together, they can’t help but learn from each other”.

I never really learned how to do that – not even through facilitation skills training. It was something I learned about how humans work best together. I attended an absolute range of learning events to really experience the multiple ways we design for conversations to take place. Digital means have enabled some of those conversations to happen in completely new and absorbing ways. This – again – changes human behaviour. So we continue to learn about how people converse with each other, and therefore how they learn.

In this new world of L&D, where modern learning is as much lead by digital means as it is by dialogic based means, we should all get very comfortable with the idea that our go to models and theories may need desperately updating, some have no relevance in digital solution design, and some work just fine and we need to develop better insights into them to be relevant for the face to face sessions we hold.

What impact has psychology had on L&D?

This week I took part in a podcast with the good people at Good Practice. I really enjoy this podcast as the topics they talk about are directly relevant to the L&D profession and I really enjoy the conversational style of the podcasts as well as the production! Thanks to Ross Garner and Owen Ferguson for having me on.

We discussed “What impact has psychology had on L&D” and it was a really good discussion.

Have a listen, and please do comment on our conversation.

How Alexa could solve the isolation problem

I was in a meeting this week and we were discussing how digital technology is enabling lots of innovation to take place.

In particular, I got to thinking about how connected technology, like Amazon’s Echo, can enable people who aren’t digitally savvy to be connected with service providers, and never having to worry that they’re not digitally connected as we might think they need to be. This is nothing more than a thought experiment – but one that could have legs if someone picked it up (and if someone does, the kudos being passed my way would be appreciated). (Also, I may have missed that some of this is either already in play, or is being developed)

One of the ongoing challenges with our connected world is that if you’re not connected, you miss out on a lot of advancements and improvements to the world of consumer and customer services.

A societal challenge we face is there are many people who are isolated from others. That’s due to a number of factors, and it’s also one of the hardest to know how to resolve.

At some level, some people argue – we just need to be more humane. And yes, that’s a response, and I think the answers will need to be multi-faceted. Some people will want to do the person to person knocking on the door thing. Some people will want to provide at food shelters, and food banks, and shelters and all sorts. We absolutely need those souls, because they help us know what humanity is like when people are facing their hardest times.

I’m thinking, how do we use the connected technology available for an older person to be less isolated. And here’s where I think things can take a dramatic turn.

Mrs Miggins lives by herself. She’s fairly self sufficient for a 70 year old. She’s physically able, and isn’t suffering any serious health issues. She has a pension helping her to get by week by week. Sadly, though, she’s fairly isolated. She lives in a block of flats and her children have passed away. She has no siblings and other relatives lost contact with her. Her neighbours are regularly changing so she’s not built any real connections. She goes to church once a month. Recently, her housing provider installed WiFi in her home, and gave her an Amazon Echo device. This is what started happening next.

A week after the installation, she went to turn on the hot water, and it was coming out cold. After a couple of hours of trying, she walked into her living room cursing a bit louder than she normally does. Alexa recognised the distress in her voice and said “Is there something I can help with?”. Mrs Miggins was told this might happen, and she responded “My hot water isn’t working.” Alexa replied, “Shall I contact the housing provider and inform them?” Mrs Miggins responds, “Erm, yes.”

An hour later, her phone rings. It’s the repairs team at her housing provider. “Hello Mrs Miggins, we’ve had an alert to let us know that your hot water isn’t working. Shall we get someone to come and look at that for you? We could be there this evening about 6pm?”.

Mrs Miggins didn’t have to log on to anything, she didn’t have to remember her details, she didn’t have to ring anyone, and she didn’t have to find the contact details for her housing provider. The connected system made it happen for her.

Here’s another thing that happened.

She was sitting in her living room watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, and she said aloud “I miss talking to someone”. Alexa heard and responded, “Shall I ring someone you can talk to?”. Mrs Miggins responded, “Erm, yes.” An hour later, she had a call from Timothy from the social support team from her local authority. “Hello Mrs Miggins, I’ve had an alert to get in touch and say hello. My name’s Timothy, how are you?” And they had a phone chat for 20 mins. It helped her feel better and she had a good nights sleep.

She didn’t have to pick up the phone and remember how to use it to dial someone. She didn’t have to go through her diary to find a phone number. She didn’t have to do a mental task of remembering who she wanted to and could talk to. The connected system made it happen for her.

Here’s another thing that happened.

Mrs Miggins was doing the hoover and she remembered she needed to do the shopping. But it was late in the afternoon and it was getting dark and she didn’t like to go out at night on her own. She said to Alexa, “Alexa, can you help me with my shoppping?”. Alexa replied, “Yes, Mrs Miggins. Just tell me the list of food you want and I’ll place the order for you.” An hour later, she had a knock at the door. It was her food being delivered for her. She thanked the nice gentleman who delivered it for her, and he left some information about local support groups for senior people.

She didn’t have to go out at night on her own. She felt safe in her own home. She understood Alexa could enable her to fulfil her shopping need. She didn’t have to worry about cash. She didn’t have to use a website. The connected system made it happen ¬†for her.

If we could make this kind of thing happen, we’d be much further along that multi-faceted approach to solving the isolation problem in society.

Thoughts on the apprenticeship levy

This piece is written for those who have the responsibility to make sure they use their apprenticeship levy. I’ll make this clear up front – these are my thoughts only and do not in any way reflect those of my employer.

If you’re unclear what the apprenticeship levy is about, the government guidance on what it’s for and the details that surround are really rather good.

I’ve just completed writing a paper for our senior leaders on how I think we’re going to make best use of it. I’m not sharing that here, I’m sharing more about my thoughts on how the apprenticeship levy is going to be best used.

First, I’ll admit to having a hard time not seeing the apprenticeship levy as anything other than a major ballache. It’s an administrative and bureaucratic nightmare which is almost more prohibitive than it is helpful and useful. It took me a while to get properly tuned in to what the levy is meant to be helping with.

The government are telling us it’s to encourage the development of more apprenticeships across the UK. Yep, I get that. There are numerous standards meeting a complete range of ‘skills’ which UK business are saying are needed. Ok, I’m with it.

There are some organisations I know who are choosing to just pay the levy and not worry about it any further. Yeah that’s right – they just can’t be bothered trying to administer it and make best use of it because of the resource requirement to do it. I don’t blame them. At One Housing, our levy charge is fairly significant so that’s not an option for us.

There are other organisations who are seriously large and have the resources available to become their own training provider and administer the levy themselves. All power to them. We’re not that large – and most organisations paying the levy aren’t that large – that we can do that.

So how can you make best use of the levy, if you’re in the majority paying it and wanting to try and make best use of it?

24 months

Well, the first thing I’d suggest is that there’s no rush to have to act with urgency. The monthly deductions are held in your digital account for 24 months. Each month you don’t access it, it accumulates. That actually creates a stronger position to use it a bit further down the line if you need time to create a utilisation strategy.

Just make sure that if you do have a plan to use it is used in that period, or each successive month’s payment that you don’t use defaults as a payment to HMRC.

Year 1

I’m taking the approach that Year 1 will be a huge badass big and bold experiment. I have no idea if our plan for utilisation is going to work. So I’m making it clear to everyone in the organisation that Year 1 is a good period of time to figure things out and gather a lot of useful evidence about our plan.

From here, I’ll be able to do a healthy review of our plan and make some purposeful and stronger decisions on how we continue to utilise the levy from Year 2 onwards.

Training Provider / College

The way the standards are designed, you have no choice but to use an approved training provider / college to deliver the training. Find someone who really understands the details of the levy and its implementation. Implementation is key to making it work, and partnering with the right training provider will be essential to making it a success.

Also, as a completely separate thought, the apprenticeship levy will create a massive boon for training providers / colleges across the UK. For the organisations who choose to utilise the levy, it creates a sudden and interested group of companies who will be willingly knocking on the doors of approved providers – that’s a pretty strong position to be in.


Don’t forget that the standards aren’t just about employing traditional apprentices. It’s also about upskilling current staff using the standards. It’s a healthy way to invest in existing staff and ties in very nicely to those concerned about all things engagement and retention of staff.

And you could use it as a recruitment strategy too. You could hire someone at a junior level, train them via the standard, and at the end of their training they get the original role and an increase in salary. That’s a win all round.

That damned 20%

This is the part of the levy which will cause the most pain. How can you best support people not being in the office for 20% of their time? I have no easy answer to this, and will be highly contextual dependent on the standard sought, the management of that person’s work, how the team understand what’s going on, and support to complete their training as required.

It’s also effectively reinforcing the very traditional format of classroom based training. There is absolutely scope here for training providers and colleges to get really modern and smart about the delivery of the standards. If different versions of the following could be implemented, it makes that 20% much more palatable:

  • dedicated e-learning for skills development – followed up with application of learning
  • on the job training that matches skills learned with skills required for the standard
  • work based projects that could replace elements of the standard and achieve the same outcomes

Like I say, though, the standards are pretty well defined, and that means training providers/colleges will be mostly seeking to just fulfil the standards and not really thinking about modern learning methodology or how learning technologies can play a part.

That’s where I’m at for now. I’m on-side with the levy, but honestly only because I have to be because we don’t have a choice about making the payments.

Using psychology when designing L&D solutions

I’ve been spending some time over the last couple of weeks writing about the use of psychology in L&D. My first piece was about concerns I had in how many L&Ders use pop psychology when delivering learning solutions without any real depth of applied thinking or exploration of theory. Last week’s piece was about how we can use insights from psychology to create strong and safe delivery of learning solutions (be they digitally led or face to face). It’s been fun writing this short series.

So I guess one of the areas to help share further insights on are around the design of learning solutions. What can we learn from psychology about designing effective learning solutions?

I think there’s a number of things we can draw on and some you may be familiar with, others you may do already, and some may be different to what you expect. And if you’re an L&Der who still believes that’s using learning styles or similar in the design of learning solutions is effective you definitely need to read on for better methods.


People (in the main) have terrible memories. They mix up facts, dates, names and all sorts. You can learn to do that stuff better, but even then what you learn by rote one day will be forgotten pretty soon after. There are several things to bear in mind when designing learning solutions and remembering that memory isn’t reliable.

Use storytelling techniques to relay important messages. People will recall a story far easier than they will the facts. Don’t laden learning solutions with policy’s or legislation or anything like that because most people won’t recall it and most people don’t care. They just want to know why it makes a difference for them in the job they do.
Where you have key messages, keep them short and simple. And don’t forget the golden rule of repetition. If it’s an important message people need to hear it several times over in order for them to recall it. This is why politicians are so successful at creating narratives and why you see the same advert over and again over several months.

If you need people to recall facts, unless you’re really testing their memory recall skills, keep them to no more than 5 points.


I think priming is one of the best understood methodologies when it comes to learning solution design. The idea is that you can help people be better learners if you give them specific tasks to do before they do the learning event. For example, ahead of a workshop get people to watch a video, complete some self-reflection, or a worksheet. It’s a great way to build the right connections needed for learning to occur. Of course there are always people who won’t complete the work in advance and there’s no easy answer to resolve that!

And if you’ve read some of the work on priming you’ll be aware in L&D we don’t actually use priming. We use a form of it.


One of the key things we’ve learned in psychology is that people appreciate learning about others and creating connections with them. In the learning environment this means respecting that need and designing different ways for people to interact and have those conversations.

Instructional Design

There’s a whole world of work being regularly explored when it comes to digital solutions. In particular, how do people use digital tools for learning purposes? What we’re learning is that how you use e-learning is different to how you use a YouTube video to how you use a one page guide. They all offer different ways for you to access content and information.

What we’re learning about in this context is how to organise that information so people are most receptive to it. If it’s e-learning, you can design really great e-learning when the flow of information between screens makes sense, it’s based on real world application, and is easy to understand. 

If it’s creating a video or using pics we know that you can use the rule of thirds (not an insight from psychology at all but a good thing to know).

If you’re creating a one page guide, make the content based on performance improvement and nothing else. Sports players don’t have pages of information about psychology theory to help them play better in the moment. They have specific things they do that help them in the moment. They can do that well because they’ve done the other work in a  different context.


Representation matters in learning. If the learning context and content is not representative, it’s easy for people to dismiss the importance of what they’re learning. If a department is given greater prominence or a stereotype reinforced or a myths about people exacerbated, people will not choose to engage with the content. 


It’s very possible to engage people into learning by designing in exercises that involve them emotionally. For example, in presentation skills training, asking people to deliver a presentation on something they’re proud of is potent stuff. It taps into their sense of worth, pride and identity. That’s a powerful source of content. Similarly on leadership training, asking people to plan a difficult conversation is full of emotion too. The experience of anxiety, fear of saying the wrong thing, guilty for delivering the message. It’s all valuable information to the individual and helps them prepare for the actual experience. 

I’ve not mentioned many other principles or insights, mostly because there’s too many to mention! Instead I hope to have provided an idea of the richness for design we can create in L&D when we take the time to understand various things from psychology particularly well.