What do you need to know as a modern day L&Der?

I’ve been speaking with and mentoring some people over recent months in helping them think about how to get into the world of L&D. Two in particular stand out for me as people who want to get into L&D, but aren’t part of this world. One’s even taken time to get on and complete a CIPD qualification to have better credibility and knowledge about L&D practice.

There are some things that if you want to progress your career in L&D – through various internal roles – you do need to know and be able to do.

Training and Facilitation

It sounds obvious, but these are both important parts of being in L&D. You have to have experience of being with a group of people and leading them through content, and enabling discussion to happen. You also have to know how to engage a group, do things like ‘read the room’, understand how to respond to reactions of all sorts, and learn the skill of training and facilitation.

LMS Administration / Utilisation

The LMS is kind of the cornerstone of being able to have a well functioning L&D function. Yes they’re cumbersome, they’re rigid and they’re poorly designed. They’re also highly efficient at administering training courses, being resource centres for content and digital resources, can be a home for e-learning, and sending out automated emails. With some better understanding of UX and design principles, we can help people use LMS’s better.

So, you know, don’t throw the bath water out. Or the baby. Never throw babies.

Blended programmes

At some stage, you’re going to have to demonstrate you not only understand what a blended programme looks like, but how you design one, how you facilitate it and how you report on it. It’s arguably not how modern programmes should be designed, or delivered, but they’re a thing. And in the absence of less advanced and more modern solutions, it’ll work.

E-learning design and standards

People hate e-learning. But they hate it because for the longest time it wasn’t well designed. You can design e-learning which is highly engaging, content rich, and focused on performance improvement. If you’re part of this world, you’re going to need to be able to understand the importance of SCORM standards, and maybe even xAPI. Don’t believe you can do this? Check out the stuff from Fuse Universal or GoodPractice.

Digital solutions / Social technologies

I’ve got to be cautious at this point. You don’t need to have experience of these things. If you do, all the better, and you’ll be that much further ahead. Things like:

  • Video production
  • Blogging
  • Communities of practise
  • Social networks
  • Collaboration tools

These things help L&D be better. They’re not essential, but they help.

Models/Theories

You don’t have to know theories or models like we used to. You have to know what the different theories and models help us understand about learning and about performance improvement, but you don’t need to know them inside out. You most definitely need to know how to discern weak models and theories from the ones which have strength of insight and strength of a credible evidence base.

Also, this is where it’s really useful to build connections with suppliers and practitioners who do know these things really well. Again, just be careful of not being sold snake oil.

(For me, if I hear anyone in their ‘pitch’, ‘proposal’ or anything similar mention things like 55-38-7 of body language, NLP, Learning Styles, I will become heightened to the possibility they are not as progressive as they could be for me and for the organisations I work with. Feel free to ask me why.)

Business Partnering / Performance Consultancy

For me, this is a core part of the modern skillset needed by L&Ders. Never forget that L&D is as much a business function as is Marketing, Finance and Operations. As such, we need to understand the language of the business and help them understand the language of L&D. It’s a tango, and if it’s not, then you’re doing a breakdance with people spectating. Talk with business leaders. Establish yourself as one of them. Understand their drivers, and from that you can design solutions which help them get there better/quicker/more efficiently.

Modern L&D solutions

This is a hard one to grasp well and prove the value of. Modern L&D solutions are things like resources and not courses. They’re things like curation of content. Things like experiences and not training. Things like social collaboration and project work. If you can gain experience of doing these things, and what that means for L&D, you’re much further along the spectrum of what good L&D looks like than most people.

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Bias, fallacies, and facilitation 

Let’s get a few things straight.

  1. Biases are inherent in every human
  2. We can’t get rid of them (nor should we be trying to)
  3. They are designed to help us arrive at decisions quickly
  4. You can mitigate their impact by being aware they exist
  5. You do this by taking time to understand what your own biases are, how you express these, and how others might be impacted by you and your behaviours
  6. Our biases are reinforced at nearly every life interaction we have because of the structures we have around us
  7. Even if you understand your biases impact you and others negatively, it’s really hard to change how you think about things
  8. To truly not be influenced by your biases requires serious levels of fundamental redesign of the human brain (almost). If you can’t do that, then design a system which is free from bias (hint, this is also really hard)

There’s more, but that’s enough for now.

Sometimes facilitators think that because of the role they take with others, they’re somehow absent from biases and able to control them better than others.

We create and want to create an impression that the session and time the group has with them is safe, protected and people are accepted and included. That’s the intent.

And I guess I’d like to take a moment and hold up a mirror with some questions for facilitators (I ask myself these questions all the time. I’m no better at doing this than anyone else):

  • Before you’re ready to start your facilitation, how have you entered your environment well?
  • Before you’re ready to start your facilitation, what assumptions have you made about your ability and that of those in the group?
  • Before you’ve started facilitating, what is bothering you and how is that going to impact your day?
  • When you are meeting people, what are you doing to accept them for who they are and how they present themselves and not who you think they are?
  • When you are facilitating, what biases are having an undue influence on you and what you’re saying?
  • When you are facilitating, how are you sure the examples and personal anecdotes you use aren’t just reinforcing what you already believe?
  • When you are facilitating, how are you enabling others to hear you without feeling judged?
  • When you are facilitating, and you know someone is clearly misunderstanding the content, how do you accept them and their position?

These are just some questions that start to help with actively being mindful of your biases as a facilitator. Ultimately it comes down to your willingness to be a better person. That’s hard work, doesn’t come easily, and often is fraught with unexpected personal challenge.

This post isn’t in reference to anyone.

Joseph, the taxi driver

He’s 67 years old from Haiti. A black man, with grey short hair. Eyes that tell a lifetime’s stories. He picked us up from the hotel and took us to our destination. Here was a man who has been doing this one task for 22 years.

He’s a family man. Sons and daughters across the state and family members in different states as well as in other countries. He only speaks of them with love.

He went without power after Irma hit for 1 day. He was lucky he said. His son and his house went 8 days.

It took 3 days before he could get back to taxiing. But it was fine. He just stayed home and took care of himself. It’s been quiet since because most people / tourists left. So work’s been quiet.

I ask for his number. He’s one of the kindest and most gentle souls I’ve ever met. He says he’ll pick us up when we’re done. He’s grateful to be getting some fares tonight. I’m grateful the universe introduced this man to me.

On the ride home he talks to us about where he’s from and what life’s like for him. He has everything he needs. He tells us how he meets all kinds of people and he laughs at some of the stories he tells us.

He’s taking us out again tonight and he’ll be picking us up again after.

Such a good hearted man.

Thank you, Joseph.

Why delivering training doesn’t enable learning

We’ve become quite sophisticated in our understanding of what it means when people learn. Psychologists have studied humans for decades through which we’ve continually evolved our understanding of how learning occurs. Through early models we understood at a basic level that humans respond to stimuli. If you present a stimulus to a person, they will respond in some form. We learned that you can incentivise people to behave in different ways. We learned that there are techniques to improve recall of information. We learned that there are ways to reinforce what we’ve learned and help us improve our skills / competence / performance.

And one of the key things we’ve learned about how learning occurs is that it is a process and it takes time. It sounds obvious, and it is. And at the same time, it’s a core concept which most corporate L&D teams willingly forget every time they deliver a course.

Delivering a training course is a fundamentally broken practise that is inefficient and ineffective. It patently doesn’t achieve it’s main aim of helping people improve the thing they need to. What it does is give the false impression that staff have undertaken an activity of value.

Well, they’ve undertaken an activity of value, that’s probably true – but it will likely only help a small percentage of the total population going through a standard training course.

Now hold on a second you lot. I know what you’re like. You’re all “Oh but Sukh, we know training adds value,” and “Well, other trainers may not deliver great training, but I do,” and “Here we go again, Sukh’s saying training is no good”.

Training is important. It does add value. And delivered well it can be really helpful / insightful / performance improving.

But that’s not what happens most of the time. Most of the time, people couldn’t tell you what they learned.

And it’s because we’ve forgotten some fundamentals of learning. People learn through a disciplined and rigorous process. When we learn to drive a car, we have to repeatedly sit behind the wheel and learn a new set of motor coordination skills we never knew could be done at the same time. When you learn to ski, you repeatedly get on the skis to ski down a slope in a controlled fashion which is highly unusual. When you learn to swim, you repeatedly get in the water and practise the movements needed to stay afloat and to move. When you create Excel sheets, you repeatedly access and go into the programme to make it do what you need it to. A singular training course for any of those would not suffice.

Learning can’t be accelerated in a classroom environment. People aren’t wired that way, and just because we can make the ship go faster, does not mean we have helped people learn. It certainly can’t be delivered in 90 min sessions through bite size approaches.

Action planning can’t be done in the last 20 mins of the training course. Mostly because people have just about understood the core content, let alone made some insightful gains into their behaviour and carefully thought out what it means for their person, for their thinking, for their daily practise, for their relationships, for their performance. It’s a flawed and artificial way of gaining commitment and action from people who have just been overloaded with information.

I’m not saying people aren’t capable of doing that, I’m saying that we’re completely negating the whole learning process we actually go through by trying to fill peoples brains with information and have an unreal expectation that they will improve in that new way almost immediately.

This is where technology and better and advanced techniques in facilitation and design of learning can be better utilised to work with the actual process of learning. Unfortunately what this means is pretty much throwing out every rule book we’ve held dear on L&D and how we design and deliver training, starting from a completely different premise, and cultivating learning through entirely different and modern means.

Intersectionality, Diversity, Inclusion

Intersectionality – Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities

As I continue my own journey in understanding how we cultivate and develop organisations where diversity and inclusion are important factors by design, so too does my understanding of the language used in this space.

I’m becoming more and more alert to language in particular. When we describe the world of work, how much of that language is perpetuating bias(es)? When we design new products / solutions, which groups does it continue to favour, and which does it marginalise? When we describe one group, do we do that at the expense of another group? Do the very systems and practices in organisations promote or inhibit the cultivation and the development of talented individuals across the piece, or do they seek to reinforce what many would term as ‘given wisdom’.

My timeline is filled with examples of people who want to express themselves, and then find themselves at odds with the system – however we define that system. And not only are they at odds with the system, once a number of groupings come together, the challenges are that much more compounded. So, for example, you may be a straight white female wanting to get a senior role and find that the candidate pool for your job has a majority of men also vying for the same. Your challenges will be significant enough, just by virtue of being female. Now, let’s say, you’re a Chinese female. Well, now your challenges have increased further. First, you’re female. Second, you’re Chinese. Life just got that much more unnecessarily harder for you. Let’s just be that much more challenging in life as suppose you’re a Chinese female who uses a wheelchair. Life just became so unfair to you, and all you did was just be. And if this person was also LGBTQ+? That, my dear friends, is what you call a cluster fuck of challenges.

This level of challenge we face, this intersectionality, is a largely unaddressed issue in the workplace. Mostly because we are just about comfortable with dealing with individual characteristics that are different, let alone an amalgamation. And as is the case for many many people in society today. Sure, just being a white, cis-gender, male is challenging enough in Western society and when people with difference are trying to exist in the same space and explore and find out who they are themselves, things just become unnecessarily challenging.

My learning on this has taken time and a lot of reflection on how I understand how diversity and inclusion isn’t just about protecting people from discrimination in the workplace. It’s about understanding and accepting difference in such a way that the default response we have isn’t about someone’s difference, and is about their performance at work. Many will claim that that’s what they focus on. They may well believe it. But when you look at the structures, the hierarchies, the decision makers in organisations, are they representative of people with difference or do they tend to fall within a certain type of grouping?

I’ve kept this piece short, because there’s more to be said, and at the same time, this is enough to be said.

Long live the LMS

No, really!

As with most things that have utility, people find issue with using them preferring other ways of going about life. Don’t want to carry cash? No problem seeing most people can use contactless to pretty much do everything they need. Doesn’t mean we’re going to get rid of cash anytime soon, though. It has utility and will continue to.

What we get hung up on in L&D is beating up on old systems as being archaic and not fit for purpose. You know why we get hung up on those things? Because we have the privilege of modern technology which enables a range of interactions, solutions and content to be created.

The LMS used to be a housing store for e-learning. It still is largely. It then grew to record, manage and administer learning sessions. Fine enough. You could finally produce metrics on learning solutions. Until we realised they are meaningless. X number of hours for learning solutions tells us nothing of value.

As it’s grown, though, the LMS can do more as a platform, but may not need to be as all dominating as some vendors would want it to be. An LMS that can manage, administer and record delivery of learning solutions is helpful, especially for regulated workforces. They need to have a good and useful way for people to know when they’re expected to complete/refresh their organisational compliance commitments. Let’s be clear, though. Fulfilling these commitments is not delivering learning solutions. Indeed as AI and automated functions become more and more the norm, arguably vendors should be looking to create systems that can automate every aspect of recording, managing and administering learning sessions. Why? So L&Ders can focus on cultivating learning cultures where they create and deliver a range of solutions that support intended outcomes.

Also, modern technologies like Yammer, Skype for Business, Slack, YouTube, all need to be better supported for integration purposes. The LMS doesn’t need to have all those as its own functionality, it needs to be able to talk to those technologies so that people aren’t confined to one place of accessing learning.

And as time and technology rapidly move forward and progress faster and further than we can keep pace with, we need to be better at not being restricted by lengthy terms of contract. Yesterday’s e-learning platform may become obsolete tomorrow and we need to have agility and responsiveness to pivot and move flexibly.

This kind of approach also means we can’t expect people at work to be fully agile to change from one system to the next. Which is also a key insight that people at work don’t care how they access learning solutions. They just need to know Portal Everything allows for them to get to where they need. That doesn’t mean training people on systems time and again. It means developing and providing systems that have easy UX and are accessible. From there the content and resources they access needs to be relevant and current. That’s what people at work need.

So let’s not beat up the LMS. For many vendors they’ve done well enough to make money from selling big enterprise systems for 5 year deals. But we’re now at a stage where we can trust other systems and platforms to deliver learning solutions that are too cumbersome in the LMS. The LMS has utility. Let’s just let it do what it does really well and not try to perennially fix square pegs into round holes when we no longer need to do that.

Straw man arguments in L&D

A short post today. One of the things that really rile me up is when L&Ders themselves present straw man arguments about L&D theories / models when they haven’t taken the time to understand the original piece properly.

It happens in political rhetoric aplenty. Governing party suggests policy x, opposition party tries to ridicule it by claiming some absurd extreme. It’s tiresome and frankly annoying. Which is kind of meant to be the point by the person presenting the straw man argument. It’s not meant to invite dialogue or better thinking, it’s designed to lull the presenter into a position of defence. How very tiresome.

You’ve heard the kinds of arguments people make:

  • “You don’t see children being taught how to learn to walk, they try, fall down and get up again” – complete misunderstanding of the huge influence of observation and mirroring actions.
  • “You wouldn’t want someone to start coaching when you’re evacuating a burning building!” – complete misunderstanding of when coaching is of benefit and when it is not.
  • “You can’t learn MS Excel through social learning!” – complete misunderstanding that social learning isn’t about delivery of a learning solution.
  • “You can’t teach leadership through e-learning!” – complete misunderstanding for when e-learning is the right tool.
  • “Who uses an LMS?!” – well actually most organisations, but most don’t have it or use it for the right reasons (there are good reasons, honest!)

Amusingly, you see presenters sometimes use straw man arguments in defence of their own content. If the best form of persuasion you can find in presenting your model / theory / topic is to present a false rhetoric, it’s either a weak piece of content or you don’t understand it well enough yourself.

It’s easy to throw poo at things that challenge us and force us to think differently. It happens in daily life a lot with topics around sexism, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental health and disabilities being the most common that people struggle with. In L&D we’re dealing mostly* with topics that are helpful to people when presented in the right way. (*some topics should never see the light of day because they’re not worth anything). If we want people to be better, we have to know how to respond to challenge well. Straw man arguments aren’t the answer.