Some thoughts on digital

In an interesting conversation today, I’ve been given a reassurance that recent posts concerning business acumen and the future of L&D seem to be on the mark.

L&Der at Client A came to visit to learn about digital marketing. The meeting was with me and others to help them understand what the world of digital means. Through the conversation, it arose that L&Der was blissfully ignorant of what she wanted to learn about. And what equally arose was that the digital space is a growing beast that is not understood by those not involved in various social channels.

Working at LBi for the last 2 and 1/2 years has been an interesting experience for me. Before my time here, I had a passing interest in all things internet, as do most people. And then I started to learn about what it is we actually do. And not only us, but what the millions of people who use the internet do. And I don’t mean just searching for porn.

The digital environment has created an unprecedented shift in the way we think and interact. Over the last few years we have seen online environments grow to have millions of users. Millions – not thousands. What other platform in recent history can lay claim to giving millions of people a voice they never knew they had? School systems and universities only capture the youth and those who choose to go on to higher education. Armed Forces certainly is impressive and vast but is limited and quite exclusive. Civil servants probably capture the widest berth of the population, but they tend to be roles that are not very fluid. Movements/religions such as Christianity and Islam are certainly practised by a large population of the world and give a lot of people a common voice in some respect.

But phenomena like Facebook and Twitter have completely changed the way people interact. But, more pertinently, it’s the technological advances that have enabled all this to happen. Not more than 20 years ago, the internet was an interesting thing only a few could access via dial up modems at a speed of 56kbps if you were lucky. There were interesting websites such as Yahoo and AltaVista in existence then. And then over the course of some over-inflated egos and unfounded valuations a lot of people lost a lot of money. But the internet never went away. It persisted. And we’re now at an age where smartphones can give you access to the internet on a demand basis. Want to know the weather? Check the app. What’s in the news? There’s an app for that. How much should you tip your waiter? There’s definitely an app for that.

So what does all this mean? Well, for businesses, it means their thinking on what it means to be in existence has to include a digital strategy. Not just having a website, that won’t suffice anymore. It’s all about engagement and getting your consumers to be your advocates. Huh? You what now?

Beyond this though, it means that working practices and organisational structures need to take into account the fact that the internet has gone beyond something that can be directed. It is a beast. But it can be controlled. Not through policies or through restricting access. But through education and open learning. I’ve read some articles this week about companies restricting access to social networks citing reasons such as data protection and non-productivity. Frankly, if those are issues in your workplace, they would happening irrespective of is social networks were involved or not.

For me, what it means is we are now at a point in time where digital means life has just become absolutely fascinating. I have instant access to everything at my fingertips. Importantly though, I have access to a vast network of people who I can choose to interact with, or not. Content on platforms across the interwebs is pretty much shareable and comment worthy. Facebook/Twitter have made sure that everyone has a voice. Whether people choose to engage with them is a different matter. Those that do, often have the most insightful, relevant and exciting things to say.

>Are L&D losing the battle?

>In a summary post earlier this week, I outlined the key points from the L&D2020 workshop with the Training Journal. Today I’d like to address some of the points raised from that meeting and voice my thoughts.

The future skill set

So the one over-riding feature about the day was it was all very present based. That’s to say, there was nothing about the future. There was lots about what L&D needs to do today in order to be successful. And I agree with most of the things there. L&D has to be business focused. There’s no two ways about this. Gone are the days you can come bounding in saying “I’ve got a great idea for a training course”, and commence to put everyone through it. But this isn’t anything new. Businesses are moving so fast and agile these days that L&D has to move with the same pace.
I’ve been lucky in that my career to date has exposed me to a lot of business practices and ways of working so that I am confident in my ability to consult the organisation, and provide solutions based on the needs, as opposed to my ego.
There was talk of L&D being ‘T-shaped’ people. There’s many an analogy you could use for what an L&D person needs to be like. It does fundamentally come down to the fact that you have to be able to describe what the business does as well as the CEO. There was a great quote from the day which I strongly believe – “you have to love the business you’re in as much as, if not more than, learning and development”. How true. I quietly believe save the senior management team, I’m one of few people in the business who could accurately describe every function we have, what they do, how they do it, and what their names all are.
No mention of digital

I was surprised there was no mention of digital, social media, Generation Y/Millennials. This was a real missed opportunity. Let’s take each of those things in order.
I’ve spoken about digital in a previous post and would encourage you have a read of that here.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know I enjoy social media. There is so much happening in the interwebs that if we aren’t involved in those discussions we’re never going to understand the world we live in. It really is a fundamental shift in human behaviour we cannot ignore.
The possibilities that social media and digital open for L&D is immense. Informal learning as we know it traditionally is nothing compared to what is currently available. And it’s all free. Open source technology means you don’t have to pay for anything and even though some information may need to be paid for, you can guarantee in a short space of time, someone will have found a way to make it free and open for all.
Generation Y/Millennials for those who aren’t sure are those generation of people born in the mid 1980s to early 2000’s. L&Ders haven’t really had to deal with this group in any pro-active way yet, because they’re only really entering the workforce in a significant way now and are on the radar as ones to develop. The challenge here is to not be complacent and think they can be dealt with in the same way as other generations. There are characteristics that it’s worth learning about, but I’m not going into that here.
What this means for L&Ders though is we have to be far more agile and nimble in our approach to L&D as a whole – not just to Gen Y. Individuals will want more focus on their development as they learn they can grow careers quickly and develop skills in their own time. Does that mean the end of training courses 2 days long, residential and expensive? Not necessarily. It means L&Ders (both internal and external professionals) need to really get into the needs of the business, develop a plan and be willing to adapt as they roll it out.
E-learning and social learning tools will be a growing part of that new learning. Open source technology will allow information that was once premium only to suddenly become free and available to all. Even I, who am a hardened face to face L&D believer, am waning to the fact if I don’t learn about what these tools offer, and how to use them effectively, I’ll be screwed.
Is Donald Clark right?

Donald Clark is a blogger who is a harsh critic of the current face of L&D/HR/CIPD and education. He has some hard views about things, and unfortunately he may be right on a lot of them. He reminds me of the heckler in the group who is a harsh cynic, not because he doesn’t buy into the message, he just doesn’t agree with the delivery.
The challenge here is how to prove Donald wrong. Well first I’d like to have him in a room with me. I’ve had enough mistakes of training delivery, delivered Diversity training to production operators at a car manufacturers, and faced the darkest side of cynicism. And through my training career to date, I’m confident I can engage with my audience, learn what their needs are, and ensure they leave my room having learned something. I’d say my batting average is about 80% success rate in being able to do so.
However, a main criticism of Donald’s is his stance on the lack of effective use of technology in delivering a message. And here I fall down. I am a strong believer in the superiority and power of face to face learning over e-learning type events (notice the language I’m purposefully using?). And this is what I need to learn better. How can I hold myself up as a believer in L&D if I’m not utilising the technology available to deliver messages in equally effective ways? Therein lies the nub, which I think is true of many L&Ders in this world.
Is the future bright?

I think the future has a lot of exciting prospects. Coalition government in the UK, new administration in the USA, global recession, China and India on global rise. Digital, ever increasing broadband speeds, social media and new technologies. Climate change, oil spills, being green, corporate social responsibility. All of these things are factors L&Ders have to understand and develop ways of thinking how to provide solutions to these through the businesses we work with.
The stock and trade of what L&Ders do will be the same. Effective management of the L&D cycle. It’s the continual learning we have to engage with that the challenge lies in. Short of going to Roffey Park, paying £0000’s and learning some core skills, I have very few options open to me to develop this growing skill set. There are few ‘learning institutions’ aimed specifically at L&Ders. A lot of what you learn is on the job, through those senior to you, and through trial and error.
I’m confident in my abilities as an L&Der to deliver a message, but as I’ve mentioned above, e-learning and social learning tools are providing so much accessibility to a growing workforce (virtual and static) that us stock and trade L&Ders have to get on that bandwagon or we face a losing battle. And that is a horrid thought for me.
If you’re of the trainer ilk that says I have a great solution and it’s just right for your organisation, you’re old news. You either need to think of 100 variations of that solution, or learn how to develop consultancy skills instead of selling skills.
L&Ders have a great opportunity to help businesses and organisation deliver be successful. As one of the points raised at the workshop, L&D are the best Trojan horses for organisational change. This, I truly believe.

>What digital means for L&D

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Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how digital has completely changed the world. That’s nothing new, it’s been self-evident for the last 5 years with the rise of social networking sites, brands doing more and more of their business on line, customer contact centres having complete on line presence, speeds of internet connectivity now at 50MB, and much more activity that I’m neglecting to mention.

In and of itself this excites me. This has to do with me being a techno geek. Not a true geek that understands jargon, but more to do with being excited about what the technology enables us to do. As was said in a talk I heard recently (by Ian Jindal in a talk about xxx), users of the internet don’t care how it works, they just want it to work so they can get on and do what they enjoy – surfing, buying, chatting, etc.
What is that excites me? I guess just the way technology is advancing so much now that you really can’t imagine life without our mod-cons. I can recall how things used to be done via memo, then fax, then emails, then instant messaging and now real time updates. Other technological advances went from VHS – Videoplus (which I loved by the way!) – DVD players – VHS and DVD in one players and now blu-ray players. Each new thing was more exciting and life made easy than the last. And that trend is only continuing for the better.
So I’m brought back to how it makes a difference in the world of L&D. Well at first glance L&D has tried to keep up with technology. All training executed pretty much through PPT now. Knowledge management systems were being implemented in organisations throughout the 90s. Computer Based Training has been around for many years – technical and behavioural skills. Online learning has been happening for at least the last 4-5 years with more and more people requiring 24/7 access to training materials. Wikis are now being used to be a storage hold of information. Psychometric tests have been available on-line since the turn of the milennia. Looking at this, we’ve done a good job no?
Absolutely we have! But is that what digital is about? I don’t think it should be restricted to it. L&D is one of those professions where if it doesn’t keep up with what technology has to offer, it will fall by the wayside. So what else should we be considering? Well one of the great things about being an online world is the amount of information and data available to us. But why’s that important? You can find information on demographics, political influence, internet usage, community centres, pretty much any statistic you could need, is available somewhere. That’s important to an L&Der because we have to work with current and correct information. It’s what gives us insight into the behaviour of the people we work with which in turn allows us to develop and deliver insightful and effective interventions.
See the essence of an L&Der isn’t about delivering training on Assertiveness Skills. It’s about knowing the behaviours of the person who needs it, what their likely social patterns are driven by, what their work environment means for them, and developing those skills with that individual so they can recognise and make a definite plan about how to be assertive. In part that comes from good questioning and good facilitation from the L&Der. I believe though there’s a wealth of information that digital makes available, that in the absence of that information you could be missing important information which helps you develop your expertise and experience and delivery style.
There’s no replacement for face to face training – regardless of the topic. But we can use a variety of tools at our disposal to engage our audience in a multitude of ways. Create a dedicated company training site, roll out an employee engagement survey, have a Facebook page, Twitter account, yahoogroup. All these (and more) help reach an audience. They also help you as an L&Der be focused on and conscious of trends in the areas you are interested in.
Digital has opened up the possibilities to L&D in a way that like brands have to learn how to engage with their customers, L&Ders have to learn how to hear what people need and want from training. If we’re not listening to those conversations, reading blogs, being on forums, contributing articles, we will lose a rich flow of information.
The best L&Ders are tapped into digital and know they can’t be complacent about such things. Those are the ones you need in your organisation.