Peer based learning

I’m delivering a webinar this morning for the Learning and Skills Group on peer learning as a support to classroom based learning. Here’s my notes of what I’m going to be talking about.

On one end of the spectrum you have L&Ders who firmly believe that stand and deliver is still the best way to deliver learning to the masses. At the other end you have self-directed learning. Peer based learning sits towards the self-directed end of that spectrum.

I personally believe that if we don’t adapt our methodologies for delivering learning well, we’ll become redundant through our own actions.

There are several examples of what this peer based learning looks like.

In the classroom environment I’m moving more towards asking people to use their smartphones to research material and read content. It saves me prep time, I just need to direct to a good URL, and boom they’re off. It allows people to read at their pace, take in the knowledge they want to, and then we can discuss this meaningfully as a group.

There are practitioners who are ‘flipping’ the classroom. This is where they send all the reading material ahead of the session, ask people to read it and then use the session to discuss and debate the content.

I grant these are less about peer led examples, but they’re good examples of how we’re creating other ways to support adult learning.

At a previous company we needed everyone to complete Prince2 Foundation certificates for project manager roles. Instead of sending them all on training or doing an in-house session, we bought the materials for everyone, and set them a 12 week deadline to have completed the learning materials. They had to meet weekly and self facilitate their learning with a mentor. On the last day a trainer came to consolidate their learning for half a day and then they sat an exam. We had 100% pass rate every time.

Opening up the way projects are set up with project teams is interesting. If you have business projects that need to be carried out and open these up to the business, you then invite people to step up who are naturally interested and can offer something useful to each project. The projects are guided with mentors from the business and then they are expected to deliver on these.

Instead of holding presentation skills training why not hold an internal Toastmasters group? A set time where people can come, practise their presentation with peers, get feedback and support, and all without formally being told how to structure a killer presentation. (There is a place for that, not everyone needs to know that).

Building on that you can have open mic sessions. Ask a subject matter expert to talk on a topic of their choice with an open invitation for anyone to attend. People interested in the topic will attend, there’s no expectation of people registering, and they’re learning topics of interest.

Communities of practice are where you bring together a group of people who have a common interest, give them the opportunity to talk and bang heads together and they get creative and innovative about what they need to work on next. No direction, no management, no objectives, just people with an interest talking to each other.

The hardest part about these examples is that most of them don’t require management via an LMS. They just need facilitated support and in some cases actual facilitation.

It’s scary reading about these things because it’s easy to think you’re being left behind if you don’t do them. That’s partly true. What’s more true is that if we don’t move in the direction of the above all we’re doing is holding back the genius of our people because of our own ego. We are so desperate to prove our worth to the business that enabling these types of things to happen means that we can’t report on them being L&D lead activities.

The best thing we can do is be brave in our solutions and have the courage to experiment. The one thing I’ve learned in this role is that it’s ok to experiment because that’s a safe way to learn. We can fail well, we can have success well, and we can face cynicism well. Try one idea from the above with your teams. See what happens. Then try again once you’ve tweaked it. Then try again once you’ve got some experience under your belt. That’s what learning looks like.

Join in the webinar if you can from 1000-1100 on the #lsgwebinar hashtag. Have a search, click the link and I’ll see you there.

Self Directed Learning

It’s Saturday and I’m thinking about leadership development mid-afternoon. Something about that equation isn’t right.

As an internal practitioner, I’m faced with some challenges. The learning and development I help facilitate needs to be relevant, responsive, and meets people’s myriad of needs. I need to be mindful of how technology can help support learning, and in turn how various vendors are bringing this technology to market. I also need to remain mindful of how our understanding of how learning happens in humans is becoming more and more advanced.

In a recent post I wrote about leadership development not being up to par and how specifically I didn’t know what the answer was.

So let’s make some assumptions for a moment. Front line managers will always need a formal training process which guides them through a journey of self development and improving their general management skills and behaviours. Senior managers tend to be given a more developed version of that training. Directors and Executive teams tend to go for the MBA or Exec coaching approach.

I’m currently putting some thought to how to support our senior managers with their leadership development. What I’m trying to get my head round is how to decide what content, and what delivery methods will work best for them. Content is in abundance in this area, delivery methodologies are varied, and there is the added nuance that their needs will be different. They’re a skilled bunch, this is why they’re at the level they are. They’re keen to receive some development, and are open to ideas. Blank canvas anyone?

Essentially I’m toying around with how to enable an organic form of learning which still meets business needs.

I’m thinking this needs to fall into two camps. One is about the content, and the other is about the delivery choices.

Facilitated Learning

In order for this organic process to work, I’m wondering if there still needs to be some facilitation from me. Do I still need to control what this programme looks like, and remain the arbiter of the realm. I have just as much of an ego as anyone else, and what to be able to say my big brain (hold the jokes folks) came up with the bright idea.

What I’d like to do is the following. I want to hold a session where I present what content could potentially form the programme. We then have an open discussion about which parts are more relevant and require more focus, and which can be self-directed. The parts identified as needing more focus will become a workshop, or a masterclass, or a course. The other areas will be open to self-directed learning process.

I also want to be explicitly clear about what this self-directed learning actually means, and have a discussion about how that learning is captured, shared and available for scrutiny. By scrutiny I don’t mean assessment of the learning, but being able to interrogate what learning actually took place, and how they have noticed a development of their skills, knowledge or behaviour.

The Content

From the content what I’m aiming for is to have an agreed set of topics which everyone wants to receive some formal instruction on. I also want to explore how that topic is delivered. As I’ve alluded, some topics may require a masterclass session. Some may require a full day’s course or workshop. Some topics may even require a formal qualification. There are two important considerations here. The first is that it’s the people identifying what that learning looks like. I just need to present options for making the learning happen. The second is that they identify which parts of the topic require this formal instruction.

Self Directed Learning

This is the piece which I think captures this whole unknown area of ‘social learning’ and ‘content curation’ which is being banded around by many ‘expert’ L&Ders. Once we’ve discovered which content doesn’t require formal instruction, we can then open up the options for what this self directed learning needs to cover. Leading on from there, this naturally becomes an individual choice about how they receive that learning. We (royal) are well aware of the plethora media and content sites available online for a range of learning. Naturally there will also be other (non-digital) options available too – books, journals, coaching, mentoring, etc.

I think it’s important in the context of a programme of learning that even though this self directed learning may ordinarily naturally happen, what I’m trying to go for is making the informal formal. That’s a complete contradiction in terms, but it’s the only way I can think of describing what I’m thinking. The informal learning is respective to the natural learning style of the individual. We agree how they will capture that learning, share it, and make it open for scrutiny. That scrutiny could happen with anyone the person identifies as being someone who could help evaluate if the self directed learning was effective or not.

Logistics and Boundaries

There’s a natural tension here. This organic approach in its truest sense means that there should be no boundaries. Business needs, though, will demand that there is some clarity about the programme’s objectives, a time period it will be complete it, and how we evaluate the effectiveness of this approach.

As far as I’m concerned these aren’t barriers to success. They’re just natural expectations which need to be considered and managed. I’m cool with that.