Experiments in Social Facilitation

A while ago, I wrote about how we could use social technologies as a live facilitation tool. Eager to walk the walk and not just spout thoughts, I’ve been playing with this where I can and where it made sense and want to share my learnings from doing so.

What I’ve been experimenting with is inviting people in learning sessions to use their smartphones to find out something about the topic we’re covering and then we have a discussion about it.

I first tried it in a session I did with a group who were training to be internal facilitators. We were talking about icebreakers and energisers. I asked them to get involved by searching businessballs for information on either. This ended up proving quite the challenge as businessballs doesn’t really provide clear navigation and it’s hard to know if something is useful or not if you’re new to facilitation and training like this group were.

My main, and obvious, lesson here was to do it myself in advance so I know what I’m asking the group to look for and that they can find it. My assumption was two fold. My first was that because I have used the site for information gathering, it would have relevance to the group. My second was that they would know what to look for.

What was useful about trying this, though, was that the group were not against trying. What they needed were better instruction from me on what I was asking them to do. Facilitation skills 101.

My second experiment was when facilitating a group learning about coaching skills. Here, I was more purposeful and had planned a bit better what I was asking the group to do. I asked them to go on to the Mindtools website, in the search box type GROW model, click on the first result and read the description. Once they’d read the article, we had a good old bit of discussion about what they thought was important about the model, and how they thought it could help frame their questions when coaching.

I got a bit bolder with the success of that, and directed the same group to Google ‘active listening’ and we repeated the same.

I learned here that again the group were very open to using their smartphones, and pretty much everyone had one accessible to them. Some people needed a bit better support in terms of going to specific URLs and how to enlarge text on a small screen, but nothing that couldn’t be managed easily enough.

Also, it reinforced for me that the need for workbooks in learning sessions is fast becoming obsolete. As much as I enjoy writing workbooks and showing how much I know about topics, it’s just not a great use of time. Using smartphones in this way enables me to just point people in the right direction in a learning session and they’re doing exactly the same task. The difference here is that I’m introducing them to websites where they can find useful information on a range of topics, they’re navigating the website in the session so will be familiar with it later, and I just need to reference the website in a follow up email for them to remember.

I reflected later that asking the group to do this type of task also helped them gain the learning from the article that they needed personally. And, as might be expected, because everyone reads at different speeds, and takes in different information that they find resonates with them, it creates a discussion which is much more owned by the individual because of the insights they’ve already gained.

The third (and most recent) time was again with a group of managers going through coaching skills training. I asked them to do the same thing with Mindtools, and this time was faced with a challenge which didn’t arise the first time. The Mindtools website isn’t currently designed to be responsive to smartphones or other devices. On the site a pop-up window appeared which many people couldn’t navigate away from, and this happened to more than a few people. What it meant was it became a distraction from the learning intent.

I learned here that although a useful way to help share learning and craft a different kind of dialogue with the group, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. In this case I resorted to using trusty old flipchart and marker pens. Can’t go wrong with those staples of learning facilitation!

I’m still on the lookout for how to use technology in this way and ensure it stays relevant for the group, and doesn’t become a distraction from the learning intent. There’s plenty of room here to play around with how I incorporate this type of activity into the learning experience, and also how it becomes an enduring part of the learning experience. There are still a lot of people who are wedded to workbooks, and I’m really keen on how to curate content as an ongoing learning experience. As useful as online collaboration tools are, I also wonder if there’s a trick being overlooked with respect to people being ‘fed’ information via a curator of learning. Lots of wonderings here, and lots still to do.


Warning, Will Robinson! The 70:20:10 model is failing!

I’ve been considering the 70:20:10 model of learning. The basics of it suggest the following: 70% of what we learn is done on the job / via our own methods. This has been galantly called ‘social learning’ or ‘informal learning’. 20% of what we learn is via coaching/mentoring/good management. 10% of what we learn is via formal learning methods inlcuding learning sessions, e-learning and online learning.

It’s a pretty damning indictment of the state of L&OD. It suggests that the focus of the corporate L&Der should be about supporting and finding ways to enable the social learning that people are already doing.

It suggests that all the coaching programmes we invest heavily in as corporate entities are a waste of money because people aren’t really learning that much through that method anyway.

It suggests that the formal learning activities we engage in are useless.

And I have a fundamental problem with it. Not least because I’m an advocate of formal learning.

My problem with this formula/ratio is that it also suggests I am a useless learning professional. It suggests that it actually doesn’t matter how well designed or how well facilitates any of my learning sessions are, because the learning will take place back in the workplace regardless of what I helped to enable.

And breathe, Sukh…

Can L&Ders encourage and support informal and social learning?

By definition, social learning is happening anyway – regardless if I’m involved or not. So what should I be doing to remain relevant support this more?

There are an increasing range of ways people can share information at their pace enabling learning to happen when they want:
– setting up an internal social network such as Yammer or Jive
– having a wiki environment to allow knowledge sharing
– Using systems such as Sharepoint (spits in disgust) to upload and share videos or documents
– ‘Lunch and learn’ sessions
– team meetings having an element of learning or development set up by different team members
– town hall type presentations open for anyone to attend and listen to insights / knowledge / information from other parts of the organisation
– internal ‘Fun’ distribution email lists
– being allowed to access social networking sites in organisations at all

I’m totally on board with all these things, and advocate them massively. I think they help build and create a learning culture that so many organisation are trying to achieve.

Is coaching really ineffective?

In the main, I’m going to say no.

What’s important is that people going through this form of development actually change their behaviour. That means having a skilled coaching practitioner available – and that’s part of the problem. Far too many organisations embark in coaching programmes because it’s ‘best practice’, but what they’re not doing is providing careful and guided support to the practitioners. I remember a case study from Siemens and Diageo who explained how their coaches got together themselves to support one another. That’s a good example of social learning in action. It’s not a great example of fully supporting a learning intervention.

Also, coaching tends to only happen when there’s a performance issue. Too many managers don’t take the time to spot coaching opportunities and practise their skills. Instead they use coaching principles and bypass the actual aim of coaching.

And lastly, only those in senior positions tend to receive coaching from practitioners who are skilled and able.

Are formal learning activities actually useless?

You know, I’d really hope they’re not, but it’s hard to say that they’re all really well executed / facilitated.

I think the important thing here is for the learning session – be it online, e-based, or face to face, to be well designed. Learning sessions should always be about raising awareness, and provoking you into further action. If we can’t get that right, we’ve failed. Even if you’re going through compliance training, you still need to do something with that knowledge once you have it.

Worringly though, if these learning sessions are only generating about 10% of useful learning and development, this suggests we aren’t designing good learning sessions at all.

There is a solution

There are a good many L&D practitioners who are making money off the back of the 70:20:10 model claiming their models and interventions are the panacea to organisational learning.

In reality, this just means the skill set of the L&Der is now broader than it ever has been. We need to be good at designing learning sessions, we need to understand how to cultivate effective coaching and mentoring programmes, and we need to understand how to encourage and enable social learning to happen.

That’s a big move away from stand and deliver and e-learning provision.

It also presents a huge challenge to the likes of Reed Learning. Why would you commission them to deliver learning sessions which are only going to yield 10% of useful learning? I think this also presents a big opportunity for true and proper collaboration with corporates and suppliers in the L&OD space.

Being a social facilitator

Earlier this week, Neil Morrison made a good challenge to the HR/L&OD world by saying that we should be using social media to innovate what we do.

It must have been playing on my mind.

A long time ago I decided that if I was going to be a facilitator, I was going to be a bloody great facilitator. I’d like to say I’m there. Recent feedback, though, tells me I’m still quite some way off. I delivered a session on Conflict Management and I got complacent in my facilitation. I didn’t do enough explanation of core pieces of knowledge and delegated too much responsibility to the groups. This is not necessarily a bad thing, except what it meant was that the learning experience could have been much more potent and meaningful. I just let it be ok.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Not every learning session I deliver is a gold class event.

I know where I failed on that last session. I didn’t prepare the session properly. I rested on my laurels and let experience take over. My bad yo.

And today, I was being trained myself, on negotiation skills. I actually enjoyed the session, and thought the trainer (not a facilitator in this context) did a good job of sharing knowledge, his experience, and getting us to think about some practical methodologies. At the start of the session, he did the very typical house-keeping rules and said “please turn your mobile phones to silent” – which immediately got me thinking.

At Bold L&D last week, the use of technology was a core part of the learning experience. It was explicitly contracted as part of the day. People could share content at will, make notes using whatever felt more comfortable for them as a capture tool, gave live feedback about the events transpiring in the day, and there was no right or wrong about the whole thing.

I reflected on Positive Psychology in Application last year, and how I built in social media as a core part of the event. I didn’t want to keep the conversation limited to the four confines of the walls. People had permission to share their learning readily as it was happening.

And it further got me thinking about the many conversations about the need to move from traditional L&D facilitators, to curators of content and enabling social learning to proliferate organisations through online collaborative tools.

(Yes, that’s a lot of thinking that went on in the learning session. We were doing introductions and experiences for the first 20 mins so my mind was allowed to wonder. Ssh.)

Which brought me back to – what about the learning session I’m part of. That you attend. That we mandate our people go through. How do we incorporate social media as a live facilitation tool, as opposed to an add on after the event, or making content available via the LMS, or writing a blog post about experiences.

I’d wager that maybe 98% of us L&Ders just never considered that this was a possibility. I know I never have.

What do I mean by this? Well here’s what I don’t mean. I don’t mean the inclusion of TED videos or YouTube videos to illustrate a learning point. I don’t mean using Prezi as an alternative delivery aid.

I mean things like this:
– Asking the group to use their devices to immediately research a definition for a topic, which becomes part of the learning session e.g. “we’re here to talk about conflict resolution. Go online and spend 5 mins looking for a definition which you’re happy to share with the group”
– Asking the group to use a mindmap app to create the content for a group discussion e.g. “We’re going to think about how to apply what we’ve learned about the Thomas Killman Inventory. Use a mindmap app to create this and we’ll share with the group on the screen.”
– Asking the group to learn about different presentation styles on a presentation skills course e.g. “Spend 10 mins watching some YouTube videos about different presentation styles, and we’ll talk about what they meant for you, and how you could try one of those in this training.”

Right, now we’re getting innovative. Now we’re pushing the learning experience of people to be more relevant, and highly engaging. I’m not suggesting building social into every activity we do as facilitators. Like any good facilitation tool/technique/technology, it has to be purposeful, and it has to add value to the learning experience.

Last week I said that I like to play when it comes to facilitation.

Let’s really play.

(footnote. I don’t know if the term ‘social facilitation’ has been used in this context. If it hasn’t, I totally bagsy copyright on it.)

I’m no rebel

I’m no rebel.

I am selfish though. I care about my personal development and when I want something I find ways to make it happen. I’m proper selfish like that. Recently I bought a Samsung Chromebook because I wanted it. Yes there were practical and justifiable reasons for buying it, but I wanted it.

So I have always actively sought proper personal development. I have been on some stellar training which gave me the skills to do some really cool things with my craft. I’ve been on training which I was not interested in in the least, mostly because it was a mandated course. I still learned things, and it helped give context to the work environment I was in.

Which got to a point where I needed more. But not just wanting more for myself. I felt and sought out development for the profession. I started going to external events with fancy titles. I learned lots and heard from really interesting people, but wasn’t challenged in myself. And I didn’t see a progression of development for the profession, I just saw ways of tinkering with the edges to have a better product. That’s not good enough.

I’m no rebel.

I have expectations. Forget them, though. I have professional responsibilities. I want a better profession? Right, I best make that happen then. Cos there sure as hell was no one out there making it happen. Not for the profession. They were doing it for themselves.

Cos we’re all self-serving really. Oh yes you are.

Fast forward and I had the high privilege of bringing together people to discuss the L&OD profession. An opportunity. An opportunity to combine my selfish desire for personal development and to share that experience with others.

We played with visual minutes, which was über cool. We created these by the end of the day.

Not everyone contributed and that was fine. They experienced it.

We played with fishbowl facilitation. This really got people shifting in their seats. A panel in the middle. An audience surrounding them observing, listening, and waiting for an invitation to discuss. The Twitter backchannel lit up with people in and out of the room contributing and making themselves heard.


I may have said that competency frameworks are a pile of shit and we need to get rid of them.

Honestly, I’m no rebel.

I just like to play with stuff. I’m selfish. It’s cos I’m an only child.

Someone asked me what I got from the day? And someone else called the L&D Connect community rebellious.

I like playing. I gave myself permission to keep playing. There are great ways to bring people together, to learn, to share, and to develop. I tried things out in an environment where I trusted people to have a go. They were kind of primed for that from the word go. They didn’t really know what was in store for them, and I didn’t really know what would happen. It was an opportunity.

But seriously, I’m no rebel.

Dear Informal Learning

Dear Informal Learning,

I understand from previous correspondence that you are interested in coming into my organisation and selling your wares. I’m always up for a laugh looking for opportunities to waste my time ways to help support people who want to learn and develop while at work. So sure, come on in.

There are some things, though, that I’d like your help with so I know better how to make people aware of who and what you actually have to offer? Please answer the below in good time before your impending arrival.

1) Apparently you’re already here?

I’ve been getting the message from different quarters that you’re already in and amongst the people in the organisation. When did you actually do this? Was it when we allowed people to read books in their break time? Or was it when people had access to the internet? Maybe it was when people were allowed to access various online social networks?

I’m confused because, if we did this without you, what are we going to do with you when we formally recognise you?

Which leads me onto my next question…

2) I understand there won’t even be a “you”.

You are some kind of ethereal being and there’s some level of expectation that we should just allow you to exist. HA! Right. So I have enough trouble getting people to accept that different people of different faiths are allowed to co-exist, and now I’m going to reinforce a message that says – “don’t worry people, just put your faith in people’s own L&D activity”.

Can you see I might have a challenge selling you in?

3) When you’re here, I can’t even acknowledge you?

Now this is the bit where I’m really getting close to my wits end struggling. When people are going about their learning “informally”, I’m not even allowed to acknowledge you did this because I then formalise the learning, and thereby you cease to exist and I stamp on all that it means to be human. *cries softly*

4) I can’t even give people an idea of how to utilise you?

In advance I’d like to give people a chance to succeed. You know, be excellent and all things wonderful. You’re meant to help me do that, but because of your very nature, I can’t give people an idea of how to make best use of you, because it’s an unknown advantage that needs to be organically grown. My head is really starting to hurt now.

I appreciate your time, and really hope you exist I get a response from you soon.

Yours sincerely,


MOOCs, Social Learning and L&D

In a previous post, I asked the question “Where’s the new shiny” in L&D. It prompted some interesting responses and it’s encouraged me to keep thinking and keeping an eye on the horizon. As time has gone by, I started noticing more and more people (particularly in Education) talking about MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses.

What is a MOOC? From what I can gather, it’s learning which takes place online, open to anyone interested in the topic. The ‘massive’ part of this is that the numbers tend to be in the hundreds (possibly even thousands). As part of the learning, learners are encouraged to join discussion groups, do pre-reading, and you have assignments to complete. It’s very much in the learners hands what they do with the content, how they interact with others, and submission of materials is driven by the learners.

Isn’t that like Open University?

It might be, but from what I gather, this isn’t about a long programme of activity. You’re not embarking on distance learning over a three-four year period. You’re not attending weekend residentials to meet lecturers and other students. You don’t have major assignments to complete or dissertations to write. You don’t get a degree at the end of it.

As it suggests, it’s a course designed to give you skills in certain areas which are delivered in a short space of time.

What I think has happened here is someone has seen that people enjoy TED talks. They’ve seen that hundred of thousands of people (and occasionally millions) watch these 18 minute (maximum) videos. They’ve seen that Google documents are a collaborative tool which you can use to share and create new learning. They’ve seen that the likes of Dropbox make it easy to share documents online. They’ve thrown it all together and said – we can deliver training to the masses!

In a much lesser and bastardised way, I almost think certain organisational learning solutions like Inductions or appraisal briefing sessions could take a MOOC style approach. Advertise a course is happening for a population at a certain time, create the right conditions for it to happen, make it happen, course finished and everyone’s a winner.

It’s a fascinating development in learning, and one that is still to find its feet. This post from Robert Weeks gives an idea of how it’s not quite delivering as promised, yet.

A different development altogether has been around a phenomenon termed ‘social learning’. This is where L&Ders have become a bit too inward looking, jumped onto the social media bandwagon, and started branding the way people use social media to help their learning.

I can see how it’s a useful way to describe this particular type of activity. The advocates of this field are arguing that it’s an imperative for organisations to get onboard with. They’re arguing that learners are taking responsibility for learning in their own hands and moving beyond the confines of the formal L&D structures we have in place in organisations. These self-directed learners are writing blogs, creating wikis, sharing content, talking online about topical subjects, and generally learning and developing without the direct support of your employer.

Last year, David Goddin was very kind and said I delivered a ‘social learning masterclass‘ when I delivered an open session on Positive Psychology. In this context, David helps provide another aspect to the social learning phenomenon. People were already connected in some way through social media beforehand. People were connected with the content beforehand through the same channels. Delivery of the content in the session was through a variety of techniques which prompted discussion and sharing of discussion. I had a couple of online facilitators to help share the content to people who were interested in the session but couldn’t attend.

This takes me to thinking about the skills of L&D professionals. Donald Taylor posted his thoughts this week about the learning content pyramid and what this means for L&D and the way we produce content. If you’ve not come across it yet, I recommend you taking a few minutes to read his insights on how L&D content is generated in different ways.

Earlier in the week, I wrote about L&D forgetting the end game. It’s really easy to get caught up in getting the design of a solution right, preparing for the best delivery, and creating clear metrics for measurement of the learning. But what we forget is that this isn’t what we’re there for.

The role of L&D has gone beyond being the provider of learning and development solutions. It’s about being the facilitator of learning and development. It’s about being mindful of the technologies that are available and using them where appropriate. It’s about knowing how to use different facilitation methodologies to create different engaging sessions. It’s about understanding human behaviour, and how we can move people to behave differently. It’s about having knowledge of leadership and management models and theories so that we can develop people to lead and manage with tact, grace and resilience. It’s about having business acumen and knowing if a learning solution is actually the right thing for the business. It’s about knowing the goals of the business and not losing sight of how we play a part in achieving them.

It’s not the imperative of organisations to get onboard with. It’s the imperative of L&Ders to take the time and understand what these developments are
and what they are going to do with them. If L&Ders don’t, nothing is going to be adversely affected or stop happening. The worst that will happen is that L&D loses its relevance in the organistions. Therefore it sits with L&Ders to get onboard with this.

We need to worry less about the ins and outs of what we do, and care more about the outcomes we help facilitate and the change we help produce. That’s where L&D will excel.

Are you interested in applying your creativity in an interesting way? I’m asking people to get involved in Learning Stories to see if they can produce a story about learning which inspires someone to act. The deadline for submission is March 21st 2013. Fancy a challenge?