Tag: L&D

The right stuff

Well that was unexpected.

When I hit the Publish button on Not our job, I braced myself for a barrage of misunderstanding and its evil twin, misrepresentation.

But it didn’t happen. On the contrary, my peers who contacted me about it were downright agreeable. (A former colleague did politely pose a comment as a disagreement, but I happened to agree with everything she stated.)

I like to think I called a spade a spade: we’re responsible for learning & development; our colleagues are responsible for performance; and if they’re willing to collaborate, we have value to add.

Bar graph showing the impact of your ideas inside your brain much lower than the impact of your ideas when you put them out there.

The post was a thought bubble that finally precipitated after one sunny day, a long time ago, when Shai Desai asked me why I thought evaluation was so underdone by the L&D profession.

My post posited one reason – essentially, the inaccessibility of the data – but there are several other reasons closer to the bone that I think are also worth crystallising.

1. We don’t know how to do it.

I’m a Science grad, so statistical method is in my blood, but most L&D pro’s are not. If they haven’t found their way here via an Education or HR degree, they’ve probably fallen into it from somewhere else à la Richard in The Beach.

Which means they don’t have a grounding in statistics, so concepts such as regression and analysis of variance are alien and intimidating.

Rather than undertake the arduous journey of learning it – or worse, screw it up – we’d rather leave it well alone.

2. We’re too busy to do it.

This is an age old excuse for not doing something, but in an era of furloughs, restructures and budget freezes, it’s all too real.

Given our client’s ever-increasing demand for output, we might be forgiven for prioritising our next deliverable over what we’ve already delivered.

3. We don’t have to do it.

And it’s a two-way street. The client’s ever-increasing demand for output also means they prioritise our next deliverable over what we’ve already delivered.

If they don’t ask for evaluation, it’s tempting to leave it in the shadows.

4. We fear the result.

Even when all the planets align – we can access the data and we’ve got the wherewithal to use it – we may have a sneaking suspicion that the outcome will be undesirable. Either no significant difference will be observed, or worse.

This fear will be exacerbated when we design a horse, but are forced by the vagaries of corporate dynamics to deliver a camel.

A woman conjuring data from a tablet.

The purpose of this post isn’t to comment on the ethics of our profession nor lament the flaws of the corporate construct. After all, it boils down to human nature.

On the contrary, my intention is to expose the business reality for what it is so that we can do something about it.

Previously I’ve shared my idea for a Training Evaluation Officer – an expert in the science of data analysis, armed with the authority to make it happen. The role builds a bridge that connects learning & development with performance, keeping those responsible for each accountable to one another.

I was buoyed by Sue Wetherbee’s comment proposing a similar position:

…a People & Culture (HR) Analyst Business Partner who would be the one to funnel all other information to across all aspects of business input to derive “the story” for those who order it, pay for it and deliver it!

Sue, great minds think alike ;-)

And I was intrigued by Ant Pugh’s Elephant In The Room in which he challenges the assumption that one learning designer should do it all:

Should we spend time doing work we don’t enjoy or excel at, when there are others better equipped?

Just because it’s the way things are, doesn’t mean it’s the way things should be.

I believe a future exists where these expectations are relinquished. A future where the end result is not dictated by our ability to master all aforementioned skills, but by our ability to specialise on those tasks we enjoy.

How that will manifest, I don’t know (although I do have some ideas).

Ant, I’m curious… is one of those ideas an evaluation specialist? Using the ADDIE model as a guide, that same person might also attend to Analysis (so a better job title might be L&D Analyst) while other specialists focus on Design, Development and Implementation.

Then e-learning developers mightn’t feel the compulsion to call themselves Learning Experience Designers, and trainers won’t be similarly shamed into euphemising their titles. Specialists such as these can have the courage to embrace their expertise and do what they do best.

And important dimensions of our work – including evaluation – won’t only be done. They’ll be done right.

Not our job

Despite the prevailing rhetoric for the Learning & Development function to be “data driven”, data for the purposes of evaluating what we do is notoriously hard to come by.

Typically we collect feedback from happy sheets (which I prefer to call unhappy sheets) and confirm learning outcomes via some form of assessment.

In my experience, however, behavioural change is reported much less often, while anything to do with business metrics even less so. While I recognise multiple reasons for the latter in particular, one of them is simply the difficulty we mere mortals have in accessing the numbers.

Which has been a long-standing mystery to me. We’re all on the same team, so why am I denied the visibility of the information I need to do my job?

I’ve always suspected the root cause is a combination of human foibles (pride, fear, territoriality), substandard technology (exacerbated by policy) and a lack of skill or will to use the technology even when it is available.

Notwithstanding these ever-present problems, it’s been dawning on me that the biggest blocker to our ability to work with the numbers is the fact that, actually, it’s not our job.

Business woman presenting data to two colleagues

Consider a bank that discovers a major pain point among its customers is the long turnaround time on their home loan applications. To accelerate throughput and thus improve the customer experience, the C-suite makes a strategic decision to invest in an AI-assisted processing platform.

I contend the following:

  • It’s the job of the implementation team to ensure the platform is implemented properly.
  • It’s the job of the L&D team to build the employees’ capability to use it.
  • It’s the job of the service manager to report the turnaround times.
  • It’s the job of the CX researchers to measure the customer experience.
  • It’s the job of the C-suite to justify their strategy.

In this light, it’s clear why we L&D folks have so much trouble trying to do the other things on the list that don’t mention us. Not only are we not expected to do them, but those who are don’t want us to do them.

In short, we shouldn’t be doing them.

Caveat

At this juncture I wish to caution against conflating learning & development with performance consulting.

Yes, learning & development is a driver of performance, and an L&D specialist may be an integral member of a performance centre, but I urge anyone who’s endeavouring to rebrand their role as such to heed my caveat.

My point here is that if you are responsible for learning & development, be responsible for it; and let those who are responsible for performance be responsible for it.

Value

Having said that, there is plenty we should be doing within the bounds of our role to maximise the performance of the business. Ensuring our learning objectives are action oriented and their assessment authentic are two that spring to mind.

And I don’t wish to breathe air into the juvenile petulance that the phrase “not my job” can entail. On the contrary, we should be collaborating with our colleagues on activities related to our remit – for example training needs analysis, engineering the right environmental conditions for transfer, and even Level 4 evaluation – to achieve win-win outcomes.

But do it with them, not for them, and don’t let them offload their accountability for it being done. If they don’t wish to collaborate, so be it.

Essentially it boils down to Return on Expectation (ROE). In our quest to justify the Return on Investment (ROI) of our own service offering, we need to be mindful of what it is our financiers consider that service to be.

Anything beyond that is an inefficient use of our time and expertise.

L&D conferences in Australia in 2022

Little did I know in March last year that the Learning & Development Leadership Summit would be the only in-person event that I would attend until the L&D Symposium in November!

The summit was held in downtown Sydney – energised by the hustle and bustle of the city, and convenient to boot.

In contrast, the symposium was held in the gorgeous Hunter Valley – far enough away from the bright lights to be a hassle to get to, but free of the daily distractions of “work” – allowing us to relax, focus, and engage in an immersive learning experience.

Virus permitting, I’m looking forward to attending both the summit and the symposium again this year. Plus I hope a few more events, maybe even interstate…

Landscape of a rolling vineyard in the Hunter Valley

NOTE: The details of the following events may change. Please check the latest information via the links provided.

Future Work Summit
Adelaide, 9-10 March 2022

International Conference on Virtual and Augmented Reality Simulations
Brisbane, 25-27 March 2022

Disruptive Innovation Summit
Sydney, 29-31 March 2022

Learning & Development Leadership Summit
Melbourne, 5-6 April 2022

AITD Conference
Virtual, 6-7 April 2022

iDesignX
Virtual, 1-2 June 2022

L&D Summit Australia
Sydney, 22-23 June 2022

HERDSA Conference
Virtual & Melbourne, 27-30 June 2022

L&D + HR Symposium
Hunter Valley, 2-3 August 2022

EduTECH
Melbourne, 10-11 August 2022

Learning & Development Leadership Summit
Sydney, 20-21 October 2022

Eportfolio Forum
Virtual & Melbourne, 26-27 October 2022

L&D Innovation & Tech Fest
Sydney, 8-9 November 2022

LearnX
Virtual, 23-24 November 2022

ASCILITE
Virtual & Sydney, 4-7 December 2022

If you’re aware of another L&D conference down under, let me know!

Digital Learning conferences in Australia in 2021

Let’s try that again.

Just as we were gearing up for another year’s worth of cutting edge insights and showcases, the coronavirus had other ideas.

While some of the digital learning conferences I had listed for 2020 went ahead as planned, others pivoted to virtual delivery, while the rest were ironically postponed or cancelled.

In this country we are confident in vaccination and elimination, so the following events are expected to proceed this year.

Coffee mug next to a laptop featuring numerous attendees in an online meeting

EDIT: The ongoing pandemic may affect these events. Please refer to each event’s website for more information.

iDESIGNX
Virtual, 24-25 February 2021

Disruptive Innovation Summit
Sydney, 17-19 March 2021

International Conference on Virtual and Augmented Reality Simulations
Melbourne, 20-22 March 2021

Learning & Development Leadership Summit
Sydney, 23-24 March 2021

Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Conference
Brisbane, 7-10 July 2021

Learning & Development Leadership Summit
Melbourne, 27-28 July 2021

EduTECH / Learn@Work
Virtual, 17-18 August 2021

Eportfolio Forum
Virtual & Sydney, 20-21 October 2021

AITD Conference
Virtual & Melbourne, 27-28 October 2021

LearnX Live! Awards
Virtual, 17 November 2021

HR Innovation & Tech Fest
Sydney, 9-10 November 2021

TECHSPO
Sydney, 24-25 November 2021

Future Work APAC Summit
Adelaide, 24-25 November 2021

L&D Symposium
Hunter Valley, 25-26 November 2021

ASCILITE
Armidale, 29 November – 1 December 2021

EdTechPosium
Canberra, 10 December 2021

This list will grow over time as more events are announced.

If you become aware of another one, let me know and I’ll add it in!

Transformers

It seems like everyone’s spruiking the “new normal” of work.

The COVID-19 pandemic is keeping millions of previously office-bound employees at home, forcing L&D professionals to turn on a dime.

Under pressure to maintain business continuity, our profession has been widely congratulated for its herculean effort in adapting to change.

I’m not so generous.

Our typical response to the changing circumstances appears to have been to lift and shift our classroom sessions over to webinars.

In The next normal, which I published relatively early during lockdown, several of my peers and I recognised the knee-jerk nature of this response.

And that’s not really something that ought to be congratulated.

Who led the digital transformation of your company? The CEO (incorrect), The CTO (incorrect), COVID-19 (correct)

For starters, the virus exposed a shocking lack of risk management on our part. Digital technology is hardly novel, and our neglect in embracing it left us unprepared for when we suddenly needed it.

Look no further than the Higher Education sector for a prime example. They’re suffering a free-fall in income from international students, despite the consensus that people can access the Internet from other countries.

Beyond our misgivings with technology, moreover, the virus has also shone a light on our pedagogy. The broadcast approach that we deliver virtually today is largely a continuation of our practice pre-pandemic. It wasn’t quite right then, and it isn’t quite right now. In fact, isolation, digital distractions and Zoom fatigue probably make it worse.

I feel this is important to point out because the genie is out of the bottle. Employee surveys reveal that the majority of us either don’t want to return to the office, or we’ll want to split our working week at home. That means while in-person classes can resume, remote learning will remain the staple.

So now is our moment of opportunity. In the midst of the crisis, we have the moral authority to mature our service offering. To innovate our way out of the underwhelming “new normal” and usher in the modern “next normal”.

In some cases that will mean pivoting away from training in favour of more progressive methodologies. While I advocate these, I also maintain that direct instruction is warranted under some circumstances. So instead of joining the rallying cry against training per se, I propose transforming it so that it becomes more efficient, engaging and effective in our brave new world.

Transformer-style toy robot

Good things come in small packages

To begin, I suggest we go micro.

So-called “bite sized” pieces of content have the dual benefit of not only being easier to process from a cognitive load perspective, but also more responsive to the busy working week.

For example, if we were charged with upskilling our colleagues across the business in Design Thinking, we might kick off by sharing Chris Nodder’s 1.5-minute video clip in which he breaks the news that “you are not your users”.

This short but sweet piece of content piques the curiosity of the learner, while introducing the concept of Empathize in the d.school’s 5-stage model.

We’re all in this together

Next, I suggest we go social.

Posting the video clip to the enterprise social network seeds a discussion, by which anyone and everyone can share their experiences and insights, and thus learn from one another.

It’s important to note that facilitating the discussion demands a new skillset from the trainer, as they shift their role from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side”.

It’s also important to note that the learning process shifts from synchronous to asynchronous – or perhaps more accurately, semi-synchronous – empowering the learner to consume the content at a time that is most convenient for them (rather than for the L&D department).

There is no try

Next, I suggest we go practical.

If the raison d’être of learning & development is to improve performance, then our newly acquired knowledge needs to be converted into action.

Follow-up posts on the social network shift from the “what” to the “how”, while a synchronous session in the virtual classroom enables the learner to practise the latter in a safe environment.

Returning to our Design Thinking example, we might post content such as sample questions to ask prospective users, active listening techniques, or an observation checklist. The point of the synchronous session then is to use these resources – to stumble and bumble, receive feedback, tweak and repeat; to push through the uncomfortable process we call “learning” towards mastery.

It’s important to recognise the class has been flipped. While time off the floor will indeed be required to attend it, it has become a shorter yet value-added activity focusing on the application of the knowledge rather than its transmission.

Again, it’s also important to note that facilitating the flipped class demands a new skillset from the trainer.

A journey of a thousand miles

Next, I suggest we go experiential.

Learning is redundant if it fails to transfer into the real world, so my suggestion is to set tasks or challenges for the learner to do back on the job.

Returning to our Design Thinking example, we might charge the learner with empathising with a certain number of end users in their current project, and report back their reflections via the social network.

In this way our return on investment begins immediately, prior to moving on to the next stage in the model.

Pics or it didn’t happen

Finally, I suggest we go evidential.

I have long argued in favour of informalising learning and formalising its assessment. Bums on seats misses the point of training which, let’s remind ourselves again, is to improve performance.

How you learned something is way less interesting to me than if you learned it – and the way to measure that is via assessment.

Returning to our Design Thinking example, we need a way to demonstrate the learner’s mastery of the methodology in a real-world context, and I maintain the past tense of open badges fits the bill.

In addition to the other benefits that badges offer corporates, the crux of the matter is that a badge must be earned.

Informalise learning. Formalise its assessment.

I am cognisant of the fact that my proposal may be considered heretical in certain quarters.

The consumption of content on the social network, for example, may be difficult to track and report. But my reply is “so what” – we don’t really need to record activity so why hide it behind the walls of an LMS?

If the openness of the training means that our colleagues outside of the cohort learn something too, great! Besides, they’ll have their own stories to tell and insights to share, thereby enriching the learning experience for everyone.

Instead it is the outcome we need to focus on, and that’s formalised by the assessment. Measure what matters, and record that in the LMS.

In other words, the disruptive force of the COVID-19 pandemic is an impetus for us to reflect on our habits. The way it has always been done is no substitute for the way it can be done better.

Our moment has arrived to transform our way out of mode lock.