Tag: learning and development

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.

Gift horses

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

I’m fascinated by this quote that Henry Ford may or may not have uttered.

In The best of both worlds I promoted Design Thinking as a means of using customer insights to inform strategic decision making. However, as the above quote suggests, customers don’t know what they don’t know. Sometimes it takes an expert to show them.

In an era in which the very existence of the L&D department is attracting evermore scrutiny, the role of the “expert” in our context is becoming increasingly pertinent. I have long been of the opinion that L&D professionals should dispense with being the SME of what is being trained; and instead be the SME of how it’s being trained.

Under this paradigm, we are the experts in the science and practice of learning and development, and we consult the business accordingly.

This resonates with me because beyond the education and research I invest in myself, I’ve been around the block a few times. I have a strong idea of what will work, not only because I’ve read up on it and thought deeply about it, but also because I’ve seen it play out with my own eyes.

I also get paid to focus on my portfolio every day. I consider it not only my mandate, but an ethical obligation, to originate and innovate.

Horses in a pasture

So I’m more than comfortable with L&D professionals pushing the envelope on the basis of knowledge, curiosity, creativity and experience – so long as these activities are put through the Design Thinking cycle too.

By this I mean be confident that your idea is a sound one, but not so arrogant as to instil it with blind faith. Put your one-man (in my case) fruit of ideation to your customers to check it will work for them. While you’re at it, confirm the problem statement is indeed one that needs to be solved.

So much for Design Thinking being linear!

Then proceed with prototyping and testing, prior to launching an MVP, and iterating and evolving it.

In this way, the promise of expertise is tempered by an agile approach. It hedges the bet not only by building confidence pre-launch, but also by minimising potential losses post-launch.

Ford Mustang emblem depicting a galloping horse

If Mr Ford had resigned himself to breeding faster horses, he never would have launched the Model T.

In our admirable quest to utilise our customers as a source of innovation, let’s balance that approach by empowering the experts whom we have hired to practise their expertise.

Lest the L&D department be put out to pasture.

The 70:20:10 lens

In 70:20:10 for trainers I advocated the use of the 70:20:10 model by L&D professionals as a lens through which to view their instructional design.

The excellent comments on my post, and insightful blog posts by others – notably Mark Britz, Clark Quinn and Arun Pradhan – have prompted me to think deeper about my premise.

Hand holding a lens pointing to a landscape

I continue to reject the notion that 70:20:10 is a formula or a goal, because it is not a model of what “should be”. For example, we needn’t assign 70% of our time, effort and money on OTJ interventions, 20% on social learning, and 10% on formal training. Similarly, we shouldn’t mandate that our target audience aligns its learning activity according to these proportions. Both of these approaches miss the point.

The point is that 70:20:10 is a model of what “is”. Our target audience does undertake 70% of its learning on the job, 20% via interacting with others, and 10% off the job (or thereabouts). Mark Britz calls it a principle. It’s not right and it’s not wrong. It just is.

Our role then as L&D professionals is to support and facilitate this learning as best we can. One of the ways I propose we do this is by using 70:20:10 as a lens. By this I mean using it as a framework to structure our thinking and prompt us on what to consider. Less a recipe citing specific ingredients and amounts, more a shopping basket containing various ingredients that we can use in different combinations depending on the meal.

For this purpose I have created the following diagram. To avoid the formula trap, I decided against labelling each segment 70, 20 and 10, and instead chose their 3E equivalents of Experience, Exposure and Education. For the same reason, I sized each segment evenly rather than to scale.

The 3 E's: Education, Exposure, Experience

Using the framework at face value is straight-forward. Given a learning objective, we consider whether a course or a resource may be suitable; whether a social forum might be of use; if matching mentees with mentors would be worthwhile. Perhaps it would be helpful to develop some reference content, or provide a job aid. When looking through the lens, we see alternatives and complements beyond the usual event-based intervention.

Yet we can see more. Consider not only the elements in the framework, but also the interactions between them. For example, in our course we could assign an on-the-job task to the learners, and ask them to share their experiences with it on the ESN. In the language of the framework, we are connecting education to experience, which in turn we connect to exposure. Conversely we can ask workshop attendees to share their experiences in class (connecting experience to education) or encourage them to call out for project opportunities (connecting exposure to experience). The possibilities for integrating the elements are endless.

Those who see L&D as the arbiter of all learning in the workplace may find all this overwhelming. But I see L&D as a support function. To me, 70:20:10 is not about engineering the perfect solution. It’s about adding value to what already happens in our absence.

70:20:10 for trainers

Learning & Development Professional has been running a poll on the following question:

Is the 70:20:10 model still relevant today?

And I’m shocked by the results. At the time of writing this blog, over half the respondents have chosen “No”. Assuming they are all L&D professionals, the extrapolation means most of us don’t think the 70:20:10 model is relevant to our work.

But what does this really mean?

In LDP’s article The 70:20:10 model – how fair dinkum is it in 2015? – by the way, “fair dinkum” is Australian slang for “real” or “genuine” – Emeritus Professor David Boud says he doesn’t think there is proper evidence available for the effectiveness of the model.

If this is a backlash against the numbers, I urge us all to let it go already. Others have explained umpteen times that 70:20:10 is not a formula. It just refers to the general observation that the majority of learning in the workplace is done on the job, a substantial chunk is done by interacting with others, while a much smaller proportion is done off the job (eg in a classroom).

Indeed this observation doesn’t boast a wealth of empirical evidence to support it, although there is some – see here, here and here.

Nonetheless, I wonder if the hoo-ha is really about the evidence. After all, plenty of research can be cited to support the efficacy of on-the-job learning, social learning and formal training. To quibble over their relative proportions seems a bit pointless.

Consequently, some point the finger at trainers. These people are relics of a bygone era, clinging to the old paradigm because “that’s how we’ve always done it”. And while this might sound a bit harsh, it may contain a seed of truth. Change is hard, and no one wants their livelihood threatened.

If you feel deep down that you are one of the folks who views 70:20:10 as an “us vs them” proposition, I have two important messages that I wish to convey to you…

1. Training will never die.

While I believe the overall amount of formal training in the workplace will continue to decrease, it will never disappear altogether – principally for the reasons I’ve outlined in Let’s get rid of the instructors!.

Ergo, trainers will remain necessary for the foreseeable future.

2. The 70:20:10 model will improve your effectiveness.

As the forgetting curve illustrates, no matter how brilliant your workshops are, they are likely to be ineffective on their own.

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve showing exponentially decreasing retention over time

To overcome this problem, I suggest using the 70:20:10 model as a lens through which you view your instructional design.

For example, suppose you are charged with training the sales team on a new product. As a trainer, you will smash the “10” with an informative and engaging workshop filled with handouts, scenarios, role plays, activities etc.

Then your trainees return to their desks, put the handouts in a drawer, and try to remember all the important information for as long as humanly possible.

To help your audience remember, why not provide them with reference content in a central location, such as on the corporate intranet or in a wiki. Then they can look it up just in time when they need it; for example, in the waiting room while visiting a client.

Job aids would also be useful, especially for skills-based information; for example, the sequence of key messages to convey in a client conversation.

To improve the effectiveness of your workshop even further, consider doing the following:

  • Engage each trainee’s manager to act as their coach or mentor. Not only does this extend the learning experience, but it also bakes in accountability for the learning.
  • Encourage the manager to engineer opportunities for the trainee to put their learning into practice. These can form part of the assessment.
  • Set up a community of practice forum in which the trainee can ask questions in the moment. This fosters collaboration among the team and reduces the burden on the L&D department to respond to each and every request.
  • Partner each trainee with a buddy to accompany them on their sales calls. The buddy can act as a role model and provide feedback to the trainee.

In my humble opinion, it is counter-productive to rail against 70:20:10.

As an L&D professional, it is in your interest to embrace it.

Where is L&D heading?

Last week I was invited by David Swaddle to be a panellist at the Sydney eLearning and Instructional Design meetup.

The topic of the evening was Where is L&D Heading? and some questions were posted through by the attendees ahead of time, while others emerged through the discourse.

Here is an overview of my answers, plus elaborations and suggestions for further reading, for each of the questions that was (and was not) asked. Feel free to add your own views via the comments…

Businessman holding a crystal ball

With Ernst & Young dropping their degree entry requirement, how do you see the future of universities? Is the race to the bottom on time and price for degrees affecting employers’ perceptions of universities? What respect do MOOC qualifications get?

I find EY’s move here interesting, but I don’t expect other companies to follow suit en mass – particularly enterprise-wide. Having said that, dropping the degree entry requirement could make sense for specific teams such as Innovation, who might be looking for someone with creative thinking skills rather than a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

I see the future of universities as service providers, plain and simple. Students are customers, and increasing competition, deregulation and even the emergence of MOOCs has shifted power into their hands. Yes, deregulation may prompt the $100,000 degree… but who will buy it?

If students are customers, by extension so are employers. I don’t think the time and price of a degree are such big issues for them; instead I think it’s the relevance of the degree. Whether or not we agree the role of the university is to prepare students for the workplace, I think it’s going that way due to market forces.

Regarding MOOC qualifications, I think many of us are still looking at them the wrong way. When we worry about the status of their credentials or lose sleep over their completion rates, we’re perpetuating an out-dated paradigm of education based on formal learning. I prefer to see MOOCs through the lens of informal learning which values the learning over its bureaucracy. If a job applicant lists some MOOCs on their CV, I think it demonstrates an aptitude to drive their own development.

Question mark

How do you see the impact and importance of big data, adaptive learning, mobile learning and micro-learning?

While mobile learning gets a lot of hype – rightly or wrongly – my target audience is office bound. Yes, I can push content to their devices (and there’s a solid argument for micro-learning in this instance) but the truth is no one will do their training on the bus. Outside of work hours, most people don’t want to do anything work related.

I see more scope in pull learning. For example, it’s important that your intranet is mobile optimised, so when someone is away from their desk, they can quickly look up the information they need and put it into action.

The real power of m-learning though is in creating an experience. By this I mean integrating the content with the environment in which the individual is situated, and I see a lot of potential in augmented reality and wearable technologies facilitating this.

And let’s not forget about blended learning. If we allow our attendees to bring their tablets into class, they can participate in online polling, consume content and play games together. While this isn’t actually mobile learning, it leverages the technology.

As for big data, there is clearly a lot of potential in using it to inform our practice – if we can access it. I also see a lot of potential for adaptive learning in personalising the learning experience – if we can work with the tools. My caveat for emerging technologies such as these is what I call the “Average Joe imperative” – if regular folks can’t do it, it won’t gain widespread adoption.

Question mark

What about online social education and Communities of Practice? What are the challenges in using them properly in companies, schools or universities? Where are the success stories?

Beyond the technology, the success of social learning is predicated on the culture of the organisation. If you’re people aren’t the type who care and share, then a platform isn’t going to be much help. Having said that, I believe the managers in the organisation have a critical role to play in leading by example.

My go-to success stories for social learning are Coca-Cola Amatil, who have cultivated active communities of practice across state-based factory floors; and Deloitte, who are the poster child for enterprise social networking.

Question mark

Will interactive videos replace e-learning modules?

I think lots of things will replace e-learning modules!

As we embrace informal learning, we will rely less on e-learning modules in favour of alternatives such as social forums, job aids, games, and indeed, interactive videos.

I see the LMS then being used more for the assessment of learning.

Question mark

What tips does the panel have for coping with reduced training budgets?

My big tip here is that you can do a lot for free or on-the-cheap.

For example, if you want to film a training scenario, you could pay a production house many thousands of dollars to produce a slick, Academy Award worthy video clip. Alternatively, you could use your iPhone.

Sure, the quality won’t be nearly as good… so long as it’s good enough. What really matters is the learning outcome.

Besides, I think in-house production adds authenticity to the scene.

Question mark

Does L&D belong in HR?

I interpret this question as really asking “Should L&D be centralised or distributed?”.

My short answer is both. A centralised Organisational Development function can focus on enterprise-wide capability needs, while L&D professionals embedded in the business can address local capability needs.

Question mark

How does the panel identify whether an L&D professional is good? Does Australia need improved quality benchmarking or qualifications for L&D professionals such as instructional designers?

I think the point of learning in the workplace is to improve performance, so my definition of a “good” L&D professional is one that improves the performance of his or her business.

There are certain attributes that I value in an L&D pro, including being proactive, consultative, creative, and willing to try new things.

If I were considering an applicant for an instructional design role, I’d ask them to demonstrate their track record, just as I’d ask a sales rep to do. A portfolio would be useful, as would be their approach to a hypothetical project.

Furthermore, I think you can tell a lot about someone’s expertise through simple conversation; if they don’t really know what they’re talking about, it will become painfully obvious.

As for benchmarking and formal qualifications for L&D pro’s, I think they can help but I wouldn’t put too much stock into them. As EY is seeing, acing the qual doesn’t necessarily translate into good practice.

Question mark

What advice would you give to somebody interested in getting involved in ID?

I think getting involved is the key phrase in this question.

Attend meetups and events, get active on social media, participate in #lrnchat, work out loud, scan the academic research, and read blogs – learn from those at the coal face.