Beyond technology – conversations you need to have (or follow) at DevLearn 2014

iStock_000027129253Medium (1) With the strapline ‘Exploring the New Learning Universe’ it’s no surprise that this year’s DevLearn conference has a healthy combination of strategy, tools and skills.  To deliver effective learning ecosystems, it is this combination that will help us fulfil all the promises online learning has made over the past few years.  Coming from a background in Knowledge Management back in the early 2000s, I have been impatiently waiting for this – no longer is learning the domain of the L&D department, no longer is good e-learning measured in production values or gimmicks to try and keep our attention. Just taking a quick look at the themes of the featured sessions reflects this move.  We’ll hear from Karl Kapp, Professor of Instructional Technology at Bloomburg University on ‘Matching the Right Learning Content to the Right Learning Strategy’, industry favourite, Tom Kuhlman on ‘How to Make Community Part of your Training’ and ‘Building a Learning Ecosystem’ from Marc Rosenberg and Steve Foreman, President, Infomedia Designs to name just a few. I was delighted to be invited to speak at the conference and my session on Thursday at 1.15pm on ‘What Organisations can Learn from the MOOC Experience‘ reflects this hunger for deeper enquiry into the mature of learning in a digital world.  So my advice is have the big coversations – find out how people are tackling the big learning challenges (like personalisation of learning, engaging leaders online, creating true learning ecosystems) because its all possible and its all happening.  It’s always perfect and quite often, the road can be rocky but people passionate about learning are delivering incredible things. So whilst I enjoy the great wifi on my flight to Las Vegas enabling me to post this, review the latest Learning Survey 2014 from the LPi, watch reruns from Learning Now TV and read tweets from friends in the learning community heading to DevLearn and arranging appointments on LinkedIn, I reflect on whether this is the most meta blog post I have ever written!  The fact I remain connected to my learning community and continue to learn from my friends throughout the industry whilst 35000 ft above Colorado (according to the in flight tracker!), it truly is a great time to work in learning!

The new learning universe – what it means for learning designers

The New Learning Universe Part 3 by Emily Cox, Specialist Instructional Designer, WillowDNA Right now there never has been a better time to design learning. The days of lengthy, dull, flat e-learning modules are well and truly behind us! The new learning universe means that we can provide delegates with a media rich learning environment filled with a range of technology based delivery solutions.iStock_000008882593XSmall As a learning designer the new learning universe means choice. We now have a whole raft of technologies available for us to use for the delivery of online training programs. Historically using a range of technologies had such cost implications that it would be deemed an unfeasible solution. Now technology is both more accessible and affordable. As a learning designer the process of selecting which technology solutions are going to feature in a learning program is one of the first considerations at the project initiation and learning design stage of the development cycle. I believe selecting the right blend of technology is as important as the source material. It is worth noting that this choice of technology is accompanied by its own set of responsibilities. In order to find the right blend of technology for a learning program we need to get much closer to the end users. We need to understand how and when they use technology in their jobs and how we can develop content that will both facilitate and support the knowledge transfer process. Well-designed blended training solutions should not only upskill and inform the end users but should be able to support them to apply their new skills in their day to day roles. In reality this means as learning designers we need to facilitate the knowledge transfer process and encourage proficiency by providing end users realistic simulations, relevant mobile content, informative videos and useful downloads. My motivation for using a range of different technologies is to make the learning journey relevant and provide the end user with genuine context. When a learning journey is designed well the life span of the training is extended, the content will end up being used beyond the level of proficiency and should act as a on the job support aid. The new learning universe also means that we can now develop learning communities. This is a powerful concept because it means that learners are not restricted to participating in the program in isolation. From a learning design perspective we can now encourage end users to participate in group based tasks and share their experiences with the rest of the community. Not only is the opportunity to collaborate across their peer group motivating but it also allows end users to share their experiences and understanding of the training programme. Content can also be derived from these collaboration pieces, in mature learning communities, to provide user generated content. Personally the new learning universe means that I have the tools at my disposal to develop a truly engaging, relevant, scalable and rich mixed media learning programs. It means that online learning is equipped and capable of tackling really complex subjects and provide end users with a really innovative and effective learning journey.

The New Learning Universe – selling the vision to stakeholders

The New Learning Universe Part 2 by Sue Rennoldson, Senior Instructional Designer, WillowDNA

Not so long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, embarking on an e-learning project was a giant step for stakeholders in organisational learning. With the prospect of a lengthy, one-way development process, only the most stable subject matter was tackled. Distribution via floppy disk or CD ROM required a military-style operation.iStock_000000353963XSmall

Nowadays, however, the latest authoring tools and online platforms make relatively light work of keeping content bang up-to-date and relevant to learners. By designing a programme with bite-sized resources in a variety of media, it’s much easier to update individual items such as case studies when needed. Better still, post peer-generated case studies and promote a lively debate around them in a discussion forum, to harness the power of social, collaborative learning.

For digital natives who dip in and out of web content, watching a short video on YouTube, tweeting their opinions and networking on Facebook, all of this comes naturally. They switch between desktop and mobile devices in the office and on the move. Learners themselves are setting the pace in the new universe – just go with the flow and the sky’s the limit.

The New Learning Universe – the perspective of new entrants into the workplace

The New Learning Universe Part 1 by Frank Plummer, Systems Analyst at WillowDNA When I was at school, learning looked like this. We went in at 8.30am and had two 60-minute lessons before a break, two more 60-minute lessons and then lunch, a further two 60-minute lessons and then home time. Learning tended to be opening dog-eared, graffiti-scribbled textbooks and answering a few pages of questions, punctuated by teaching staff asking for feedback and occasionally someone being disruptive. It was not really effective at teaching you the material – we may have picked up enough to know the difference between a positive and negative number – but in most the experience taught us how to learn. It gave us the key skills we needed to consume learning in later life. Were that same approach used now, for key professional skills in the workplace, it would not work – it would not be adequate for the materials we need to digest and the complexity we need to handle – but that is where learning in the workplace has evolved. For the new starter to the workplace, the last thing they want to be doing is sitting competency exams or being dragged through a series of learning programmes. They are scared stiff as it is – having to remember names, numbers, procedures and where to park their car! Whilst there is a time and a place for these, I do not think it is in their first few months on the job. If they are passionate about their environment, eager to learn and very excited to be there – they will learn  and of their own accord. Teenager at computer office first jobIt sounds silly, but if you don’t know how to use the office printer, dial out to an external number on the office phone or log in to your office emails – what would you do?  You would – I hope – find a way to learn that information. You would use the tools and the facilities available to you to try and gain that knowledge.  Workplaces can certainly make that much easier by ensuring this key information is quick to find, updated regularly and accurate, but it doesn’t warrant a major induction. There are different avenues people take when they start a job and want to learn. They may be shy, need their confidence boosting – in which case “solo” learning may be more appropriate for them in their first few, shaky, nerve-wracking weeks. They may be happy to have peer assistance, in which case having a community around them might work best. Providing the tools and facility to use if they want to is the key factor here – it is up to them whether they use it or not. The reality is, new starters will learn a huge amount in their first few weeks and months at a new position. This is especially true to new starters to the workplace – university graduates, college/sixth form leavers – as the learning processes are still clear in their mind from having dragged themselves through the past few years of education. It may be that they do not learn best when consuming traditional learning at all – digital learning that replicates those models  may not work for them. They can use the skills that have carried them through the last 11-12 years of their life to learn about you, your workplace, your practices and your customers – so let them do it! Provide material, tools and resources to let them find their own way of learning. There is no right way and no wrong way – there is only their way (that last sentence was heavily influenced by the Karate Kid!). Technologies such as the Experience/Tin Can API really begin to seem attractive in learning landscapes like this. Unstructured, largely ambiguous data that has been stored from a variety of sources can be extremely valuable. When this data is analysed and the information extracted, a picture of how that specific learner has evolved and how they are growing as a professional can be built – and from that, you can begin to see how learning could be tailored for that individual in the future. Would they benefit from going on that course, or going to that conference? Or would booking them out into small, ad-hoc projects which are unique but give them a lot of exposure work best? I think that these changes in how learning is done will be key in the very near future, tapping in to the technology we all now have in our pockets but at the same time offering freedom and open ended learning for our learners.

Creating a learning architecture

Last week, I promised to take the maturing learning organisation model further and look at ways of creating the right learning architecture in the final blog in this three part series. Learning ecosystem design can feel overwhelming and extremely complicated. Most organisations have legacy systems. There are few suppliers who can cover a whole requirement for any reasonably complex company. Even if they could, organisations rarely have the same needs throughout the company. And even if they did, those needs change. To make this begin to feel manageable, it is best to strip the ecosystem down to three basic elements; the learning portal, course structures and information assets. What happens next is really down to the type of organisation we are dealing with. A way of analysing the needs of the organisation can be achieved by tackling several dimensions; approach to risk, nature of information, rate of change, culture. I am sure there are others. Blog 1 Where a company’s rate of change is very high and knowledge tends to be held socially, then a social collaboration enabler will be vital. So the learning portal will need to access knowledge domains and the network of people, both experienced and novices. The course structures may be evolutionary and highly changeable – so more need to keep them simple and adaptable. And the information assets are more likely to be in the domain of the community so community spaces become more important. Where a company has a high risk profile, the learning portal will probably need to be security focused to specific accesses even within the company, the course structures are likely to be leading towards accreditation. The information assets are likely to be well defined, with clear structures and change managed by the correct authorities. I appreciate this is a simplified view and, of course, most companies have business areas that may be quite different to each other. Simple companies (this does not mean small) will require a more straightforward ecosystem, the more differentiated, the more complex the ecosystem. Embedding evaluation into the ecosystem design and the implementation of that design is essential if we in L&D are to stay on that top company table. One of the neatest ways of achieving this at a strategic level is to use value chain analysis, ensuing the learning interventions that are deployed at each stage of the ecosystem are correctly targeted at the company objectives. The simple example below, borrowed from Fujitsu, uses the sales team objective of increasing the win ratio. Each intervention then will be aiming for a specific outcome, for which there will be assumptions. Interventions then must be measured against the intended outcome. The tighter this can be, the more effective the intervention. This is a somewhat different approach to the traditional Kirkpatrick model – still needed in the right places. Blog 2 This takes us right back to the overall strategic fit of the learning ecosystem in the company design where the governance of the company and strategic direction of the organisation, flows through to implementation via projects and operations, neatly supported by the enabling learning strategy with suitable feedback loops. Blog 3 Copyright WillowDNA 2014

Business strategy engagement – aligning learning strategy for business growth

Last week I started the first in this three part series looking at L&D at the top table.  I looked at business governance structure and used a model that links strategic decision-making activity with the operational activities within a company. This week, I will reflect on the alignment of learning to business growth. There is, of course, no one right way of handling this. The culture, direction and underlying drivers of an organisation are critical in defining the best way of addressing learning. And it is very likely that different business areas will respond to different approaches as their contexts are frequently so different. The dynamic of a business area that deals with complex, uncertain knowledge, relies on ill-defined or wholly collaborative relationships.  Often there are many dispersed stakeholders in a more challenging environment than a more stable working area. The learning strategy then has to be sensitive to the context as well as the business drivers. I find the following model a useful one when starting out in forming the strategic outline for an organisation or business area. willow blog impage

Fig 1. Becoming a learning organisation copyright WillowDNA 2012

It is not intended as a flow from left to right although the journey for many companies has been just that. Reality is usually much more additive, with tactics continuing to be important and cost of delivery remaining an issue. But L&D are likely to be focusing on business outcome now and targeting top table issues. L&D will be engaging at least some of their learning budget to directly support the USPs of the company. Innovation and knowledge flow in the fastest moving business areas will require a responsive and broader learning ecosystem, probably employing more of the wider 70:20:10 toolkit. Of course, online learning is a key delivery mechanism and it would be a very strange organisation that did not have online and social learning as fundamental aspects of their learning ecosystem. Matching the learning practice with the cultural norms of the business function is going to result in better outcomes. It is the engagement of learning in the working practices of the company that is the underlying foundation to any L&D delivery mechanism. Personally, I find feedback loops the most effective and these can be embedded in most working fields from Product Management through to Call Centres. This requires the correct learning environment including people, process through to technology. Next week I will take this further and look at the creating the right learning architecture in the final blog in this three part series.  

Roadmap to a new learning future – Part 1

Roadmap to a new learning future – aligning learning delivery and measurement in an open, social world Last week, I referred to the signs that L&D specialists are reaching the top table. The job titles of L&D team members are changing as a reflection of this and the changing nature of the L&D roles themselves. My colleague, Lisa Minogue-White, during a presentation back at the Learning Technologies show in January explored this, going as far as saying that even the latest trend of ‘Head of Online Learning’ or ‘Head of Digital Learning’ itself is only a short term step. Whether learning is online or not is not really the point, but the strategic orchestration of learning in all its forms is.  The senior exec roles in L&D are reflecting the need to apply strategic thinking to mobilising learning to realising organisation strategic objectives. I started my life as a manager of large technical teams and looked to the work of Drucker and Wenger in helping address the learning issues I faced in a fast-moving tech company. And technical enablement was expected, given the sector I worked in. Most of my work now involves working with organisations faced with the need to learn fast and applying learning in the workplace with technology as a core enabler.  The challenge is how to articulate this and then how to create the correct governance and learning structures in organisation design. This includes creating the best-fit tech architecture to enable this to be flexible and robust to achieve the performance levels required of our people. Willow Learning ecosystem © Copyright WillowDNA 2014 The diagram above makes a good start in describing the flow of governance through organisational design and structure. Direction is set through the top table, supporting knowledge, skills and competencies defined with L&D working alongside the subject matter experts. Finally, skills and experience are executed in projects, delivering the company output. This sits though in fluid systems which are often complex. The challenge is how to simplify this flow, supporting the need for knowledge on the job with feedback on effectiveness back through to the SMEs and then to the top table in terms of achievement. The more rapid this can be, the more effective it is. The faster the rate of change in the organisation, the faster this has to be. Next week, I’ll be building on this theme and sharing my thoughts on Business strategy engagement – aligning learning strategy for business growth.

Roadmap to a new learning future – our three part series

I attended the Learning Directors Network on Wednesday and had the pleasure of listening to Jon Ingham, face to face for the first time. This led me to explore Jon’s HR blog in more detail, and to look for his take on L&D matters and this year’s CIPD report in particular–learner-and-learning.html. Jon reminds us of the need to balance business savvy with deep understanding of how learning happens, as the specialists – a point that came out in the discussion on Wednesday.  Andrew Jacobs from London Borough of Lambeth shared his work in building coaching as a practical example of the interplay between growing acceptance and understanding of how people learn together with swingeing cost cutting provoking creative thinking in learning practice. The CIPD report itself is an interesting illustration of the need to be careful when interpreting statistics. Those companies reporting more than half training delivered by e-learning has apparently dropped by 9%. This seems to work against the LDN report where both bespoke and catalogue e-learning had respective increasing use reported as 56% and 57%. I suspect this has more to do with the growing understanding and recognition of much wider learning methods. This changes the way people are reporting the distribution of time and budget spent on learning and this must be applauded. iStock_000006389237XSmall However, Jon fears that the recognition of different methods may be shallow and not deeply embedded in practice. The CIPD report refers to “mirror neurons”, ”correlation between physical exercise and increased learning performance”. I think Jon is right to be a tad sceptical, especially given the increase in evaluation methods still being predominantly led by Kirkpatrick and other L&D staples from the dim and distant past.  But there is no doubt, that there is change with L&D specialists reaching the top table.  As a long time provider of online learning services, it is encouraging to see signs that e-Learning is now beginning to fit into the whole L&D strategy and not as an ad hoc delivery method.  For success, it requires a holistic approach to learning strategy from mobilising managers as advocates to curating content through subject matter expertise. So over the coming weeks , I’ll be posting my reflections on this topic and sharing some insights into the key considerations to ensure a well crafted and holistic learning strategy.  This 3 part series will include: Roadmap to a new learning future – aligning learning delivery and measurement in an open, social world Business strategy engagement – aligning learning strategy for business growth Creating the right learning architecture We hope you enjoy the series and look out for part 1 later next week

Using MOOCs to drive learners to your online programmes

A new post on the Harvard Business Review blog caught my eye this week and illustrates an Large crowd of peopleidea learning strategists can use to help drive uptake on online programmes.  As one of the first out of the blocks with MOOCs, Harvard have been monitoring closely the effect on the bottom line and unsurprisingly so.  Although cannibalisation has been a major concern for higher ed since the MOOC phenomenon hit, what is often forgotten is that MOOCs are essentially a form of marketing; with the fees for a Harvard MBA currently at $58,875, they certainly weren’t going to do anything to jeopardise income but as all higher ed providers acknowledge, online changes the dynamic and shape of the market. Although not direct income generators, MOOCs are a way to develop ‘brand advocacy’ and encourage learners to go onto take paid programmes.  The evidence suggests that they can acts as ‘recruitment pools’ onto paid programmes in markets that have previously been hard to reach.  So what does all this have to do with the L&D team trying to increase the range and depth of their online learning offering? What’s important to learners – lessons from MOOCs Completing a course is not always the most important thing – this can be challenging for L&D teams when deciding upon the metrics for success.  Having a resource of top quality content to which I can return or take a proportion of a course relevant to me and perhaps return at a later date may still hold incredible value.  You’ll need to undertake research with your learners to understand the differences to practice and working outcomes your learning has rather than rely on LMS reports.  So building effective online learning programmes will mean the ‘effective’ bit needs to be measured in more sophisticated ways. To complete a course, completion needs to mean something – this is often an issue that our consultants explore in depth with our customers when developing their wider online learning strategies or launch plans for online academies.  Linking your programmes to things that matter to the learner are vital, if it’s not important, relevant and impactful, it will never move up the priority list. Could a MOOCs itself help? If MOOCs help the uptake of programmes for universities then why not for organisations?  Researching and promoting MOOCs that could be highly relevant to your learners helps drive the onlien learning agenda.  Participation can encourage and develop the skills needed to then go on and learn effectively on internal programmes.  Of course, you’ll need to choose carefully as there are some pretty poor MOOCs out there (although encouragingly this number is reducing significantly)  – so you need to ensure your recommendations are credible. Developing an effective online learning strategy isn’t easy but with the right help, there are huge benefits to organisations who embrace and capitalise on the new learning agenda.

Slides from our ‘online academies’ webinar available

lamp bulb tulipsMany thanks to everyone who came along to the webinar this morning – online academies certainly lived up to it’s hot topic billing.  From creating an effective learning ecosystem through to adding context through great content and community activity, it’s a rich subject that we’ll explore further in our autumn webinar series. We’ll be taking a summer break from our webinar programme but the blog will still be very much active, so check back regularly for new posts and papers on academies.  We’ll be back on the webinar circuit on 17th September at 10am UK time with our friends at the Learning and Performance Institute for a webinar on Taking Leadership Programmes Online, where we’ll be building on the ideas and concepts explored today. You can download today’s presentation here.