At the #elnevent yesterday, one of the key points that kept coming out was the need for L&D departments to be able to articulate their value proposition.
ie. L&D people need to be able to communicate what value they are offering to their organisations.
At it's simplest, they must be able to explain to senior stakeholders what the impact would be if L&D stopped working...
For most functional departments this is quite easy. It's easy to imagine the impact if IT, Sales, or even HR stopped doing their work.
But L&D is a bit less definable. Perhaps that's because the impact on the organisation is not immediately visible?
Think about the impact L&D has had on you. In my case, it's very little. If I need to learn something, I'll learn it.
Now, think about what would happen if the L&D department shut up shop and said no more courses. What would be the short, medium and long term effects to your organisation?
What real value are you offering to solve real problems?
In the first part of this article, I raised a number of questions around how, in general, we are not yet realising the benefits of online learning within our schools, universities and workplaces.
Outside of these structures, we can see new technologies breaking down the boundaries between organisations and people, providing ready access to information, and democratizing the knowledge economy. Inside them, much is the same as it has been since the start of the industrial revolution - with hierarchies and control to the fore.
Responding to a follow-up comment, I wrote:
How many schools have changed the way they use their classrooms, because of what can now be achieved through online methods? How many have changed their teachers' contracts to allow them to work from home? How many are accepting students on a more flexible basis? How many schools still close down all operations when there's a bit of snow?
In the workplace, it's more common to find organisations blocking the very tools that are used outside for learning, than embracing them. Until cooperation and communication finds a place at the heart of the work we do, organisations will remain reliant on centrally-driven elearning programmes that simply reinforce the status quo. By so doing, these organisations will continue to lag behind in a business and cultural environment that is changing far more rapidly than they can.
You can find examples of institutions and workplaces where the potential has been seen by visionary leaders; where the boundaries of the underpinning organisational structures themselves are pushed, and occasionally completely reformed.
I have worked with schools where teachers' contracts were re-written, to allow them to support city-wide live online learning sessions from home. Thus enabling sharing of resources between schools.
Other schools, eg. Hollinsclough Primary School are providing flexible schooling - working in partnership with home-schooling parents from across local authority boundaries. They are leading the way in showing how pooled resources can help small schools and home-schooling to remain viable.
Some teachers, schools, and sometimes even whole local authorities (US: school boards) are exploring different models of learning, where classroom time is seen as too valuable to devote to one-size-fits-all lock-step teaching. Instead it's used for conversation, problem-solving, peer support. The teacher's role becomes that of a facilitator, coach and guide. How else can we manage increasing class sizes and diverse student populations? Who says that every hour of a student's time in school has to be spent in a classroom with a teacher? Why not build managed self-study into the timetable, thus allowing classroom time to have a better student:teacher ratio?
Some workplaces are taking the best of what happens on the real-world internet, and bringing it in-house. Deloitte's use of Yammer (a Facebook/Twitter-like tool - discussed in this video by its CEO) has been a catalyst to breaking down hierarchies - but with real business benefits. Cash America's use of user-generated video content has provided a simple, but effective means of upskilling front-line staff. Software developed under collaborative, open-source models now drives the majority of the world's web servers, powers thousands of learning institutions' online learning functions. Open source, collaborative development has also begun to take shape in the real world, with "distributed DIY projects" (see video below).
But these are just the outworkings of a new model.
What sits behind them is a sea change in how we deal with people. Rather than hierarchies and control, the underlying principles of this new paradigm are contribution and trust - leading to self-organisation (discussed and demonstrated brilliantly by Sugata Mitra at ALT 2010 (Youtube)
Alongside the eLearning Network's Campaign for Effective Elearning, I propose that we also need to be highlighting any learning interventions that really work.
And by "work", I don't mean ones that necessarily use state-of-the-art technologies and high quality graphics. They might look good to the people paying the bills, but are they really what is needed to solve the problem?
I mean the interventions that are being produced on a daily basis by learning professionals (and those who aren't professionals - where they are allowed!)
To be included in the list, they need to:
- Reach maximum audience for minimum cost
- Be tested on a realistic sample of real learners
- Have made a demonstrable positive difference to the behaviours or skills of those learners
Thanks to Barry Sampson for stimulating this train of thought.
The notes below are designed to help participants prepare for my workshop. It will be very hands on and interactive. In the afternoon, in Laura's session we will move from this case study approach to one that is much more focussed on the participants' particular contexts.
Any reference, inferred or implied, to real organisations is completely coincidental!
XYZ Solutions Ltd is a 3000 strong global company, involved in providing outsourced IT support.
Within the company there are a number of key functions:
Administration & finance
Learning & development
Research and development
Bids & Tenders
The company has an integrated customer-relationship management (CRM) system, that was designed to improve efficiencies across all the functions, and to enable consistencies in communication.
However, the promised efficiences have not been realised.
The IT manager has investigated, and discovered that:
- Some sales people are not using the CRM at all – preferring to work with their own spreadsheets
- There is confusion amongst the customer-facing functions over what information should go into what fields
- The quality of technical advice given to customers is varying, mainly because technicians are not documenting calls properly, and there is little aggregation of knowledge by team managers.
Senior management have decided that Learning & Development should be the team to solve this problem.
- Total spend (including travel & subsistence) to be within the allocated budget
- Time away from work for learning to be no more than 1 day per person, with no more than 1 hour in any working day.
- The solution should be sustainable, with minimal ongoing input, to enable new starters to “get with the programme”
- Efficiencies should be realised in both sales and front-office
Up to now, the company L&D culture has been focussed on face-to-face, classroom-based training. Follow-up reviews indicate that much of the content is irrelevant and poorly presented. Also the training often takes place when the learner is least able to make use of it immediately.
The L&D team has created some elearning materials (using a rapid development tool) around topics such as information security, data protection, diversity and health & safety. Although most people have completed the training, it has had little noticeable impact on behaviours, and the general reaction has been that the elearning was boring and poorly presented.
Elearning is perceived as a poor substitute for attending a face-to-face course.
The L&D team have developed a programme which comprises:
- Ongoing identification of CRM best practices through a limited number of CRM champions from across the business
- Procuring a series of short, 3 minute videos which highlight the benefits of the CRM system, and focus on specific, centrally-affirmed best practices. These will be hosted in an off-site video-delivery system, with access only for XYZ staff on XYZ hardware.
- Quarterly face-to-face workshops for CRM champions to raise issues, share best practice and create new resources.
- A hints and tips hashtag for CRM champions (and other users) to share their knowledge on the company’s micro-blogging system
They know that, for the programme to succeed, initial and ongoing learner engagement is critical.
Your team has been brought in as consultants to help with this...
[You will be discussing these questions in small groups on the day - but feel free to comment back on this post for clarification or to test out ideas]
- What problems can you forsee with gaining and sustaining learner engagement in this programme?
Hint: Consider access, motivation, communication and management
- What elements would you like to see within the design of the videos or the delivery system that would specifically encourage engagement?
Hint: Consider the characteristics of Youtube videos that achieve high engagement, eg. usefulness, quirkyness, comedy. Also consider what gets and keeps people engaged with long term programmes such as video games, TV drama serials, sporting leagues.
- What should go into the communication plan for this programme?
Hint: Think about communications in four stages:
Well in advance of start -> Just before it starts -> During -> After
- What specific management practices would encourage engagement?
Related posts: Engaging the unwilling learner
Whenever something new is introduced into an organisation it raises questions about the old ways. Should they remain? Should they be changed to accommodate the new?
Online and informal learning is a case in point. For decades, learning (whether in schools, universities or the workplace) was based mainly around the classroom. There were occassional forays into self-directed or distance learning, but primarily all learning activity was focussed on the interaction between the "teacher" and the "learner" at a particular moment in space-time.
Until the late 1990's, the closest many people got to informal learning was browsing the books at home or at the library - both of which were limited in scope.
Now, however, we have more information at our fingertips than we can handle. We have access to experts, pundits, friends and extremists in equal measure, from across the world. Lack of data is no longer an excuse.
This knowledge economy is also democratized. Anyone, with even the simplest smartphone or cheapest computer, can add into the ever-expanding global knowledgebase.
Yet our schools, universities and workplaces - the core, foundational structures of society - continue working as if nothing had changed.
Our classrooms and lecture theatres are still designed as places where knowledge is imparted, and their curriculums as the sole source of that knowledge. Anyone that strays outside of the proscribed norms of behaviour or ability is a problem to be dealt with or ignored, rather than the individual they are.
Our training departments and the dependency culture of learning they implicitly promote are unable to keep up with the pace of change, and run the risk of, at best, becoming irrelevant, or at worst, a barrier to development.
Our work is done in isolation from other people doing similar things. The freedom of communication taken for granted across the internet is rarely replicated inside our workplaces, and often blocked on work equipment...
If we were starting again, what would our learning institutions look like? What would be the essential skills, knowledge and behaviours that we would expect every school to develop? How would we organise (or allow?) learning inside our companies?
Online learning has the potential to break down boundaries between organisations and between people, and to allow knowledge to flow easily between them. Outside of our societal structures this is already happening.
Should we be seeking to make that potential a reality within our current model of schools, universities and workplace? Or do we need to rethink the very structures themselves, and look for alternative models of society that can make best use of the new knowledge networks?
To be continued...
"Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Hans de Zwart, writing in his blog this week about Automattic (the company behind Wordpress) states "They would say that their productivity as a company is dependent on how well they communicate."
I have seen so many examples of organistations where the opposite is the reality: Where the communication structures in place actually inhibit productivity.
If knowledge and information is the lifeblood of your organisation, shouldn't you provide every means possible to allow it to flow freely?
If you want to see some of this in writing see my pre-workshop blog post.
You can find more of these at the Ascot Communications Youtube channel
With many corporate systems now coming with in-built social media tools, and bottom-up systems like Yammer & Socialcast gaining large numbers of users through exponential growth, who's job is it to prevent fragmentation of your internal social networks?
It seems like every corporate tool now has some element of social media contained within it. Sharepoint 2010 comes with a range of community tools (blogs, ratings, tagging etc). Salesforce has integrated its fully-featured Chatter social collaboration and networking product. Oracle has got the "Oracle Social Network" product. Project management tools, such as Huddle have integrated social tools. And every LMS vendor in the world seems to think their product contains the ultimate in social learning tools.
Alongside that, there are standalone commercial platforms like NoddlePod (worth a look just for a lesson in simplicity!), Yammer, Socialcast and Fusion Universal's Fuse. And in the open-source world, we have BuddyPress and Elgg.
Organisations are becoming more comfortable with the use of social media, and exploring its potential to improve the way the organisation runs. However, this now runs the risk of different parts of the organisation promoting their own particular networking or collaboration tool.
In a typical organisation you might find the IT team promoting Sharepoint, business managers promoting Salesforce, Internal Communications promoting Yammer, Learning & Development promoting Saba Social Learning, HR promoting Oracle, and your R&D mavericks promoting BuddyPress.
Multiplying social networks causes fragmentation of different interest groups - which is bad news for anyone hoping to break down organisational silos.
You could adopt a Darwinian approach and go for survival of the fittest - but that's not a quick route to change, and will potentially lead to a "space race" between competing departments.
My advice would be that there needs to be someone at the highest level taking responsibility, providing strategic leadership, working with system suppliers & integrators, and pulling together social media expertise from across the organisation.
With all the advances in online learning, why haven't we changed our approach to the face-to-face event?
We now have ways to easily deliver content, whether text, images, audio, video (or any combination) using massively scalable technologies.
Similarly, we can mix this with computer-marked activities and peer-to-peer communication and collaboration.
With all this, why do we still need the classroom / conference hall?
Doug Belshaw puts it very nicely when he says:
The face-to-face nature of conferences is, I believe, of even more importance in an extremely digitally connected world. Whilst it’s often the case that you can get to know people very well online, there’s something about embodied interaction that makes your knowledge of that person three-dimensional.
When you're completely engaged by a great performance (whether in speaking, sport or music), being there is often a better experience than watching it later. Although, as TED Talks show, even second-hand is far better than nothing!
However, most face-to-face learning experiences are not great performances. Most presentation style sessions, including my own, are distinctly mediocre when judged as performances, and, to be honest, not exactly memorable. Not really what you want when you're there to learn.
What we often forget, is that the best learning often happens when you try to explain things to other people, or ask questions, or exchange points of view. In fact, when you have conversations.
By provoking conversation, you are provoking the very thing that stimulates people to engage with the subject in question. If you have an expert in the room, that's even better. As they can ask the right questions, or feed in the right bits of information at just the right time.
That's great when you've got small groups, but how does that work as group sizes go up? This is an important consideration if you're looking at learning models that work financially.
One method is the Fishbowl technique. This is a method of dialogue that works for large groups, whilst allowing all to participate.
Alternatively, you can create a series of practical activities that learners will work through in groups. (This is the approach I'm going to take in next month's Elearning Network event: Getting started in elearning)
For longer face-to-face events, you'd use a mixture of different conversation techniques, with different sized groups, and different activities. But the thing to avoid is the presentation - unless of course you have an expert performer who can engage the audience.
To help any conversation-based session to work well, you need a number of elements in place:
- A skilled moderator or facilitator who will provide the right scaffolding for the conversation, set timings, pull together arguments (see: Online Tutoring article) and not feel the need to take over the conversation.
- A subject matter expert who will provide input to the scaffolding resources, and act as a sounding board and coach for learners (under the guidance of the facilitator)
- Conversation that is at the right level for the people in the room - ie. just beyond their comfort zone - inside their Zone of Proximal Development.
Remember, too, that your learner's experience of your workshop starts when they first see the advert, and finishes when they try the ideas out back at base. From start to finish, it's your responsibility as the organiser to make the workshop the most effective learning experience they can get. This may include setting expectations about pre-workshop activities (eg. watching a video, reading an article). Just like the best teacher you had at school, you'll need to be consistent on those expectations. People will soon learn that they'll get the most from their experience with you if they meet them.
It's all about making the best use of the environments (both online and face-to-face) you've got available to you.
Embedding learning in work
Reflections on Learning Technologies 2012
Breaking down the classroom walls
Conferences, presentations, streaming video and conversation
Ideas for an unconference process
Reflections on Learning Technologies 2010