Monday, 7 July 2014

Nothing Has Changed. Everything Has Changed.

A Revolution or a Slow Demise?

Revolutionize L&D - QuinnI’ve recently read Clark Quinn’s excellent new ‘Revolutionize Learning & Development’ book. Clark always provides a thoughtful and enlightening perspective.  There are some observations and suggestions in here that get to the heart of the issues around the fact that our approaches to building capability through learning need a radical rethink.

Despite the book’s title (or maybe that’s the point of it) Clark’s focus is not so much on learning and development as on performance. It’s about the output rather than process. Learning as simply a means to improve performance.

I agree totally with this approach.

Learning itself may be a noble aim but it’s not an end in itself in the context of work. Professionals in any field are usually recognised (and paid) for results. Whether you’re working in an HR or L&D department, or for a commercial company providing learning tools and services, or for a college, university or business school, results matter. It’s no different from any other profession. Lack of demonstrable results lead to consequences such as limiting of funding, closure or contract cancellation.

We know that the results of learning and development activities can only be determined by changes in behaviour (after all, at its heart that’s what ‘real learning’ is) and behaviour change needs to be measured in terms of what individuals, teams and organisations can do and are doing, that they couldn’t do previously, or what they’re doing better than before. ‘Knowing’ does not prove ‘learning’.

This point seems still to be lost on many HR and learning professionals.

Quinn suggests that a focus on performance augmentation should be at the core of all learning and development activity. He describes a range of methods to achieve the transformation from learning to performance. This book is very helpful in that way and builds on the work of others such as Gloria Gery, Mary Broad and Harold Stolovitch.

If learning professionals and learning departments don’t adapt and change, Quinn argues, they will be revealed not simply as having no clothes, but as being so out of step that they will wither and die, or be removed from the value chain.

The evidence seems to strongly support Quinn’s arguments.

One piece of aligning data comes from the Corporate Executive Board’s 2012 study ‘Building High Performance Capability for the New Work Environment’. This study sampled 35,000 managers and employees across the globe. Part of its focus was examining the links between stakeholder expectations, current practices and results delivered by L&D, and steps toward adapting to the needs of the ‘new work environment’.

Characteristics of this new work environment include:

  • increased demands on the amount of work done with co-workers in different locations
  • increased numbers of individuals involved in making decisions
  • increased need to navigate complex work processes
  • increased requirement for employees to use analytical competencies to process data and make decisions
  • increased importance of ‘network performance’ over individual task performance
  • increase in need for ‘network performance’ capabilities such as:
    • teamwork
    • self- and organisational awareness
    • process design
    • creativity
    • systems thinking

The startling findings of this CEB study were that in order to achieve breakthrough employee performance and achieve their short-term business goals (goals for the next 12 months) stakeholders reported they required an average improvement of around 20-25%.

Business leaders stated they required a 20% improvement in employee performance to achieve their goals, managers needed to see the performance of their teams rise by 22%, and HR leaders believed that their workforces needed to improve by 25% to achieve business goals.

At the same time the study found that simply improving existing practices in the delivery of classroom training will yield only limited gains.

The major reason for this is that by-and-large classroom training techniques have become more efficient over the years (we’ve been at it for a long time) and only marginal further improvements are possible.

CEB future course
Fig: From Corporate Executive Board’s ‘Building High Performance Capability for the New Work Environment’ study, October 2012.
Data from CLC Learning and Development High Performance Survey: CLC Training Effectiveness Dashboard. Used with permission.

The simple conclusion CEB draws from this study is that ‘current course and speed won’t get us there’.

However there’s a sting in the tail, too. An earlier piece of Corporate Leadership Council research, L&D Team Capabilities Survey (2011), found that although participants and their managers report high levels of satisfaction on individual learning interventions, their feedback on the performance of the L&D function as a whole was extremely low.

  • “Only 23% of line leaders report satisfaction with the overall effectiveness of the L&D function”
  • “Only 15% of line leaders report the L&D function is effective in influencing their talent strategy”
  • “Only 14% or line leaders would recommend working with L&D to a colleague”

Clearly there is a huge gap between what stakeholders need from their L&D departments and what is currently being delivered.

The imperative is clear, but are L&D leaders and professionals stepping up to address it?

Clark Quinn and I would both argue that there is some good practice and some emerging practice being demonstrated which can close these gaps and transform the learning function into an effective organisational lever. But we need wider fundamental changes if we’re to do so at speed and scale.

So, what are these fundamental changes?

Fundamental Change for L&D – Learning Lessons from Our Changing Concept and Use of Time

I believe we can learn some lessons of where we are and where we need to be as HR and L&D professionals, or as anyone who has responsibility for workforce development and performance, by looking back at how we have adapted our ideas and practices around the concept of time.

It might seem a strange analogy but I think it fits well to the current challenge.

Measuring Time by Observation
For millennia people measured time based on the position of the sun. When the sun was directly overhead it was noon. That was the only way to know and that was the way time was calculated. The concept of hours and minutes wasn’t needed or used.

This was a bit like the one-trick classroom pony that has been used for many years. Training was seen as the only solution to performance problems. If training didn’t work, then we trained them again – and again.

time - WinchesterSundials and Water Clocks
As technologies such as sundials and water clocks evolved to allow us to measure time more accurately and efficiently we adopted them.

This was  little like the uptake of online courses and eLearning. We found that we could reach more people using fewer resources, faster. However, we were still using the same mindset and thinking of solutions as being ‘courses and programmes’. Learning by physically or mentally taking people away from the workplace.

Mechanical Clocks
By the Middle Ages sundials and other approaches based on natural ‘tools’ had been replaced by the the mechanical clock. Each city had its mechanical clock which was set by the angle of the sun at noon.  However  every city had its own, unique time zone.

The photograph above is of the instrumentation on an external wall of the Guildhall in Winchester, the city where I live. Winchester is one degree 19 minutes west of Greenwich, the point designated as ‘absolute zero’ in terms of longitude. One degree 19 minutes at 15 degrees North computes to roughly 86 miles. So the ‘real time’ at Winchester is 5 minutes 16 seconds behind the time at Greenwich. About 60 miles further west the people of Bristol worked to a time that was a further few minutes later than Winchester.

This situation was a bit like the the industry that has arisen over the past 20 years with multiple LMSs and content creation tools and other learning offerings. We were tied into many bespoke systems – there were some standards and reference models to make things slightly easier, but our efforts were were still stuck on point-solutions. We produced smarter modules and courses, better learning pathways, or integrated new technologies but the overall outcome was to make the learning landscape more complex and full of ‘busy work’.

The Disruptive Driver
The most significant disruption to our concept of time came not through new time-keeping inventions but through a totally different invention in a totally different domain – the railway network.

In 1840 the Great Western Railway in England (running from London to Bristol and further west into Devon and Cornwall) applied a standard railway time across its network, based on London Time (or Greenwich Mean Time).

“The key purpose behind introducing railway time was twofold: to overcome the confusion caused by having non-uniform local times in each town and station stop along the expanding railway network and to reduce the incidence of accidents and near misses, which were becoming more frequent as the number of train journeys increased.

The railway companies sometimes faced concerted resistance from local people who refused to adjust their public clocks to bring them into line with London Time. As a consequence two different times would be displayed in the town and in use, with the station clocks and (time) published in train timetables differing by several minutes from that on other clocks. Despite this early reluctance, railway time rapidly became adopted as the default time across the whole of Great Britain, although it took until 1880 for the government to legislate on the establishment of a single Standard Time and a single time zone for the country”. (Wikipedia ‘Railway Time’)

There was undoubtedly opposition to this new disruptive approach to an age old issue. Charles Dickens was one who expressed concerns. In Dombey and Son he wrote "There was even railway time observed in clocks, as if the sun itself had given in." However, despite concerns and opposition, railway time was rapidly adopted across the world. A train crash in New England in the USA in 1853 caused by the guards having different times on their watches was just one of many accidents and mishaps that made it obvious that a new order was needed.

L&D Disruptions

Our approaches to learning are being confronted by not just one external disruptive driver, but by many.

  • Change is occurring at an increasingly rapid rate. Taking people away from the workplace to train them in order to keep up and do their jobs better is becoming a less viable option by the day.
  • Increasing complexity and reliance on tacit knowledge means that ‘extracting’ knowledge and codifying it into modules and courses is not only becoming more difficult, but often slows speed to capability.
  • Daily pressures make it less-and-less likely that people can take time away from their work to attend a course. Although it is important to have time for reflective practice and sharing with others most structured training and development courses are built around content, not conversations, sharing and reflection.
  • Evidence suggests that most mistakes are due to errors of ineptitude (mistakes we make because we don’t make proper use of what we know) rather than  errors of ignorance (mistakes we make because we don’t know enough). Yet most approaches to learning assume the opposite is the case.
  • The rise and rise of social medial and technologies has opened up opportunities for people to access help and support from across wider networks in almost real-time. We don’t need to ‘know’ the minutiae if we know where to find it, or who can help us. This challenges many assumptions of our current learning approaches.

There are many other disruptors confronting existing models and practices used by L&D departments and their learning providers. The point is, like the impact of the railway on timekeeping there is an urgent need to adapt. The old must give way to the new. Carrying on regardless is not an option. But many are still doing just that, or focusing on incremental changes only. But everything has changed, and no change in response is simply not an option.

On a positive note there are many things that L&D departments and their organisations can do to change and adapt, but they must move fast. Adopting Dr Quinn’s performance augmentation mindset, and a range of practices that will support it, is a very good start.

© 2014 Charles Jennings

Thursday, 1 May 2014

What Does the Training Department Do When Training Doesn’t Work?

clip_image002The global training industry is large and in growth again post-2008. Data provided by the US membership organisation Training Industry suggests annual growth around 6% per year since 2009.

Training Industry estimates the 2012 figures for the training market at $131billion in the USA and $160billion for the rest of the world – a global total of $291billion.

ASTD data suggests US companies spent $164billion on employee learning and development in 2012 saying that ‘despite a continuously changing economic environment, organizations remain committed to training and development’.

Although the Training Industry and ASTD figures vary a little it is clear that the global training industry is a large and apparently healthy one. The annual global market of around US300billion is equivalent to the total GDP of countries such as Denmark and Chile.

It’s not just about the money

So how well is all this money being spent?

It’s almost impossible to give an accurate answer to that question other to say that, as with all systems, we can be sure there’s room for improvement.

One of the challenges about how well the money is being spent is that the ‘holy grail’ for many training and learning departments - identifying the financial value of the investment in training and other structured learning and development activity (the ROI) – is rarely achieved and, many would argue, is a flawed measure anyway. We know that there’s a lot more to ‘value’ than a tangible monetary figure (try getting someone to swap their late mother’s wedding ring valued at $1,000 for a new one valued at $3,000 and you’ll get the picture).

In the ROI world the perfect solution consists of a identifying a clear causal chain linking and isolating training input with the ‘hard numbers’ of output. Unfortunately life’s not always as easy as that. Sometimes isolating ROI is easy, sometimes it’s impossible. I have seen some very impressive and valid ROI results and I have seen many other ROI projects end up in the ‘too hard’ basket.

Supporting our workforces to get better and achieve to their potential is not just about the money. In the words of a famous English football manager “it’s much, much more important than that”.

Of course efficiency is important in any training activity – both in financial terms and in terms of achieving results at the speed of business. And it’s not only efficiencies within the training process that we need to look for. Sometimes it’s more efficient and more effective simply not to train at all.

We see examples of opportunities for improving performance by not training all around us. There’s an article I wrote some time ago which addresses that particular issue in detail here.

Training is not a panacea

Most learning and training professionals understand that training is not a universal panacea. Sometimes training works, sometimes it doesn’t. Occasionally the outcomes are the exact opposite of the intentions (see my article on compliance and diversity training here for examples of this).

So, what happens when it’s clear that training is not an effective or and efficient solution for a specific problem?

In other words, what does the training department do when training doesn't work?

The training department response

There are a number of options available (other than shutting down altogether).

  • it can change its name
  • it can change its practices
  • it can change its skillset
  • it can change its mindset

Changing names

clip_image004Name changes alone may feel good, but they usually do little or nothing in terms of real change.

Sometimes a name change does have the effect of changing perceptions. But simply changing perceptions alone has little effect on improving organisational performance. We have all seen ‘training departments’ become ‘learning and development’ departments and trainers rebranded as L&D consultants or with some similar – often more exotic - title. There are some tremendous new and exciting ones that I am sure many in the profession could share.

That’s not to say that changing names should be avoided. When other changes are implemented, a change in name for the training department and a change of titles for the team is probably essential. But this needs to be part of a wider change process.

Changing practices

Changing practices, or the ‘way we do things around here’ is both a sensible and increasingly common response to the realisation that training is to an extent a one-trick pony that can’t cover the wide spectrum of needs in today’s fast-moving and demanding work environment.

Training’s inherent inertia often creates more problems than it solves. Training takes time to plan and prepare, and to deliver. Usually the best solutions to performance problems are faster and more cost effective than training. Often the root cause of the performance problem is something that training simply can’t address. Only a minority of instances of under-performance are due to lack of knowledge or skill. Most are due to motivational or external environmental factors.

Equally, building high-performing teams and organisations is overwhelmingly a matter of exploiting opportunities for experiential learning and practice.

Experience and practice, together with coaching and exploiting networks, and with sharing challenges and potential solutions with colleagues provide the answer. Content-centric , away-from-work, training approaches are on the other hand overwhelmingly ineffective in fast-moving knowledge-based environments where people need to ‘know now’ and ‘know how’ almost instantly in order to perform. They are usually far more costly, too.

Learning in the workflow is the way forward. This is where I have seen the 70:20:10 framework, when used strategically, help organisations adopt new and more effective practices.

Changing skillsets

The dominant model of physical content design and delivery that has been in use over the past 100 years is being shown as increasingly less effective and more costly when compared with the alternatives. the problem is not only that the alternative options have expanded, but the ground has also moved, too. Speed and change dominate. The need to build capability well, fast and flexibly has become critical.

Meta-learning has become more important than learning facts and figures. The details changes almost daily, so there is little use in learning well in advance of needing to ‘do. Ubiquitous access has done away with the need to know the detail unless it’s used on a daily basis. If it is used daily we remember it through exposure and practice. If it isn’t used daily we can find it when we need to.

Training departments need to adopt new approaches, and with these new approaches comes the need for new skillsets.

Traditional training skillsets still have their place (particularly in what I’d call the ‘10’ – the structured learning part of the 70:20:10 model). But the need for skills in design and delivery of face-to-face training events is without a doubt on the decline. There will always be the need for highly skilled trainers. It is just that the world probably doesn’t need an increasing number of them. Just the opposite.

So training departments need to help their people build new skillsets, or need to acquire new people with new skillsets – often both.

These new skillsets will be many and varied. Jane Hart, in her Social Learning Handbook 2014 explains:

‘New learning practices involve understanding it is not just about delivering courses but about helping people to make the most of how they learn naturally and continuously as they do their jobs – in the flow of work – in project or work teams.

It’s not just about internal experts telling people what they should know or do – but about peers sharing their thoughts and experiences, and in doing so learning just as much from one another’

Identifying and exploiting workplace learning opportunities requires skills that are different from those traditionally needed by trainers.

Training needs analysis skills need to be replaced with performance consulting skills. New skills for understanding and using the Social Web, and for helping workers develop their personal knowledge management capabilities are required. Skills in utilising scaffolding theory and scaffolding learning experiences are essential. (Scaffolding is a concept introduced in the 1950s by Jerome Bruner , one of the greatest educational psychologists of our era and still, at the age of 98, senior research fellow at New York University).

These are just a few in the new armoury for training and learning professionals. There are many other items in this ‘new skillset’.

Changing mindsets


More than all the other changes, the most important action a training department can take when training doesn’t work is to work on changing mindsets.


Mindset: noun \ˈmīn(d)-ˌset\
a particular way of thinking : an attitude or set of opinions. An inclination or a habit…a way of life

To be successful and effective, and to be able to adapt to the emerging knowledge-based fast-moving world, training and learning professionals need to cultivate a development mindset. This is needed above everything else.

A development mindset is one that understands learning and development is a continuous process and that learning and working are not separate activities but simply aspects of the same thing – doing good work and improving continuously.

A development mindset is one that sees opportunities for learning and development in everyday work activities and has the capacity to exploit them.

A development mindset is one that doesn’t need to assume the role of ‘expert’ to help others grab development opportunities as they emerge.

A development mindset is one that understands the power of learning through real-work experiences and practice rather than feeling the need to create ‘training systems’ and simulations for learning

A development mindset is one that helps, supports, guides, advises, connects and reinforces rather than teaches or instructs.

A development mindset helps fishers fish.

That’s what the training department needs to do when training doesn’t work.   It’s easy, isn’t it?

© 2014 Charles Jennings

Monday, 3 February 2014

Learning is Behaviour Change: why is it often so hard to help it happen?

A fascinating article recently published on the Fast Company blog should be required reading for all learning and talent professionals as well as for leaders and managers.

Alan Deutschman, the author of ‘Change or Die’ makes a pretty stark statement about people’s reluctance to change:

“What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure said you had to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think and act? If you didn't, your time would end soon -- a lot sooner than it had to. Could you change when change really mattered? When it mattered most?”

He goes on to say that even if you think you’d change, it’s unlikely to happen. The scientifically studied odds are nine-to-one that even if confronted with life-or-death decisions, people simply can’t change their behaviour.

Or as the writer and author of ‘Brave New World’, Aldous Huxley, once succinctly put it: “I see the better but it is the worse I pursue”.

Stop or Simply Avoid the Pain?

StopWe’ve all seen or experienced the challenge of behaviour change and the inability to make it happen in any meaningful way.

How many of us have tried regimes of dieting or increased exercise, or even keeping away from some stimulant or another for for a time only to fail to keep to our intentions after an initial few weeks (or even days). We return to previous behaviours far more easily than we’d like to think we do.

Deutschman cites examples from medicine. People fail to adopt healthy lifestyles even in the face of certain curtailment of life. 90% of patients with heart disease in a study at Johns Hopkins University failed to adopt a lifestyle change in spite of major heart surgery.

I’ve seen it first-hand.

Some years ago I spent six weeks in a cardiac unit being treated for a heart infection (caused by a sheep-borne micro-organism, not lifestyle, I should point out..). The treatment involved being pumped full of antibiotics day-after-day in the hope that the surgeon’s knife would not need to be unsheathed.

Six weeks propped up in a hospital bed gives you plenty of time to observe things that go on around you. One behaviour that surprised me was displayed by a number of the people who emerged from serious heart surgery - triple bypasses, open heart procedures and so on. It often took only as long as they were able to walk again (sometimes just a matter of hours) for them to skulk off to the lavatories for a quick cigarette or two. Yet smoking was probably one of the major factors that put them there in the first place. And I’m sure their doctors had told them so.

Now with nicotine there’s a very clear reason why behaviour is difficult to change. There’s a chemical addiction involved. But why is is seemingly almost as difficult to change behaviour in the workplace?

CEOs and Learning Professionals as Change Agents

Not only does effective leadership fundamentally come down to changing people’s behaviour, that’s what ‘learning’ is too.

In fact learning is behaviour change above all else. We certainly can only effectively measure learning by observing and determining changes in behaviour, or allowing people to demonstrate the nature of changes in behaviour brought about through some type of learning activity or another. There is no other way.

People often get confused between ‘remembering’ and ‘learning’.

Eric Kandel the neuropsychiatrist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on learning and memory describes learning as “the ability to acquire new ideas from experience and retain them as memories”. Kandel wasn’t talking about short-term memory – the type that allows us to cram facts and figures one day, recall them the next, but forget them a week later. He was talking about long-term memory. The ability to retain new ideas from experience in long-term memory and recall them in order to respond differently than before. In other words, to alter response, performance or whatever aspect of human behaviour we are focused on, and for that alteration to be for the better. To produce improved outcomes; to deliver that project faster and to a higher quality; to provide deeper insight to that business analysis; to solve that client’s problem faster…

Deutschman goes on to point out that “conventional wisdom says that crisis is a powerful motivator for change. But severe heart disease is among the most serious of personal crises, and it doesn't motivate -- at least not nearly enough. Nor does giving people accurate analyses and factual information about their situations.”

So what else can be done to change behaviour and engender learning?

Speak to Feelings

Deutschman refers to the findings of John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied dozens of organisations in the midst of upheaval. Kotter found that the issues were never strategy, structure, culture or systems, but those related to changing behaviours.

Kotter observed that behaviour change happens mostly by speaking to feelings. Emotions, belief that this is ‘the right thing to do’, trusting that the agents of change are ‘on your side’ and are doing things that will be in your best interest (benevolent trust is the term). These are the things that help create an environment where change will happen.

The psychologist Itiel Dror has worked with forensic experts, police, armed forces personnel, pilots, surgeons and many other groups in his research into how experts in these fields have developed their capability and and how they process information and make their judgements and decisions. These are all people who deal daily with vast amounts of explicit and implicit information.

Dror is an expert in the use of shock and tension to create learning and behaviour change. He is sometimes seen at conferences and seminars with a human brain in a jar and a rich collection of shocking, but memorable, stories. Dror speaks to the power of traumatic learning experiences that often create a reaction of horror in the learner. This learning, he has found, sticks – and changes behaviour permanently.

So speaking to negative feelings is a powerful way to elicit learning and change behaviour as well as speaking to positive feelings and emotions.

The Implications for Learning Professionals

Changing behaviour is a complex and often difficult process, especially embedding long-term change. It is one of the major challenges learning professionals face. Creating great learning experiences in the moment - whether in a classroom, workshop or digitally - is a relatively easy task, but ensuring that short-term ‘learning’ becomes embedded and results in behaviour change is more difficult.

It is well worth thinking about the role that feelings and emotions play in the process. If they are central to the behaviour change process, then they must also be central to the learning process.

Deutschman explains that cognitive science, together with linguistic research, stresses the importance of ‘framing’ – ‘the mental structures that shape the way we see the world’, and that mere facts and information are unlikely to alter our ‘frames’ just as the facts presented to someone with a serious heart problem is unlikely to redirect them to an instant healthy lifestyle.

Our usual response to ‘fact-based’ teaching and learning is to mould the facts to fit our world-view, not the other way around. We need to create an environment where people can experience things that alter their world view. It seems that the experiences can be deeply emotional and positive, or deeply traumatic and negative – or somewhere in between. No matter what, they need to be experiences and not just information.

This speaks to the power of  experiential learning over the ‘knowledge transfer’ approach.

Even ‘The Knowledge’ is Experiential


The Knowledge’ is the test London Taxi drivers need to take to get their green badge and be allowed on the road.

No other urban authority in the world requires its taxi drivers to know their city in such minute detail. The Knowledge (started in 1865 and little changed since) requires drivers preparing for their taxi licence test to know some 420 ‘runs’ across London – every cross-street, every major building, every restaurant, every pub, every major retail outlet, every monument, every point-of-interest and so on in such blinding detail that one would think it’s an almost impossible task to learn them all.

Next time you get into a cab in London try the driver out.  Ask him a question such as “where’s the smallest monument in the City of London” or “where’s the plaque that recounts why ‘POMs’ got their name” (two topics a black taxi driver enlightened me with on a trip across London last week). You’ll usually get a correct, and comprehensive, answer.

London cabbies need to learn every street and lane in a six-mile radius of Charing Cross Station.  Hundreds of streets alone, let alone the thousands of way-points. And they need to be able to ‘call’ them in examination conditions to get their licence.

It often takes three years or more for a prospective cabbie to learn the details of all the the ‘runs’ in the ‘Blue Book’ and pass the tough Knowledge tests. No sat navs for these drivers whose brains have been shown to have been ‘moulded’ by learning The Knowledge and by years of driving the streets.

The important point about The Knowledge is that the way people learn it is not by sitting in their homes and poring over maps or checking details on Google’s street view.  They get out and experience the runs. They do it by bicycle or motorbike. Again and again. and then they ‘call’ their newly-learned runs to friends and colleagues – even better if they’re also learning The Knowledge. They learn it experientially and socially.

Key Lesson

The key lesson to take away from Deutschman, Dror and the London taxi drivers’ Knowledge is that if we want to support learning effectively and engender behaviour change, then we need to create environments where emotional responses, rich experiences and social learning are at the forefront. Old-fashioned content-centric training models away from the workplace simply don’t help terribly much.

© 2014 Charles Jennings

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times: opportunities and challenges for the L&D profession

Charles_Dickens_3“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

These are the words of Charles Dickens, 19th century English writer and social critic, writing in his epic novel set in England and France at the time leading up to the French Revolution.

At this time of the year in the run up to the major Christian festival and a period of family and friendship for all, another of Dickens’ stories, that of the transformation of the miserly old ‘bah humbug’ Ebenezer Scrooge from a ‘squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner’ to a generous man who treats others with compassion and love is also in many people’s minds.

I believe the L&D profession can take some lessons from both of these Charles Dickens stories, A Tale of Two Cities and A Christmas Carol.

It really is the best of times and the worst of times for learning professionals. There has never been a time of greater opportunity to make a real difference.

Equally, there has never been more danger for the profession.

There is a choice. Rethink what’s gone before and adapt to change, or keep on doing what’s always been done in the hope beyond hope that it will work.

The first of these choices has the potential to place L&D departments at the heart of the changes that are driving successful organisations. The second has the potential to consign them to the backwaters and, in the worst cases, to oblivion.

The Only Way is Up

The profession’s record has taken somewhat of a beating over the past few years. L&D departments have been accused of being followers rather than leaders; many have been accused of responding too slowly to make a difference; and of being focused on getting the process right at the expense of ensuring impact and value-add.

There’s some evidence to support many of these criticisms.

Two years ago the Corporate Leadership Council’s L&D Team Capabilities Survey reported some stark facts. The CLC surveyed 1,200 L&D executives and 350 line leaders in 51 countries across the world. Respondents represented a range of sectors and organisation types – financial services, oil and gas, healthcare, business services, industry, government and third sector were all included. The findings make salutary reading for any CLO, learning leader or L&D professional.

Briefly, the CLC survey found the following:

Employee development (and learning) is seen as important by most line managers. 86% of line leaders identified this as critical to achieving their organisational outcomes.

The vast majority of people attending learning events or learning interventions (classroom training, eLearning modules, virtual sessions) reported that they were satisfied with the event or intervention (in the survey 84% declared they were satisfied or very satisfied). Equally, their managers reported that they, too, were happy with individual learning events or interventions (79% were either satisfied or very satisfied).

This is all very positive, and an apparent validation of the existing work L&D departments are carrying out. 

But the rest of the survey results tell a very different story.

When asked about the overall performance of the L&D department, rather than single learning events or interventions, the survey data revealed the following:


  • 77% of executives and managers rated their L&D department’s overall performance as poor or very poor.
  • 76% felt that L&D was ineffective or extremely ineffective at supporting their business outcomes.
  • 85% reported that their L&D departments were ineffective or extremely ineffective at supporting organisational talent strategy.


Saving the worst to last, the CLC survey reported that when asked ‘would you recommend working with your L&D department to your colleagues’ only 14% responded positively and 52% were ‘net detractors’.

In other words the majority of line leaders would actively discourage their colleagues from working with the L&D department.

Always-On and Hyper-Connected

dataOf course there are many L&D departments that are responding well to the dramatic changes that are occurring in the way that work is accomplished and all the changing expectations that come with that.

Many, however, are either struggling or not coping at all.

Senior executives and organisation leaders are adapting and developing working practices in their businesses and departments – whether they are for-profit, government agencies or third sector – to operate in totally different ways from a just few years ago.

The way organisations work today is almost unrecognisably different from the structured and closely-managed systems in pre-Internet and pre-ubiquitous connectivity times. The expectation now is that many workers, particularly the expanding number carrying out knowledge work, as well as people managers and executives in all enterprises, are always-on and hyper-connected. They, themselves, expect immediacy and real-time responses. Innovation is their driver and change is accepted as the norm. Work is customised rather than standardised as leaders strive for their people to respond to the changing, and often increasing, demands of their clients and customers.

All-in-all the implication for L&D professionals has been to make their traditional offerings of carefully designed, time-consuming and often slowly developed structured modules, courses and programmes relevant to fewer and fewer stakeholder needs.

New Look L&D

It is becoming increasingly clear that L&D departments need to adopt new ways of working and new approaches to learning if they are to position themselves to lead rather than follow. This will only happen if they embrace and develop an entire new range of professional capabilities. Expertise in instructional design and programme development and delivery is not going to be enough. Stick with a one-eyed focus on designing and managing ‘learning’ and irrelevance and oblivion will surely follow.

Certainly ID and engaging programme design will continue to serve a purpose, but it won’t suffice. There are far more opportunities that need to be taken in the workplace and many more roles that the L&D department will need to play.

Change processes while developing capability

changeThere are some practical changes that need to be addressed first.

Managers in virtually every part of every organisation are being asked to do more with less. Deliver more value with fewer resources. L&D departments are not exempt.

This means reviewing systems and processes and removing ‘busy work’. It also means reducing spend by using open source technology, exploiting tools that are already being used in other parts of the organisation, and looking for new, faster and better ways to deliver value.

For CLOs there are significant decisions to be made around approaches and processes, such as:

  • Why purchase a new social learning platform when we can use an existing social media tool from the Marketing or Communications department that may be in use more widely by others in the organisation?
  • Why continue running low value and expensive task-focused on-boarding training for our screen-based workers when we can cut the cost and time by implementing an effective performance support solution that will save money in even the first year?
  • Why continue to deliver classroom-based compliance training when we can replace it with less time-consuming eLearning that does the job just as well or even better at a fraction of the real cost?
  • Why continue carrying out annual training needs analysis trying to predict development requirements 12 months ahead when we and our key stakeholders know that things will change rapidly and the capabilities they need may well change on a monthly or quarterly basis as new projects come on-stream and others are mothballed?
  • Why devote resources to develop role-specific learning pathways predominantly based on courses and structured programmes when we know the time and resource taken to design, develop and deliver the content means we’re never likely provide timely solutions to immediate challenges? Added to which we know that keeping the content for structured learning up-to-date will require resources we don’t have and are not likely to get in the future.

New L&D capabilities

All of the above are important. Equally important for HR directors, CLOs and individual learning professionals is the need to embrace the changing landscape and develop their own and their teams’ capability to be in a position to better deliver real value in this new world of work.

What’s needed in terms of capability then?

One answer is that it’s easier to think about the role learning professionals need to play in this new environment if we apply a ‘70:20:10 lens’ and ask the following questions:

  1. What capabilities are needed to support structured learning?
    This is the notional ‘10’ on the 70:20:10 framework
  2. What capabilities are needed to support social learning?
    This is the notional ‘20’ in the 70:20:10 framework
  3. What capabilities are needed to support workplace learning?
    this is the notional ‘70’ in the 70:20:10 framework

Some of the capabilities are listed below.  This is by no means a definitive list, but it contains what I have found to be critical ones.

Performance consulting capabilities are required to support all three areas. Not only capabilities, but also a solid and consistent performance consulting approach. Separating stakeholder needs from wants and identifying the root causes of underperformance is a skill that many learning professionals simply do not possess. Performance consulting is all about identifying the most appropriate solution. Often this has nothing to do with building knowledge or skills and it’s important to reach a view on that quickly.

In some cases content will be created by the L&D team. Sometimes it will be curated by them. Sometimes they will need to support domain experts to create and curate content. Sometimes learning professionals will need to make judgements whether content is required at all. Each of these requires skill and experience, not just to create content, but decide the nature, form, and origin.

A good starting point for social media capability requirements is presented by Roland Deiser and Sylvain Newton in their Feb 2013 McKinsey Quarterly article. Although Deiser and Newton were addressing social media literacy for senior leaders, their advice is highly relevant for all learning professionals, whether at CLO level or learning practitioner.

Deiser and Newton identify the following capabilities:

  • As social media producer: creating compelling content
  • As social media distributor: leveraging dissemination dynamics
  • As social media recipient: managing communication overflow
  • As social media advisor and orchestrator: driving strategic social media utilisation
  • As social media architect: creating an enabling organisational infrastructure
  • As social media analyst: staying ahead of the curve

There are certainly other capabilities required around social media and as Jane Hart, an expert in this field, has said repeatedly ‘you can’t teach social media. You need to do it and learn from it’. In other words, everyone involved in organisational learning – from HRDs and CLOs to junior practitioners – needs to immerse themselves in some work-focused social media activities as part of their own development.

Workplace learning occurs in many forms. The key capabilities needed by learning professionals to support learning in the workflow, apart from the ability to build strong and positive relationships with leaders and business managers, are the same as any 21st century worker needs to exploit and support their own workplace development:

  • Search and 'find' capabilities, together with sense-making: the ability to find the right information when needed and make sense of it
  • Critical thinking: the ability to extract meaning and significance from a situation and share that with others
  • Creative thinking: the ability to generate new ideas about, and ways of, using, information gathered by observation, experience and from others
  • Analytical capability: the ability to visualise, articulate and solve complex problems and make decisions that make sense based on the available information
  • Networking acumen: the ability to identify and build relationships with others who are potential sources of knowledge and expertise, both within and outside the organisation
  • Relationship-building capability: the ability to build trust and productive relationships that are mutually beneficial
  • Application of Logic: the ability to apply reason and argument to extract meaning and significance
  • Research capability: the ability to analyse and validate data and information and the underlying assumptions on which it is based

A Development Mindset

mindset n. /ˈmʌɪn(d)sɛt/ A fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person's responses to and interpretations of situations. An inclination or a habit.

Apart from this long list above, HRDs and CLOs need to engender a culture and development mindset within their learning teams that is focused on outputs – on supporting learning wherever and whenever it occurs.

Without the right attitude and mindset, L&D departments and learning professionals will sink without trace.

Such a mindset needs to become embedded in ‘the way we do stuff around here’. It needs to become fixed and focused on supporting the development of others and at the same time developing oneself.

Harold Jarche explains it well. Harold talks about ‘connect, exchange, contribute’ as key attitudes for learning professionals:

“..acceptance of a world in flux and that knowledge is neither constant nor fixed. Instead of trying to know everything in our field, we can concentrate on knowing who to connect with. The network becomes all-important. That means an attitude of openness and collaboration - joining others on a journey of understanding. Giving up control would be a first step on this journey.”

A final lesson from Dickens

L&D today is in the same situation Dickens described in A Tale of Two Cities in 1859:

“We have everything before us, we have nothing before us”

L&D departments and professionals can face the future in the way Ebenezer Scrooge started out - ‘squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching’ at practices and attitudes of the past. Or learning leaders and their teams can change as Scrooge changed once the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and of Christmas Yet to Come led him through London and he realised he had the free will to embrace the opportunities and joy that he’d previously seen only as ‘humbug’.

© 2013 Charles Jennings

Monday, 14 October 2013

Workplace Learning: Adding, Embedding & Extracting

High performing individuals, teams and organisations focus on exploiting development opportunities in the workplace because that’s where most of the learning happens.


Adding Learning to Work

When faced with the opportunities to help with workplace learning, many HR, talent development, and learning professionals react by simply adding learning to the workflow.

AddingTypically, adding learning involves integrating structured away-from-work learning (courses, classes, and eLearning modules) with learning activities within the workflow. An example might be the creation of some workplace activities as part of, or immediately following, a leadership development programme. Alternatively adding might involve making an eLearning module available on mobile devices, or making an online community space available for follow-up after a face-to-face course.

This approach has value but, by adding activities that are explicitly focused on assisting learning, these activities are often seen by the target group as ‘extended training’. They are also built on the idea that ‘first we learn and then we work’. The two activities are viewed as separate. That is not where the real strength of workplace learning lies.

There is also often an attempt to apply learning metrics (rather than performance metrics) to the outcomes. As such the development, although taking place in the workflow, is to a large extent ‘directed’ by the HR or Learning/Training department.

Embedding Learning in Work

Some organisations have extended beyond ‘adding’ learning to work and have put in place support so learning is ‘embedded’ in work.

EmbeddingApproaching workplace learning from the perspective of embedding learning in work offers a wider range of opportunities for on-going development as part of the workflow.

Learning and work merge as the need to support performance at the point-of-need drives the development of high performance. It does this efficiently and in real-time.

Electronic performance support systems (ePSS) help embed learning in work. ePSS tools have been in use for the past 25 years at least, but many HR and L&D professionals have had little exposure to their potential.

Electronic performance support has huge potential, particularly with the increasing deployment on smartphones and tablets. Gartner predicts continued growth in mobile devices and there is no doubt their use as performance support tools (beyond the ubiquity of Google access) will increase.

Embedding learning in work can also be achieved without sophisticated technology. There are many other ways to break free from the inertia of away-from-work training through simple job aids, to ‘sidekicks’ and ‘planners’. There is excellent work being carried out that supports embedding learning within workflows. ‘Job Aids & Performance Support’ by Allison Rossett & Lisa Schafer and ’Innovative Performance Support’ by Conrad Gottfredson & Bob Mosher are two publications that every learning professional should be acquainted with.

Extracting Learning from Work

ExtractingThe most powerful aspect of workplace learning is through extracting learning from work.

HR, Talent and Learning professionals can play an important role in optimising the extraction of learning from work, but only if they position their professional skills as facilitators and supporters of improved performance rather than as managers of process and learning.

The model of ‘learn then work’ is replaced here with ‘work then learn, then work in an improved way’. Learning is not only embedded in the workflow, but new learning is continually extracted from experiences and exchanges with colleagues, customers and the entire value chain.

As with embedding learning in the workflow, extracting the focus is on a continuous cycle of performance improvement.

Examples of this type of workplace learning include narrating work and sharing with colleagues – often achieved by micro-blogging on a regular (possibly daily) basis; active participation in professional social networks is another example. However, just as powerful is the extraction of learning that can be achieved by taking time out of a busy team or project meeting to reflect on last week’s experiences and learning in a semi-structured way.

The AAR Model for Reflection and Embedding

The AARs (After Action Reviews) of the military are simple but powerful examples of ‘embedding’ good practice. The model can easily be adapted for use in any type of organisation.

Most military forces have a similar approach, but the AAR model introduced by the US army in the 1970 to capture and disseminate critical organisational knowledge always revolves around the same four questions:

  • What did we set out to do?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What are we going to do next time?

The process can be completed in a few minutes or may take a few hours depending on the complexity and nature of the situation. It is easily adapted for any type of organisation. The power is in its simplicity. An hour spent addressing these questions on a regular basis, or after completing a project, would provide far greater payback than reading any number of 100-page project review reports.

© 2013 Charles Jennings

Monday, 12 August 2013

Building a Culture of Continuous Learning

IMG_2749a_smallMost people get it. Classes, courses and curricula – structured learning events – don’t provide all the tools in the toolkit.

They’re bit-players in a much larger world of organisational learning and performance.

The part that formal, directed learning plays in overall organisational capability may be important at times, but organisations aspiring towards Peter Senge’s ‘learning organization’ – in other words, creating a culture of continuous learning - need to reach beyond simply improving structured training.

In a recent webinar I discussed with participants some very interesting data from the Corporate Leadership Council’s ‘Training Effectiveness Dashboard’ study. This research was part of the Corporate Executive Board’s ‘Building High Performance Capability for the New Work Environment’ report published towards the end of 2012.

The CEB study was particularly focused on ‘network performance’ – the outcomes achieved not alone, but with and through others. This is the way most work gets done.

This is the ‘20’ part of the 70:20:10 model.

The study involved more than 35,000 employees at more than 40 organisations, and CLOs were interviewed at 122 organisations.

There were three clear findings:

1. There is widespread agreement amongst senior executives, line managers and HR directors that ‘breakthrough performance’ is needed to meet immediate business goals. The average performance uplift needed to meet business goals was determined to be between 20-25% in the next 12 months.

2. ‘What got us here won’t get us there’. In other words, simply improving traditional training approaches – even introducing learning technologies into the classroom model – will not achieve the improvements needed.

A diagram from the study (below) illustrates this second point. Although the effectiveness of classroom training is seen as having improved, further improvements will not close the ‘breakthrough performance’ gap.

clc-network performance

3. Organisations will only achieve ‘breakthrough performance’ and achieve their business goals when employees go beyond individual task performance and demonstrate high ‘network performance’. In other words, we need to plan and work not only at building individual capability, but also team and collaborative and co-operative capabilities.

To achieve these three targets we need to think out of the traditional learning and development box – beyond the class/course and eLearning module approaches towards embedding a culture where learning becomes recognised as occurring within the workflow.

Then we need to adopt and implement effective strategies to get us there.

Example: Re-thinking On-boarding Training

On-boarding and induction programmes are usually fertile ground for structured learning. They have always been seen as as essential. Yet even this ‘sacred cow’ of formal training is being challenged with some companies updating on-boarding processes and, instead of hours or days of classroom induction, are providing new recruits with tablets stuffed with helpful information and access to resources such links to expert locators on intranets and repositories of stories to help new employees navigate the networks and alcoves of their new organisation or new role within their existing organisation.

Qualcomm’s ‘52 week's’ programme is an excellent example of this approach - enhancing or replacing intensive away-from-work on-boarding with information and resources ‘injected’ into the workflow. The 52 Weeks program initially started as a way to communicate company culture and values to new employees. Each new employee was registered to receive a weekly story by email.  These stories are submitted by employees across the company and co-ordinated by the employee communications team, which reports to the Qualcomm Learning Center. It is now used across the company, not just for new employees.

This is a great initiative, but approaches such as this need to be encapsulated within a clear strategy that encourages and supports the development of a culture of continuous learning.

Concepts, Contexts and Tasks

One way of thinking about the weighting of structured training against workplace and social approaches for on-boarding is to consider what is needed to to help someone get up-to-speed in their new role. I first encountered this some years ago when working with business process guidance specialists at Panviva, an Australian company working in the performance support area.

This is where the 70:20:10 framework helps. We can think of three aspects of building capability.

1. The Concepts – answers to questions such as:

  • What is expected of me in this role?
  • How can I go about finding the best sources of information to help me?
  • What are the core organisational principles I need to apply in my work?

2. The Context – answers to questions such as:

  • What processes does someone in my role need to follow?
  • How do I escalate problems if I can’t fix them?
  • Who do I escalate to in specific instances?

3. The Tasks – answers to questions such as:

  • What are the detailed steps to assemble this device/construct this spreadsheet model/help this client?
  • I have an uncommon situation – what do I do next?


The diagram above shows that the ‘concept’ issues can be addressed through training if needed, but most of the ‘context’ issues and all of the ‘task’ issues are better addressed through use of personal networks, mentors, and performance support at the point-of-need. The breakdown here is roughly 10:90, or 10:20:70 – in other words, the 70:20:10 model can be applied even within an on-boarding construct.

The Bigger Picture: Beyond Content-Centric Learning

As we move beyond content-rich learning to exploit experience-rich learning in the workplace we need solid models and approaches that will help, and we need tools that will help us support a culture of continuous learning. This is where many organisations are finding the 70:20:10 model useful.

My experience is that the 70:20:10 framework provides a holistic strategic model that helps build a culture of continuous learning.  It does this by helping learning professionals and their organisations focus on viable alternatives for development to the ‘10’ – structured, directed, ‘formal’ learning through courses, classes and eLearning.

By supporting and encouraging learning within the workflow, and through and with others, a culture of continuous learning will evolve – I’ve seen it happen.

© 2013 Charles Jennings

Monday, 24 June 2013

70:20:10 - A Framework for High Performance Development Practices


Lrg Frisbee Image

Over the past few years the 70:20:10 model for development has captured the imagination of organisations across the world.

Some organisations apply 70:20:10 principles to targeted and specific development solutions. Others use it more strategically as a way to help them rethink and reposition their wider learning philosophies.

The 70:20:10 framework is a simple concept that has developed from work carried out by various researchers over the past half-century that suggests a one-dimensional focus on structured training and development – a rut that many organisations had fallen into – misses the opportunity to exploit learning and development where most of it happens, which is within the workflow.

A Reference Model, not a Recipe

It’s important to be aware that 70:20:10 is a reference model and not a recipe. The numbers are not a rigid formula. They simply remind us of the facts above – that the majority of learning and development comes through experiential and social learning in the workplace (the ‘70’ and ‘20’) rather than through formal classes and courses (the ‘10’). Of course structured and directed ‘formal’ learning can help, but it rarely, if ever, provides the complete answer.

If you acknowledge that high performers usually build their capabilities through experience, through practice and through utilising a rich network of support rather than exclusively (or even mainly) through structured training and development away from the workplace, then you will immediately grasp the 70:20:10 concept.

Why Have So Many Organisations Adopted 70:20:10?

One answer to this question lies in the fact that 70:20:10 offers an easily-understood scaffolding that can be readily adapted to re-focus development across a much wider canvas than that traditionally used by HR and Learning professionals.

Why is this important?

It’s important because research over the past 40 years at least has indicated that learning that occurs outside of formal classes and courses is not only more frequent but also generally more effective than its structured and ‘managed’ counterpart.

It’s also important because the 70:20:10 framework provides a way to integrate currently disparate development activities – such as leadership programmes, informal coaching and mentoring, and the extraction of learning from work through conversations, communities, sharing, reflective practice and other actions. It also provides a coherent framework to strategise workplace, social and structured learning activities.

High Performers

Federer_2_Daryl Sim_CCAlthough the 70:20:10 framework applies to all adult learning, it is particularly relevant when thinking about building a strategy to develop and support high performers. 

Most organisations aspire to further develop their high performers, and to develop others to become high performers, as it is the high performing cadre that drives successful organisations.

Research by the Corporate Executive Board[1] suggests that ‘enterprise contributors’ (as it calls the small cadre of high performers) can increase organisational revenue and profits by as much as 12%. That often means the difference between success and failure.

A Profile of High Performers

If we look at a generic profile of a high performer through a 70:20:10 ‘lens’ the following is clear:

  1. High performers have usually quickly mastered the basics. This was achieved often, but not always, using structured development approaches.

    This is where the ‘10’ of formal learning and development through courses and programmes can help people new to an organisation or role get ‘up-to-speed’ quickly and efficiently.
  2. They have spent hundreds of hours using practice, trial-and-error, and self-testing to hone their capabilities.

    Some of this experiential learning and reflective practice may be structured (the ‘10’). Alternatively it may be part of the workflow (the ‘70’ and ‘20’)
  3. They are embedded in their professional community both within and outside their organisation. They regularly share their expertise across their network and also call on colleagues as informal coaches and mentors when they need advice and help.

    This vital part of any high performer’s arsenal sits firmly in the ‘20’ part of the framework
  4. They have on-the-job performance support at fingertips. They know where to find the answers to the challenge-at-hand, whether it is via their own PKM (personal knowledge management) resources or simply by knowing who will be best able to help them.

    Performance support comes in many forms. It may be embedded in workflow tools (where most of the ePSS tools and systems provide support), or be accessed through ‘others’ across the high performer’s network. As such, this element can sit in both the ‘20’ and ‘70’ parts of the framework
  5. They have undertaken thousands of hours of experience and reflection, sometimes alone, sometimes with their manager and team, and sometimes with their professional network

    These activities are critical for high performance. They all sit within the ‘70’ and ‘20’ domains of the framework

The 70:20:10 Forum - Supporting High Performance Development

After working with the 70:20:10 model for more than 10 years, I have recently established the 70:20:10 Forum to help others who want to use it.

The Forum has been designed to bring together tools, resources, and people who are actively involved in using 70:20:10 approaches. It provides an easy-to-use and cost-effective solution for any individual professional or organization, regardless of location, size or industry sector. I would encourage to explore it.


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Managing Learning?

classroomDonald Taylor recently published an article titled ‘What does ‘LMS’ mean today?’. In it Donald posited something I’ve been advocating for years.

It is this.

Learning can only be managed by the individual in whose head the learning is occurring.

Of course external factors – such as other people (especially your manager and your team), technology, prevailing culture, general ‘environmental’ factors, and a range of different elements – can support, facilitate, encourage, and help your learning occur faster, better, with greater impact and so on.  But they can’t manage the learning process for you. That’s down to you alone.

This raises an important set of challenges. One of which is “if learning is managed by the learner, what will the technologies that support her look like in the next 3, 5, 10 years?”

One thing we know for sure. They won’t look like the learning management systems installed in the vast majority of organisations across the world today. Sadly, many of these meet Marc Rosenberg’s description as ‘course vending machines’.

Keeping the CEO out of Jail

In his article Donald quotes Andy Wooler, Academy Technology Manager at Hitachi Data Systems Academy, as saying:

“LMS too often stands for Litigation Mitigation Service.”

Andy was not dismissing the need for LMSs out-of-hand. He was simply saying that often the technology is used just to keep records in case something goes wrong and there is a need to produce evidence to support the organisation’s case in court – or, hopefully to avoid court altogether.  Many organisations – especially those in highly regulated industries – take this view. In the past that strategy provided a more robust defence than it does now (see an earlier article about compliance training for a discussion on that issue). A record that someone had completed a compliance course may have won the day in the past, but is less likely to do so now. However, compliance course completion often has little, if anything, to do with learning and certainly won’t contribute much to building the high-performing cultures every organisation needs to aspire to if it’s to be successful.

A Tool for (a fading) Industrial Society

In his article, Donald also gave a pen-sketch of the origins of the Learning Management System (LMS) as training administration systems.

LMS technology emerged from a need to automate process management and record-keeping systems in the post-World War II era when the focus was on industrialisation and the development of mass production techniques. With millions of returned servicemen and women re-entering education and training there was a need to manage the process of classroom training more efficiently. LMSs appeared alongside the automation of other organisational processes – financial systems and HR management systems (HRMSs).

But LMSs were a step on the road, not an end in themselves.

The management modules of learning technologies such as PLATO (arguably the first LMS) the ‘computer assisted instruction system’ which was conceived and built at the University of Illinois in 1960 (and finally shut down in 2006) were developed to support automated teaching operations (the ‘ATO’ part of the name) in a world where standardisation and automation were the primary goal. They were conceived and developed to primarily solve an organisational problem, not necessarily to improve the learning experience for the individual learner or worker.

We need a lot more, and a lot different, from whichever technologies we select to support the development of our workforce today and into the future

Moving to the Future

The diagram below gives an idea of challenge facing us as we move into a world where learning management is in the hands of each individual and their supporting ecosystem.

In a world where the majority of learning is in the workflow and most of it is ‘informal’ (self-directed or undirected in the moment of need), the idea of pouring large amounts of your organisation’s L&D budget into a concept and technology that was designed to make easier the scheduling of courses and programmes is not a sensible one to take.

Of course we will need technology to support learning. Even more so than ever before. But, as noted earlier, the technology we need is a long stride away from that which most organisations currently have in place.

LMS Evolution


My colleague Jane Hart has written about this challenge for some years (see here for an article by Jane from 2010). She sees the future of technologies supporting learning as a mash-up of social co-operation and collaboration tools aligned with the emerging social workplace. More importantly, Jane provides advice that L&D can’t sit alone.  Learning leaders need to work with their colleagues in IT and Business Operations to get the right tools in place. To that I’d add the need to work with Internal and Corporate Communications colleagues, Brand specialists, Knowledge Management teams as well as your extended value chain.

I think Jane is absolutely correct. The tools that will be used to support (but not manage) learning in the future will principally be drawn not from a learning-centric focus but from other area (although I believe the LMS will live on to support some formal education and may extend to a limited extent to supporting structured experiential learning). Her Top 100 Tools for Learning is probably a good place to start looking.

The Rise of PKM

My diagram above points to PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) as an important emerging area for supporting the learning-work interlink. Harold Jarche has written extensively on PKM and you can download his PKM Whitepaper from here.  If you want to learn more about PKM I’d recommend mining Harold’s blog.

There is no doubt that both social learning tools and PKM tools and processes will be vital to support learning management of the future.

However, it’s important to always remind ourselves that any technology can never be more than a supporting actor in the play of building high-performing cultures.

In the end we each manage our own learning to suit our immediate and longer-term needs at our own pace, in our own time, and in our own way.


(I have written more extensively about the challenge of ‘Managing Learning’ in the 'The Really Useful eLearning Instruction Manual' a book to be published by John Wiley & Sons and edited by Rob Hubbard)