Thursday 29 December 2011

Through the 70:20:10 Looking Glass

This is the second of three posts adapted from articles written for Inside Learning Technologies & Skills magazine. The original has been published here.

The third article will be posted here a little while after it has been published in the magazine for the Learning Technologies Conference and Exhibition in London 26-27 January 2012.

In the first article in this ‘Alice’ series I focused on the changing world of work and the evidence that workplace learning is usually more effective and efficient than formal learning. I also spoke of the need for learning departments to ‘join the dance’ (like the lobster in Alice) and develop new skills and capabilities so they can incorporate learning outside classrooms into their armoury, along with the development of structured learning.

In this article I want to turn to the ‘how’ of change and transformation in organisational learning and look at one specific approach that many organisations are finding useful to help them adapt to meet changing requirements and demands – the 70:20:10 framework.

As with the first article, I’m going to call on some insights from Mr Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) for some help.

Who Stole The Tarts?

imageAt the beginning of his account of the trial of the Jack of Hearts (it was he who stole the Queen’s tarts) Carroll describes a fundamental truth about the frailty of human memory.

Alice had never been in a court of justice before, but she had read about them in books. The twelve jurors were all writing very busily on slates. ‘What are they doing’ Alice whispered to the Gryphon. ‘They can’t have anything to put down yet, before the trial’s begun.’

‘They’re putting down their names,’ the Gryphon whispered in reply, ‘for fear they should forget them before the end of the trial.’

Maybe we can all remember our own names (although my wife tells me I could hide my own Easter eggs..) but the truth is that humans forget things quickly unless they’re learned in context.

We have known for a long time that learning works best when it takes place within the same context where the learned skills, practices and behaviours are to be used. Dr Hermann Ebbinghaus demonstrated the importance of context for memory as long ago as 1885. From his research, and from the research of others, we know that if learning and context are not tightly coupled, and if we don’t have the opportunity to put what we’ve learned into practice as soon as we’ve learned it, we will forget a significant amount very quickly (Ebbinghaus’ figures suggested a forgetting rate of around 50% within the first hour).

Also, if we don’t have anyone to turn to for help and support once we’re back in the workplace we often simply continue on doing what we did before we attended a learning event. I’ll discuss this last point in some more depth in the next article when I’ll look at the role of managers in organisational learning.

So it’s not surprising that with this reawakening of an understanding for the need for context in learning over the past ten years, much of the sheen has been rubbed off training for which we need to leave the workplace to attend. Of course away-from-work training and development serves a purpose. But that purpose is being seen as an increasingly narrow one.

Prior to the turn of the millennium the world of training was much simpler. If you worked in an organisation with commitment and budget devoted to employee development you discussed your development needs with your manager at the annual appraisal meeting and agreed the courses you would attend during the following 12 months. If you were in middle or upper management tiers, you did the same but called it ‘management development’ or ‘executive development’ and sometimes wrapped coaching and other activities in too. The courses for these groups were designed and delivered along the same lines as those for individual contributors. They were often just more expensive and usually run in a delightful green and leafy hotel or centre in some exotic part of the world, or in Surrey if you were based in London. Today the world of learning is a much more complex endeavour needing more than courses as the solution.

Continuous Learning is Becoming the Work

image‘But then’ thought Alice, ‘shall I NEVER get any older than I am now? That’ll be a comfort, one way – never to be an old woman – but then – always to have lessons to learn! Oh, I shouldn’t like THAT!’

For many people, particularly those that earn their living with their heads rather than their hands and those that work in the knowledge industry, learning and work are becoming intertwined.

In order to improve the performance of our work we need to embrace a culture of continuous learning. This means viewing our work as a series of on-going learning experiences, continuously reflecting and improving as part of our daily activity.

A focus on continuous learning is leading the death of the out-of-date idea that formal training and development programmes are the principal answer to the challenge of improving performance in the workplace.

In place of event-driven learning we are seeing two things happen:

Firstly, many structured programmes are quite rightly extending into the workplace. Both pre-learning activities and experience and support and coaching back in the workplace are being integrated with formal away-from-work events. Most business schools and many in-house programmes now do this as a matter of course.

This represents an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach. There’s no doubt it is a step in the right direction but I don’t know if we can adapt to our rapidly changing world by taking a series of small steps rather than a few large ones.

Secondly, along with developments in technology we’re seeing increased interest in, and focus on, ‘informal’ learning approaches – ways we can support our colleagues’ learning and development as part of their daily tasks. Out of this trend have emerged new, or newly-revised, learning approaches – eLearning, social learning, workplace learning, on-job coaching and mentoring, mobile learning, and performance support to name a few. Together, these all provide greater flexibility and increased access to information and knowledge resources.

Informal learning and social learning are no doubt stealing the tarts. But there is no point attempting to introduce new informal and workplace learning approaches without a clear plan and a framework.

70:20:10 the Looking-Glass House

image‘And if you’re not good directly,’ she added, ‘I’ll put you through into Looking-Glass House.’ Then Alice began looking about, and noticed that what could be seen from the old room was quite common and uninteresting, but that the rest was as different as possible. For instance, the pictures on the wall next to the fire seemed to be all alive…’

The 70:20:10 framework is just a little like Alice’s Looking-Glass House. It helps organisations to take a different view of the way learning and development can be approached. It moves focus to where most of the ‘real’ learning happens – in the workplace - yet retains some on the elements of formal, structured learning where it works.

At the outset it’s worth dispelling a common myth about the 70:20:10 framework.

A Reference Model, not a Recipe

The basic 70:20:10 framework

70% 20% 10%
Learn & develop through experience Learn & develop through others Learn & develop through structured courses & programmes

The 70:20:10 framework is a reference model not a recipe. If you adopt it for your organisation you will need to apply the principles of the framework to your own context. For some organisations experiential learning (the 70+20 parts) may be the best approach for virtually all learning. For others, for example where compliance and proof of compliance training activity is critical, a greater focus on structured courses may be necessary.

The lesson here is not to become stuck on the exact ratios and percentages like a rabbit in the headlights . Everything will depend on context.

The Background to the 70:20:10 Approach

image‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ 
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

The research most often referred to as the origin of the 70:20:10 model is often misunderstood and misquoted.

Morgan McCall and his colleagues at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina carried out surveys with accomplished and high-potential executives and asked to them to describe key developmental events in their professional lives that made a difference to their management effectiveness. The results suggested (and reported the 1996 book ‘The Career Architect Development Planner’ by McCall’s colleagues Michael Lombardo & Robert Eichinger) that ‘the lessons learned by successful and effective managers are roughly’:

70% from tough jobs
20% from people (mostly the boss)
10% from courses and reading”

The point about this data is that it’s a rough extrapolation of the survey data only and the data collection methodology probably doesn’t hold up to robust academic scrutiny.

That, however, is no reason to dismiss the framework out-of-hand.

When these findings are put together with the growing number of other studies and surveys that have drawn similar conclusions[1] it becomes evident that most of what people learn (or retain and put into use) is learned as part of doing their work, not through formal training. Earlier work looking at adult learning carried out in the 1960s and 1970s by Alan Tough, now emeritus professor at the University of Toronto, also revealed the 70:20:10 pattern.

Additionally with the recent rise of social media the ability to learn with, and from, others has become much easier. So the rough 20 percent of ‘learning through others’ will no doubt increase in many cases.

However, regardless of the fine detail of the 70:20:10 model, and regardless of industry, worker age, technique or individual learning style, it is clear that most adult learning is balanced heavily towards experiential learning.

The basic principle of the framework is that it provides a structured approach to de-focus on event-based learning and re-focus on the broader aspects of organisational learning, principally the experiential elements. It helps approach the challenge of building an environment and encouraging a culture to support efficient and effective learning and development provision in an integrated way. We all know that learning is essentially a rather ‘messy’ business that varies from person to person and from organisation to organisation. The 70:20:10 framework helps build an operating model to manage it.

First Steps with the 70:20:10 Framework

There are a number of important factors you need to think about before you embark on using the framework in your organisation.

Step 1: Work towards developing a ‘results-led’ L&D culture
The 70:20:10 framework widens L&D’s focus and activity from building and maintaining catalogues of courses, programmes and curricula to managing workscapes (work/learning environments) and supporting learning experiences in the workplace. Although, of course, some resource and effort will need to continue to focus on the former, the vast majority of L&D’s work within the 70:20:10 framework will be involved with supporting experiential learning in the workplace.

For this to happen, L&D thinking and mind-sets need to move from ‘inputs’ (learning) to ‘outputs’ (impact and change in the workplace and helping people ‘work smarter’). As such L&D culture, the behaviours and attitudes of learning professionals, needs to reflect this change. L&D teams need to buy into this new thinking. You may need to build an internal change management process for your L&D teams to make sure everyone has taken this step.

The framework also places new demands and responsibilities on learners. They will need to accept greater accountability for their own learning as the environment evolves from one of “push” teaching to one of “pull” learning.

Step 2: Establish a robust engagement approach
Because the 70:20:10 framework moves L&D away from any ‘order-taking’ activities – by always looking to implement the fastest, smartest, most effective solutions to help people do their jobs better – you will need a robust, consistent and efficient engagement process to use with the executives, managers and team leaders across your organisation. It is important, whichever engagement approach you build or adopt, that it is consistent. A manager who engages with L&D to help her solve one business issue should expect the next engagement process to be identical, even if inputs and outputs are very different. This helps build confidence and relationships.

Step 3: Build an effective governance model
‘Governance’ defines the structures, systems, practices and processes that are put in place to ensure the overall effectiveness and accountability of the L&D function. If you plan to embed 70:20:10 thinking and practices it is important that you bring your organisation with you on the journey. Creating a governance council or board populated and led by key stakeholders is the first essential step to achieve this.

Step 4: Ensure you have the right L&D skills
I mentioned the need for new L&D skills in the first article (‘Croquet with a Flamingo’) but it needs reinforcing here. The 70:20:10 framework places very different demands on learning professionals from those that they may have been used to in the past. It demands they extend their repertoire beyond formal learning design and delivery. As such you will need to ensure your L&D team has the skill and experience to work with your stakeholders to create environments that facilitate learning and that they can design learning powerful experiences. Step away from content-centric learning design and into experience-centric design.

Some Actions for L&D to Deliver Results through 70:20:10

Below are a few practical actions L&D organisations and Learning professionals can take to deliver results through the 70:20:10 framework.  Of course there are many more. There is no ‘cookie-cutter’ approach. If you are ever offered one, run away as fast as possible. Every solution needs to be driven by the needs, context and nature of your own organisation.

Support the informal learning process

Help workers improve their learning skills

Create a supportive org. culture

Provide time for informal learning in the workplace

Explicitly teach workers how to learn effectively

Establish a budget for informal and workplace learning

Create useful peer-rated FAQs and knowledge bases

Support opportunities for meta-learning

Support innovation and help make small failures ‘OK’

Provide places for workers to congregate and share experiences

Share ways others have learned topics and subject areas

Incorporate informal learning into the heart of your L&D strategy

Supplement self-directed learning with mentors and experts

Enlist learning coaches to encourage reflection

Position learning as a growth experience and not something that workers need others to ‘do to them’

Build networks, blogs, wikis, and knowledge bases to facilitate discovery

Explain the ‘know-how’ and ‘know-who’ framework to facilitate a shift from ‘know-what’

Conduct a learning culture audit

Use smart technology to make it easier to collaborate and network

Calculate the lifetime value of a learning customer’ to L&D

Add learning and teaching objectives and goals to job descriptions

Encourage cross-functional gatherings

Encourage leadership of these gatherings from amongst the group

Encourage learning relationships and professional communities

[1] Incuding studies by: Loewenstein and Spletzer for the US Bureau of Labor Statistics; A 2-year study involving Boeing, Ford Electronics, Siemens, and Motorola by The Education Development Center in Massachusetts; A CapitalWorks study; and a 2010 survey by Peter Casebow and Alan Ferguson at GoodPractice in Edinburgh.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Learning in Wonderland: the untapped potential of workplace learning

This is the first of three posts adapted from articles I have written for Inside Learning Technologies & Skills magazine. This article appeared in November 2011.  The second and third articles will be posted here a little while after they have been published in the magazine.

I’ve taken Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as a theme for the series. The illustrations here are Sir John Tenniel’s marvellous originals.

Why ‘Alice’ you may ask?

Well, the Alice story is all about growing up and developing and learning but at the same time seeing the world in very a different way. In Alice Carroll (Charles Dodgson in real life) also stretches imagination and gets the reader to think ‘out of the box’.

The Alice story is also about seeing some standard practices as rather silly and arbitrary and understanding that there are always alternatives in whatever you do.

Alice had to face the challenge of continual change and contradiction. The world was changing before her eyes at every turn and almost every encounter she had in Wonderland presented her with contradictions and contradictory characters. She could only navigate if she kept her wits about her at all times.

The three articles focus on strategies and practical steps that learning and development professionals can use to help extend learning beyond the classroom and into the workplace.

This first article looks at the changing world of work and the fact that workplace learning offers at least as much, if not more, than formal learning in developing workforce capability. It also looks at the skills Learning and Development professionals need to support workplace learning. The second article examines the 70:20:10 framework in some detail as a means of transforming organisational learning and ‘balancing’ formal and informal learning. The final article discussed the vital role of managers and why learning organisations need to forge strong links with their key stakeholders.

Down The Rabbit Hole

clip_image002‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit ran close by her.

There was nothing very remarkable in that; but when the Rabbit took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet…..

Many of us know the story. Alice, burned with curiosity, followed the White Rabbit across the field and down the rabbit-hole into a world where not only did she shrink to a fraction of her normal size but where her perceptions of ‘normal’ were continually challenged and nothing was quite as she had previously understood it.

Today’s world of work is very much like Alice’s rabbit-hole.

In the past 30 years nearly everything in our working world has changed. On the technical front first Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and then Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau have changed our world for ever. Together with the telecommunications revolution, the technical changes brought about by these and others forever broke the richness-reach trade-off[1]. We no longer had to opt for either richness in our working and learning environments or the ability to have great reach. We could have both. Time and geography became bit-players in our ability to reach our workers and help them find ways to develop the attitudes, behaviours, skills and capabilities they need to do their jobs well.

The technical revolution also released us to take responsibility for our own learning development. Although, of course, most of our learning has always occurred through our experiences and the opportunity to practice as well as through our conversations with others and the opportunity to reflect and improve the way we do things. Formal education has some impact, but it is in the minority in terms of real learning.

Learning From the Mock Turtle


‘I couldn't afford to learn it.’ said the Mock Turtle with a sigh. ‘I only took the regular course.’ ‘What was that?’ inquired Alice.

‘Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,’ the Mock Turtle replied; ‘and then the different branches of Arithmetic – Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.’

‘And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ Said Alice. ‘Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock turtle: ‘nine the next, and so on.’ What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Alice. ‘that’s the reasons they’re called lessons’ the Gryphon remarked; ‘because they lessen from day to day.’

Just as the Mock Turtle’s curriculum and lesson planning seem strange and illogical to us, the communications and technology developments over the past 30 years have also seen off the old idea that learning is something that gets done in classes and through defined curricula. The information revolution has also seen off the idea that knowledge is power.

We need to continually remind ourselves that we are forging our lives and careers in the information age and an increasing number of us are knowledge workers. As such, we need to think about how we navigate the oceans of information. The problem that our forebears suffered, a lack of information, has been turned on its head.

Access to Knowledge is Power

Knowledge was power when it was held by the few and dispensed to the many in a controlled and managed way. However the Internet, ubiquitous networks and Google put paid to that, just as in the 15th Century Gutenberg’s printing press put paid to the Church’s control over the written word.

A continuing explosion of data linked to improving search and improving filter tools has meant that anyone can now find almost any information they need very quickly. So, although knowledge may still be powerful, access to knowledge and the ability to turn knowledge into action by pattern-recognition, sense-making and clear decisions are now the real power.

Of course, finding information often involves finding not just inanimate bits and bytes, but the right people who are holding the information we need in their heads - the tacit knowledge repositories. So on the back of search engines there has been an increasing focus on the power of human social networks – both physical and virtual – as knowledge resources, too. There is no doubt social networks will continue to be seen as increasingly important and vital enablers and sources of knowledge for workers to help them do their jobs. Learning professionals need to understand this fact and develop their skill to utilise the power of these social networks through creating and exploiting opportunities to bring people together in time-and-space or virtually to share experiences and expertise.

The Lobster Quadrille for L&D


They are waiting on a shingle

Will you come and join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you won’t you, will you join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you won’t you, will you join the dance?


Over the past 20 years or so it has become increasingly obvious that leaders’ expectations of L&D’s role has developed considerably from thoughts of a training department carrying out ‘knowledge transfer’ (whatever that may mean) or providing individual employees and managers lots of content tied up with tight instructional design bows.

The expectation of many leaders now is that L&D departments will act as strategic weapons for their organisation in the delivery of their business objectives as fast and as comprehensively as necessary, but also as cheaply as possible.

Bearing this in mind, if L&D departments can support their organisational leadership teams in achieving their strategic goals then both will succeed. If they can’t neither will succeed. It’s as simple as that.

L&D needs to dance to the organisation’s tune - Will you, won’t you, will you won’t you, will you join the dance?

To do this L&D leaders must ensure their teams have the right skills and the right attitudes to deliver for their organisation. They also need to understand their limitations and when to let go of control.

To do this, they need to know first WHAT their organisation’s leaders actually expect of them – and then align those expectations. This involves working closely with leaders, understanding their requirement, and then providing innovative, fast and effective solutions. L&D needs to learn to dance in partnership with business leaders.

Croquet with a Flamingo: New L&D Skills


Alice thought she had never seen such a curious croquet-ground in her life; it was all ridges and furrows; the balls were live hedgehogs, the mallets live flamingos, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and stand on their hands and feet to make the arches.

The world of learning now is as far removed from what was ‘standard Training and L&D’ 10 years ago as Alice’s experiences on the croquet lawn in Wonderland were from the way she had previously played the game.

Many of today’s L&D professionals were recruited to design, develop and deliver classroom-based courses. Few have been recruited primarily for their business acumen or their consulting skills. Yet to successfully meet the requirements of an effective 21st Century learning service – supporting the organisation to deliver on its objectives as rapidly, as efficiently and as effectively as possible – the L&D department needs just those skills. If the L&D department doesn’t have the skills to develop a profound understanding of the business, its drivers, and its priorities, then it is almost bound to fail.

Then, if the L&D department doesn’t have the courage and skills to create innovative solutions and challenge leaders to work together to improve worker, team and organisational performance then will fail again.

L&D Skills and Capabilities

I have listed some key skills and capabilities critical for success in a 21st century L&D department  below. The list is not a definitive but these are the main capabilities that I believe are needed.

Any Learning leader or CLO should ensure they hire or develop capability in the following:

Business Acumen: If L&D professionals are to understand their stakeholders’ key drivers, and thus what success will look like, they need to have some basic knowledge of business finance including the ability to read and comprehend balance sheets and profit-and-loss statements.

Critical thinking and analytical skills: Analysing performance problems and identifying root causes requires logic and critical thinking as well as a robust performance consulting methodology. Many organisational issues presented as ‘training problems’ can’t be addressed by training or any form of structured learning. Typically they are due to poor processes, lack of tools, poor motivation (which in turn may be due to inadequate leadership or compensation that doesn’t meet expectations) or a myriad of other causes. Harold Stolovitch and others[2] suggests that around 75-80% of performance problems are not due to lack of knowledge or skills, but to these other factors. L&D professionals need to have the ability to sift them out.

Research skills: L&D professionals need enquiring minds. They need to continually research new approaches and determine what works and what doesn’t. They need to be able to validate and extract meaning from data in the same way any researcher would. Under-performance challenges are rarely similar. There is no ‘cookie-cutter’ that effectively addresses all learning requirements. Effective solutions require research, analysis and an innovative mind-set.

Communication and influencing skills: ‘Our world is others’ said Jerome Bruner, the greatest living educational psychologist. L&D professionals need to have high-level communication and influencing skills. Their role in the new world includes more ‘orchestration’ than delivery and their ability to extract requirements from stakeholders, explain the logic of proposed solutions, and work across a range of teams will require these skills in bucketsful.

Technology-savvy skills: Every L&D professional needs a good understanding of the art of the possible in terms of technology-supported learning and workplace support. The best way gain this is through experience and practice – using learning technologies and continually assessing the usefulness of particular tools. The days when learning technologies could be left to the ‘eLearning’ team are long past. An L&D specialist without a reasonable understanding of learning technologies is like a doctor without a reasonable understanding of the human body. In other words, not much use at all.

Adult learning skills: Every L&D professional needs to have a good understanding of how adults really learn, including influencing factors such as the inherent need for autonomy, mastery and purpose[3], goal orientation, and the impact of experience, practice, conversation and reflection on learning.

Good learning leaders will need to hire, develop and deploy these skills. They need to be constantly on the lookout for learning professionals that exhibit them and to re-align their teams so they have a good mix of skills to cover all bases in the world of workplace learning.

As it becomes clear to an increasing number of HR and Learning leaders that formal training is inadequate to develop the emergent practices necessary to operate and thrive in complex networked environments, so it will also becomes clear that these new L&D skills will acquire premium status.

It should be said that social learning approaches offer one important route to adapt in this new environment. Performance support and business process guidance offer other successful strategies. Each of these require not only new L&D skills, but new L&D operating models, too.

Take The Cheshire Cat’s Advice

clip_image010The real challenge for L&D departments is how to increase their success rate and deliver what is needed as fast, as efficiently and as effectively as possible.

Before they set out to do this every L&D leader needs to know where they are going. They need clear vision of what they want to achieve – the end-point they are aiming at – and the path, tricks and tools needed to reach there.

The Cheshire Cat explained to Alice in response to her question ‘would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to’, said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where – ‘ said Alice

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go’ said the Cheshire Cat.

As Alice didn’t know where she wanted to go, the Cheshire Cat advice was that she couldn’t focus or move forward. What she needed was a clear goal and destination. Once you do know where you need to go then what you need to do to get there will become clear.

The lesson here is that every CLO needs to have a clear well thought-out operational strategy (goal) that will support their leaders’ objectives as fast and as effectively as possible. In the 21st century that inevitably means very fast and very flexibly. It also means focusing on the ‘right stuff’. The right stuff is tangible outputs.

The next article in this series will look at approaches to transform organisational learning and to balance formal and informal learning for greatest impact.

[1] Evans P and Wurster T S, 2000, Blown to Bits: how the new economics of information transforms strategy, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, USA.

[2] Thomas Gilbert (1996), Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance; Geary Rummler and Alan Brache (1990) Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart; James Pershing (2006), Handbook of Human Performance Technology.

[3] Daniel Pink (2009) Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.

Sunday 16 October 2011

In a Complex World, Continuous Learning and Simple Truths Prevail

Big-short-inside-the-doomsday-machineThe book ‘The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine’ is Michael Lewis’ marvellous account of the idiocy and greed that led to the sub-prime bubble and the resulting global financial crisis.

Lewis’ book focuses on a few smart people who saw the simple truths beneath the complex world of financial jiggery-pokery that led to wealthy people becoming even wealthier on the backs of others who were sold the dream of owning their own homes irrespective of their income, assets or ability to pay.

These few smart people bet their shirts against what they saw as a house of cards. The house they saw was built on a belief that the complexity of asset-backed securities, credit default swaps, collateralised debt options and other sophisticated financial instruments were a valid contribution to national and international growth and would make banks and bankers a whole lot of money along the way.

Apart from their aspirations the smart folks were interesting in another way. Most were outliers of one type or another – people who lived and worked outside the norm. One was a one-eyed doctor with Asperger syndrome, others were ‘rejects’ from Wall Street, or anti-social smart-thinking loners who had turned their backs on steady jobs and big salaries. Most had no desire to work and intermingle in mainstream financial services and markets.

Of course we know now that these people were right and the armies of financial experts and self-styled ‘masters of the universe’ in the big investment banks were wrong. The outliers saw stupidity and self-interest for what it was. They won their bets. The outcome was that almost everyone apart from these ‘oddballs’ suffered.

So what does this story have to do with my world – a world focused on new ways to help organisations thrive in the 21st century? Encouraging them to change, adapt and modify the approaches they use to increase performance and productivity - and enabling their employees to work smarter, innovate, and continuously over-deliver?

Quite a lot, as it happens.

What caught my eye early on in ‘The Big Short’ was Lewis’ observation that ‘ ..there are some things that can’t be taught’.

He could have added ‘but those things still need to be learned..

cant be taughtDespite the sophistication, the big brains and the resources available to the traders and executives in Lehmann Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and the rest, it appears they failed to see this simple truth. That no matter how smart you are, you still needed to carry on learning.

It also appears they were unaware of another simple truth - that continuous learning is the only sustainable asset in a world of constant change.

This is not really surprising. These are common oversights and blind-spots when people believe they know best and ignore the insights, experience and wisdom of others.

450px-Lehman_Brothers_Times_Square_by_David_ShankboneIf the people working in the banks and rating agencies had taken the time to step back, ponder and question some of the fundamentals that underpinned their assumptions and decisions, then they would have been able to see that the roller-coaster they had started was running out of control.

They didn’t.  Most had tunnel-vision.

Now no-one was telling or teaching (or ‘instructing’) them to do this. The tools they’d created and the methods of using the tools had not been taught in business school. There was often an assumption that once the ‘smart work’ of setting them up the work was all finished and done - no need to think about them further.

However, managing these beasts (and deciding when to ‘kill’ them) needed mind-sets that appreciated the need for continuous learning, relearning, and re-adjustment of thinking in situ.

The smart outliers certainly understood the need for continuous learning.

And they were self-directed learners.

Some of their learning didn’t require a sophisticated understanding of the arcane financial instruments that were driving the world towards the precipice (although they each had that). But it did require passion for, and an understanding of, self-directed learning and being aware of the changing world around them.

And the continuous learning sometimes required effort. Two of these outliers spent time walking the back-streets of down-beat towns in Florida, looking at the ebb and flow of communities there, who had jobs, who didn’t, what type of work and security was available, and re-framing their views on the percentage of defaults on mortgages likely to occur.

The Wall Street bankers left their 40th floor offices to go to expensive restaurants. They didn’t consider learning, unlearning and re-learning were of any great value to them.

The Lessons

I think there are some simple lessons we can learn from this story.

  • Firstly, in complex environments self-directed learning is not optional, it’s absolutely essential.
  • Also, we know the world is changing on a daily basis. What we knew to be true yesterday may not be true tomorrow. Continuous learning is the best tool available in dynamic environments.
  • And we know that reflection and critical ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking are are essential to help direct the focus of continuous learning.

For learning professionals the message is also this:

The most important single thing you can do to ensure your organisation develops a continuous learning culture is to help the development of self-directed learning skills. Help your workforce improve its meta-learning.

These meta-learning skills don’t live in isolation. They live with other ‘core skills’ that thoughtful, flexible work needs.

I have written about these core continuous learning skills previously, but I think it is worth listing the main ones again:

Effective search and 'find' skills

To quickly and find the right information when it's needed.

Critical thinking skills

To extract meaning and significance from situations and data, and be prepared to go back and review and re-frame as often as possible.

Creative thinking skills

To generate new ideas, and new ways of using information. Always avoiding the belief that there is only one solution.

Analytical skills

To visualise, articulate and solve complex problems and concepts, and take decisions that make sense based on the available information.

Networking skills

To identify and build relationships with others who are potential sources of information, knowledge and expertise within and outside your team, your organisation and your domain. Actively seek ‘outliers’ and people who may see the world differently from you.

People skills

To build trust and productive relationships that are mutually beneficial for information sharing and sense-making.


To apply reason and logical argument to extract meaning and significance from situations.

A solid understanding of research methodology

To validate data and the underlying assumptions on which information and knowledge is based.

There is no doubt that a first step is changing our mind-set from one that sees learning as a series of events to one that acknowledges learning is a continuous process that happens at any time, anywhere. We know that learning doesn’t just happen in controlled and structured environments but that most learning is embedded in the flow of work.

A second step should be to do something to about changing the way we work, and create environments that provide tools and support to workers so they can do their jobs better through bringing learning into their work.

An adage I’ve found helpful to keep focus on the importance of continuous learning is ‘when working is learning, then learning is working’.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Why the Real Power of eLearning is Social

This post was prompted by a webinar I gave on behalf of Citrix/GoToWebinar on 6th July 2011 and originally posted as a guest post on the Learning Pool blog. I’ve made a few changes to it here.

Looking Back

social learningeLearning has been with us in one form or another for at least the past 50 years, maybe longer.

Probably the first player on the enterprise eLearning block was the University of Illinois’ PLATO learning management system, built in 1960 to deliver training through user terminals (which, even then, had touch-screens).

Some would argue that quite a few of today’s LMS offerings haven’t advanced a great deal from PLATO. They serve up content and track activity.

image image

Plato IV LMS circa 1972

Personal Journey

My own exposure to eLearning began back in 1964 when learning speed reading via an electronic system at my secondary school. The speed reading machine was about the size of a large refrigerator and probably weighed roughly the same (maybe they even shared components). However despite the obvious limitations, technology was making its way into learning through a number of routes even back then.

My first involvement in working with learning technologies that we’d recognise today was when tutoring at the University of Sydney in the early 1970s. In the School of Biological Sciences lectures were pre-recorded and delivered across the campus on TV screens and the labs were supported with tape-driven experiential learning activities. Content was still analogue, but delivered in ‘e’ format.

My exposure to eLearning in the early 1980s really got me ‘hooked’ on the potential of technology in learning. At the time I was running online collaborative learning courses. The ‘hooking’ was reinforced later in the 1980s when I was reviewing Interactive Video training programmes for the UK National Interactive Video Centre). I saw some great ‘interactive’ and engaging learning activities in those big 12” disks – the content was used to support experiential learning. At the same time I had the pleasure of sitting on the national steering committee of the TTNS service in the UK – an innovative collaboration between British Telecom and (I hardly bear mention in the current UK ‘hacking scandal’ climate) Rupert Murdoch’s News International. TTNS supported technology-based learning for schools and Further/Higher education in the UK. Every schoolchild in the UK had an email box on the Telecom Gold service – a very innovative step at the time.

Why Look Back?

The point of looking back is that it helps understand the fact that various forms of technology-based learning have been around for a long time, and that some of the pedagogies that were used in early days were equal, or superior, to the predominantly ‘course vending machine’ approaches that emerged in the late 1990s on the back of generic course catalogues and with content-led eLearning generally. Some of these 1990s models, to a greater or lesser extent, are still with us.

I think it’s a good time now to both look back and look forward and to re-think our approach to eLearning generally.

Significant Hurdles

Allison Rossett recently made it clear that there are still significant eLearning hurdles to jump in an article titled “Engaging with the new eLearning” published by Adobe. Allison pointed out that an observation she made almost 10 years ago still hasn’t been addressed. This is what she wrote in 2002:

“The good news is plentiful. eLearning enables us to deliver both learning and information at will, dynamically and immediately. It allows us to tap the knowledge of experts and non-experts and catapult those messages beyond classroom walls and into the workplace. And …it lets us know, through the magic of technology, who is learning, referring, and contributing—and who isn’t.

…Then there’s the bad news. Many simply fail to embrace eLearning. Like the sophomore taking a course called “Introduction to Western Civilization” via distance learning falling behind on assignments or the customer service representative who looks at two of the six eLearning modules and completes only one, or the supervisor, who had the best intentions, but is too busy with work to be anybody’s e-coach”.

Allison goes on to point out that “Every industry study reveals marked increases in training and development delivered via eLearning, often with disappointing numbers characterising participation and persistence….participants in eLearning programs are less likely to follow through than in an instructor-led program”.

This should give us cause to pause and think - and re-think - about our approach to eLearning . Not so much about eLearning as an approach in general - there’s plenty of evidence that it can be an effective way to assist and speed development - but we need to think about HOW we are employing and deploying eLearning. There’s clearly room for improvement there.

This also raises another fundamental question for me.

The question is this:

Where do current ideas about eLearning fit into the ‘new world’ of work and in the new world of building workforce capability in the 21st century?

A great deal has changed since the term eLearning first entered the vocabulary in 1999 and since web-based courses and modules started appearing in volume in the early 2000s. We need to rethink eLearning in light of these changes and other changes that are only now starting to impact the world of work.

The Changes Needed

A major driver for us to re-think eLearning approaches is the move away from the 20th Century ‘push’ models of learning - with modules, courses, content and curricula being pushed at employees.

We’re seeing a move towards a 21st Century ‘pull’ model - where workers ‘pull’ the learning and performance resources they need when they need to improve their work performance. They may need a course, but are more likely just to need some ‘here-and-now’ support to solve a problem or overcome an obstacle and then move on.

I see a requirement for two principal changes in thinking to address the challenge this change presents to Learning professionals. The changes are these:

1. A move away from content-centric mind-sets.

2. A move away from ‘course’ mind-sets.

Step 1: Leaving Content-Centricity Behind

ContentI’m sure most of us are aware that the major challenge for learning is no longer about ‘content’ or ‘knowledge’ (if it ever were).

We can find content whenever we need it. Our lives are inundated with content. We may not have great filters for content – that’s the real challenge - but there is no doubt they will arrive in the next few years.

The need now is for other skills such as critical thinking and analysis skills, creative thinking and design skills, networking and collaboration skills, and, across all of these, effective ‘find’ skills.

The development of these new skills has nothing to do with content or ‘knowledge transfer’. It requires new mind-sets and capabilities that I’ve come to call ‘MindFind’ – mind-sets and capabilities that support us in finding the right content when we need it, at the point of need.

Obviously the need for content won’t go away completely, but we know that content is of greatest use when we can access it in the context of a specific challenge, not when we’re provided it in a class or an eLearning course and try to remember it until we take the end-of-course test - context is (almost) all.

We need an understanding of core concepts, certainly, but Learning professionals shouldn’t be wasting their time serving up all the details about ‘task’ in closed eLearning packages. They serves little purpose and the vast majority is forgotten immediately after the course or working through the eLearning modules.

The challenge for Learning professionals is all about helping workers make sense of what is expected of them, how they can gain the right experiences, how they can get opportunities to practice, how they can find the right people to help, and how they can have time to reflect on what they’ve done and what they’ve learned so they do it better next time. This is not achieved by creating and delivering learning ‘content’. It’s achieved by utilising the right context.

Content to Context

So we need to replace content with context – learning through doing, rather than learning through knowing.

We also need to move our focus from ‘know-what’ learning to ‘know-how’ learning. From content-rich to experience-rich. And from ‘know-what’ learning to ‘know-who’ learning as well – we are who we know, and our expertise is the sum of our own resources and others we can draw on when needed.

The latter is why social learning is such an important element in learning and needs more focus. It is not just ‘social’ for the sake of being social. Workers will want to co-create. Lots of the learning content of the future will be generated by people who are doing the work rather than by specialist training instructors and learning specialists. Learning professionals need to think about how they can facilitate and support this, rather than creating the next greatest content-heavy eLearning package. Instead they need to think about helping workers make connections and building communities where they can mine their own learning.

New Channels

Workers will also expect their learning to be more personalised and available in a self-service mode so they can get what they want when they want it and where they happen to be. That means Learning professionals need to consider new channels for learning.

Last month I was working at the Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca, Saudi Arabia with my Internet Time Alliance colleague Clark Quinn, and had the opportunity to ask the Dean of IT about the penetration of smartphones, notebooks and tablets among the 60,000 student population at the university. He estimated 90% had smartphones and at least 50% currently had tablets or notebooks. I am sure that penetration is even higher in many other parts of the world, and not just in the ‘developed’ world, either. A big part of the future of learning, as with our daily lives, is surely going to be mobile. We need to make sure that any content that really needs be made available to help with learning is accessible on multiple platforms.

More to the point, Learning professionals need to be thinking about creating learning EXPERIENCES rather than learning content.

As such, we need to move away from content-rich, experience-poor learning towards a focus on helping workers have rich learning experiences from which they can develop.

Step 2: De-Focusing from Courses

De-focusMany Learning professionals default to a course mind-set when faced with designing a solution to any performance problem. It’s an understandable response. That’s what most have done throughout their careers – design and deliver courses. Also, courses are relatively straightforward projects to undertake. Standard instructional design methodologies can be applied. They consist of a one-off event or a series of events that can be relatively easily scheduled and delivered. We know how long they’ll take, what resources they’ll use and we can manage the process quite easily.

However, we also know that most learning doesn’t occur in courses or events. It occurs in the workplace, in bits-and-pieces. It occurs through watching an expert, or through a conversation we have with colleagues or a manager, or when we make a mistake and have the opportunity to reflect on how we’d do it next time, or in one of many other ways. Designing for learning in this environment is altogether different – and often a more ‘messy’ and complex matter. But outcomes are likely to be better. People are more likely to retain the learning they achieve through experience. And this type of ‘informal’ or workplace learning has been shown to be generally better received, more effective and less costly than its formal counterpart.

So de-focusing on courses and re-focusing on supporting learning in the workplace through social learning approaches and performance support will be critical in the future. There is no doubt about that.

In fact, there is a good basis of fact to argue that the real power of eLearning is social and contextual.

Those Learning professionals that understand and respond to this fact will be able to demonstrate greater impact. Those that stick to the content-rich, experience-poor models of the 20th Century will surely be overtaken by events.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Social & Workplace Learning through the 70:20:10 Lens



There have been millions of words written and spoken about ‘informal’ and social learning over the past few years.



In fact, if a Martian had just arrived on Earth and strayed into a meeting of Learning and Development professionals or into a learning conference, or even picked up a professional journal, he would logically assume that these were the only ways humans learned.

The Martian’s assumption would be roughly correct. Humans learn principally through the process of carrying out actions, making mistakes, getting help from others, having discussions about which approach to take, stepping back and reflecting on why ‘it isn’t working’ and using a myriad of other strategies in the heat of the workflow or activity.

The shift in focus to workplace and social learning by HR and Learning professionals over the past few years is an significant one. And it’s not just a passing phase or fad. It is reflecting a fundamental change that is happening all around us – the move from a ‘push’ world to a ‘pull’ world, and the move from structure and known processes to a world that is much more fluid and where speed to performance and quality of results are paramount.

Social and Workplace Learning

iStock_000008542224SmallThe increased focus on social and workplace learning is causing considerable disruption in the L&D world both to the traditional roles for those who are designers and delivers of courses and programmes and also to the whole ecosystem of training and learning suppliers that inhabit the L&D world providing programmes, courses and content and the supporting infrastructure to deliver (mainly) learning and development events.

In a way, what we’re witnessing is a significant shift in thinking about the best ways people can keep abreast their jobs and improve performance in a world where change is not only becoming the norm, but is accelerating on an almost daily basis. Other factors such as the changes brought about with new generations entering the workforce and technology changes creating participatory learning opportunities (as pointed out recently by Claire Schooley of Forrester Research) play their part.

A number of approaches are emerging to meet this changing thinking.

Our awareness that more learning occurs outside courses and curricula than inside has added fuel to the fire of social learning – which was lit by the plethora of emerging social media tools and technologies speeded on their way by events typified in the O’Reilly Media conference in 2004.

Also, there has been a re-awakening of the understanding that context is vital for learning and, aligned with this, that performance in a formal training environment is not necessarily a good indicator of performance in a different environment, such as the workplace. To an extent context is replacing content as the key factor in organisational learning. These realisations are leading to greater focus on workplace learning – learning in the context of work. Learning and work are merging.

The Importance of Experience

Bubbling along under the ‘social’ explosion has been an increasing awareness that experiences are critical to learning and performance.

The majority of learning is obtained through the experiences to which we are exposed. Many of our experiences are social, some are not.

Whichever way we gain our experience, we now know that they are vital building-blocks for our development. Learning how to ‘do’ something is far more important than learning ‘about’ something in terms of improving performance. We didn’t learn to ride a bicycle by learning Newton’s first law of motion, nor did we learn how to best utilise our professional skills through reading or being told about them. We learned through doing them or, at least, attempting to do them. The theory and explanations are often useful, but the real learning occurs through experience and practice.

The 70:20:10 Framework



Surprisingly, I need to place the following caveat almost every time I speak about the 70:20:10 model:

70:20:10 is a reference model or framework. It’s not a recipe. It’s based on empirical research and surveys and also on a wide sample of experiences that suggest adult learning principally occurs in the context of work and in collaboration with others (as the great educational psychologist Jerome Bruner once said ‘our world is others’).

70:20:10 is being used by many organisations to re-focus their efforts and resources to where most real learning actually happens –  through experiences, practice, conversations and reflection in the context of the workplace, not in classrooms. They have found the 70:20:10 framework a useful strategic tool to help them transform the way their organisations allocate resources and approach employee development – whether it’s leadership, management or individual contributor development.

Anyone trying to 'prove' that the percentages fall in exact ratios, or anyone searching for peer-reviewed papers demonstrating the same is not only wasting their time, but clearly doesn't 'get it'. 


Some Background on 70:20:10
The fact that most development occurs outside formal learning has been known for many years, but the idea of specific ratios of the formal to informal split has only been in focus for the past 40 years or so.

In 1971 Allen Tough, emeritus professor at the University of Toronto, identified the fact that ‘about 70% of all learning projects are planned by the learner himself’ in his research published in ‘The Adult’s Learning Projects (the book is downloadable free).  In a recent conversation, Prof Tough told me “both my books,‘The Adult’s Learning Projects’ and ‘Intentional Change’ look at the entire range of adult learning and change (not just work) but we found that 70:20:10 pattern.”

In 1996, 15 years after Allen Tough’s work, Morgan McCall and his colleagues Bob Eichinger and Michael Lombardo at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina found from their observations that:

“Lessons learned by successful and effective managers are roughly:
70% from tough jobs
20% from people (mostly the boss)
10% from courses and reading”

Eichinger & Lombardo published some details in their book The CAREER ARCHITECT Development Planner (now in its 5th edition).

More recently (2010) a survey by Peter Casebow and Owen Ferguson at GoodPractice in Edinburgh, Scotland, found a similar split in their Survey of 206 leaders and managers.

Casebow and Ferguson found that informal chats with colleagues were the most frequent development activity used by managers (and one of the two activities seen as being most effective – the other one being on-the-job instruction from a manager or colleague). 82% of those surveyed said that they would consult a colleague at least once a month, and 83% rated this as as very or fairly effective as a means of helping them perform in their role when faced with an unfamiliar challenge.  The other top most-frequently used manager development activities included search, trial-and-error and other professional resources.

Clearly, conversations (through informal chats with colleagues) and learning from the experience of others (through workplace instruction from their manager or a colleague - receiving the benefit of their experience and providing the opportunity for guided practice) are important in development of the surveyed group.

My colleague Jay Cross has listed other research into formal and informal learning (‘Where did the 80% come from?’) and explains why definitive figures have little meaning in the larger context. Jay identified a rough 80:20 split between informal and formal learning which he discussed at length in his Informal Learning book.

The 70:20:10 Framework in Practice

For me, at its heart 70:20:10 is all about re-thinking and re-aligning learning and development focus and effort. It involves stepping outside the classes/courses/curriculum mind-set and letting outputs drive the cart – thinking about performance improvement and helping people do their jobs better rather than spending the majority of time and effort on inputs – learning content, instructional design etc.  Of course the inputs are important at times, but we need to keep our perspective. Content and design are not the most important inputs to the learning and capability development process.

It doesn’t matter if the job is simple or complex, whether it’s repetitive or highly varied, or if it’s driven by defined processes or requires extensive innovative and creative thinking. The principles are the same – the most effective and generally fastest way to improve and gain mastery will be through workplace and social learning.

In practical terms what does this look like?

Well, it may mean using any of these ‘70’ approaches:

  • Identifying opportunities to apply new learning and skills in real situations
  • Allocating new work within an existing role
  • Increasing range of responsibilities or span of control
  • Identifying opportunities to reflect and learn from projects
  • Allocating assignments focused on new initiatives
  • Providing the chance to work as a member of a small team
  • Providing increased decision making authority
  • Providing stretch assignments
  • enhancing leadership activities, e.g.; lead a team, committee membership, executive directorships
  • Setting up co-ordinated swaps and secondments
  • Arranging assignments to provide cross-divisional or cross-regional experience
  • Providing opportunities to carry out day-to-day research
  • Providing opportunities to develop a specific expertise niche
  • Allocating assignments to provide new product experience

Or any of these ‘20’ approaches:

  • Encourage the use of colleague feedback to try a new approach to an old problem
  • Establish a culture of coaching from manager/colleagues/others
  • Encourage seeking advice, asking opinions, sounding out ideas
  • Engage in formal and informal mentoring
  • Embed informal feedback and work debriefs
  • Encourage learning through team work
  • Target building strong internal and external networks
  • Build a culture of learning through teams/networks
  • Support professional and industry association membership and external networking
  • Encourage facilitated group discussion as a standard practice
  • Use Action Learning

The above are just a few options available for development in the ‘70’ and ‘20’ zones.

Whose Responsibility?

When Learning professionals look at these lists they often remark that many of these activities are not in their bailiwick.

Of course this is correct. The responsibility for creating an environment where real learning occurs and opening up workplace learning opportunities is primarily in the hands of senior leadership and line managers. However, HR and Learning professionals have an important role to play.

A 70:20:10 approach does mean Learning professionals need to put a new lens on their responsibilities.

L&D has an absolute responsibility as enablers – to ensure leaders and managers understand their people development responsibilities AND have the capability and tools to deliver. This means there’s a role for Learning professionals in both the analysis of performance problems and in the design of the solutions where the outcome is intended to be improved performance through better understanding (knowledge) and skills.

70:20:10 and the Changing Role of L&D

All of this raises the question ‘does adopting the 70:20:10 framework change the role of the Learning function?’.

There is only one answer to this question. Yes - it changes the role fundamentally. And the change not only impacts L&D professionals but HR professionals as well.

The table below indicates a few changes that need to occur when adopting 70:20:10 (or any model or framework focused on workplace and social learning):

Changing Role

These changes require new roles, new skills and new mind-sets. Learning professionals who have spent their time designing, developing and delivering formal, structured courses, programmes and curricula will need to adapt and develop their own capabilities.

My experience has been that many find the challenges of working within the new framework both challenging and rewarding. The 70:20:10 model certainly places Learning professionals much closer to their key stakeholders and to the white heat of their organisation’s Raison d'être. It has the potential to move L&D from a support function to the position of being a strategic business tool.

Tangible Actions to Deliver Results Through The 70:20:10 Framework

There are a number of actions that can be taken to deliver results through moving to greater focus on the ‘informal’ parts within 70:20:10.  The table below splits them into three categories:

1. Actions to support the informal workplace learning process
2. Actions to help workers improve their learning skills
3. Actions that support the creation of a supportive organisational culture


Who is Using 70:20:10?

Over the past 18 months I have been engaged in work with researchers at DeakinPrime, the Corporate Education arm of Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. Together, we have identified more than 60 organisations that have implemented the 70:20:10 model as part of their overall learning and development strategy. They include:

Nike, Sun Microsystems, Dell, Goldman Sachs, Mars, Maersk, Nokia, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, L’Oréal, Adecco, Banner Health, Bank of America, National Australia Bank, Boston Scientific, American Express, Wrigley, Diageo, BAE Systems, ANZ Bank, Irish Life, HP, Freehills, Caterpillar, Barwon Water, CGU, Coles, Sony Ericsson, Standard Chartered, British Telecom, Westfield, Wal-Mart, Parsons Brinkerhoff, Coca-Cola and many others.

If you want an overview of the 70:20:10 framework with some examples, I have uploaded a SlideShare presentation HERE.


I would like to acknowledge my colleagues in the Internet Time Alliance and others who have contributed to some of the material in this post. 

There is a 60-page white paper titled "Effective Learning with 70-20-10: the new frontier for the extended enterprise" that I have written with Jérôme Wargnier of CrossKnowledge, a leading learning organisation headquartered in Paris. It was published in June 2011. The paper explores practical issues around the implementation of the 70-20-10 model. You can download it HERE

Wednesday 22 June 2011

CLO Maths–Part I


Last month I took part in the iVentiv Executive Knowledge Exchange event in New York.

The two days of roundtable discussion were focused on ‘learning futures’. There were plenty of good conversations, some case studies, and lots of idea sharing and thoughts around innovation and the future of learning in organisations.

The event was attended by Chief Learning Officers and executives responsible for senior leader and employee development and corporate learning strategies in organisations such as Hertz, GE, Yahoo!, Dow Jones, Hitachi Data Systems, New York Life, CIGNA and the US Navy War College, among others. A great group of people with a huge amount of experience in the field.

Overall it was a very productive and worthwhile two days.

Industrial Crowdsourcing
A quick diversion. Amongst the conversations, sharing and discussions at the event there was also an excellent session on crowdsourcing facilitated by Prof Evgeny Káganer from the IESE Business School in Barcelona. Crowdsourcing certainly has a future in corporate life, including corporate education and access to talent. Evgeny talked about the interlinking and use of social media (for communicating externally), enterprise 2.0 (for collaborating internally) and crowdsourcing (for collaborating externally). He also touched on how organisations are using microsourcing to deliver projects and ‘get stuff done’, and how the merging of crowdsourcing and microsourcing is giving rise to industrial crowdsourcing. He provided a number of examples of companies using industrial crowdsourcing today for design, software and system development, R&D and innovation. ‘Cloud workers’ already represent $1 billion in earnings. Supporting and developing cloud workers and industrial crowdsourcing is certainly something that CLOs need to get their heads around.

Dealing with Change
One observation at the iVentiv event in particular left a lasting impression on me. This was a formula that Brad Benson described in a session he led titled Learning, Leadership and Change. Brad is Chief of Staff at Intel, so has lived in the white heat of change in a large organisation. He spends his time thinking about ways of applying executive development approaches to the development of corporate strategy.

The formula Brad described was this:

 L > C

Where L= the Rate of Learning and C= the Rate of Change

Brad explained this in terms of the changing leadership and thought-leadership at Intel over the years – from the days of Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore through Andy Grove and Craig Barrett to Paul Otellini. He posited that organisations need to ensure that the rate of learning is always greater than the rate of change the organisation is grappling with – both internal change and the external change that is impacting the organisation.

Basic CLO Maths – the L and C dimensions
Brad’s formula got me thinking about the fact that it might help CLOs if they had a grasp of some of the basic maths of learning and performance.

I dragged some of my basic maths back from the depths of long-term memory and extrapolated Brad’s formula a little to describe the implications of the relative rates of change between Learning and Organisations themselves.  It seemed sensible to me to express the relationship as relating to business outcomes:

rate of change 3The Rate of Change is the sum of the deltas of Internal and External Change that impact the organisation (changing internal strategies and structures, changing market dynamics, changing economics, changing talent pool etc.)

From this I figured we can derive a modification of Brad’s formula:

Rate of change 1

If the rate of change in learning is greater than the rate of organisational change (the sum of internal and external change) then the outcome will contribute to business success.

If, however, the rate of change in learning is less than or equal the rate of organisational change, then the outcome will contribute to business failure. The CLO can pack his/her bags and look for other pastures.

That seemed pretty clear to me. We know that relevance and speed are two of the fundamental elements of effective learning in organisations. So being aware of rates of change and being able to respond seems to be a pretty fundamental skill of any CLO.

Organisations change
In most verticals and regions the rate of organisational change is increasing. In many cases the increase has very been rapid over the past few years, and the velocity is still increasing. In others it may not have been so fast, but no organisation is protected from change. External economic factors and the whims of financial markets see to that.

As the old adage says ‘sometimes you have to run to stand still’.

The approaches deployed in our learning and employee development strategies 10 years ago are mostly no longer valid or useful for our new organisational contexts – there are too many new variables involved and our contexts have changed inexorably. We need to continually evolve our approaches, adopt new ones, look outside our own organisation for different strategies that work, and then build those that our judgement tells us will fit into our own context.

CLO Maths – the E and K dimensions
There’s some further maths that I think CLOs might find useful.

The formula below explains the importance of experiences in learning.


This formula states that the Sum of Experiences plus the Change in Fixed Knowledge should be greater than the Rate of Change of the Work Context.


It describes the relationship between fixed knowledge – the type we learn through reading and classes - and the learning we acquire through experiences and good conversations. Ideally, learning through experiences is incorporated into formal learning programmes, but I’ve rarely seen it. In my experience the vast majority of formal learning is content-rich and experience-poor. It’s easier that way.

There are three variables here. CLOs can have some influence over the first two only – the number of experiences and the level of fixed knowledge. The Work Context is out of the CLO’s hands, although it is one of the main drivers. It’s a very challenging problem.

The value of fixed knowledge is degrading exponentially as the rate of change and externalities increase.

Value of knowledge

Also, the number of experiences to which employees can be exposed is arithmetic.

sum of experiences

We can help manage this problem to some extent by recruiting people who bring experience with them. But that doesn’t solve the problem of the need for experiences that are tied to the context of work that happens in our own organisations – each organisation will overlay its own specific context.

Network Theory
CLOs might also find network theory helpful to understand what they can do to reduce the impact of the arithmetic nature of experiences.

Metcalf’s Law is a good start. Bob Metcalf, who created Ethernet and founded 3Com, defined a law that states:

Metcalfe's Law

There have been some recent challenges to Metcalfe’s Law’s application to social networks, but I side with Metcalfe's Defence.

If we think of Metcalfe’s Law in terms of social networks we can deduce this:

Metcalfe Social Networks

“the value of a network equals the square of the number of networked employees”



So it seems we can use social networking in organisations to break the arithmetic limitations of learning through experience.

That led to thinking a little more about the power of social networks in relation to experiences. I came up with this thought:

Social Experiences

The sum of experiences is equal to all the individual experiences an employee has PLUS the number of meaningful social network connections.

If this equation holds, there is significant value-add if a CLO’s team can assist employees to build connections through social networks within and outside the organisation (we know this is the case from observation, anyway). Apart from other benefits social networks will bring, meaningful connections extend the pool of individual experiences and break the linear relationship.

If CLOs can make this maths work then their organisation will move forward.

The Value of Experiences
I think it’s worth reiterating that the experience element in the formulae above is critical. Without rich and on-going experiences – challenging projects, new responsibilities, exposure to other organisations’ way of doing things and other parts of our own organisations’ way of doing things we simply won’t have the level and extent of experiences that we need to succeed and develop.

My own experiences in a working life spent exploring learning and performance has led me to believe that exposure to new experiences is one of the important, if not the most important, aspects of learning and capability-building. Jay Cross, my colleague in the Internet Time Alliance, turned the experience-conversation lights on for me a few years ago when he said ‘experience and conversations are the engine room of learning, and conversation is the first learning technology’.


I’m working on some more CLO maths and will post Part II here at some point.
If better mathematicians than me would like to correct or expand any of the above, I’d welcome your thoughts.