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:
L&D IS SEEN AS IMPORTANT BY MOST MANAGERS 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’.

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.

Extending learning into the workplace can be achieved in a number of ways. By adding learning to work, by embedding learning with work, and by extracting learning from work. Similar models have been in use for some years. IBM’s ‘learning separate from work; ‘learning enabling work’; and ‘on-demand learning’ (2005)  address similar issues.

Note: This adding-embedding-extracting model is based on earlier work by people such as Gloria Gery (embedding and extracting), the Corporate Executive Board (adding and extracting) and others. I have recently developed it further to add a fourth element ‘sharing’ (see more recent work).


AddingAdding 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.

Typically, 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.

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

ExtractingExtracting Learning from Work
The 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.

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.

Monday 24 June 2013

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


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


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)


Thursday 14 February 2013

Re-thinking Workplace Learning: extracting rather than adding

axesA decade ago the Corporate Executive Board published a report detailing the findings of a study into the role managers can play in employee development.

By almost any standards the sample in this study was large – 8,500 cases drawn from 14 organisations across six industries in nine countries.

One clear finding presented was that:

“those activities that are integrated into manager and employee workflow have the largest impact on employee performance, while those that are distinct events separate from the day-to-day job have less impact.”

In other words if people have the opportunity to learn and develop as part of their work and they are supported by their manager, then learning will be much better transformed into measurable behavioural change and performance improvement.

Context is Critical
Although the Corporate Executive Board study is a good one, it didn’t tell us anything new about the importance of context for effective learning.  We’ve known about that for 120 years or more.  Certainly since Dr Ebbinghaus’ ‘remembering’ and ‘forgetting' experiments in the 1880s, and probably much longer.

Other studies have also produced similar results to this Corporate Executive Board work. The general finding is that the more tightly bound learning is to the workflow, the greater the impact it is likely to have.

Adding Learning to Work

addingMany learning professionals and training companies have taken the lesson about the criticality of context to heart and are designing courses and programmes that link learning with work more closely than was done in the past. 

Although this is a great improvement from the situation where the majority of learning activities were totally separated from work, it’s only a half-way house, if that.

The thinking is still principally about adding learning into work.

Jane Hart has observed a very similar trend with her study of the uptake of social learning. She noted (see her slides 10-21 here) that there’s a clear trend towards ‘social training’ in the professional learning and development and learning vendor communities (where social technologies are added to training events) rather than towards ‘social collaboration’ (where social technologies are used to support on-going knowledge sharing and collaborative working, and integrated with workflow).

In other words, Jane has observed that many learning professionals  link social technologies and activities to learning activities in order to support training outcomes – adding ‘social’ to learning – rather than facilitating and supporting social collaboration – where a social dimension is part of the workflow.

The latter is a whole new ball game for HR and learning professionals and involves extracting learning from work.

Extracting Learning from Work

extractingExtracting learning from work employs very different approaches to the additive form of workplace learning.

Firstly the focus is not on learning but on performance improvement from the outset.

It’s also not about requiring workers to adjust their working time and flow to include specific activities that have the explicit purpose of assisting learning.

It’s simply about developing approaches that help workers to learn more from their day-to-day work.

The impact of this latter approach is profound.

The Corporate Executive Board study found that if managers were more effective at providing workplace experiences that helped development, the impact on performance was an almost 20%1 uplift.

From this study, new and challenging workplace experiences were demonstrated to have almost three times greater impact on performance improvement than simply ensuring workers had the right knowledge and skills.

Similar results were found with the difference between ensuring that reflection occurred following the completion of a project or other piece of work, or just at regular intervals, and simply having the right knowledge and skills to do the job. there was found to be a 295% uplift in performance from reflective learning over ensuring the right knowledge and skills.

Impact on Flow and Measurement


Approaching workplace learning in this way – by supporting the extraction of learning from work rather than the injection of learning activities into work – presents a whole new set of challenges for HR, Talent and L&D professionals.

the challenges include the facts that:

  • It can’t be built into a course or programme.
  • It can’t be ‘delivered’.
  • Managers need to be enabled and supported if it is to work.
  • It can’t be managed and controlled in the way discrete training and learning injections into the workflow can be.
  • most of the learning processes are opaque to HR and L&D and can only be made explicit through observation and other field survey and data collection approaches.

Also, the flow isn’t learning > work but a different and slightly more complicated work > learning > work. This ‘binds’ the learning more tightly into the workflow and any attempt to extract it ‘collapses the wave function’  (for explanation, see here).

So traditional attempts to ‘isolate’ the impact of learning becomes very difficult and we need to adopt more holistic types of analysis to determine what works and what doesn’t.

And it changes viable measurement approaches as well. The focus can no longer be on learning and learning metrics, but on performance and performance metrics. If we can’t measure intermediate steps (the ‘learning’) then we must focus on measuring the output (performance in the workplace) only. This is another new ball game for which HR and L&D must learn the rules (and there are rules).

New Opportunities

On the positive side, the ‘extracting learning’ approach opens up a new area of opportunity for L&D – beyond the module, course and programme and into the daily workflow as a mechanism for effective development, increased performance and greater productivity.

It’s there for the taking if we want.


1 This figure is arrived at as a statistical estimate of the maximum impact on performance calculated by measuring predicted differences in employee performance between direct reports who rate their managers as least effective and those that rate their managers as most effective at supporting rich workplace experiences – such as challenging projects, stretch assignments, new project work etc.


Wednesday 16 January 2013

The Need to Adapt to the Speed of Change or Die: lessons for L&D from the retail industry


Yesterday another great British institution slid into the history books.

HMV opened its first retail shop in Oxford Street, London in 1921 with great brouhaha. Composer Edward Elgar took part in the opening ceremony. Yesterday, 91 years on, the company shut its shops and handed its administration over to Deloitte with the expectation that its assets will be sold where possible and the company laid to rest.

Music lovers spent many hours (or weeks) browsing HMV stores, which were part of the only ‘chain’ for music when I first came to England in the early 1970s. Richard Branson’s sole Virgin Records & Tapes shop along Bayswater Road in Notting Hill was always worth a visit (although it specialised in ‘krautrock’ – not one of my favourite genres) as were the other independents in Charing Cross Road, but HMV had the variety and the volume.

HMV’s demise has come at a time that is tough for the retail trade. The global economy is still depressed, and confidence amongst consumers still low. Alongside HMV, other British consumer stalwarts have failed in past weeks – Jessops, the camera chain (founded 1935); Blockbuster, the DVD and video rental chain (founded 1989); and Comet, the electrical retail chain (founded 1933). Along with these, the UK and Irish Virgin Music stores were sold in 2007 and went into administration in 2009.


It seems that Deloitte and PwC are the only winners in a world where financial administrators are the current kings.

Lessons for L&D

I’ve been asking myself if there might be lessons for L&D departments here. I think there are.

A common strand runs through all of the above outcomes. It’s not just exposure to tough economic times and having to make changes to do more with less, and do things differently. Almost all individuals and enterprises are facing that.

Each of the above were overtaken by circumstances (and technologies) that changed faster and to a greater extent than they thought possible, understood, and planned for.

As with the many bookshops that have been forced to close in the face of new entrants to the publishing and distribution market – Amazon and Apple – the retail music industry certainly saw what digitisation was doing.  However, they didn’t grasp that it would create totally new distribution channels, new entrants from very different industries, and that it would disintermediate significant parts of the old value chain, side-line others, and build new markets that rendered old ones obsolete in the blink of an eye.

I was struck by the sheer blinkered view and ignorance of two ‘experts’ in the retail world as they analysed the demise of Jessops on BBC Radio 4 last week. One said “the real advantage of going to a store like Jessops was that you could speak to an expert who could advise on everything you might need to know about buying the right camera. You don’t get that when buying online”. The other agreed.

Have they never posted a question online? or read Amazon reviews? or joined something like and read the annual buyers guide, joined a forum or community and asked one of the tens of thousands of experts there for their freely-given advice?  Why would you put greater trust in someone who worked for a store with a vested interest not only in encouraging you to buy from them, but also to buy the products that gave them the highest return? Is it because you can see ‘the cut of their jib’ or you can assess their knowledge far better by looking them in the face? Does an expert look different to the rest of us? I think not.

Equally, I asked myself, why would people prefer to get information and learn through the intermediation of their L&D department if they have the alternative of doing so faster and more easily from other practitioners and colleagues, or people in their network who may or may not work in the same team, company or country as them? Especially if they can gain that knowledge and expertise without leaving their desk or workflow.

The answer, I believe, is ‘they wouldn’t’.

Some L&D professionals will counter with the challenge “how will you know that you have been given the right information and have been helped to learn the right things?”. The answer is that people will only know that through developing a level of trust in their sources of information and learning. And they will develop trust relationships by using the information, advice and expertise they’re provided with.  If they find it helps them get their work done better, faster or smarter then they’re more likely to ask again, and a competence trust relationship builds.

I don’t have the data to prove it, but I have a gut feeling that over time any one of us will build a network of trusted colleagues and advisors that will give us equally, if not better, information and advice for action than any traditional L&D department can possibly do – and certainly faster. Especially if we take the advice of Harold Jarche in thinking about the power of loose hierarchies and strong networks, and if our organisation actively encourages building a sharing, co-operative and collaborative culture of continuous learning.

What’s the point about this?

The point is that L&D departments need to adapt and do things differently, or do different things, if they are to remain relevant. Information dissemination (often the bulk of many training courses) doesn’t constitute the best use of time for specialists in building workforce knowledge and capability, nor for the intended recipients. L&D specialists should be focusing on understanding critical business problems that are being caused by underperformance and then working with stakeholders to design the best ways to solve them.  This may, or may not, involve designing, developing and delivering physical or virtual training, eLearning or some other intervention.

The Importance of Speed

I think Eric Schmidt made an excellent observation when he explained why Google’s interface is so simple – no ads, no clutter, just a query box, a banner (sometimes replaced by a ‘doodle’) and two buttons - ‘search’ and ‘I’m feeling lucky’ (I’ve yet to find anyone who regularly uses the latter).

Schmidt explained that the basic Google interface is designed in that way, and won’t change fundamentally, because people “will always use the easiest and fastest way possible to find information”. If they have difficult-to-navigate interfaces, or if anything gets in the way, then they will go elsewhere if they think there’s an easier option for them. First they ‘google’ it, then they ask someone nearby, call, message or email a trusted friend or colleague, phone a help desk, or read the manual (if there is one) – in that order. If Google created any obstacles, it would not be first choice.

There is a lesson in Schmidt’s advice for specialist learning technology interface designers, although it may come too late for some. Many organisations have wondered why employees look for ways not to use their Learning Management Systems and other learning technologies. Poor interface design is often the answer. I recall using one enterprise LMS that required 13 clicks of a mouse (some counter-intuitive) to register and launch an eLearning module. And we wondered why the generic eLearning library was under-used!

The point is that people need to work at speed, and anything that gets in the way will be bypassed or ignored. If an L&D department can’t respond at speed and deliver value it will be seen as a failure.

L&D Reinvention

ChangeHMV and the other failed institutions didn’t understand how rapidly and extremely their worlds were changing. By the time they did (if they did at all) it was too late.

L&D professionals need to take heed.

The world of learning and development has also changed. The same drivers are disrupting L&D as disrupted the music retail industry, and the camera sales industry, and the DVD rental industry, and the publishing industry, and the automotive industry, and the marketing industry, and the finance industry and countless other industries. People expect to be able to solve their problems with their performance quickly, and they expect to do so without leaving the workplace. They expect to manage their own career development, and build their own portfolios of experiences. They expect their employers to support them and provide resources to help, but they don’t expect their employer to ‘manage’ their learning and development from start to finish.

The lesson here for L&D professionals has been spelt out many times.

Most workforces are more like an orchestra than a battalion of soldiers. The role of L&D professionals needs to become more akin to a conductor (or even a page-turner for a pianist) than a sergeant-major. Expecting everyone to line up and follow the same instructions is a recipe for failure. We need to develop approaches and strategies to support organisational and individual goals in a much more nuanced way.

If there’s one lesson L&D needs to take from the failure of HMV and the others it is to fully grasp the speed and nature of the changes that are sweeping through most organisations – increased expectations of speed, relevance, and solutions that are just-in-time and not a minute late. Not only that, but also the increased expectation that L&D departments will deliver high value solutions to organisational challenges and help drive performance and productivity.

If an L&D department can’t make the internal changes needed and build the capability to do these things, then it deserves to follow HMV into oblivion.


Monday 7 January 2013

Internet Time Alliance Predictions for 2013

The Principals of the Internet Time Alliance decided to take a collective look ahead to the new year, and share our predictions. You’ll see overlap but also unique perspectives:
Charles Jennings
An increasing number of organisations, independent of size, nature or location, will acknowledge that their traditional training and development models and processes are failing to live up to the expectations of their leaders and workforce in a dynamic and global marketplace. Some will take steps to use their financial and people resources and exploit new ways of working and learning. Others will be hamstrung with outdated skills, tools and technologies, and will be too slow to adapt. A confluence of technology and improved connectivity, increasing pressures for rapid solutions and better customer service, and demands for higher performance, will force the hands of many HRDs and CLOs to refocus from models of ‘extended formal training’ to place technology-enabled, workplace-focused and leader-led development approaches at the core of their provision. We will move a step or two closer to real-time performance support at the point of need.
Clark Quinn
cqWe’ll see an increasing use of mobile, and some organizations will recognize the platform that such devices provide to move the full suite of learning support (specifically performance support and informal learning) out to employees, dissolving the arbitrary boundaries between training and the full spectrum of possibilities. Others will try to cram courses onto phones, and continue to miss the bigger picture, increasing their irrelevance. Further, we’ll see more examples of the notion of a ‘performance ecosystem’ of resources aligned around individual needs and responsibilities, instead of organized around the providing silos. We’ll also see more interactive and engaging examples of experience design, and yet such innovative approaches will continue to be reserved for the foresightful, while most will continue in the hidebound status quo.  Finally, we’ll see small starts in thinking semantic use in technology coupled with sound ethnographic methods to start providing just such smart support, but the efforts will continue to be embryonic.
Harold Jarche
hjPeople who know nothing about connectivism or collaborative learning will profit from MOOC’s. Academics and instructional designers will tell anyone who wants to listen just how important formal training is, as it fades in relevance to both learners and businesses.The ITA will keep on questioning the status quo and show how work is learning and learning is the work in the network era – some will listen, many will not.

Jane Hart
Many traditional-thinking organisations will waste a lot of time and energy trying to track social interventions in the hope that they can control and manage “social learning”. Whilst those organisations who appreciate that social learning is a natural and continuous part of working, will acknowledge that the most appropriate approach they can take is simply to support it in the workplace – both technologically and in terms of modelling new collaborative behaviours. Meanwhile, we will continue to see individuals and teams bypass IT and T&D departments and solve their learning and performance problems more quickly and easily using their own devices to access online resources, tools and networks.
Jay Cross
jc2013 will be a great year. As William Gibson wrote, “The future’s already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” The business world will become a bit more complex — and therefore more chaotic and unpredictable. Moore’s Law and exponential progress will continue to work their magic and speed things up. Learning will continue to converge with work. Increasingly, workers will learn their jobs by doing their jobs. The lessons of motivation (a la Dan Pink) and the importance of treating people like people will sink in. Smart companies will adopt radical management, putting the customer in charge and reorganizing work in small teams. Senior people will recognize that emotions drive people — and there are other emotions in addition to passion. Happy workers are more engaged, more productive, and more fulfilled. What’s not to like?