L&D Needs to Get In The Time Saving Business

Uber and Lyft aren’t popular because they are cheaper than a taxi or cleaner or even that they are better at getting around a city. They are successful because they save you time and make time saving more obvious. Click the app, pick a car, watch it get closer, get to your destination, get out. Your receipt is emailed to you. Time well spent. Gary Vaynerchuk (Gary Vee) shared this observation on a recent podcast of his and its message really resonates; everyone should be in the time saving business and have time saving tightly coupled to what they sell.

I think the L&D industry is trying to get there but it’s incremental approach may not be fast enough. Take rapid elearning authoring tools for example. They’re popular because they are really “selling time” but they are selling time to IDs who don’t necessarily share that time saving with the workers they serve. Rather, they can now rapidly produce even more courses which take workers out of the workflow and slow them down. The desire for increased speed of learning has led to the inevitable rise of “microlearning” (Whatever that means. Shorter courses?). Regardless, these small items are an undefined hot topic… for now. This too will eventually succumb to workers still turning even more quickly to “Googling something” or to a trusted peer. Time savings wins again.

If L&D really wants to be in the time saving business then it be wise to get closer to the work and see where time is being lost. Then, focus on helping employees do the things that will ultimately make them more effective and efficient in learning on their own. Adding a course to their workload isn’t the answer, and neither is floating a short video or knowledge check into their workflow. Today, the things workers need are around greater access, building stronger networks, refining personal knowledge management skills, and learning how best to opening up their work and get quick input and feedback.

Information moves fast, knowledge changes at the speed of conversation, and time is the commodity that organizational learning needs to see the value of … and fast.

When it’s just so obvious no training is needed, it hurts to watch.

Training is a certain and unquestioned component of every business strategy and plan, particularly when faced with the rollout of new systems and processes.

Rolling out a new Finance or Business Suite, or a new CRM system?  Training is required, naturally.

Have a new set of processes to implement across the organisation?  Of course, we need training.

This article addresses the challenge that organisations around the world face simply because they answer these two questions in this way.


Corporate learning and capability-building needs to grow up. For any organisation trying to stay competitive, conventional training is no longer enough, or even the answer in many cases. The world of systems and process training is an important case-in-point.

Even where system training may have had some impact in the past, increasing complexity and the high velocity of change in today’s world is simply outpacing the training solution.

The cracks are showing.  Learning professionals need to broaden their minds and change the learning cultures of their organisations to create successful, modern strategies and address some major flaws in preparing workers for new systems and processes in their work environments.

The first flaw of the traditional training approach is that of the “same old”. Lack of innovation and the ability to keep up with the times is slowly sinking some organisations in a sea of mediocrity.

Billions of dollars are spent across the world each year on system and process training. Every project plan for a rollout or upgrade includes a ‘training line’. Every project budget includes a training element. Naturally. This a huge amount of money for training typically fails to deliver real value.

Evidence and logic place a huge “No go” sign over the training route, yet many organisations continue to ignore the warnings and proceed, regardless of available alternatives that are both more effective and incur less cost.

This begs the wider question, “Why is training the primary offering when organisations want to improve workforce performance, yet we know it often doesn’t work?”

There are two main reasons underpinning the training response.

Firstly, unfortunately many HR managers, L&D and Training professionals are still happy operating within their comfort zone.  They’ve always followed the training route and fear change because of a lack of open-mindedness at higher levels in the organisation and the attention it may place on their own department. If there’s a training budget in the new Finance System rollout plan, who are they to challenge its purpose and rationale?

Business managers ask for training courses and they’re delivered – no-one really evaluates the root cause of the (potential) business problem the training is trying to solve, no-one measures the performance outcomes (although everyone measures the “training satisfaction” levels) and no-one is held accountable for the results. This training mindset is still ingrained in many organisations.

The second flaw in the system and process training response displays when the default focus is simply that, training. This is often due to uncertainty about alternative approaches – if training is eliminated, or used to only a limited extent, what takes its place? How do we know that something else might be better?

To begin to better understand alternatives it’s necessary to get a grasp of some of the problems with current approaches.

One of the major underlying problems on which the the training response is built is a long-gone logic – that we’re in a world of information paucity and the only way to overcome its lack is to train. However, we know that using formal training for detailed tasks and processes, undertaken before the actual need to carry out the task or process, has been shown to be essentially useless and flawed. Humans simply can’t retain large amounts of detailed, task-based information for any length of time. We’re forgetting machines. That’s why checklists and guidance tools are so prevalent.

Reasons the ‘training response’ often fails include:

  • Information overload: The traditional training approach is often ineffective due to our inability to deal with information overload. Most training courses are content-centric and simply contain too much information to be memorised. Without the context of use, most is forgotten rapidly. Courses with slide decks of 200-300 slides for delivery over two days are not uncommon. Trainees won’t remember a fraction of the content, and are unlikely to ever re-open a training manual.
  • Absence of practice: A second problem with the training approach is its focus on short-term rather than long- term memory. Ebbinghaus and other researchers over the years have shown the moment employees walk out of the training room, they begin to forget. Practice and reinforcement are key requirements to build behaviour change and long-term retention, which is what ‘learning’ really is. Practice is almost always needed for people to do their jobs well. Unfortunately, most of the system, process and product training currently provided in organisations offers only cursory practice opportunities. There’s usually not enough time for practice as there’s so much ‘knowledge transfer’ required, or there’s no access to the live system/product prior to rollout and any practice that does occur is often on a cut-down system of ‘training’ servers or a simple simulation environment that’s likely to represent a snapshot of the rollout system at some point-in-time.
  • Ignoring alternatives: The third flaw in the training approach is ignoring alternatives. We know that the clear majority of learning and performance-building happens outside formal training environments. It occurs informally in the workplace. Learning comes about through experience, by practice, and through by interaction with others. We learn by asking a colleague, talking to others, looking up reference information, watching an expert perform a task or collaboratively solving problems. Few plans for new systems and processes take this into consideration beyond some cursory ‘quick reference guides’ distributed after training sessions.

A way forward

The first step in adopting a more effective approach to building workforce ability to use new systems and processes is a shift in thinking. Don’t focus on simply providing the most convenient solutions that are familiar. Refocus on the best ways to achieve outcomes and performance. Research the options. Plan for the easiest, fastest, and most cost-effective route to help people do their jobs better.

This requires HR and L&D professionals work more closely with business managers to understand business issues to be overcome. The potential areas of sub-optimal performance, the major challenges people are likely to face. Then identify potential solutions with stakeholders, and take joint responsibility for them where learning or performance support is involved. This ‘performance detective’ work is critical.

Each solution will depend on the characteristics of each specific scenario and all options need to be considered. Those HR and learning professionals prepared to think outside the training box, ask questions and open their minds to creative solutions and innovative approaches will find that alternatives to courses and curricula abound.

For many, technology is an important part of these new approaches. A powerful concept that’s been taking hold in organisations recently is that of business process guidance (BPG). BPG is a unique combination of technology and services that provides real-time support for employees when and where they need it. BPG has emerged out of electronic performance support systems (ePSS), a concept championed by Gloria Gery amongst others 30 years ago.

BPG tools and environments support performance improvement through an ongoing cycle guidance and support for workers at the moment they’re completing a process or task. With BPG, the learning emerges from the task, not the other way around.

This is the antithesis of formal off-the-job training. Rather than trying to learn how to navigate a myriad of enterprise applications, polices, procedures and regulations with prior formal instruction, BPG helps out when the worker needs guidance.

It also shifts the focus from courses to resources. From what has traditionally been the rather hit-or-miss approach of many training courses that delve into every possible avenue that might, or might not, be encountered, to one where employees are supported in the tasks they need to carry out while they carry them out.

Building support and resources into the day-to-day operation of a business is more important than ever. There is a vital need for understanding that learning is no longer something that employees do separately from their work, or necessarily in order to work. Learning should be part of the work. In fact, in the knowledge economy especially, learning is the work and the work generates learning.

This is no more apparent than in our world increasingly reliant on workforce ability to use increasingly sophisticated system and processes. In this aspect of our enterprises, system and process training need to become things of the past.

(This article is based on one written in 2009. The challenges are as pertinent as ever.)

A Blueprint for supporting Modern Professional Learning: Part 2 Overview

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on supporting Modern Professional Learners. In Part 1 I looked at why a new model (or blueprint) is necessary, in Part 2 I look at what it means in practice for L&D professionals.

Overview of the Blueprint

At the heart of this model is a self-reliant, modern employee who addresses their own learning and performance problems, organizes and manages their own professional goals, continuously learns and keeps up to date, builds their own (personally-selected) learning toolkit and maintains their own digital portfolio.

The manager’s role is to enable and support his/her people (individually and collectively) as well as manage performance improvements, whilst L&D’s role becomes one of supporting employees, managers and their teams by guiding and supporting them in new ways.

in this article I am going to take a look BRIEFLY at 6 ways L&D can support employees and 6 ways L&D can support managers.

Supporting employees

  1. Prepare employees for modern professional learning: Many employees are already modern professional learners, but others will need help and support to understand what this means. In particular they will need to recognise the WIIFM (Whats In It For Me) for taking responsibility for their own learning in, at and through work – and that this is not just a cheap way of organisations training people! It will also involve helping employees to build their own personal learning toolkit, as well as maintaining their own digital portfolio, which they will own and manage personally (not in a central (learning) system) so that it is portable and they can take it with them to a new job.
  2. Create performance support resources: As individuals take responsibility for solving their own problems at work, there may be opportunities to provide more support resources. However, these need to be what employees actually need and in the format  they want, not what L&D thinks they need – otherwise they will remain as unused as old-style courses!
  3. Support self-organised and self-managed learning: L&D can have a role in helping (some) individuals set their own professional goals in line with organisational goals, help them identify the most appropriate resources (not just courses) to address them, as well as how to record their progress, and evidence (new) performance in their digital portfolio.
  4. Curate knowledge flows for continuous learning: As individuals recognise the importance of learning continuously – on a daily basis – there will be opportunities to curate useful content for them, i.e. to find the gems in the mass of information created every week. But once again this needs to be what THEY  want – not what L&D thinks they should have!
  5. Support knowledge sharing within teams:  As individuals are encouraged to share what they learn with one another in their teams, L&D can help to support the practice of healthy knowledge sharing  – ie not just sharing for sharing’s sake, but how to add value and avoid over-sharing.
  6. Coordinate networking events: L&D can also enable the practice of wider, knowledge sharing through company networking events – which might promote the dissemination of work projects, ideas and successes in a variety of corporate networking events, which will also service to foster connections across the organisation.

Supporting managers

Managers will have a new role supporting the continuous learning and development of their people – and no longer simply passing off requests for training to L&D. L&D’s role will therefore need to become one of trusted adviser working with managers and their team in the following ways.

  1. Help managers build a continuous learning culture: Managers are the key to this new model of learning, so L&D can help them to recruit for “learnability” (the desire to constantly learn new things) not just competence, as well as to nurture and reward learnability in their existing staff.  If they are serious about continuous learning, they will also want to provide “protected learning time” for their staff to enable them to self-improve as part of their daily work.
  2. Help managers develop their people: For managers, this doesn’t mean training their people themselves, but taking a more active part in supporting their ongoing learning development.  It means being more of a coach than a boss.  L&D can help to support this transition.
  3. Help managers encourage daily reflection:  Part of daily learning involves reflecting on daily work experiences.  By keeping a work journal employees can record and reflect on key moments, and share their significant experiences with their team. This is a new habit that L&D can help employees acquire.
  4. Help  managers with social leadership: Leading a social team might be a new experience for some managers, particularly in the age of social technologies. will mean helping them to build trust, honesty and transparency in their team. L&D can have a role in supporting this activity too.
  5. Facilitate collaborative problem-solving workshops: Rather than imposing a “learning solution” upon a team to address a manager-identified problem, L&D can use a performance consulting approach to help the team find their own solution to the problem.  This may or may not require some L&D-designed intervention, but if it does, it will be important to ensure that it is provided in the format the team wants (not what the L&D team think the team should have!!
  6. Design and deliver modern learning experiences where required: This brings us back to the traditional role of L&D (designing, delivering and managing interventions), but by using this model, fewer interventions will need to be created, and the ones that are provided should be what is REALLY needed and wanted, and in a format that best fits the team – and hence be appreciated and therefore adopted – and consequently lead to performance improvement (which is the metric by which success needs to be measured).

In Part 3 I take a look at the 5 steps you can take to help  your organisation move towards a Modern Professional Learning Support Model.

5 Stages of Workplace Learning (Revisited in 2017)

In this article I take a look at how workplace learning has changed over the last 10+ years and its future direction.

In May 2010 I posted a diagram I had created that showed what I considered to be the 5 stages of Workplace Learning. My late Internet Time Alliance (ITA) colleague, Jay Cross, later re-worked it so it looked like this.

5 Stages of Workplace Learning (2010)

In May 2010 I wrote that most organisations appeared to be in Stage 3 (Blended Learning) but that some were beginning to drift into Stage 4 (Social Learning). In December 2011 I wrote that it was now apparent that more organisations had moved into Stage 4 (Social Learning), and by March 2015 I believed that this stage had become mainstream – although it was clear that for many this was  simply about adding social functionality to the traditional (top-down) model of learning.

I also remarked back then that Stage 4 was likely to be an interim phase as the top-down model of workplace learning was becoming unsustainable, as it is no longer about taking on the impossible task of providing employees with everything they need to do their work, but rather helping to develop an individual that can survive in the new world of work.

This is what Stage 5 is all about, and I have now updated my diagram  to identify this Stage as Modern Workplace Learning – the key features of which are that

  • learning happens in many ways at, through and for work
  • the best person to manage their own self-improvement is the individual concerned
  • using their own personally selected tools

Stage 5 therefore means a move from a focus on knowledge transfer to a focus on empowering, enabling and supporting modern professional learners in many new ways  – something which it seems is of interest to a growing number of people, if my recent straw poll is anything to go by.

So how do you move into Stage 5? It doesn’t require new tools or technologies, but a new mindset – and a brand new approach for supporting modern professional learners .  So in my next article I’m going to start a 3 part series introducing my Blueprint for Supporting Modern Professional Learning. In the first part I provide a more detailed rationale for this new approach. In the second I outline the main activities involved for L&D, and in the third part I look at how a L&D team might move themselves forward as well as take their organisation forward.

How learning and development can aid high performance international teams


The disciplines of performance management and learning and development have been treated separately for too long. Sure, there are the latest and greatest solutions from interactive e-learning programs that can be accessed anywhere and anytime to bite-size content that can be consumed in spurts. Yet, there’s a challenge: Businesses don’t always see any measurable improvements. Profits may still be flatlining, time to market is the same as ever, or customer service metrics aren’t getting any better.

So, what is going wrong? For many organisations, learning is not linked closely enough to what the business is trying to achieve. Even when it is, learners are not being helped to apply their new skills and knowledge in the workplace. That final step is key to success in fast-changing global businesses.

Regardless of where people are located, it’s up to managers and employees to talk on a regular basis so managers can help ensure people are putting what they learned into practice. And they need to talk about applying learning until it becomes habit.

The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle

In cases when businesses don’t see a return on investment in learning, it is generally because the company is failing to slot in the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Having spent money on training someone in new skills, there is a gap when it comes to checking that employees are applying their new skill effectively. One study found that, while 62% of learners immediately applied learning on the job, only 44% were applying that learning after six months and only 34% after one year.

To see the ROI on learning, it’s up to supervisors and employees to create time and space to acquire skills that will help the employee progress in their role or career and then apply what is being learned while at work. Here are five tips to help staff and leaders use learning and development to drive high performance:

  • Make it personal. The most effective way to promote a learning culture and drive engagement is to ensure employees understand how their new skills can help them succeed in their career. Approach learning and development as a process, not a test to pass or fail – and measure success by how well employees are applying learning in their job.
  • Keep your eye on the 70:20:10 ratio. This learning model was put together in the mid-1990s and was often used as description or standard for how learning should be delivered. But, along the way, the needs and expectations of people and how they interact with content changed. It can be just as valuable for employees to learn on their own time outside the formal set up provided at their workplace. Self-directed learning, whether that’s through consuming content online or collaborating with others through a peer network, allows employees to learn in their natural way. We can take the same concept and apply it to learning and development strategies, guiding people towards content that will give them the skills to help the organisation. It’s that same outcome of learning mentioned earlier: Improved employee performance. The important thing is to allow employees to learn in a way that feels natural to them.
  • Engage line managers in helping employees apply what they’ve learned. A Brandon Hall Group report found that only 8% of organisations believed their managers were skilled at giving timely, actionable feedback.1 Managers are key to providing ongoing coaching and mentoring during regular one-to-one check-ins with individuals in their team. At the same time, the responsibility is split between line managers and employees to drive application of learning. Managers and employees need to work together to find time to put into practice the skills acquired through learning activities.
  • Encourage employees to take charge of their own career development. Managers play a key role in supporting their employees’ learning and performance achievements, but employees need to be active in their own career development as well. This is where managers play a key coaching role and can help employees connect the dots to see how what they’ve learned will help career growth and the business.
  • Measure the impact on the business. Set business-related metrics for success – higher levels of customer service, faster go-to-market on a product or improved quality scores on software verification tests. Check these are being met and continue to monitor these metrics, adjusting learning delivery as needed.

Apply learning to get results

Learning and development brings benefits for all. For employees, it represents the company making an investment in them. For employers trying to create a responsive organisation, it helps keep employees interested in their work while building the skills the company needs to compete. A culture of continuous learning should be at the heart of the company’s mission and vision and its leaders must lead by example, by prioritising learning.

Offering the opportunity for career development is a great way to hold on to valuable employees. Research from Aon Hewitt found that career development discussions are important in keeping employees motivated and engaged. At the same time, when an organisation is able to create, acquire and transfer skills and knowledge quickly, it helps create an environment where people can bring their best to work. And if people can do that, then success translates to the business itself.

But sending employees on courses is not enough. To grow and develop, they need to actually apply what they learn and you need to enable them to do that. The reality is that the business will not see a return on investment in learning and development activities until learners apply the skills and behaviours they have gained. Companies who close this gap and make sure that training is translating into employees working faster or better will be the ones who see enhanced performance across the globe.

L&D’s biggest challenge and greatest opportunity: letting go

L&D’s traditional role has been to organise, track, monitor and otherwise manage training – firstly as it took place in the classroom and more recently in the form of e-learning. However, now that it is generally recognised that modern professionals learn in many different ways, it is not just a matter of force-fitting these new ways into the traditional model of organisational Learning & development – which is essentially one of command and control. Rather, it means L&D needs to let go of their old ways of working, and instead offer a service that enables and supports all the ways modern professionals learn at, for and through work.

This essentially means moving away from the role of “learning gatekeeper” (ie controlling access to the means of learning) or the “learning police” (ie making sure people do things as prescribed and don’t do any unlawful learning) to becoming an Advisor and Consultant to the business. Taking on this new role opens up much wider opportunities to help the business thrive in this highly competitive age, and provide a service that is more valued and appreciated.

Here are some examples of how L&D departments are responding to statements about how modern professionals learn. On the left are their traditional responses, whilst on the right are examples of how L&D departments are already letting go.

1 – Modern professionals learn continuously as they do their jobs

Command and Control Enable and Support
We believe that people only learn though initiatives organised by L&D – whether it be in the classroom or in an online course – and where we can monitor and track who has completed it.

We also need to ensure everyone has the same consistent experience. Anything anyone learns that has not been organised by L&D is of no interest to us.

OR

We recognise people are learning outside of formal initiatives but we want to track and everything everyone learns (in our LMS) so that we have a complete picture of organisational learning.

We offer a variety of resources on the intranet for people to use as they wish in the way that they wish – we use lite tracking to see what is popular, but completion rates are no longer relevant indicators.

We recognise people learn more as they do their daily jobs, so we work with managers and their teams to help them get the most out of their everyday work experiences.

We think it is infeasible (and unnecessary) to try and capture everything everyone learns at work. It is more important to us how they apply what they learn in terms of job, team and business improvements.

2 – Modern professionals want immediate access to solutions to their problems

Command and Control Enable and Support
We understand the need for on-demand resources but we believe that performance problems should only be solved by performance support created by L&D. We ban access to the Web just to make sure people don’t look for their own resources. We realise we can’t create everything everyone needs to do their job, so we encourage individuals to look for their own solutions to their problems. We help those who have difficulty with this to develop the skills to quickly find useful and trustworthy resources.

We facitiate collaborative problem-solving workshops to help teams identify the most appropriate solutions to their group problems rather than force our solutions on them

3 – Modern professionals are happy to share what they know

Command and Control Enable and Support
We can’t let people share stuff as it might be incorrect. We believe the only valid content that should be accessed is the content which has been designed and delivered by L&D. We realise we can’t provide everything everyone needs, so we tap into this spirit of sharing and encourage people to share experiences and resources with one another.

We support them to do this on enterprise work systems (so it is part of the workflow) rather than in a separate learning platform (where it is siloed away).

We help to build the skills so that people are able to share what they want in the way they want.

4 – Modern professionals rely on a trusted network of colleagues and connections

Command and Control Enable and Support
We believe public social networks have no value and are time-wasters. We ban access to them. We recognise the benefit that can be had from connecting with a wide set of people outside the organisation, and therefore help people to build, extend and maintain their own professional networks of connections that bring them value.

5 – Modern professionals like to learn with and from others

Command and Control Enable and Support
We know social learning is a new trend, so we are setting up a Social Learning Platform where we we can track all the discussions taking place.

We will also make sure everyone contributes, and that they are saying the right things, and furthermore that they are learning from it – which we will measure by monitoring the number of posts and comments they make.

We know that the real social learning takes place in teams and groups as they work together, but we do recognise that there are opportunities for learning (in a more formal way with one another). However, we don’t force or enforce people to be social, only provide a framework for conversations and collaboration to take place.

We facilitate social online learning experiences in the same social platforms we use for working. We don’t measure success in social activity but in terms of improved performance that results from learning and working together.

6 – Modern professionals keep up to date with their industry and profession

Command and Control Enable and Support
We only recognise CPD programs as valid indicators of professional progress.

We do allow attendance at one conference per year.

 

We recognise the wide opportunities on the Web to help people receive continuous updates on what is happening in their industry and professional, so we are happy to curate relevant resources for busy groups of people.

But we also help out people to find resources themselves, and how to make good use of curation tools to do this, as well as help them with the skills to avoid information overload and to make sense of what they find.

We encourage our people to share what they find with others.

7 – Modern professionals thrive on autonomy

Command and Control Enable and Support
No way! We can’t let people be in charge of their own learning. How will we know if they are learning the right thing? People need to be trained to do their jobs and it’s our job to make sure they are. Anything else they do is irrelevant. Self-organised and self-managed learning is a key part of our organisational learning strategy, so we help individuals to identify their professional goals, find the resources and people (eg. mentors) to achieve them, and generally build the skills to help them become self-reliant.

We offer a Learning Help Desk service to deal with bespoke needs.

We encourage people to share the achievements (as a result of their new knowledge and skills) in networking events so that the organisation can benefit from them too.

8 – Modern professionals like to use their own tools

Command and Control Enable and Support
We only sanction the use of enterprise learning systems and tools, as we need to track and manage everything centrally. We encourage the use of self-selected tools, and the setting up of a privately controlled personal learning space where individuals can record, reflect on and make sense of their own learning.

We only use a central LMS to track the stuff we have to, ie. compliance and regulatory training. Other formal learning initiatives are delivered in more modern and flexible ways (e.g. through learning campaigns).

Want to find out more how to let go? My book, Learning in the Modern Workplace and associated workshops are there to help.

Mastery takes time and effort

“Any man who reads too much and uses his brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” — Albert Einstein

Is reflection solely the realm of sitting and thinking on one’s own? Or is it the ebb and flow of conversations and making meaning through discourse? Time for silent reflection is undoubtedly beneficial, but can it enable us to understand other opinions and new ideas, or will it lead to narrow egocentric thinking instead? Our deepest learning often comes from our engagement with others. It can even hurt to learn. We learn socially, as humans have for millennia. While we need time for reflection, we need real experiences to reflect upon. This makes our learning personal: felt in our gut. Real learning is not abstract.

This has been my major challenge with the personal knowledge mastery (PKM) framework I have developed over the past 12 years. I learned about PKM on my own and through practice, reflection, and connecting with others. I later developed and modified the Seek > Sense > Share model. Through this process I have achieved some level of mastery, but I still have more to learn.

When I ran my first PKM workshop it was a day-long event through the University of Toronto’s iSchool. But I soon realized that one day was not enough time. Without time to follow-up and reflect, I was merely exposing people to some ideas, and few were able to take any action on them. Later, I developed the online 40 day program and while this was well received many people asked to do it again as they had not been able to do all of the activities. In 2016 I extended the 40 day program to 60 days. Some people excelled with this format. Others still did not have enough time. Nothing works for everyone.

PKM Workshop

There are few direct competitors to my PKM online workshop. I think it is because it’s hard to sell a difficult journey in an age of instant gratification. The workshop also requires a guide to help people on their journey. It does not work as a self-paced program without significant effort. Each cohort is provided several route options, and some people work together, others alone, and some hang out with the guide.  Working as a cohort is essential for peer-to-peer learning, and many professional relationships have developed between participants over the years. The other hard-sell, especially to compliance-obsessed organizations, is that I do not provide a certificate. If I did, it would be short: This person has started a journey toward personal knowledge mastery.

Mastery of any discipline takes time and effort. I can only get people started. My PKM workshop was described to me as a ‘guided trip up a mountain, taking you to the base camp’. But there are no short cuts. The rest of the journey is for each person to take.

PKM is the ability to make sense of our digital and physical surround. It is a discipline that effectively filters ‘fake news’ and counters the trend to a ‘post-truth’ era. PKM puts us in charge of our learning. The PKM framework shows the need to develop a knowledge network and connect with mechanical and human filters, curators, and aggregators of information. From this diverse source of information and knowledge each person must develop appropriate sense-making methods. These are many and varied and there is no one correct method. While seeking information, through reading and other methods, is fine, one must do something with it. This is sense-making. It takes time, effort, practice, and reflection.

Validating, synthesizing, and customizing our thoughts are ways to make sense for ourselves. By sharing these thoughts and ideas as concrete artifacts we expose ourselves to criticism, but also create the opportunity to build upon our knowledge. Sharing openly and as widely as possible increases opportunities for serendipitous connections that may lead to innovation.

PKM is based on the premise that work is learning, and learning is the work. The 60 day journey is sufficient to get started on the road to mastery. Many people who have taken the workshop have shared their continuing journeys to mastery. All these journeys began with one step. I walk with people for several more if they so desire, but I do not direct their steps. PKM is personal.

5 Factors driving Modern Workplace Learning

“If you were an employee on Henry Ford’s assembly line in Detroit in the 1920s, you received a high degree of training and preparation before you ever set foot in the factory. You learned what your role was, and were given all the tools you needed to accomplish your job from Day One. From then on, your role never changed—you did your part to move a product forward along the assembly line, from the day you began until the day you retired, 40 or 50 years later. Since those days, the business world has transformed .. but the workforce training process hasn’t kept up with the pace of change.”

I believe this quote from Karl Mehta  summarizes the situation pretty accurately, and like Karl (and others) I think this means we need to adopt new practices to support learning in today’s workplace. So I in this article I want to take a look at 5 factors that are impacting the workplace and driving a new approach to workplace learning.

1 – DIGITIZATION

There has been a lot written about the effects of digitization on the workplace, as Microsoft explains

“The exponential growth of digital connectivity, devices and information is driving profound changes in the way we work, all around all the world …”

But in a business this involves far more than converting paper-based or off-line processes into online processes. And in workplace learning terms it involves far more than converting classroom training into e-learning – as Microsoft explains (my emboldening)..

“In order to survive in this world, companies need to rethink everything from culture to tools and environments.”

So L&D will also need to rethink its whole approach to workplace learning: the culture, tools and environments – by adopting a new, modern understanding of what it means to learn at work.  The second factor gives us some clues as to what that might look like.

2 – CHANGING LEARNING HABITS

It is increasingly clear that learning habits are changing. Individuals no longer rely on being trained as the only way to learn for work, many appreciate they learn as they do their work as well through their interactions with colleagues, clients, their manager and maybe even a coach. They also make significant use of the Web – not just to access online courses, but also a variety of resources (in different formats – particular video) as well as to build their professional networks of connections from around the world on social networks (like Twitter, LinkedIn). And in doing so they often bypass L&D to solve their learning and performance problems more quickly and more easily.

For L&D this means no longer trying to maintain the role of learning gatekeeper. Nor does it mean being the learning police – banning access to anything that hasn’t been created by them. What’s more beliefs like “our people don’t know what to learn” or we “can’t trust them to learn the right things” are no longer appropriate. A “we-know-best” attitude no longer works! In fact the recent Towards Maturity Learner’s Voice report showed that employees like to be in charge of how they learn, with 91% wanting to learn at their own pace and 82% knowing what they need to learn in order to do their job.  Laura Overton, Founder of Towards Maturity, commenting on the report, said “The message is clear: L&D teams must adapt to the needs of colleagues rather than force them to do what L&D wants them to do.”

So L&D needs to embrace these changing learning habits. But they doesn’t just mean creating courses and resources in ways that are more consistent with the ways people learn on the Web (although that’ll be part of the future). It means  actively encouraging and supporting individuals to find their own solutions to their learning and performance problems in the ways that suit them best.  This is particularlh important for the next reason.

3 – MULTI-GENERATIONAL WORKFORCE

We are now seeing a multi-generational workplace – 4 generations in the workplace for the first time. Much has been been written about the different attitudes to work and learning of each of these generations, in particular their exposure and use of new technologies. But rather than stereotyping people on generational grounds e.g. assuming that a Baby Boomer will have no interest or experience with social media whilst a Millennial will be a fully Web savvy person, or that a Baby Boomer will prefer a classroom course whilst a Millennial will prefer to watch a YouTube video – what needs to be recognized is that everyone is different, and that a one-size-fits-all (“sheep dip”) approach to training is no longer appropriate.

This doesn’t mean creating resources in multiple formats to ensure everyone’s preferences are met (a pretty impossible task) but rather supporting flexibility and autonomy so that individuals can construct their own learning experiences in the way that suits them best. And there is another good reason for this approach too.

4 – EXPONENTIAL INFORMATION GROWTH

We are now living in an era of exponential information growth. Huge amounts of data are being created every day. But what is more, the half life of a piece of knowledge today is just around 5 years. In other words, knowledge is decaying and skills are quickly going out of date. It has been said that a college degree will be out of date before the loan is paid off.

So whereas, in the past, as we have seen, individuals were trained to do their jobs once and this would last them their whole careers, over time, as job roles became more sophisticated or new technology or procedures were introduced, training became a full-time operation just to keep people knowledgeable, skilled and up to date. So this doesn’t mean L&D needs to work even harder –  creating even more training. There is a finite amount L&D can do. Rather it means adopting a new approach – one that comes from not trying to do it all themselves and controlling it all, but recognizing that everyone need to be constantly keeping themselves up to date – learning and developing new skills and expertise – in the ways that best suit them – encouraged and supported by their manager. So L&D’s role won’t be to create more stuff, but focus on helping people with the new skills many will need to learn things for themselves. And there is an additional factor influencing this …

5 – THE EMERGING GIG ECONOMY

The emerging Gig Economy means that there is no longer such a thing a job for life.-  in fact, for most individuals this means they are going to have a life of jobs. One estimate is that current students will have more than 10 jobs by the time they are 38. Companies are also going to be seeing a growing contingent workforce (made up of freelancers, independent professionals and temporary contract workers). Research from Ernst and Young shows that two in five organisations expect to increase their use of the contingent workforce by 2020.

This means that people are going to be recruited WITH the skills to do a job; not recruited AND THEN trained to do the job. So if employees want to stay in a company they will therefore need to keep their skills up to date themselves. But in fact, supporting individuals to do just this will actually be beneficial to the organisation as it will reduce the costs of recruitment, So this means helping individuals organize and manage their own professional self-development inline with organizational objectives to achieve a  new level of performance.


All this means a very different organizational learning culture from the long-standing traditional culture that exists in most workplaces. I call this Modern Workplace Learning (MWL)  and  I’ve summarised the key differences in the diagram below.

Clearly such a culture change won’t happen tonight – but there are a number of steps L&D can make to do things differently and doing different things  to help build this new world of workplace learning.  MWL doesn’t JUST mean  providing modern trainingDesigning and delivering modern content and learning experiences in line with new ways of learning on the Web but also  supporting manager-led learningworking with managers to help them value and support everyday learning both individually and in work teams and groups – as well as empowering employee-led learningHelping individuals take responsibility for their own continuous self-development aligned with organisational objectives,  and sharing their  experiences so that the organisation can benefit from it too.

[Find out more about Modern Workplace Learning in my latest book, Learning in the Modern Workplace 2017.]

Experimentation and Reflection

Learning is more than just asking questions and getting answers (whether through social media or a search engine), there’s an active component to learning that is too often forgotten. When I look at the tools in the Top 100 tools for learning, I see some reflective tools, e.g. writing, but I may be one of the few who’s talking about diagramming tools, and I think that’s important. Not diagramming, per se, but representation tools that allow us to express our understanding.

So in my mind learning is action and reflection, with two nuances. The first notion is that the action/reflection cycle is the process, not the outcome. The outcome, technically, is a new response to the same stimuli. In short, we act and reflect to develop our ability to do something different and presumably better. The second is that this is separate from instruction, which is designed action and guided reflection.  Self-learning, however, requires self-designed action and self-guided reflection.

So, in Harold Jarche’s Seek-Sense-Share model of Personal Knowledge Management, I see two main threads under the Sense rubric: experimentation and representation.  And both are part of an ongoing learning process.

First, when we blog, diagram, sketch, model, present, or otherwise express our thinking, we’re representing. And that’s important for a couple of reasons. One is that in the process of getting concrete about our thinking, we often (even frequently) find we need to think a little bit harder, and that’s good. The second benefit, of course, is when we go beyond ‘sense’ to ‘share’, we can get feedback that can help refine our thinking.   So even a spreadsheet is a way to express our thinking.

The second element is experimentation, and that’s important too.  In learning (read: problem-solving, trouble-shooting, research, design, innovation, etc), we don’t know the answer when we start. So we need to try things.  We need to take what we’ve learned and apply it, and review the results. Either it matches our expectations, and we understand it, or it doesn’t and we’re still learning.

Now, we implicitly experiment when we have a problem and get an approach to try, try it, and then we finish when we’ve solved the problem.  For longer term learning goals, however, we typically set ourselves a goal we are trying to achieve, and then continue to pursue it. Whether to speak fluently in a new language, perform fluently on a new instrument or in a new sport, or use a new tool productively. And we work toward that goal. Some tools make it easy: DuoLingo as a learning tool gamifies your progress. Your ability to play a new song is obvious.  You may be able to run faster or further.  Or you may close more deals.

The flip side, however, is tracking your own progress. You can do it with fitness tools, or accomplishing set goals. And you may break it down more (e.g. to play this riff today, and tomorrow I’ll add that bit).  You don’t have to make it explicit, though it can help.

I’m not sure that there are many tools that are expressly for tracking individual informal learning progress (though I’m using a new task/project management tool to create my todos and then mark them when done). Still, thinking consciously about learning goals and tracking progress could be a valuable adjunct to intentional learning.

Our learning tools, then, include how we find and view information, but also how we represent our thinking and track our development. And we should at least be explicit about the process, even if we don’t explicitly use tools for all parts of it, but to be mindful of not only how well we’re learning, but how well we’re learning to learn!

The Modern Professional Learner’s Toolkit

There is a lot of interest in the behaviour of the Modern Learner, but in the context of work it is more appropriate to talk about the Modern Professional Learner. The Modern Professional Learner learns for, at and through work in many different ways – i.e. not just in formal training or e-learning, but through everyday work experiences as well as on the Web.  In doing so the Modern Professional Learner makes use of a wide variety of tools.

The diagram below shows the key tools a Modern Professional Learner might use in 12 different contexts – many of which appear on the Top 200 Tools for Learning 2016.  How many do you use for your own professional learning? How many do you support in your organisation to underpin learning in the modern workplace?

Click image to view full-size version

A Personal Learning Space lies at the heart of the Modern Professional Learner’s Toolkit. It is a privately-controlled space where an individual can organise and manage his/her own learning, by recording and reflecting on experiences wherever and however they take place – in the classroom, online, in the office, in a conference or elsewhere – as well as evidence changes and improvements in her/her performance change. (It might  be termed an ePortfolio or even a Personal LMS). Example: PebblePad

Web browsers are essential to get the most out of the Web. The most popular are Google Chrome and Firefox.

Social networks are where individuals build their own professional network (of trusted connections – from practitioners to thought leaders). Most popular are Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.

Messaging apps are becoming more popular than social networks to connect with both colleague and other contacts .  Apps include Messenger and WhatsApp.

News readers let an individual subscribe to and aggregate posts from blogs and web feeds. These include Feedly and Inoreader.

Blogging tools are used by those who find it valuable to blog about their ideas and experiences. The main tools they use are WordPress and Blogger.

Resource collections – like YouTube, Wikipedia, Slideshare and TED – are often the first port of call when individuals need to solve a (learning or performance) problem.

Search engines are of course needed for a wider search of the Web, Google is the leading tool on use, although Microsoft’s Bing is another (albeit not as popular) option.

Curation tools are used by individuals to keep them abreast of new resources.  Google Alerts notifies subscribers when new resources appear of interest to them. Scoopit curates resources on specified topics and presents them in a magazine. Flipboard scours an individual’s network connections for new resources and puts them in a mobile magazine.

Bookmarking tools are used to store links to resources – either temporarily or permanently. So for instance Pocket is a tool to save something to read later, whereas tools like Diigo (are for storing textual links) and Pinterest for pinning  links as images.

Clipping tools support the “clipping” pieces of content from the Web.  The main tools for this are Evernote and OneNote, although this functionality is also found in a Personal Learning Space.

Online course & MOOC platforms offer free and paid-for online courses and programs (often from universities) for self-study . The most popular are Coursera, Lynda, edX, FutureLearn and iTunesU.

Learning experience platforms are a new range of platforms that offer continuous curated content for both personal and enterprise use. These include Degreed, Axonify and EdCast.

Enterprise LMS deliver and manage e-learning (and sometimes social e-leaning) to employees. Examples: Moodle, TotaraLMS and Cornerstone.

Classroom tools provide a way for trainees to interact and feedback in the classroom using mobile devices. Examples include Poll Everywhere and Mentimeter.

Webinar tools provide a platform for individuals to participate in live e-learning. Most popular are WebEx and Adobe Connect.

File sharing tools are used for resource sharing in work teams or across the organisation (and elsewhere). Dropbox and Google Drive are the most popular.

Enterprise social networks and platforms provide a place for individuals to connect with one another inside the organisation. Popular ESNs/Platforms include Yammer, Confluence and SharePoint.

Video meeting tools allow groups of people to meet with video conferencing facilities.  Tools include Skype, Google Hangouts and Zoom.

Collaboration tools like Slack, HipChat and Trello support collaborative team work, whereas Google Docs, Google Slides & Google Sheets enable the creation of collaborative documentation.

Office tools are dominated by the Microsoft Office suite (Word, PowerPoint and Excel) although Apple iWork tools (Keynote, Pages and Numbers) are now very popular. Other tools include those like Prezi (for presentation creation).

Personal productivity tools abound but two key ones are Google Calendar and Google Translate.

Email clients are still very important communication tools, and Gmail and Outlook are the most popular.

Of course, when it comes to using these tools, a  new set of Modern Professional Learning skills is required to function effectively – to get the most out of the tools and ensure the individual is not overwhelmed. That’ll be the topic of a future article here.

[You can find out more about the Modern Professional Learner’s Toolkit here where you find a growing collection of Quick Guides to the Tools.]