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.]

Inspire Learning in the Workplace

I don’t know about you but it’s rare that any mandated traditional training inspires me anymore.

Whether it’s completing annual compliance e-learning programs sitting on an LMS or being told by a manager that I have to attend an event to learn about a new service or product that may or may not be relevant to my needs, context or that helps me build new relationships to help me do my work, frankly, I’m not interested.

The words ‘mandated’ and ‘learning’ must never be in the same sentence together because they cancel each other out.

One is determined through control and direction, while the other favours autonomy, engagement and inspiration.

I know which I’d rather have.

It’s a pity that some Learning and Development teams continue to create programs from the position of control rather than propose different ways to incorporate learning within the workplace so that the critical factors of business context and relationship building is not lost.

Here are 10 ideas for how you can inspire your business teams and managers to consider employee development to occur within the workplace through social and collaborative experiences.

  1. Banish the word ‘mandatory’ from your vocabulary when speaking to your stakeholders and subject matter experts because it denotes control.
  2. Be comfortable to explore creative solutions that you may have otherwise not considered. We know that sometimes it’s easier to design courses that ‘tick a box’ but we don’t have to deploy the same when it comes to our thinking.
  3. Inspire your business to think back on their best learning experiences and what stood out for them then consider ways to incorporate these into your solution.
  4. Wow your business with a bold, exciting and memorable solution – something that they weren’t expecting from Learning and Development. You’ve got nothing to lose.
  5. Change your thinking about how your learning experience must be designed in a particular way so that it is to your LMS standards. Design for connecting people – not fitting into your technology platforms.
  6. Incorporate an experience into your program that allows for practical, engaging interactions with people both online and offline to make learning memorable and transformative.
  7. Find ways for people to learn together and share stories together.
  8. Make the learning experience part of their workflow and not separate from it.
  9. Allow for self-discovery and self-direction in the content.
  10. Respect your employees. Don’t waste their time. Make it worth their effort.

Continuous, Curated Learning: The Business Case

Business is changing. The Towards Maturity Benchmark Report notes that 72% of CEOs believe the next three years will be more critical for their industry than the last 50. The challenge to Learning & Development teams is how they’re going to help their CEO and internal customers stay smart in uncertain times. We need to shift to a model of continuous and curated learning in the workplace. Here’s why continuous curated content matters to businesses, and how Learning Professionals can make a business case for it.

The drivers for business: continuous learning is a competitive advantage

If you worked for AT&T 30 years ago, you were probably feeling pretty good about things. You were working for the company that once owned the patent for the telephone. How cutting edge can you get? You were trained once at the start of your career, and that stood you in good stead until retirement. Skills for life, a job for life. Learning is for newbies.

Flash forward a few decades. AT&T find themselves fighting to survive. They’re chasing the tails of companies less than 10 years old, and losing to them. What happened? In simple terms, they didn’t keep up with changes in their industry. They got Ubered (or in their case, Googled, iPhoned and Amazoned).

Think back on any piece of knowledge, training or skills you acquired 10 years ago, or even 1 year ago. How relevant is it today? To make the lesson of AT&T personal: whatever skills and knowledge have got you this far in your career are not going to get you or your company to the next stage.

For proof, read Exponential Organisations – Why New Organisations Are 10x Faster, Better and Cheaper than yours (and what to do about it). It’s a sobering read for anyone who thinks they’re on top of their game:

  • The average shelf life of a business competency has dropped from 30 years in 1984 to 5 years in 2014
  • 89% of the companies on the Fortune 500 list in 1955 were not on the list by 2014
  • The average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has decreased from 67 years in 1920 to 15 years today
  • In the next 10 years, 40% of all S&P 500 companies will disappear from the list

The only defence against our skills and businesses becoming irrelevant is to remain agile and continuously learn, becoming what Google calls a “learning animal”.

Continuous Learning is an Economic Imperative

The Economist recently ran a special report on the economic imperative for lifelong learning. They note that with 47% of American jobs susceptible to automation, technology will force change on people and the skills they need to remain employable. As they put it:

The answer seems obvious. To remain competitive, and to give low- and high-skilled workers alike the best chance of success, economies need to offer training and career-focused education throughout people’s working lives.”

So what do you do if you’re AT&T? Get smarter, and fast. Continuous learning is their only hope for survival. Their CEO’s edict is that everyone spends 5-10 hours a week continuously learning to “stay on top of the firehose of new information”. And if they can’t stay on top? “Mark my words, if we don’t do this, in 3 years we’ll be managing decline”, their CEO says.

Do they even have that long?

“In a world of rapid change and increasing complexity, the winners will be those whose rate of learning is greater than the rate of change and greater than the rate of their competition.” – Tom Hood

Learning continuously is how the winners will stay ahead and outpace change. That needs to be fed with curated content that’s recent and relevant.

The drivers for learning: 14 Reasons why Learning Professionals Should drive continuous learning

So we need curated content to help us stay sharp and continuously learn. But who’s going to find and filter this content? Most people don’t have the time to do it for themselves every day.

In our view, the modern learning professional is ideally placed drive this change in the organisation. If you need to convince stakeholders (or yourself) that this is the right shift for L&D, here are 14 reasons:

  1. You’re giving people what they really need. Formal courses only account for about 10% of how we learn. The rest of our insight comes through informal and social learning from each other. So curated content fits right in with our preferences, into what Jane Hart calls everyday learning.
  2. You’re saving people time. Towards Maturity found that two thirds of leaders say that they struggle with finding the time to learn, and 44% can’t find what they need, despite having the desire to do this.IDC estimates that the average knowledge worker spends 9.5 hours a week searching for information. If you could reduce that by just 10%, what would that mean for efficiency and productivity in your organisation?
  3. You’re reducing costs. Budgets for training are under constant pressure. Curating content on the latest trends in pricing, management skills or big data is a lot cheaper than building a custom elearning course or a blended programme.
  4. You’re helping the organisation to stay agile: By being outward looking and alive to the next trends in your sector, you considerably reduce the risk of your organisation being sideswiped by disruption or a competitor’s actions. That’s very different from the traditional mode of L&D.
  5. You’re adding value. You’re not just aggregating content from multiple sources. That’s what machines do. You’re acting as an intelligent human filter, drawing attention to what really matters – because you understand your audience, their needs and their context. It’s a very personalised service – and it scales really well if you use the right tools. As Beth Kanter put it, you’re spotting the awesome.
  6. You’re providing a more responsive service. If a sales team wants continuous, curated learning on the latest trends in Nanotechnology, or an overview of a new prospect, or a regular set of insights on pricing, effective curators with the right tools can respond rapidly. By the time you’ve built a course to answer those questions, the question will have changed.
  7. You’re helping teams stay smart. Rather than producing courses that decline in relevance over time, effective curators are continuously keeping teams briefed on what matters to them. You become a go-to resource. You’re reducing FOMO. And it doesn’t have to be a massive drain on your time.
  8. You’re building your own expertise. A great side-benefit of being a content curator is that you consume a huge amount of information in order to filter and select what’s relevant. For your own personal development, it’s a great way to stay sharp and develop your own skills. It’s also very rewarding to deliver really relevant content through curation.
  9. You’re creating a lasting resource. Curated content, if well managed, remains relevant over time. There’s long term value in hand-picking the very best articles on sales leadership, SaaS pricing, or Negotiation skills from authoritative sources. They become the new reference sites and knowledge bases.
  10. You’re helping people be self-directed. 88% of learners want to take charge of their own learning experience. Set up properly, continuous and curated content is self-service. It’s not an enforced linear experience like a course, you’re serving up relevant content for people to tap into. You can create paths and structures, or let people make their own.
  11. You’re encouraging sharing and working out loud. The number one way we learn is through knowledge sharing in small focused groups. Great curators do not present themselves as experts who have the final say on a topic. They start the conversation by saying why an article is relevant and invite people to comment. Curation is the engine behind helping teams to share insights and work out loud.
  12. You’re delivering at point of need. Learning teams need new approaches to help their customers deal with information overload and increased competitive pressure. If you could say to your internal customer that you can help their teams stay up to date on any topic, in less than 10 minutes a day, on any device, with no need for a course, would they keep listening?
  13. You’re defending your competitive advantage: curating and sharing valuable content every day is by definition helping people to learn and stay smart continuously. Curation habits are the best safeguard against becoming obsolete.
  14. You’re harnessing collective intelligence: by inviting collaboration within teams to discuss, add value and act on content, you’re harnessing the power of collective intelligence, and encouraging others to find, filter and share relevant content in their teams continuously.

Make the case for continuous, curated learning in your organisation, and you’re making the case for business survival in an immensely challenging environment. That’s as close to any CEO’s heart as L&D can get.

 

Four myths of Social Learning

In the last couple of years, I have spoken to many corporate Learning and Development practitioners about how they may support and enable opportunities for their workforce to learn collaboratively with each other in and during the flow of their every day work. That is, “social learning’.

During these conversations, I noticed that there were some myths about social learning that I would like to dispel.

Myth 1: Social Learning is a New Fad

In fact, social learning has always been around.

Ever since cavemen drew pictures of their hunts on cave walls, people have sought out opportunities to connect, share stories and learn from each other.

It is a natural human instinct.

However, one cannot help but notice many articles and references online from people espousing the value and benefits of social learning and linking it to technology platforms. Some of these posts come from learning management system vendors or from people who have not demonstrated an interest or expertise in social learning previously.

Despite the interest in social learning, unfortunately Learning and Development are still in the dark trying to understand how to incorporate it into their organisational learning strategy.

Type ‘social learning’ into Google and it yields over 44 million search results.

No wonder there is confusion. Where do you start?

There’s a saying by Abby Adams who said, ‘Nature is what wins in the end’ and I believe that this is what is happening with social learning in organisations.

Years of structured, formalised education and training programs that were imposed by management and rolled out by teams of instructional designers, trainers and learning consultants may have worked well in the past. However, in a world where people now have information at their fingertips, who talk to each other in networks and who easily find what they’re looking for to do their job, forcing them to learn in a classroom or complete an online course that has no meaning, relevancy or context – or even build relationships in their work – is not a solution anymore.

Treating social learning as a new fad and then hastily adding it to your organisational strategy is short-sighted. So too is forcing your people to interact in an online discussion forum devoid of any context to any business problem just so that you can say your learning strategy is ‘social’.

Social learning is a game changer. It not only changes the way people work, connect, interact and learn from each other currently in organisations, it will entirely change the role of learning and development function as we know it.

Depending on how you look at it, this could mean exciting new things for Learning and Development.

Myth 2: Social Learning Means Only One Thing

Social learning means different things to different people because depending on who you speak to, they will have their own interpretations.

For example, a not-for-profit may view it as learning for community with social impact. An academic in education may focus on the specific definition of social learning theories, whereas someone in the learning and development field would focus on how to enable their workforce to learn, collaborate and co-operate within daily work.

Similarly, when you throw into the mix terms such as ‘guided social learning’, ‘communities of practice’, ‘networked learning’, ‘personal learning networks’, ‘communities of inquiry’, ‘community management’, ‘enterprise social networks’ and ‘social media’, social learning starts to become muddy as people struggle to not only define what it is, but what it looks like.

Others may even try to figure out by creating their own definition of what it should be and then control, package and measure it like any other training event.

After all, they ask, “is social learning a program, course, behaviour, tool, platform, system or a process?”

As Jane Hart mentions in her book, Social Learning Handbook 2014, “Social learning is about people connecting, conversing, collaborating and learning from and with, one another on a daily basis at work”.

While some people rejoice at the opportunity to be able to do this openly and without the need for having it mandated, packaged and pushed out by their internal training or learning and development teams, those within these teams start to question their value.

After all, if the control of learning is in the hands of their workforce, what does this mean for the new role of Learning and Development?

Myth 3: You Don’t Have to Be Social to Get Social

One of the biggest challenges I have seen for some Learning and Development departments in creating a social learning strategy or, designing social learning experiences is that they’re not doing it for themselves. That is, taking the opportunity to learn with others, through others themselves.

They’ve not participated in online forums, shared their own learning journeys though sense making activities such as blogging or working out loud. Many have not used their own enterprise social networks.

Undertaking a Google search on how to create a social learning strategy is not enough.

Nor is tasking your Learning Management System manager to create the strategy for you because it’s not about technology – it’s about people.

In order to understand the impact of social learning, the learning and development professional will need to have gone through the personal learning journey themselves.

They need to be social themselves.

This means that they are already incorporating new skills such as social collaboration, network building, knowledge sharing, working out loud, content curation and publishing, community building and sense making into their own work.

Only then, would Learning and Development be able to role model and guide their organisation through the same journey.

So Learning and Development’s new role will be less about managing and more about supporting and encouraging learning to happen through work.

Myth 4: Social Learning is About Forcing Your People to Use Your New Social Learning Platform

So you’ve implemented your new social learning platform that has discussion boards, curates resources from the web, allows viewers to rate and comment on resources, enables them to build and share content – but your workforce is not using it.

If you’re asking “how do we get our people to use our social learning system?” you’re asking the wrong question.

In the book, The New Social Learning, Marcia Conner says, “If we forget social and collaboration are 90 percent people and 10 percent technology, its easy to focus on what we can control, at the cost of what we can’t (and shouldn’t try to), sidestepping those things we need to influence most: people, culture, communication patterns and traditions. Social Learning is about people working and learning together.”

So instead of focusing on your social learning system, consider how your people are searching, finding and sharing information currently and helping them to improve this.

Look at where they are having conversations and where their connections occur within their workplace.

Your social learning system may be one of many tools, media and platforms (both public and enterprise) that your people are currently using to access information, content, knowledge and networks to help them do their job – but it will not be the only one.

So these are four myths that learning and development teams need to dispel about social learning. Knowing these will help you understand that there’s other considerations to take into account when you’re developing your learning strategy so that you can support your organisation.

An employee’s Personal Learning Space lies at the heart of MWL – not a LMS

There is a lot of talk about how the workplace is changing; it is certainly a very different place from even 10 years ago. We hear about how the emerging Gig Economy means there is no longer a job for life, and how digitization is effecting the workplace in many different ways, which Microsoft summarises very well as follows (my emboldening).

“The exponential growth of digital connectivity, devices and information is driving profound changes in the way we work, all around all the world. In order to survive in this world, companies need to rethink everything from culture to tools and environments.”

Rethinking everything includes rethinking the way that we enable and support learning in an organisation. The world of business is moving very fast nowadays so it is becoming increasingly difficult for a L&D department to keep their people up to date, and as people are moving in and out of jobs there is a need to think about how L&D can support a contingent workforce.

It is therefore becoming clear that what is needed are employees who take responsibility for driving their own continuous development, that is employees who think about what skills they need to develop, both now and in the future. In fact, for forward-looking organisations, continuous learning lies at the very centre of their company culture. And there are now some companies who recruit for “learnability” – the desire and ability to constantly learn new things. In fact a key pillar of Google’s recruitment strategy is to hire “learning animals”.

From my own research I can see that the learning habits of individuals who exhibit high learnability are already changing. They no longer rely on being trained by their company or taking online courses to move forward, but rather they recognise that they learn in many different ways for and at work. This might come from their daily work experiences, from interactions with their customers or colleagues or from their manager or even working with a coach or mentor. But it also might come from interactions with people in their professional networks and online communities (from thought leaders to practitioners), from participation in professional events (both in person and online), from receiving a continual drip feed of knowledge in the form of blogs, articles and other news, as well as accessing and making use of a wide variety of resources on the Web. I call this new way of learning for and at work – Modern Professional Learning.

What is more, Modern Professional Learning happens both inside and outside the organisation, through both planned and unplanned activities, and is both a conscious and sub-conscious process. It is partly organised by L&D, partly by managers, and partly self-organised.

L&D’s role in the modern workplace is therefore to support all these ways of learning – ie, not just provide courses and resources, but also support manager-led learning so that individuals get the most out of their daily work and share their experiences with their work teams and groups, as well as empower employee-led learning in order to nurture learnability and help individuals set their own professional goals, organise their own resources, document their progress and share their experiences within their organisation “bringing the outside in”. I call this Modern Workplace Learning (or MWL)

For L&D MWL therefore means doing things differently and doing different things – the practicalities of which I talk about in my new book, Learning in the Modern Workplace 2017.

But what about the technology that underpins learning in the modern workplace? Currently the prime technology that is in place is the LMS which is used to track employee (online) training. But in the modern workplace, it really isn’t appropriate to use the LMS to try and track everything everyone learns in the organisation. In fact trying to do so is neither practicable nor feasible. What is far more appropriate is a new approach where an employee organises and manages his or her own learning, and where the manager measures success – not in terms of “learning activity” (whether it be attendance on training, completion of courses, or posts and comments in social platforms) but in terms of changes in job, team or business performance.

This is where PebblePad comes in as it offers the individual the ability to set up a privately controlled Personal Learning Space, and provides a set of templates to support their learning in a number of ways, e.g. a SMART Action Plan for setting professional goals, and a structured reflection template for recording and reflecting on experiences (wherever and however they take place – in the classroom, online, in the office, in a conference, or elsewhere). These templates also mean that individuals can then spend more time thinking about what happened and what they learned, rather than how to craft a coherent reflection or record on a blank page.

There also a mobile app, Pebble Pocket which makes it very easy for individuals to use the templates or take photos or videos, on the go, to record their experiences or provide visual evidence of new performance.

Furthermore, every asset that an individual creates is, by default, private to them, but they can, if they wish, share anything with one or more people privately or publicly (on the Web). The individual can also decide whether viewers can leave comments or feedback on their resources.

Whilst an individual might adopt PebblePad for their own personal use, there is a strong case for an organisational implementation. In which case a company might create an institutional space (ATLAS) where workspaces can be set up (by both L&D and managers), where content can be pushed down to employees , and where individuals might (more formally) submit their assets for feedback, peer review or validation, e.g. for performance review, promotion or professional accreditation. Another space (Flourish) might also be set up to support coaching and mentoring in the organisation.

Using PebblePad to provide a new organizational framework for workplace learning brings a number of advantages.

1 – It would send a clear message about the importance of continuous learning to the business.

2 – It would put the individual’s Personal Learning Space firmly at the heart of organisational learning and would also help to ensure that learning is integrated from beyond the workplace.

3 – It would move the focus away from tracking “learning activity” (by L&D) to tracking real performance changes (by managers).

All this is game-changing – and that’s not a term I use lightly or very often – both for the organisation and for the individual. Since the individual’s Personal Learning Space is portable and can be detached from one organisation and re-attached to another, this means everyone wins. An individual can continue to build on their professional learning as he/she moves from job to job, and the organisation can benefit from the wealth of experience new and current employees bring to the table.

PebblePad is not a new product; it has been in use in some of the world’s best universities for over 12 years now, and the Founders are themselves experienced learning professionals. But now it is also being used in organisations who recognise the need for a new technology framework to underpin the multitude of ways employees learn in the modern workplace.

You can find out all about PebblePad at pebblepad.co.uk,

Becoming digital masters to beat cancer sooner

First published on Cancer Research UK Digital Team blog on 12 January 2017

At Cancer Research UK our goal is that by 2034, 3 in 4 people diagnosed with cancer will survive. That’s rightly ambitious and we need to keep moving forwards to make sure we get there. We need to become a more digital organisation to keep pace.

It sounds good in theory. We hear that we’re supposed to be ‘more digital’ all the time. Organisations can’t keep doing things the way they’ve always done them. Or they risk being ‘disrupted’. Left behind, eating the dust of an army of post-it wielding hipsters.

But for people who don’t work in digital every day we know this can all feel a bit abstract. That’s our priority as a Learning and Development function within the digital team. How do we help people understand what ‘being more digital’ is? And how do we support them to get there?

Digital mindset and skills

We describe ‘being digital’ as a combination of mindset and skills. Mindset-wise it’s about making sure you really understand your audience and prioritise their experience. It’s about testing and learning. Embracing failure, and continuously improving whatever it is that you’re working on. And it’s about collaborating. Avoiding unnecessary hierarchy and bureaucracy in order to get work done quickly.

And the skills? Being able to write great web content that comes up top in a Google search. Being able to track and analyse the performance of web pages. Continuously improving pages to ensure a great experience for users. Understanding social and other digital marketing channels. And managing work in an ‘agile’ way and applying ‘lean’ principles to reduce waste and be as productive as possible.

Learning by doing

So how do we work with teams so that they can do all these things?

At the moment, the Learning and Development world is buzzing with ideas about modern workplace learning. Jane Hart and others are leading a shift away from the traditional training course, where ‘learning’ is separate from work.

Nowadays if I wanted to find out how to do something outside of work I’d Google or YouTube it to find out how. Or I’d ask someone who knows more than me. I wouldn’t book onto a training course in a month’s time.

We take this kind of approach to digital upskilling. We see work and learning as one and the same thing.

As a wider digital team, we no longer do the digital stuff for other teams. Through our ‘Hub and Spoke’ model, we (the digital hub) work in partnership with teams (in what we call spokes) to deliver a digital outcome. Like increase the team’s digital presence or increase the engagement of people who visit their pages. And just as importantly, to help the team adopt a digital mindset and develop their digital skills.

We don’t send people on a one-size-fits-all training programme to make them better at digital things. Instead we support teams to learn as they work towards their spoke goal.

At the start of a spoke, teams assess their current skills and set some learning objectives with a digital team member (a Proposition Manager) who acts as their learning guide throughout. We’ve created a digital skills self-assessment to help them do this. We can share this with you if you’re interested.

They then get started on the digital work they’ve come together to deliver. Working with the Proposition Manager to build their understanding of how to approach a piece of work in a digital way.

The team can ask questions as they go, and get guidance and advice from digital experts in our team. When relevant they can go to focused training sessions and have access to the helpful just-in-time resources.

So at the end of a spoke, a previously ‘non-digital’ business team can test new ideas from their audience’s point of view, maintain their web page and create great online experiences. And they can do all this independently, needing less and less support from the digital team.

For example: Our Annual Review team

A spoke was set up to make sure we have outstanding content on the Annual Review pages of our website.

Oli Welch, a Proposition Manager, guided the team through this journey. So that they could keep improving their pages in future, once the spoke ended.

Skills assessment

Firstly, Oli needed to establish the team’s starting point. In this case they were all quite new to digital but were really keen to learn. Ideal!

Learning to use some analytics and collaborative tools

Next the team needed to learn how supporters were using the Annual Review pages. Oli showed them how to use Google Analytics and Crazy Egg. Google Analytics let them track some key statistics about their users and Crazy Egg allowed them to see visually how people engage with their website. These tools gave them a much better idea of how people interacted with their pages.

The team practised with the tools until they were able to use them confidently on their own.

Oli also introduced the team to tools like Trello, a platform for managing workload in an agile way, to share their work. The team picked them up quickly and have continued to use them since.

A lightbulb moment

Oli introduced the team to the concept of User Experience (UX). They went along to our testing lab at City University, to observe real people engaging with their existing pages. They watched as members of the public skimmed through pages they’d expected them to read in detail and didn’t even open the pdfs they’d painstakingly put together! It really challenged their preconceptions about how people interacted with their content and the difference between what works in print and what works online.

Reflecting and Consolidating

All of the work so far allowed the team to put together a list of things that were wrong with the existing pages and things that were working well. They could begin creating new content.

But before ploughing on, Oli held a couple of washup sessions with the team. He reminded them of everything they’d learned. And gave them a handy document explaining who to ask in digital for help with different tasks.

Learning from experts

Next came workshops with our Content and SEO leads, Chris Flood and Nancy Scott. They gave some tips for creating a new user journey and ideas for writing great web content. The team now keep these in mind when they produce new content.

Pressing the right buttons

To put the new pages on the website, the team needed to know how to use our content management system (CMS), Drupal. Becca Sharplin-Hughes, one of our Digital Producers built a page as an example, showing them the steps she took to do it. Then the team were able, with Becca’s support, to create their own pages. With more practice, they’ve grown in confidence and can now edit their pages by themselves.

From zero to digital

So through a mixture of learning by doing, speaking to experts, and training, the team grew to adopt a digital mindset and developed the skills to take control of their digital destiny.

We’re seeing some exciting progress working with teams across CRUK in this way. Helping them to deliver great digital experiences and supporting them to become more digital in the process.

Why organisations need to empower employee-led learning

Organisations are no longer like they were 50 years ago; people are constantly moving around in their careers, and this is set to continue. So whereas training was originally done to people at a time when it was about training people to do a job for life, it is increasingly clear that conventional training practices and approaches are now outdated. Individuals mostly want to learn what they need for their job, as and when they need it – and L&D can’t possibly provide everything everyone needs. What is more people learn in many different ways – not just through organised L&D activities – but everyday, inside and outside the workplace.

Modern Professional Learning is how we learn in the new world of work; it is more than being taught or trained and includes many different elements as shown in the diagram below.

It happens both inside and outside an organisation:

  • Inside an organisation it happens through both L&D- and Manager-organised initiatives
  • Outside an organisation it happens thorough self-organised initiatives

It is more than taking formal training or courses, and involves:

  • finding things out
  • solving learning and performance problems
  • keeping up to date with what happens in ones industry or profession
  • interacting with both content and people
  • doing ones daily work

It is both planned and unplanned (accidental and serendipitous), conscious and sub-conscious

In the modern workplace L&D now has a tripartite role – not just organising things for people to learn from (e.g. courses and resources), it means supporting all the other ways people learn for and at work. This means supporting manager-led learning and empowering employee-led learning.

By empowering employee-led learning, organisations will gain substantial benefits, e.g.

  • as individuals bring their knowledge and networks to work so others in the organisation can more easily learn from shared experiences and resources
  • as individuals have easier access to a wider range of resources (content and people) they will be able to solve organisational performance problems more quickly
  • as individuals take responsibility for their own professional learning and career development, so the organisation will be able to benefit from their new knowledge and skills

Furthermore, as as individual’s learning is managed by the individual him or herself, trying to track everything everyone learns in a corporate LMS becomes an increasingly irrelevant task. It therefore makes more sense to focus on enabling individuals to improve themselves in the ways that suit them best – and supporting them as they do this.

The organisational success metrics for empowering employee-led learning will then be determined by job, team and business performance improvements.

(This is an extract from Learning in the Modern Workplace 2017)

See also An employee’s Personal Learning Space lies at the heart of MWL – not a LMS