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 will provide a more detailed rationale for this new approach. In the second I will outline the main activities involved for L&D, and in the third part I will 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 …


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.