I am Bailey. I am a Modern Professional Learner.

Meet Bailey, a Modern Professional Learner.
This slideset looks at how she wants to learn at work.

How can you support her in the modern workplace?You’ll find some suggestions in the slideset below. too.

Building digital confidence at Cancer Research UK

(This article first appeared on the CR Digital Team blog)

Back in wintry January we wrote about how we’re building the digital skills and knowledge of people at CRUK through our hub and spoke model. We’re doing this to become a more digital organisation and to keep moving towards 3 in 4 people surviving cancer by 2034.

When our digital team works with another team at CRUK in a ‘spoke’, we help them deliver a digital outcome. Like increase their digital presence or the performance of their pages.  And just as importantly we help them learn new digital skills and ways of working. This way we’re developing our staff and becoming a more digital organisation at the same time.

But we haven’t stopped there. We’ve provided lots of other ways for people to build their digital skills and confidence.

Digital Talent Development

Through our Digital Champions scheme, we’re giving more digital responsibility to teams across the charity. Following some introductory awareness building workshops with each of our digital Practice Leads (UX, Agile, content, SEO, analytics, production and proposition management), we’ve matched each of our 16 champions with a digital mentor. The mentors help the champions work out an individual digital personal development plan. And offer face to face training to build their confidence.

Senior marketers can attend our Modern Marketing Academy. Over 8 weekly sessions we’ve challenged our marketers to diversify their channels and test more ideas. We’ve used internal and external inspiration. Including a trip to our UX lab to observe some live usability testing, a speed meeting session with a range of media owners and an analytics and measurement workshop with the help of our in house analytics team. And we saw a big increase in participants’ confidence levels. The group reported a commitment to making a change in their area of responsibility of 4.7/5. And they’ve made some important changes. Like setting digital development objectives, building test and learn strategies and introducing UX tools for marketing.

We also run a regular programme of training on everything from agile to UX. We support this with twice weekly ‘Digital Hour’ drop-in sessions. Anyone can come and chat to a generalist producer or a specialist in content, SEO, agile, UX or analytics. It’s working well as a training refresher, a way to get advice on a new idea or a way to get a quick digital task done to a high standard.

Some success stories

Many of the talented people whose digital skills we’ve helped build are creating real change. Several teams have reviewed their structures to make digital more prominent. And to encourage more innovative, ‘test and learn’ ways of working. A member of our internal communications team, Joe, learnt lots about digital while on a spoke. His team have now reshaped his role to make the most of his new skills. He’ll now be leading a review of all of our internal digital platforms and developing a strategy to ensure we’re gaining maximum value from them.

Freya, in our research innovation team, has also been on a spoke. Her team recognised the need to retain and challenge her, to harness her new digital skill and awareness. She’s recently gained a Head role, from which she can encourage digital ideas and ways of working.

Our goal? 3 in 4…

Our digital talent development strategy allows people to get things done quicker and with less support from digital. We’re building the digital capability of our great people so that we can move at pace and make sure that we reach 3 in 4 people surviving cancer by 2034.

A Blueprint for Supporting Modern Professional Learning: Part 3 (A 5-Step Plan to Move Forward)

This is the third of a 3-part series looking at how to support Modern Professional Learners. In Part I looked at why the current L&D (training/knowledge transfer) model is no longer appropriate and why a new model (or blueprint)  is necessary. In Part 2 I provided an overview of the model. In this part I want to look at how you (in L&D) can help to move your organisation forward.

The MPL Support Model is not an add-on to the Knowledge Transfer model; it is a new way of thinking about L&D’s role in the organisation. Let me remind you about the key differences in the comparison table below.

Traditional Training/Knowledge Transfer Model Modern Professional Learning Support Model
  1. L&D is responsible for all training
  2. Focus on developing capabilities to meet organisational needs
  3. L&D knows best what is to be learned – and how to learn it
  4. Standardised – one-size-fits-all – approach
  5. Very little flexibility
  6. Training centrally managed (in a LMS)
  1. Everyone responsible for workplace learning
  2. Personalisation and autonomy are key.
  3. Individual organises/manages own learning  (in an e-portfolio) – the individual knows best
  4. L&D focuses on supporting employees, managers and teams
  5. L&D designs/delivers/manages modern learning interventions where required

This new model therefore requires a completely new organisational mindset about what workplace learning is all about and the role of L&D (and others within it).  In other words workplace learning …

  • is NOT all  about L&D designing/delivering/managing learning interventions FOR employees to learn from
  • it IS more about enabling and supporting  employees  to learn continuously for and by themselves  – for, at and through work  –  and to take responsibility for their own self-improvement both to do their jobs (better) as well as to prepare themselves for the future.

Here is the 5 Step Plan for L&D to move forward.

For L&D professionals this model no longer means TELLING others what do and how to do it but rather they need to live and breathe this new mindset and way of working  by adopting a modern professional learning approach themselves. This is imperative as they will need  to role model the approach; it won’t be a matter of do as I say, but do as do. There are a number of elements of modern professional learning:

  • understanding the rationale for modern professional learning (and the WIIFM)
  • building a personal learning toolkit, setting up a personal learning space and a personally owned digital portfolio
  • learning from, and making the most of daily work experiences
  • addressing performance problems at work
  • keeping up to date with one’s industry or profession
  • setting and managing  one’s own professional goals, documenting progress and evidencing performance

[ONE:  Sign up for our 30 Day Learning Challenges to kick-start modern learning habits that will last a lifetime]

The L&D team needs to become a social team, sharing their knowledge and experiences effectively (using appropriate social tools). This  will be key as the team will need to be able to build and support other teams in their organisation, once again by role-modelling the way their own team members support (and learn from) one another.

The L&D team needs to work together to decide how they want to help both managers and employees with this new approach to workplace learning. This will then help to identify what new services you will offer, what new roles are required in the team as well as what new skills are required. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this; each L&D team will operate differently within their organisation.

[THREE: If you would like some help thinking through the implications of this new approach for your L&D team, we offer an online workshop to help you consider the different types of services and activities you might offer and help you put together a plan to move forward in your organisation. This workshop is available as a scheduled public workshop or privately on demand for your own team ]

The L&D team might well start  of with an Awareness Campaign helping senior managers,  line managers, and employees understand why this model is more appropriate for the organisation and for employees, as well as the new role L&D will play in it.  An Awareness Campaign will likely comprise of a number of forms and format – from one-to-one and group sessions to new pieces of explanatory content in different formats – each designed to reinforce the message by tapping into individual motivations.

[FOUR: As part of a private workshop (described in THREE above), we can also help you design an Awareness Campaign that will provide the appropriate messaging for your organisation. Otherwise, our public Modern Training workshop provides some ideas and guidance for doing this.]

Rather than implementing this new model using a top-down approach , it will be better to work bottom-up with (a) interested managers and their teams, as well as (b) interested individuals who want to take advantage of new ways of self-improvement for both their current jobs as well as their future career, but who don’t yet have a manager committed to this new approach.

[FIVE: We can provide ongoing support/mentorship as you help your organisation adopt this new approach to learning in the workplace. Find out more here.]

Final Note: the adoption and implementation of the MPL Support Model will probably take place over  a period of time (dependent on your organisation) so you will be likely to also need to continue in parallel with a Design & Delivery (knowledge transfer) model for some parts of your organisation that are not yet ready to change their mindset about how workplace learning takes place.

A Blueprint for Supporting Modern Professional Learning: Part 1 Rationale

This is the first of a 3-part series looking at how to support Modern Professional Learners. In Part I look at why the current L&D (training/knowledge transfer) model is no longer appropriate and why a new model (or blueprint)  is necessary.

Traditional Training (Knowledge Transfer) Model

The traditional training/knowledge transfer model has changed very little in the last 100 years. Here are 5 key features.

At the heart of this model lies the Training (or L&D department)  ..

  1. who is largely responsible for all training – hence most managers pass off their requests for training to L&D, and many still believe that workplace learning is not a part of their job.
  2. whose focus is on developing capabilities (usually knowledge and/or skills) of a group of people to meet organizational needs or to achieve a known measurable standard or qualification.
  3. who believes it knows best what is to be learned for each employee to do their job – as well as the best way to learn it.
  4. who designs and delivers a standardised – one size fit all – “learning solution” in the form of some classroom training, or e-learning, or maybe a bit of both (blended learning) – to ensure everyone has the same experience
  5. who offers very little flexibility to prevent a learner to diverge from this approach.
  6. who manages all training centrally  – more recently in a LMS – and  tracks learning activity e.g. participation and completion metrics.

However, this model is no longer fit for purpose as it reinforces an organisational  training mindset where the only valid learning in the workplace is deemed to be L&D-organised training or e-learning initiatives. It is also now very clear that personal learning habits have changed. My 10 year longitudinal study into learning tools, for  instance, shows that many individuals are making a wide range of use of tools to build their own  Modern Professional Learner’s Toolkit in order to learn for, at and through work.

Modern Professionals no longer rely solely on company training to learn – in fact they find it the least valuable way of learning – so they frequently by-pass their L&D departments to learn on the Web where they can access content (in many different formats) as well as communicate and collaboration with others – in the way(s) that best suits them.

Many L&D departments are reacting to this by modernising their own training efforts to bring them in line with ways that individuals learn on the Web, for instance …

  • They are moving away from the development of large-scale courses towards the creation of flexible resources.
  • They are designing content in more modern and appealing formats: e.g. micro-content, often in video form, accessible by mobile devices.
  • They are facilitating social learning experiences where groups of individuals can learn together, as well as building communities of practice for groups of people to share knowledge and experiences.
  • They are curating content and learning opportunities from the Web rather than designing and delivering everything from scratch.
  • They are turning their backs on traditional LMS and implementing modern alternatives in the form of learning experience platforms that support learning in non-traditional ways.

Whilst all these efforts to update company-organised learning initiatives are to be commended, many individuals still seem reluctant to engage with them, hence gamification techniques are often employed to motivate employees to do just that.  For sure,  when designed well and used in the right context gamification can be an effective device, but not everyone likes it.  What is more, gamification is an extrinsic motivator;  when what is clear is that true motivation comes from intrinsic rewards, as the following three points show.

One: Motivation comes from autonomy

Dan Pink, in his book, Drive, The surprising truth about what motivates us, shows that the secret to high performance and satisfaction is the “deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world” – and that there are 3 key elements of true motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Indeed, one of the key reasons why learning on the Web is so popular is not just because what modern professionals find there is MORE appealing, but because they have the autonomy to use what they want, how and when they want to. In other words, just because some individuals learn how  to do things by watching YouTube videos doesn’t mean it can be concluded that by creating videos everyone will learn everything better. The missing ingredient is that the individuals were motivated to learn, and chose a format that appealed to them, which they could watch in the way they wanted.

Two: Motivation comes from a personalised learning

The US Gallup State of the Workplace survey shows that only around 30% of employees are engaged (or motivated) in the workplace, and that the drivers for employee engagement in addition to necessary development include career development, as well as a manager who understands and motivates them. Kelly Palmer places this into the context of workplace learning;

“For decades, HR departments have been focused on managing an employee’s performance: how to rate them, how to fit them into a standardized model, and how to communicate deficiencies and skill gaps so their performance will improve. This hasn’t been very inspiring or motivating for employees … People want to gain knowledge and build skills that will help them be successful. And they want to know the company they work for is investing in them, now and for their future. This isn’t just a nice-to-have for people anymore.” 

Three: Motivation comes from personalisation and flexibility

As people are living longer, there is no longer such a thing a job for life; only a life of jobs.   In The corporate implications of longer life, a recent MIT Sloan Review article, the authors explain that

Source: The corporate implications of longer lives, MITSloan Review, March 2017

“As working lives become multistaged and the sequence of those stages becomes more customized, individuals will take an interest in skills with value that extends beyond the current employer and sector.” 

And the authors go on to make a significant observation …

“This will weaken the one-size-fits-all approach to learning and development. Instead, there will be a growing need for more decentralized and flexible approaches to learning, curated more by individuals than by employers.’

But they do see tensions with this approach, for example:

  • People want personalization; corporations want conformity
  • People want flexibility; corporations want standardization

And in fact they go as far to say

‘We expect the pressure building from these tensions to grow in the years ahead. Without changes in corporate policies, employees will struggle to build working lives that have resilience over an extended period of time and that support healthy and prosperous longevity. In response, companies need to initiate a top-to-bottom redesign of their human resource practices and processes.

For sure, it is this desire for conformity and standardization that keeps the traditional knowledge transfer/training model alive, but simply bolting-on self-directed learning as a device for improving motivation to learn doesn’t work well in such a command-and-control environment – where their every move is still tracked and monitor. That’s not providing the autonomy and flexibility that motivates people.

Rather what is needed is an approach where individuals take responsibility for organizing and managing their own learning so that they can learn and develop in their own preferred ways, using methods which they find most comfortable and therefore enjoyable. This is embodied in my Blueprint for supporting modern professional learners which I describe briefly below.

A Blueprint for supporting Modern Professional Learners

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

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

Although there appears to be an increasing interest in moving the role of L&D from a focus on knowledge transfer to one of supporting self-learning ….

…  there is little understanding how to do this, so in Part 2 of this article, I take a a closer look at what this model means in practice for L&D. But here is a comparison of the two models.

Traditional Training/Knowledge Transfer Model Modern Professional Learning Support Model
  1. L&D is responsible for all training
  2. Focus on developing capabilities to meet organisational needs
  3. L&D knows best what is to be learned – and how to learn it
  4. Standardised – one-size-fits-all – approach
  5. Very little flexibility
  6. Training centrally managed (in a LMS)
  1. Everyone responsible for workplace learning
  2. Personalisation and autonomy are key.
  3. Individual organises/manages own learning  (in an e-portfolio) – the individual knows best
  4. L&D focuses on supporting employees, managers and teams
  5. L&D designs/delivers/manages modern learning interventions where required

Creating a Culture of Collaboration Through Effective Office Design

As the space in which most employees spend the majority of their week, the working environment is of unparalleled importance when it comes to maximising productivity and positivity. The relationship between workplace and worker can have a direct impact on the work they produce – so it pays to think about the design of your office.

In today’s post, the motivational experts from Novell Coffee are talking you through ways your office design can directly contribute to company success – bringing you one step closer to creating a culture of collaboration.

Light, collaboration, action

When it comes to maximising employee potential, lighting is everything. Where possible, allow daylight to flood your office – as natural lighting will encourage productivity and help staff stay alert. In terms of interior design, think about creating a feature wall that inspires positivity and acts as a visual energy source to keep your team stimulated throughout the working day.

A hub of social activity

Creating a space which is specifically designed for your employees to enjoy some down time will give them the opportunity to move away from their desks and stretch their legs. Whether it’s sofas in the meeting room or a pool table in the corner of the office, creating a space where your employees can socialise or just enjoy a timeout during their breaks will help them refuel and refocus when it comes to going back to their work station.

Success in numbers

In terms of office design, providing spaces that work for different projects is crucial. While some employees will benefit from working autonomously, others will need a shared workspace in order to collaborate on the same project. From multipurpose desks to private meeting rooms, make sure your office has space for both lone workers and those who need to manage projects together.

Embrace individuality

Encouraging individuality in the workplace is a great way to keep staff motivated and allow for their voices to be heard. Whether it’s a personalised work desk, a creatively designed office wall or saying goodbye to an official uniform, allowing your employees to have some say over the office’s design and the way they operate will make them all the more likely to enjoy their time at work and stay motivated.

Food, glorious food

Google’s New York campus is employs the “150 foot from food” rule, which sees that employees are never more than a certain distance from a food establishment. Of course, it might not be feasible for every office space, but the basic rule applies.

Ensuring shared eating areas like micro-kitchens and cafeterias are close by means that your staff are never far away from their next refreshment – and this will help them stay alert and focused, as well as providing an opportunity to move away from their computer screens.

The key to creating a culture of collaboration is nurturing connections, embracing individuality and encouraging openness – and office design can play a key role in this. After all, happy workers are productive workers, and productive workers will help your business thrive.

How does the role of the L&D department need to change?

 [This article is adapted from two posts published on my own blog]

A year ago I tweeted this question:

Here are some of the responses I got back then

There were quite a few who thought that organisations couldn’t do without a Training/L&D department

“you definitely need a Dept or individual to drive a learning focus. Else getting things done always seems to take priority over spending time on learning and reflection … who else will design, create, sustain these systems and catalyze learning behaviour?” Vasanta Akondy

“Without the L&D department, a team is still needed to help make tacit knowledge explicit & available for the entire organization. Without L&D, a team is still needed to create/curate resources to interest & guide people to learn more, just in time & better. Without L&D, a systemic approach towards individual development & the transformation of the whole organization would be missing.” Monica Sulecio de A

But a number of people pointed out that most small companies don’t have a training/L&D department – so how do they survive?

“They either buy in expertise when needed or managers/staff identify & source” Simon Jones

“A small org I know have no L& D but all employees have a dev plan & 90min Mindgym sess’s organised ‘as required’.” Gina Chapman

So how would larger organisations survive without a L&D department? Many people thought that things would happen very differently ...

“what matters would get addressed. Anything else wouldn’t. learning design would disappear and performance design would replace it. Compliance would become a business practice rather than a training solution. I’ve seen/ COOs driving for efficiency identify knowledge gaps and close them on a large scale with no L&D involvement at all.” Peter Davis

“Some corporate history would be lost – which may be a good thing. Some compliance may be as well – which is not. The latter recovers.” John Bordeaux

“Removing the L&D function would liberate learning from the shackles of education. Bring on more informal and experiential learning!” Dave Haynes

“a return to on the job learning – apprentice and mentor relationships between colleagues” Gavin Hendrick

“Learning would continue, learners just adapt. Learning like OJT, knowledge sharing, coaching and mentoring would take center stage. Jecca

“People would find ways to learn. The formal capture of volumes of learning might fade, but often that’s patchy anyway.” Julie Dryboroguh

“We’d have to take responsibility ourselves. That would either make us (a direct improvement) or break us (indirect).” Hilary Gallo

“Every individual will be accountable for their personal development and performance improvement….” Sesan

“In some cases Lynda.com is the new L&D department” Natalie Lafferty

Learners will use the Internet for the teaching and learning resource it truly is and can be. #CriticalThinkingSkill required” Kecia J.Waddell, PhD

“recruiting for lifelong learning & with collective/ distributed responsibility for innovation and learning :-)” Rachel Hammel

“L&D dept motto – ‘striving for redundancy’ Help people develop the skills to be self directed learners” Helen van Ameyde

“People would interact, learn from one another & help each other as they have done since the beginning of time” Paul Duxbury

“If no T&D, managers, CEOs, execs, employees would have to take responsibility for continuous learning of organization.” Stephen Gill

  1. Organisations would get better at documenting or at the very least describing the standards and operational procedures that they required for their business
  2. Individuals would take personal accountability for their own success at work
  3. The workplace would be most favourable for the tasks that were performed there.
  4. Tasks would be simplified wherever possible, and supported by performance aids
  5. Managers would manage and provide workers with the skills, information, knowledge and environment they need in order to succeed
  6. It would be acknowledged that failure is an opportunity for the individual, the team and the organisation to learn and improve
  7. Team dynamics would strengthen and each person would be a stakeholder in, and contributor towards the success of one and all
  8. People would find a way to do things
  9. Lots of wasted time would be recovered!!
    Phil Green (by email)

“we could spend the money on architects (better collaborative spaces), chefs (team lunches) and fully-staffed IT concierge desks! Jonathan Marshall

Some believed a new type of L&D department would evolve ...

“Like natural evolution….. biz would “find a way”, “evolve” – also prob equally true that they may not even realise we’d gone!” Craig Taylor

“Perhaps nothing in the short term; may create space for something new to emerge.” Meg Peppin

“Learning would devolve to teams/individuals. They’d start to collaborate and a new L&D department would evolve made up of ppl from the ‘shopfloor’ with an interest/passion for helping others in the org learn and improve? Alistair Cockroft

“My thoughts are that if the Training/L&D department didn’t exist no organisation would create one in the image of most today. Alistair Cockcroft might be on the money – learning would devolve to teams/individuals, they’d start to collaborate and (possibly) some new form of (L&D)Compliance department would evolve (to deal with regulatory requirements). As it is LMSs have been developed in the image of L&D departments as Compliance Departments.” Charles Jennings

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted this question:

Commenting on the early results, Doug Shaw tweeted

Is the time up for the traditional L&D department? It is time for L&D to adopt a new role in the organisation? Here are some thoughts I’ve received already?

“Yes that’s the truth that L&D needs to accept and respect. And this means that L&D needs to have a deep understanding of business and an even deeper understanding of the art and science of learning, frameworks, tools & technology. Understand how can line managers learn efficiently and effectively and evolve as learning and performance consultants from being mere training providers.” Hemalakshmi

“Adopting a new role- or should I say take on a multitude of roles. At my company we have started- we are curators of information and resources, librarians, individual coaches, performance consultants, data analysts, onboarding ambassadors, with an occasional soft skill workshop and team building event thrown in and much much more. In fact our titles have changed from Sr Corporate Trainer to Talent Development Partner which we believe is more representative of the role we play.” JoanE Maddux

“To be clear, learners have become far more active in identifying what they need to do their jobs than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Effective L&D professionals actively work to understand those needs, and support their efforts. We always should have been focused on understanding their needs and lending aid to help them learn. Those who have done so can attest to the positive results as can the learners.” Don Angotti

What do you think? Is your own L&D department changing its role to reflect the reality of today’s employees addressing their own learning and performance needs?

What does it mean to transform workplace learning?

[This is an extract from Learning in the Modern Workplace 2017]

When it comes to business transformation, a Harvard Business Review article, What do you really mean by business “transformation”? describes three different “categories of effort” as follows:

  1. OPERATIONAL – This is the use of new technologies to solve old problems. However, although operational change can drive business impact, it doesn’t bring about transformation.
  2. OPERATIONAL MODEL – This involves doing what you are currently doing in a fundamentally different. But this is still not transformative.
  3. STRATEGIC TRANSFORMATION – This is about changing the very essence of the company.

This is a valuable way to help us understand what workplace learning transformation means:

  1. OPERATIONAL – This is about using new technology to solve old training problems, e.g. by converting classroom into e-learning, and adding in new technologies (and trends) – social, mobile, micro, gamification, etc – to training activities. However, whilst this might have some business impact (e.g. be more cost effective) it doesn’t bring about transformation; as it is still focused on “training” as the primary model for learning at work.
  2. OPERATIONAL MODEL – This involves carrying out training in a fundamentally different way, so for example, moving from (push) courses to (pull) resources – but even here “learning” is still considered to be the responsibility of the L&D Department, who organises and manages it all.
  3. STRATEGIC TRANSFORMATION – This means changing the very essence of what “workplace learning” means in the company, through both a new understanding of how it happens in the workplace (i.e. not just through training but as people carry out their daily jobs). It also means seeing learning at work as no longer the sole remit of the L&D department, but something that everyone in the organisation – managers and employees alike – has responsibility for.

When considering these three approaches to transformation for workplace learning:

  1. OPERATIONAL might be termed Digitizing Training
  2. OPERATIONAL MODEL might be termed Modernising Training.
  3. STRATEGIC TRANSFORMATION might be termed Modern Workplace Learning.

The HBR article concludes …

“Focusing on ‘today better’ operational efforts does nothing more than create parity with the best executors of yesterday’s model. It is a recipe for short-term survival, not long-term sustainability.

Leaders instead should be thinking about how to blend together operational model and strategic transformation to execute …  a dual transformation.” 

So once again if we apply this to the transformation of workplace learning, the key point is that operational transformation efforts (that is applying new technologies to old training problems) are only a recipe for short term survival. For long-term sustainability it will be important to blend together the operational model and strategic transformation to bring about a dual transformation of workplace learning.

Modern Workplace Learning therefore doesn’t just mean adding in new technology to old training practices, nor implementing a new learning platform but rather adopting a new, modern understanding of what it means to learn at work. Modern Workplace Learning means:

doing things differently and doing different things

What does this means in practice? Find out in Learning in the Modern Workplace 2017.

Gamification is like Marmite. Love it or hate it

Gamification is another HR buzzword; in fact nowadays everything is being gamified. It is big business; gamification vendors abound, and there are plenty of gamification conferences too. But does it actually work?

First of all, let’s be clear what is meant by the term gamification.  It is not the same as games (or even game-based learning) rather gamification. According to the EngagementAlliance.org

“is the process of using game mechanics and game thinking in non-gaming contexts to engage users and to solve problems.” 

Recently, in quick succession, I read two posts about gamification,  one, Is Gamification Important in 2017?, extolled the benefits of gamification and having fun at work ..

“It can drive better employee performance and uses real-time feedback and goals (personalized ones, where employees “compete with themselves”) to reflect performance — like a Fitbit for work. “

The second article,  Employees Don’t Need Workplace Training to Be Fun, Just Efficient,  said quite the opposite.

“Gamification hasn’t increased employee engagement and motivation the way organizations hoped it would. This is especially true with information workers, where gamification efforts fell flat. “

The latter quote resonated with me, because personally, I find gamification techniques irritating and annoying. In fact, I’ve opted out of the gamification techniques a major UK retailer is now employing to try and encourage me to buy more.  Fortunately, I don’t have to endure it at work (being an independent worker); I can’t think of anything worse!!

I therefore don’t employ any gamification techniques (leaderboards, badges and other competition mechanics) in my own social workshops in order to get people to participate and contribute. I tend to agree with Guy Boulet when he points out that gamification is simply “bells and whistles”, and that

“Competition is an extrinsic motivator because it encourages the performer to win and to beat others, not simply to enjoy the intrinsic rewards of the activity.”

I prefer to focus on participants’ intrinsic motivation – their desire to seek out new things and new challenges – which is why in my workshops, individuals have a choice not only whether to sign up, but also how they participate. I also believe that participants can get as much out of the learning experience even if they don’t actively contribute. Activity doesn’t equate to learning; the only evidence that they have learned is in their new or improved performance.

But I have wondered if participants would really like to have a gamified experience. Maybe I was depriving them of some key ways to get more out of the workshop.  I knew I shouldn’t make assumptions about others learning preferences based on my own, so I thought I would find out what other people thought of gamification at a personal level.

I therefore set up a quick Twitter straw poll. The question was simple.  Here is the poll and the results.

I found the results quite surprising, as they were pretty evenly split between those who find gamification techniques motivational and those who find them irritating, with only a small percentatage undecided. My conclusion is that gamification is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it!  [For those not living in the UK Marmite is the yeast extract that evokes a similar “love it or hate it: reaction ).

Furthermore, on the basis of my very small poll it seems to me that gamification is actually a  high-risk technique to use since it appears to cause as many people to disengage as to engage.

But it was the comments around the poll that were very enlightening and I think added some very valuable insights into what people think about gamification.

Kim said “I hate gamification. I feel like I am being manipulated.”

Professor David Simpson said “I find it faddish. Though I am all for “engagement” I find that gamification often trivializes.”

David Glow said “I don’t have an issue with well done gamification. The issue is, very little of it exists”

So what is well designed gamification? A number of commenters provided some ideas.

Craig Taylor said:   “If done intelligently I have no issue with it/sometimes I don’t even realise that it’s happening. Other times it’s done poorly & the ‘game’ part of it becomes sole focus, with the intended behaviour change secondary/ tertiary.”

Kevin Maye agreed: “Done well and unobtrusively – love it. Contrived and adding no value – bleurgh”

And Doug Shaw introduced the concept of choice:  “At times I enjoy playing as part of my work, I like to choose when, and I don’t like being played!

But do we really need to make work (or learning) a game? I always remember a blog post Harold Jarche wrote back in 2011, Work is already a Game

“The major problem with the ‘gamification’ of professional learning is that work is already a game. It is an artificial construct that society has created, and many of us have to play. Adding badges, or other extrinsic motivators, to professional learning only detracts from the real game. It also creates incentives that, when removed, may result in going back to previous behaviours.”

As for me, from all this, I haven’t been convinced that gamification would add any value to my own workshops. I still believe it is too often used in a desperate attempt to engage people into doing something they really don’t want to be doing in the first place! But if you still want to go ahead and include gamification techniques to try and improve engagement at work or training, then here are my 5 recommendations.

  1. Think again! Are you really sure this is the best way to motivate your people. Couldn’t you do something else to tap into employees’ intrinsic motivation?
  2. Find out from your people if this is something they would enjoy.
  3. Even if you get a majority positive response, don’t ignore those who don’t want it. Think as much about them; turning them off isn’t going to help. If gamification is meant to be fun, you can’t force fun.
  4. Gamification should be a personal choice so offer the option to take part or not; people are actually more likely to try it out if they are not forced to participate.
  5. Finally design it well! Ensure the gamification techniques are unobtrusive and subtle; not overt and patronising, and in particular, make sure people don’t think they are being played.

Top down implementation of social learning doesn’t work

Now that social learning is a hot topic, many organizations are beginning to consider how they can implement or operationalize it.  However, “social learning”  is a very different type of learning from traditional training, because it is natural phenomenon (that takes place when people share and collaborate with one another) rather than something that is implemented by an organization. However,  as the use of social technologies are changing the definition of social learning, the issue is rather more about how to implement tools to underpin social and collaborative learning within an organization.

The traditional way of implementing any new trend or technology – we have seen it with e-learning and the LMS – is to do this top-down.  Someone or some people decide what tools/platforms are best for use within the organization and these are then purchased, installed and set up for employees to use.  They then have to get the employees to use the tools, perhaps even train them to how to do so.

Those who are implementing social learning in this way, ask questions like this:

  • How will we get people to use the social tools?
  • How will we get people to collaborate and share?
  • How will we ensure what they share is accurate?
  • When are they going to have time in their workday to collaborate and share with their colleagues?
  • What platform can we ensure everybody uses to allow us to track every piece of social activity that takes place?

In other words, it is seen in terms of imposing social and collaboration tools on the workforce, compelling them to share and collaborate, and then controlling  and tracking what they do share.

But this approach doesn’t work well with social learning for a couple of reasons:

1.   Those that are already collaborating, sharing and learning with one another, are resisting attempts to force them to use other social tools or platforms in order to track and control what they are doing.  It only serves to push their sharing activities underground.

2.   Those that have yet to experience, understand and feel comfortable with social technologies don’t want to be forced into sharing and collaborating when they are not ready for it, and are resisting attempts to make them do so.

So it is  unsurprising that organizations that take a top-down approach to implementing social learning are reporting that it has failed; that workers are not using their social platform and that it is therefore not effective!

A more appropriate approach, therefore is to use a supportive bottom-up approach, which is more about supporting those individuals who already are sharing and collaborating with one another and encouraging others to experience the benefits of social working and learning. It is also about recognizing the fact that social learning works best when individuals and teams have a genuine purpose, need or interest to do so, e.g. to deal with a common issue or problem or to support one another – rather than because they are being told or forced to do so.

Smart organizations are therefore asking very different questions about implementing social  technologies for working and learning, e.g.

  • How can we support those who are already working and learning collaboratively?
  • How can we build on what is already happening?
  • How can we encourage those who are not already working and learning collaboratively, to do so?
  • How can we provide services to individuals and teams to help them address their learning and performance problems using collaborative approaches?

In organizations where this approach has been adopted, social learning and collaborative working is an organic process, for as more and more people recognize the value of learning from one another, they become involved, participate, share and collaborate.  It is these organizations who are reporting job and business productivity improvements, increased customer satisfaction and an improved bottom line.

There are a number of fundamental principles that underpin a supportive bottom-up approach to social learning:

1 – L&D doesn’t “own” social learning

When Marcia Conner, the author of The New Social Learning, was asked, in an interview whether social learning should be led by cross-division teams or should it be ‘owned’ by a specific division/groups, she gave the following answer:

“The idea any group or cross-division team can own social learning is like asking one department to be responsible for organizational health. The only people who can own social learning are the individuals who themselves are learning each day, from one another, based on their work and in the flow of work.

2 – Autonomy is a powerful motivator

In his  book, Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, Dan Pink explained how autonomy (along with mastery and purpose) is a powerful motivator.  He shows that the secret to high performance and satisfaction at work is the deeply human need to direct our own lives.  He states:

“The opposite of autonomy is control.  And since they sit at different poles of the behavioral compass, they point us to different destinations.  Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”

3 – Better results come from “getting out the way”

Encouraging learner/worker autonomy is something that scares many organizations; and it certainly requires a culture of trust. Andy McAfee, writing in a 2010 article in Fortune Magazine, Taking the social media plunge: Learning to let gosays:

“If you want a good outcome, back off on process and get out of the way of people. Let them come together and interact as they wish, and harvest the good stuff that emerges.”

So implementing social technologies for learning therefore is not just about adding social media to the blended learning mix, but about encouraging workers to use them to share their knowledge and experiences with one another as a natural part of their daily work. .

And furthermore, the ultimate success of the use of social technologies to support collaborative learning and working doesn’t lie in the quantity of sharing that takes place which is measured in the number of posts, likes and  comments – since that just encourages people to share for sharing’s sake and ultimately leads to over-sharing and noise – but in the value that people derive from those shared experiences, which leads to improvements in job, team and organisational performance.