Friday, January 29, 2021

How paper & pen can enhance virtual learning sessions


Rachel Burnham writes: I think paper & pen can enhance the effectiveness of digital learning and particularly virtual learning sessions. I have been experimenting with the use of drawing-based activities over the last few months, as most formal learning, whether in the workplace or in education, has moved into the digital sphere.   

Whilst many in Learning & Development were already using webinar technology, elearning and other digital technologies such as video and podcasts (or at least some of these); for others in L&D, it has been a major shift.    I have been using a range of webinar technologies for live online learning, as part of my practice, for many years.   As fellow professionals have been discovering, there is a whole skill set to designing and delivering effective learning using webinar based technology.  As a Sketchnoter myself, I have been testing out how we can use drawing for more than just a fun element to enable effective learning within live online sessions.  

I am, of course, always keen to encourage the creation of Sketchnotes by individuals to aid their own learning and thinking (see previous blogs on this subject and I offer workshops to help people get started in doing this).  However, I also wanted to explore the how and why of using very simple drawing based activities that any L&D professional could incorporate into their sessions.

I think drawing-based activities offer the following five benefits for learning designers and facilitators:

·       They can add a wider range of options for learning activities beyond the standard polls, chat and whiteboard activities and thus enable online learning to be more tailored for the particular topic and impact required.

·       They bring a hands-on tactile element to a session that can enable a session to standout as more memorable from multiple online sessions, plus give time away from the screen within a session, both of which can contribute to reducing the digital screen or ‘Zoom’ fatigue that many experience.

·       They provide an opportunities for activities that are learner-centred rather than instructional eg asking participants to map out their own understanding of a process or illustrate a concept.   This can be used to create more challenging recap activities, or activities that tease out deep understanding and enable more personal sense-making.

·       They often have the effect of slowing things down and getting participants to think more deeply, which is great for encouraging reflection and application of learning. Drawing often makes use of observation in order to draw a physical object, process, or even our own behaviour – it requires us to slow down and pay attention to ‘what is’, rather than what we think there is. It can help us to notice how things are working currently and provide space to look at what we can do differently.  

·       They can enable different voices to be expressed and new insights gained. Often drawing something out, will help us to see something differently and give us a fresh insight. Drawing-based activities can enable some individuals to express themselves more clearly than other more traditional online activities.  Whilst there is a concern that not all participants may feel comfortable drawing or may feel excluded by a lack of skill, I think that often we don’t recognise that some voices are silenced or muted by the tools we currently use – not everyone is comfortable speaking up over the microphone in the free for all of a Zoom, not everyone is comfortable typing comments into a chat panel eg because of dyslexia.

For example, imagine encouraging a verbal discussion of what ‘leadership’ involves or facilitating a whiteboard activity to record points on the same topic or inviting people to each draw a picture using metaphors of what ‘leadership’ involves, which are then shared and discussed.  The latter often enables different people to express a range of more thoughtful and nuanced ideas, providing the basis for richer learning.


I want to be very clear – this is not about learning styles.  Whilst individuals do seem to have preferences for how they learn, there is no evidence to support the idea that using different types of activities to match individual preferences improves the effectiveness of the learning. 

In contrast there is evidence from studies into Dual Coding (see my earlier blog) that the combination of words and pictures used effectively can be a helpful tool in learning for all people.

Secondly, many people feel that they can’t draw or simply haven’t drawn since they were a child and feel uncomfortable drawing.   You don’t need to be an artist to either facilitate these sorts of activities or participate in them – the sorts of activities I have in mind are based upon the simplest of drawing – neither art nor even illustration. You can reassure participants that it is definitely not about the quality of the pictures.

The best way to encourage participants to have a go at a drawing-based activity is to be comfortable with it yourself. Practice drawing in preparation.  Keep the activities simple, be positive & encouraging and focus on facilitating the learning from the activity.

I think getting comfortable with using drawing-based activities within online learning sessions is a great addition to any L&D professionals’ toolkit.  Why not give it a go yourself?

Rachel Burnham 

29 January 2021

For further support

If you would like to explore the use of drawing-based activities but would like some support in getting started, why not sign up for my new short programme ‘The Power of Paper & Pen in Digital Learning’?  I have designed a series of ‘pick-up and use’ drawing-based activities that can be adapted for use in many different contexts – this session will enable you to have a go at them and explore how they can be used.   Follow this link to find out more & book a place. 


I help individuals and organisations to work and learn more effectively, particularly though using the tools of Sketchnoting and the curation of resources.  I make use of Sketchnoting to introduce people to using visuals to aid thinking, working and learning.  


Monday, January 4, 2021

Why does Sketchnoting work? Exploring Dual Coding

Rachel Burnham writes: As I am spending more and more time Sketchnoting and introducing other people to Sketchnoting, I thought it would be useful to explore why I think it is such an effective tool, both when learning and in the workplace more widely.  Sketchnoting involves combining words and simple pictures for making personal notes, thinking things through and communicating ideas.  In a number of my previous blogs I have shared how Sketchnoting can be used to aid learning and studying.   I think one of the reasons it is a useful tool both for learning and thinking is that it makes use of Dual Coding.

Dual Coding Theory is the idea that when we take in material that is made up of both verbal (written or spoken) information and visuals (drawings, diagrams, photos), these are each separately coded within our brains, but form linked memories.  This means that when we come to recall the material, we have two sets of retrieval clues to draw upon – we might remember the words or the visuals – perhaps a picture or a diagram, the colour, the layout on the page and from this recall the fuller memory of the words and visuals. (You may be interested in the Learning Scientists Podcast on this subject.)

We know that our working memory is limited, so this is a great advantage to successful coding information to be stored in long term memory, which means that it is very useful for improving learning effectiveness. ‘According to dual coding theory, if the same information is properly offered to you in two different ways, it enables you to access more working memory capacity.’  (Caviglioli O, 2019 p20).

Allan Paivio developed Dual Coding Theory and wrote about it in several publications over a life time of studying memory, cognition and imagery.   His first major publication on this subject was ‘Imagery and Verbal Processes’ in 1971 and he continued to write and study it throughout his career as a Professor of Psychology at the University of Western Ontario.   (Intriguingly, he had early success as a bodybuilder and was a former Mr Canada.)  Dual coding has been extensively studied over the years and is supported by a body of research studies (for example Mayer, R E and Sims V K 1994).

I want to clearly distinguish the approach of dual coding theory from learning styles.   Learning styles theories, of which there are many approaches, are often interpreted to suggest that individuals have learning preferences, including for learning visually and that it is more effective to match the method of learning to someone’s learning preference.  However, the evidence from research does not support that matching the modality of method of learning to an individual’s learning preference leads to more effective learning. (Coffield et al 2004, Lee S 2017)

Instead, dual coding theory provides evidence that everyone can benefit from the effective use of visuals alongside verbal communication when learning. 

It is important to focus on the effective use of visuals, rather than just include any visuals.  We know for example that using visuals just as decorative features, can lead to cognitive overload and be a distraction to effective learning.  If I had chosen to illustrate this blog with a picture of Paivio in his bodybuilding days, this would have been an example of a particularly distracting use of a visual.  However, where visuals are used to aid explanation, through showing relationships, interpreting material and organising information and concepts they can be immensely powerful (Colvin Clark R and Kwinn A, 2007).  When we involve learners themselves in creating visuals, as happens with Sketchnoting, then we get really powerful learning, as learners create visuals to make sense of what they are learning. 

One limitation from the some of the studies of dual coding is that they often focus on learning applications where the material to be learned are in the context of language learning or relatively simple concepts. However, another aspect of Paivio’s work on dual coding is about how these two types of information – verbal and visual are taken in and this has led to another concept which is the idea of ‘The Visual Argument’ which has many application for more complex learning.  I want to explore this in another blog in this series.

Dual coding has applications to many aspects of effective learning aside from Sketchnoting.  We can make use of it throughout the design of both resources and learning programmes to make them more effective.   It deserves to be better known and used amongst L&D professionals in general.  However, it is at the core of why Sketchnoting works and why Sketchnoting is a great tool to support effective learning.

Rachel Burnham 

4 January 2021


Caviglionli, Oliver (2019) ‘Dual Coding with Teachers’ John Catt Educational

(Coffield, F et al (2004) ‘Learning Styles and Pedagogy in post – 16 learning: A systematic and critical review’ Learning and Skills Learning Research Centre

Colvin Clark, Ruth and Kwinn, Ann (2007) ‘The New Virtual Classroom’ Pfeiffer

Lee, S. (2017) ‘Raising EFL Learners' Awareness of L2 Lexical Errors and Correct Usage: A Dual Coding Approach’  English Teaching, 72(2), 29-50

Mayer, R E and Sims V K (1994) ‘For Whom is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Extensions of a Dual-Coding Theory of Multi-media Learning’ in Journal of Educational Psychology 86(3) 389-401


I help individuals and organisations to work and learn more effectively, particularly though using the tools of Sketchnoting and the curation of resources.  I make use of Sketchnoting to introduce people to using visuals to aid thinking, working and learning.  I help people to manage for themselves the information they need to stay up-to-date in their professional work.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

6 Ways Students Can Use Sketchnotes to Aid Studying


Rachel Burnham writes: In this article, I want to share some of my experiences of how students can make use of Sketchnoting to aid them in their studying.

Sketchnotes are rich pictures, which you create yourself, that make use of a combination of both words and simple pictures.  There are many styles and approaches to Sketchnoting – in Sketchnoting there are no rules, it is about finding an approach that works for you.  For example, I like to make use of colour in my Sketchnotes, whereas Mike Rhode, who came up with the term Sketchnote in 2007, creates fabulous sketchnotes just using black ink.  Some people create Sketchnotes using a tablet & software, whereas I prefer paper and pens.

I have been using Sketchnoting for about 6 years and have introduced many people to Sketchnoting to aid their work, thinking and learning. I have worked with Learning & Development and HR professionals, engineers, digital marketeers, coaches, forensic scientists, geographers, university lecturers and many others including school and university students.  From this experience I have become convinced of the value of Sketchnoting to anyone who is studying, whether at school, college, university or for a professional qualification. 

Sketchnoting is a flexible tool that can help you to be more effective in the way you study.  It can be used to create memorable notes; to aid you in making sense of what you are learning; for planning your work including assignments; for reflection; when revising; and when communicating your ideas to others.  In addition, many people with dyslexia seem to find Sketchnoting a helpful approach to making notes.

One thing that concerns many people when they first hear about Sketchnoting, is the fear that you need to be good at art to be able to use Sketchnoting.  Fortunately, you don’t need to be able to draw to start Sketchnoting, as the drawings used are very simple indeed, which can be picked up quickly with a little practise and an open mind. 

In this blog, I want to explore practically how Sketchnoting can be used to aid learning.  As I do this, I will make links to the concept of ‘dual coding’ which is a well-researched approach to learning which has been extensively studied in cognitive psychology.  Dual coding essentially identifies that information which is presented with words and pictures is coded by the brain in two different but linked ways.  This means when you make notes using a combination of words and visuals, your brain creates linked memories, which you have a much better chance of recalling.   The power of ‘dual-coding’ is at the heart of what makes Sketchnoting effective.

Here are the 6 ways you can use Sketchnoting to help you study:


1.  Note-making

Sketchnoting can be used both for making notes of lectures and discussions, but also to summarise material studied through reading, watching videos or listening to recordings.   Sketchnotes enable you to make personal notes, that focus on the key points from the session, lecture or reading.  When making notes in a class or lecture it is awfully tempting to try and write everything down, but the very effort of trying to record everything, can mean that you almost stop thinking about what you are writing in the effort to capture it all. When Sketchnoting a lecture, talk or class, it is impossible to record everything, yet this apparent weakness, is one of the strengths of Sketchnoting. If you are Sketchnoting you do not attempt to record everything, just the key points, but because you are actively choosing which points to capture and which words & images to use, you stay focused and engaged.  When looking back at your notes, your memory is then triggered to recall additional detail not directly captured in your Sketchnote.  To get the full benefit of this, it is helpful to look back over your notes and actively seek to recall the full information.  If you do this, say the day after creating your notes, you will also gain the benefits of retrieval practice, which I will discuss in more detail when looking at revising.

You can also use Sketchnoting to summarise information gained from reading books & articles or from watching videos or listening to recordings.  Once again, the benefit of Sketchnoting over other forms of notetaking, is that it requires you to think through and actively identify which are the key points to record. 


2.  Connecting ideas and thinking things through

Often when studying a subject it helps to think about how the different aspects of that topic link together to deepen and broaden your understanding. You can use Sketchnoting to help you do this, by creating a Sketchnote that shows the connections between the topics.  If you are researching a topic, you can use a Sketchnote to show the relationships between the information you have gathered. 

 For example, I was researching with a colleague the ways that virtual reality (VR) could be used to facilitate training in the workplace – we talked to experts, read articles and tried out different VR applications ourselves.  We realized that one way of making sense of all the different ways of using VR was to consider how much the different VR apps immersed learners and so we arranged all the uses we had come across along a rating scale of the degree of learner immersion and I drew the following Sketchnote to illustrate this. 

Leonardo Da Vinci, who was not only an amazing artist but interested in a wide range of scientific subjects, used to carry out ‘thought-experiments’ in which he regularly sketched out pictures illustrating ideas he was exploring such as wave patterns, light & the moon, river eddies and added notes alongside them.  Effectively he was Sketchnoting! Some of his notebooks still exist today and so you can see how he did this.  


3.  Planning

Sketchnotes can be used very flexibly to aid you plan all kinds of work tasks including assignments, presentations and projects.  When using Sketchnoting for planning, I often create much messier and more unfinished looking Sketchnotes than for other purposes – I rarely keep them beyond the need for the immediate task.  Here is an example of a Sketchnote I created when preparing a presentation on Networking:

One of the advantages of using Sketchnotes for planning is that you can begin with whatever ideas first come to mind and you can then go back and decide the order in which you tackle the tasks or the order in which the sections go.  In this respect, Sketchnoting has some similarities to MindMapping, though there are many more options about how you lay out your Sketchnote.


4.  Reflecting

Many courses encourage you to carry out reflection during your time of study, perhaps as preparation for using reflection as part of continuing professional development (CPD) in a work role. It may even be an integral part of the whole course or a requirement within one or more assignments to carry out a reflection.  The idea behind reflection is to take time to learn from experiences (whether those experiences involve doing an assignment, carrying out a task, doing some research or from a life experience) by identifying  what went well and why, what could be improved and what you will do to be even more effective in the future.  This process of reflection may make use of a model such as Gibbs' reflective cycle (1988).

Reflection can be done and recorded in many ways, in the form of a journal, a blog, through a video recording, through a professional discussion with an assessor.  Sketchnoting can also be used to record your reflections.   Some people find that this is an alternative approach that works for them in a way that other methods don’t.  Others have commented that it allows them to slow down and reflect more deeply and for this reason they find it more effective.


5.  Revising

One of the powerful lessons from cognitive psychology is how to revise effectively. Often when revising people use the approach of reading and rereading their notes.  Many experiments have shown that it is more effective to use an approach called ‘retrieval practice’, in which you study a topic and then return to it and rather than study the same material again, instead actively try to bring the material back to mind – this could be through questions posed by a tutor or teacher or fellow student or jotting down what you remember from the topic or you could create a Sketchnote of what you recall.   Once you have done this you can then check back against the original study material, to check for any errors and also fill in any gaps.   This method of revising is highly effective even if you find that you struggle to recall much material at first.  But when you return to it again, you will have reinforced the links to the correct and full information far more effectively through that process of struggle.

If you allow some time to elapse between revisiting the material in this way, you will also tap into the benefits of ‘spaced practice’, another well evidenced learning practice from cognitive psychological research. If you are interested in finding out more about ‘dual coding’, ‘retrieval practice’ and ‘spaced practice’ it is worth checking out The Learning Scientists Podcast for easy to understand explanations and examples.


6.  Communicating your ideas

Finally, Sketchnotes can be used as a way of presenting your ideas, perhaps within a seminar or session or even in an assessment.  Some courses make use for example, of academic posters for presenting ideas and Sketchnoting would be an excellent way of producing one. 
These 6 ways of using Sketchnoting all come from experience and make use of what we know is effective in learning.  They are all practical ways of adding to your study skills and enabling your study experience to be both effective and enjoyable. If you think that Sketchnoting could help you with your studying this year, why not learn to Sketchnote?


Rachel Burnham

2 September 2020

I help individuals and organisations to work and learn more effectively, particularly though using the tools of Sketchnoting and the curation of resources.  I make use of Sketchnoting to introduce people to using visuals to aid thinking, working and learning.  I help people to manage for themselves the information they need to stay up-to-date in their professional work.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Permission to Play: Doing stuff you aren't good at

Rachel Burnham writes:  Last week I was interviewed about my approach to Sketchnoting and how I got started.  As I talked, the questions posed made me look again at my own journey into Sketchnoting and my underlying attitudes to drawing.  I was remembering the messages I picked up at secondary school from our art teacher, which were rather less than encouraging.  One year we had to do a pencil drawing of an object, set by the teacher, each week for homework, which she marked out of 10 and if you received less than 5, you had to do it again.  By the end of the term, I was having to redo 8 pictures every week.

One of my reflections from last week’s interview, is that one of my patterns is to do stuff that I enjoy, even when I am not very good at it.  Sometimes that is about our self-perception of our competence and sometimes it really is the case. Sometimes it is simply that it is new to us.

Last year, I at last had the chance to take a flamenco dance class – it was so much fun.   I enjoyed the sessions, the teacher was encouraging and created a helpful atmosphere for learning – the rest of the group were great – I adored the dancing.  And I was sooo bad at the footwork involved!  To the extent, that I am rather surprised that my left foot is actually connected to the rest of my body – it doesn’t appear to receive many of the messages sent!  But it was a wonderful experience all the same.

I usually go swimming on a Friday night – pre-lockdown, this was my ‘let go of work’ habit for every Friday.  I am definitely not a good swimmer, but I am a happy swimmer – l love swimming in my neighbourhood pool – the way the light glints on the water, the letting go of the week, the focus on breathing, the tired, but relaxed limbs afterwards. 

When I say I am not a good swimmer I am not being modest.  I really only can swim breast stroke and I am too scared to go down the deep end of the pool – I do 80% lengths only.  I hate that feeling of being out of my depth. However, my friend, Liz, challenged me to swim 5 miles over the course of June 2019 and I did it (without once going down the deep end) – it is my only sporting achievement and I am immensely proud of it!

Often we avoid doing things that we aren’t good at or perceive ourselves to be not good at.  In Andy Lancaster’s book ‘Driving Performance Through Learning’ he includes a chapter on ‘mistakes’.  He writes ‘From an early age, we pick up that errors are to be avoided and, if committed, concealed.’ (pg 292)  Doing stuff we aren’t good at can mean making mistakes and not performing at our best.  Our UK schooling system has tended to encourage us to focus on things that we are good at and drop subjects that we find more challenging.  Doing stuff that we aren’t good at (or perceive ourselves to be not good at) can feel risky, uncomfortable, scary – a whole bunch of troubling feelings.  

In a professional setting it can also feel ‘that we should know how to do this already’, that less than perfect competence is unacceptable and we fear of ‘loss of face’ particularly when we are employed for your professional expertise.  I wonder if the more you are used to feeling confident, highly skilled and in control the greater the temptation to not risk putting yourself in a situation where this isn’t case?

I have been pondering these ideas in relation to the field of Learning & Development and the many trainers and other facilitators who have continued to concentrate on face to face delivery – until the challenges of the current pandemic.   And also reflecting on the areas where I personally find it uncomfortable to do stuff I am not good at and as a result avoid doing.

There are many downsides to avoiding things that we aren’t good at: from becoming unpractised at handling these troubling feelings; to losing out on getting better; to being unwilling to risk trying out new ways of working or skills; to just missing out on doing stuff that you could be enjoying.   Of course, there are well-founded arguments for playing to our fundamental strengths, but if we understand this too narrowly; there is a risk that we begin to focus more and more limitingly on what we are good at now – that our territory of confidence becomes increasingly small.  That our capacity to adapt & develop is damaged.

When I am introducing people to Sketchnoting in my workshops, one of the common barriers is the perception held by many people that they can’t draw.    Learning from my experience of helping people to overcome this barrier, here are some of the things that can overcome our reluctance to do stuff we are not good at:

·       Seeing others role model this behaviour – look out for people who do and be inspired by them.

·       Encouragement from others – find a community, network or even just one person who you can practise with.

·       A more realistic approach to perfection – some times we set our goals too high and it becomes easier not to start, rather than not reach them.  When drawing, I often comment that nature is often wonky, so it is fine if our drawing is wonky too.   It may be helpful to think about when perfection is really needed – for example, an architect may need to be able to draw a perfectly straight line, but a Sketchnoter doesn’t.

·       Take time to notice what the experience brings you – whether the pleasure of doing something or any improvements in your skills, however small

·       Permission and time to play – give yourself permission ‘to draw for the bin’.  Carve out time and opportunities when you can mess about, without it feeling high pressure. Permission to play is a great gift given to us all – why not make use of it.


End note – Two weeks after completing my 5 mile swim, I at last made it to the end of the pool.  My swimming is still not great, but it is improving all the time.  


Rachel Burnham


I help individuals and organisations to work and learn more effectively, particularly though using the tools of Sketchnoting and the curation of resources.  I make use of Sketchnoting to introduce people to using visuals to aid thinking, working and learning.  I help people to manage for themselves the information they need to stay up-to-date in their professional work.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Sketchnotes from The CIPD Festival of Work June 2020

Rachel Burnham writes: Last week CIPD ran its first virtual Festival of Work with three days of online presentations, panel discussions and Q&A.  I participated in all three days and in some wonderfully inspiring and challenging sessions.

I wasn’t sure whether I would like a fully online conference, particularly over three days, but I really enjoyed it.  I actually much preferred it over last year’s ‘sitting in the dark, with headsets on experience’, which I found profoundly alienating and gave me a splitting headache.  This time it was great to have that ‘sitting in the front row’ feeling.  What I would love CIPD to add to the mix is the chance to chat in small groups with other people about the sessions – I am sure it would be possible to add this.

I Sketchnoted my way through all the sessions I participated in and shared the resulting Sketchnotes live on Twitter.  Here is the full collection for any you missed.

Opening Keynote from Prof Andrew Scott

Leading Good Work in Practice Panel 

Business Leadership in an Age of Disruption

D&I During Critical Times

From Course to Learning Experience Panel

Using Cognitive Neuroscience with David Rock 

Humans vs Automation? Dr Hannah Fry 

Agile Methodologies

The Power of Inclusion - Caroline Criado Perez

I hope you find them interesting and useful.

Rachel Burnham


I help individuals and organisations to work and learn more effectively, particularly though using the tools of Sketchnoting and the curation of resources.  I make use of Sketchnoting to introduce people to using visuals to aid thinking, working and learning.  I help people to manage for themselves the information they need to stay up-to-date in their professional work.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The many forms of webinars

Rachel Burnham writes: I am working with a client to help them with their transition to making use of webinar/virtual classroom technology to support learning.   

I created the following graphic to help them think more widely about the different ways that webinar/virtual classroom technology can be used, beyond the idea of webinar as a lecture delivered on-line.  I thought it might be helpful to share this more widely. 

The examples I have included aren’t the only possibilities, nor are they intended as ideals, but as prompts for thought.   The way that you use webinar/virtual classroom technology is a design choice and like other design choices needs to be made with the learning & performance need in mind.

I would love to have some feedback on this.

Rachel Burnham


I help individuals and organisations to work and learn more effectively, particularly though using the tools of Sketchnoting and the curation of resources.  I make use of Sketchnoting to introduce people to using visuals to aid thinking, working and learning.  I help people to manage for themselves the information they need to stay up-to-date in their professional work.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

'Teams' Everywhere

Rachel Burnham writes: At the moment I am seeing and hearing Teams everywhere.  Not ‘teams’ but ‘Teams’, that is Microsoft Teams to be precise.  I am seeing presentations about it, talking about it with friends & colleagues, reading about it and even receiving emails about it (there is an irony here, as Teams is often talked about reducing the need for emails). It is in my work and soon to be in my volunteering. Microsoft Teams seem to be everywhere I look – I think I am having one of those times when having become aware of a topic or product, you suddenly see it everywhere.

If you haven’t yet come across Microsoft Teams, it is  a communication and collaboration tool designed by Microsoft that works alongside a whole array of their other products, particularly Office 365.  There is a paid for enterprise version and also a free version that anyone can download – there are some differences in capabilities between the two.  I’ve heard it described as hub for your work, both with people, within and without your organisation and the software tools that you regularly use.   Or the glue that holds it all together.

It isn’t the only game in town.  There are of course other alternatives available from other providers (I am feeling a little like a BBC presenter at this point) and they each have many common features and their own strengths and weaknesses – I am most familiar with the alternative offered by Slack.  I have no interest in promoting Microsoft Teams over any of these other platforms and tools, it is just that this is the one that has grabbed my attention at this point.  I am not making  a case for this particular product, over any other, but I do want to make the case for using what we have well.  
If your organisation has chosen to adopt Microsoft Teams as it’s chosen platform, then it seems to me that it behoves us in L&D to really get our heads around how the organisation is using it and how we all can make best use of it, including L&D.   We need to be playing our part in seeing how this tool can be used to enable effective performance. That means using it in ways that do not stimulate unhelpful habits (eg like not being able to do ‘deep work’ for constant interruptions through poor use of chat features) nor seeing it as a silver bullet, that can of itself solve major challenges (eg silo working) without doing the other work needed to support this. However, I do think it has a huge potential, if used well, for supporting and enabling behaviours that lead to effective performance, including learning.

My thinking around this was stimulated by this year’s Learning Technologies’ event, where I went along to a presentation which was titled ‘Microsoft Teams as a Learning Platform’.  I was hoping for lots of sharing of ideas and experiences of using Teams to enable learning in the flow of work.   Lots of people turned up for the presentation.  But I was very disappointed by the content, which was very much about using Teams as an LMS and about access to training.  But it made me ponder how else we could be using Teams.  It made me focus on the question ‘If we are working within Teams, why not learn within Teams?’

Anyway, I Sketchnoted the session and as is my habit, I shared my Sketchnote both on Twitter and later on LinkedIn – I received a huge response from people, so many comments, questions and lots of sharing of experience.    Many were sharing that their organisation is adopting Microsoft Teams and they are trying to get their heads around it, some were puzzled about how it can be used to aid learning, others excited by the possibilities but wanting help and support, others were already making use of it to aid collaboration and support learning and shared some of the ways they are doing that.

Two comments in particular stood out for me.  Jo Wainwright shared on LinkedIn ‘I use it because it is where people already are and it already connects to everything else.’   When you are wanting to encourage social and collaborating learning, it is always helpful to consider where people already are – it means you don’t have to work hard to get them there or to overcome barriers to access.   Secondly, Mike Bedford shared on Linkedin ‘…I do not want it to be seen as another wasteful LMS missed opportunity’.   Nor do I!

One of the other people who responded to my Sketchnote was Helen Blunden, @ActivateLearn, who works for Adopt & Embrace, who along with her colleagues has written a book full of advice on using Teams.   I have been reading this with great interest and recommend it to you for providing some great examples of how Teams can be used and a framework for thinking about what is needed for each Team. 

Here are a few quick ideas about how we could be using Microsoft Teams.  Some are my ideas, some have come out of the conversations with colleagues since Learning Technologies, some from my reading and some were shared via social media in response to my Sketchnote – many thanks to all those who have contributed towards my thoughts on this. 

·       You could host a community of practice or a Working Out Loud Circle in a Team and use Microsoft Teams to host the conversations and resources shared.   This can provide a safe space for conversations and exploration of ideas and practices.
·       You could build reflection into every single Team by always incorporating a channel dedicated to ‘Lessons Learned’ or something similar.   Of course setting aside the space, won’t make the reflection happen, but it could provide a mechanism to enable it.
·       You could use the Teams Meeting feature – a video chat feature similar to Skype for Business – to host online coaching or webinars/virtual classrooms.  These can also be recorded, so you could record webinars or walk-throughs sharing your desktop. The features for webinars are not perhaps as fully developed as in other platforms, but can be combined with other tools.
·       You could share resources with colleagues through Teams eg a line manager or a peer recommending an article or video to colleagues.
·       You could curate useful resources as an individual or as a team using either OneNote or a wiki, both of which can be easily linked to a Team.
·       You could create a curated learning programme involving online discussion, reflection and sharing hosted either within a Team or using a wiki.
·       You could help people to find who within your organisation has particular expertise using ‘Who’, a bot that can be utilised.  You could then ask for help from that individual using Chat.
·       You could make relevant performance support tools and resources easily to hand within the relevant Team via a Tab.
·       You could make use of Forms to develop questionnaires and other tools within Teams.  Or use Teams with existing other survey tools eg SurveyMonkey.

I am sure this list is only scratching the surface of the possibilities and of course, it is making these ideas work that is the challenging part.  Encouraging the behaviours and habits of individuals and teams to give these tools and approaches a go.  

Microsoft Teams is just a tool.   We know that it isn’t the tool that is important.  What is important is how we use it to solve the problems that matter to the people we work with and our organisations.

If you are interested in joining me in working together to explore how Microsoft Teams can be used effectively to aid learning and performance, do get in touch.

Rachel Burnham


I help individuals and organisations to work and learn more effectively, particularly though using the tools of Sketchnoting and the curation of resources.  I make use of Sketchnoting to introduce people to using visuals to aid thinking, working and learning.  I help people to manage for themselves the information they need to stay up-to-date in their professional work.