Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hurdling Tips for the Cobbler's Children

Rachel Burnham writes: In a recent Twitter chat hosted by L&D Connect we were invited to share what we took for granted in L&D.  One of the points I contributed (rather tongue in cheek) was that I took for granted that everyone in L&D will want to be learning themselves and developing their practice.   I was immediately reminded that much research shows that this is just not the case.  This has been a feature of the annual benchmarking report produced by Towards Maturity and this year again it reported that ‘This study has shown that whilst L&D teams have the vision and aspiration to deliver a modernised learning and development strategy they lack the skills they need internally to make it a reality.’ (‘Embracing Change’ Towards Maturity Industry Benchmark Report, November 2015 pg 63).

There are a number of areas that repeatedly have been identified as vital for many L&D teams to work on such as: business awareness; the skills of performance consultancy; and a range of digital skills.

I find that that the reasons offered for this gap in development for L&D teams fall mainly under three headings: limited resources available; limited time available; and limited awareness of what is possible.  I think the last one is particularly damaging and hard to break out of.  If you work in Learning & Development in an organisation where the experience of L&D (or probably training) is predominantly face to face, content heavy, powerpoint driven sessions and where there is little exposure to any other approaches to learning then it is hard to envisage the amazing range of possible alternative learning methods and just how effective they can be.  There are other challenges that we face in L&D, around our agility and particularly the way that technology is enabling learners to access learning for themselves bypassing L&D and again if your L&D world is limited to face to face delivery, then you may have limited exposure to these challenges.

So here are some practical suggestions for helping you and your team to overcome these three hurdles of limited resources, limited time and limited awareness.

Limited resources

Here are some suggestions for low cost ways of developing your skills in L&D and in fact all the suggestions in this blog could address this particular hurdle.

  • Skills swaps – Get members of the L&D team swapping skills with each other or with other staff in your organisation.  This can be particularly useful for building confidence in digital skills.
  • MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses can be a great way to access free learning opportunities and there are many ones which are relevant to those in L&D, particularly in the areas of informal learning and e-learning.  Many MOOCs are offered by universities and others by commercial providers.  They often include a mix of reading, video materials, online discussions and activities.  Search online to find ones that may be relevant to you. 
  • Conferences via Twitter – An interesting way to find out what is going on at the many L&D related conferences is read the tweets from attendees.  Most conferences will now identify a hashtag for the event eg this week’s Learning Technologies event has the #LT16uk and if you search for this on Twitter, this will enable you to pick out all the tweets from this event.  Check out the publicity materials to discover what hashtag is being used.  Many events also will have blogs and video recordings produced and the Twitter feed is a good way of identifying these.

Limited Time

Harold Jarche said that ‘Work is learning and learning is the work’ so if limited time for learning is your challenge, then why not a virtue of this and consciously set out to learn from your work?  Here are some suggestions to help you do that:

  • Embrace small experiments – The world of L&D is changing very rapidly, new digital tools (which can be used for curation, collaborative learning and to produce resources such as infographics and videos) are always appearing and the needs of our organisations are changing constantly too, so embrace the idea of running small experiments to try out new tools and new ways of working. Test things out on a small scale and learn from this.  Testing on a small scale reduces risk and enables things to be tried out more rapidly.
  • Working Out Loud – Involves sharing your ‘work in progress’ with others to enable them to learn from it and this may also generate feedback and other ideas that enable you to improve your own work.   Working Out Loud can take many forms eg sharing verbally at a team meeting, a short post on an internal organisational network, a blog, a social media post, a video clip. 
  • Action reviews – This is where a team or a team plus key stakeholders takes time to review how a project worked and what can be learned from the experience to make future projects for effective and efficient.

Limited Awareness

In many ways, I think this is the hardest hurdle to cross. but I also think it is the one with huge potential benefits.  If you can unleash your and your team’s curiosity and find ways to initially feed that curiosity, then all sorts of things will open out and become possible. 

  • Learning Now TV – this is a free online hour long programme that is produced once a month.  It includes a terrific mix of interviews and practical tips sessions all about L&D.   There are also audio programmes available.  You need to subscribe to the service, but it is free and you can either watch it live as it is broadcast or download and catch up with it in your own time.  If you are feeling a bit out of the loop, this is a great and easy place to start to find out what is currently happening in L&D.
  • Networking – Don’t groan too much – it is a great way to find out what is happening outside of your own organisation (and even inside of your own organisation to improve your business awareness).  Networking has had a bad name, but networking with the aim of learning is a much gentler, more mutual, easier prospect than networking to make business contacts.  The emphasis with networking for learning is to build and maintain a ‘Personal Learning Network or PLN’. This network of people can enable you to find new resources, tools and enable you to share practical ideas. This can be done in person or using social media and probably works best using a mix of these two approaches.  There are people I met first on social media and then have gone on to meet face to face - I have found the face to face so much easier  because we had already have begun to know one another.  Don’t feel that you have to network at conferences or big gatherings – my favourite form of networking is meeting up for a cup of tea!
  • Mentor – Having a mentor can be a great way to gain exposure to different ideas and approaches.  A mentor may be able to guide you to useful resources and challenge your thinking.  

You may have noticed that many of these learning methods involved some form of online learning – not the traditional elearning stand alone package - but some form of online learning none-the-less and so these will also give you personal experience of a wide range of modern online learning methods.  So my 10th tip is to try out a wide range of learning methods yourself – even if they are not your favourite learning method, it will all help to stretch you and broaden your exposure to a wider range of learning approaches and build your Personal Learning Network.

I am very aware in writing this blog, that the people it would be most useful for, probably don’t read blogs, so do share this piece and the ideas within it with your colleagues and anyone you think might find it of value.  Spread the word!

Rachel Burnham


(originally posted on LinkedIn)

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

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