Sunday, May 15, 2016

My 5 Key Themes from CIPD L&D Show 2016

Rachel Burnham writes: Whenever I participate in an event as lively and as broad as the CIPD L&D Show, with conference, exhibition, free events on the exhibition floor, fringe events and many serendipitous meetings with interesting people, I am very aware that every participant will have their own impressions, their own stories to tell of the event and their own list of significant points.  

So here are my key themes from this year’s show.  They are based on the sessions I took part in as a member of the Blogsquad – you will find a link to my Sketchnotes from these sessions here. 

1.  Performance rather than learning

The overwhelming theme for me from the sessions I took part in on the first day, was the need in L&D to focus on performance rather than learning.   This was not a new insight for me, I have written before on why this is so important a change in approach for us in L&D, but I haven’t heard so many speakers address this so consistently as part of the essential thinking within their practice.  

Charles Jennings in A1 ‘Beyond the Blend’ spoke of a need for a change in mindset ‘from learning to performance’ and spoke about new roles for us in L&D, including the ‘performance detective’.  Jane Hart in C1‘Supporting Social & Collaborative Learning in the Workplace’ talked about focusing on performance when designing guided learning opportunities and in ‘Equipping your L&D with Essentials for the Future’ Derek Bruce shared that the biggest change in ABN AMRO had been introducing ‘performance consulting’.

It was great to hear so many speakers having this as the backdrop to their practice, but there is a long way to go for this to be the case for most organisations in my experience.

2.  Focus on the learner

The second theme of focusing on the learner, also ran through many of the sessions, but this time in many different forms.

In a superb session B1 ‘The Secret to Learning Design’, Nick Shackleton-Jones urged us to ‘take time to understand what bugs your people’, in other words what makes it difficult for them to perform to their very best and then address these issues.   He shared a model: Concern –Task – Resource which he and his team had used to help identify these ‘bugs’ or concerns and address them.  

He used an analogy which really caught my attention, urging us to ‘draw what you see’ when focusing on these concerns, rather than what you expect to see.   One summer I spent a happy afternoon drawing some lilies that were in full flower.  I think of lilies as elegant, with flowing lines and great colours.   But when I started drawing this particular flower, I realised that it was also bumpy and hairy!   Not what I had expected at all, but part of the reality of a real lily!  

In contrast, Lisette Toetenel from The Open University, Laura Overton from Towards Maturity and Tom Pape from BT, each in different sessions, all spoke about the importance of understanding how learners actually learn.   Lisette Toetenel focused on making effective use of learning analytics to understand how learners made use of online learning and using this information to generate even more effective learning experiences.  Laura Overton referred to the work on ‘Learner Voice’ which Towards Maturity has done and Tom Pape talked about building tools for the user – designing systems so that they were easy and straight forward to use for the learner.

This was the theme that challenged me the most.  I know that within the organisations I work with, this is where we have a lot of scope to do better.

3.  70:20:10

Just about all the sessions, I took part in, referenced the 70:20:10 approach at some stage.  It was particularly great to hear this coming through so strongly and practically in a number of case studies in various sessions.   Derek Bruce in ‘Equipping your L&D Team with the Essentials for the Future’ talked about the key values which his organisation worked with around learning – this included ‘365 – learning is everyday’.  And it was mentioned both by Tom Pape of BT and by Steve Mapp and Gary Bellamy of Lloyds Banking Group in their case studies on collaborative learning.

Charles Jennings of course explored it and talked about extending learning into the workplace through two approaches: either adding learning to work; or taking learning from work.

Whilst, this approach has been around for ages, it is still uncommon thinking in most of the organisations with which I have contact with and in my experience not fully bedded into the practice of most L&D professionals.   I think we still have a long way to go to get the full benefits out of this approach as a profession.

4.  Technology is a secondary issue

This was a refreshing note that was sounded on a number of occasions over the event. 

I had deliberately chosen many sessions which explored using technology or digital tools (to use the new preferred terminology), yet even in these sessions, presenters were making it clear that technology should not be a driver.   Jane Hart emphasised people first and foremost.  Lisette Toetenel emphasised that platform and other technology questions were secondary to the issue to what learning do you want learners to experience. 

It is certainly important that we are aware of how technology can be used in L&D and The Open University launched a useful short guide to this during the Show – here’s a link to my review of the report.   And without doubt we need to be addressing the gap in the digital skills of L&D practitioners which was discussed by Laura Overton in ‘Equipping your L&D Team with the Essentials for the Future’.  But it is good to be reminded that technology is just one factor to consider.

5.  Collaboration & cream

My final point from the Show tackles a concern that has often been raised in relation to social and collaborative learning which is the fear ‘what if the wrong information is shared?’.

What was lovely in the sessions involving case studies was to hear this issue raised and robustly answered from practical experience.    We were urged not to over-control what gets shared socially, as ‘cream rises to the top’ and reminded that our colleagues in our organisations are savvy enough to share and recommend what adds value.   A number of speakers were directly asked about the issue of incorrect material being shared and responded in a similar way by saying that if incorrect or misleading information is posted, colleagues are very quick to correct this.  

So, these are my 5 significant points from two days of conference going, Sketchnoting, discussing and reflecting.  If you were there, or participating at a distance via social media, they may not be yours, so why not compare notes and share your impressions.

You may also be interested in a broader curation of material from the Show by the brilliant Ian Pettigrew, which brings together a range of material shared via social media.

Rachel Burnham


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. 

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