Sunday, February 2, 2020

Skills Development and Deliberate Practice

Rachel Burnham writes: One of the things that has been concerning me for a while in L&D, is that we don’t seem to be paying sufficent attention to skills development. 

In recent years there has been a lot of focus on how we approach the knowledge that people need to be effective in their jobs and a welcome move to making much more use of performance support or resources to address people’s needs and reduce the need for knowledge learning.  There has also been work done on behaviour change through a focus on experience design, habit development and learning transfer.  I made this point in my recent blog ‘5 Ways we could change how we think aboutL&D’. But I think we also need look more deeply at skills development as a profession.

What do we mean by the term ‘skills’?  Here are a couple of definitions of skills that I think are particularly helpful:

‘the ability to do something well, expertise’
Oxford Dictionary

‘the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or peformance’

Both bring out how important skills are to effective performance, which is what we need to be focusing on in L&D.  Skills take many forms: specific skills for specific jobs – taking blood in nursing, operating precision equipment in engineering, managing conflict amongst neighbours in social housing, advising a client on the best pension options for them, designing the graphics and layout for a textbook; and skills that have more general relevance such as problem-solving, project planning, providing feedback, managing our time, communicating effectively with an upset individual. Skills can be primarily physical skills, interpersonal skills, cognitive skills or combinations of these. Some skills are relatively simple and straightforward, others hugely complex and ones which need to be used in very many variable situations and ways to be fully effective.  Many skills take a long time to develop and hone.  Developing expertise is in part about not only having the skills, but being able to judge when and how to apply them in very different situations.  I think skills are really important to effective workplace performance.

So, I have found myself wondering whether we are giving skills development the attention it deserves, so that we can support this as well as possible within our organisations and the clients we work with.  I think some of the workplace qualifications in wide use don’t sufficiently focus on skills development, over-emphasising knowledge.  Some of the new thinking, around approaches to improving performance in the workplace, provide a needed corrective to traditional education and ‘content-dumping’ approaches, with increased emphasis on performance support or the use of resources and how we engage employees to care for the things that matter to the organisation.  But that still raises questions for me about how best to support employees in developing skills.

I think we could do better.

I had the chance to participate in the eLearning Network’s Connect event in November last year.   One of the sessions I took part in was led by Toby Harris and he was making some related points in his session ‘Beyond the Point of Need’.  Here is my Sketchnote of his session:

He recommended the book “Peak Performance: How all of us can achieve extraordinary things’ by Anders Ericsson and Robert Peel, which describes Anders Ericsson’s years of research into how people in many different fields have achieved outstanding performance and developed their expertise.  

In the book, he identifies ‘deliberate practice’ as the key to this development of expertise and in particular looks at how this leads to the formation of ‘mental representations’ which enable high levels of performance.    Ericsson is very clear in distinguishing what he means by ‘deliberate practice’ and how this differs from the purposeful practice which we may already make use of.  

I have set out in this Sketchnote the key factors which Ericsson uses to describe what ‘deliberate practice’ is:

I think there is much to be gained from exploring the implications of Ericsson’s work.  

It raises lots of questions for me.  For example:
·       What are the most effective ways, that we in L&D can support people to develop their skills?
·       Does it make a difference if they are new to an area of skill or wishing to enhance an area of skill – Ericsson suggests it does?   I want to pay more attention to these kinds of boundary conditions (ie in what circumstances does a particular approach work or not work).
·       What part can formal programmes and self-directed learning play to develop expertise in a particular skill or set of skills, including the use of resources? What might a formal programme look like that is based on ‘deliberate practice’?  How can we encourage & support individuals to use ‘deliberate practice’ in their self-directed learning?
·       How do we help people to develop the ‘mental representations’ that Ericsson suggests are needed for expert performers more speedily and reliably?

I would be interested in hearing from anyone who is already applying these ideas of deliberate practice in their work to aid skills development.

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.

Monday, January 13, 2020

5 Ways We Could Change How We Think About L&D

Rachel Burnham writes: At this time of year, I often curate a set of resources that I think are helpful for developing L&D and enabling L&D professionals to modernise our ways of working.  This year I have decided to do something different and instead take a step back to focus more generally on how we think about L&D.
Whilst some in the L&D profession are forging ahead trying out new ideas and experimenting with approaches based upon well-founded research and evidence of what works well, we also are part of a profession that is slow to change. Many continue to use methods and practices that we know are not as effective as they could be - methods and practices that are not meeting the challenges facing organisations or individuals.  

Here are five areas that I think we need to work on as a profession.

1.  Evidence-based

Whilst this approach has been adopted recently by CIPD, there is still a lot of muddle and confusion around about what this really means.   I think getting more in our profession familiar and confident using an evidence based approach can help with three challenges:

·       Tackling the pervasive influence of learning myths around subjects like learning styles, left brain/right brain and so on.
·       Encouraging a focus on effectiveness and what actually makes a difference to performance.
·       Building an appetite for making use of data analytics that is practical in focus.

2.  Looking at a wider range of jobs and sectors

So often the case studies, research and examples explored in L&D conferences, articles and podcasts are from the same rather narrow fields of employment.  It is time that we started to look more broadly beyond the knowledge worker or service sector and also consider the needs of other types of worker, sector and size of organisation.
When we are only hearing from this relatively narrow field, important though it is, we risk considering only these needs of these kinds of organisation and that the ideas and solutions presented only are effective in those situations.  If we want to tackle the long tail of L&D that is mostly still only using face to face delivery of content-heavy material, then we have to ensure that our examples, our research, our practices can meet these needs of a diverse range of job roles and organisations.     

3.  Less black and white, more nuance

I think we are running a risk of being too simplistic in some of our thinking about L&D practices.  Of making ‘blanket –judgements’ about ways of working.   ‘This is good’, ‘this is not’.  This is current, up-to-date, the latest thinking and this is not.

For example, I notice in each at the time of the Learning Technologies conference and exhibition a slew of articles about the latest technologies and a corresponding slew of articles defending face to face delivery.  

When it isn’t either or. 

We need to be so much better at being nuanced.  Not just about about the respective values of using technology and face to face, but across the whole field.  It is not helpful to run down the whole of education.  We know that context matters.   So let’s get much clearer about what works when, and in what circumstances, for who and at what point in their career and what the limitations are.   Let’s identify the boundary conditions for approaches, rather than portray each approach as the answer to everything. 

4.  Connect ideas

There are some amazing ideas being developed and explored in L&D.  New ways of working and new (well, newish, in some cases) models and practices.  Many have slightly different focuses and emphasis.   When you begin to be exposed to the range of approaches to performance consulting, models of learning, alternatives to face to face, learning at the point of need or in the flow of work and so on (and also their critiques) – I think a lot of people in our profession, who are new to these approaches can feel overwhelmed and over-faced.  ‘Where are earth do you start?’ 
It would be great to see some more linking up of these ideas, some more comparing and contrasting of them, so that they are not just used piecemeal, but more systematically. We need help to work our way through the thickets of new ideas and research, to weigh up what is of value and work out which ones  link together and are worth taking action on.     

5.  We neglect skills at our peril

I think there is some very interesting thinking around at present about knowledge – mostly about how we make much better use of resources or other performance support tools to reduce the need for knowledge learning.   There is great work on behaviour change around – work on habit formation and learning transfer to support this.   But I think we need to be also paying attention to how to effectively support ‘skills’ development. 

I think we have taken our eyes off this area a bit, yet it is hugely important.  High level skills can be challenging to develop and continue to be important in many areas of work.   Although we critique learning programmes for ‘mere content-dumping’ and a reliance on knowledge transfer done badly, we haven’t really focused much on how to develop complex skills effectively.  Skills that are needed in this wider range of jobs and organisations that I think we should be looking at.  

So, these are the 5 areas, which I think we could usefully focus on, to help shift thinking within our L&D profession, this year.  What do you think?


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.

Friday, November 22, 2019

'Creating a Culture of Curious Learners' eLN Connect 2019

Inspired by the title of this year's eLN Connect - Rachel Burnham

Rachel Burnham writes: On Wednesday 20 November 2019, it was the fifth eLearning Network Connect event in London.  This conference brought together about 180 professionals from the fields of elearning and L&D to explore the theme of ‘Creating a Culture of Curious Learners’.  There were interesting speakers, parallel sessions with participation, facilitated networking sessions, lots of coffee breaks for conversation and chats with exhibitors and even cake.  Big enough to have a variety of sessions and participants, small enough to be friendly and undaunting for the novice.

 It was by far and away the best conference I have been at this year – as in most friendly, thought-provoking and useful.   

I Sketchnoted throughout the event and I am pleased to share my work here:

Opening Keynote from Nicole Bradfield

Neusha Milanian - putting some drama into the event

Debating Digital Transformation and L&D's Role

Debating How Leadership can contribute to Creating a Learning Culture

Toby Harris - provoking and making us think seriously about developing skills

I have plenty to mull over as a result of the event and I am sure I will be blogging about this before too long.  And I definitely will be back at future eLN Connect events.

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.

Monday, September 9, 2019

'Doing' Sketchnoting

Rachel Burnham writes: I have been reading (or perhaps it should be looking at) ‘The xLontrax Theory of Sketchnote’ by Mauro Toselli, which is a book about Sketchnotes in the form of Sketchnotes.  xLontrax is Mauro Toselli’s sketchnoting name and you can find him on Twitter @xLontrax.

His book explores what makes an effective Sketchnote and is based upon many years of experience of sketchnoting, plus some research he did into what people are looking for when they look at a Sketchnote. This makes it very interesting reading for anyone wanting to produce Sketchnotes.  His Sketchnotes are lovely to look at and his typography is so graceful – I keep practising some of the fonts he uses.

His emphasis is on producing Sketchnotes to share and what makes an effective Sketchnote to share.  He looks at the various elements of a sketchnote and pulls out what works for people – what attracts initially and what makes them easy to understand.   It is well worth looking at and will help you think about the way you layout and present a Sketchnote. 

The value is in the ‘doing’ of Sketchnoting

Reading this has made me realise that my thinking about Sketchnotes has changed and now differs from Mauro Toselli’s focus. Over the last couple of years of offering workshops in Sketchnoting, I have begun to appreciate the value of Sketchnoting as a process, rather than the production of an end product.   For me Sketchnoting is now mostly about the ‘doing’ of it, rather than the production of a finished Sketchnote.

I now think of Sketchnoting as a ‘gateway’ activity that can serve to introduce people to drawing and also to using visuals to aid their thinking, learning and work.  Sketchnotes can be used not only for note taking, but for planning, reflecting, as a recap tool to aid spaced practice, for thinking things through and communicating informally. My friend and colleague, Liz Longden, has commented that learning to Sketchnote opened up the creative side of her brain. 

I have identified a number of benefits to ‘doing’ Sketchnoting:

1.  Sketchnoting is a great way to get started with drawing for work

As sketchnoting combines the use of simple drawings and graphics with words, it can be a great way of getting started with drawing.   As adults, so many of us feel that we can’t draw and feel embarrassed about sharing our efforts with other people.   Yet as children, the vast majority of us did draw confidently and with enjoyment.   Sketchnoting can be a way to dip your toe in the water and have a go at drawing, without any pretensions to art or illustration, that so often get in the way of people picking up a pencil.   You can begin to Sketchnote effectively with very simplified hand drawn graphics that you can get started with straight away.   And the more you do, the better you get and the more confident you get - applying that ‘growth mindset’.

2.  Sketchnoting slows you down

The use of drawing in Sketchnoting forces you to slow down.  Traditional note-taking using just words is definitely faster, but that doesn’t mean you take it in – sometimes you can make notes and when you look back at them, you are hardly conscious of what you have written, because it has been so automatic.  When you add in drawing, it slows you down.   It forces you take things at a slower pace, whether this is note taking in a presentation, meeting or learning session or when thinking things through for yourself or putting information together to share with colleagues. 

That slowing down in itself can be beneficial – many of the participants in my workshops have commented on how relaxing and de-stressing they find this.  But it also gives you time to think, focus and identify what is important.  

When you are Sketchnoting live in a presentation, meeting or learning session that slowing down is linked to listening deeply and focusing on what is important, so that you only attempt to capture in a Sketchnote key points – the key points for you.   In a similar way, when using Sketchnoting to aid thinking or if planning a project, presentation or piece of writing, slowing down can enable you to think more deeply about that piece of work.  Outlining an image or colouring in a section can give you time to engage at a deeper level with the material.

3.  Sketchnoting promotes observation and listening

This slowing down that drawing and Sketchnoting require are also closely connected to being able to observe and listen carefully.  

Great drawing often begins with observation and similiarly Sketchnoting live begins with listening.  These activities promote attentiveness.  

You need to be able to still yourself and your own voice to see what is before you, to consider the evidence and listen to what is being said, or not said.  Observation and listening are very powerful skills to have and are helpful in a great many circumstances in the workplace, such as when working with customers and colleagues, when problem-solving, or when improving services and processes.

4.  Sketchnoting encourages playfulness

Sketchnoting often involves the use of metaphor and humour.  Colour is often made use of – though some Sketchnoters work very effectively just using black ink. 

This all encourages a playful approach which can enable you to look at things differently and from different perspectives.   It can help you to communicate  a concept, a process or information in a more imaginative way, that connects more effectively and memorably with the intended recipients.   It can help you to see things in a fresh light as well, perhaps enabling you to come up with a different approach or additional ideas that would not have occurred otherwise.  

5.  Sketchnoting develops pattern seeking and creation

Sketchnoting and the use of visuals can help with seeing patterns amongst information and data.  The use of different layouts, colour and tools, such as arrows, to group information and to explore the relationship between items can be very helpful in thinking things through.  Perhaps in outlining a current process, or imagining a new framework or communicating an idea. 

This is an area where you definitely don’t need to be able to draw, other than simple arrows and shapes such as circles, rectangles or triangles to link and group items together.   The use of colour can also help you to see patterns and present material more clearly.
6.  Sketchnoting encourages seeing the whole story

Presenting ideas visually can help you to see things differently.  A recent participant in one of my Sketchnoting workshops was mapping out a process he was very familiar with in a Sketchnote and commented how much easier it was to do it in this format.  He noted how quickly he had spotted things out of place or missed, compared to when he had tried to describe the process in a text only document.

Others have commented on how useful a Sketchnote can be to support describing a process or presenting information to a colleague, because they can see the information as a whole.

So, whilst a finished Sketchnote is a lovely thing, great for capturing notes of a session or summarising some reading or a podcast, being able to produce a finished Sketchnote is only one benefit of Sketchnoting.  I think that the real value of Sketchnoting is in the doing of Sketchnoting and the many ways Sketchnoting contributes to thinking, learning and working.       

Rachel Burnham

9 September 2019

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, July 7, 2019

Review of 'Curation: The Power of Selection in a World of Excess'

Rachel Burnham writes: I recently read ‘Curation: The Power of Selection in a World of Excess’ by Michael Bhaskar.  Published in 2016, this is an exploration of the very wide way in which ‘curation’ as an approach is being used.  In L&D, many people will be familiar with the concept of curation being applied to how we select, manage and share resources for learning.  You may also have come across the term curation in relation to content marketing, in the context where a marketing strategy makes use of content created by others which is selected and used to promote a particular business – you may even use this yourselves.  And of course, curation, has its origins in the world of museums and art galleries.

Bhaskar looks at curation in many different fields, as a business strategy, in retail, music and many other fields, in governmental regeneration and planning policies and in how we present ourselves as individuals.   He looks at how curation is being used to create value in fields, such as food retail, through specialist food retailers who bring together small niche providers of particular high-quality foods all under a single roof or fascinatingly in the way that a new city is being planned in Abu Dhabi, by curating a cultural district with top museums, art galleries, theatres and music venues. The book is full of examples of curation permeating all sorts of aspects of life – I think he sees curation everywhere – I wasn’t always convinced, though he does a great job of presenting examples to illustrate.

And I found the opening chapters with their emphasis on the abundance of everything for everybody, rather sickening and infuriating – you don’t need to look further than our city centres to see people living without a roof over their head, or open a paper to see the growing demands on foodbanks and that is within the wealthy UK.   But the book did make me think wider about what curation is and how it can be used. 

He describes curation as ‘using acts of selection and arrangement (but also refining, reducing, displaying, simplifying, presenting and explaining) to add value.  I found very helpful some simple diagrams he shares which describe different ways that curating can add value.

Diagram from Pg. 166

He identifies a number of benefits that curation can bring through the way it adds value including:

·         saving time
·         freeing cognitive resources 
·         sparing us anxiety
·         cutting down complexity
·         finding quality 
·         overcoming information overload
·         creating contrast
·         redefining creativity
·         channelling attention
·         providing context
·         beating overproduction. 

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that looks at both curation through the use of algorithms and also human curation and so it provides insight into our very current concern about how can humans and technology work together. This is sometimes described as ‘thick and thin’ curation.   Where ‘thin’ curation is the network of cataloguing and filtration mechanisms, recommendations and discovery algorithms found throughout the Internet and 'thick' curation is done by humans 'based on detailed personal choices, often for smaller audiences; it discuses its choices and comments on them, adding extra spin to its decisions' (Pg. 233)  Algorithmic curation can keep costs down and make curation scalable, but it is human curation that makes it personalised and personable. I like this quote from Luciano Floridi, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at Oxford University 

'Curators are experts - you have to have a say to be a curator.  There is a practical side to curation that means algorithmic curation should be joined by a sense almost of ownership or custodianship.  The ability to intervene, to follow on, to ensure your curation has an impact is key.  It is a pragmatic relationship. ' (Pg 229)

What shines through is that effective curation is a highly skilled process.   Bhaskar says in the context of content curation in marketing 'But the term is often used weirdly.  Websites advise people to 'curate in the morning' or curate their way to success. Curation is seen as a shortcut, a defined thing, not a process.  … Good curation is more difficult and subtle than that.' He sees expert selection as at the start of good curation and quotes from Maria Popova, curator of the highly thought of ‘Brain Pickings’:

'The art of curation isn't about the individual pieces of content, but about how these pieces fit together, what story they tell by being placed next to each other, and what statement the context they create makes about culture and the world at large.  This is, she argues, a process of 'pattern recognition'.  Seeing how things fit together, understanding connections (which multiply in a networked environment), but then also, crucially, creating new ones by recombining them, is a massive part of curation.' (Pg 125) 

I love the sense of patchwork which her words evoke, making something new and fresh from scraps of the old or the familiar.  Another word for this would be ‘bricolage’ which Andrew Jacobs has written about.

Bhaskar argues that there are no shortcuts to becoming trusted as a curator – it is about ‘Authenticity, consistency, excellent selections - it is very hard to fake.' (Pg. 210)

I think curation is a useful skill for us to develop both as individuals to aid us in managing the huge amount of information we now need to navigate daily as professionals and also as a skill for us in L&D to share with others and use in our professional practice.   Bhaskar puts it like this:

'The more we understand how curation coheres with a network of new skills, strategies and capabilities, the better prepared we will be for thriving in the age of excess that is changing forever how we live and work.' (Pg. 165)

Rachel Burnham
7 July 2019

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, June 16, 2019

Collection of 8 Sketchnotes from CIPD Festival of Work - exhibition, conference & fringe - 2019

Rachel Burnham writes: Last week I visited the first CIPD Festival of Work held at Olympia, London on 12 & 13 June 2019.   The event combines the old L&D Show and HR Software shows and adds a new element covering the Future of Work.  
I had a day of visiting the exhibition and include Sketchnotes from a couple of the free sessions I attended.  On the second day of the conference, I attended a number of formal sessions on a diverse range of topics from reducing digital stress, to how investing in technology can aid productivity, to a series of fast and furious Ignite sessions all on the theme of curation for learning.   I also participated in a fringe event on the first evening of the event, a recording of the GoodPractice Podcast with a panel focusing on the Past, Present and Future of Learning. 
Here are all my Sketchnotes from the event: 

Delivering 'wow' now: digital transformation without capital expenditure by Datagraphic - exhibition 

AI and Learning: the truth behind the trend by Learning Pool - exhibition 

GoodPractice Podcast recording 'The Past, Present and Future of Learning' - fringe 

E2 Wellbeing and Mental Health in a Digital Workplace - conference

F1 Can the new era of technology solve the UK's output puzzle? - conference

G6 The Neuroscience of Learning - designing effective learning for knowledge retention & transfer - conference

H4 From Creation to Curation - Insights from Four Ignites - conference

Closing Keynote with Neil Harbisson the World's First Cyborg Artist - conference

Rachel Burnham
16 June 2019

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 help people use visuals, to think, work and learn.  I help people to manage for themselves the information they need to stay up-to-date in their professional work.