Sunday, May 17, 2015

Spaced out, Igniting Swallows or My CIPD L&D Show 2015 Experience

Rachel Burnham writes: Everyone has their own story to tell, their own set of experiences from participating in an event like the CIPD L&D Show, which took place this week at Olympia.  The L&D Show includes a conference, exhibition, free events during the day and fringe events – so it is possible to participate in one of these events and have a completely different experience from a colleague depending upon which sessions you attended, which conversations you participated in, which tweets you read and of course upon your own mindset.   

As for me, I had a really good L&D Show – this year I didn’t go to the conference, but was out and about around the exhibition and in the free sessions.   And the sessions I participated in were amongst the very best I have experienced at this sort of event.   I felt that the sessions I participated in both contained great content and were delivered in engaging ways, with not too much sales pitch.  

One of the first sessions I got involved in was titled ‘Learning Science for Blended Learning’ and was from @iManage.   It focused on introducing us to three areas of research findings about how to make learning more effective:

·       The learning environment
·       Spacing out learning
·       Interleaving learning topics

Each topic was introduced and research shared.  We were then encouraged to discuss our ideas for applying this practically with our neighbours and tweet our ideas to the presenter.   Relevant content, delivered in a lively and thought-provoking manner that helped us to digest it & consider how to use it.

A number of sessions focused on the development needs of our own profession, to enable us to be effective in meeting the challenges facing our organisations.   Each of these sessions referred back to the recent report produced jointly by CIPD and the benchmarking organisation Towards Maturity ‘L&D: Evolving Roles, EnhancingSkills’ which sets out very clearly that many of us in L&D have been neglecting our development.  There is an urgent need to particularly develop:

  • Business & commercial understanding of our own organisation;

  • Skills in facilitation of social learning;

  • Digital skills; 
  • Performance consulting; and

  • Analytical skills.

One of the highlights of the free programme of sessions were the two ‘Ignite Labs’ that took place – one on each day of the event.  Each session involved a series of short presentations – 5 minutes in length from a range of L&D practitioners, each supported by 20 slides timed to change at 15 second intervals.  Such a challenge!   The topics included a great variety of topics from: changing the approach to L&D in an organisation, practical examples, appreciation, a dialogue approach to change management, the importance of digital skills, improving the blood transfusion service in Uganda and moving from lurking to learning on Twitter.  I particularly valued Jonathon Marshall’s session on changing approaches to L&D at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the insight that ‘L&D needs to get off the stage, but not leave the room’.

Other interesting sessions included exploring the value of volunteering as a learning experience, something which CIPD has been encouraging through the Steps Ahead Mentoring scheme and links with   There are win-win-wins to be gained here for the employee doing the volunteering, for the organisation in terms of the impact of the learning & engagement and for the community benefitting.  

It was good to hear Andy Lancaster, Head of L&D for CIPD talking about the ‘Leaders in Learning’ Network which has been running for about a year in London and which is now beginning to regionalise.   This brings together people in L&D to network, discuss great practice and case studies, talk technology, share research and problem-solve together.  These evening sessions about 4 times a year are very interactive and are highly valued by those who participate.  Meetings have recently been held in Scotland, East Anglia and future meetings will also be taking place in Manchester for the North West.

One of the very last sessions, I participated in focused on ‘storytelling’ and was led by the Royal Central School for Speech and Drama.  This session explored why story telling is so important to us and how we can use it to aid learning in our organisations.  Early on in the session we were invited to remember a favourite book from our childhood and to think about why it had had such an impact on us – my choice was ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome – it is full of strong female characters, each individual and distinctive – apparently based upon the author’s own sisters.   The session considered different ways of using story telling and was full of inspiration for me – I know I don’t use story telling as much as I might.

My overall impressions of the event - I have come away with lots of ‘I could try that’ and ‘I’d like to find out more about that’.  Were the ideas shared in the event brand new? Probably not, but there was lots to learn, adapt and provoke thought & action for any L&D professional. And that is good enough for me.

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.

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

Monday, May 4, 2015

Feedback would happen all the time if ... we encouraged peer feedback in learning programmes

Rachel Burnham writes: This blog is written as part of the #FeedbackCarnival curated by Helen Amery @WildFigSolns, a series of blog posts all written on the theme of ‘Feedback would happen all the time if…’.  As I have left it to the very last day of the carnival to write something, I am very aware of just how good the posts have been and that ‘feedback’ has been discussed from pretty much every angle and point of view.  It has been exalted, debated, dissed and dissected.  

But still I want to contribute.  So, I thought I would share some of my experiences of building the giving & receiving of peer feedback into learning programmes. 
This is an approach that I use in a number of the learning programmes that I facilitate, particularly when developing the skills of L&D professionals and people new to training.  It is built into face to face sessions, but also interactive webinars and activities taking place using discussion forums on a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment – in this case Moodle based).  I think it can be an incredibly powerful learning tool – I notice huge differences in people’s confidence and in people’s ability to reflect & learn by observing others from using it.  It is an aspect of the programmes that participants frequently comment on as being valuable.   And it is something that can be taken away and used in many other contexts.

I have been influenced in my thinking around this by PhilRace’s Ripples Model of Learning.  I don’t know if you are familiar with this approach to learning which was developed within the context of higher and further education and (very simply) views learning in terms of a series of activities that are happening simultaneously & concurrently & affecting each other rather like the ripples in a pond.   The first factors or ripples are all about the learners experiences, but he goes on to suggest that further deepening of the learning takes place when you teach a topic – I know that this is something that I have experienced - that deepening of understanding that comes from facilitating learning of others, which is why ‘teach-back’ can be such a useful learning method.    

But Phil Race also suggests that assessing others learning also provides opportunities for further learning and again this fits with my own experience.  When assessing work, I get see a topic or skill from many different points of view; to see it expressed in many different ways, to see it applied in many different contexts, to see it misunderstood, poorly explained, explained more clearly than I can ever hope to and turned on its head & upside down.  Sometimes I think I have only really got to grips with some skills/topics once I have seen them really worked through by a group of ‘learners’.  

So, why not involve get ‘learners’ involved in assessing and providing feedback to their peers?  

I have used this approach when working on practical skills such as coaching, delivering learning sessions and also on design of learning and found it to be very effective.  For example, I make use of peer feedback process in a programme developing coaching skills.  Over the course of a session each participant gets to be a coach, to be coached and to observe & provide feedback on a number of peers coaching.  This process of ‘observing to be able to provide quality feedback’ really focuses the observation process and helps participants to notice & value what is working and also what could have been done differently.  Each experience of observing a peer brings out different aspects that have been done well and helps the observers to identify for themselves what effective practice includes.

Here are some pointers from my experience to get the most from a peer feedback approach:

I find it works best to encourage some kind of discussion about what feedback is & why it is important, prior to encouraging peer feedback.  I find this is useful so that we get chance to explore our different perceptions of feedback, to encourage the valuing of positive feedback and to acknowledge some negative experiences that we may have had when being ‘given’ feedback.   This enables us to build a shared understanding of what feedback can be like.   I usually do this immediately prior to the activity in which the participants will be giving peer feedback.   This means that this introduction to ‘giving & receiving feedback’ leads into an immersion into giving & receiving feedback for real.  

I have used a variety of different activities to stimulate this discussion.  My current favourite approach is a card based activity, developed by a colleague, which invites participants to explore a series of statements about feedback and pick out the one or two that particularly resonate with them.  All the statements are helpful pieces of advice when giving or receiving feedback.  A lot of the value from this activity is getting participants to draw upon their own experience of what works & doesn’t work in the giving & receiving of feedback.  In exploring what feedback is, I tend to avoid using a particular model of providing feedback, preferring a more organic approach.

Role Model
If you are going to encourage peer feedback, then as a facilitator you need to model this yourself, both in the way you provide feedback and also in the way you receive feedback.

Recently, I was facilitating an introductory session around developing coaching skills and carried out a demonstration coaching session with one of the participants which was observed by the rest of the group.   I confess that this was not one of my better days - it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t great either.  Amongst other things, I became aware as the session progressed that I was asking multi-headed questions and of course, as soon as I became aware of that, it felt like I did nothing but ask multiple questions.   When debriefing this, I invited the observers to share what they had seen – fortunately there were ‘good’ bits to notice and then I went on to invite them to share with me what I could do even better – and I was delighted that they were able to pinpoint a number of things I could ‘sharpen up on’ including the multiple questions. At least I got good value out of that particular demonstration by receiving feedback graciously!

Support the peer feedback process
I find it helps to facilitate the peer feedback process.   In one of the programmes I work on, the same group get many opportunities to provide each other with feedback and they grow in confidence & skills in doing this.  The first time I find I often need to manage the process quite carefully providing a structure and almost ‘chairing’ the process, inviting individuals in turn to contribute feedback & at times managing the balance of critical & appreciative feedback or asking questions to get beyond generalities.   Whereas, in subsequent sessions, this too is handed over to participants to take turns at leading themselves. 
It is good to build in time to reflect on the experience of providing feedback – though at times it can get a bit ‘hall of mirrors’, when providing feedback on providing feedback.

Start with self-reflection
When encouraging peer feedback, I have found it makes sense to start with encouraging the individual who has been ‘doing’ to self-reflect on that experience.  So, when encouraging feedback on a coaching session, I usually start with encouraging the ‘coach’ to self-reflect or give themselves some feedback, before moving on to invite the coachee to provide feedback and then other peers who have been observing. 
I find this makes the feedback more personal to the individual, more responsive to their needs and their view of their performance.  What follows this it perhaps a bit more ‘messy’ than feedback delivered using a particular model, but it seems to make it more of a conversation and less of something which you are subjected to.

Appreciative feedback
I think we often underplay the huge value in feedback that helps us to notice, value and understand what we are doing well already.   Sometimes when encouraging peer feedback, I focus on encouraging purely appreciative feedback that picks out & highlights what is working well and why we think that.  I find this often gives enough food for thought to help us to further improve the way we are working, without the need to provide critical feedback.   For this to work, it does need to be more than a general ‘that was lovely’ and to be specific & detailed.

Design the criteria
One thing I haven’t done yet, but have in the pipeline, is to invite participants not only to provide peer feedback but also to design the criteria upon which it is based.   This would further extend the learning opportunity for participants by challenging them to crystallise their thinking about whatever the aspect of performance the learning is focused on and to put in their own words what ‘good looks like’.

I think encouraging peer feedback is a very useful & effective approach and fits in well with building an organisational learning environment that encourages continuous learning, both through self-reflection and social learning.

Given the theme of this post, I would of course particularly welcome your feedback.

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.

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD