Friday, April 14, 2017

The Future of the Professions

Rachel Burnham writes: I was very pleased to see that Daniel Susskind is speaking at the forthcoming CIPD L&D Show in May.  Do take the opportunity to hear him if you can.  I was fortunate to hear him speak last autumn at CIPD’s Annual Conference in Manchester on the impact of technology on the professions and found his session engaging and thought-provoking.  In fact, I was so impressed that I bought the book that he co-authored with his father ‘The Future of the Professions’, which I have not long finished reading.  Before this turns into something reminiscent of a razor commercial (& letting slip my age!), let tell you a bit about their ideas.

Sketchnote from Daniel Susskind's session at CIPD Annual Conference 2016

The Susskinds have been exploring what the professions are for and why we need the professions, as well as how the professions are changing, particularly with the impact of technology.  They see the professions as a way of managing access to practical expertise.   In a print-based society they argue that the privileges and responsibilities placed upon the professions made sense and balanced each other out.  But in an internet-based society, where information and knowledge is created and accessible in many different ways, this ‘grand-bargain’ is being increasingly challenged and is no longer sustainable.  They argue that many professional fields are creaking - being too costly, inaccessible to many, disempowering, under-performing and inscrutable. What a catalogue of criticisms!  Think about how many people in the world have inadequate access to good quality medical care – not just in poorer countries.  Think about how access to the law is rationed in many ways by people’s ability to pay. Consider how access to high quality education is stretched thin around the world, at a time when we know that we are going to need to keep on learning throughout the whole of our lives.  

Daniel & Richard Susskind focused their research on 8 professional fields: health, education, divinity, law, journalism, management consultancy, tax and audit, and architecture.   They explore the challenges these fields are facing, how the ‘vanguard’ are responding to these challenges and in particular how they are tapping into and making imaginative use of technology to transform their profession.   Within each profession they identify that there are different priorities in the challenges and differing ways that these are being responded to, so that patterns of change vary between the professions.

From our point of view it may seem a shame that HR and L&D weren’t also studied, but many (if not all) of these criticisms of the professions are often also aimed at our field – indeed often this is self-criticism from within the field.   And when I pondered the sorts of changes they picked out as developments in the these other professions, I could immediately begin to parallel these with changes taking place in our own field such as routinization, labour arbitrage, new specialisms, on-line self-help, personalization, online collaboration etc etc.  

These changes are already impacting on all the professions studied and the Susskinds suggest that they will lead to a substantial and continuing change to the professions, so that these professional fields may be near unrecognisable before too long. They argue that each of these professions needs to be engaging with this agenda and actively experimenting with how to make the most of the opportunities that technology offers to enable us to provide better, more accessible, more affordable services.  But also that each of the professions and wider society needs to be considering carefully what kind of future we want –  a key issue being ‘who should own and control practical expertise in a technology-based Internet society?’ (pp. 304)

I found particularly interesting two fallacies that the Susskinds picked out.  Firstly, that often professionals when introduced to these issues are quick to acknowledge that indeed these are the challenges faced and these are the sorts of changes emerging – but only for other professions not their own!  

The second is in relation to the emergence of ‘increasingly capable machines’ which is how the Susskinds describe the new ways that AI (artificial intelligence) is developing.   This is now developing immensely fast and in surprising ways, so things that only a short while ago seemed most improbable are now practical realities.  Driver-less cars being just one example.  The other fallacy they pick out, is that often we assume that machines/computers will need to tackle tasks in the way a human does and therefore dismiss the likelihood of many tasks being possible for a machine to do.   However, very many of the break-throughs in what machines can do, have come from tackling tasks in a very different way to the way that humans would do that task.   Our imagination is limiting us, from seeing just what might be possible and how fundamentally ‘increasingly capable machines’ will change the world of work and indeed the wider world.

I do recommend that you read this book.  And take the opportunity to listen to Daniel Susskind at the CIPD L&D Show or follow the session on Twitter via #cipdldshow.  There is a lot for L&D professionals to consider in the Susskinds ideas both in relation to our own professional field HR/L&D and also in relation to the professions that we may work with in the health, education, management consultancy, law and other fields.

Rachel Burnham

14 /4/17

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Learning Every Day – Collaborative Learning

Rachel Burnham writes: If you want to be learning every day, then one of the most effective ways in my experience is to find someone to learn alongside, a practice partner, someone to collaborate in learning with.

I have had two brilliant experiences of this recently.  Over the last three months I have been engaged in collaborative learning about how VR (Virtual Reality) can be used effectively in workplace learning, with my friend and fellow independent L&D consultant Niall Gavin (@niallgavinuk).  We both participated in a webinar on the subject of VR and that kickstarted a series of conversations, which led to us finding out more about VR and giving it a go.  As a result of our collaborative learning we put together a series of blogs, Sketchnotes and video conversations to share what we discovered under the #VRinLearning. 

In a similar way, I have also been learning practical skills of video making and particularly how to use Snapchat for this purpose, with my fellow Manchester-based Mike Shaw (@MikeShawLD).  Learning alongside, can be a great way of learning a practical skill such as video making, where there are skills & confidence to be developed both behind and in front of the camera, which can be difficult to practice on your own.

There are many benefits to collaborative learning:

·       You can pool resources – sharing your insights and helpful resources – thus accelerating the learning process.

·       Practical tips – when you get stuck, your partner can often help you practically problem-solve.  I’m not sure that I would have ever got my head around Snapchat without tips from Mike.

·       Extend your thinking – being able to share ideas and talk them through with another person can challenge and develop your thinking.  This was key in working on the VR project with Niall and seeing Mike’s completed Snapchat videos has inspired me to try out different ways of presenting information.

·       Above all encouragement & fun – learning alongside someone else is just more fun and encourages you to keep going when otherwise you might just give up.   It is great to go to an event such as CIPD’s L&D Show 10th & 11th May (for details) with a colleague and share the learning from this together, comparing and contrasting your learning from the event. Or follow the event via #cipdldshow

Why not give collaborative learning a go yourself?  Or share your stories of how you have done this – I would love to hear about your experiences.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.