Learning Technologies 2016: Five ways to improve L&D

Learning and Skills Group
Learning and Skills Group

“If you could start a new L&D function from scratch, with all the tools available to you now, what would you do?”

That was the question posed by Donald Taylor, chairman of the Learning Technologies 2016. The conference then provided many ideas for L&D professionals looking to answer that question. Martin Couzins provides a round up of the best ideas from the conference floor.

Develop a strategic learning mindset

The problem with creating a learning strategy is that L&D becomes aligned with the business, rather than being integrated and part of the business. That’s according to Andrew Jacobs, organisational learning and talent manager for the London Borough of Lewisham. He says L&D must have a role at the heart of the business, first understand business strategy and then identify ways to support it. The danger for L&D is that it continues to focus on learning for learning’s sake without understanding how it supports business strategy.

Jacobs advises L&D to focus on measures that sit within the business, such as customer service targets. Look at the level of complaints and then put in place learning interventions that will reduce that number.

If you think that leadership is the providence of L&D, you’re wasting your time and you’re probably wasting your money” – Nigel Paine, former chief learning officer at the BBC.

This, he says, is about stepping back and not being afraid to look at whether what you do is relevant and appropriate in terms of what the business is trying to achieve.

Understand what new technologies can do for your organisation

With more than 200 technology companies selling their wares at the conference, there is a bewildering array of options for organisations looking to embrace technology in learning.

And that’s a real challenge for L&D professionals, says David Kelly, vice-president and executive director at The eLearning Guild. “People struggle with the amount of choice. There are so many new things to pay attention to.”

So how do you decide what technology to invest in? Start by understanding the capabilities and the opportunities that new technologies have to offer and then apply that to the context of your own work to see if it is appropriate.

Kelly urges L&D professionals to try out new technologies. Doing this enables them to connect work challenges to technology and helps develop thinking around how technology could support performance problems.

“We tend to ask the question, ‘What do we do with this technology?’ That’s the wrong question. What we need to be asking is, ‘How does this new technology change what I do? What new opportunities and possibilities are available through this new technology?’”

We only attend to a small amount of information in our environment at one time” – Dr Tesia Marshik, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Mobile is a great example, he says. Organisations are only just starting to look at mobile devices and asking: “What can we do with these devices that we’ve never been able to do before?”

Rethink your leadership development

The more money organisations invest in leadership development, the less satisfied they are with it, according to Nigel Paine, author of The Learning Challenge and former chief learning officer at the BBC.

“Leadership development is failing because we put on brilliant programs and guess what? Within two weeks or six weeks, the impact is negligible or non-existent. That’s why they’re failing.”

Paine says that it is time to move beyond training events. A leadership development event is nothing to do with changing behaviour. The whole organisation has to commit to supporting and developing leaders. “There’s evidence that shows that if your line manager works with you on your action plan before the event and works with you to implement the action plan after the event, then you are 70% more likely to change and do things differently.”

Organisations that want to develop better leaders must first establish what kind of organisation they want. They can then define the kind of leadership that will deliver that organisation and finally, develop those desired leadership characteristics, values and behaviors in the organisation.

“L&D’s job is to take that vision of leadership, take those carefully defined outcomes and build something that actually works. Overall, the organisation is responsible for the success or failure of leadership development,” says Paine.

Develop new skills in the L&D team

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer provided 2,500 field sales staff in India with ipads to provide all they needed to know to do their jobs. This included providing customer relationship management, marketing support and learning content.

According to Pfizer’s head of training in India, Sunder Ramachandran, this shift to mobile-enabled L&D put learning into context and supported employees at their moment of need. It also revealed the requirement for a new set of skills in the L&D team to support this type of learning. They are:

  1. Consultative skills
  2. Curation and communication management skills
  3. New media and digital skills
  4. Understanding innovative rewards
  5. Designing bite-sized content.

As well as being able to design the right type of content for mobile, the L&D team now focuses on curating content from a variety of sources and delivering that across the network of sales staff. It uses community management skills to engage colleagues with training content.

Why would anyone come to you and ask for performance support? L&D is not seen as that person” – Bob Mosher, chief learning evangelist, Apply Synergies

Community management skills are also key to successfully harnessing enterprise social networks (ESNs) – such as Yammer, Tibbr or Jive – for learning. This is according to Cathy Hoy, senior L&D manager for Europe at Coca-Cola Enterprises. “Community management is the most important thing. It takes a lot of time and effort to make an ESN work.”

Hoy says community managers can help create new groups and facilitate introductions so that there is the right environment for learning. They can encourage others to share challenges and stories of what’s working in their part of the business.

Where ESNs are used to support classroom training, community managers can also help embed the learning by asking participants to reflect on their learning and share how they have put it into action in the workplace.

“Social and collaborative learning are big issues and as L&D you have an important role to play in encouraging and inspiring social learning,” says Hoy.

Take the biases out of learning

L&D professionals must get better at understanding how adults make sense of information if they are to improve learning in organisations, says Dr Tesia Marshik, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

The human brain misses important information all the time because there is simply too much for it to process. Each person also sees the world differently. These factors have important implications for how adults learn.

There is a massive disjunct between elearning and how the brain works” – Donald Clark, co-founder of Epic Group

To help make sense of information, humans have developed shortcuts, known as biases, that help make decisions. One bias that is potentially damaging to learning is confirmation bias, when people see what they want to see and then look for information that fits with that world view, whilst at the same time dismissing things that don’t fit with it.

In the workplace, confirmation bias can manifest itself through stereotyping others. Judging people based on stereotypes can impact how we interact with them.

It can also stop people trying out new things because they are convinced that only tried and tested methods work. “These people want to see that a way of working is effective. Often employees are resistant to new ideas because they are not convinced of the benefit of doing something differently. When that something new goes wrong, this feeds into confirmation bias,” explains Marshik.

Marshik says the following tips can help learners overcome their biases.

  • Admit you have biases. Have humility and use self-reflection to question your beliefs.
  • Expose yourself to different perspectives as echo chambers are bad learning. Be prepared and willing to refute your beliefs.
  • Practise explaining alternative views as this will help understand the thinking behind different ideas.
  • Always back up your opinion with evidence but don’t rely on research without checking it – being sceptical can be useful.

About Martin Couzins

Martin is an experienced business-to-business journalist who has spent many years covering the HR and L&D sectors. As well as writing and curating content on these topics, he runs Massive Open Online Courses through MOOC Pro as well as a digital content and communications agency Itsdevelopmental.