Earlier this month, the Learning Live conference explored how organisations can ramp up the impact of their learning and development activities. Martin Couzins reports.
“Ours is a simple task; to multiply and magnify how humans learn.” That was the message from Elliott Masie as he opened the Learning Live conference 2016. This may seem like a simple mantra, but how can organisations achieve this on a practical level? Here are five key pointers from the event.
1. Understand the learning “panorama”
Masie, who runs the MASIE Center, a thinktank focused on how organisations support learning and knowledge within the workforce, says the consumerisation of technology has led to a control shift in learning.
Because employers used to provide phones and computers to staff, it was easier to control the learning content they accessed. Now, employees often have better technology at home and have ready access to knowledge and information.
It is this “learning panorama” that L&D professionals must work with, says Masie.
For example, more learning will be accessed through short videos on mobile devices, so it is worth developing succinct videos or pointing employees to ones that are already available.
And as employees look beyond content produced by organisations to help them in their jobs, L&D professionals should take on the role of guides.
They can also then point employees to experts – both in the organisation and externally – so that they access the most relevant information and support.
Masie urged L&D professionals to look beyond a one-hit approach to learning.
“We need to drip feed employees with learning – it would be naive to think people learn from one squirt of learning juice.”
Instead, play to the strengths of the content that can be accessed and support that with opportunities to put learning into practice.
2. Work out loud
Organisations are great at documenting what they do, but not so good at documenting how they get things done, says Jane Bozarth, e-learning coordinator for the North Carolina Office of State Personnel and author of “Show your work”.
This is a problem for organisations, because when employees do not share what they are doing and have done, it creates inefficiencies.
“You may be working really hard on a project or learning a piece of software or new process, and find out that someone down the hall already did that or somebody in another building already knew how to do that,” Bozarth explains.
“We don’t connect the dots across silos very often, and we don’t capture that tacit knowledge very well.”
One way to overcome this is to work “out loud”. Rather than relying on meetings, reports and email, organisations should look at how to share information more openly.
It would be naive to think people learn from one squirt of learning juice.” – Elliot Masie, MASIE Center
“Take a photograph of your work, or take a screenshot of the solution you developed,” Bozarth says. “Very quickly put something on Yammer that talks about the biggest problem you ran into today or something you really had to work at to learn.
“It’s not necessarily documenting and spewing out every moment of the day all day long. It’s a problem you had to solve, it’s an exception you had to handle.”
Bozarth says that it is important to engender a culture where this type of sharing is encouraged. Working out loud is unlikely to work in competitive cultures that guard information fiercely.
And if senior executives start sharing, it says to the organisation that sharing is okay.
It doesn’t have to be anything major, Bozarth adds. “Talk about what you did last week, how many calls you made, how many meetings you had. Say something you really struggled with, that was hard to solve.”
3. Take small steps to change behaviour
When we are anxious, our attention spotlight gets smaller. That means we focus on the things that are making us feel anxious. And when we feel happy the reverse happens – we see more opportunities.
Professor Richard Wiseman, author of “The luck factor”, “Quirkology”, and “59 seconds” and professor of the public understanding of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, shared a range of optical illusions in his keynote.
They demonstrated how little information the human brain processes at any one time and how what we see, or choose to see, is determined by how we feel.
His insights are a result of seven years’ research into luck. His conclusions are that how lucky we are is based on how we feel and therefore how we interpret the world.
His message to organisations is to understand two things: how the brain processes information; and how mood affects mindset. Then, convince people they have something to learn by doing something differently. This is where L&D can help – by articulating the benefits of change.
Start with small changes – Professor Wiseman showed a video of an American football team that took a completely different approach to starting the game. The result? It yielded a touchdown.
“For change to work you need to have the feeling of doing something differently. For example, take a different route to work or change the way you talk to others by going two hours without saying ‘I’,” he suggests.
Once you’ve learned the software you can then concentrate on providing a good learning experience for your learners.” – Jo Cook, online learning specialist
4. Liven up online learning
Live online learning provides L&D professionals with an opportunity to cut training costs and deliver learning in the flow of work. So how do you make it engaging?
According to live online learning specialist Jo Cook, online training platforms such as Webex, Adobe Connect and Zoom, can help to create great learning experiences.
“It could be a poll, it could be an annotation, it could be a whiteboard, it could be a game, or it could be having a chat with people and other people are typing along in the chat window and asking questions and agreeing. It can be whatever you design it to be, good bad, or ugly,” she says.
Cook advises L&D professionals to set themselves up with two screens in order to have a presenter view and an attendee view of the session. Then practise long and hard so that you are comfortable with the technology and what it can do.
“Whatever software you choose, learn it and that means practise, it means setting up with a couple of computers and trying all the different features. Once you’ve learned the software, you can then concentrate on providing a good learning experience for your learners.”
5. Become a learning innovator
Know enough to be dangerous, says Sarah Lindsell, global director of digital learning and transformation at PwC.
Sharing insights into how she succeeds in her role, Lindsell urged fellow L&D professionals to understand that they have the power to influence business outcomes. But in order to do this they must understand where learning fits into their own business and become an expert in learning.
They must also take the time to understand new trends and ideas. Lindsell created a model for learning innovation so that her team could try out new ideas before pitching them to the business.
Sharing this model with stakeholders meant they could understand what the L&D team was trying to achieve. It also helped the organisation make sense of how learning is changing.
“L&D does not do a great job presenting a strategy so make sure you continuously talk about it. Talk about the outcomes, not the technology,” Lindsell says.
The L&D team at PwC is run like a business within a business. Each year it produces a report on the value of the function so that the business can see the impact of its work. And all members of the team understand their role as selling the services of L&D.
Lindsell also puts her success down to building relationships with the right people in the business, including a strong bond with IT.
That’s a good place to start for any L&D professional as technology continues to transform how employees learn.