World of Learning 2017: Resources, not courses are what makes learning useful

Employees want simple and practical access to resources to help them do their jobs. How has this changed the way L&D professionals approach content? Martin Couzins reports from the World of Learning 2017 conference.

The aim of L&D is to “eliminate learning in our organisations”. So says Nick Shackleton-Jones, director of learning and performance innovation at PA, speaking at the World of Learning Conference 2017.

World of Learning: soundbites

L&D’s role is two-fold. It is to help to see what is possible rather than just what is. And it is to help organisations fulfil their potential,” Robin Hoyle, author of Informal Learning for Organisations

“Micro learning is a terrible idea, don’t do it,” Nick Shackleton-Jones, director of learning and performance innovation, PA

“Teach leaders to reconcile dilemmas,” Fons Trompenaars, consultant, trainer and author

“You want to be the first place your learners look for help,” Geoff Stead, director of digital, Cambridge English

“We can’t stop AI taking jobs but we can reskill our people to be ready for the future,” Louise Brownhill, Chief Learning Officer, PWC

“The way we address learning hasn’t changed in the last five years,” Keith Myers, vice president, digital learning innovation, J.P. Morgan

“Stop talking about courses and even learning. We need a new lexicon around supporting learning,” Lorna Leeson, global head of change, XPO Logistics

“Make people aware they are already learning,” Paul Matthews, Founder, People Alchemy

“We need to redefine what learning looks like,” Andy Lancaster, head of L&D content, CIPD

What Shackleton-Jones was referring to is the need for learning and development professionals to do less classroom training and e-learning, instead focusing on designing experiences that make people want to do things differently and then offer resources to help them do so.

L&D can generate value in their organisations by shifting from a courses first approach to a resources first approach. Learners want simple and practical guidance in order to understand how to do their jobs.

“Our role as learning designers has fundamentally changed. We can deliver the same outcome through delivering resources at the point of need on a mobile device as we could in a classroom, but at a fraction of the time and cost.”

What do learners want?

By designing digital resources around everyday tasks and challenges, L&D professionals can provide what learners require at their point of need. This is the approach Shackleton-Jones took when he worked at BP.

When he started at the company, new starters had to complete eights hours of mandatory e-learning. But it wasn’t working. There were 6,000 people joining BP a year but only 300 completions of the e-learning modules.

Shackleton-Jones decided to take a different approach. First of all he created focus groups in the business to find out what new starters cared about, what resources they found useful and what their challenges were.

Based on their feedback, his team built a platform for new starters with advice on how to fit into the organisation.

It included a range of resources, infographics and check-lists that directly related to what they needed to know and do as a new starter. For example, one resource was a practical guide to setting up your laptop.

After four years, the platform had been visited a million times. It was by far the most popular site anywhere in the organisation, he says, and has actually been used by the majority of people in the organisation regardless of whether they are new starters or not.

Resources, not courses

The approach shows how taking a radically different approach to learning can really pay off.

Shackleton-Jones advises L&D professionals keen to take this resources-first approach to follow these three steps:

  1. Make your organisation usable. Instead of content dumping, make it useful for people
  2. Build resources, not courses. Micro learning is just chopping up courses into smaller pieces of content
  3. Design with your audience, for your audience

According to Geoff Stead, director of digital at language specialists Cambridge English, learning teams need to offer a multi-device approach to learning.

That means putting resources on mobile devices for the commute, on the desktop whilst in the office and on tablets for use in the evening.

Multi-device approach

Stead advocates using different technologies and pulling in content from a range of third-party providers. By taking this approach L&D can start to see what works and what doesn’t.

There is something really important that needs to be driving all learning initiatives however and it is this: make sure you are solving business problems.

And don’t get trapped by reporting on data generated by your learning management system, says Stead. Use business metrics and worry less about tracking learning activities.

Echoing Shackleton-Jones’ approach, Stead says learning teams must provide tools and resources to help learners become the experts. “Act as party planners and curate the environment for learning rather than focusing on what individuals need,” he advises.

Moving learning away from the classroom is exactly what global consultancy firm PWC has done.

Personalised learning

The company has reinvented its professional skills curriculum to offer individuals personalised learning journeys.

These skills used to be delivered by cohort meaning that each group of new graduates received the same professional skills training as they developed through the organisation.

However, Louise Brownhill, chief learning officer at the firm, says that this was not the right approach, particularly with regards to soft skills.

“Individual learning needs could be fundamentally different, which is why we now support individual learning paths using technology.”

PWC is 18 months into its three-year programme of change to how it delivers professional skills training.

New starters can now develop their skills at their own pace, using a mix of technology and face to face learning. This has been supported by a range of internal marketing activities to raise the profile of the new way of learning within the organisation.

Sharing knowledge

The L&D team produced a marketing campaign to show that learning is moving away from the classroom. This has been promoted around the business.

Leaders at PWC have been asked to start using learning in their business messages. They are also starting to share what they are learning, reading and watching.

Brownhill says her team continues to evolve in order to remain relevant to the business. If it didn’t do that the business would circumvent L&D and do its own thing. L&D teams must focus on business challenges because “stakeholders are crying out for our help to solve their problems”.

She urges all L&D teams to build a marketing strategy so that they can share what they have to offer with the rest of the business. “It’s no good having a Rolls Royce suite of digital assets if no one knows it.”

Why invest in leadership development?

Research suggests that leadership development programmes are not fit for purpose. It is time for a rethink, says Nigel Paine, author of Building Leadership Development Programmes that Work and former chief learning officer at the BBC.

In his World of Learning session, Paine cited research from the Corporate Research Forum (CRF) that shows most leadership development programmes fail. Less than one-third (31%) of respondents to the CRF leadership survey rated their overall ability to develop leaders as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. Paine says the reason for this is that leadership development programmes happen outside of the context of the organisation.

But leaders don’t operate context free. They lead within the context of the organisation and this is where development must start. “Leadership development has to confront the reality of the awful leadership that occurs in organisations. Show it as it is and use that as a lever for change,” advises Paine.

Once you have done that, work with your leaders and co-create the resources they need to help them change. Paine says L&D professionals should extract learning from work rather than buy in leadership development content. They also need to see changes in leaders and ask others if they have noticed those changes. He says leadership development has to lead to permanent change.

Finally, L&D must protect leaders if they want them to do something differently. Support them to let them de-stress and share experiences. Get them using techniques such as action learning, which helps people solve their own problems.


One Response to World of Learning 2017: Resources, not courses are what makes learning useful

  1. Avatar
    Dave 2 Nov 2017 at 8:42 am #

    ‘Resource based learning’ sounds a lot like e-learning re branded. The research that I’ve done suggests that staff do indeed want learning resources delivered ‘at the point of need’. And they want it in accessible, high quality, face to face situations, with experienced teachers and leaders. They want skills and knowledge transferred in a human context, to have the ability to listen to peer questions, and to avoid being offered lip service training that is in reality a cost cutting exercise.

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