Learning & Reskilling

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How to enable teams to succeed during change and transition

As I sit here, working at home, juggling home schooling and listening to the daily news updates, it is clear to us all that we are working through a phase of our lives which we will never forget and which will have an impact on the world for a long time.

The change hits us at all levels, and in the face of this change we all have our own personal responses. Much has been written over recent weeks about the resilience we all need to care for ourselves and those around us. 

In response to this change we are all working through a psychological ‘transition’, and so it seems sensible to explore the role collaboration can play in helping us work through this. 

‘Transition’ is the word used to describe the psychological shift we take in response to a change in our situation. Currently we are all impacted by these extreme changes to our world, but even putting the current challenges aside, we will have all experienced change in our lives that we have had to work through and respond to. 

One of the great advantages and drivers for enhancing collaboration is to increase a team’s ability to make the best of the resources they have – the strengths that each person brings. 

Personally, I like the work of William Bridges and his ‘Transitions Model’ to bring this to life – the need to say goodbye to the past before we are even close to being ready to say ‘hello’ to the future. 

Much has been written about change and my job here is not to recount this. What I would like to do is apply the lens of collaboration. During periods of change, no matter how big or small they may seem, how can we use strong levels of collaboration to help a team maintain, or even enhance performance?

Authentic leaders 

Be honest: Give space for the team to engage in the conversation around how to respond. Where needed share the clarity you have from the organisation above. Where that’s not possible be transparent. The focus here is to build and enhance levels of trust – fake promises, or perceived hiding of information does not help – even when done with the best of intent.

Engage on a human level: Share your emotional response, and be careful. This is not about the leader sharing all their woes and personal concerns with everyone. The leader needs a space to work through any anxiety or concerns, but that would be more beneficial to do with a coach or mentor. 

That said, the leader does need to engage as a human. What can they share that demonstrates empathy, role models an ability to engage at an emotional level, makes it ok to feel anxious or concerned, and provides assurance and calm in the face of this? Not an easy balance, but an important balance. 


Purpose: How does this change impact on our collective purpose? If it doesn’t, ensure you are reinforcing the existing purpose and exploring how this applies to the new context in which you find yourselves.

Role and responsibility: How does the change impact our roles? You may have had clarity on where one role started and finished, but have the recent changes had an impact on this? Does it ask each team member to take on any new responsibilities? 

If so, how does this impact the current collective understanding of each person’s role? This is not about building new role descriptions or process flows (unless you feel that’s necessary), but it is about having the conversation and exploring the impact of the change on current roles and responsibilities.


Look for difference: What differing perspectives do you have in the team and how can you best use these? One of the great advantages and drivers for enhancing collaboration is to increase a team’s ability to make the best of the resources they have – the strengths that each person brings. 

This also means being curious about differing perspectives. During times of change we will all perceive events based on our own frame of reference – this is valuable data. Explore and be curious – give space for the team to hear and value the differing views in order to build a shared understanding and agree ways to respond to the new environment. 

Having such conversations virtually asks us to structure the conversation well and truly listen to each other – despite the interruptions at home!

Create safety: How can you make it safe to experiment and learn about our new context, without fear of judgement or failure? Look out for moments when team members experiment and try new ways of working. Spot it, celebrate it and promote it. It does not matter whether the new approach worked or failed, what matters is that something new was attempted. 


Structure the week: What structure can you bring to the week whilst working virtually. The daily check in call with a coffee – just to see how everyone is. The weekly project review, the one-to-one check ins so you can engage with each team member and support, guide and listen to how they’re working through the transition. 

Discuss with your team what conversations would be helpful, and when in the day these would be helpful – scheduling a daily catch up at 9am when a member of your team is home schooling their kids may not always work.

Technology: This will, and still may be, a big challenge for many teams who to date have not been used to virtual working. Explore different technologies, share top tips as people learn how to use these tools so that they become second nature to all. When frustration emerges, be there to listen and work through a practical way forward.

Aside from all these points, there is no doubt that the simple act of kindness will play a major part in how we collectively get through this. In times of challenge our communities are being drawn together in a way we haven’t seen for a while. 

Let’s hope this positive outcome stays with us for a long time to come...


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Facing redundancy during your apprenticeship

The coronavirus pandemic has caused some organisations to make redundancies, leaving enthusiastic, hardworking apprentices without an employer.  If you’re facing redundancy, we’re here to support you as you get ready to take the next step in your career.


To support apprentices who have been made redundant or think they might be in the future, we’ve launched the Redundancy Support Service for Apprentices. You can call 0800 015 0400 to get free advice, find new opportunities, and access local and national support services offering financial, health and wellbeing, legal and careers advice.

You can also read our guidance for apprentices affected by redundancy. There’s advice for finding alternative employment, plus information about financial support and talking to someone about how you’re coping.

To search and apply for apprenticeship opportunities, head over to Find an apprenticeship.


Some employers are hiring apprentices who have been made redundant during the pandemic. Where this is possible, you could continue to earn while learning valuable skills, setting you up for a range of exciting career options.

If you’ve been made redundant or think you might be made redundant in the future, you should contact your training provider. They may be able to offer support in finding new employment and completing your apprenticeship training.

You can also use our new vacancy sharing service to find employers who are interested in hiring redundant apprentices. Once you’ve signed up, we'll share regular updates to let you know which employers have opportunities available in your area.



Check the workplace safety guidance  to find out what you can do to help keep your workplace safe and what you should expect from your employer. 

You can also take a look at the safer travel guidance to find out how to stay safe on your commute.

RESOURCES Find another apprenticeship Guidance for apprentices affected by redundancy Guidance for working safely during coronavirus Safer travel guidance    
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Jane Daly's Worklife Podcast - Stella Collins: Bring on the Learning Revolution



In this episode Jane talks to Stella Collins, Neuroscientist, and explores bringing on the Learning Revolution!  

Stella is founder and Chief Learning Officer at Stellar Labs and one of the Brain Ladies. 

She is an acknowledged expert on the practical application of science-based learning to business performance and is author of Kogan Page’s sell-out book ‘Neuroscience for Learning and Development’, already translated into 3 other languages. Stella inspires audiences at international learning conferences and is regularly invited as a guest on round table discussions, webinars, podcasts and blogs.

Stella has a clear understanding of the challenges faced by people in organisations asked to deliver tough or technical training and applies principles from neuroscience and psychology to create practical solutions to transform learning cultures.  She regularly consults, designs and delivers face to face, virtual and digital training herself, so she knows the principles work in the real world and deliver genuine return on investment.  Stella has trained 1,000s of learning professionals in brain friendly principles in her more than 20 years in L&D.

She has a BSc in Psychology, an MSc in Human Communication, is a Fellow of the Institute of Training and Occupational Learning and through Stellar Labs she returns to her roots in the IT industry.

If you are looking to explore more about Neuroscience and how to bring on the learning revolution, Stella recommends: 

The Stella Labs programme currently called Conscious Learning – but we’re about to rename it to Learning Agility – the page right now is here https://programmes.stellarlabs.eu/conscious-learning-programme The Stella labs Future of Learning Podcasts:   https://blog.stellarlabs.eu/-  A valuable resource for anyone new to designing online learning / webinars right now – here’s the pocketbook (cowritten by Andy Lancaster) https://www.pocketbook.co.uk/product/webinars-pocketbook/ 

And other books Stella recommends on the brain:

Brain Rules by John Medina - Click here  Neuroscience for Organisational Change by Hilary Scarlett - Click here Brain Matters by Margie Meecham – another Brain Lady - Click here  You can find our more about Stella and how to contact Stella Labs here  Enjoyed this episode? There's lots more to listen to, sign up here to find out more 
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9 Micro-Habits That Will Completely Change Your Life in a Year

How small actions lead to big results.

“Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.” — James Clear, Atomic Habits

To reach your goals, you need a system. You need to build habits and you have to stick around long enough to let them do their magic. You hear it over and over again because it’s true.

In 2019, one of the most popular books was Atomic Habits, by James Clear. It’s a practical guide to break bad habits and build good ones. The author explains clearly why small, everyday habits lead to great success.

If you haven’t read the book yet, make sure you do. But don’t just read it. Put in practice everything you learn from it. Until you do so, here are 9 micro-habits that can improve your life.

1. Delay Your Reactions

I know, I know, it’s a fast-moving world. But that does not mean we have to respond quickly to everything. Learn to say “I’ll let you know later”, “I’ll get back to you on this”, and other similar phrases.

Instead of saying yes to an offer only to realize later that it doesn’t fit your schedule, better to take a few minutes to think about it.

It will save you a great amount of time and disappointment in the long run.

2. Push Yourself to Complete a Task When You Don’t Feel Like It

Every day, pick a small task you don’t want to do then go ahead and complete it. From washing the dishes to making your bed and from going for a run to making dinner instead of ordering food. It can be anything.

After doing this for a few days, you’ll realize the problem is not the task itself. It’s your habit of postponing things. It’s being comfortable, especially when you have a choice. But often, once you make the first step, you get yourself in the mood and get the job done.

Once you’ve spent a few days completing small tasks, make the jump to bigger ones.

3. Spend a Day Away From Social Media

There were days when my phone was the extension of my hand. I would pick it up for no reason and then scroll on social media for 30 minutes without realizing it. And I’m not even big on social media platforms. I never post anything on Facebook and have around 200 followers on Instagram, whom I spam with pictures of my travels from time to time.

But I can’t give it up for good, nor do I want to. Facebook is a great way to find out about local events, and Instagram is a great source of inspiration for my writing. But all of these are useful if I use the platforms in moderation.

So instead of deleting the apps from my phone, I’ve decided that I’m not going to use them on Sundays. And so I did. After four weeks, I’ve drastically reduced my screen time and even set a 1-hour limit for social apps.

So if you’re struggling with this as well, start small. Spend a day away from social media or don’t connect your phone to wifi at all. After you realize you’re not missing out on anything, by being offline for one day, you’ll consciously choose to spend less time online, every day.

4. Prepare Your Next Day the Night Before

Choose your outfit and put everything in your bag (men might not understand this, but most women have a looong list of things that they need to have in their everyday bag).

Write down a to-do list and check your calendar to see if you scheduled any meetings or calls. Do anything you can to make the next day easier.

If you have a plan, you get things done faster. There’s no magic involved, it’s pure logic.

5. Eat Mindfully

When you’re eating and working/reading/watching a movie at the same time, you often eat more than you need. Plus, you’re not enjoying the food, nor are you being productive. Can you even taste those vegetables if you’re busy trying to make sense of an excel document? Probably not.

Having lunch or dinner shouldn’t take more than 10–15 minutes. So when did we become so busy that we don’t even have 10 minutes to spare to fuel our bodies?

Next time you eat, do just that: eat. You’ll see it’s not easy at all to not reach for your phone. And the simple fact that we have to talk ourselves out of doing it should raise some questions.

6 Use a Timer for Your Tasks

The Pomodoro Technique might as well be called the Bible of Productivity. It got so famous because it works so it does deserve all the praise. Out of all the micro-habits I mention here, this one has helped me the most.

Working and traveling full-time is not always easy (or fun, might I add) and you have to come up with a schedule and stick to it. So I’ve adjusted the Pomodoro Technique in a way that works for me: I write for one hour, take a 10-minute break, and then write for another hour.

This is one of the main tricks that have helped meet my deadlines while exploring a few different cities every month.

7. Place Your Phone on the Opposite Side of the Room

If you keep your phone next to you when you sleep, you’ll just keep hitting the snooze button until it’s almost too late to get out of bed. But for most of us, the hard part is standing up, not waking up. And this is why this method works.

When your phone is on the opposite side of the room, you have to get up and take a few steps to stop it from ringing. Then you might realize you are also thirsty and have a lot to do in the next following hours. So your bed doesn’t look so comfortable anymore.

8. Set a Spending Waiting Period

For the past few years, I’ve been applying two rules before buying anything. First, if I see something I like, I never buy it on the spot — unless it’s something I need and have been looking for. Instead, I wait for a few days to see if it’s still going to be on my mind.

If after three days I still dream about a dress or some shoes, I go ahead and buy them. If I completely forget about them, then I just dodged a bullet because it was probably just compulsive shopping.

The second rule applies to items on sale. Everybody loves the sales periods, right? Of course we do. But it’s also when we tend to buy a lot of stuff we don’t need. It’s how our brains are wired. That’s why marketing works. Getting a good deal makes us happy. Satisfied. Until we get home and realize it was just a temporary feeling.

To avoid buying unnecessary things, ask yourself a simple question: “ Would I pay the full price for it?” If the answer is “yes”, then take out your wallet. If it’s negative, walk away.

9. Write Down Every Idea

“It’s ok, I’ll remember it” should go down in history as the biggest lie we tell ourselves. Out of all the things you pick up during the day, you end up forgetting more than half of it.

So make a habit of writing everything down, even the silly stuff that seem unimportant.

Final Thoughts

The main reason why people don’t reach their goals is that they make drastic changes instead of building small, everyday habits. To do so, you only need to follow these two simple rules:

1. Drop a Bad One

Make a list of all the bad habits you have and want to get rid of. Instead of going on a war against yourself, trying to get rid of all of them at the same time, pick only one and focus on that. Take baby steps. Smoke one less cigarette. Buy one less unnecessary item every week. Stop eating one thing out of a few you want to give up.

Only after you’ve managed to give up a bad habit, start working on another one.

2. Add a Good One

The same goes for good changes you want to make. Don’t try to drink 2 liters of water every day if you only drank 1 glass before. Instead, try to drink 2 glasses per day and slowly increase. Add one more vegetable to your plate. Run one more minute on the treadmill. Read one more page every night.

Choose something you’re struggling with and slowly increase the time you spend building that good habit. When you feel like it became a habit, start working on the next one.

As James Clear said in Atomic Habits:

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

So make sure you have a well-established system for every goal.

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Jane Daly's Worklife podcast - Dr Hannah Gore: Disrupting the Norm

Dr Hannah Gore, Independent & Learning Experience Consultant.

In this episode Jane talks to Dr Hannah Gore, is an Independent Learning Experience Consultant on Disrupting the Norm.

After 13 years at The Open University, Dr Hannah Gore was asked to join Solera’s EMEA division to oversee the development and launch of their internal Business School, to train staff in 46 European countries, with further expansion to 93 countries and 37 companies as part of the company’s 2020 vision. 

Hannah joined The Open University in 2005, and developed a range of projects with students and academics, largely in on the theme of improving online communication methods within the web presence of The Open University, which utilised a range of emerging tools, platforms, and techniques to leverage student engagement. 

In her last position at The Open University Hannah worked on several projects regarding the impact of social media on student engagement. With the developing movement towards social learning and its use of hosting on third party platforms, Hannah’s portfolio subsequently expanded to Senior Producer at The Open University, creating content for circa 10 million people worldwide. It was within this role coupled with the culmination of her experience across the domain that led to Hannah influencing and leading the development of aspects of The Open University’s free online learning platforms, OpenLearn and FutureLearn, with additional syndication arrangements to third party platforms. 

Hannah has worked in both the public and private sections, and has graduated with five qualifications, including an MBA and an MSc, from The Open University. As an advocate of lifelong learning, Hannah was awarded her fifth qualification, a doctorate on the ‘Engagement of Informal Learners Undertaking Open Online Courses and the Impact of Design’, providing the academic field with the largest single source of MOOC engagement data to date. 

In her professional career since Covid-19, Hannah undertakes freelance consultancy in a wide range of L&D specialisms, and serves as an Online Executive Panel Member at McKinsey, as well as for think tanks giving views on emerging technologies and the impact of social changes across the industry.

If you are looking to learn more about Disrupting the Norm , Hannah recommends:

Keep up to date with Hannah's blogs at https://drhannahgore.com/ and https://thecanonburyconsultancygroup.com/ Follow: #WomeninLearning on LinkedIn for updates across the learning industry and to join the network  Read this insightful book called Physical Intelligence by Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton, Click to find out more or to buy it  If you want out more about Hannah's & Connonbury Consultantcy Group click here  Enjoyed this episode? There's lot's more to listen to, sign up here to find out more


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No specific skill will get you ahead in the future’—but this ‘way of thinking’ will

Many of us have been told that deep expertise will lead to enhanced credibility, rapid job advancement, and escalating incomes. The alternative of being broad-minded is usually dismissed as dabbling without really adding value.

But the future may be very different: Breadth of perspective and the ability to connect the proverbial dots (the domain of generalists) is likely to be as important as depth of expertise and the ability to generate dots (the domain of specialists).

The rapid advancement of technology, combined with increased uncertainty, is making the most important career logic of the past counterproductive going forward. The world, to put it bluntly, has changed, but our philosophy around skills development has not.

Today’s dynamic complexity demands an ability to thrive in ambiguous and poorly defined situations, a context that generates anxiety for most, because it has always felt safer to generalize.

Just think about some of the buzzwords that characterized the business advice over the past 40 to 50 years: Core competence, unique skills, deep expertise. For as far back as many of us can remember, the key to success was developing a specialization that allowed us to climb the professional ladder. 

It wasn’t enough to be a doctor, one had to specialize further, perhaps in cardiology. But then it wasn’t enough to be a cardiologist, one had to specialize further, perhaps as a cardiac surgeon. And it wasn’t just medicine, it was in almost all professions.

The message was clear: Focus on developing an expertise and you’ll rise through the ranks and earn more money. The approach worked. Many of today’s leaders ascended by specializing.

The future belongs to generalists

But as the typical mutual fund disclaimer so famously states, past performance is no guarantee of future results. It’s time to rethink our love affair with depth. The pendulum between depth and breadth has swung too far in favor of depth.

There’s an oft-quoted saying that “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like nails.” But what if that man had a hammer, a screwdriver, and a wrench? Might he or she look to see if the flat top had a narrow slit, suggesting the use of a screwdriver? Or perhaps consider the shape of the flat top. Circle? Hexagon? Could a wrench be a more effective tool?  And finally, the mere addition of these tools can encourage a better understanding of a problem. 

This is not to suggest that deep expertise is useless. Au contraire. Carrying a hammer is not a problem. It’s just that our world is changing so rapidly that those with more tools in their possession will better navigate the uncertainty. To make it in today’s world, it’s important to be agile and flexible.

What it means to be a generalist

How does one do this?  To begin, it’s important to zoom out and pay more attention to the context in which you’re making decisions.

Read the whole paper, not just the section about your industry. Is your primary focus oil and gas? Study the dynamics affecting the retail sector. Are you a finance professional? Why not read a book on marketing? Think bigger and wider than you’ve traditionally done.

Another strategy is to think about how seemingly unrelated developments may impact each other, something that systems thinkers do naturally. Study the interconnections across industries and imagine how changes in one domain can disrupt operations in another one.

Because generalists have a set of tools to draw from, they are able to dynamically adjust their course of action as a situation evolves. Just think of how rapidly the world changed with the development of the Internet and wireless data technologies. Jeff Bezos was not a retail specialist who took on his competitors and won. He was a relative newcomer to retail but was able to adapt rapidly to seize a gigantic opportunity. 

Career success for generalists

Many forward-looking companies look for multi-functional experience when hiring. This is essential for large organizations like Google, for example, where employees jump from team to team and from role to role.

In fact, Lisa Stern Hayes, one of Google’s top recruiters, said in a podcast that the company values problem-solvers who have a “general cognitive ability” over role-related knowledge.

“Think about how quickly Google evolves,” she said. “If you just hire someone to do one specific job, but then our company needs change, we need to be rest assured that the person is going to find something else to do at Google. That comes back to hiring smart generalists.”

If you’re relatively new to the workforce, my advice is to manage your career around obtaining a diversity of geographic and functional experiences. The analytical capabilities you develop (e.g. basic statistical skills and critical reasoning) in the process will fare well when competing against those who are more focused on domain-specific skill.

The one certainty about the future is that it will be uncertain. The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence and technological innovation have commoditized information. The skill of generating dots is losing value. The key skill of the future is, well, not quite a skill; it’s an approach, a philosophy, and way of thinking — and it’s critical you adopt it as soon as you’re able.

Vikram Mansharamani, PhD, is a Lecturer at Harvard University

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6 Signs You Have What It Takes to Start Your Own Business

You’re ready to be your own boss—check! You’re also passionate about an idea and dying to bring it to life—double check! But before you quit your day job, it should come as no surprise that running your own business can be an overwhelming new challenge. So how do you know if you’ve really got what it takes? There are a few important traits shared by successful entrepreneurs that can help guide you.

These qualities will make a huge difference when it comes to getting your business up and running:

1. You Have an Idea That Fills a Gap

The first step to success is finding a need that isn’t already being filled. When Tim Crossley was freelancing as an audio engineer, he was having trouble finding his footing because there were a lot of people in his field. But after learning how to design recording studios, he recognized that there wasn’t much competition in that niche.

“It seemed like there weren't a lot of people helping people determine how to make their rooms sound better,” says Crossley, a co-founder of Crossley Acoustics, a full-service acoustic design and build firm in Brooklyn. He started to pursue it, turning Crossley Acoustics into one of the few firms that offer the full recording studio experience, from design to construction.

He admits the work isn’t the easiest: “Construction is a difficult business to be in in New York City, but it’s what’s helped us stand out from our competition,” he says. “There are very few companies that do the multitude of work that we do.”

2. You’re Willing to Do All the Things

Many people start their own company because they want to focus on what they love. But as a small business owner, you’re not just doing the thing you want to do; you’re responsible for everything else, too.

“When you’re in charge of the business, you wear all the hats,” says Alison Matheny, founder of BEST, a creative studio based in New York City that handles branding and content creation projects for a variety of products (everything from hotels to skincare). “You’re the bookkeeper, the project manager, the creative director, the website manager, the social poster—you do everything.”

3. You Know When to Call in the Experts

If you don’t want to do everything—or you don’t know how to do everything—you’ll have to expand or outsource. “There’s a point in time when it’s really important to delegate certain jobs, and to bring people on with new ideas,” Matheny says. “That’s a struggle for a lot of entrepreneurs, releasing that control and allowing other people to help you.”

It might also mean investing in tools, such as a program for time tracking or bookkeeping, or website development software. Crossley, for instance, used Squarespace to create and host his company’s website. “Even with a background in design and a handful of experiences with front-end coding, it would have taken me infinitely longer to make a website from scratch, and I never would have been able to achieve the same results,” he says. “And thanks to the SEO features we’ve measured an appreciable uptick in the amount of sales calls we’re getting since having launched our new site.”

4. You’re Able to Evolve

Jack Kneller and his co-founder, Beth Porter, launched organic snack company Sweet Nothings in the summer of 2019. Before their first launch and sales, Kneller and Porter gathered as much feedback as possible on their product and branding, trying dozens of different recipes and rebranding a few times. Even so, they’ve had to adjust their formula along the way.

“It feels like you really only have one shot to do it,” Kneller says. “You go to market being like, ‘This is our final product.’ But already, not even that many months into the business, we’re already tweaking to make it even better, to respond to consumer feedback.”

5. You’re Not Afraid to Put Yourself Out There

Early in the process of creating Sweet Nothings, Kneller and his co-founder were invited to a competition at LinkedIn in which 20 brands pitched hundreds of employees on why their product should be the new snack at the social media firm. “There were big companies there, with beautiful banners and nice sampling spoons,” Kneller says. “We were in our jeans and T-shirts with unbranded cups and no tablecloth. But we won that competition, and that got us a summer contract with LinkedIn.”

That contract helped them vie for other corporate cafeterias, and today Sweet Nothings is stocked in Apple’s headquarters, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Levi Strauss & Co., Athleta, and Twitter New York. Putting yourself out there pays off, and that means starting with a great website design to help shape your brand image and first impression to potential clients.

6. You’re Ready to Work Hard

It’s easy to romanticize being an entrepreneur. Although it’s incredible and empowering work, it’s also exhausting. “It’s really hard,” Kneller says. “It’s hard emotionally, it’s hard with friendships and relationships. We spend a lot of our waking hours thinking about work, talking about work, working on work.”

While it’s one thing to hear this from others—and people told Kneller this before he started Sweet Nothings with Porter—he still wasn’t fully cognizant of the toll it would take. “At first, I was go, go, go,” he says. “Now I’m trying to be more holistic with my physical and mental health, carving out time to work out and cook for myself.”

Don’t forget—running your own business often means there are no set working hours. You’re essentially on call 24/7, which means that holding the line between work time and down time also falls on your shoulders.

From maintaining a healthy work/life balance to knowing how to take risks, the fundamentals are now in your toolkit—you’re ready! Start sketching out your idea and don’t be afraid to ask the experts for input along the way.

Kate Ashford is a freelance journalist and content writer who specializes in personal finance, work, health, and consumer trends.

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Equity and impact in online learning

We shouldn't lose sight of the impact of learning in the 'new normal', says Andy Moss

As countries and organisations around the world begin to emerge from lockdown and contemplate life with Covid, our inboxes and newsfeeds are awash with views on what this means for learning and development.

Most commentators agree that online solutions will be ever more important in this new normal – as organisations realise they can continue to work remotely, or simply that they need to be ready to switch quickly – to be ‘Hiflex’ to borrow a term from higher education – if we’re hit by a second wave of lockdowns (as we’re seeing now in South Korea).

For those of us working in elearning, it means it’s going to be a very busy time. And I’d argue it also places a great responsibility on us: to ensure that the learning programmes we help design and build are as accessible and effective as they can be. 

Most commentators agree that online solutions will be ever more important in this new normal

So I’ve been really surprised that two key themes - equity and impact - have been largely absent from the conversation to this point.


Long before any of us had heard of Covid-19, social-distancing and the like, we were already facing huge challenges around access to learning and development.

The Missing Millions report found that over a quarter (26%) of respondents had not had any training for at least a decade. Older workers, and those from lower socio-economic groups have been disproportionately affected by this lack of training investment.

As we rise to the challenge of Covid-19, building programmes that allow employers and learners to upskill and reskill, we have a golden opportunity to put equity at the heart of our response. 

To do that, our learning strategies need to place real weight on accessibility, ease of use, quality of experience, and support for different learning styles – to allow learners to self-pace, to step on and off programmes to meet caring responsibilities, and to work across all devices - to meet learners where they are, not where we want them to be.

Get this right, and we’ll open up learning opportunities for more and more people. And we’ll also help drive the second critical element of our elearning response: measurable impact.


Several years ago I was told by someone far wiser and more experienced that impact would remain the ‘holy grail’ in learning and development – an almost mystical concept that slips through your fingers whenever you try to grab hold of it.

But to me this over-complicates the opportunity. Ask two simple questions at the outset of any course design, and we’ll make huge and immediate strides:

First, what outcomes do we want to achieve? This sounds so obvious, but can we always say, hand on heart, that we sat back and really defined – I mean really defined – the exact skill, behaviour or mindset we want learners to gain from our programme?

Second, what information or data can and will we collect to show that we’re succeeding in delivering those outcomes? In my experience, this is where you can get tied in knots if you’re not careful – perfection is the enemy of progress. Often we have more than enough data in our hands, we just don’t use it or link it in ways that can be used.


About the author

Andy Moss is managing director, Corporate Learning at City & Guilds Group.

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Quarter of large firms now calculating ethnicity pay gap, research suggests

Survey also finds two in five plan to crunch race pay data within three years as pressure mounts on the government to honour its promise for mandatory reporting

Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of large companies are now calculating their ethnicity pay gap, research released today reveals – a jump from just one in 20 (5 per cent) in 2018 – despite the government so far failing to act on plans to make ethnicity pay gap reporting mandatory.

Two in five (40 per cent) respondents also said they planned to start doing so within the next three years.

The survey, conducted by PwC, polled 100 companies that collectively employ more than one million people, and found that one in 10 (10 per cent) firms were now voluntarily publishing their ethnicity pay gap figures, up from just 3 per cent two years ago, even though they are not legally required to do so.

dditionally, two-thirds (67 per cent) of respondents said they were now collecting and recording data around their workforce’s ethnicity, up from just over half (53 per cent) in 2018. 

According to the research, a lack of data is cited as the main reason for not calculating ethnicity pay gap, and perceived obstacles to obtaining the data included GDPR restrictions and unease over how to ask questions around race and ethnicity.

Seven in 10 (70 per cent) respondents said they were planning new initiatives to encourage more staff to voluntarily share their ethnicity data.

PwC is one the few companies that publishes its ethnicity pay gap, which currently stands at 35 per cent.

Laura Hinton, its chief people officer and member of the executive board, said: “It’s not been straightforward and the results are often stark reading – but that’s the point. Ultimately, our pay gap is improving year on year but we still have work to do.”

Jason Buwanabala, HR consulting actuary and data scientist at PwC, commented: “In order to address inequalities caused by systemic and structural biases, organisations should be looking across the entire employee experience to ensure fairness in areas such as recruitment, progression and attrition – and data is critical here.”

Responding to the survey findings, Sandra Kerr, race director at Business in the Community, said: “These figures are the clearest case yet for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting. This new data shows that only 10 per cent of companies are disclosing their ethnicity pay gap voluntarily, and gender pay gap reporting has shown that government intervention is the only thing that can ever really move the dial.”

The government has committed to making annual ethnicity pay reporting mandatory for companies that employ more than 250 people, mirroring the requirements for gender pay.

But two years after it released a consultation into its plans, further developments have yet to materialise, and more than 130,000 people signed a petition earlier this year calling on the government to make ethnicity pay reporting mandatory.

BITC, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the TUC and the CIPD are among a large number of organisations backing the demands.

A CIPD spokesperson said forcing firms to report on ethnicity pay will “help shine a light on race inequalities and galvanise employer action to address these”.

They added: “For those organisations that are struggling with issues like a lack of data, encouraging buy-in from the organisation and employees is crucial to meaningful reporting. Building up employee trust will take time, and it is vital to explain why the information is being collected, how it will be used and who will have access to it.”

Dawn Moore, group people director at construction firm J Murphy & Sons, which intends to start reporting its ethnicity pay gap next year, said: “You have to work from the ground up; work with those employees who have given you the data to get better insight into why your ethnicity pay data might say certain things. Most of the causes I find are cultural, behavioural, etc and they won’t be resolved by relooking at your pay scales or anything like that. They will tend to be resolved by addressing leadership behaviours.”

Data is part of a bigger picture that needs to be looked at, according to Binna Kandola, co-founder and senior partner at Pearn Kandola and author of Racism at Work.

“Reporting itself is not a solution to the problem. However, having greater transparency will make a difference, and even bigger change will occur if people are held accountable for closing the gap. At this moment in time we have very little transparency and no accountability. A recipe for things not changing," he said.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy did not respond to a request for comment

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3 Keys to Successful Learning in the Remote Workplace

The remote workplace is here to stay. According to Global Workplace Analytics, approximately 20 to 25 percent of the U.S. workforce teleworks at least part time, and 80 to 90 percent of workers say they would like to do so. Another survey found that the ranks of regular work-at-home employees have grown by 103 percent since 2005, with nearly four million employees now working from home at least half time.

The challenge to companies is how to continue to carry out the critical mission of learning in a non-traditional workplace atmosphere. There are three interrelated themes that can have a special significance for training a remote workforce: engagement, collaboration and performance support.

These themes are the key success drivers for an effective learning and development function. Often, they also represent key challenges when training a remote workforce. And while organizations need to address these success drivers in their own way, there are a variety of principles, methods and tools organizations can leverage to great effect.


Engagement is a key factor in any learning environment and has a significant impact on learner motivation and effort. But this engagement can be more challenging in distance learning than in live instructor-led training. Review the current state of your distance learning; more often than not, we find that a majority of distance learning is passive, using tools like readings, videos, lectures and presentations. Consider how you can enhance remote learning with more active tools, such as discussion, debate, problem-solving and role-playing. Integrating more active learning events is an effective way to engage distance learners.

One useful strategy is to intersperse activities between learning events using a web conference, chat room or forum. This strategy not only helps establish dialogue among learners, but it can also enhance acquisition of knowledge, clarify concepts and promote shared understanding.


Collaboration is an essential characteristic of healthy organizations. Cultures that drive collaborative practices among individuals, teams and functions are more likely to see greater communication, alignment and overall success. However, in many cases, training continues to emphasize individual learning activities, performance and achievement.

The normal isolating effects of this type of training can be exacerbated for employees who work remotely. Review your learning plan and identify outcomes that, for remote employees, would be improved by collaboration. Develop virtual learning events that bring remote and on-site employees together. Design a learning plan that uses team-based learning goals and encourages and rewards collaboration.

Use all the tools at your disposal, including web conferencing, chat rooms, social platforms or other shared virtual spaces. While segregating remote and on-site employee training events may seem more operationally efficient, consider the impact it has on remote individuals who could benefit from more direct interaction.

Performance Support

Job training, in many cases, begins and ends with a series of live or asynchronous formal training events. But seldom does an individual build expertise through instruction alone. Practice, remediation and coaching are critical components that, over time, provide the performance support learners need to achieve success. Often, performance support is achieved not through intentional design but through natural interaction with peers and supervisors, due in large part to proximity. This type of support is at risk as organizations continue to increase remote staffing.

It is essential to design systems for performance support and integrate them into training plans. For remote employees, ensure that there are structured, frequent touch-points and coaching sessions. Like any other form of training, it is more effective if these events are designed around a specific, observable outcome.

Leaders and coaches also need to be visible, available and responsive to your remote staff. Online tools with live chat capabilities are widely available and can easily and effectively support real-time remediation and guidance. For those coaches and leaders whose schedules do not provide the necessary flexibility, designate some structured time each week for office hours, and invite your staff to use that time for feedback and coaching.

Take a step back and review your existing training and development plan. Does it address the specific needs of your remote workforce? If not, communicate with this talent segment. Listen to their needs and concerns, and consider how you could address those factors in the context of engagement, collaboration and performance support.

Leveraging a remote workforce can offer tremendous results. It affords the opportunity to push past traditional barriers and focus on acquiring the right talent. Ultimately, organizations are about people, and their success lies in the effectiveness and engagement of these people.

A thoughtful transition to remote learning is more critical now than ever. Download the training delivery toolbox to learn about the pros and cons of various virtual training modalities and when each is most applicable.

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Why workplace learning matters more than ever

Often seen as a nice-to-have, workplace learning and professional development are now gaining importance as organisations’ best shot at retaining happy staff and staying competitive

The idea of working from home may conjure up images of dishevelled, tracksuited executives. But the home has actually become the epicentre of a reskilling revolution that may just save businesses from a coronavirus-induced collapse.

Corporate learning providers such as LinkedIn Learning, Circus Street and Hive Learning are all reporting a spike in usage, as an overwhelming array of new business challenges puts pressure on teams to embrace remote training methods and professional development.

On LinkedIn Learning, more than four million hours of content was consumed globally in March alone. Hive Learning has seen a 20 per cent increase in logins since lockdown began and Circus Street has noted not just a 64 per cent increase in weekday learning, but an unprecedented 500 per cent increase on Saturdays.

Skills gaps that the World Economic Forum had already outlined a need to bridge, such as digital and data literacy, have now become unnegotiable. Meanwhile ecommerce and digital marketing tactics like search engine optimisation and pay-per-click advertising have risen to the fore as traditional sales and marketing channels have become less viable.

But remote-learning patterns are also showing the personal impact of balancing home and work in one place. On LinkedIn Learning, demand for stress management and remote-working content tripled in March, while Hive Learning responded to an unprecedented need for programs on resilience, wellbeing and leadership.

“There is a real drive at the moment to ensure teams are receiving the right content to support their wellbeing,” says Hive Learning’s chief executive Julia Tierney. “For example, I heard the chief human resources officer of Mastercard speak about how the way companies support their people as the way they will be remembered long after this crisis. A huge impact will be mental health and wellbeing issues, so companies want to know their people will be OK.”

Online learning the new normal for remote workers

Learning and development teams are now fast-tracking multi-year digital program rollouts to meet this unanticipated scenario.

“We’ve found this time an interesting opportunity to make shifts in the organisation that we’ve been wanting to for a while,” says Tanya Bagchi, group talent and people development director at Legal and General (L&G).

“What COVID-19 has done has taken the horizon that we saw being six, twelve, twenty-four months away to now. Suddenly a lot of the barriers have come away.”

Yet companies are all too aware of the reality of screen fatigue caused by an overreliance on remote training methods, potentially pushing professional development off the to-do list.

To keep engagement and motivation up, L&G has introduced offline “missions” to consolidate and complement remote-training methods, as well as team-oriented communities to foster more efficient problem-solving and collaboration.

This has proven particularly effective among senior leaders, according to L&G’s head of development experiences and innovation Gemma Paterson.

“We have over 300 people in that community now who are collaborating, sharing and accessing resources,” she says. “That’s something we might have got to at the end of 2020, but we’ve been able to do that in a couple of weeks.”

Engaging remote teams through renewed learning

Pharmaceutical multinational Sanofi has brought its learning into the 21st century through innovations such as content targeting powered by artificial intelligence, curated playlists and podcasts developed by both internal and external experts. This culminated in the launch of the Sanofi University in March, accompanied by a company-wide challenge to achieve one million hours’ learning by June. At just one month in, they were already halfway there.

“Like a lot of big organisations, Sanofi previously had a push culture around learning and wasn’t very digital. A lot of the learning solutions available weren’t necessarily visible,” says Jason Hathaway, Sanofi’s global head of learning transformation.

“The fact that the launch of Sanofi University came at the same time as this crisis, when people were at home, increased visibility of the offerings that were strategic for capability building for Sanofi. Now people have one place where they can acquire the skills they need.”

Varied content formats may be keeping screen fatigue at bay, but crucially it is leadership that is driving unity and energy across the Sanofi business.

“When our CEO launches a challenge to the organisation saying ‘let’s do this together’, that really creates a sense of togetherness,” Hathaway adds.

Matching training content with business impact

Measuring the business impact of learning has long been a challenge, but the surge in uptake of remote-training methods is now arming teams with a wealth of data.

“The more we do virtually, the simpler measurement becomes because you can use analytics to understand how people are interacting with content,” explains Paterson.

“It’s about measuring how well we are able to solve the problems we have and are going to have. Have we got the right line manager capability? Have we got the capability to work remotely in an agile way? Moving more online makes that simpler.”

If learning doesn’t become part of the day-to-day… you won’t be able to survive in the next ten years

Building a digitally capable organisation and digitally minded leaders is now weighing high on strategic priorities not just for L&G, but businesses across industries if they are to make it to the other side of the COVID-19 crisis intact.

But with professional development budgets often seen as discretionary, businesses need to recognise the role it plays in their ability to adapt and thrive, according to Chris Daly, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

“Senior leadership teams need to be analysing the impact of any delay in implementation, to consider the risk to organisational performance, talent retention and morale,” he cautions.

Remote learning is now business critical

With no end in sight to the new home-working default, Circus Street chief executive Richard Townsend says many businesses are giving learning a more senior voice within their leadership.

“We are now seeing more direct engagement from heads of business in terms of what’s happening in learning and seeing it as business critical and fundamental for them to hit their goals,” he says.

“If learning doesn’t become part of the day-to-day, rather than something you bolt on to the side, you won’t be able to survive in the next ten years.”


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Distance Working/Learning During a Pandemic: Pros and Cons

Earlier this year, the world changed forever with the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses and schools temporarily shut down, and many employees and students were suddenly forced into a remote setting with little—or no—advance warning. Although some employees and students have thrived in this distance situation, others have struggled and continue to struggle. Amid continued uncertainty and a new school year just around the corner, this article explores the pros and cons of remote working and distance learning.

Earlier this year, the world changed forever with the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses and schools temporarily shut down, and many employees and students were suddenly forced into a remote setting with little—or no—advance warning. Although some employees and students have thrived in this distance situation, others have struggled and continue to struggle. Amid continued uncertainty and a new school year just around the corner, this article explores the pros and cons of remote working and distance learning.

The end of the 2019/2020 school year brought some relief with the slower pace of summer and the hope that the pandemic would be contained by the fall, but there are now more questions than ever before. For some employees, flexible work conditions are more appealing than vacations, pay raises, and even retirement plans. Some people like to keep their personal lives separate from their work, but “compartmentalizing” can be nearly impossible when your workplace and your home base are one in the same. There are no easy answers, and the fluid nature of the pandemic situation means that any intended plans for the 2020/2021 school year could change in an instant. Introduction

Earlier this year, the world changed forever with the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses and schools temporarily shut down, and many employees and students were suddenly forced into a remote setting with little—or no—advance warning.In the months that followed, everyone was left to play catch up as the pandemic raged on. Businesses scrambled to ensure that their now-remote employees were equipped to work from home, teachers struggled to continue the education process virtually, students grappled with distance learning, and working parents juggled remaining productive at their jobs with sharing more of the burden of educating and caring for their children—who were now under the same roof all day!

Many Questions…But Few Answers!

The end of the 2019/2020 school year brought some relief with the slower pace of summer and the hope that things would be cleared up by the fall, but anyone who has been following the news knows that there are now more questions than ever before. Will an effective vaccine for widespread use ever be developed? Is it even safe to return to school or work? Should states where COVID cases are increasing reverse their phased re-openings in the hopes of “re-flattening” the curve? What will school look like in the fall? Most people have settled into a normal-for-now routine that works for them, but the upcoming school year will undoubtedly bring a new set of challenges to working parents, teachers, businesses, and students alike. It’s enough to drive anyone nuts.

Even as the economy has started to reopen, subsequent spikes in COVID cases have caused some to wonder if US businesses will remain open for long. Although some employees who were suddenly forced into remote working without choice ultimately came to find that they really enjoyed it, others have truly struggled with the adjustment. What’s the best option for businesses? Sure, some employees might like working from home, but is a remote workflow optimal for morale and productivity? What about the employees that miss the normalcy of their old office-based nine-to-five lives?

Of course, education adds yet another layer of complexity to the equation, particularly with the start of another school year fast approaching. When remote learning was forced on students and teachers this past spring, some adjusted quickly and thrived under the new format. Unfortunately, this was not the case for everyone. Some teachers struggled to reach their students in a strictly virtual format, many children—particularly young children—did not respond well to learning from a screen, and working parents were caught in the middle of two worlds. On the one hand, they still needed to remain productive and produce quality work for their employers…but on the other hand, this was no easy task when their children were under the same roof and potentially struggling with the new education format.

Remote Working: The Pros

Once we had time to recover from the initial shock of dealing with a global pandemic, some people found that they quite enjoyed the remote working process. After a few weeks of stay-at-home orders, people were able to configure their home offices to their liking. Additionally, technology made it possible to collaborate and connect with others from a distance, and there was the added benefit of no commuting or preparation time—it was simply a matter of walking to one’s computer and starting the workday (even in pajamas or sweatpants)!

Even before the pandemic hit, remote working was already on the rise. Most employees appreciate the freedom to work at a location of their choosing (home, coffee shop, hotel, airport, etc.) with more flexible hours. There is also much to be said for escaping the monotony of the nine-to-five Monday-through-Friday office grind. For some employees, flexible work conditions are more appealing than vacations, pay raises, and even retirement plans. According to SmallBizGenius, businesses that permitted their employees to work remotely reported a 25% lower employee turnover rate than those that didn’t. Furthermore, people who work remotely at least once a month are 24% more likely to be happy and productive. Based on this research, remote working is a win-win situation for employees and businesses alike—employees enjoy more flexibility and an improved quality of life, and businesses enjoy the benefits of higher employee satisfaction and lower turnover.

Even as businesses are starting to reopen, some employees have come to appreciate the newfound freedom that remote working affords and would be reluctant to give it up. Many employees also believe that they are more productive at home because there are fewer office distractions. It’s also easy to save money on gas and food when you’re not driving into the office every day, stopping for coffee, and heading out for a sandwich at lunchtime. Although the economy has slowly started to reopen, most non-essential employees are still traveling to the office less frequently than they once did. Until the pandemic subsides, this trend will likely continue as businesses and employees strive to stay healthy and minimize exposure. Whereas some people prefer this new level of flexibility, others are truly struggling with the adjustment—which brings us to the “dark side” of today’s virtual world.

Remote Working: The Cons

COVID-19 prompted immediate action—meaning that businesses and employees were strong-armed into a remote working situation regardless of their unique situations or personal preferences. Granting employees the privilege to work remotely if they choose is one thing, but temporarily closing an office during a pandemic (and thereby forcing employees to work remotely) is entirely another. Meanwhile, school-age children were now stuck at home, too, creating a logistical nightmare for many working parents. Everyone knows that young children cannot be left alone at home—so unless they are able to secure childcare, many working parents will be forced to remain home as well (even if they would rather return to their physical offices). And if the last three months of the 2019/2020 school year taught us anything, it’s that having children at home is not conducive to a productive work environment. So while working from home might have fewer office distractions, the pandemic has created some major distractions of its own—close and continued proximity to family members as well as an inevitable disruption to a predictable routine.

Even some non-parents are not completely sold on the shift to a remote workflow. Children or not, it can be quite difficult to “compartmentalize” your life if your workplace and your home base are one in the same. Some people like to keep their personal lives separate from their work lives, and this can be nearly impossible when your office is literally steps away from the dinner table, your television, and other members of your household. Without a clear-cut start and end time, there is always a greater temptation to respond to one more e-mail or get sucked into another fire drill that requires immediate attention. Physical space creates more of a barrier, and although this challenge can be overcome, it takes a great deal of discipline when there’s no “leaving the office for the day.”

With major corporations like Google and Twitter relaxing their in-person work requirements, remote working seems to be the wave of the future. At the same time, however, it remains to be seen if this shift to virtual is sustainable or beneficial in the long term. According to a Twingate study of over 1,000 remote employees, remote employment during the pandemic has disrupted many employees’ work/life balance. Based on the results, 45% of employees reported attending more meetings during the pandemic than when working in the office, compared to 21% who attended fewer meetings. Furthermore, 40% had experienced mental exhaustion from video calls while working remotely.

Other issues include a lack of motivation, constant breaks in routine, and a feeling of isolation from the workplace culture. Video calls make it possible to see and hear another person, but some would argue that there’s no substitute for being in close physical proximity to co-workers. Body language can speak volumes, and people who thrive on social interactions will find that video calls lose a lot in translation. Granted, these pandemic times still necessitate face masks and social distancing, but hopefully these measures won’t be permanent. In time, it would be nice to see a return of the office banter and camaraderie that is impossible to replicate in a virtual setting.

Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think of the Children?

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t just turned our lives upside-down—it has affected our children as well. While it is certainly true that some students adjusted quickly to the push toward distance learning last spring and some actually thrived in the virtual format, this was not the case for all (or even most) students. According to the EdWeek Research Center, two-thirds to three-quarters of teachers stated that their students were less engaged during remote instruction than they had been before the pandemic, and that engagement declined even further over the course of the 2020 semester.

A new school year is right around the corner, but all indications are that the coming fall semester will be unlike any other. Many districts remain reluctant to implement a concrete plan, even at this late date. Despite evidence that distance learning is not always effective, some schools are considering an all-virtual approach. Still others are leaning toward a “hybrid” approach that combines distance and in-person learning. Although this might alleviate some of the issues with students who don’t respond well to remote schooling, families will likely still struggle because they’ll need to deal with the complications of alternate education locations and formats as well as little consistency from one day to the next. As noted earlier, either situation will create a logistical nightmare for working parents. Additionally, some parents who are struggling with working remotely are also raising young children who are struggling with learning virtually—Unfortunately, I’m speaking from personal experience here!

The Bottom Line

With so many questions remaining unanswered and so much uncertainty about the future, it is anyone’s guess what the coming months will bring for our personal and professional lives. Although the pandemic will likely cause long-standing or even permanent changes to the world as we know it, everyone has a different opinion about the ideal situation. Some employees thrive in a mostly or completely remote setting, whereas others crave the normalcy and predictability of the traditional nine-to-five life. Some parents have embraced distance learning, while others remain concerned about their children’s education and emotional well-being. There are no easy answers, and the fluid nature of the pandemic situation means that any intended plans could change in an instant.

One thing is for certain, though—to succeed as workplaces of tomorrow, businesses will need to be nimble enough to accommodate all their employees’ preferences, however complicated this may be. The same employment policies that might be seen as benefits to some employees will likely be viewed as detrimental to others, especially if they are trying to make the best decisions for other family members too. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to keeping your employees happy, so it’s important to remain as flexible and accommodating as possible as we move through the pandemic and beyond.

Eve Padula is a Senior Editor/Writer for Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends’ Production Services with a focus on Business Development Strategies, Customer Communications, and Wide Format. She is responsible for creating and distributing many types of InfoTrends content, including forecasts, industry analysis, and research/multi-client studies. She also manages the writing and editing cycles for many types of deliverables.

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Jane Daly's Worklife Podcast - Andrew Jacobs: Learning delivery


In this episode Jane talks to Andrew Jacobs, an independent Learning Consultant about Learning delivery. 

Andrew Jacobs is a recognised leader in learning, known for his innovative thinking about learning, training and technology. He has significant experience in a range of roles across learning, training and people development, experience acquired across a variety of industries in both the public and private sectors. Andrew has a specific understanding of developing online and digital solutions for learning, social profile and engagement. In 2020 he won the Jay Cross Memorial Award for his work in the field of informal learning. He is a Fellow of the Learning Performance Institute (LPI) and an independent Learning Consultant.

If you are looking to explore more about successful Learning delivery, Andrew recommends: Dangerous Ideas, a book by Alf Rehn which challenges your thinking about creativity, click here 


The Big Man Can't Shoot - series 1, episode 3 of the Revisionist History podcast series. In this episode, a basketball legend - Wilt Chamberlain - is considered. He couldn’t shoot free throws so changed his technique to an underhand method and started scoring at will. He then switched back and the podcast is a great piece to get people to think about what drives success.


The Transformative Power of Classical Music - a TED talk by Benjamin Zander which is about passion, leadership, and engaging people emotionally but NOT about classical music, click here 

You can also find out more about Andrew, including details of how to contact him, here 

Enjoyed this episode? There's lot's more to listen to, sign up here to find out more 
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Making Learning a Part of Everyday Work

As automation, AI, and new job models reconfigure the business world, lifelong learning has become accepted as an economic imperative. Eighty percent of CEOs now believe the need for new skills is their biggest business challenge. For employees, research now shows that opportunities for development have become the second most important factor in workplace happiness (after the nature of the work itself). At the most fundamental level, we are a neotenic species, born with an instinct to learn throughout our lives. So it makes sense that at work we are constantly looking for ways to do things better; indeed, the growth-mindsetmovement is based on this human need. And whereas recruitment is an expensive, zero-sum game (if company A gets the star, company B does not), learning is a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Yet the urgency of work invariably trumps the luxury of learning. A study we recently ran with LinkedIn found that employees waste one third of their day on emails that have little or nothing to do with their jobs. The traditional corporate learning portal (the learning management system) is rarely used (other than for mandatory compliance training) and it often takes many clicks to find what you need. Learning therefore ends up being relegated — consciously and subconsciously — to the important-but-not-urgent quadrant of Eisenhower’s 2×2 matrix. On average, knowledge workers carve out just five minutes for formal learning each day. We’re all just too caught up in the inexorable flow of work.

So, the question becomes: How can we make learning part of the powerful current of the daily workflow? We believe there is a way, a new paradigm, which Josh coined “learning in the flow of work”.

What exactly is the flow of work?

Everyone’s experience at work differs of course, but there are some broad commonalities among knowledge workers: There are 780 million of them, and they sit in front of a computer for 6.5 hours every day. In particular, they spend 28% of their time on email, 19% of their time gathering information (searching for data), and 14% of their time communicating internally (in formal and informal meetings). Those three activities combined constitute 61% of the total time at work for this vast population.

It makes sense that knowledge workers should spend so much time absorbing and disseminating information. Finding data, facts, information, and insights, and then sharing it with others, is a daily activity for most of us. In fact, 38% of content that’s shared online is either educational or informational.

Learning in the flow of work is a new idea: it recognizes that for learning to really happen, it must fit around and align itself to working days and working lives. Rather than think of corporate learning as a destination, it’s now becoming something that comes to us. Through good design thinking and cutting-edge technology, we can build solutions and experiences that make learning almost invisible in our jobs. One could argue that Google and YouTube are two of the earliest “learning in the flow” platforms, which we now take for granted.

So, how can we use the flow of work to drive learning? We’ll first look at this from the perspective of the individual (bottom-up) and then from the perspective of the corporate (top-down).

Bottom-Up Learning

What might you as an individual with an appetite for learning do to learn in the flow of work? Here are some practical measures you could implement today:

Practice metacognition and mindfulness. Be aware and be present as you go about your daily job. There are many benefits to this, one of which is an increased ability to learn and develop. For example, don’t just sit in on that negotiation with a procurement expert; notice and learn her tactics and techniques as you engage with her. Ask product managers about product features; ask sales people about industry trends; ask peers for feedback on your presentation skills. These kinds of inquiries are learning experiences and most peers love to tell you what they know.

Maintain a to-learn list. You experience many learning opportunities every day, and with a degree of metacognition, you’ll notice more of them. You often have to let them pass at the moment because you’re busy doing something else. But that doesn’t mean you should waste the opportunity. Write down a list of concepts, thoughts, practices, and vocabulary you want to explore, book mark them in your browser, and add them to your list. You can later explore them when you have a few moments to reflect. In my case (Josh), I’m constantly bookmarking things I want to learn, and as soon as I find a spare moment (often late in the day when I’m tired), I read the article, explore the demo, or just poke around and play with something I’ve always wanted to do better. It’s a personal and rewarding experience, and we all have times (including commutes) when it just feels like the right thing to do.

Use tech-enabled tips as you work. Technical tips from the likes of Google’s Explore within Google Docs can help with context-relevant research or suggestions for formatting or analysis. This type of inline advice has improved significantly since the first days of the infamous Microsoft Office assistant, the animated paper clip, “Clippy”. But you need to be open to such recommendations to learn anything from them. There are many more coming, as tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack become more common at work.

Calendarize dedicated learning time into your work schedule. Let colleagues know how important learning is to you. Agree on a sensible proportion of your work week that can be devoted to learning (an hour, say) with your manager. Then timebox it and stick to it.

Subscribe to a small number of high-quality, hyper-relevant newsletters. Choose them with care, to suit your role, industry, and personality. There won’t be many, in the end, that are both excellent and relevant. Unsubscribe from the rest.

Contribute actively, expertly, and kindly to a learning channel where work actually happens. Work happens in different places for different companies, but the examples we hear most are from people using SharePoint, Slack, and Teams. If your company doesn’t have a learning channel, create one. When you share something new and interesting with colleagues on these platforms, don’t just paste a url. Help people understand why you’re sharing it, unpacking the what-it’s-aboutand why-it-matters aspects of a content piece. The who-it’s-for is even more important: tag those and only those who will really derive benefit from your share. This not only helps others, and benefits your company, it will also accelerate your own learning.

Top-Down Learning

When you ask HR leaders how they plan to build new skills for the future, almost two-thirds say they will go out and recruit for the new skills they need. This is costly: one of our clients found it is six times less expensive to build technical skills internally than it is to go hire them from the job market.

So how can corporations better make use of the flow of work to develop the skills of their workforce? Of course, many of the characteristics of big companies inhibit learning, but others can be used to catalyze it. This section is especially for business leaders who are willing to change systems, processes, and culture in order to lift the capability of their workforce.

Make sure corporate knowledge systems are accurate and easy to use. Your employees are constantly looking for information, and they’ll most likely go to Google and YouTube looking for answers. Accept that this is reality, but also spend some time curating and fixing the internal systems you have to make them faster and more useful. If you have an old, cluttered website of poorly arranged information, it’s simply costing your company money, and building a corporate portal is easier than ever. Search results must be useful — this is easily said but rarely done — which requires that your content be well tagged and maintained. Initiate a project with IT to clean it up and you’ll be surprised how quickly it becomes useful again.

Share content internally. It’s now possible to use technology to harness organic learning that’s happening in one part of the company, and scale the benefits within the wider organization. For example, an article about negotiating complex commercial contracts that was shared between two account managers on one platform could be algorithmically spotted, tagged, and redistributed to a broader sales population.

Leverage APIs to bring content to the workplace. Integrating into the flow of work has never been easier, thanks to the advent of the API economy. Most software is now built with interoperability in mind, which is often delivered through APIs. Slack, Teams, and Atlassian, to name just a few platforms, have open APIs. This means that relevant learning content can be seeded into employees’ days by using integrative technologies such as Zapier, IFTTT or learning-oriented APIs.

Devote a channel in your corporate communications software to learning.Create a dedicated online space for learning and promote it with meaningful contributions from business leaders.  Encourage naturally active sharers and influencers to post and promote new content. If those contributions come right from the top of your organization, the message that learning is indispensable will ring louder and clearer.

Consider a conversational or chat interface. Adding a chat layer on top of primary workflow software is a straightforward, effective way to pair learning with work. The more intelligent the chatbot — i.e. the more relevant it is to what’s actually happening there and then in the workflow — the less intrusive it will feel, and the more useful it will be.

Place learning in the inbox. Email is still a major component of the knowledge worker’s day, and one of the only common currencies for external communications. So, although it’s an unglamorous solution, the sparing use of personalized emails may be the most efficient, effective way to sprinkle learning into your staff’s working days. 94% of business executives get news via email — more than any other format. Why should learning be any different? As regulations around privacy tightens, such as the EU’s  General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — inboxes will become less cluttered, and individual e-mails will become proportionately more valuable.

What Corporate Learning Leaders Think

The concept of learning in the flow of work has resonated with chief learning officers around the world. The $360 billion corporate learning industry has typically walked in the shadows of other more “glamorous” aspects of doing business, largely because proving the impact of specific learning programs is difficult (although the benefits of training in general for individuals and society are beyond doubt). But that may be about to change as companies start to take employee engagement and well-being more seriously. Here are three views from learning leaders who are breaking the mold:

Ann Schulte, Chief Learning Officer at Procter & Gamble (P&G), explains why learning is more important in 2019 than ever, and how the firm’s strategy reflects this: “At P&G, we believe that the ‘fastest learner wins’ because we see in uncertain and changing markets that experimentation, rapid-cycle feedback, and the ability to adapt are competitive imperatives — and all require learning. To help our people learn faster, we are disrupting how we manage learning and development to focus more on the immediate business context and personalized needs by providing easy access to information, performance support aids, and carefully curated training that is relevant and can be directly applied to work.”

What Corporate Learning Leaders Think

The concept of learning in the flow of work has resonated with chief learning officers around the world. The $360 billion corporate learning industry has typically walked in the shadows of other more “glamorous” aspects of doing business, largely because proving the impact of specific learning programs is difficult (although the benefits of training in general for individuals and society are beyond doubt). But that may be about to change as companies start to take employee engagement and well-being more seriously. Here are three views from learning leaders who are breaking the mold:

Ann Schulte, Chief Learning Officer at Procter & Gamble (P&G), explains why learning is more important in 2019 than ever, and how the firm’s strategy reflects this: “At P&G, we believe that the ‘fastest learner wins’ because we see in uncertain and changing markets that experimentation, rapid-cycle feedback, and the ability to adapt are competitive imperatives — and all require learning. To help our people learn faster, we are disrupting how we manage learning and development to focus more on the immediate business context and personalized needs by providing easy access to information, performance support aids, and carefully curated training that is relevant and can be directly applied to work.”

Learning in the flow of work is one of the most powerful levers available to business leaders today. We believe every organization can benefit from this new paradigm. It’s an exciting next wave of innovation, which has been a long time coming. Make sure that you and your company are on the crest of it.


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Virtual Team Building Activities for Your Remote Team

Virtual teams are known for their flexibility, fun lifestyle, and emphasis on individuality. Even if you don’t see each other every day, your team should still have a cohesive feel and enjoy working together. Through virtual team building exercises, managers can promote great relationships within the company. 

Make time in your schedule to promote a fun team culture through virtual team building activities. By doing so, you’ll be able to foster relationships similar to in-person teams. And that’s without sacrificing the flexibility that remote workers love so much.

Virtual team building exercises support a positive business environment

Some people tend to shy away from team building exercises when they’re working together in person. Despite so many people disliking them, ice-breakers tend to work really well. They effectively help get the conversation flowing. Team building exercises also tend to break down walls and allow people to learn about each other openly.

Many managers of online teams tend to wonder how they can replicate the successes of in-person icebreakers with their remote workers. We’ll break down the top 5 virtual team building activities that can help your remote team connect with each other.

1. Video conferences

One of the best ways to support healthy team relationships is to bring the human connection back into the equation. When you’re busy chatting away with someone over an instant messaging tool, it’s easy to stay connected. But how many members of your team can say they’ve had a face-to-face conversation?

Many online teams may not have the luxury of actually meeting face-to-face. Despite this, you can facilitate the next best thing, which is a video conference.

You can actually host your weekly meeting as a video conference. This gives team members the opportunity to see and speak to each other. This simple step, facilitating video chats instead of text-only ones, can help your team bond. 

In addition to virtual team building, another added benefit of video conferences is the social interaction. For people who are working from home, a video chat can be a great way to combat the feelings of isolation that can develop.

No matter which way you look at it, hosting meetings using video as the focus can benefit all members of your team on a variety of levels.

2. Virtual happy hour

Online teams are versatile and relatively novel, making team building for remote companies a unique challenge. Just a few years ago, working online wasn’t taken as seriously and opportunities were few and far between.

Remote positions have allowed employers to hire the best people from around the world. It’s only natural that managers try to work in some “fun” despite the distance between everyone.

One method is scheduling a virtual happy hour. This new idea will give managers and employees the opportunity to decompress much like they would over a few drinks after work. 

Whether you want to host a virtual happy hour at a coffee shop or with a few beers, this activity is great for virtual team building.

You can choose to “ban” work topics or allow the conversation to flow naturally during these events. No matter what, coworkers can begin to share their stories, wins, and hurdles all from the comfort of their own workspace.

3. Schedule group training

Some companies host training sessions at the beginning of each quarter to keep everyone’s skills up to date and to brainstorm new solutions to old problems. Usually held in person, these group trainings can also take place online in a way that helps your team bond.

Many teams may feel restless for a break or a change in action as the holiday season approaches. For this reason, many managers choose to schedule group training around these times to keep things fresh and light at the end of the year. 

If you want your team to earn new certifications or simply learn more about a new piece of technology, why not group it into a period of a few days? By creating a schedule, you can add in time slots where your team can have virtual coffee breaks and decompress between each session. 

Use video in your virtual weekly meetings

Riding off of virtual team training, you can also host your weekly meetings as a virtual team building exercise. 

Regularly scheduling video conferences may be difficult for teams who are across multiple time zones. If possible, test this method out with your team, but keep time zones in mind for those who may work late into the night.

In the world of virtual teams, it can be difficult to gauge someone’s reaction. People can simply choose not to respond at a certain point in a group chat, which lets them avoid certain topics to a certain extent. By setting up video team meetings, you can see exactly what everyone’s reaction is. When proposing new ideas, for example, seeing people face-to-face is extremely useful. 

If you’re going to pursue this option, make sure you are taking the time to plan for each meeting. This will allow you to take a second look at your speaking agenda to make sure it’s arranged properly. You can also use this time to troubleshoot beforehand to avoid any technical malfunctions during your scheduled time.

4. Remote worker meetups

Many managers make it a goal of theirs to personally meet everyone on their team. In fact, people who work in a virtual team will often grab a quick cup of coffee with a teammate when they’re passing through town on a vacation.

Any opportunity that you can take to meet people from your team in person is important. Whether or not your teammates meet each other at some point, having a personal meeting with their direct managers can help motivate each employee.

Take a look at your locations of all of your teammates and ask yourself if a personal meeting would be possible. If there is a middle point for all of your employees, suggest a mini “workcation” by meeting up for a day or two.

5. End the week on a positive note

Remote workers often struggle to feel like they’re a part of a team. Some may work alone in their homes for the majority of the time. Others may share collaborative workspaces where they feel like the people in their space are more of their team. Whatever the case may be, you’ll want to build in some fun to help motivate and bond your online team.

Some managers choose to end the week on a positive note, specifically to highlight the great work your team is doing as a whole. This can easily be done with a modified team newsletter.

If your communication channels are open, you should know a bit about each employee to give them a personal or work shoutout. Use your “newsletter” to highlight professional wins, hurdles that were overcome, and even things like birthdays or other exciting events.

You can also include memes, pet pictures, funny videos, and other inside jokes to make your messages a bit more personal. The more motivating you can be, the better. These newsletters are a great way to inspire people to enjoy free time and prepare for the upcoming week ahead. 

Make virtual team buildings activities a priority

No matter what options you try as your virtual team building activities, your colleagues will appreciate the effort. By strengthening bonds, you’ll be setting everyone up for success. Not only that, but you could be adding some much-needed fun and socialization into someone’s day while they’re working.

It never hurts to build the interpersonal bonds of your team. That’s why you should always make virtual team building activities a priority within your company.

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Global Teams That Work

To succeed in the global economy today, more and more companies are relying on a geographically dispersed workforce. They build teams that offer the best functional expertise from around the world, combined with deep, local knowledge of the most promising markets. They draw on the benefits of international diversity, bringing together people from many cultures with varied work experiences and different perspectives on strategic and organizational challenges. All this helps multinational companies compete in the current business environment.

But managers who actually lead global teams are up against stiff challenges. Creating successful work groups is hard enough when everyone is local and people share the same office space. But when team members come from different countries and functional backgrounds and are working in different locations, communication can rapidly deteriorate, misunderstanding can ensue, and cooperation can degenerate into distrust.

Preventing this vicious dynamic from taking place has been a focus of my research, teaching, and consulting for more than 15 years. I have conducted dozens of studies and heard from countless executives and managers about misunderstandings within the global teams they have joined or led, sometimes with costly consequences. But I have also encountered teams that have produced remarkable innovations, creating millions of dollars in value for their customers and shareholders.One basic difference between global teams that work and those that don’t lies in the level of social distance—the degree of emotional connection among team members. When people on a team all work in the same place, the level of social distance is usually low. Even if they come from different backgrounds, people can interact formally and informally, align, and build trust. They arrive at a common understanding of what certain behaviors mean, and they feel close and congenial, which fosters good teamwork. Coworkers who are geographically separated, however, can’t easily connect and align, so they experience high levels of social distance and struggle to develop effective interactions. Mitigating social distance therefore becomes the primary management challenge for the global team leader.

To help in this task, I have developed and tested a framework for identifying and successfully managing social distance. It is called the SPLIT framework, reflecting its five components: structure, process, language, identity, and technology—each of which can be a source of social distance. In the following pages I explain how each can lead to team dysfunction and describe how smart leaders can fix problems that occur—or prevent them from happening in the first place.

Structure and the Perception of Power

In the context of global teams, the structural factors determining social distance are the location and number of sites where team members are based and the number of employees who work at each site.

The fundamental issue here is the perception of power. If most team members are located in Germany, for instance, with two or three in the United States and in South Africa, there may be a sense that the German members have more power. This imbalance sets up a negative dynamic. People in the larger (majority) group may feel resentment toward the minority group, believing that the latter will try to get away with contributing less than its fair share. Meanwhile, those in the minority group may believe that the majority is usurping what little power and voice they have.

The situation is exacerbated when the leader is at the site with the most people or the one closest to company headquarters: Team members at that site tend to ignore the needs and contributions of their colleagues at other locations. This dynamic can occur even when everyone is in the same country: The five people working in, say, Beijing may have a strong allegiance to one another and a habit of shutting out their two colleagues in Shanghai.

When geographically dispersed team members perceive a power imbalance, they often come to feel that there are in-groups and out-groups. Consider the case of a global marketing team for a U.S.-based multinational pharmaceutical company. The leader and the core strategy group for the Americas worked in the company’s Boston-area headquarters. A smaller group in London and a single individual in Moscow focused on the markets in Europe. Three other team members, who split their time between Singapore and Tokyo, were responsible for strategy in Asia. The way that each group perceived its situation is illustrated in the exhibit below.

To correct perceived power imbalances between different groups, a leader needs to get three key messages across:

Who we are.

The team is a single entity, even though individual members may be very different from one another. The leader should encourage sensitivity to differences but look for ways to bridge them and build unity. Tariq, a 33-year-old rising star in a global firm, was assigned to lead a 68-person division whose members hailed from 27 countries, spoke 18 languages, and ranged in age from 22 to 61. During the two years before he took charge, the group’s performance had been in a precipitous decline and employee satisfaction had plunged. Tariq saw that the team had fractured into subgroups according to location and language. To bring people back together, he introduced a team motto (“We are different yet one”), created opportunities for employees to talk about their cultures, and instituted a zero-tolerance policy for displays of cultural insensitivity.

What we do.

It’s important to remind team members that they share a common purpose and to direct their energy toward business-unit or corporate goals. The leader should periodically highlight how everyone’s work fits into the company’s overall strategy and advances its position in the market. For instance, during a weekly conference call, a global team leader might review the group’s performance relative to company objectives. She might also discuss the level of collective focus and sharpness the team needs in order to fend off competitors.

I am there for you.

Team members located far from the leader require frequent contact with him or her. A brief phone call or e‑mail can make all the difference in conveying that their contributions matter. For instance, one manager in Dallas, Texas, inherited a large group in India as part of an acquisition. He made it a point to involve those employees in important decisions, contact them frequently to discuss ongoing projects, and thank them for good work. He even called team members personally to give them their birthdays off. His team appreciated his attention and became more cohesive as a result.

Process and the Importance of Empathy

It almost goes without saying that empathy helps reduce social distance. If colleagues can talk informally around a watercooler—whether about work or about personal matters—they are more likely to develop an empathy that helps them interact productively in more-formal contexts. Because geographically dispersed team members lack regular face time, they are less likely to have a sense of mutual understanding. To foster this, global team leaders need to make sure they build the following “deliberate moments” into the process for meeting virtually:

Feedback on routine interactions.

Members of global teams may unwittingly send the wrong signals with their everyday behavior. Julie, a French chemical engineer, and her teammates in Marseille checked and responded to e‑mails only first thing in the morning, to ensure an uninterrupted workday. They had no idea that this practice was routinely adding an overnight delay to correspondence with their American colleagues and contributing to mistrust. It was not until Julie visited the team’s offices in California that the French group realized there was a problem. Of course, face-to-face visits are not the only way to acquire such learning. Remote team members can also use the phone, e‑mail, or even videoconferencing to check in with one another and ask how the collaboration is going. The point is that leaders and members of global teams must actively elicit this kind of “reflected knowledge,” or awareness of how others see them.

Unstructured time.

Think back to your last face-to-face meeting. During the first few minutes before the official discussion began, what was the atmosphere like? Were people comparing notes on the weather, their kids, that new restaurant in town? Unstructured communication like this is positive, because it allows for the organic unfolding of processes that must occur in all business dealings—sharing knowledge, coordinating and monitoring interactions, and building relationships. Even when people are spread all over the world, small talk is still a powerful way to promote trust. So when planning your team’s call-in meetings, factor in five minutes for light conversation before business gets under way. Especially during the first meetings, take the lead in initiating informal discussions about work and nonwork matters that allow team members to get to know their distant counterparts. In particular, encourage people to be open about constraints they face outside the project, even if those aren’t directly linked to the matter at hand.

Time to disagree.

Leaders should encourage disagreement both about the team’s tasks and about the process by which the tasks get done. The challenge, of course, is to take the heat out of the debate. Framing meetings as brainstorming opportunities lowers the risk that people will feel pressed to choose between sides. Instead, they will see an invitation to evaluate agenda items and contribute their ideas. As the leader, model the act of questioning to get to the heart of things. Solicit each team member’s views on each topic you discuss, starting with those who have the least status or experience with the group so that they don’t feel intimidated by others’ comments. This may initially seem like a waste of time, but if you seek opinions up front, you may make better decisions and get buy-in from more people.

A software developer in Istanbul kept silent in a team meeting in order to avoid conflict, even though he questioned his colleagues’ design of a particular feature. He had good reasons to oppose their decision, but his team leader did not brook disagreement, and the developer did not want to damage his own position. However, four weeks into the project, the team ran into the very problems that the developer had seen coming.

Language and the Fluency Gap

Good communication among coworkers drives effective knowledge sharing, decision making, coordination, and, ultimately, performance results (see also “What’s Your Language Strategy?”by Tsedal Neeley and Robert Steven Kaplan, HBR, September 2014). But in global teams, varying levels of fluency with the chosen common language are inevitable—and likely to heighten social distance. The team members who can communicate best in the organization’s lingua franca (usually English) often exert the most influence, while those who are less fluent often become inhibited and withdraw. Mitigating these effects typically involves insisting that all team members respect three rules for communicating in meetings:

Dial down dominance.

Strong speakers must agree to slow down their speaking pace and use fewer idioms, slang terms, and esoteric cultural references when addressing the group. They should limit the number of comments they make within a set time frame, depending on the pace of the meeting and the subject matter. They should actively seek confirmation that they’ve been understood, and they should practice active listening by rephrasing others’ statements for clarification or emphasis.

Dial up engagement.

Less fluent speakers should monitor the frequency of their responses in meetings to ensure that they are contributing. In some cases, it’s even worth asking them to set goals for the number of comments they make within a given period. Don’t let them use their own language and have a teammate translate, because that can alienate others. As with fluent speakers, team members who are less proficient in the language must always confirm that they have been understood. Encourage them to routinely ask if others are following them. Similarly, when listening, they should be empowered to say they have not understood something. It can be tough for nonnative speakers to make this leap, yet doing so keeps them from being marginalized.

Balance participation to ensure inclusion.

Getting commitments to good speaking behavior is the easy part; making the behavior happen will require active management. Global team leaders must keep track of who is and isn’t contributing and deliberately solicit participation from less fluent speakers. Sometimes it may also be necessary to get dominant-language speakers to dial down to ensure that the proposals and perspectives of less fluent speakers are heard.

The leader of a global team based in Dubai required all his reports to post the three communication rules in their cubicles. Soon he noted that one heavily accented European team member began contributing to discussions for the first time since joining the group 17 months earlier. The rules had given this person the license, opportunity, and responsibility to speak up. As a leader, you could try the same tactics with your own team, distributing copies of the exhibit “Rules of Engagement for Team Meetings.”

Identity and the Mismatch of Perceptions

Global teams work most smoothly when members “get” where their colleagues are coming from. However, deciphering someone’s identity and finding ways to relate is far from simple. People define themselves in terms of a multitude of variables—age, gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion, occupation, political ties, and so forth. And although behavior can be revealing, particular behaviors may signify different things depending on the individual’s identity. For example, someone in North America who looks you squarely in the eye may project confidence and honesty, but in other parts of the world, direct eye contact might be perceived as rude or threatening. Misunderstandings such as this are a major source of social distance and distrust, and global team leaders have to raise everyone’s awareness of them. This involves mutual learning and teaching.

Learning from one another.

When adapting to a new cultural environment, a savvy leader will avoid making assumptions about what behaviors mean. Take a step back, watch, and listen. In America, someone who says, “Yes, I can do this” likely means she is willing and able to do what you asked. In India, however, the same statement may simply signal that she wants to try—not that she’s confident of success. Before drawing conclusions, therefore, ask a lot of questions. In the example just described, you might probe to see if the team member anticipates any challenges or needs additional resources. Asking for this information may yield greater insight into how the person truly feels about accomplishing the task.

The give-and-take of asking questions and providing answers establishes two-way communication between the leader and team members. And if a leader regularly solicits input, acting as a student rather than an expert with hidden knowledge, he empowers others on the team, leading them to participate more willingly and effectively. A non-Mandarin-speaking manager in China relied heavily on his local staff during meetings with clients in order to better understand clients’ perceptions of the interactions and to gauge the appropriateness of his own behavior. His team members began to see themselves as essential to the development of client relationships and felt valued, which motivated them to perform at even higher levels.

In this model, everyone is a teacher and a learner, which enables people to step out of their traditional roles. Team members take on more responsibility for the development of the team as a whole. Leaders learn to see themselves as unfinished and are thus more likely to adjust their style to reflect the team’s needs. They instruct but they also facilitate, helping team members to parse their observations and understand one another’s true identities.

A case in point.

Consider the experience of Daniel, the leader of a recently formed multinational team spread over four continents. During a conference call, he asked people to discuss a particular strategy for reaching a new market in a challenging location. This was the first time he had raised a topic on which there was a range of opinion.

Daniel observed that Theo, a member of the Israeli team, regularly interrupted Angela, a member of the Buenos Aires team, and their ideas were at odds. Although tempted to jump in and play referee, Daniel held back. To his surprise, neither Theo nor Angela got frustrated. They went back and forth, bolstering their positions by referencing typical business practices and outcomes in their respective countries, but they stayed committed to reaching a group consensus.

At the meeting’s end, Daniel shared his observations with the team, addressing not only the content of the discussion, but also the manner in which it took place. “Theo and Angela,” he said, “when you began to hash out your ideas, I was concerned that both of you might have felt you weren’t being heard or weren’t getting a chance to fully express your thoughts. But now you both seem satisfied that you were able to make your arguments, articulate cultural perspectives, and help us decide on our next steps. Is that true?”

Theo and Angela affirmed Daniel’s observations and provided an additional contextual detail: Six months earlier they had worked together on another project—an experience that allowed them to establish their own style of relating to each other. Their ability to acknowledge and navigate their cultural differences was beneficial to everyone on the team. Not only did it help move their work forward, but it showed that conflict does not have to create social distance. And Daniel gained more information about Theo and Angela, which would help him manage the team more effectively in the future.

Technology and the Connection Challenge

The modes of communication used by global teams must be carefully considered, because the technologies can both reduce and increase social distance. Videoconferencing, for instance, allows rich communication in which both context and emotion can be perceived. E‑mail offers greater ease and efficiency but lacks contextual cues. In making decisions about which technology to use, a leader must ask the following:

Should communication be instant?

Teleconferencing and videoconferencing enable real-time (instant) conversations. E‑mail and certain social media formats require users to wait for the other party to respond. Choosing between instant and delayed forms of communication can be especially challenging for global teams. For example, when a team spans multiple time zones, a telephone call may not be convenient for everyone. The Japanese team leader of a U.S.-based multinational put it this way: “I have three or four days per week when I have a conference call with global executives. In most cases, it starts at 9:00 or 10:00 in the night. If we can take the conference call in the daytime, it’s much easier for me. But we are in the Far East, and headquarters is in the United States, so we have to make the best of it.”

Instant technologies are valuable when leaders need to persuade others to adopt their viewpoint. But if they simply want to share information, then delayed methods such as e‑mail are simpler, more efficient, and less disruptive to people’s lives. Leaders must also consider the team’s interpersonal dynamics. If the team has a history of conflict, technology choices that limit the opportunities for real-time emotional exchanges may yield the best results.

In general, the evidence suggests that most companies overrely on delayed communication. A recent Forrester survey of nearly 10,000 information workers in 17 countries showed that 94% of employees report using e‑mail, but only 33% ever participate in desktop videoconferencing (with apps such as Skype and Viber), and a mere 25% use room-based videoconferencing. These numbers will surely change over time, as the tools evolve and users become more comfortable with them, but leaders need to choose their format carefully: instant or delayed.

Do I need to reinforce the message?

Savvy leaders will communicate through multiple platforms to ensure that messages are understood and remembered. For example, if a manager electronically assigns one of her team members a task by entering notes into a daily work log, she may then follow up with a text or a face-to-face chat to ensure that the team member saw the request and recognized its urgency.

Redundant communication is also effective for leaders who are concerned about convincing others that their message is important. Greg, for instance, a project manager in a medical devices organization, found that his team was falling behind on the development of a product. He called an emergency meeting to discuss the issues and explain new corporate protocols for releasing new products, which he felt would bring the project back on track.

Team members will follow the leader’s example in using communication technology.

During this initial meeting, he listened to people’s concerns and addressed their questions in real time. Although he felt he had communicated his position clearly and obtained the necessary verbal buy-in, he followed up the meeting by sending a carefully drafted e‑mail to all the attendees, reiterating the agreed-upon changes and asking for everyone’s electronic sign-off. This redundant communication helped reinforce acceptance of his ideas and increased the likelihood that his colleagues would actually implement the new protocols.

Am I leading by example?

Team members very quickly pick up on the leader’s personal preferences regarding communication technology. A leader who wants to encourage people to videoconference should communicate this way herself. If she wants employees to pick up the phone and speak to one another, she had better be a frequent user of the phone. And if she wants team members to respond quickly to e‑mails, she needs to set the example.

Flexibility and appreciation for diversity are at the heart of managing a global team. Leaders must expect problems and patterns to change or repeat themselves as teams shift, disband, and regroup. But there is at least one constant: To manage social distance effectively and maximize the talents and engagement of team members, leaders must stay attentive to all five of the SPLIT dimensions. Decisions about structurecreate opportunities for good process,which can mitigate difficulties caused by languagedifferences and identityissues. If leaders act on these fronts, while marshaling technologyto improve communication among geographically dispersed colleagues, social distance is sure to shrink, not expand. When that happens, teams can become truly representative of the “global village”—not just because of their international makeup, but also because their members feel mutual trust and a sense of kinship. They can then embrace and practice the kind of innovative, respectful, and groundbreaking interactions that drive the best ideas forward.



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Transforming learning for post-COVID times

As the world copes with the COVID-19 crisis, the Learning and Development function across companies is adapting to lead with innovative digital solutions, to engage a remote workforce and influence their working.

Every great crisis in history has led to a new way of life and innovations. This pandemic has made the beermakers and distilleries to shift their production to hand sanitizers. In Italy, an engineering startup began using 3D printers to create the valves used in ventilators.

COVID-19 is changing the way people learn and work across the world. As organisations have shifted to working remotely, to sustain learning during the pandemic, they have adapted to newer learning tools. COVID-19 has indeed forced us to relook at workplace learning offered by corporates. As the world copes with the COVID-19 crisis, the Learning and Development function across companies is adapting to lead with innovative digital solutions, to engage a remote workforce and influence their working.

How has the Learning and Development function in organisations responded to the crisis? Organisations that utilised digital learning platforms have transitioned easily to virtual learning. Professional services firms, IT/ITES, and global firms across all sectors fall in this category. Firms with a bigger national footprint, or those that have recently expanded, are making a slower transition from the traditional instructor-led formats to virtual learning. Initially, most organizations tried to create a substitute for classroom learning on virtual platforms. Once this was achieved, organisations also tried to reinforce engagement and make productive use of spare time, through online courses and webinars. A Mckinsey report, Adapting workplace learning in the time of coronavirus, reaffirms organisations cannot push the pause button on capability building. Organizations will now have to adapt their approach to L&D in order to protect its status as the core aspect of their culture. 

Josh Bersin Academy reports that there has been an increase in the consumption of online learning in most organizations. Companies have rapidly deployed work-at-home programmes, well-being, and mental health programmes to build positive thinking and alignment. With people forced to stay at home, they want to make use of this time to learn about the crisis, their jobs, and what they can do to stay ahead. Experts from the learning community believe that today's way of learning will not be the only way to learn in the future. This period of experimentation and collaborative creativity will likely shape some lasting changes. Josh Bersin firmly believes that the pandemic has accelerated one of the biggest business transformations for many organisations.  It is an economic and health crisis, but for many organisations, it is also an incredible opportunity to transform. As Josh Bersin has emphatically stated, "L&D is one of the heroes of this crisis."

Learning In the New Normal 

One of the most prominent changes that can be anticipated is that Virtual Learning may become the norm. Research conducted by the Training Industry reflects this clearly, showing that 29% of organizations (Total =400) had planned to increase their investment in e-learning during the 2019-20 financial year. With remote working having become part of the new normal, and many organizations not planning to return to office space until 2021, this investment in e-learning can only be set to rise across the board. 

The need to reskill and upskill workforces is accelerated by the onset of the pandemic. The greater reliance on technologies means that employees must be trained to operate them correctly and work efficiently. What’s more, with the size of teams shrinking as a result of financial difficulty for organizations , a culture of project-based, collaborative working will become more common. With this being the case, a new culture of continual training and learning will be reinforced. 

Another key L&D trend that has emerged as a result of the pandemic, is greater emphasis on social learning methods. In a nutshell, social learning abandons the traditional framework of learning models , and is founded on new behaviours being acquired by observing or imitating others. We can expect to see many organizations adopting social learning methods throughout the remote working period, monitoring their effectiveness and progress and adjusting their approach to L&D. 

Looks like the crisis presents us with unique conditions that allows innovators to think and move freely to create impactful change. How should the learning community respond to this change? 

New language is Digital 

Success in the new environment depends on being extremely comfortable playing in the new digital sandbox, no matter what your industry. Even if you are a digital native, it is imperative to set your goals for improving digital fluency across the workforce. Future oriented organizations like Amazon, had announced $700 Mn investment to upskill 100,000 members. Not all technologies will be relevant to a business, so it is important for leaders to identify the emerging digital technologies they should investigate. 

Rethink Learning Strategy 

Experts in the Learning Community believe that there is need to transform learning for working effectively in the ‘new normal’. Several learning leaders see this as an opportunity to experiment with new technologies and approaches to people development. For instance, traditional companies who earlier had rejected the idea of virtual learning, digitally enabled learning journeys are now seeing a window of opportunity to now experiment with these tools because it addresses the constraints we are under today. In a research study by Degreed, How the Workforce Learns ( 2019) the learning profile of the new workforce is that they know their learning gaps , they are learning all the times and they expect the organization to provide guidance and support to get the learning experience they need to grow. The results of the study re-emphasise the need to rethink their learning strategies to support the changing expectations of the workforce. 

From Cost Centre to Organizational Value Creator 

Also, the crisis is pushing the L&D function to rethink and reframe its true value and relevance to the business. It makes us ask, "why do we do what we do? As L&D experts we need to ask questions as to the outcome that we are trying to achieve. For long, the Learning and Development function has been activity-oriented, instead of looking at metrics around business outcomes. L&D needs to get aligned to what the business and people require. In essence, the proof of impact will become a hard, inescapable requirement. 

To summarize, there is no certainty of when this crisis will slow down or end. If we use this opportunity for innovating , learning and growing, we will come out better than ever.  We need to decide the manner in which L&D will change owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This crisis has created an environment which can either be viewed as terrifying or thrilling. The way forward for us is completely dependent on what we do with what we have learned. L&D will have to reflect, rethink and re-engineer.

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Advice How can HR remotely manage… learning and development?

L&D departments across the UK are undoubtedly under a lot of pressure. As the coronavirus lockdown shows no sign of lifting and teams begin to bed in to remote working, attention has turned to training. 

In these unprecedented times it is imperative to keep workplace traditions alive and well, and many organisations have successfully transferred meetings and water cooler moments to the digital landscape. But will carefully crafted, and often bespoke, training solutions follow suit? Andy Lancaster, head of learning at the CIPD, says learning departments need to be “agile” to reflect the fact that the need for running courses has suddenly been eclipsed by “supporting performance and productivity”. 

“Learning needs to be really close to the heartbeat of the business to understand what's needed, which is a flexible, agile approach to provide ‘just in time’ solutions, not waiting weeks for courses,” explains Lancaster.

Consider the ‘why, how and what’

The questions of ‘how, why and what?’ need to be considered (and answered) before any remote training package is developed, especially in the current unique home working situation. Lancaster says it is really important to ask ‘why?’ as a first question. “Too many people want to make a digital shift without thinking through the context of the organisation and the context of the learner,” he says. 

For educational technology and management consultant Dr Katharine Jewitt, the first questions are then: how will it be done and what is needed? “If you usually run face-to-face training and are now looking at how to develop your training online, first, start by listing all the activities and tasks that usually take place and the objectives for each one,” she says. 

“Next, consider what the learning action is for each activity… and third consider what the roles are for both the trainer and the delegates.” 

John Amaechi, organisational psychologist and founder of Amaechi Performance Systems, says for him the first question to ask is: what’s the point? “L&D is about development and it's also about intellectual sustenance, or at least it should be,” he says. 

“So what's the point of L&D right now, and what’s the value of it? There will be basic requirements for people who need to pass exams, or health and safety modules. But [ask yourself] what do people really need right now from L&D?” 

Focus on managers and leaders

It’s a crucial question – what do employees currently need? According to Amaechi, they need leaders who are able to “convey a sense of empathy and help colleagues feel connected”. 

“L&D should be offering a solution to get leaders to lead effectively in a virtual environment as a primary requirement, because the perfunctory training isn’t stuff that will keep people working for you and it won’t help to maintain productivity or benefit mental health,” says Amaechi. 

“Train managers to stop them doing things that will damage your organisation down the line; help them to be what leaders are supposed to be.” 

Let your learners decide the method

Once your line managers and senior staff are on board with how to support staff effectively, the next step is to determine what solutions will work best for your learners. And it’s best to get this information straight from the horse's mouth. Lancaster said he would encourage a “learner-led approach” whereby people teams work hard to understand what learners are trying to achieve, in the context they are in. 

Jewitt says decisions need to be made on what technologies are required “to best achieve the learning outcome on training tasks”. “If you are splitting delegates up into group activities to work on training tasks over a length of time, then invite them to choose how they wish to work,” she says.

“They may choose to collaborate using WhatsApp, or simply communicate and collaborate via email or video calls using Skype. Or [they might choose to] collaborate on a document together using Google docs.” 

Amaechi says now is an “opportunity to reach out” and discover what employees found valuable from previous training offerings: “Let your employees know you are interested in hearing about what things would be useful for them to deliver optimally in the organisation.”  

One size does not fit all 

Lancaster warns against a “one size fits all mentality” as one training solution or platform will not fit “the wide array of different scenarios of remote working”. 

“Blended learning is really important because your employees are home working, and standard e-learning tends to be one size fits all. Think about your typical types of learners and what they might need,” says Lancaster. 

“You need to be pragmatic about what's going to work. Don't think too simplistically about what might be needed; think about different options that may be available.” 

He warns that thinking technology will solve everything is “a huge assumption” that is often incorrect, even where staff are all working from home so the technology used might seem the most important consideration. “It’s about looking at a real ecosystem of different options to allow learners to choose what is best for them,” he says.

Michelle Raymond, HR lead at The People’s Partner, says training must be “diverse, inclusive and accessible to everyone” and that different methods should be considered. 

”Learners may have various impairments that are a barrier to their L&D progress, so you need to make sure there is something to cater to everyone’s unique learning style,” she says. She adds that there will be some things L&D just “won't be able to do online” and that some training will need to be deferred until it can be done face to face.

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4 Ways to Continue Employee Development When Budgets Are Cut

Budget cutting is like pruning a tree.

You need to do it to help your organization thrive in the long run. But if you cut too much, in the wrong places, you might damage the tree.

It's common for companies to scale back their employee development efforts when it's time to prune the organizational budget.

What's important is that they don't cut the learning opportunities that help people be productive on a daily basis -- or the ones that help them prepare for the accelerated pace of the workplace and the next big change that is sure to come.

"A learning organization is an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future." -- Peter Senge

Employee development is a branch that bears fruit for your organization -- it can have a massive impact on the long-term health of your employees and business:

Gallup finds that organizations that have made a strategic investment in employee development report 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees.

Virtual learning and courses are becoming a popular option, but beyond "formal" training (that probably doesn't really help you cut costs), there are everyday opportunities at your disposal.

Consider the following alternative strategies to keep investing in employee development when you don't have the same budget anymore.

1. Offer ongoing support and coaching.

You can't control how your employees experience the world outside of your organization, but you can give them every opportunity to thrive when you invest in their personal growth at work.

Especially during a disruption, organizations must acknowledge and addressemployees' anxiety and uncertainty. They want an emotional outlet.

Equally important, they want to talk about hope for the future -- how they can continue to do good work and contribute.

Managers play an important role here, specifically by operating more like coaches than bosses. More frequent check-ins and coaching conversations are a necessity right now.

Recent Gallup research shows only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.

If you provide training for your managers on how to give more meaningful feedback and develop people's unique strengths, it cascades into providing growth to all of your employees on an ongoing basis.

To address the serious concerns of depression and anxiety, companies can make employee assistance programs (EAPs) available to employees.

Trained professionals would be available to counsel employees as they navigate these uncertain times -- listening, giving advice and preparing employees for when things return to normal.

Consider establishing an EAP-like communication channel for employee coaching, career counseling and performance development too.

2. Emphasize critical skills, but don't forget behavioral skills.

Here's an eye-opener: 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't been invented yet. The advent of AI, automation and machine learning are rapidly reshaping the job market.

As the current pandemic fades, there will be greater urgency felt to prepare leaders and employees for the future. This will require HR and learning professionals to dramatically reorient and revise their training calendars.

85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't been invented yet.

While these next-generation skills are indeed essential, a 2019 IBM surveyshowed that, in the future, behavioral skills will be the area with more significant gaps than digital skills. Gallup's latest research highlights some important ones -- seven key expectations stand out as necessary behavioral skills for the future of work:

Build relationships. Establish connections with others to build trust, share ideas and demonstrate care during challenging times.

Develop people. Help others become more effective through strengths development, clear expectations, encouragement and coaching.

Lead change. Recognize that change is essential, and disruption is expected. Set goals for change and lead purposeful efforts to adapt work to align with the stated vision.

Inspire others. Even in the most trying times, encourage others through positivity, vision, confidence, challenge and recognition.

Think critically. Seek information, critically evaluate and help sort through the available information, apply the knowledge gained, and solve problems.

Communicate clearly. Listen, share information concisely and with purpose, and be open to hearing opinions.

Create accountability. Identify the consequences of actions and hold yourself and others responsible for performance.

In spite of organizations' tightening budgets, there is a significant development opportunity to focus on these behavioral skills that are key to high performance. We can often learn the wrong thing from incessant change or an emergent crisis: fear, risk avoidance and a survival mindset. That's why it's so important that leaders use these experiences to develop people to adopt a problem-solving, opportunity-focused mindset.

Specifically, companies must understand how well their future leaders fare on these expectations and ensure that the right coaching and development are provided to close key gaps.

Not only does this help employees throughout their careers and lives, but it also ensures that organizations recover faster and adjust more effectively to the new future of work, post-pandemic.

3. Create a virtual network of learners.

Alternative and multiplatform learning modes have been consistently growing in reach and impact.

Many organizations have successfully implemented e-learning. Cloud-based learning, the use of virtual reality, augmented reality and AI in learning are also gaining prominence in the workplace.

But the actual effectiveness of these methods remains uncertain -- primarily because few organizations have tested them out.

Less than half of the chief learning officers surveyed by McKinsey said they offer peer and self-directed learning, educational initiatives that take participants outside their comfort zones, or risk-free learning environments.

What we do know for certain is this: Gallup's research shows that developing a blended learning approach (online and instructor-led) is most effective.

Gallup's own learning interventions feature a blend of synchronous and asynchronous experiences, integrated with consulting and coaching, to create a "learning journey" that unfolds over time.

In fact, Gallup recently reviewed our virtual learning -- amid the pandemic -- and found there was a more individualized focus on participants, along with greater connection and intimacy.

Indeed, as many people participate in remote education from their homes or preferred settings of choice, often while dressed down, a sense of inclusion is rapidly created.

As more employees work remotely, virtual learning must be emphasized, but companies can encourage open learning and peer-to-peer learning with other employees.

But even more important, it requires creating a culture where open feedback and dialogue and collaborative decision-making are encouraged.

4. Build a learning culture.

The best learning resources and state-of-the-art training might prove useless if employees do not engage in or apply the learning in effective ways.

Leaders must actively promote a culture of learning -- not just compile a collection of learning resources and an overflowing training calendar.

A true learning culture goes beyond programs, courses or practices. It requires leaders and managers to actively support and role model ongoing learning. In this culture, learning cannot be differentiated from behaving.

Every action, strategy or decision generates and adds to organizational learning. Leaders must gain the skills to help activate, create, curate and share knowledge and learning. And employees at all levels must feel free to contribute to and grow this knowledge base.

A good place to start is to make your learning culture one that is strengths-fueled. Talents and strengths develop infinitely, and Gallup knows that an investment in strengths yields long-term benefits -- including increased productivity, fewer safety incidents and lower turnover. It's a return on investment worth pursuing.

Your Opportunity to Reassess Your Employee Development Strategy

To ensure organizations remain resilient in the face of rapid change and disruption, they must keep investing in employee learning and development.

It matters now, for employee support, and it matters for the future of your company, as organization look to navigate future disruptions.

Building a culture that supports and amplifies learning will be a key strategy. As the renowned systems thinker Peter Senge said, "A learning organization is an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future."

This time is an opportunity to curate a balanced learning and development program -- one that brings the best of online, instructor-led and experiential learning in a way that best invests in employee capability and capacity today and into the future.

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Corporate Learning and Development During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 (coronavirus) a global health emergency. This pandemic has led to economic impacts, business struggles, social and physical distancing and even national lockdowns. During this critical time, Learning and Development play an important role for corporate and business, stepping up to maintain a healthy and productive workforce. Learning and Development During a Time of Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic will be a time remembered in many years to come. It has affected all aspects of life, from health regulations, economic struggles to social and political impacts. Many restrictive rules and regulations have been implemented globally, ranging from mass quarantines, lockdowns as well social and physical distancing to even closures of schools, businesses and other institutions.

Based on the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker and BBC Research, National lockdowns have been regulated in Asian countries such as Nepal, Malaysia, India, Iran and Pakistan. With Wuhan, China—as the centre of the epidemic, initiating the first lockdown. Meanwhile European countries such as Italy, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Denmark have also implemented national lockdown policies.

Meanwhile in Australia, self-quarantine had been officially applied for 14 days. The Australian Council of Trades called for two weeks paid leave for employees who were forced to take time off. Therefore, according to the Australian Government Fairwork Ombudsman, working arrangements were set to arrange flexible work including options to work from home, changing number of hours, changing the start or finish time of employee’s shifts, changing work patterns and changing type of work done by employees.

These regulations have transformed many sectors, including corporate and business aspects. Policies have been made for the workforce to adapt during the pandemic, including shift switching schedules, remote working and work-from-home (WFH). But how does these work-from-home and remote working policies operate effectively during a pandemic? Definitely, through an online approach.

This is where the Learning and Development (L&D) professionals have to step up their game. They have the ability and capability to enable corporate training to be delivered through online based measures, circumventing the need for face-to-face interaction.

The Advantages of Corporate eLearning During the Covid-19 Pandemic

With social and physical distancing, lockdowns and also quarantines deployed as measures to avoid transmission during this pandemic, many corporations and businesses have considered work-from-home or remote working policies for employees.

These policies support corporations and businesses to still operate despite the pandemic, but at the same time minimize the risk of transmission while maintaining a healthy and productive workforce. With a quick and adaptive approach, ideas such as e-learning, online training and virtual communication can be successfully implemented throughout the workforce, even from home.

For companies that are not yet familiar with eLearning, this would be the right time for the Learning and Development professionals to initiate ideas to successfully make use of online training approaches and make it familiar among the workforce.

Meanwhile companies that have already operated eLearning and training have a better chance of developing and experimenting various methods and courses, preferably creative approaches to prompt new online strategies.

A few examples aside to activate corporate eLearning, can include strategies and ideas such as providing psychosocial support, activating digital learning systems, setting offline functions for easier accessibility, opening massive open online course (MOOC) platforms and providing self-directed learning content.

These initiatives can also help narrow the knowledge gap of conventional employees that aren’t yet familiar with e-learning and modern workers who are already in line with the progress of eLearning.

With a well-planned eLearning platform, Learning and Development can be accessed efficiently, and still effectively maintain productivity while supporting social and physical distancing.

How eLearning is Shaping the Workforce

As eLearning enables corporate training during this pandemic, the workforce entirely relies on online based courses and insights. Learning and Development strategies now maximize the use of online learning platforms and also consider the avid use of technology to enable accessible learning and communication methods.

Image: yossarian6 – stock.adobe.com

For instance, a usual weekly meeting can still be held through a virtual conference through PC and mobile devices. Online virtual communications such as Zoom, Skype, Google Duo, DingTalk, Facetime, WhatsApp and similar video conference platforms can be used as options to substitute ways of communication among the workforce as well as between learners and coaches or trainers. This can simplify circumvent the need to communicate face-to-face effectively.

Microsoft even disclosed an increase by up to 70% from a month ago with a total of more than 40 million daily active Skype users, as Marketwatch reports. This also applies to Zoom. According to data from Apptopia, as of March 22, there was a 378% increase of daily users and a 168% increase of monthly users. The increasing numbers of Skype and Zoom users during the pandemic and work-from-home policies, indicates the learning and development process successful for virtual communication approaches.

The increased use of eLearning also shapes how data is being stored, mostly through cloud storage such as Google Drive, DropBox, Microsoft One Drive, and personal devices. For companies with confidential data management, storing data with this method might be a risk. But with technology such as intranet, internal drives and multi-factor authentication, these security issues can be prevented to keep data secure.

Despite the risk, eLearning is still one the most effective ways to keep the workforce connected. Digital learning can also shape the workforce with creative methods. Unlimited boundaries of eLearning access can spark interesting approaches such as online collaborations, extra courses, and out-of-the-box learning concepts. Online based learning can also advantage employees that prefer self-directed learning or those that prefer learning through social media platforms, virtual events, webinars, and online classes with or without instructors.

But at the end of the day Learning and Development during a Pandemic is all about adapting. The corporations have to adapt their business plans, Learning and Development professionals to online and virtual approaches, and the workforce to an eLearning experience. Digital learning might just be the solution that helps corporations maintain a productive and healthy workforce during difficult crisis.

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COVID-19 is a catalyst for L&D delivery

A new impact study from Bookboon Learning reveals a paradigm shift in the world of corporate learning. COVID-19 is creating a number of clearly positive and permanent changes to the way companies learn.

In the last 3 years, there has been a movement away from traditional classroom training towards digital learning. However, the pandemic has caused recent recommendations from the UK government to lead to the cancellation of essentially all classroom training activities. This is expected to last until the early fall at the very least. Evidence from the impact study reveals that 92% of Learning & Development and HR decision-makers predict that following the pandemic, corporate learning activities will be significantly more digital than before.

The total shift towards remote working has increased employees’ freedom when it comes to personal development. This is not expected to change anytime soon. It is predicted that COVID-19 has forced a permanent trend towards working from home and solidified a “learn from home culture” in companies. According to the impact study, 83% of budget holders believe it is important that employees are equipped with the tools and skills they need to work and learn efficiently from home.

“It is a challenging time for employees and companies. Agility and change will be the only constants. Companies are under a lot of pressure to adjust to the new reality”, says Kristian Madsen, CEO Bookboon Learning. This is underlined by evidence showing that Digital learning offerings will be expanded in 81% of the 300 organisations surveyed.

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Has Covid-19 sparked an L&D revolution?


Faced with slashed budgets and furloughed team members, learning professionals have nonetheless turned creative in a crisis

Coronavirus has forced our hand. It is a catalyst for a long-overdue learning innovation.” So says Andy Lancaster, head of L&D content at the CIPD, summarising the impact of the current crisis on learning and development within organisations. Indeed, it is often said that necessity is the mother of invention, so – hard as it may be to imagine as we persevere through enduringly tough times – is it possible coronavirus has catalysed something of a positive L&D revolution?

John Amaechi, founder of Amaechi Performance Services, certainly thinks so. “We are further along now than we would have been without Covid-19 because we are having to think of different modalities and different content elements for the development of our people,” he says, adding the slight caveat: “Covid-19 hasn’t radically shifted L&D, but it has accelerated it.”

So it seems learning is finally developing. Previous roadblocks facing L&D practitioners eager to innovate have been torn down by coronavirus – chiefly, and most noticeably, the long-ingrained status quo of classroom-based learning. As Lancaster points out: “Technology is playing a vital part across the whole pandemic scenario. We now see that technology is no longer an option but a necessity in so many situations. So it’s forced many organisations that didn’t have an adequate digital learning infrastructure or delivery plan to invest in one.”

And this has been true for L&D professionals on the ground, according to a People Management survey of 210 readers on how L&D offerings have been affected by the pandemic. A majority of 75 per cent said they had changed the way some or all training was delivered as a result of coronavirus, with 50 per cent saying they had made training available online. Only 15 per cent already offered courses online before the crisis hit, confirming the virus’s critical role in forcing organisations’ hands on this and prompting them to quickly adapt.

Such a rapid digital adoption has certainly been the case at London housing association Network Homes, which was in the middle of a digital transformation of L&D when the pandemic reached the UK. “Last year we went through a massive business transformation project,” explains Denise Manmohansingh​, learning and development manager, who wanted to shift the organisation from predominantly face-to-face one-day courses with external stakeholders, to more digitised, self-directed learning options. “Then coronavirus came and it fast-tracked us to where we wanted to go in the digital world, and changed our L&D programme. We converted training into bite-size videos and changed one-day courses with a class of 24 into two-hour modules with cohorts of eight. We trialled modular bite-size training in March and found it was best to limit training to two hours maximum and have breaks in between.” 

Network Homes is not alone in – beyond just moving courses wholesale to a virtual environment – ensuring they are adapted to suit this very different delivery method. When asked how courses had been adapted for online delivery, 60 per cent of People Management survey respondents said they had made courses shorter to support concentration levels, with 60 per cent creating a virtual classroom environment and 40 per cent including more video content. 

“We often talk about learning in the flow of work, but now we need to look at learning in the flow of life,” says Lancaster, who advocates adapting digital learning and tailoring it to specific employee groups, rather than a ‘lift and shift’ approach to moving content online. “You cannot just think one size fits all or one organisational platform will sort it. Everybody is in a unique situation, and therefore we need to think about a human-centred approach to learning and how it works for people.” 

This again has been very much the approach taken by Network Homes. “We are now able to implement programmes that aren’t one size fits all and create a bespoke offering for departments that need it more,” says Manmohansingh. 

But while evidence of positive rapid digital innovation within L&D abounds, there are still numerous challenges for the function to contend with; most notably L&D staff having been furloughed and – most vitally, and potentially significant long term – decreased budgets. Encouragingly, reductions in L&D staff because of furlough did not seem to be drastically affecting People Management readers, with 70 per cent of respondents reporting no L&D staff had been furloughed. However, of the 30 per cent who said L&D team members had been furloughed, 56 per cent saw headcounts cut by more than 75 per cent. 

These latter findings are corroborated by Eleanor Walker, people and development consultant at Atkinson HR Consulting, who suggests furlough activity has ground some L&D operations to a halt. “People in my network have been furloughed or the majority of their L&D teams have been furloughed and, as a result, their offering has either gone or drastically reduced,” she reports. “The impact is varying. Some organisations are operating in a really lean way and are focused on what is necessary, while others are doing nothing at all. There is a real mix.” 

Amaechi agrees L&D teams can rise – and in many cases have risen – to the challenge of headcount reductions. But budget cuts make innovation near impossible, he feels: “If firms are looking at L&D as the ‘make do and mend’ function or the people who can turn scraps into something remarkable, they are kidding themselves. A transformation in L&D can’t be done without a budget.”

Encouragingly, three-fifths (62 per cent) of L&D professionals have not had to contend with a reduced budget. But for the 38 per cent who have faced cuts, 58 per cent have seen budgets shrink by more than 75 per cent

But there are still ample opportunities to drive through positive lasting change, according to Lancaster. “It’s absolutely clear that there are financial pressures on organisations, which might mean budget cuts,” he says. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t innovate. At the CIPD we are seeing that organisations are beginning to do many innovative things because of the pressure they are under with reduced budgets, and I think we should look for the positives in this.” 

David Collings, professor of human resources at Dublin City University (DCU), says L&D has adapted to leaner times by valuing content curation over content creation. Offering insight into ongoing DCU research, Collings reports that when HR leaders were asked what they needed for the future, “they spoke about the importance of the curation of online content. Not so much the generation of it, but helping colleagues navigate the content that was out there and identify content most suited to their needs.”

Pointing staff to free pre-existing online content has been key for Manmohansingh. “It has enhanced our use of YouTube, Ted Talks, LinkedIn Learning and free videos. It has really made [the L&D team] go out into social platforms more to find out what’s available to support our staff,” she says.

Coronavirus has not only shifted the classroom online and raised the importance of content curation, it has also changed what employees want to learn about. More than half of People Management’s survey respondents (53 per cent) saw uptake in role-specific courses decrease by more than 75 per cent, with a perhaps surprising 80 per cent seeing uptake for mental wellbeing training reduce by more than 75 per cent. Additionally, more than half (56 per cent) saw uptake for line manager training drop by more than 75 per cent. By contrast, demand for financial wellbeing training experienced the most dramatic uplift, with 70 per cent of respondents noticing a 10 per cent increase in demand. 

The results suggest that a focus on soft skills such as wellbeing and manager training is yet to crystallise. But Lancaster predicts it will, and urges employers to realise the great importance of such areas going forwards. He reports that the CIPD is now managing many more enquiries on “remote managing, collaborative working and digital skills”, than before coronavirus hit.

“What we are seeing is the dialling up of softer skills in the crisis – but they have always been important skills that underpin organisations,” says Lancaster, adding that they will only become more so. “At the heart of all organisations is the need for productivity and performance, and we know that soft skills underpin effective team working. I think that is something we are beginning to see now.” Manmohansingh adds the example of frontline customer service directorate staff at her organisation being given access to webinars on managing change – a much softer skill than previously associated with this cohort. This reflects the fact that “their role has completely changed to being homebound and talking to customers digitally”, she says.

But what of the future of L&D? Will these recent changes definitely stick? Is it reasonable to assume that digital learning will become ubiquitous, leaving its traditional counterpart  – face-to-face classroom learning – a thing of the past? Collings says he would be “very surprised” if coronavirus sounded the death knell for classroom-based learning. “I think a key question is: why would we make those changes? A lot of the narrative now is around extremes of moving completely one way or the other,” he says. “I think when things are settled, we will see more classroom training, because some things are better done in a classroom. In the short term, classroom learning will be impacted but in the long term I think we will find an equilibrium.”

But Lancaster feels most of the recent changes are here to stay. “The reason I say yes [they will stick] confidently, is that L&D has been thinking about these solutions for a long time. It has just taken a global crisis to bring them to the fore.”

How coronavirus has transformed Dorchester Collection’s approach to training

Dorchester Collection manages three hotels in the UK: The Dorchester, 45 Park Lane and Coworth Park in Ascot. It also has sites in France and Italy, and two hotels in Los Angeles. These are all currently closed. The hotel brand has remained partially open for guests who live there full time, but none of its 700 staff are on site – approximately 20 per cent are working remotely and the remainder are furloughed on full pay. Government guidelines suggest hotels could reopen in ‘phase three’ of the UK’s lockdown exit plan, which could see the company legally able to open its doors to the public in July. 

The Dorchester brand is renowned for refined customer service and five-star luxury. So the coronavirus crisis has created a conundrum for its chief people and culture officer, Eugenio Pirri, who must now reconfigure the ‘high touch’ elements that were once the lifeblood of the hospitality industry. “L&D is going to be elevated coming out of this pandemic because we are having to look at new procedures and new ways of doing things,” says Pirri, who is currently reworking the old approach to suit the ‘new normal’. “How do you social distance when you are serving someone food, or trying to check them in?”

Pirri has created a new onboarding programme – which he has dubbed ‘Re-engage’ – ready for when the company’s employees return. “We have already started doing videos and virtual sessions to prepare people for what that’s going to look like,” explains Pirri. “When people come back to work they will have to be taught entirely different processes – for example, hourly cleaning rotas (where it was previously every four hours). You have to re-educate and re-engage everyone, even if they have worked with us for 20 years.”

Because some guests permanently reside at Dorchester Collection’s Mayfair premises, Pirri has been given a “great opportunity” to plan training, service standards, cleanliness and social distancing safely live on site already. The training mainly consists of role-playing (which can be done in person while observing social distancing or virtually), with the pandemic giving Pirri “a whole new set of scenarios” to consider.

“I also have to think about the fact most of our employees wear uniforms. How do they pick that uniform up? How do they change in the changing rooms with social distancing? And how do they sit in the canteen? 

“To me that’s a huge training programme because people will naturally revert back to what they are used to doing. We have an obligation to retrain and re-educate our staff for both pre and post Covid-19 vaccination.” 

When the workforce returns, Pirri envisages they will be working in teams with varied shift patterns. “You have to get really smart about how you’re scheduling and crafting the teams,” he explains. “If heaven forbid someone gets sick then there will be another team ready to replace them.” 

Regarding whether the crisis has shifted the L&D focus towards mental, physical and financial wellbeing, he says: “I think learning has always been very operational and this crisis has given us the opportunity to heighten mental health training, wellbeing and work/life balance awareness. 

“We already had an employee platform that had resources on wellbeing, but we have definitely upped the ante in this period. We have signed up to external partners to provide additional training and webinars for managers, and we’ve got a robust training programme for staff to upskill in these areas if they choose to.” 


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Four 2019 Learning and Development Trends for Greater ROI

L&D spending is on the rise, with larger companies investing as much as $1,847 per learner. But are employers gaining from these spends? We share four 2019 learning and development trends to help maximize your L&D ROI.

With more and more millennials entering the workplace, the spotlight is on effective learning and development.

Research suggests that millennial workers value career development and skills acquisition as a top motivator (above compensation or rewards, in some cases). This isn’t a surprise given that they stay in a role for an average of 2–3 years, before moving on to greener pastures. As a result, employers are investing heavily in L&D programs in a bid to retain young, ambitious employees, while also hoping to boost productivity levels.

Here are the top four learning and development trends to consider for 2019:

1. Buy-Ins at Every Level

This step is often overlooked by L&D teams. In 2019, all learning and development trends point in the same direction – the function can no longer exist in a silo, with sessions and courses deployed merely as part of one’s daily schedule.

Instead, L&D has to become a holistic initiative, linked directly to the goals of your C-suite.

“Chief Learning Officers are eager to find the right solutions to equip their workforce with the skills needed for tomorrow’s economy. Companies spend millions on corporate development training programs, but many still fall short of delivering measurable behavior change,” notes Alexi Robichaux, Co-Founder & CEO at personalized coaching solutions provider, BetterUp.

To achieve the desired results and genuine ROI, it is important for L&D managers to collaborate with C-level executives, delineate specific goals/targets for the quarter, and implement solutions that are in sync with business goals.

Pro tip: Consider products like Working Voices which offer pay-per-use frameworks in-line with this 2019 learning and development trend. Employers can invest only in the modules aligned to their immediate objectives, ensuring no wasted L&D spend.

2. Virtual Learning Takes Off for Real

This, really, is the logical step forward for legacy classrooms – transition to a web-based, virtually disseminated model of learning. While virtual learning does not completely do away with the traditional ‘one coach, multiple learners’ setup, it has now moved online. Some of the immediate benefits include convenience and lower overheads: employees can access these webinars anytime, anywhere, without impacting their daily work schedules.

Beyond 2019, this learning and development trend could have extended implications such as Augmented Reality-addons, interactive layers, certifications upon session completion, and more.

“In the last few years, the digital talent shortage has widened, threatening to create a bottleneck for enterprises that are struggling to achieve their digital transformation objectives,” says Simplilearn’s CEO, Krishna Kumar. To address this, Simplilearn offers a 360-degree virtual training solution for businesses, distributing content through online platforms and then enabling hands-on application via their very own CloudLab.

Interestingly, SAP is among the early adopters, launching 'SAP Live Class' this year to enable virtual classes in real time. In 2019, this learning and development trend could take off as ‘the new normal’.

3. UX Will Matter Just as Much as Content

Learners are spoilt for choice; the same piece of information may be available on Wikipedia, Quora, Github, Medium, and many other platforms. If your L&D solution isn’t easy to access (and easy on the eyes), it risks low usage rates, leading to wasted L&D investment.

In 2019, the learning and development trend of proactively enhancing employee UX will be increasingly important. Unfortunately, legacy L&D environments still rely on multiple disparate systems: SharePoint, PPTs, Slack, company-owned URLs, and the intranet, to name a few. Learners are left disappointed and disinterested while trying to imbibe a new skill or knowledge area.

2019 needs to be the year when all of this changes. This looks increasingly possible with the rising popularity of end-to-end and fully connected ‘Learning Experience Platforms.’

4. Flash Courses to Be Retired

Flash-based e-Learning was all the rage for several years, as the most ubiquitous and well-supported interactive medium for content consumption.

However, this popular format is all set for obsolescence by 2020, reports Adobe, and L&D teams must work with this deadline in mind. “There are no hard numbers on Flash usage inside and outside the enterprise. But, security experts say there are many firms using custom-built Flash applications that will be expensive to replace after the 2020 depreciation deadline,” says Tom Spring from Threatpost.

For companies still using Flash-based training in 2019, conversion and reformatting will prove extremely necessary. Now discarding an entire library of legacy content in one fell swoop might negatively impact ROI. As the year ends, organizations must course-correct and convert existing content to compatible formats like HTML5 and use a cost-effective authoring tool to create new courses.

These four 2019 learning and development trends will have a huge impact on L&D strategies. As HR teams relook at their programs, finetuning them for the new year and refreshed ROI targets, having a more streamlined implementation-to-returns plan in place is essential. This implies a bird’s-eye view understanding of business needs, choosing engaging and enriching L&D tools, and continually reinventing the old, even as we tread new ground.

Which 2019 learning and development trends do you think will dominate L&D? Share your thoughts and join the discussion.


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Seven Learning And Development Trends To Adopt In 2019

It’s the time of year for human resources professionals to look back on employee performance and begin planning their training needs for 2019. To any business, human capital is its greatest asset and the biggest key to achieving business goals. How can you better prepare your teams to perform in a highly competitive environment? Through training.

Learning and technology walk hand in hand. As high-tech innovations accelerate, so does the opportunity to create better corporate training programs and delivery methods. As the president and CEO of one of the largest learning and development providers in the United States, I have learned that organizations need personalized training that incorporates cutting-edge technology, supports professional development and encourages employee engagement. More than ever, training is effectively providing skills that match the way we learn in a high-tech world. Here are seven of the top training trends you should pay attention to in 2019.

1. C-suite and HR work together better to align goals.

The biggest mistake I see that keeps an organization’s learning and development efforts from reaching their full potential is a lack of planning and commitment from the C-suite. Leaders who don’t plan exactly what they want their training to accomplish are wasting resources. In a learning culture, management and HR work together to define the values, processes and practices that employees, departments and the organization can use to increase their performance and competencies. The knowledge and skills acquired and applied by employees is shared freely in a learning culture, creating a sustainable and adaptable organization.

2. Develop competencies for future organizational goals.

To maintain the continued health of your company, management must target employees who can take over future leadership roles. For current employees, immediately begin training on leadership development, communication and problem-solving skills. If they aren’t already, HR can target job candidates with leadership potential in all their talent acquisition efforts. Management can help develop future leaders and managers as soon as new employees enter the door by providing mentors and helping them build professional networks. Improving your leadership development program helps you build teams that are agile and capable of evolving with the times.

3. Emphasize communication skills.

As organizations become more diverse and broaden their reach, company leaders see the value in developing their employees’ soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, collaboration and negotiation. In fact, more than 90% of respondents to a 2016 Deloitte survey rated soft skills a “critical priority.” They also indicated that soft skills can foster employee retention, improve leadership and build a meaningful culture.

However, there is widespread concern among recruiters that the soft skills gap is widening with the technologically savvy but soft-skill-poor Gen Z employees entering the workforce. Learning and development personnel can overcome this challenge by offering soft skills training to employees and encouraging them to refine their social skills. An introduction to soft skills training may include holding brainstorm sessions where employees list the possible uses for various soft skills or helping them role play to discover different situational outcomes.

4. Increase the gamification of training.

There is a misunderstanding about gamification and training programs in the real world. Unwitting business owners will scoff at the notion of gamification because they believe it means turning their training programs into video games. Understandably, they feel that their critical and potentially life-saving OSHA-compliance training should not be equivalent to Donkey Kong. What they don’t realize is that gamification is simply a process of building a progressive reward system into training that imitates modern video games.

Badges, points, leaderboards and community involvement incentivize the online training experience for even the most jaded learner. Learners who lack the passion and drive to participate can use these tools as a springboard until their core motivation kicks in.

5. View training as an employee benefit and bait for talent acquisition.

Training can be a key differentiator between companies competing for talent. Employees want to work for organizations that provide personal and professional development, and they consider it a deciding factor when looking for new employment or determining if they should stay with their current employer. Learning and development plays a critical role in engaging — and retaining — employees. Leverage your training as an employee incentive, and add it to your existing benefits package alongside retirement and health and wellness options.

6. Weigh learner-centric against content-oriented training.

Training in the past that focused solely on content was “one size fits all,” which made it difficult to engage with the learner. Today, we must zero in on the learner, including his or her experience, work environment, performance and technological fluency, to create a training program. Any effective training program is one developed for the individual and offers social activities to share their experiences.

As you train, think of your employees as consumers. They are used to getting 500,000 results per search on Google, YouTube automatically playing related videos based on what they’ve just watched, and Netflix suggesting content matches based on viewing pattern algorithms. For the learning consumer, training clips on your YouTube channel, a classroom training session, a MOOC (massive online open course) or a post shared on Facebook Workplace are elements that can be turned into learning content.

7. Digital and mobile content and delivery are more critical than ever.

According to a 2018 study by LinkedIn, the biggest challenge for talent development is getting employees to make time for learning. Employees would agree that they don’t have the time to take away from their primary jobs to get the training. Delivering your training on multiple platforms, such as classroom, mobile and on-demand, can help eliminate the time crunch for busy employees.

These seven learning and development trends provide a good indication of where the training industry is heading. It is about personalization, ongoing support and making the most of today's cutting-edge technologies. It also gives your employees the incentives and social interactions they need to actively engage.

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5 Skills to Include in a Comprehensive Leadership Development Program

Although the majority of organizations have leadership development programs, only 7 percent describe their programs as “best in class,” according to Harvard Business Publishing research. This statistic makes it clear that many current leadership development programs may ultimately be failing both the leaders who participate in them and their organizations. Creating a world-class leadership development program starts with equipping leaders with the specific skills, tools and behaviors they will need to confidently lead others and drive the performance of their team or organization. With that in mind, here are five skills a comprehensive leadership development program should include.

1. Coaching

Coaching is one of the best methods leaders can leverage to unleash the full potential of their direct reports. Coachable moments happen every day, and a leader with strong coaching skills can seize these moments and turn them into valuable learning experiences. According to Gallup research, only three in 10 employees “strongly agree there is someone at work who encourages their development.” This skill can go a long way in positively influencing employee engagement and productivity. Gone are the days of vague yearly reviews; employees today want feedback, motivation and guidance in real time, and leaders must be able to effectively provide those things.

Coaching is one of the best methods leaders can leverage to unleash the full potential of their direct reports.

2. Accountability

The most successful leaders know that their success hinges more on their team’s performance than their own. Leaders are no longer individual contributors and will be not be assessed that way. They are held accountable for others’ actions and results, as well as their own, and must take accountability for team outcomes – the good and the bad. By training leaders on this important distinction, you can ensure that they will be capable of defining accountabilities and rigorously holding direct reports to those commitments, so that everyone can succeed and produce the results they need.

3. Change Management

An organization is not a static entity that can be frozen in time. Changes in the marketplace, employee turnover, company growth and countless other factors contribute to ongoing changes. Whether the changes feel like a ripple or a tidal wave to employees, leaders must be prepared to shepherd them through the changes, which requires training leaders to manage change before it ever even happens. Change management training should be part of any leadership development program to ensure that leaders can harness the power of vision, provide strong leadership during any season and capitalize on the transitional times to improve performance.

Change management training should be part of any leadership development program.

4. Influence and Negotiation

Effective leaders don’t command with authority; they inspire, persuade and encourage others to make their vision a reality. By learning how to be strong influencers and fair negotiators, leaders will return to their roles knowing that it is not about who has the most power but about who has the best influence on employees to achieve results. Rather than demanding that employees do something because of authority or hierarchy, leaders will use this subtle quality to build relationships, align priorities, and find a win-win that ultimately leads to completed projects and delivered results.

5. Communication

Communication training is often a cornerstone of leadership development, but how effective and up-to-date is it? What format does it take? Communication is not a skill that leaders can learn by just reading, watching a video or listening to a presentation about it. In a leadership role, communication happens at all hours of the day through large presentations, one-on-one conversations, phone calls, text messages, videoconferencing and, of course, emails. Although it’s not a new skill to leadership development, communication is one that needs to be optimized in order to be fully relevant and useful to the leaders of today and tomorrow.

Although it’s not new, communication is a skill that needs to be optimized in order to be fully relevant and useful.

Closing the gap between the desire for excellent leadership and the reality of failed leadership programs requires a fresh approach to training and development. Consider company-specific challenges and the needs of leaders in today’s world, and ask for input from current leaders, to create a leadership development program that is successful in the eyes of everyone involved.

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Training or Learning – More than Semantics?

Training can be mandatory, learning is always optional. That’s my answer when asked to explain the difference between training and learning. It’s a common question and one that all learning and development professionals should be able to answer. (Not that we all have to agree on the answer.) Some L&D professionals believe that learning is a long-term process related to development and change while training is developed for a specific task – learning about emotional intelligence as opposed to being taught how to operate a piece of machinery. It may be a matter of semantics, but words are powerful. The term learning gets more traction in leadership circles in organisations than training – so why do most of our colleagues still talk about training not learning? Training for most people in an organisation is something that is done to them whereas learning is something that they actively participate in – ‘they’ learn. That semantic ownership ensures that learners engage. By being ‘trained’ colleagues allow others to take control and ‘instruct’ them in what needs to be done, specifically and within a structure and format that they do not have ownership of nor influence over. There are many reasons why training fails to deliver learning, they include:

There is no contextualisation The content doesn’t flow The training method doesn’t resonate  The environment isn’t conducive There’s no real life application There’s a lack of follow-up 

Learning is being conducted everyday through informal networks within organisations where colleagues exchange information. It is not necessarily classed as formal learning – as most of it isn’t – and it is distant from formal training. It is the responsibility of the L&D professional to recognise the value in these informal learning networks – where no formal learning objectives have been set – and leverage it for the organisation. Learning networks happen everywhere at work where colleagues interact, they are also formed digitally through the utilisation of non workplace reference sources, search engines and communities. “Just Google it” is an invitation to learn in an unformatted, non-formalised self-directed manner embraced not only by by Millennials but by all colleagues. No-one is afraid of the web anymore. (Who among us hasn’t looked on Youtube to learn how to do something?)  There is of course still a requirement for specific formal training, but is has to be part of a greater mix of opportunistic learning options that are flexible and agile to suit individual learners. If your organisation introduces a new project management system you will still need to train people to be able to use it (via instruction, retention and repetition), but beyond that you will need to allow opportunities for them to continue to learn how to get the most out of the new system as they become familiar with it – how to apply critical thinking and creative applications to various situations – beyond the narrow operating requirements that training will deliver.

The goal of your organisation, regardless of what type of organisation you work within, is to achieve results. Whatever those results might be – profit, attendance, membership, votes, lives saved, goals scored – there is a need for all members of the organisation to be able to deliver their part in achieving those goals and it falls to L&D to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to do so. It is therefore incumbent upon us as learning professionals to drive the culture of learning within our organisations beyond designing and delivering training. It is understood and widely accepted that for organisations to grow they must become agile in how they operate and relentless in how they innovate. This is also true for L&D. 

An agile L&D department is commercially savvy and strategic in thought. It is operationally focused and responsive in delivery. It promotes and accommodates ongoing and continuous learning. It also does a bit of training here and there. An agile L&D department is always asking itself:

Why do we work in this way? (Challenge everything.) What can we do to improve? (Exclude nothing.) How can we drive the learning agenda? (Ask everyone.)

Challenge everything. It’s simple and scary and the single most important thing you can do to understand your current situation. Exclude nothing. Everything is up for grabs: ways of working, systems, processes, environments, technologies, timings, formats, audiences, objectives and rationales. Ask everyone. The knowledge needed to improve your learning culture, offer and outcomes is there, you just have to ask the right person. 

It’s okay to train. But be aware that it won’t always result in learning. That’s out of your hands, but you can give it a nudge by making your training:

Relevant to the individual Specific to their role Focused on a goal Contextualised to assure impact

If you want to super-size the learning opportunity make your training agile and responsive to the needs of those being trained:

Self-paced and self-managed with optional guidance opportunities Bite-sized, micro-sized and immersive content Easily-accessible across multiple platforms and environments Informal and/or formal instructional delivery as requested Allow for self forming learning networks to support one another Reward learning with recognition and opportunity

Finally, if the goal is to deliver learning, L&D professionals must stop accepting every request for training as an edict. (Challenge everything.) Learning solutions are varied and should be responsive to an identified business need as opposed to being a knee-jerk training product developed because a stressed-out manager thought it was a panacea to poor performance (Which it never is). Training can be mandatory, but it should be focused on addressing an identified problem where the solution adds organisational value in a specific and measurable way that is easily applied by the learner, maybe then learning would be an option that more people would choose.

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Continuous Improvement in Learning – an Organisational Challenge.

Compromising on the quality of learning in an organisation cannot be justified by the need to do things faster or cheaper. But invariably – in organisations that do not value learning – quality is less of a priority than cost management. This is both short-sighted and a threat to organisational performance. In any other area of an organisation when cost savings are sought, quality of deliverables is a non-negotiable when it comes to identifying where savings can be found. Instead, many businesses employ continuous improvement processes – Lean ways of working – and strive to find process improvements to save costs without compromising quality. Learning organisations understand the importance of applying the principles of continuous process improvement in developing, delivering and evaluating learning. 

Continuous process improvement is not new. Kaisen, Kanban etc are all Lean process improvement methodologies that have been used globally for many years. The term refers to the task of identifying opportunities for improvement, implementing changes, and robustly measuring the impact of those changes. There are three key principles that support continuous improvement in L&D:

Continuous process improvement is a mindset not an event Buy-in to the mindset is needed across the whole organisation The process is recursive – Plan, Do, Check, Act

The mindset of continuous improvement refers to the ongoing search for ways to improve organisational efficiency and effectiveness – it is the belief that there is always room for improvement and a way to do things better. When this mindset is championed and encouraged across all functions and at all levels in the organisation the opportunity to focus on activities that add value and to reduce everything else drives business transformation, results in productivity improvements, growth opportunity and increased profitability – goals that strategic learning departments should be aligned to and measured against.

The notion of the continuous process improvement mindset fits well with what Stanford professor Dr Carol Dweck called the Growth mindset where individuals who continually learn and embrace challenges improve their overall intelligence and opportunity for greater personal success. (She identified having a fixed mindset as being self-limiting with little opportunity – or desire – for personal improvement where challenge and effort is needed to be successful.) An L&D professional must have a growth mindset in order to creatively deliver when their organisation is under cost pressures and to ensure that they are able to challenge what they do and how they do it in the search for continuous process improvement. 

Learning professionals need to drive the conversation by asking questions of themselves and others in the organisation, eg:

What can we do differently? What does good look like? Why do we do it like this? Where are the pain points? What is the saving here? Where can we add value? Where can we strip cost/time? How can we leverage our current system/processes? What is our measure of success?

Asking questions is the first step in understanding where we can make improvements to services, products, and processes. The process is enriched when others in the organisation outside of the learning department are involved and allowed to contribute without judgement or qualification. There are a number of principles that can help us to work with the outputs of our initial questioning conversations in the search for improvement to our learning: 

Value everyone’s contribution – especially the learners in the organisation. (Encourage them to identify what small things would improve their learning experiences. Or ask them what bothers them about the current way of doing things.) Look for improvements based on small changes - large changes can often be met with fear and negativity. Look for incremental improvements – they tend to be low-cost and low-risk and therefore easier to establish and embed. Check-in regularly. Open communication and constant feedback are  important aspects of continuous improvement. Have a measure. Be clear of the impact that any improvement will make – and tell people.

Once a potential improvement has been identified, take action.

By continuing to cycle through these steps, improvement is always being worked on and evaluated. Each step builds on the previous step, and then feeds into the next.

Plan - In the planning phase, the L&D team will drive the conversation – ask the right questions - to measure current standards, come up with ideas for improvements, identify how those improvements should be implemented, set objectives, and make the plan of action.

Do - Implement the plan that was created in the first step. This includes not only changing processes and ways of working, but also providing any necessary communication and engagement across the organisation. 

Check – This is where the L&D team need to evaluate what impact the changes they have implemented have had against an agreed measure of success. It is at this step that any corrective actions need to happen to ensure the desired results are being achieved.

Act - All the data gathered from the change is analysed by L&D and presented to the organisation leadership team to determine whether the change will become permanent or if further adjustments are needed.

The goal of continuous process improvement for the L&D professional is ultimately the provision of efficient and effective learning aligned to the organisational goals – which is why changes are measured and presented to the organisations leadership. The principle of The Aggregation of Marginal Goals made famous by David Brailsford and his team at British Cycling back in 2003 is a great example of how continuous process improvement can make a difference to performance in an organisation. It is the notion of looking for lots of little improvements in what you do – tiny margins of improvement everywhere. When Brailsford took over British Cycling he looked at everything about the sport, the bikes and the cyclists in the search for those improvements. He and his team redesigned bike saddles, rubbed alcohol on tyres, taught team cyclists how to wash their hands (to minimise the risk of infections), changed the pillows they slept on and the socks that they wore as well as changing their training regimen and diets. Applying the principles of the aggregation of marginal gains saw the team go from relative obscurity and mediocre performance to winning the Tour De France and dominate cycling at the 2012 Olympics – and beyond. Applying the same principles to learning and development can only result in improved organisational performance - find the 1% improvement in every aspect of L&D. Adopting a continuous process improvement mindset can only lead to growth in the success of learning that may be cheaper and may be faster, but that will not compromise on quality. 

Learning is continuous, and so therefore should be the search for improvements in how we approach it within our organisations.

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A Holistic Learning Approach for Organisations

The term “holistic” often brings to mind non-scientific therapies and alternative lifestyles featuring scented candles and self-help strategies involving chanting and meditation. (Not that there is anything wrong with any of those things.) However, from a learning perspective there are benefits to be gained from taking a holistic approach to the development and deployment of learning in organisations. We can approach holistic learning from two perspectives – educating the whole person; and a strategic design approach.

1) Holistic Learning – educating the whole person

A key proposition of Experiential Learning Theory (Kolb & Kolb) is that learning is a holistic process of adaptation. It is not just the result of cognition but involves the integrated functioning of the total person – thinking, feeling and behaving. Itaddresses and involves the learner's whole personality.

Cognitive (Thinking) – learning facts, theory, logical relations Emotional (Feeling) – playfulness, feeling connected to others, experiencing positive and negative emotions by being challenged, emotions regarding values and intellectual concepts Practical (Behaving) – turning ideas into decisions and actions, practicing skills and experimenting, learning by doing

Holistic learning encourages the use of meaningful content that relates to authentic tasks/situations to engage learners, it focuses on building knowledge and critical thinking as opposed to teaching facts/figures, and it continually encourages learners to develop and find the application of what they’ve learnt. There are different methods that can be used:

Practical Experience:  Role-playing games, independent work on tasks, simulations, working with experts, presenting their experience and expertise Acquiring Knowledge: Involving experts, sharing expertise among participants, text work, media work, analytical tasks Reflective Evaluation: Collaborative feedback, independent evaluation by participants of the experience and outcomes, facilitating skills to identify personal criteria for success, discussion

Holistic learning provides a range of learning opportunities that can be applied to create a complex and deep learning experience. When the learning objectives are aligned to the operational goals holistic learning maximises the opportunity for individual and organisational performance improvement. 

2) Holistic Learning – a strategic design approach

High-performing organisations foster a culture of continuous learning and take a much more holistic approach to learning and development. Holistic approaches to learning recognise the connectedness of mind, body and spirit. When we take a holistic approach to learning in the workplace we need to be aware of the physical, personal, social and emotional wellbeing of the learner as well as focusing on the operational objective of the learning. There are three key elements to consider in developing a holistic learning approach:

The learning context: The strategic alignment of the learning with the operational and commercial goals of the organisation The framework within which the learner receives value  The establishment of learning standards and methods of measure The link to performance management and talent development The learning environment: The infrastructure to plan, develop, deliver and evaluate learning The management of the physical space  The opportunity for social interaction and personal reflection The importance of continuous learning The learning blend: Varied content delivery Self-directed and facilitated options Clear catalogue or curriculum navigation and learning paths

Taking a holistic approach to learning is crucial in our fast changing working environment. Technology has disrupted work and learning. We need to respond to the changing requirements – and expectations – of today’s organisational learner. Flexibility, mobility and on-demand learning within a strategic delivery framework are key to ensure engagement. 

Research by Deloitte has linked on-going, holistic learning in the workplace to increased employee productivity and improved employee retention. A holistic learning approach which offers opportunities to the ‘whole person’ through a varied delivery offer empowers employees to gain the knowledge and skills they need to advance their careers within the organisation. This offers the opportunity for a different kind of self-help from that usually associated with the term holistic – self-directed learning with immediate value. Scented candle and chanting optional.

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6 Ways To Create Pull Learning Content

Recent learning trend reports tell of a move from push models of learning to a pull model. But what does that actually mean? And what do you need to do to make sure your learning pulls people in and even achieves that elusive 'viral' quality? How Is Digital Transformation Affecting L&D? The Difference Between Push And Pull Learning Content

Push and pull are terms that are very familiar to web content strategists and marketers. However, many L&D teams are only just waking up to the power of—and demand for—different types of content strategies in learning.

Pushing It

Think back a few years to conversations with people commissioning training about how learners will get to a piece of learning. Common answers would have been "we'll send an email to learners" or "line managers will tell their teams about it". If the team had thought more about the marketing strategy for their learning, perhaps they might have been a poster campaign or a message in a newsletter. These are all ways of pushing content out to people. This isn't the only way to do things.

Pull Content Is Different

Pull presumes people will come to you and, if you provide an engaging and valuable experience, they'll keep coming back. They might even want to tell others and you can achieve that elusive viral quality. But, to quote Field of Dreams, it is true with learning that "if you build it they will come."

With an increasingly web-literate audience within most organizations, people are used to hunting down information as they need it. So many people are active consumers of information and learning. Yes, that time you spent on YouTube teaching yourself to knit/to moonwalk/to wallpaper/what makes a good TV (delete where applicable) was learning – especially when you went on to practice and master said knitting or moon walking. We define our learning journeys, judge the quality of the resources, and chart our own progress towards our goals.

That doesn't mean that push strategies are pushing daisies. There will still be learning that people need to do and in a certain time and format. But if organizations fail to monopolize on learners' inherent learning habits and preferences, they're missing a huge opportunity.

How To Create Pull Learning Content

Here are 6 things you can do to make the most of modern learning and browsing habits.

1. Think Resources, Not Courses

With learners designing their own journeys, the notion of a curated course isn't always important. It can be more important to have a set of resources with which learners can fill their gaps. These resources can use the same mix of video, infographics, eLearning, etc. that comprise a traditional course. However, you might want to focus on resources people use at the point of need, including job aids such as quick-start guides and checklists.

Just because you're organizing a resource base doesn't mean you're just presenting static information. There's still plenty of space for all types of learning including diagnostics, activities, quizzes, games and even structured assessments.

2. Make It Easy To Find

If you're going to create a resource base, you need to make sure people know where it is. A platform – LMS, intranet, or otherwise – needs to give people easy and quick access to resources. Consider the value of good categorization and search functions. But remember, your audience will never get that far unless you have an awareness campaign to herald the platform's launch and then regular signposts to make sure people remember it's there.

Don't feel that you need to do all the promotional work, though: Never underestimate the power of sharing. People will want to pass on an impactful and useful resource so actively encourage this. The snowball effect of sharing and resharing is what makes something viral.

If people are going to be looking for content at the point of need, think carefully about the devices you're targeting. Will those people be likely to need that information when all they have to access it is a phone? Or over mobile broadband? Or on their own devices?

3. Keep It Granular

Recently, I wrote a blog post on microlearning. Cutting your content down into small pieces that deal with self-contained concepts is a good way to go in a pull strategy. If you're creating learning about a new sales process, you might include a refresher on features, advantages, and benefits. It might be better to break this refresher out into its own resource so it's easier to find if people go looking for that specific information.

4. Make Your Objectives Clear To The Learner

Sometimes, it's a challenge to engage people with certain topics. When learning is mandatory, it can make sense to spend the first few minutes hooking the learner emotionally before you outline the learning's full benefits. Put yourself in the mindset of someone who's searched for that content. The first thing they need is confirmation that the learning will fulfill the need that drove them there. So make sure it's clear at the start what the learner will get out of their time. We've all turned off a video or gone back to the Google results page because a creator hasn't got to the point quickly enough.

5. Consider Whether You Need Tracking Or Analytics

SCORM tracking is a staple of eLearning. It allows us to neatly track what people have completed and the newer xAPI (where available) allows us to do that in lots of fresh and interesting ways. But consider how much tracking individual learner progress matters and, if it does, what do you want to do with that information. If you want to analyze the amount of people visiting content and which content, how many resources the average person visits, how frequently, what time of day, from which devices and so on, then you're in the realm of web analytics. It's perfectly possible that you want to both track completion and compile analytics. Understanding what data you need to fulfill the learning's KPIs is very important.

6. Listen To Your Audience

Finally, seek out and listen to feedback. Run focus groups to find out what your audience want and what they need. When your learning is up and running, gather feedback to make sure it's hitting the spot. After all, a pull strategy is all about having the right information available, right away, and only the people on the ground can give you that real insight.

If you want to know more about creating effective training for your corporate learners in the digital era, download the free eBook Time To Transform: How Is Digital Transformation Affecting L&D?.

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Are Companies Making Progress In Digital Transformation?

The term “digital transformation” is now ubiquitous. Nearly every company’s leaders and board of directors see the potential of digital transformation to create new value and improve their competitive positioning. They are investing in building out capabilities to transform their business. Unfortunately, some companies build digital capabilities but don’t generate value that changes their competitive position. So, are businesses really making progress in these investments? Where are we in efforts to succeed at digital transformation? Here’s my view and what I believe must happen next.

Digital Transformation’s Current Status

For the last 18 months, the focus of digital transformation was understanding the capabilities that companies needed to develop or implement for their digital journeys. In addition, consulting and advisory firms responded to this effort by coming up with frameworks and the Target Operating Model (TOM) companies needed for building those capabilities. This led to a problem.

The problem is the digital world is moving fast and we don’t have 10-20 ears of experience to know what works and doesn’t work. Disruptive technologies force new operating models or new capabilities, but companies can only hypothesize as to what those capabilities should be. Frameworks are untested. Thus, TOMs and frameworks are built in a vacuum. They don’t reflect reality; they only reflect the best thinking at the time as to what a model or framework should be. This is part of the reason for the abysmal number of transformation failures.

That is where the digital transformation market is now – companies need to move the discussion from building/implementing capabilities to how to measure the value a company extracts from that effort. But they struggle to do this. Here’s the issue: Only a paucity of metrics exists to measure progress in digital transformation and understand if companies are getting any juice from the squeeze.

Companies need to be more realistic in the capabilities they are building. They need a new framework to look at what works rather than what is theoretically meant to work.

In understanding where we are today with digital transformation, we have two important examples of how business transformation evolved in the past.

The first is the internet bubble. It was clear in the late 1990s that the internet was a hugely disruptive technology and capability and that it would reshape business and companies. There was an enormous rush to build websites and buy technologies – much of which, if not most of it, was wasted. And every consultancy and research house expended enormous resources and time to build a framework for the capabilities needed to succeed in the internet age. Consultancies touted massive projections as to how much market share would be captured or lost.

Then the burst came. Although the internet was an extremely powerful and disruptive technology, the capabilities that companies rushed to implement were not well understood. So, the frameworks and the effort to create the capabilities didn’t yield much value.

Here we sit, almost 20 years later. We understand much more clearly how to utilize the internet, and we’ve built on top of it. Amazon and other firms leveraged the internet to create tremendous value. But most companies spent a lot of money on websites that were just sophisticated brochures. In the last 10 years, those sophisticated brochures matured and began enabling e-commerce to get much more value out of them. But that’s almost 20 years after we started the internet journey. It’s kind of shocking how long it took for those technologies to consistently take market share.

We’re moving into the same trap again today. We now have a raft of new, disruptive technologies ranging from Artificial Information (AI) to chat box to analytics to Robotic Process Automation (RPA), all of which collectively promise a massive breakthrough in performance. But we’re going down the same path as we did with the internet – we’re building capabilities against unproven maturity models and frameworks. If history repeats itself, which seems highly likely, much of this digital investment will be wasted.

Another example is the distributed computing revolution. The same story played out there. It was clear that distributed computing and PCs were far cheaper and far more powerful than mainframe computers. Companies rushed to take advantage of this and spent huge fortunes to equip their employees with PCs. Think about what we believed in the mid- to late 1980s around distributing computing and the capabilities needed for that. There is a world of difference compared to what we now know 30 years later about how to get the wanted productivity from PCs.

The path for the internet and PCS is a very natural path for the way technologies evolve. It’s inevitable to start with the technology and vision, then think about capabilities and then to evolve to hold organizations accountable to extract value. That last step is the hardest, and that’s where we are today in digital transformation. Hopefully, we can shorten the time from the initial vision to consistent value capture compared to how long it took us to do that with distributed computing and the internet. We built capabilities against unproven models and then had to go back and rework those.

In the case of digital, we went from three or four years ago to realizing that these technologies will inevitably create tremendous market value and we need to adopt them or be left behind. So, we went from vision to capability building. Now companies need to figure out how to extract value; otherwise, they will waste a lot of investment. The only way to succeed is to build metrics that measure progress toward extracting value from investments. That’s what needs to happen now.

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The irrationality of cheating at gamified learning

Game mechanics can make the learning process more sticky, but they can also encourage cheating. How do you make sure that the logic of the game doesn't overtake its intended educational purpose? 

As I came to the end to the end of my daily vocabulary exercises, I clicked on the little icon that said "Ranking" on the side of the screen. It had become a sort of habit -- you might say a guilty pleasure -- to check my progress against others learning languages on the same website. There had been a certain satisfaction when I first spotted my name amongst the top ten of users who had started at the same time as me, or the moment when my overall ranking passed from the ten thousands to a mere four figures. It was meaningless, of course. There was no prize for winning and no-one would be impressed by my progress up the charts.

It was just one of the little rituals that somehow made the process of improving my French more compelling.

On this occasion, however, upon clicking and redirecting, I was greeted by something quite different to what I had expected. No charts, no leaderboard, but a polite notice in an unassuming sans-serif. "Regrettably," it began, "we have had to temporarily disable leaderboards on Memrise after extensive cheating has been brought to our attention, some of which has been slowing down the site for the whole community."

Memrise launched in private beta three years ago and is just on the verge of launching its non-beta version 1.0. In 2010, it was named one of Techcrunch's start-ups of the year and last year garnered a whole swathe of favourable press, from Fox News' Cool Site of the Day to MIT

Technology Review. The idea, founder Ed Cooke tells Wired.co.uk, is "pretty simple: make learning as effective and enjoyable as possible".

Cooke is an Oxford University graduate who became a Grand Master of Memory at 23 (for which he had to memorise 1,000 random number and ten decks of cards in an hour) and went on to coach American freelance journalist, Joshua Froer, to become 2006 USA Memory Champion. So when Ed talks about packing Memrise "with all the science we can muster", well, that's a fair bit of science. In this case, a combination of "vivid imagery", "elaborate testing' and "spaced repetition" taking advantage of the effect first noticed by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885 stating that last minute cramming is a lot less productive than a little and often over a longer period.


Memrise couples these techniques with a wiki library of "mems" (mnemonics) and what Cooke calls a 'Farmville-style learning game, where you plant words, grow them, water them, and see in your "memory garden" the scope and splendour of all the things you have learned.' Since its Facebook app launched in 2009, Farmville, with its addictive simplicity and viral transmission, has provided the model for a trend towards "gamification" that has taken the worlds of business and marketing by storm. It was while being mentored by one of the bosses of Zynga, Farmville's creators, that Memrise developed its garden metaphor and game-like interface.

They are not, however, the only language acquisition site on the block. Duolingo only went public in June of this year but it quickly racked up a few hundred thousand eager users. The brainchild of reCAPTCHA inventor Luis von Ahn and his graduate student, Severin Hacker, the idea came from a desire to "translate the web into every major language". The problem, von Ahn told me, is that "machine translation is just not very good yet." It soon became apparent that such a task would take millions of people - happily, "there are over 1 billion people learning foreign languages in the world and many of them translate some stuff while learning." Luis and his team put two and two together and Duolingo was born. 

If the model sounds like it takes its cue from the "artificial artificial intelligence" of Amazon Mechanical Turk, its more the case, as von Ahn delicately puts it, that "Mechanical Turk was inspired by earlier work". In 2002, von Ahn created the ESP Game which was bought by Google and became Google Image Labeler. His PhD thesis in 2005 was the first work to talk about both "human computation" and "games with a purpose". Duolingo shares with Memrise certain elements familiar from computer games -- you can gain points and lose lives -- but von Ahn is wary of the word "gamification". "Everybody," he says, "is 'game-ified' now". Ed Cooke likewise, calling it a term 'you have to hate' while allowing that incentives like leaderboards and point scoring are important for keeping people interested "minute by minute".

The suspension of Memrise's leader boards, however, seems to raise the question of what happens when the logic of the game starts to overtake itself. Margaret Robertson, game designer and managing director at Hide&Seek design studio, spoke to me of a "desire to cheat" which lurks behind the competitiveness of gaming, and in the case of Memrise this seems to have run riot. The original suspension message spoke of "bots", "dummy courses" and even a "small army of children" employed to rack up scores. Cooke didn't wish "to glorify some of the bizarre lengths people have gone to cheat on Memrise" but he did point to a "whole genre of YouTube videos" on the topic, some of which -- showing twelve windows open at once auto-completing each other -- have notched up several hundred views.

For theorist Ian Bogost, author of How to Do Things with Videogames, the problem is not with gamingper sebut comes from mistaking games for "points-machines" rather than what he calls "experience-machines". As Robertson puts it, games are "safe spaces we opt into"and a good game will circumvent the temptation to cheat by "preparing for it and embracing it" much as many of the classic console games did.

Both Cooke and von Ahn told me about plans to incorporate more competitiveness and more gameplay into their respective platforms, so perhaps the cure for gamification's excesses is simply more gamification.

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When to Build Learning Games . . . and How to Do It Without Breaking the Bank!

The world of training is infatuated with games today. Everyone seems to have gotten the idea that games motivate learners to get more involved, to learn faster, and to retain more information – gamification, the new buzz word of learning industry.

I’ll share a secret with you – games can be good but like everything else in business, they’re not always the best solution – and you know this! In the back of your head there is something telling you to hold off, wait, this might be like the Beta Max or HD DVDs — perhaps this sizable investment ISN’T the best option.

The Learning Team here at Tortal is here to tell you to LISTEN to the little voice in your head, but only to a certain extent. Gamification is a great tool in the arsenal of corporate learning professionals and has been for some time now, like 60 years. Gamification, just like all tools, can produce brilliant results when used properly – it can also wreak havoc when wielded inappropriately. Additionally – it doesn’t have to cost you a bundle. Let us share just a few thought we have on the subject – if you don’t have a lot of time, just read the first line in each paragraph.

WHEN are Games right?

Here are three questions to ask when considering whether to use game-based elements in your training. There are more – but these will get you started.

Will the content change often?
If the answer is more than once every year or two, then building a game probably isn’t your best bet. You want to be sure the CONTENT your game is focused on will not need to be updated frequently, or you’ll spend a bundle. Gamified learning is perfect for content that will stay static for years to come of change infrequently and minimally. Interestingly enough, this applies to most formal learning assets. Who is your learner? What is the subject?
We don’t recommend throwing your new learners into a game scenario as their first experience with your company. Think about it, you just joined a company and they say – “Welcome aboard little buddy! Here’s a boating-style game to teach you about your job – go play and be successful!” It lacks personal attention and an immediate feedback loop.However, got a group of sales people you want to encourage to use a new system? A Mission Impossible game for core functions could be the ticket. Want to make your compliance training NOT SUCK – Sexual Harassment Jeopardy will at least help ease the compliance woes. Are you trying to change behavior or deliver information?
A game, in and of itself, probably won’t change behavior. Remember our brains need to encounter a similar task or situation a couple of times before forming a behavior pattern. Playing through a game once or twice won’t necessarily help you with behavior change. However, if you are trying to get learners through an educational journey – well, a game-based scenario might get them more immersed in the experience.

So if after those three questions, you’ve got some content that:

isn’t really going to change isn’t lighting the intellectual world on fire needs to go to an audience who tends to avoid boring

. . . well, you should make it into a game! Now let’s talk about how to do it without breaking the bank!

Part of that mistaken belief that gamification costs the bank is rooted in the misconception that gamification means creating elegant, complicated interactive games that look like Minecraft, flight simulators or The Sims. That is not the case. The best games are often the simplest – think Pass the Pigs or Candy Crush! Simple, engaging, fun, short, easy to learn to play, flexible for different numbers of players.

The Two Mediums

Let’s talk about the two mediums:

Live Games: Like the Pass the Pigs example above, these are games played in person. They are perfect for conferences, workshops, instructor-led, virtual instructor-led or even team initiative training interactions. These games cost you a little time in creativity at the least. You may need to buy some swag or recognition material for your learners. You don’t have to do it yourself – Google “great training games” and just wade through the first two pages. eLearning Games: They can get expensive quick – let the impact of the learning be your guide. Hey, it may make sense to build a multimillion-dollar simulation to recreate reality in a safe environment. If you’re a pilot, practicing in a simulator is a LOT LESS expensive than crashing a plane. You get the idea, so let’s eliminate those scenarios where mistakes lead to massive loss of life and money. Let’s talk about the majority of learning content out there for compliance, sales, soft skill, systems and technical training. These are great opportunities to introduce cost-effective methods of using games in your learning. Here are some tried-and-true techniques: Competitive Point Systems: You can use star ratings, level ups, point systems, leader boards and time trials to incorporate an element of competition into the learning interaction. Individual Achievement Structures: As learners journey through the curriculum they can achieve higher levels, game pieces, tokens or any number of trinkets to represent their passage through to the end of the learning. Think in terms of levels of Candy Crush or money/property/houses and hotels in Monopoly. The accumulation of these tokens along the learning path can encourage the learner to gain more, especially if there is a goal. We built a game once where the learner had to collect all the puzzle pieces to their certification simply by listening to recorded calls and answering some questions. Learner Centered Feedback: It’s an immediate feedback loop based on the learner environment encouraging the learner to think critically about their scenario and choose the correct response, or essentially, a quiz. The twist, it is LEARNER CENTERED. In a customer service space, wrong responses result in a customer getting madder and madder. In a sales space, the learner WINS deals for correct responses. In safety training, the avatar gets band aids, stitches, surgery or a funeral. These simple, unexpected, credible and relevant ways to relate the information to the actual environment with a goal in mind. Instead of scoring 80% on the quiz now you are making at least four customers happy or keeping eight employees out of the hospital. LET’S TALK ABOUT DEVELOPMENT: If you are thinking Mobile App specialized coding – well break out your wallet. However, many of these solutions can be easily developed using existing authoring tools like Storyline or Captivate. They can also be developed as WEB BASED APPS access via the browser in HTML5. It’s important to understand HOW the learners will be accessing the game. These business requirements will drive your development decision but those mentioned here are ones we’ve found handle 95% of the requests we get.

It’s Not Rocket Surgery – but It’s Easy to Get Wrong!

If you’re like many organizations, the head of the training department doesn’t ACTUALLY have a training background. We’d like to ask you this, would you let your mechanic do your taxes? Now, perhaps you have this amazing mechanic who also understands the nuances of the double entry accounting system and deferred losses. We’re pretty sure most of you just giggled (or gasped) a little in your head.

You will be amazed to know there is an entire population of us out here who studied for this life, we practice this life every day, we learn more to make what we do better and we are constantly studying how people learn in organizations and what organizations need to succeed. We’ve dedicated our lives to the science of learning and the art of design – we encourage you to seek out one of us and let us shine a light on what’s possible in your organization.

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How to Cultivate a Culture of Learning in Your Organization . . . and Yourself

Great things happen in companies where executives inspire people to learn. To name just a few . . .

An enhanced ability to compete in the marketplace, because people discover and apply the best information, solutions and ideas More effective leadership, because executives who love to learn inspire others to perform on a much higher level Improved job retention, because the work that everyone does becomes more stimulating and engaging Enhanced operations, because people aren’t required to do things . . . they want to try out the newest solutions and ideas

How can you cultivate a culture of learning and enjoy more of those benefits?

Become a Lifelong Learner Yourself – and Talk about It

It might work to say to people, “Go find out about the latest trends in our industry.” But in my experience, people are inspired to do that when company leaders are lifelong learners themselves. In other words, great learning leaders model the kind of learning behavior they would like to inspire in others. Then they actively share their discoveries in meetings, in casual encounters with people, on the company intranet, and more.

The more excited you become about what you are learning, the more people will follow suit. One effective approach is to start meetings by talking about something you have learned, and then asking other to contribute too. Another strategy is to start book groups where employees read and discuss important new books; provide the books and hold the sessions during company hours, not lunch hours, to reinforce the idea that learning is a “must do,” not a “nice to have” activity.

Open the Doors and Seek Information in New Places

When you stop to think about it, you are surrounded by people who can help everyone in your company learn. They include vendors, executives at other companies, members of professional organizations, and more. As I wrote in my book Ingaging Leadership, you can learn a great deal from companies in other sectors that are targeting the same customers you are – in other words, competing for the same dollars. How are they marketing, delivering customer service, and more?

To stimulate this kind of learning, create task forces that are charged with the responsibility of visiting other companies, attending conferences, reading business books, and then reporting back about the solutions and ideas they have discovered. One powerful suggestion is to have groups of employees evaluate your competitors and then their present findings to you.

The more you integrate learning with work, the more energized your organization becomes.

Let Employees Step out as Company Experts on What They Have Learned

When employees have learned a lot about a topic, find ways to let them share their expertise with everyone in your organization. You can encourage them to blog about what they know, write articles in company newsletters, and lead training sessions.

Those steps inspire your most enthusiastic learners to learn even more, inspire everyone to identify and master areas of learning that interest them, and further build a company culture where learning is a priority.

Become a Teacher and Trainer Too

Over the last few years, I have been giving more keynote speeches, posting videos on my company’s webpages, writing articles and a book, and taking other steps to share the lessons that I have learned during the decades I have spent starting, building and developing companies.

I believe that the more I share the hard-won lessons I have learned, the more I demonstrate my belief in learning.

Put Educational Resources on Your Company Intranet, Website, Publications and Elsewhere

You can publish a review of an important article or book on your intranet with a link to download it. Or put an educational video on your website, or publish an article in your company newsletter. The more you demonstrate that you value knowledge, the stronger your commitment to learning becomes.

Create a Personal Development Plan for Each Employee 

Instead of only conducting performance reviews, empower the process by creating a personal development plan for every employee in your organization. Discuss specific areas for growth and learning that they would like to investigate, then bring the process to life by adding specific target dates for learning.

Then get together with each employee monthly to review progress. I am a very big advocate for this process, because I have seen how powerfully it works to develop people. When people understand what they have to do in order to advance in your company, they are more motivated to learn, excel and serve as role models. Why review learning and growth only once a year?

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Are you aligning your training and business goals?

There are really two kinds of training. The first and most basic centres on teaching employees to improve their performance of required skills and tasks. The second kind of training does that too, but produces far more transformational results, because it also teaches skills and behaviors that align with larger company initiatives and goals.

Here’s an analogy that demonstrates my point. First think of a golf caddy as a trainer. That caddy can walk the course and hand his golfer one club at a time and say, 'This is the best club for this shot.' That might improve the golfer’s game.

But if the caddy is thinking about the golfer’s goal to par a very tough hole, he may add a higher level of information by giving perspective on the overall layout of the hole, the potential hazards in the path, and even a strategy for playing the entire course. Suddenly, the player’s performance rises to a new level.

Good training can deliver similar results. It can happen if you create training that transforms your organisation by aligning what people learn with larger company goals. Here are some critically important steps to take.

Keep your most important objectives in mind

Another way of stating this principle is, 'begin with the end in mind.' That means that instead of starting by defining only skills, work toward a bigger vision of what you would like your organisation to become.

As long as you are providing training, why not align it with company priorities?

If you are training your call centre staff to handle incoming calls, for example, you could teach people to answer a set of expected questions. But if you are also trying to build a company that will be known for delivering superlative customer service, build that bigger picture into what you are training your people to do.

Break down the silo walls

Trainers often are brought into different company sectors and encouraged to stay in them. They might teach skills for servicing or installing products, providing customer service, preparing food, or selling on the retail floor. But what if your trainers also thought outside the silos and delivered a bigger picture of what is taking place across the organisation?

For example, what if your product installers knew how to turn customers into repeat customers?

Don’t create training in a vacuum

Whether your training developers work in-house, or you use an outside training company, engage them in conversations about quarterly reports, company whitepapers and publications, news stories about your organisation, press releases, and all the other pertinent documents you can provide. In sum, do all those materials suggest any untapped opportunities to them for aligning your training with larger goals?

Tie your training to measureable metrics

Here are some suggestions for metrics that don’t just gather data, but reveal deeper progress:

If your vision is to become a leader in customer service and retention, you can survey customers before and after training about their overall satisfaction with their last purchase, the likelihood they will recommend you to other customers, and other considerations that apply. If you want to become recognised as a provider of the most advanced equipment, you can survey customers before and after training to determine whether their knowledge of your products’ features has increased due to the way they were sold. If you are implementing HR training to increase employee retention and attract more job-seekers, you can measure retention rates before and after training, survey employees on metrics like, 'I see a clear career path if I remain employed' or, 'I understand the criteria that my supervisor and company use to evaluate my performance and progress in the company.

Create training that embodies the big picture

Ultimately, you can have small training, or you can have big training. As long as you are providing training, why not align it with company priorities? It is a value-added proposition and you cannot lose.


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5 Big Differences Between Training and Facilitation

Why this topic? 

The reason I’m addressing the topic is that many of us think that training done interactively is very close to or even the same as facilitation. It can feel like that but there is an essential and critical difference. This blog will cover those differences, talk about the benefits and when to use each mode. Also, I’ve made a short video for those of you who are thinking about when to hire a trainer versus a facilitator.

I have a bias, as I would say there are distinct advantages of using a process facilitator over a trainer in many more circumstances than you’d think. Yet I want you to know that I have great respect for many colleagues who are amazing interactive trainers and provide a great service to their clients. I also think I’m really good at training. However, there is a very specific time when trainers are best used and times when it’s better to use a facilitator. That is what I will try to clear up here.

If you are currently a trainer moving into the field of the facilitation, you might find this blog gives you the language to help your clients decide when to use you as a process facilitator versus a trainer.

We say this Blog is primarily for Stage 1 or the “Seeker” stage of the facilitator journey. However, I think it will be pretty interesting to the latter stages as well simply because you’ve wrestled with this. Many of us who own our own facilitation business or are employed within an organization to do OD work or process facilitation, are also called upon to clearly distinguish the difference between the two fields for prospective group work. It is up to you to know when one intervention is better than another.

What are the essential differences between training and facilitation? 

There are five. I’m going to start first with the main emphasis of each field then move on to some of the structural, outcome and tone differences. 

The essential first difference between the two fields is first and foremost that training is about passing on learning and content. The training provides theory, information and activities to share and help retain the information. On the other hand, process facilitation is about helping the thinking in a group. The main difference is in almost simplistic terms: training is about learning and facilitation is about thinking.

The second big difference is the trainer really has to offer quite a bit of content in large or small blocks. So the emphasis is on a hierarchical model where the trainer is the teacher and the learner is the student who supposedly knows less than the trainer. That might be the assumption of the student although it’s not necessarily the assumption of the trainer.



The facilitator model is based on collaboration. It is a group of peers who have come together who themselves have the content. They need a structure to think through the information they have in a way that will result in something new and different. The facilitator provides the tools, structure, flow, calm, presence and energy to guide the group.

The third is that the trainer is really helping the group to apply the content he or she has given them. So the training would ideally contain a lot of demonstrating, practicing, and reinforcing of the concepts that have been shared.



In the facilitator model the emphasis is more on communicating. It is about helping team members share their data points, understand one another, build cohesiveness of ideas and find ways to solve problems. It is not the role of the facilitator to reinforce any concepts.However, many training techniques can be applied in facilitation settings to help the group be more successful in “cementing” a decision, for example. 

The forth difference is in the design. I hope I’m not offending any trainers by my choice of words. But because training or education comes from a hierarchical model, there tends to be more of a linear plan in the trainers’ outline. You decide what the learning outcomes are, you design your activities and content accordingly. And likely you rarely vary up that plan once you’ve tested and finalized your curriculum. It works well!



In contrast, the facilitator always has to have a flexible agenda. They simply cannot predict what is going to happen as a result of a tool being used that changes where the group may need to go or decides to go. No matter how much you interview beforehand and how you do your research, your job as the process facilitator is always to remain adaptable. You are changing and adapting in the moment. You are helping the group do some complex weaving of their thinking. 

The final difference between the trainer and the facilitator I feel, is that the trainer is really focused on achieving a longer-term outcome. They know that one day or two days or even five days of training is not going to necessarily have an immediate impact. The concepts have to be continually reinforced, practiced, refined for each situation. If this is done well, in the long term, you will see some change. However, when the person and or the organization does not do anything to reinforce the concepts, then all that is taught is lost! 

The facilitator has more of an emphasis on the short term. The result may be e.g., an immediate decision or an immediate consensus. The result could simply be a profound discussion with your colleagues about something that needs to change. When you were doing planning, although the result is an immediate documented plan, it may take a number of years to implement. In general as a process facilitator, you’re looking for short-term insights and often immediate results.

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Virtual training just stepped up a gear

Every year organisations invest billions of pounds on learning and development with much of that money being spent on developing interpersonal skills, partly because research suggests this type of training is relatively effective in terms of impact.

Traditionally, things like leadership, negotiation and communication skills have tended to be delivered face-to-face, most commonly in a role play format. Participants act out scenarios and practice skills with their trainee group and are given feedback.

However, as new technologies such as virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence and robotics start to make inroads into all aspects of organisational life, it looks as if interpersonal skills training is set to get a little less personal.

The reason that this transformation is underway is simple. If VR can be used in computer gaming to immerse gamers in interactive worlds, why not use Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) technology to provide virtual humans as interpersonal skills training partners?

It’s important to remember that these virtual humans act as agents - their responses are restricted to whatever has been preprogrammed. 

Using a Head Mounted Display (HMD), participants can be immersed in a 3D world experienced from a first person perspective, where they encounter and interact with virtual humans, objects and environments. New technologies, such as the use of sensors, promise to enhance this experience still further by reflecting the movements, body language and even the expressions of participants.

What this means is that technology can now enable us to use virtual humans as training partners. But it’s important to remember that these virtual humans act as agents - their responses are restricted to whatever has been preprogrammed.

They are not avatars controlled by and responding in real-time according to the wishes of a real human. That said, a trainer can monitor the overall training experience, and may even select which preprogrammed responses the virtual training partner deploys.

IVR offers organisations a number of advantages over traditional training:

Accessibility. As we all know, time and resource issues, such as cost, logistics, staff scheduling and availability can limit the effectiveness and accessibility of conventional training. Once programmed, however, virtual humans are available 24/7, do not need briefing or consulting, and are relatively cheap to run. They also enable frequent practice from almost anywhere - even from home - which should improve training success. Less stress, more learning. Existing applications show that people using IVR are able to form a sufficient psychological connection with virtual humans to have meaningful, purposeful, interactions. At the same time virtual humans are perceived as sufficiently artificial to alleviate the stress normally experienced in social evaluation situations. This means that trainees can practice in a relatively risk-free environment, potentially reducing anxiety, decreasing resistance to learning, and increasing training transfer. The simulation can also be modified to adjust stress levels to individual tolerances, providing more or less challenge, for example. Make training scenarios more relevant. A big problem with training is ensuring that learning and development gains are applied in the work context. IVR increases the likelihood of successful training transfer as it allows simulated training scenarios (and learning pathways) to be tailored to individual trainees and their real life work situations. The VR environment can replicate the work environment.  Virtual humans can be programmed with many different behaviors and characteristics. They can even be modelled to physically resemble a trainee's manager or colleagues, for example. Create new experiences. IVR gives greater flexibility and scope for innovation than conventional training as it enables any situation to be simulated, imaginary or real. Raucous audiences can be created for public speaking scenarios, for example, to provide more challenge. It’s even possible to use doppelgangers - a virtual recreation of the trainee - to help coach and provide feedback.  More and better feedback. IVR allows greater choice over how to deliver feedback. Instead of the conventional post-training debrief, feedback can be given in real-time by the reactions of virtual training partners, or by giving additional information during the exercise depending on the trainee's actions (signaling if they make a mistake, for example).

Feedback can be automated, triggered by sensors in the environment that monitor the trainee's behavior, or prompted by the trainer.

Despite these potential benefits, it nevertheless is true that IVR is still in its infancy and that many questions remain. Does a trainee's personality make a difference to benefit gained, for example? Might the technology – headset and IVR experience - discourage highly anxious trainees? How do older people react compared with younger trainees? 


Even in the absence of further research, though, IVR is likely to become an integral part of interpersonal skills development and other aspects of learning and development. Inevitably this will prove transformational, disrupting the delivery of services by many traditional providers.

I would argue, however, that IVR won’t entirely replace conventional training, but instead become part of a blended training approach. Virtual humans will make great training partners for practice purposes, but they won’t replace skilled human trainers.

Given the relentless progress of technologies such as AI and machine learning, however, that may not be much comfort for trainers as they contemplate what their industry will look like in years to come.

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Top tips for engaging the modern learner

A recent Towards Maturity report found that, whilst elearning is almost ubiquitous – used in 88% of organisations – the failure rate (60%) is shockingly high. The majority of learning and development (L&D) professionals believe elearning has a central place in the future of workplace learning – and for a good reason.

An established elearning programme can narrow the skills gap, lead to better employee retention, and increase productivity. 

With so many employees accessing some form of digital content for mandatory learning, it’s time to ensure they can access the highest quality digital resources. Delivering great content is still a challenge for many L&D teams, with many failing to meet learner needs. 

According to the study, 46% of learners believe generic online learning is not sufficiently tailored to their needs. Learners want content that is relevant and timely. They want recommendations of how to apply their learning, and technologies that allow them to network and learn together.

Support people and processes

Creating a ‘digital workplace’ that supports people and processes is crucial. Making learning mobile improves both the efficiency and effectiveness of the programme. Mobile learning means information is instantly accessible anytime, anywhere, and is easily digestible within limited timeframes. 

If content is king, curation is the queen, and without it, providing a modern learning experience is an uphill struggle.

When learning is enabled anywhere, for example on a smartphone, tablet or laptop, employees can easily pick up where they left off, wherever they are. By personalising the experience and offering relevant recommendations and social feedback within the content experience, learning is instantly more appealing and rewarding. 

Employees feel supported and more willing to fulfil their learning requirements whenever they can.

Take a top-down approach

Feedback is an important part of learning, and businesses need to consider how they are recognising employee achievement. With 45% of learners motivated by the need to gain professional certification, and one in four reporting their primary motivation for learning at work is to keep up with continuous professional development, it is important to ensure that they have the opportunity to succeed. 

This requires senior leadership buy-in to the learning programme, as well as regular opportunities to highlight learner success within the organisation.   

High performing organisations recognise the value of good communication and use a variety of channels to ensure that staff know what is available. They also use a promotional campaign approach to direct people to a particular topic area and include managers and all stakeholders in any learner communications. 

Skillsoft and Towards Maturity found that 95% of the best performing organisations provide learning initiatives with a specific identity and brand, and 72% involve top managers to promote learning. This is a hurdle that low-performing programmes fail to overcome. 

CEO sponsorship of learning is key for success – promotion from the top down engages employees with the organisation, leading to better engagement, higher retention and improved bottom line.

Social learning

Learners enjoy the inclusion of game-based elements to encourage participation and competition. The social element drives engagement and collaboration. 52% of Top Deck (the top decile for the Towards Maturity Index) organisations use game-based techniques such as leader boards, levels and scores.

This can be further enhanced with social tools, such as Yammer, which can foster public notes and discussions. This can help promote specific assets, help employees follow colleagues of interest and lets learners view the most up-to-date news feeds.

When all employees are involved, individual learners feel part of the wider organisation and are more inclined to engage with the programme.   

Additionally, learners are more likely to value and contribute to conversations with their peers, rather than L&D professionals. According to the study, only 4% of learners report that it’s the opinion of an L&D team member (including their trainer or tutor) that will most likely encourage them to learn online.

L&D professionals need to make sure that their learners are talking about a great learning experience and sharing useful, relevant content with their peers.  

Curation - focusing on the learner experience

Ultimately, it is the learner, not the L&D professional, that needs to find the elearning programme as engaging as possible. Many a gargantuan elearning system has failed because learners simply could not find the content to fulfil their needs. If content is king, curation is the queen, and without it, providing a modern learning experience is an uphill struggle.

With a plethora of tools available online – often at no cost – few organisations are investing much time in content curation. According to the study, on average just 13% are using content curation or social bookmarking tools, compared to 51% of the Top Deck.

Having a content curation strategy in place helps learners make sense of the resources available to them. This is an important focus area. Curation is becoming increasingly important to help learners search for, share and manage the wealth of content they find in a timely manner.

Looking ahead

Recognising the skills needed is the first step to developing a strong learning programme, and we are likely to see positive changes in the near future.  Across the sample, more than 90% of organisations have set these skills as a priority. 

Focusing on the real needs of learners, helping them feel more comfortable and better supporting them will lead to an improved L&D culture, better engagement, and more successful elearning programmes.

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Technology for E-Learning: What You Need

To be a successful e-learning instructor, you need to know your way around technology.

Anyone who’s spent any time reading about the e-learning industry knows that online courses and traditional classrooms use very different technological tool kits. While new technology is slowly making its way into the classroom (most instructors use PowerPoint slides rather than chalkboards), other innovations have yet to find their place (laptops in lecture halls are still a distraction more than a learning aid).

Because of this, if most of your teaching/learning experience comes from a traditional classroom environment, you may not be as familiar with some of the technological tools available to you as you launch your online course.

If you’re new to online education and wondering where to start, here are some of the basic technology tools you should master as you prepare your first course.

1. Cloud-sharing and live document editing.

If you rely on email to send documents back and forth or collaborate on projects, you’re likely to become inundated with messages in short order. That, and you’ll be more likely to lose documents as your inbox fills.

Instead, a file sharing platform helps to centralize and organize documents for you and your learners. You can create folders for course content to share with learners. You can adjust viewing and editing permissions as necessary. And you can even have learners work together on the same document in real time.

Of course, my first pick for this is Google’s G-Suite of services. Google Drive allows you and your learners to easily share documents in a central location, while Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides allow multiple users to access and edit the same document at once. And all it takes to set up is a Gmail address.

2. Video and sound editing.

Online video content does best when it falls into a comfortable middle-ground of just casual enough not to have a huge production budget, but not so casual as to be unprofessional.

On the one hand, your lecture videos do not have to be perfectly-polished productions. But neither should you be filming them in your bedroom from your laptop camera. If you plan to appear in your course videos, invest in some good lighting, and use a lavalier microphone to make sure you get good audio for your video.

That said, if you don’t want to go through the trouble of shooting your own video, you can deliver course content via slides instead. You will still need a good microphone and some basic sound editing skills, but the results are easier to control.

3. Video calling and webinars.

Most online courses are delivered asynchronously—meaning the materials are prepared in advance and learners consume them at their leisure. But there are occasions where learners may want to speak with you—or with each other—via video call.

To make this experience as smooth as possible, test whatever video conferencing platform beforehand so that you’re comfortable using it. Practice using the screen share mode, using chat and mute functions, and inviting multiple guests. And be ready to work with your learners if they’re having trouble using the technology on their end. Even if you know how to use the program, you should be ready for a learner who is less familiar with it.

If you know how to use video calling, hosting a webinar is an easy next step. Webinar hosting software can usually accommodate more guests than your typical conference call, and provides more controls for the webinar host. Again, make sure you test everything out ahead of time so that you feel comfortable with the program before you go live.

4. Social media.

Social media intersects with online learning on several fronts. First, social media is a popular marketing tool for you to spread the word about your program. You can raise awareness for your course, re-engage with graduated learners, and open a PR channel for anyone who wants to complain about or (hopefully) compliment your course.

Second, social media is a way to deliver content. Not only can you deliver educational material via social media, you can use it as a discussion platform. And, social media allows you to do this on a platform where you learners probably already spend substantial amounts of time.

Finally, you can create assignments for your learners to complete via social media. Ask them to write and share a series of blog posts. Have them put together an idea board on Pinterest. Or have them ask and answer a certain number of questions on Quora. Whichever platform you choose, make sure you know your way around it well enough to guide your learners.

Technology is a means to an end, not the end itself.

There are many other fabulous technological tools for e-learning, and more are being developed each year. But like so many new and exciting things, they’re only worth your time if they aid your course.

There is no reason to incorporate a tech tool simply because it exists. Unless it adds value to your course, including it will probably just distract from your main goal.

For instance, social media is one of the big trends these days, and many online educators have developed creative and insightful ways to incorporate social media into a course in a meaningful way. But that doesn’t mean every course needs to have a social media-based project.

The same can be said of any new technological tool, from video to gamification. If it doesn’t align with your course objectives, including it will be no more than a gimmick.

However, the more comfortable you are with the technological tools available to you, the more likely you will be able to incorporate them effectively into your course. If you feel uncertain about how to use some of these technologies, setting aside time to become more familiar with them will help you discover if they’re a good fit for your course.

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Top Learning And Development Challenges Faced By Enterprises

Learning And Development Challenges: What Do Enterprises Face?

The eLearning industry has been experiencing a rapid change specifically over the last decade or so. From strides made in new models for Learning and Development to the influx of new technologies and trends, the industry has evolved at a tremendous pace. These changes have presented both, challenges and opportunities for companies with large operations and vast workforce. Here's taking a look at some of the biggest challenges that enterprise companies face from time to time:

1. Onboarding

One of the major challenges that L&D departments of enterprise companies need to tackle is the on-boarding of new employees. Companies constantly need to look at on-boarding and operations to recognize the benefits associated with having employees get a proper know-how of the work culture. Effective onboarding is not essential just for the smooth cross-over of employees, but it is also important so that they have a proper idea of how to use a learning platform and sustain its usage. A Learning Management System (LMS) is one of the strongest ways to effectively integrate new employees into the system and also track their progress on the training courses assigned. Choosing the right LMS for the on-boarding process is naturally of utmost importance. L&D teams need to opt for LMS platforms that are user-friendly and require minimum to zero training for their users. It is advisable to skip the complex and fancy LMSs in favor of easy-to-use platforms. Such an LMS must provide training to both the L&D team and the end users.

2. Change Management Weaning Off From Legacy Business Models And Tools

Enterprise companies are generally the ones who have created an identity for themselves by being in the business for a very long time. They already have an established set-up with L&D departments, budgets, and LMSs all in place. However, with the coming in of new technological innovations, the way we learn is also undergoing a sea of change and set patterns are now becoming archaic. For enterprise companies, a big challenge is to wean off from their legacy software systems to adapt to the newer systems because it involves a great deal of unlearning, learning, training and adopting at multiple levels.

Existing Training Data Concern

While the new LMS will undergo an overhaul and become an integrated learning platform, a big concern for L&D in enterprise companies is how the old data will match and fit into the new system. Of course, that does not mean it is impossible to integrate the two. It’s just that L&D teams need to put in some amount of thought and analyze how the old data can be used in the new system without letting it become redundant.

Porting From On-Premise To Cloud

Some time back, most companies had their LMSs on-premise (deployed behind the client's firewall) and the idea of Cloud did not exist. Although the perfect solution will not be the same for every company, to survive in the competitive corporate world, the move from on-premise solutions to Cloud is imperative. Of course, there are several considerations in the switch, right from how best to integrate legacy systems into the Cloud, incorporating the whole new rules, guidelines, and procedures, improving security etc. But it’s worth the effort in the end.

Getting Management Buy-In

According to Linkedin’s 2018 Workplace Learning Trends report, Manager involvement is a critical ingredient to increase employee engagement with learning. The report also points out that that is the very area of challenge for talent developers: to actually get managers involved in employee learning. Naturally, in any company without the support of the management, no learning activity can really flourish. The support of the top echelons of the company is a must to guarantee the success of a project and its sustenance.

3. Content Leveraging Legacy eLearning

With technology changing at a rapid pace, many enterprise companies are left in the lurch with some great eLearning courseware that may not stand the vagaries of time simply because it lacks upgrade. However, trashing all this content is a waste of precious time and effort that was once put in to create all the data. Companies need to understand how to utilize this existing legacy eLearning to create new content. Among the several obstacles in this process, the biggest perhaps is to make this eLearning available to the mobile workforce. Ensuring that the LMS is able to manage and track multiple modes of training and a range of content types is another concern.

Content Readiness And Support

In many emerging companies, L&D teams often face issues while adopting an LMS for the first time in terms of being ready and offering technical support. Although legacy companies have an established identity, they are still likely to face problems to engage learners by revamping the content. Also, the LMS platforms need to support different types of content and L&D teams must be able to initiate training with whatever content is readily available. One solution is for enterprise companies to subscribe to ready-to-use catalog courses and LMS platforms to kick-start their program.

3. Support

An LMS is more than just software to help deliver training and automate training. So, the real test for the L&D team is after an LMS is made live. The workforce may be dealing with such a kind of learning system for the first time and there are bound to be a host of varying user requests, queries and concerns. This is where enterprise companies need maximum support. It is during this crucial phase that ‘round-the-clock support’ really helps. It helps to create dedicated teams and unlimited technical support to help the workforce through the initial phase.

5. LMS And Leaner Engagement Making The LMS A Go-To Option For All Learning Needs

Once the LMS is in place, it has to be a default and go-to option software for all learning and training requirements while bringing in learner engagement at all levels. However, learners will actually feel the need to take up the learning programs only when they feel there is something resourceful in them and it is up to L&D professionals to communicate the value of training to their learners. In case of enterprise companies, a big challenge is that, given the size of their operations and tasks to be done, oftentimes, there are too many other urgent tasks or priorities that seem to take over. It can be an issue to get learners to actually attend, actively participate, and follow through for the training programs.

Seamless Integration Of LMSs In Learning Ecosystem

An LMS is not just an ‘island’ or standalone training feature. It has to be a part of a bigger learning ecosystem and that is what L&D teams have to ensure: that the LMS works seamlessly within the ecosystem of other enterprise applications. LMSs have to be integrated into many different types of applications to share data and drive business workflow.

6. Developing Leaders

As the work environment becomes more complex in today’s times, it helps for organizations to develop and maintain a pipeline of leaders. Enterprise companies like most other companies play a crucial role in creating an environment that supports ‘leaders’ to stay in the ‘learning mode’ and this is where a strong LMS is a primary requisite as an effective communication channel. LMSs can be utilized to establish peer-to-peer connections and create individualized coaching programs or mentoring programs for confidence building in the whole exercise.

Moving from their existing learning models to newer ones is not an easy process for enterprise companies especially given their history and size of operations. However, it is one of the best developments for their future and it is for L&D professionals to deal with the whole transition process overcoming obstacles in the way.

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Blending Learning: Finding the Mix of Modalities That’s Right For Your Organization

Training Industry research has found that most L&D leaders believe offering multiple modalities is important for training success. In fact, 52 percent of organizations use between three and six modalities in a training program. Multimodal learning can include mobile apps, e-learning platforms, simulations and other technology-enabled modalities as well as formats such as instructor-led training (ILT), on-the-job training (OJT) or coaching.

As a training manager, how do you know which modalities to choose for a given training initiative? It’s important to take into account best practices as well as learner preferences. These tips can help.

Learner Preferences

Training Industry research has found that the most popular modalities for learners include OJT, ILT, on-the-job coaching, social learning, performance support tools, e-learning and video. It’s important to measure learning engagement and effectiveness by modality to determine learner preferences and modality effectiveness in your organization. For example, it may be that while your sales reps prefer mobile microlearning, which fits between client calls, while your web development team prefers virtual training labs, where they can practice their new skills.

Different groups may have different learning preferences. While ILT tends to be preferred by most learners, Training Industry research found that leadership training modality preferences can vary by gender, and recent research issued by D2L found that coaching and mentoring are most appealing to the oldest and the youngest learners in the workplace.

Koreen Pagano, product management director at D2L, says that for millennials, coaching and mentoring are good tools, because they can learn from older employees who can share what they’ve learned from their success, while older employees can learn from the new perspectives and tech-savvy skills of their younger co-workers.

A Holistic Approach

The key, Pagano says, is “to have a really-well rounded L&D program that can support all of the employees.” Similarly, Dr. Srini Pillay, CEO of the NeuroBusiness Group, wrote in a recent issue of Training Industry Magazine that multimodal learning “can increase the brain’s ability to change” – which, after all, is the goal of any training initiative.

Using adaptive learning technologies, it’s becoming easier than ever to identify individual needs and preferences and tailor training accordingly. Here are some questions to ask when selecting modalities for a training program:

What’s the best way to integrate learning into the learner’s work day? For example, if your program is targeting electricians who are in the field all day, a series of short mobile videos may be more effective than a longform online course. What technological capabilities does your organization have? If your e-learning platform doesn’t support mobile access, for example, either make sure non-mobile employees can access it in another way, or find a different platform. What technological capabilities do the learners have? You can have the best, most engaging platform the market offers, but if your learners don’t know how to use it, it’s worthless. How do the learners prefer to learn? Similarly, your learners can be tech-savvy and have access to great e-learning content, but if they have a strong preference to ILT, e-learning may not be the way to go. Will we be able to evaluate effectiveness? Business leaders are increasingly expecting learning leaders to demonstrate the ROI of training programs. Make sure that whatever modalities you select, you’ll be able to measure the impact the learning has on employees and the business.
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User-Centered Design Through Learner Personas

The concept of personas is well known to marketers. To create a persona, marketers develop multiple fictional character profiles that describe their real and potential customer base. Based on these personas, they then develop content that resonates with them. L&D professionals can also leverage this user-centered approach to create better and more engaging learning.

What Are Personas?

You can think of personas as fictional, generalized characters, each with individual goals and needs. Marketers observe behavior patterns among their real and potential customers and couple those observations with educated guesses, which help them understand their customers better. A persona can include the following information:

Job role and responsibilities Biggest challenges Industry “Watering holes” (Where do these learners go to get their information, such as blogs, websites, publications, etc.?) Demographic Personal background

Marketers research personas by capturing specific information through forms on websites, interviewing current customers, looking for trends in databases and asking for feedback from the sales team. Developing three to five personas typically results in the best outcomes. Some personas are very detailed, while others are a brief sketch of each user. Either way, marketers usually include a fictional name and a picture in the persona. When reading a persona profile, the “person” comes to life, helping marketers create products and content that align with his or her needs, goals and interests.

Developing a Learner Persona

Why should L&D professionals care about personas? They can help you can create the right content, for the right audience, at the right time.

Here are some questions you can ask, or extract from learners’ personal information you have on file, when developing your learner personas:

What is your job role? Are you a manager? How many years have you been with this organization? Have you changed roles within the organization? How would you rate your tech-savviness? Do you prefer learning online or through face-to-face training? Are you an early bird or a late riser? Are you involved in volunteer work organized by our company? What do you do in your free time?

Ask these questions, but also use data from your learning platform. Many platforms enable you to see when and how content has been accessed. If your system doesn’t capture these data, try to collect them using Google Analytics on any activities that are happening outside the LMS, and combine them with data you can gather using your LMS. The combination of questions, learning platform data and demographic data will result in a variety of profiles, and you can then categorize your learners into different groups.

Creating Engaging Content That Resonates With Your Learner Personas

Let’s look at two examples of learner personas:

Burt, 43 years old, he has been with your company for six years. He’s a manager in the support department, overseeing five staff. He is extremely tech-savvy and loves to learn about new technologies in his free time. Burt learns best after work hours and prefers to access learning through his mobile device on his commute home. He volunteers his time twice each year to help with charity events organized by your organization. Apama, 23 years old, is fresh out of university. English is her second language, and she works as an administrative assistant. She enjoys getting up early and going for a run before coming to work. Apama loves her iPhone and is good at using her Mac, but she isn’t as familiar with PCs, which your company uses. She isn’t really interested in new technologies and learns best in face-to-face training where she can asks questions on the spot.

Burt and Apama are, of course, not real people, but their personas can be extended to other people in your organization who have similar interests and job roles. To create content for “Burt,” you might develop a training solution that is quickly accessed through a mobile device and shorter than eight minutes in length, delivered over a couple of days. You can push this content to those learners shortly after 5 p.m., which is when they are on their way home. “Apama,” on the other hand, would need the same content in a face-to-face training session, where she can ask questions, ideally held in the morning.

Developing multiple training solutions for the same content is more labor-intensive and might not always be possible. However, considering the positive outcomes you will be able to achieve (more engaged learners, better on the job performance, etc.), it might be worth the investment, especially for programs you run on a regular basis, such as onboarding or annual compliance training.

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L&D leaders are failing to tap into the expertise of their providers

Towards Maturity research has long shown the importance of the relationship between L&D leaders and their learning providers. Yet, only 3 in 5 L&D leaders understand the critical questions that they need to ask of their learning providers.

From a technology perspective, 89% of L&D leaders work with their suppliers to provide live online platforms, 75% to use learning management systems, 57% to develop custom content and 45% to offer best practice video from outside of the organisation.

Whilst expectations from using the tools are high, the promise does not always follow. Despite 96% wanting to improve organisational performance, only 25% believe they are currently achieving it. 90% are looking at learning innovation to drive business innovation but only 17% believe they are getting the results they want.

And this isn’t an isolated incident. Our Annual Benchmark Report, Unlocking Potential, highlights that whilst we are all looking to deliver business impact, few have the skills to design content or embed technology effectively. What’s more, only 60% believe that they understand the critical questions they need to ask of their learning providers to fully harness the potential of the solutions that they are buying.

In contrast, Top Deck organisations (the top 10% of the Towards Maturity Index, consistently reporting the best results from across the benchmark sample) are three times as likely to report that their solutions are improving performance and driving innovation and, what’s more, over 90% are tapping into the expertise of their providers as part of their strategy to unlock the organisation’s potential.

So how can we ensure we’re helping L&D professionals to follow the Top Deck’s lead and ask the right questions of their provider?

Towards Maturity’s Ambassadors, currently 27 companies from across the L&D industry, work collectively to drive change. Identifying and improving effective practice, raising awareness and driving the L&D profession forward. Between them, they serve more than 300,000 customers across the globe.

At our latest Ambassador briefing we asked them: “What are the critical questions that need to be asked of suppliers to deliver results that unlock potential?” With more than 300 years of experience between these senior leaders, a number of themes emerged:

How can we improve our user experience? How can we make the technology we use in the business for HR as good as apps/websites we use in ’normal life’? How can we integrate learning and work? How can we enable our managers to support learning application? How can we create an environment that makes people excited, happy and wanting to stay in the company? How can I improve organisational performance in this area? Be specific, be clear on your organisational strategy and where the project fits Ask yourself are there new ways we should approach this problem that we’ve not thought about before? Ask for evidence, examples of impact and effective practices How will we evidence an improvement in performance? How can we work together to demonstrate value? What does good look like? What is the total cost of ownership? Best price does not always provide best value – how can you build an effective business case for all stakeholders and not just for purchasing What will the future look like for you? Learning initiatives establish the groundwork for the future, what is your provider’s vision for the future and does it map with yours?

To be forward-thinking and future focused, L&D professionals need to ensure they are getting the best solution for their unique needs. The world of work is changing at an incredible pace and today’s learning professionals play an essential role in equipping staff for constant change. Make sure you’re asking the right questions to get the answers you need to unlock the potential of your organisation.

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A Starter Kit for Instructional Designers

A 2016 report funded by the Gates Foundation found that in the U.S. alone, there are 13,000 instructional designers. Yet, when I graduated from college in 2008, I didn’t know this field existed. Surely a lot has changed!

Instructional design is experiencing a renaissance. As online course platforms proliferate, institutions of all shapes and sizes realize that they’ll need to translate content into digital forms. Designing online learning experiences is essential to training employees, mobilizing customers, serving students, building marketing channels, and sustaining business models.

The field has deep roots in distance education, human computer interaction, and visual design. But I’ve come to believe that contemporary instructional design sits at the intersection of three core disciplines: learning science, human-centered design, and digital marketing. It requires a deep respect for the pedagogical practices that teachers have honed for decades, balanced with fluency in today’s digital tools.

Most people with “instructional design” in their job title are involved in converting “traditional” written curriculum or in-person teaching into an online course. But they can also be creating learning apps, museum exhibits, or the latest educational toy. My classmates from Stanford’s Learning Design and Technology master’s program have gone on to design for big brands like Airbnb and Google as well as edtech upstarts including the African Leadership University, General Assembly, Osmo and Udacity.

Over the last few years, we’ve traded resources, articles and work samples as we try to build our own starter kit for this fast-moving field. Below are some of the lessons and resources that I wish I knew of when I first went on the job market—a combination of the academic texts you read in school along with practical tools that have been essential to practicing instructional design in the real world. This is not a complete or evergreen list, but hopefully it’s a helpful start.

Lesson 1: Start with a deep understanding of your learners.

No matter what type of learning experience you’re building, it’s always smart to start getting to know the people you’re designing for. To conduct learner research it’s helpful to combine practices from design thinking with those of participatory research or teacher action research that educators have been practicing for many years.

I typically start by developing an Empathy Guide like the one put together by the Stanford d.school or reviewing the free book by Giff Constable, “Talking to Humans” to structure productive conversations. After conducting observations and interviews with target learners, I synthesize my findings into learner archetypes.

Then, I test instructional concepts and product ideas by building rough prototypes that I put in front of learners to get their feedback quickly. The d.school has a great Prototyping Dashboard you can use to organize the hypotheses. If you’re looking for a crash course in the entire design thinking process, you can check out the free courseoffered by IDEO.org or the free resources from IDEO’s Teacher’s Guild.

Lesson 2: Ground yourself in the fundamentals of learning science.

Teachers have spent decades learning how to reliably help students master new skills, debunk misconceptions, and connect their prior knowledge to new concepts. To be a good instructional designer, you should steep yourself in the research on learning and teaching. The best and most digestible books I’ve found are “The ABCS of How We Learn,” a 2016 book by Daniel Schwartz and “How People Learn,” the 1999 foundational text edited by John Bransford, Ann Brown, and Rodney Cocking. If you’re looking for a crash course in digital education specifically, recordings from Stanford’s lecture series on Education’s Digital Future are all available for free online.

Lesson 3: Determine the “powerful ideas” you want to teach and build your curriculum using backwards design.

To get serious about education technology, you have to read Seymour Papert. His “Mindstorms: Children, Computer and Powerful Ideas” is a classic that is critical to helping you realize that all the ideas about edtech that we think are so unprecedented have actually been mulled over for decades. Pay particular attention to his chapter on “powerful ideas” where he describes how essential it is to find the enduring, transformative concepts that you want to teach and put those at the forefront of your design approach.

Once you’ve read Papert, use the Understanding By Design Framework to structure your curriculum. This approach helps you clarify your target outcomes and how you’ll collect “evidence of learning.” This curriculum design approach is used by teachers who work in traditional classrooms, but holds up just as well in the digital realm.

Lesson 4: Go study other great teachers and other great learning experiences.

Before becoming too beholden to the particular features (or limitations) of a technology platform, try to think bigger and more creatively about how you can meet the needs of your learners. One of the best ways to do this is to seek out inspiration from other learning designers. For example, look at the examples of host educationthat Airbnb puts together. Look at the altMBA program that Seth Godin runs using Slack. Watch how Angela Duckworth delivers messages to camera. Check out the beautiful animations produced by Amnesty International or the interactive lessons produced on Oppia. And look at examples of tangible rather than screen-based technologies that have been produced by groups like Paulo Blikstein’s Transformative Learning Technologies Lab.

Rather than limiting yourself to looking at educational resources produced by schools or universities, find examples of instructional materials from other sectors to get ideas. The field is so new that there are no definitive ways to do it “right” and lots of approaches are worth learning from.

Lesson 5. Get a lay of the technological landscape, but don’t let your LMS hold you hostage.

If you’re going to be an instructional designer who specializes in online courses, you should get familiar with your platform options and be prepared to speak to the pros and cons of each. Start with the “big four” that most people have heard of: Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, and EdX. Check out the list of global MOOC platforms curated by Class Central, but realize there are entirely different ecosystems of platforms that specialize in corporate training or adaptive learning. Then also read some critical perspectives from the likes of Digital Pedagogy Lab or the MIT Media Lab.

No current online education platform is perfect, but focus on being able to speak to the distinctions between them and make a recommendation based on the learning goals. You don’t need to master all of the options, but it’s helpful to keep a pulse on the major players. Perhaps more importantly, design content and learning experiences that are “platform agnostic,” meaning that you can easily transport them to another platform. Finally, check out the blogs of online learning pioneers like Connie Malmud who have been chronicling the field for many years and who has helpfully compiled a glossary of common terms.

  Lesson 6. Don’t try to migrate an in-person experience into an online format.

One of the biggest mistakes people who are new to instructional design make is trying to replicate or simply migrate an offline experience onto an online platform. Instead, the better approach is to think about what the technology can do uniquely well and then design your experience to leverage those affordances. Allan Collins and Richard Halverson’s book, “Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology,” is a useful place to start, along with the perspectives and research of Mitch Resnick and the late Edith Ackermann of the MIT Media Lab.

Lesson 7: If you build it, they won’t come. Understand the fundamentals of digital marketing.

People will not automatically show up for your online course—unless you’re working for a big-name institution like Y Combinator or Harvard University. As online courses have proliferated, the market for students has also fragmented. To be an effective instructional designer, you also arguably need to know the basics of digital marketing and how to write compelling copy to get someone to click through, enroll in, and persist in your course.

One useful post on strategies to drive enrollment and sales of an online course was produced by the founders of Groove. Udemy has also created a great toolkit to help online course instructors market their learning experience. These strategies might seem distasteful to people whose primary focus is learning outcomes, but the reality is that if you don’t attract the right population of students to your courses (even if they’re free), all of your hard work and pedagogical design is moot.

Lesson 8: Collect student feedback. Iterate. Share what you learned.

Finally, perhaps one of the most important lessons is to get out from behind your computer and actually go meet the learners who experience your courses, apps or experiences. Set up Skype calls to interview them. Pore through the feedback they submit on surveys.

Some of their input will inevitably sting—especially when you’ve spent months building a course and someone only watches two videos before leaving a scathing review. But listen for the underlying pain points. Synthesize your feedback carefully and make changes, but avoid designing by committee. Finally, share your data, your lessons, and your failures with the broader learning design community when possible.

The field is fast-moving but still has a lot to figure out. The more creative pioneers we have who are pushing the boundaries of how to design compelling, thoughtful learning experiences in new formats, the better.

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Training Instructors to Use Tech Tools

Many people have a negative view of training, which can be evident if you search for #ihatetraining on Twitter. Training can be especially challenging when it comes to teaching faculty members to use new digital technologies and tools. However, conducting and/or receiving training can be a positive experience. Training that focuses on several integral strategies can lead to effective and efficient outcomes for all individuals involved.  

Instructional designers and faculty members who provide professional development, peer support, and/or administrative representatives to instructors  should be aware of these strategies when conducting trainings on technologies and online and classroom teaching practices. Here are six effective training strategies that you should consider:

1. Build Relationships 

Training should offer the opportunity to apply new knowledge directly into daily practice. In order to best achieve this, the importance of faculty-trainer relationship should be addressed first. Building a professional relationship allows the trainer to understand the faculty member’s baseline of knowledge, learning style, and comfort level with technology. It also fosters open communication and could lead to possible opportunities for collaboration.

Some initial strategies for building a relationship with faculty are:

Have a positive attitude about instructional design. Display energy and confidence during interactions. Enthusiasm and zeal are inviting traits. Utilize probing questions. For example, “How is your semester going?” Ground yourself in customer service (superior communication, compassion, patience, self-control, etc.) Utilize positive reinforcement to increase retention and desire to continue learning technology applications.

2. Stay Informed

Research is an important aspect of training. Researching latest trends in higher education, instructional design, and eLearning can serve as a catalyst for training development in place of a needs assessment. Often times, faculty are unable to articulate what they need to know because they don’t know what exists.  

3. Practice What You Preach

Trainers should have an “inside scoop” on what is involved with teaching courses prior to training. It is essential for trainers to have first-hand knowledge of the entire process of building a course: designing, developing, implementing, and assessing learning outcomes.  

If a trainer has not taught in higher education, then it is beneficial to co-teach a module or a course with a faculty member. Co-teaching offers a full-spectrum view of course facilitation from beginning to end, which will offer first-hand experience on the intricacies involved with online courses from the faculty’s perspective. Co-teaching can also serve as another aspect in relationship-building.

4. Meet Them Where They Are

Faculty bring a plethora of history to any learning experience, and effective trainers properly leverage those experiences to heighten professional development. However, it is important to keep in mind that faculty have numerous facets to their job, and teaching is a small part.

Some faculty may not be as familiar with technology tools as one would assume. Therefore, it is important for trainers to differentiate their training levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. For example, if faculty members are only familiar with discussion boards in their LMS, then the initial job of the trainer is to teach them how to create amazing and engaging discussion board before exploring more complex instructional design components.

Another suggestion is to provide mock simulations, so faculty can test out new tools/strategies before implementing them in their courses.  

5. Bridge the Gaps

Trainers have the opportunity to view courses across several departments. This exposure can offer a unique opportunity for trainers to serve as a bridge between faculty members. Often times, faculty yearn to collaborate across departments, but they are not aware of what other faculty are doing.  

Trainers have the ability to bridge the silo gap between departments by sharing strategies and research with all faculty members. This also has a potential to strengthen the trainer-faculty relationship as it can lead to a personal connection on top of the professional relationship already established.  

6. Be a Leader

Effective trainers proactively support faculty and allow faculty to share experiences with one another. One way to establish this is by creating an online faculty learning community within the institution.  An open source platform that provides job aids, quick tips, and course development tools is an effective approach. Trainers and faculty should be able to post things to increase collaborative opportunities.  

After trainings have concluded, faculty have mastered the tools, and the learning community is established, it is imperative for trainers to stay available. There will always be a software update or random technological glitch to get in the way and when those moments occur, faculty will need the support of the trainer. Also, faculty will always benefit from ongoing training and follow-up re-teaching of content. 

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Storyboarding Vs. Prototyping: When to Use Each

Prototyping is a multi-disciplinary activity, spanning across digital design, industrial design and everything in between. Whilst being precursors to the end product, prototypes may vary in fidelity. This article will look at digital prototyping, providing guidelines you can use to determine when you should and shouldn’t build one.  

Within the digital space a prototype is used to quickly test ideas and see whether users can complete core tasks. They are intended to save development time as not a single line of code is needed to validate any ideas. Furthermore, a prototype is not always needed. Often, a storyboard will do! Choosing between the two depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Each of these deliverables is an important skill for UX designers to develop, but arguably what’s more important is the ability to select the appropriate output and level of fidelity required. 

Prototypes  Low Fidelity Prototypes 

A low fidelity prototype is often created using paper and pen. 

When to Use 

In my experience, lo-fi prototypes are intended to capture the “low hanging fruit” feedback, such as confusion about platform conventions (e.g. Material design plus button, Windows 8 charm bar etc). Also, this method is especially useful when working in a collaborative design project. You can set the timer for fifteen minutes, hand out a number of templates and get each person to sketch out their ideas (one page per two people works well).  

Recommended Tools 

Companies such as uistencils.com offer a number of paper and ruler stencils of common UI elements to quickly put together rough concepts. You could also use a paper and notepad. These lower fidelity prototypes can be uploaded in tools such as Invision, where you can link up the pages using “hotspots”, and simulate, at a pretty loose level, what the end product could possibly look like. 

Mid Fidelity Prototypes 

A medium fidelity prototype is normally put together using software. Unlike the paper prototype, which may be more suitable for collaborative design, this method is usually put together by a UX designer on the team. 

When to Use 

Use mid-fi prototypes after you’ve gone through your inspiration phase, including qualitative research, customer journey maps and initial flows. The goal here is to test some task flows and see how users respond to your ideas overall. 

Recommended Tools 

There are a number of tools out there such as UXpin, which are always evolving and updating their set of features. Axure is also a common tool and one which I prefer due to the rich interactivity with form fields and its ability to create complex rules and conditions. However, in my experience, less is more–making complex interactions at this stage defeats the purpose. The intention of this prototype is to create something quick and easy for testing.  

High Fidelity Prototypes 

High fidelity prototypes can be differentiated from mid fidelity prototypes in a couple of ways. The main thing that separates them is that they are often created using code. However, this might well be very hacky code, certainly not production quality, and being in need of some serious refactoring. 

When to Use 

High fidelity prototypes are good when you’ve finished initial user testing sessions and want to explore richer interactions and animations. Also, you may want to share a vision with stakeholders regarding what the final product may look like.  

Recommended Tools 

In my experience, designing in the browser is best here. Bootstrap or Foundation are perfect examples of frameworks for getting you off on the right foot. 


I find the best time to use a storyboard is when you have an idea to communicate. A storyboard (in the context of UX design) is a linear sequence, showing how a user may be struggling with an existing process or product. However, often it reflects an imagined state and interaction with a new product.  

When to Use 

Innovation Projects: I used to work in a consultancy. In between contracts I was often tasked with building an innovation project in order to drum up business and sell our capability to companies who may not be actively looking. For example, on the back of whatever we came up with to show (our skills with big data, data visualisation, user experience etc.) the account manager would be tasked with demoing our creations to each representative.  

A prototype was often created, simply because we had the resources to build one. However, in this scenario a storyboard is more effective as a sales tool. The prospective client may or may not be savvy with technology; by using a storyboard you can bypass the industry jargon or tech babble and clearly show a story–including a problem and resolution.  

Human Centered Design Challenges: Storytelling is also powerful in human-centered design challenges, where you need to get inspiration from research, ideate and consider the scope of the problem and innovative ways to address these issues. A prototype often seems a bit premature here. The natural progression of one of these challenges may be a crowdfunding campaign, rather than building out an actual product. Therefore, a storyboard may be the best was to succinctly convey this to an audience and reach them on an emotional level, where they are more likely to contribute (as opposed to looking at a user interface).  

Hackathons: Hackathons are probably the best place to use a storyboard and ironically they are very rarely ever seen there. This is because typically you get technical types participating and they are overly focused on technologies and programming languages. These can really alienate the panel of judges. By having a compelling storyboard, showing how the solution addresses the problem it is more likely to be compelling to an audience and be a strong supplementary piece to anything that has quickly been generated in a few days. 

Recommended Tools  Low Fidelity 

All you need to create a storyboard is some sharpies and butcher’s paper! You don’t even need to be good at drawing.  

Medium Fidelity 

If you are a designer and have Adobe Illustrator, Sketch, or Affinity Designer you can also take your storyboards to the next level by finding a free set of storyboard art illustrations and editing them to suit your story. If you have a look online there are generally many available.  


In my personal experience, low to medium fidelity storyboards are sufficient in UX design. Perhaps if you were working in the industrial space you may need something more higher fidelity. However, in digital it’s unlikely that the benefits will outweigh the costs.  

The intention of this article is to give you more awareness around which deliverable to use and when. You will often be tasked with things by managers who don’t really understand the need for each. It is hoped that by reading this you will be able to critically think about the deliverables needed and put forward a case for whatever choice you come up with.  

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Measuring Learning Will Be Key to Improving It in 2018

There is a popular quote attributed to management expert Peter Drucker: “What gets measured gets improved.” In education, the mantra is equally true. However, since I began working in edtech five years ago, I have been continuously surprised by how little emphasis there is on measuring changes and progress in individual learning, especially in higher education.

This is particularly concerning given that it’s difficult to improve learning if we can’t measure it. However, I think attitudes around why it’s important to track a learner’s progress, and how to accomplish it, are starting to change. With better tooling and more emphasis, we'll see significant progress in 2018.

The most obvious sign that measuring learning is not a priority in higher-ed is that administrators and educators throw away so much data about it. Instructors grade the vast majority of high-stakes summative assessments on paper, and collapse student performance down to a single number for entry into the grade book. Instructors spend hours looking at how each student arrives at an answer, figuring out where they went right or wrong, giving them feedback—but then compress all of that information down to a single grade that omits the nuance and specific areas of improvement for a student. 

Holding on to this kind of data, however, is crucial for measuring students abilities and learning. And keeping information that would have otherwise been discarded after grading could lead to better outcomes within a course. For example, if it were easier for instructors to record student performance on specific learning outcomes, instructors could track progress across assignments. This kind of insight could give an instructor a data-informed prediction of how students might do on future assignments, and enable them to provide targeted interventions to give students extra support before the test. 

Without technology, this process may involve a professor going back and digging through old assignments to get an idea of where a student was once at, and comparing it to their latest work. Over the next year, we will see more technologies stepping in to do that digging for instructors, giving them an easy way to view a student’s performance over time and thus more bandwidth to focus on students themselves.

One trend that is picking up steam is the demands by educational technologists that institutions have access to all of the data that pass through technology solutions, often using standard formats like Caliper and xAPI. Administrators I have spoken with say they have set up data warehouses that allow learning analysts to build these types of tools using the full range of data available on campus.

Data isn’t a silver bullet, however. The more an instructor is able to provide meaning to the data, the more useful the insights derived from the data will be. Another emerging trend in higher education is the push for instructors to be more rigorous about defining learning objectives for their course. Taking it one step further, more instructors are also starting to assess their students via standards-based grading, where students are assessed against defined learning objectives. Together, these trends will make it much easier for instructors to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their students.

The more an instructor is able to provide meaning to the data, the more useful the insights derived from the data will be.

The same data would help in improving repeated offerings of the same course. If instructors could effortlessly measure student progress on every learning outcome, they would have the information they need to understand which parts of their courses need the most attention. 

Data on how students perform across a sequence of courses is plentiful. Ad-hoc analyses of this data are periodically performed, for example, when planning the curriculum for a major. These analyses often lead to information such as “students who take Math 1 before CS 2 generally score a half letter grade higher.” The ad-hoc nature of these kinds of studies, however, limit their ability to regularly capture information. Automating these kinds of trackers would thus allow for instructors to regularly use act upon student data, and improve their teaching in the process. 

Benefits of this kind of technology would start start at day one. For instance, instructors could be presented with a report about their students on the very first day of the course, eliminating the need to test students on prerequisite material.

Gathering and synthesizing information about student learning and performance won’t only be useful for faculty to see, but students could gain valuable information about their own progress as well. For example, when instructors define and assess against learning objects, student could see their progress in attaining those objectives. 

Every industry in the world is hungry for data to improve its workings. Education is unique in that data is actually plentiful—it just hasn't been captured and connected in the right way yet. I look forward to less data being discarded and seeing silos broken down in 2018.

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6 Characteristics of education of the future and how credentials will change

The Commonwealth Bank Jobs and Skills of the Future Report I wrote recently dug into how work and jobs are changing and what skills will be required. These shifts in work mean it is crystal clear that education must also change.

Below is an excerpt from the report giving a snapshot of some of the shifts needed in education: 

Education of the Future

Looking further into the future of education, we may see a radical restructuring of how we learn, not just in schools and universities, but through our entire life. Classrooms will continue to exist, enhanced through the use of a wide range of new tools, technologies and methodologies. Education will also become an ongoing part of everyone’s lives, and embedded into our employment, helping us improve our skills and capabilities while we work.


Pervasive accessibility
Learning will be always available to everyone at all times, at work, home and everywhere spend time

Personalised journeys
Everyone learns differently. Algorithms will uncover our preferences so all learning is designed for the individual.

Real world relevance
Education will prepare us for the real world by focusing on understanding how knowledge will be applied and the emotional and relationship skills required

Immersive experience
Virtual reality and other tools will allow us to experience lifelike situations and practice in simulations before we need to apply our skills in real life

Augmented teachers
Teachers will remain central to education, but they will be augmented by technology to draw on the best tools available

Peer learning
Education will shift to learning from experts to learning with people who are like you, learning together as the world changes


Formal degrees and diplomas will continue to be important in the future, however will be less necessary. Algorithms are increasingly able to analyse data about your work and study to indicate your capabilities in a work environment, often better than a formal academic qualification can.

Some employers are identifying high-potential candidates with software that assesses how specialists in a field have contributed to their profession and how their peers view them.

Rather than multi-year degrees, we will often get recognition for shorter learning journeys. Massively Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are offering ‘nano-degrees’ that show competence in a specific domain.

We may move to a world in which employers look more to the information they can gather about individuals’ knowledge, work and attitudes than to their official certificates.

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Demystifying Agile in Instructional Design

The amount of change in our industry right now is exhilarating, not only in terms of the improvements in technology and data standards, but also with advances in management thinking and human-centered approaches like design thinking. L&D teams—and the organizations they work for—are experimenting with many new ways of working.

Enter Agile Project Management

One new way of working is Agile project management. I say “new” because Agile itself has been around for nearly two decades—if we consider the Agile Manifesto as the beginning of Agile in the software development industry. The goal of the manifesto was to uncover “better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.” It suggested software developers value four specific principles: 


1. individuals and interactions over processes and tools
2. working software over comprehensive documentation
3. customer collaboration over contract negotiation
4. responding to change over following a plan

So essentially, Agile project management is an iterative, incremental process and approach for guiding the design and build of projects in a highly flexible and interactive manner. In addition, Agile focuses on maximizing customer value and fostering high team engagement. What’s more, the manifesto presented a framework of values that would enable teams of programmers to develop software in ways that allowed for changes to underlying needs and a continuous discovery of requirements throughout the project effort. 

Applying Agile to ID

With the success of the Agile project management in the software industry, it comes as no surprise that L&D practitioners have sought to adopt it. Indeed, many of the manifesto’s guidelines probably sound very familiar to instructional designers, such as: 

The highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. Working software is the primary measure of progress. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility. Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

As you can see, in many respects, the design-build aspect of software design and development is akin to that of instructional design and development, and this similarity holds even stronger when we’re developing e-learning or other digital learning experiences. 

There are several key differences between the two types of work, though. Some distinctions include: 

Instructional designers need to focus on learning objectives and performance outcomes, in addition to functions and features. Most instructional designers work on several projects at once, while software developers usually are dedicated to a single team. Instructional designers often need to wait for content or input from subject matter experts, and they have to account for that downtime in their project plans.

These disparities between the nature of software development and ID are either sources of frustration for instructional designers in their application of Agile methods, or they lead to the development of new adaptations, such as LLAMA (Lot Like Agile Management Approach) or SAM (Successive Approximation Model). Teams that make adaptations in their Agile project management approaches to account for these differences in the work are finding success. 

Just as Agile can be applied to different programming languages and different types of software and applications, it’s important to note that Agile project management is different from the instructional design methodologies used on the project. In this light, Agile project management is the way in which we: 

scope the effort define the tasks estimate the work set a schedule deliver and release work product frequently and iteratively communicate with our peers and our clients, whether they are internal or external.

Agile is distinct from the specific ID techniques and approaches that we use to create that work, whether we use the Six Disciplines (6Ds), Merrill's Principles of Instruction, Allen Interaction’s CCAF Model (Context, Challenge, Activity Feedback), individualized instruction theory, Bloom’s Technology, or Torgerson’s MILE framework for microlearning. Agile also is independent of the learning modality or medium and can be applied to e-learning, instructor-led, microlearning, blended learning, performance support, virtual reality training, or projects that use a social framework for informal learning. 

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Best Apps for Teachers and Educators

Regarded as one of the most important jobs in creating a better future, teaching children is often considered to be a priority for many people. Although not a job that is exclusive to professional teachers, teaching is a skill that is applicable across all age groups from the home to the workplace. As tools and technology continue to be developed to make the teaching and understanding process easier, mobile apps have also emerged as one of the most popular teaching tools. With so many available, this article discusses the best ones that can be used to make the teaching process as easy and intuitive as possible.  Notability (iOS)

As one of the best note-taking apps, Notability is extremely comprehensive in what it is able to offer. Users of the app are able to make either typed or hand-written notes and then share them with anyone or sync them to the cloud. Given that many students have smartphones available, this is a tool that can be used to quickly send out notes instead of having each student write it down. Furthermore, other files can be imported into it and then edited such as adding additional notes, sign documents, or make annotations.  One of the best features of Notability is that for students, it can also record lectures while the user takes note. When they click on a section of the notes that they were taking, it takes them to the section of the audio recording. With this, it becomes extremely easy to refer to previous sections of the lecture. Through all of these features, Notability is a highly recommended app for note making and note taking.

Google Classroom (iOS/Android)

In a digital age, Google Classroom is one of the best apps for a connected experience. Teachers simply need to set up their virtual classroom and then have students join. Once in this classroom, all of the resources become available such as documents, files, and even videos so that the classroom becomes accessible to those who may not be present in the physical class. To improve communication between students and teachers, Google Classroom enables for chats as well as announcements to be made to the entire class. As a solution that brings the physical classroom to the digital space, it is a tool that is highly applicable for those who may not be in the classroom everyday or want to more efficiently share content and messages.

ClassDojo (iOS/Android)

As a simple classroom management app, students are given avatars and can be awarded points for exhibiting good behavior or penalized for bad behavior in a point system. Beyond this, students can also be assigned into groups in a seamless way. One of the best aspects of ClassDojo is that teachers are able to add parents to the group and then share pictures and videos throughout the day as well as the rewards and penalties that have been earned. Through this, parents can stay up-to-date on the activities that are happening in the classroom and how their child is doing. As one of the most social tools that can be used to better engage with students and teachers, ClassDojo is a highly recommended tool to be integrated into each classroom.

  Remind: School Communication (iOS/Android)

One of the biggest communication issues for teachers is not with the students, but relates to the parents.  As contact with the teachers often only occurs during scheduled visits a handful of times a year, Remind is a chat tool that increases this frequency to as often as needed online. In being able to get in touch with parents quickly, the status of the students can be given daily so that parents know how their kids are performing and where they can improve. Beyond messages, formats such as images and files can be sent directly to the parent as well. Through Remind, communication is made easier and more efficient for both parents and teachers.

Kahoot! – Play Learning Games (iOS/Android)

As learning is often regarded as a dry process that is difficult to keep students engaged, educators can use Kahoot as a tool to make learning fun. Through the app, teachers can create questions with four options while students can join the game in order to answer the questions. The student who enters the correct answer the fastest is awarded the most points. With this competitive ranking system, students are encouraged to participate and become more aggressive in their learning to win. With the ability to customize games, students are exposed to highly relevant content as opposed to cookie-cutter style games that may not be as relevant to what they are learning in class. Through these game style lessons, students are able to more actively learn through an interactive process which makes it one of the best forms of education gamification.

For educators, the apps listed in this article are able to provide tools that can help students and others learn in a way that is significantly more engaging and efficient. From apps that provide a more connected experience to others that create an engaging environment, these tools should be used to improve the learning process. Although many educators may shy away from introducing technology in the classroom as it is considered to be a distraction, these tools can complement the traditional learning environment given the increase in access to smartphones.

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5 Things Corporate Ed Programs Gain from Blended Learning

For decades, primary and secondary schools have been building blended learning into their classrooms. Children have lectures, group discussions, projects, homework, field trips, video, and online enrichment — the list only grows longer as technology changes.

Corporate education, however, has been far less progressive. It’s not a case of shunning new learning philosophies or educational technology. It’s more of a case of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But blended learning isn’t about fixing broken educational models. It’s about making old educational models even better.

What is Blended Learning?

Blended learning is a method of curriculum development that empowers students to learn through 3 different types of education: applied or practical experience, formal or traditional teaching, and interaction with peers.

Best practices for blended learning suggest at 70:20:10 ratio for these 3 types of education, with students spending 70% of their learning time applying the theories they’ve been taught, 20% of their learning time working with others, and 10% of their learning time focused on their teacher.

What’s Wrong with Corporate Education Today?

Traditional corporate education tends to mean one of 2 things: either a day-long (or days-long) course that relentlessly drills on a single subject for 8 hours straight, or an afternoon seminar that’s forgotten about as soon as the conference room empties at 5 p.m. Both are staples of corporate culture, large and small, but neither are particularly useful.

Why? In the first example, employees are presented with an overwhelming amount of information over too short a time period to digest and retain it. In the second, employees aren’t given a chance to consider the topic in any depth, and there typically aren’t follow-up programs to support continued thought or learning once the seminar ends. Both, then, become a waste of time and resources. What, then, is the solution?

Enter blended learning.

How Corporate Education Programs Benefit from Blended Learning

Blended learning brings the best of learning theory and education technology to every program it touches. It’s innately flexible, which means that you can adapt a program to any environment, workforce, or corporate culture. And best of all, it emphasizes real, actionable results rather than pass/fail test scores, which means that businesses will see returns on their investment in corporate education.

Here are 5 ways blended learning is a boon for corporate education and training programs:

1. Allows More Flexibility

Blended learning programs tend to include a significant online classroom component, with recorded video or audio lectures and assigned reading that students can complete whenever it’s most convenient for them. This sort of autonomy lets employees work around their busy 9-to-5 and personal schedules—and take courses at their own speed, allowing for further self-exploration and consideration than a typical in-person class would offer.

2. Reduces Stress with Shorter, Low-Risk Learning

Employees have never been more stressed than they are right now. They’ve also never been sicker, which — in addition to lowering productivity, morale, and happiness in general — also increases costs. Blended learning makes necessary training less stressful because it tends to incorporate “snackable” content, or shorter lessons that can be absorbed in much less time than a traditional training session. That means employees aren’t worried about squeezing in learning or about missing too much work.

3. Improves Retention of Material

A successful blended learning program will string together shorter lessons over a longer period time. This maintains the real-time impact that an education program has on productivity and employee stress levels while keeping students continually engage with the material in different ways. Each time a student interacts with the material, they’re deepening their understanding of it and increasing the likelihood that they’ll remember it for longer than they would if it had been presented through a more traditional educational experience.

4. Improves Application of Material

The bulk of blended learning focuses on students actually doing whatever it is they’re learning about. In fact, given the 70:20:10 formula, there’s far more “doing” than there is talking about theory. Because blended learning provides a controlled environment for practical application, students can experiment with different methods and develop confidence in their skills without the fear of failing in a real-world, high-stakes scenario.

5. Broadens Peer-to-Peer Learning Opportunities

Research shows that we learn from teaching and collaborating with others. The more we encourage people to do this at all ages and levels, the more capable they become in their own studies and work. In addition to aiding in retention, peer-to-peer learning also enables students to form professional relationships with each other, often spanning across departments, office locations, corporations, and industries. In a globalized world, that’s essential.

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The Facilitator’s Handbook: 24 Design Sprint Tips

Here are some things I think about when I facilitate a design sprint. Lots of what goes into facilitation I can’t explain—like anything, you just do it, gain experience, and get better over time. But there are a few principles and tricks I consciously remind myself to do, again and again, because they work and are not obvious to me. (Some of these are in my book Sprint but most are not.)

1. Focus on the Big 3: Ask questions, write stuff down, and mind the clock

At its core, facilitation is simple. You’ve got to ask questions to get information out in the open, write that information down and ask more questions to make sure you’ve written it down properly, and you’ve got to mind the clock and move through the steps. When feeling overwhelmed, get back to the basics.

2. Trust the recipe

My biggest trick to facilitation is to follow the design sprint process, and in situations where I’ve had to run other meetings, I like to come up with a process and schedule in advance. Even after a bazillion design sprints, I refer to the checklist in the back of the book when I’m facilitating to remind me of the next steps. The recipe sets you free to do your job well.

3. Get commitment in advance or don’t do the sprint

People coming and going to other meetings will ruin the sprint (unless you have carefully planned for cameo appearances, more about that in the book) and it is painful and hard to stop once it starts, so get commitment in advance for people to be in the room 10–5 or don’t do the sprint at all.

4. Explain the sprint before you start

Sprints are much easier to facilitate when people know how the activities fit into the whole. So the week before the sprint begins, I send the team this 90 second sprint video and a link to my “Stop Brainstorming and Start Sprinting” post—both are fast and skimmable. Of course, it’d be awesome if everybody read the book in advance (and on the rare occasions when I’ve done sprints with teams who have, it’s fantastic) but it’s not realistic. On the first morning of the sprint, before we begin, I tell a quick story about what the sprint is going to be like. (You might play the 90 second video, with or without audio, so they’re reminded of how the steps will look.) And on the beginning of each subsequent day, I remind the team what’s going to happen that day (if you like, you can use these day-by-day videos.)

5. Ask for permission

Once you’ve explained the sprint, tell the team you’re going to facilitate, keep things on schedule, and move everyone from step to step. Then say “Sound okay?” Don’t expect a chorus of enthusiastic responses—but there is something powerful and symbolic about getting the team’s permission. I learned this from Charles Warren, a master facilitator and great teacher I met at Google who’d worked for years at IDEO.

6. Ice breaks on its own

I’m not a fan of ice breakers. A goofy ice breaker starts you off with a credibility deficit if there are any skeptics in the room. I want the team to have confidence that I’m going to make excellent use of their time and attention. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun, but I want to start things off fast and pragmatic. And eventually the ice breaks on its own. Be patient and do not assume that you have to have an ice breaker just because it’s the default for workshops—yes, it’ll be a little awkward at first, but trust that people will get comfortable. They always do, and you’ll be glad to have the extra time later on.

7. Write names on the board

It’s important for the facilitator to learn people’s names—conversations go so much better when you call people by name. Whenever anybody is a stranger to me, I like to go around the room and ask everybody to introduce themselves and write their names in a corner of a whiteboard, making a little map of the room. Then everybody, including me, can refer to it when they want to know someone’s name—no name tags required.

8. Fake confidence (it’s normal to feel nervous)

You will gain more confidence over time, but also you should know it’s natural to feel nervous before and during the sprint as the facilitator. I certainly do and I have been in so many sprints you’d think I shouldn’t be nervous… but I definitely feel it before every one. But you need to project confidence in the process and the team, even if you’re not feeling totally confident in it yourself.

9. Don’t outsmart anybody

It’s not on you to be the smartest person in the room. If you think it is, you’re creating unnecessary pressure and you might make a fool of yourself. The facilitator is there to make sure the sprint happens, and to provide the framework so everyone else can succeed. You don’t have to solve the problem or have a brilliant insight. You’re not the actor or even the director, you’re more like the producer. You’re not the omelette, you’re the frying pan. It’s a damn important job, but don’t stress about being smart. I’ve been in sprints with all kinds of super smart people I wanted to impress—sometimes even with famous founders who I really admired. But I quickly learned that the best thing to do was not to be smart, but rather to be helpful. And the best way to be helpful is to make the sprint work, so the hotshot CEO and her genius team can solve the problem. You ask questions, write stuff down, and mind the clock. That’s a lot, and it’s important.

10. Be energetic

You don’t have to go crazy with this, but you’re the battery for the sprint. If you are low energy, the group will be low energy, and if you are upbeat and positive, the group will be energized.

11. Drink steady caffeine and lots of water

I’m very mindful of my caffeine levels when I’m facilitating. I’m a coffee drinker and am always tempted to drink lots of coffee so I’m amped at the beginning of the day (when I’m most nervous and want to be high energy) but if I do, I’ve found I’ll pay for it and crash in the afternoon. Instead, I sip a coffee (if it gets cold, I’m doing it right) and use lower-dose black or green tea to keep my energy level throughout the day. I also intentionally drink a lot of water, because it helps me remember—warning, this is about to get real…

12. 90 minutes is the pee limit

If you’re hydrated yourself, you won’t forget this, but remember 90 minutes is the max you should ever go without a break because people will need to go pee. Seriously, you’re in charge, don’t make folks uncomfortable.

13. Give positive feedback

Find ways to give people positive feedback for their work in the sprint. When somebody says something clarifying, say “That’s a great way to put it, very useful.” As the map comes together, say “This map is really coming together. We’re right where we should be.” It might sound a bit cheesy, but these little reinforcements boost the team’s momentum and confidence.

14. Own the awkwardness

The design sprint process is not the natural way people would work together if you just got together in the room. And at times—like during the critique on Wednesday, or when you’re writing “How Might We” notes on Monday—it’s super unnatural. Don’t try to act like it’s normal behavior. Over and over, I say “This may feel a little awkward,” or “This is going to seem unnatural,” and I find that people are visibly relieved to hear they’re not the only ones—and quite often this defuses difficult people who want to roll their eyes about process. If you’re already laughing with them, they don’t have any punch left. Well, sometimes they still do…

15. Seriously, enforce “no devices”

Don’t let people use their phones or laptops. It’s totally uncomfortable to do this, but you have to do it. Ask them to take their call or email or whatever outside. Say “I have to ask you to check that out of the room, because the screen makes it hard for everyone else to focus. But it’s totally fine for you to duck out and come back.” Everyone else will silently thank you, and you’ll build respect. But regardless of respect, you seriously have to keep devices out of the sprint or things will go bad.

16. Deal with difficult people (3 levels)

Alright, now we’re getting into it. What happens when you’ve got a difficult person, a long talker, an endless debater, a time waster, or a straight-up jerk? You have to deal with it, but you can start out very nice. I use three levels of escalation:

Level 1: Capture and keep going—Write their argument on the whiteboard and keep going. Blame the clock and the schedule rather than the person. Say: “Let’s capture that so we can keep going,” or “That’s a really good point, and we don’t have time to go all the way into it just now, but we can come back to it.” If that doesn’t work… Level 2: Remind them the process will take care of it—Here’s another reason I love the design sprint: it gives me very honest and credible outlets to defuse time wasting conversations. “Let’s make sure your point is reflected in the (sprint questions/map/as a HMW)” or “You’ll have a chance to sketch your solution” or “You’ll have a chance to make a case for the solution you think is best” or “We’ll be able to get some preliminary data on Friday”. Try not to fight directly but rather agree and redirect: “Yes, that’s an important point. The good news is that later in the sprint…” If that doesn’t work… Level 3: Get direct—At this point you’ve dropped hints and you need to just tell the person to cut it out. You may have to take the person aside. “I really value your contribution and want you to be involved in the sprint. And for this project to be successful, I need you to (dial down your tone/give this process a chance)”. I have found it helpful to remind people that the process can be thought of as an experiment — the prototype and test are an experiment, but also the team can evaluate afterward whether the process itself was helpful, but if they resist the process during the process we’ll never know if it would’ve worked. 17. “Pause” don’t “stop”

I like to use the word “pause” instead of “stop” when I need to interrupt the team. “Let’s pause this conversation.” It’s a little thing, it’s just a nice word—seems more polite (and easier to accept for the team) than “stop”. But it means the same thing.

18. Balance patience and impatience

Good facilitation requires a balance of patience and impatience, confidence and humility. Be patient and let the team talk for a few minutes, but be impatient enough to mind the clock and curtail it — productive conversation or not — when it goes on too long. Be confident so the group has confidence in you, and confident in the structure so things keep moving, but humble enough to let others come up with the content, the insights, the solutions — and sometimes go a little off topic. Part of humility is sometimes letting the conversation wander because it might yield a surprising insight for someone — but you can’t let that go too far. You’ll get the hang of this balance over time. When you’re starting out, trust the schedule in the book, it’s pretty good. Over time you’ll just know how much to let the conversation go and when to say “Decider, I need you to break the tie so we can move on.”

19. Always on time, even when you’re not

Another one from Charles: Always act like things are on time. Don’t worry if you get behind schedule a little—I frequently do, and it’s quite possible to catch up again. But don’t broadcast to the team that you’re behind. In fact, although you should use the time guidelines in the book to help you with the schedule, I recommend not writing those times on the whiteboard or sharing them with the team. If you’re behind, they don’t need to know that, because again, you’ll catch up. And it’s easier to catch up when the team has confidence in you.

20. Blame the book

If you do have to rush people along, or if something seems weird, feel free to blame the process, the book, and/or me. It’s not you who says devices aren’t allowed, it’s that jerk Jake. It’s not you who says we have to do Crazy 8s, it’s the book, but let’s give it a shot.

21. Push the team to do something that matters (Balance idealism and cynicism)

In everyday work, it’s easy to get bogged down reacting and optimizing — but in a design sprint you have the chance to maybe reset course. You can maybe do something big that really matters to your customers. I say maybe because it’s hard. Designing something great requires you to act with sincere idealism, and most workplaces don’t encourage that.

Try for it. Remind yourself and your team remember why you all took this job or started this company or signed up for this project in the first place. Don’t optimize. Don’t react. It’s okay to aim for making something that “does well and does good.” If that sounds idealistic, yes, exactly! It is okay to be idealistic, and you can do it successfully if you sprinkle in some honest cynicism. Here’s how you do it:

Encourage a bold mission. When setting the long term goal, push the team to wear their hearts on their sleeves, by saying things like: “I want you to remember why you started this project, or why you joined this team. Just for right now, be naively optimistic. Who are you doing this for, and how will you improve their lives? Being wildly optimistic, what could the results look like in one to two years?” Bring the bold mission attitude back when the team sketches solutions and decides which ones to prototype. Encourage honest cynicism. But don’t just be Captain Sunshine Pants. When listing the sprint questions, be Major Downer and encourage the team to be “idealistically cynical”, like this: “How could this thing fall apart?” and “What do we not want to admit is a flaw with this plan?” and “What would our worst detractor say about this?” You can even question the framework of the sprint itself: “Will the long-term effect of this product be positive for customers — regardless of the result of Friday’s test?” or “Is this project a meaningful use of our time? Of our customers’ time?”

You might not feel comfortable with all this in your first sprint, and that’s okay. But you can get there, and it’s worth it. When I created the design sprint process, I was frustrated by how many teams wasted time while building mediocre or meaningless products (there’s the cynicism) when they had the opportunity to move fast, do something awesome, and make the world a better place (there’s the absurd Silicon Valley idealism). I still believe this brand of idealism can work. But don’t just be idealistic. And don’t be a half-assed idealist, with cynicism weighing you down. Embrace them both and do something great.

22. Get reps

You’ll get better and more confident every time you facilitate. Accordingly, even if you read the book cover to cover and use all the tricks in this post, you’re still not going to be the world’s best facilitator the first time you do it. Get as many reps as you can, and know that the first few reps will give you the steepest, fastest learning curve. Including workshops and sprints, I’ve probably facilitated well over 200 things, and I still learn new stuff, but even after just five I was probably 85% as comfortable at facilitating as I am now. Offer to facilitate a team meeting or a half day workshop or a sprint for another team. Get to five reps as fast as you can.

23. Don’t take yourself too seriously

If you can, laugh at yourself. Laugh at the absurdity of a bunch of grown-ups sitting around following a checklist of activities. And…

24. Enjoy it

Running a design sprint is hard work, no question about it. But it should also be fun. To me, it’s the absolute best of work: a challenging problem, focused time, a team of people working together and bringing their best, disagreeing constructively, and making progress. In your life, there will only be a certain number of moments like this— savor it.

One more thing: Keep in mind that you don’t have to be perfect for the sprint to work. Your map doesn’t have to perfect (my map has never been perfect), you don’t have to explain everything perfectly (I never have), and you don’t even need to remember these tips. The process is extremely robust and can handle lots of imperfections and still work out. Just ask questions, write stuff down, and mind the clock. ⚡️

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How Gamification Leads To Success In The Modern Learning Space

In today’s modern world, most of the enterprises are choosing game-based learning as a way of engaging employees who enjoy fast-paced and mobile collaboration. It is not just a child game, but game mechanics are applied to learning in the workplace.

Boost Engagement, Improve Productivity, Fortify Retention: Gamification Leads To Success

Industries using flight simulators, product inventory for sales personnel in the retail sector, and other consumer marketing apps also use games, irrespective of different demographics. Therefore, badges, scores, and leaderboards have become natural extensions for better workplace performance. There are several training programs that fail to engage workforce because they convey information in a decontextualized manner which is too text heavy. Therefore, it is crucial to incorporate exciting games and reimagine your training program completely.

The Need To Simplify And Engage

Gamification is the application of game mechanics to drive behavior in a non-gaming context. The prime objective is learner interaction and workplace performance, as opposed to gaming for fun and entertainment. Today, employees feel disengaged when going through lengthy training programs to understand a company’s products and services. Also, little has been done to deploy feedback tools to monitor employees’ progress. Different activities including accounting, sales enablement, training platforms, and others make learning more daunting and time-consuming.

The Fogg Model

The Fogg Model of Behavior is a behavioral model designed by Professor B.J. Fogg to demonstrate the relationship between incentive design and game mechanics.[1]

To drive learners’ behavioral response, trigger, motivation, and ability are 3 major factors. Ability is the time and attention resources required to accomplish any behavior. Without these, it is difficult for employees to perform the required behavior. To achieve this, it is essential to motivate employees with badges and scores on successfully completing a module. Apart from ability and motivation, a trigger is necessary to bring an expected behavior. Trigger instructs the participant to complete the target behavior at the right time.

Game mechanics serve as the basic building blocks to impart engaging learning experiences. These help to satisfy learners’ desires through strategies that are applied to digital learning. Discussed below are some of the gaming techniques used to meet human desires:

Rewards are central to eLearning gamification. Learners are given tangible or intangible rewards for completed actions through points, achievements, badges, and more. Status
It is the rank achieved by learners during the gamified learning program. The status of participants should be easily accessible by trainers to assess their performance matrix. Achievements
Achievements may be long-term goals where learners must perform more efficiently to achieve desired results. Once an employee reaches a certain level and receives a reward for his achievement, a badge is displayed to encourage others. Points
For an effective learning experience, players earn points on completion of a certain level or behavior. Points boost motivation and enable learners to perform better during the entire program. Avatars
Some people complain that they miss the presence of an instructor while accessing online courses. Gamification overcomes this challenge by using avatars or learning agents to customize the overall experience. Leaderboards
Leaderboards display ranks and scores achieved by participants, thereby driving competition across the organization. These aid employees to perform the desired behavior. The Mobile Buzz: Learning On The Go

Today, more than 80% of mobile downloads are games. So, using personalized mobile devices to gamify your learning experience is an optimum choice. Gamification for mobiles has reactivated the interest of employees who are mostly traveling or working from offsite locations. It has enabled learning ‘on the go’, thereby increasing learner interaction with the fun element added to it.

The blend of technology and learning has always sought the attention of educators as well as employees from different organizations. Gamification strategies are seen for different aspects including healthcare (wellness programs), military (simulations), and government offices (behavioral tactics). So, whether you enjoy games or not, it is essential to understand their role in reshaping the modern learning landscape. Undoubtedly, game-based learning helps to explore the whole environment, so that employees can perform more efficiently in real life. The concept is not new as trainers implement games to motivate and inspire their personnel. When applied correctly, games enhance the overall learning experience and delight learners of all ages.

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Training design is dead(ish)

Social media is fundamentally changing the role of training designers, writes Sheridan Webb – but it’s not time to write them off just yet 

My talent is ‘getting’ things quickly, which means I am able to make links between concepts, ideas and practical behaviours. I’m reasonably bright, although not especially intelligent. I’m an adaptor, not an innovator, and I’m a real task-driven pragmatist. These qualities have enabled me to make a living out of training design for more than 20 years.

But then social media turned up, and it’s proved to be both a blessing and a curse to training designers like me. 

When I started in my career, the internet was in its infancy. At this stage, the training designer’s role was to read a lot of books and articles, go to seminars and then distil the most useful bits into a nice workbook, supported by an (often extensive) set of slides. In simple terms, the training designer was the content provider.

Then the internet grew in accessibility and relevance. All of these wonderful theories, ideas and models were suddenly accessible to all. E-learning (also called computer-based training, or CBT) sprang up and everyone said training courses were dead.

But of course they weren’t. The workshop was alive and well, and even experienced an upsurge in popularity because of an increased awareness of learning preferences and methodologies. Accelerated learning principles made training active, and the traditional workshop become much more participative. Yes, CBT may be useful for policy and procedure training, but it was solitary, linear, ‘black and white’ and, let’s be honest, a bit boring. Training designers like me put the life into live learning – our role was now about crafting an experience.

At this stage, around 11 years ago, I left full-time employment to become an independent training designer. Most people didn’t get it. ‘What do you do if you don’t deliver training?’ they asked. ‘Don’t trainers do their own design?’ ‘How can you let someone else deliver your stuff?’ But it isn’t my stuff: it’s Stephen Covey’s. And John Adair’s. And Tuckman’s, and Honey and Mumford’s – you get the picture. 

It was also at this time that I was introduced to social media. I was a gradual adopter, starting with LinkedIn. I was a little nervous, but curious. Over time I have become a fan, especially of the ‘big three’ – ie LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Not only does social media fill an important social gap for me (I often spend all day by myself; not only can that be lonely, it can also be hard to bounce ideas around), but it also stretches me. The constant stream of new information brought to my attention by social media means that the training I design has a good solid foundation (the tried and tested ‘academic’ models and theories), but is current and up to date thanks to the latest blogs and articles. 

However, with so much good content being available, does the social media revolution mean that in five years’ time I’ll be out of a job? After all, people can just Google this stuff and find it all out for themselves. It’s a real concern. But I believe there will still be a need for training designers; for those who can dig out the useful, accurate information from all the chaff; for those who can help learners make sense of the information they are given; for those who can supplement external information with internal expertise; for those who can present busy clients with an appropriate set of concepts to consider; and for those who can bring to life information through provoking discussions, carefully designed exercises and bespoke case studies. 

So maybe the role of the training designer won’t change that much after all. Instead of being a content generator, I’ll become a content liberator. Using tools such as Storify, Scoop.it, Pinterest, LinkedIn groups, Prezi, YouTube and wikis alongside good old facilitation, I will no longer be a training designer in the traditional sense. Instead I will be a learning curator, enabling learners and facilitators to access all the information, tools and support they need to get the development they want, when they want it and how they want it – and to help it to develop with them.

Social media isn’t killing my job – it’s evolving it.

Sheridan Webb is director of training services at Keystone Development and Training, and is a training designer at Power Hour

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Aligning On Purpose Is The First Step To Learning Design

There is a common approach of first presenting, then exemplifying, assessing, and finally repeating when it comes to designing an eLearning course. Without that being totally wrong, it is not always the best approach for every learner or every need. If you’re interested in a framework for creating a more comprehensive view of your learner’s needs, read the following article.

The First Step To Learning Design: Align On Purpose

Present-exemplify-assess, repeat…Does this look familiar? Do your eLearning courses all follow a similar structure? While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it is not the best approach for every need. Read on, if you’re interested in a framework for developing a more comprehensive view of your learner’s needs, and in turn the purpose that will inform your design approach.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

The purpose of training is to achieve an outcome - today, our target audience does "x", and tomorrow, we want them to do "y". Of course, new knowledge is often part of closing that gap, but let’s remember our target audiences aren’t empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge. They are more complicated, and designs need to address not only knowledge transfer but also attitudes, awareness, support for application, and more.

Get At The Heart Of The Purpose

We’ve identified 7 key questions to explore, define, and to help identify the challenges a designer must address:

Is training mandatory, or will users choose to take the training on their own? If so, what is their intrinsic motivation to engage with your solution? Do you need to promote the solution and establish a compelling reason for users to engage? Awareness of need.
How conscious is your audience of their current knowledge and skill level? Are they coming to your solution with a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses? Or do you need to provide tools to help them recognize their starting point, and where they need to go? Knowledge.
With what policy, process, procedures, or other information will your audience need to develop fluency to achieve the desired outcome? Skills and behaviors.
In what new practices, skills, and tasks will the users need to develop competence? What do they need to change, or stop doing altogether? Application.
Will users need support applying these new skills and implementing processes and practices back on the job? Reinforcement.
Are there key messages, or facts and information that will need to be kept top-of-mind over time? Updates.
Will policy, process, procedures, or other supporting information change over time? And how important is it for users to have this information at their fingertips?

Use these questions to engage stakeholders and project sponsors, so as a team you have a fully formed understanding of all the solution outcomes, and what the challenges are to achieve those outcomes. Then, let these inform the kinds of experiences you create to achieve your goal.

Want to take deeper dive into designing learning solutions that deliver results? Check out The Secret to Getting Learning Results Isn’t What You Think.

Design For The Need

Now that you have a clear purpose, put it to good use. It’s all too common to see 'solutions' that don’t really fit the problem, where for example the need was really only to raise awareness and communicate, but the designer chose a needlessly complex learning model. Or where the desired outcome was a true behavioral change, and all the program did was share information. So, take care not to over or under-design for the need you’re facing. And remember that you might best meet some learning objectives by producing a string or blend of design models that extend across different delivery mediums, and over a spaced calendar. In this way, you create a learning campaign rather than a single, static event. The output may include a self–paced online course with a main menu and a series of topics, a stand-alone learning activity, an online webinar, or a combination of things.

Looking for more insight on how to design the appropriate solution for a give challenge? Check out Learning models: Useful blueprints for learning designers.

And Now, The Content

Now that you have a clear purpose, and an appropriate design for that purpose, you'll likely find that the "content" you started with will need some work. We love our Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) but let's be honest; they are often blinded by their passion for their content. In their mind, the more content, the better.

But with our clear purpose and associated design, you will almost certainly want to narrow the focus of the content, and likely require some additional. Don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole. If you take your SME along with you for the ride of defining purpose and design, they'll be a willing partner to provide the right content to get the right outcome.

Content was really clear 447 Content hit the target 359 Thanks for the learning boost! 344

Learning Organization Profile

This 25-question survey is used to determine if your company is on the correct path for becoming a Learning Organization.

Instructions: Below is a list of statements. Read each one carefully, and then decide the extent to which it actually applies to your organization by using the scale below: 

4 = applies fully 3 = applies to a great extent 2 = applies to a moderate extent 1 = applies to little or no extent 

Be honest with your answers as the goal is to identify where your organization is presently at so that you can make improvements.

Learning Dynamics: Individual, Group or Team, and Organization

1_______ We are encouraged and expected to manage our own learning and development.

2_______ People avoid distorting information and blocking communication channels, using such skills as active listening and effective feedback.

3_______ Individuals are trained and coached in learning how to learn.

4_______ Teams and individuals use the action learning process. (That is, they learn from careful reflection on problem situations, and then apply their new knowledge to future actions.)

5_______ People are able to think and act with a comprehensive, systems approach.

Organization Transformation: Vision, Culture, Strategy, and Structure

6_______ Top-level managers support the vision of a learning organization.

7_______ There is a climate that supports and recognizes the importance of learning.

8_______ We learn from failures as well as successes.

9_______ Learning opportunities are incorporated into operations and programs.

10_______ The organization is streamlined--with few management levels--to maximize communication and learning across all levels. 

People Empowerment: Employee, Manager, Customer, and Community 

11_______ We strive to develop an empowered workforce able to learn and perform.

12_______ Authority is decentralized and delegated.

13_______ Managers take on the roles of coaching, mentoring, and facilitating learning.

14_______ We actively share information with our customers to obtain their ideas to learn and improve services and products.

15_______ We participate in joint learning events with supplies, community groups, professional associations, and academic institutions. 

Knowledge Management: Acquisition, Creation, Storage and Retrieval, and Transfer and Use

16_______ People monitor trends outside our organization by looking at what others do--for example, by benchmarking best practices, attending conferences, and examining published research.

17_______ People are trained in the skills of creative thinking and experimentation.

18_______ We often create demonstration projects to test new ways of developing a product or delivering a service.

19_______ Systems and structures exist to ensure that important knowledge is coded, stored, and made available to those who need and can use it.

20_______ We continue to develop new strategies and mechanisms for sharing learning throughout the organization. 

Technology Application: Information Systems, Technology-Based Learning, and EPSS (Electronic Performance Support Systems)

21_______ Effective and efficient computer-based information systems help our organizational learning.

22_______ People have ready access to the information superhighway--for example, through local area networks, the Internet, ASTD Online, and so on.

23_______ Learning facilities such as training and conference rooms incorporate electronic multimedia support.

24_______ We support just-in-time learning with a system that integrates high-technology learning systems, coaching, and actual work into a seamless process.

25_______ Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS) enable us to learn and do our work better. 

_______ Total (Maximum Score 100)


81 - 100: Congratulations! You are well on your way to becoming a learning organization!

61 - 80: Keep on moving! Your organization has a solid learning foundation. 

40 - 60: A good beginning. Your organization has gathered some important building blocks to become a learning organization. 

Below 40: Watch out! Time to make drastic changes if you want to survive in a rapidly changing world.

Content was really clear 448 Content hit the target 361 Thanks for the learning boost! 361

The learning organization: principles, theory and practice

The learning organization. Just what constitutes a ‘learning organization is a matter of some debate. We explore some of the themes that have emerged in the literature and the contributions of key thinkers like Donald Schon and Peter Senge. Is it anything more than rhetoric? Can it be realized?

Many consultants and organizations have recognized the commercial significance of organizational learning – and the notion of the ‘learning organization’ has been a central orienting point in this. Writers have sought to identify templates, or ideal forms, ‘which real organizations could attempt to emulate’ (Easterby-Smith and Araujo 1999: 2). In this sense the learning organization is an ideal, ‘towards which organizations have to evolve in order to be able to respond to the various pressures [they face] (Finger and Brand 1999: 136). It is characterized by a recognition that ‘individual and collective learning are key’ (op. cit.).

Two important things result from this. First, while there has been a lot of talk about learning organizations it is very difficult to identify real-life examples. This might be because the vision is ‘too ideal’ or because it isn’t relevant to the requirements and dynamics of organizations. Second, the focus on creating a template and upon the need to present it in a form that is commercially attractive to the consultants and writers has led to a significant under-powering of the theoretical framework for the learning organization. Here there is a distinct contrast with the study of organizational learning.

Although theorists of learning organizations have often drawn on ideas from organizational learning, there has been little traffic in the reverse direction. Moreover, since the central concerns have been somewhat different, the two literatures have developed along divergent tracks. The literature on organizational learning has concentrated on the detached collection and analysis of the processes involved in individual and collective learning inside organizations; whereas the learning organizations literature has an action orientation, and is geared toward using specific diagnostic and evaluative methodological tools which can help to identify, promote and evaluate the quality of learning processes inside organizations. (Easterby-Smith and Araujo 1999: 2; see also Tsang 1997).

We could argue that organizational learning is the ‘activity and the process by which organizations eventually reach the ideal of a learning organization’ (Finger and Brand 1999: 136).

On this page we examine the path-breaking work of Donald Schon on firms as learning systems and then go on to explore Peter Senge’s deeply influential treatment of the learning organization (and it’s focus on systemic thinking and dialogue). We finish with a brief exploration of the contribution of social capital to the functioning of organizations.

The learning society and the knowledge economy

The emergence of the idea of the ‘learning organization’ is wrapped up with notions such as ‘the learning society’. Perhaps the defining contribution here was made by Donald Schon. He provided a theoretical framework linking the experience of living in a situation of an increasing change with the need for learning.

The loss of the stable state means that our society and all of its institutions are in continuous processes of transformation. We cannot expect new stable states that will endure for our own lifetimes.

We must learn to understand, guide, influence and manage these transformations. We must make the capacity for undertaking them integral to ourselves and to our institutions.

We must, in other words, become adept at learning. We must become able not only to transform our institutions, in response to changing situations and requirements; we must invent and develop institutions which are ‘learning systems’, that is to say, systems capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation. (Schon 1973: 28)

One of Schon’s great innovations was to explore the extent to which companies, social movements and governments were learning systems – and how those systems could be enhanced. He suggests that the movement toward learning systems is, of necessity, ‘a groping and inductive process for which there is no adequate theoretical basis’ (ibid.: 57). The business firm, Donald Schon argued, was a striking example of a learning system. He charted how firms moved from being organized around products toward integration around ‘business systems’ (ibid.: 64). He made the case that many companies no longer have a stable base in the technologies of particular products or the systems build around them. Crucially Donald Schon then went on with Chris Argyris to develop a number of important concepts with regard to organizational learning. Of particular importance for later developments was their interest in feedback and single- and double-loop learning. 

Subsequently, we have seen very significant changes in the nature and organization of production and services. Companies, organizations and governments have to operate in a global environment that has altered its character in significant ways.

Productivity and competitiveness are, by and large, a function of knowledge generation and information processing: firms and territories are organized in networks of production, management and distribution; the core economic activities are global – that is they have the capacity to work as a unit in real time, or chosen time, on a planetary scale. (Castells 2001: 52)

A failure to attend to the learning of groups and individuals in the organization spells disaster in this context. As Leadbeater (2000: 70) has argued, companies need to invest not just in new machinery to make production more efficient, but in the flow of know-how that will sustain their business. Organizations need to be good at knowledge generation, appropriation and exploitation.

The learning organization

It was in this context that Peter Senge (1990) began to explore ‘The art and practice of the learning organization’. Over 750,000 copies of The Fifth Discipline (1990) were sold in the decade following its publication – and it is probably this book that has been the most significant factor in popularising the notion of the learning organization. However, as Sandra Kerka remarked in 1995 ‘there is not… a consensus on the definition of a learning organization’. Indeed, little has changed since. Garvin (2000: 9) recently observed that a clear definition of the learning organization has proved to be elusive.

Exhibit 1: Three definitions of a learning organization

Learning organizations [are] organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together. (Senge 1990: 3)

The Learning Company is a vision of what might be possible. It is not brought about simply by training individuals; it can only happen as a result of learning at the whole organization level. A Learning Company is an organization that facilitates the learning of all its members and continuously transforms itself. (Pedler et. al. 1991: 1)

Learning organizations are characterized by total employee involvement in a process of collaboratively conducted, collectively accountable change directed towards shared values or principles. (Watkins and Marsick 1992: 118)

We can see much that is shared in these definitions – and some contrasts. To start with the last first: some writers (such as Pedler et. al.) appear to approach learning organizations as something that are initiated and developed by senior management – they involve a top-down, managerial imposed, vision (Hughes and Tight 1998: 183). This can be contrasted with more ‘bottom-up’ or democratic approaches such as that hinted at by Watkins and Marsick (1992; 1993). Some writers have looked to the learning company, but most have proceeded on the assumption that any type of organization can be a learning organization. A further crucial distinction has been reproduced from the use of theories from organizational learning. This is the distinction made between technical and social variants (Easterby-Smith and Araujo 1999: 8). The technical variant has looked to interventions based on measure such as the ‘learning curve’ (in which historical data on production costs is plotted against the cumulative output of a particular product) (op. cit.). There is a tendency in such approaches to focus on outcomes rather than the processes of learning. The social view of the learning organization looks to interaction and process – and it is this orientation that has come to dominate the popular literature.

According to Sandra Kerka (1995) most conceptualizations of the learning organizations seem to work on the assumption that ‘learning is valuable, continuous, and most effective when shared and that every experience is an opportunity to learn’ (Kerka 1995). The following characteristics appear in some form in the more popular conceptions. Learning organizations:

Provide continuous learning opportunities.

Use learning to reach their goals.

Link individual performance with organizational performance.

Foster inquiry and dialogue, making it safe for people to share openly and take risks.

Embrace creative tension as a source of energy and renewal.

Are continuously aware of and interact with their environment. (Kerka 1995)

As Kerka (1995) goes onto comment, the five disciplines that Peter Senge goes on to identify (personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning and systems thinking) are the keys to achieving this sort of organization. Here, rather than focus too strongly on the five disciplines (these can be followed up in our review of Senge and the learning organization) we want to comment briefly on his use of systemic thinking and his interest in ‘dialogue’ (and the virtues it exhibits). These two elements in many respects mark out his contribution.

Systems theory and the learning organization

Systemic thinking is the conceptual cornerstone (‘The Fifth Discipline’) of Peter Senge’s approach. It is the discipline that integrates the others, fusing them into a coherent body of theory and practice (1990: 12). Systems theory’s ability to comprehend and address the whole, and to examine the interrelationship between the parts provides, for Peter Senge, both the incentive and the means to integrate the disciplines. Three things need noting here. First, systems theory looks to connections and to the whole. In this respect it allows people to look beyond the immediate context and to appreciate the impact of their actions upon others (and vice versa). To this extent it holds the possibility of achieving a more holistic understanding. Second, while the building blocks of systems theory are relatively simple, they can build into a rather more sophisticated model than are current in many organizations. Senge argues that one of the key problems with much that is written about, and done in the name of management, is that rather simplistic frameworks are applied to what are complex systems. When we add these two points together it is possible to move beyond a focus on the parts, to begin to see the whole, and to appreciate organization as a dynamic process. Thus, the argument runs, a better appreciation of systems will lead to more appropriate action. Third, systemic thinking, according to Senge, allows us to realize the significance of feedback mechanisms in organizations. He concludes:

The systems viewpoint is generally oriented toward the long-term view. That’s why delays and feedback loops are so important. In the short term, you can often ignore them; they’re inconsequential. They only come back to haunt you in the long term. (Senge1990: 92)

While other writers may lay stress on systems theory, in Senge’s hands it sharpens the model – and does provide some integration of the ‘disciplines’ he identifies.

Dialogue and the learning organization

Peter Senge also places an emphasis on dialogue in organizations – especially with regard to the discipline of team learning. Dialogue (or conversation) as Gadamer has argued is is a process of two people understanding each other. As such it is inherently risky and involves questioning our beliefs and assumptions.

Thus it is a characteristic of every true conversation that each opens himself to the other person, truly accepts his point of view as worthy of consideration and gets inside the other to such an extent that he understands not a particular individual, but what he says. The thing that has to be grasped is the objective rightness or otherwise of his opinion, so that they can agree with each other on a subject. (Gadamer 1979: 347)

The concern is not to ‘win the argument’, but to advance understanding and human well being. Agreement cannot be imposed, but rests on common conviction (Habermas 1984: 285-287). As a social relationship it entails certain virtues and emotions.

It is easy to see why proponents of the learning organization would place a strong emphasis upon dialogue. As Peter Senge has argued, for example, team learning entails the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine “thinking together”’ (1990: 10). Dialogue is also necessary to other disciplines e.g. building a shared vision and developing mental models. However, there are significant risks in dialogue to the organization. One factor in the appeal of Senge’s view of dialogue (which was based upon the work of David Bohmand associates) was the promise that it could increase and enrich corporate activity. It could do this, in part, through the exploration and questioning of ‘inherent, predetermined purposes and goals’ (Bohm et. al. 1991). There is a clear parallel here with Argyris and Schön’s work on double-loop learning, but interestingly one of Bohm’s associates has subsequently suggested that their view was too optimistic: ‘dialogue is very subversive’ (Factor 1994).

Some problems and issues

In our discussion of Senge and the learning organizationwe point to some particular problems associated with his conceptualization. These include a failure to fully appreciate and incorporate the imperatives that animate modern organizations; the relative sophistication of the thinking he requires of managers (and whether many in practice they are up to it); and questions around his treatment of organizational politics. It is certainly difficult to find real-life examples of learning organizations (Kerka 1995). There has also been a lack of critical analysis of the theoretical framework.

Based on their study of attempts to reform the Swiss Postal Service, Matthias Finger and Silvia B?rgin Brand (1999) provide us with a useful listing of more important shortcomings of the learning organization concept. They conclude that it is not possible to transform a bureaucratic organization by learning initiatives alone. They believe that by referring to the notion of the learning organization it was possible to make change less threatening and more acceptable to participants. ‘However, individual and collective learning which has undoubtedly taken place has not really been connected to organizational change and transformation’ (ibid.: 146). Part of the issue, they suggest, is to do with the concept of the learning organization itself. They argue the following points. The concept of the learning organization:

Focuses mainly on the cultural dimension, and does not adequately take into account the other dimensions of an organization. To transform an organization it is necessary to attend to structures and the organization of work as well as the culture and processes. ‘Focussing exclusively on training activities in order to foster learning… favours this purely cultural bias’ (ibid.: 146).

Favours individual and collective learning processes at all levels of the organization, but does not connect them properly to the organization’s strategic objectives. Popular models of organizational learning (such as Dixon 1994) assume such a link. It is, therefore, imperative, ‘that the link between individual and collective learning and the organization’s strategic objectives is made’ (ibid.: 147). This shortcoming, Finger and Brand argue, makes a case for some form of measurement of organizational learning – so that it is possible to assess the extent to which such learning contributes or not towards strategic objectives.

Remains rather vague. The exact functions of organizational learning need to be more clearly defined.

In our view, organizational learning is just a means in order to achieve strategic objectives. But creating a learning organization is also a goal, since the ability permanently and collectively to learn is a necessary precondition for thriving in the new context. Therefore, the capacity of an organization to learn, that is, to function like a learning organization, needs to be made more concrete and institutionalized, so that the management of such learning can be made more effective. (ibid.: 147)

Finally, Finger and Brand conclude, that there is a need to develop ‘a true management system of an organization’s evolving learning capacity’ (op. cit.). This, they suggest, can be achieved through defining indicators of learning (individual and collective) and by connecting them to other indicators.


It could be argued that the notion of the learning organization provides managers and others with a picture of how things could be within an organization. Along the way, writers like Peter Senge introduce a number of interesting dimensions that could be personally developmental, and that could increase organizational effectiveness – especially where the enterprise is firmly rooted in the ‘knowledge economy. However, as we have seen, there are a number of shortcomings to the model – it is theoretically underpowered and there is some question as to whether the vision can be realized within the sorts of dynamics that exist within and between organizations in a globalized capitalist economy. It might well be that ‘the concept is being oversold as a near-universal remedy for a wide variety of organizational problems’ (Kuchinke 1995 quoted in Kerka 1995).

There have been various attempts by writers to move ‘beyond’ the learning organization. (The cynics among us might conclude that there is a great deal of money in it for the writers who can popularise the next ‘big thing’ in management and organizational development). Thus, we find guides and texts on ‘the developing organization’ (Gilley and Maybunich 2000), ‘the accelerating organization (Maira and Scott-Morgan 1996), and ‘the ever-changing organization’ (Pieters and Young 1999). Peter Senge, with various associates, has continued to produce workbooks and extensions of his analysis to particular fields such as schooling (1994; 1999; 2000).

In one of the more interesting developments there has been an attempt to take the already substantial literature on trust in organizations (Edmondson and Moingeon 1999: 173) and to link it to developments in thinking around social capital (especially via the work of political theorists like Robert Putnam) (see Cohen and Prusak 2001). We could also link this with discussions within informal education and lifelong learning concerning the educative power of organizations and groups (and hence the link to organizational learning) (see the material on association elsewhere on these pages). Here the argument is that social capital makes an organization more than a collection of individuals. (Social capital can be seen as consisting of ‘the stock of active connections among people: the trust, mutual understanding, and shared values and behaviours that bind the members of human networks and communities and make cooperative action possible’, Cohen and Prusak 2001: 4). Social capital draws people into groups.

This kind of connection supports collaboration, commitment, ready access to knowledge and talent, and coherent organizational behaviour. This description of social capital suggests appropriate organizational investments – namely, giving people space and time to connect, demonstrating trust, effectively communicating aims and beliefs, and offering equitable opportunities and rewards that invite genuine participation, not mere presence. (Cohen and Prusak 2001: 4)

In this formulation we can see many of the themes that run through the approach to the learning organization that writers like Watkins and Marsick (1993) take. The significant thing about the use of the notion of social capital is the extent to which it then becomes possible to tap into some interesting research methodologies and some helpful theoretical frameworks.

Quite where we go from here is a matter for some debate. It could be that the notion of the ‘learning organization’ has had its ‘fifteen minutes of fame’. However, there does seem to be life in the notion yet. It offers an alternative to a more technicist framework, and holds within it a number of important possibilities for organizations seeking to sustain themselves and to grow.

Further reading and references

Easterby-Smith, M., Burgoyne, J. and Araujo, L. (eds.) (1999) Organizational Learning and the Learning Organization, London: Sage. 247 + viii pages. A collection with a good overview and some very helpful individual papers. The opening section provides reviews and critiques, the second, a series of evaluations of practice.

Schön, D. A. (1973) Beyond the Stable State. Public and private learning in a changing society, Harmondsworth: Penguin. 236 pages. A very influential book (following Schön’s 1970 Reith Lectures) arguing that ‘change’ is a fundamental feature of modern life and that it is necessary to develop social systems that can learn and adapt. Schön develops many of the themes that were to be such a significant part of his collaboration with Chris Argyris and his exploration of reflective practice.

Senge, P. M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline. The art and practice of the learning organization, London: Random House. 424 + viii pages. A seminal and highly readable book in which Senge sets out the five ‘competent technologies’ that build and sustain learning organizations. His emphasis on systems thinking as the fifth, and cornerstone discipline allows him to develop a more holistic appreciation of organization (and the lives of people associated with them).


Argyris, C., & Schön, D. (1978) Organisational learning: A theory of action perspective, Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley.

Argyris, C. and Schön, D. (1996) Organisational learning II: Theory, method and practice, Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley.

Bohm, D., Factor, D. and Garrett, P. (1991) ‘Dialogue – a proposal’, the informal education archives.

Bolman, L. G. and Deal, T. E. (1997) Reframing Organizations. Artistry, choice and leadership 2e, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 450 pages.

Castells, M. (2001) ‘Information technology and global capitalism’ in W. Hutton and A. Giddens (eds.) On the Edge. Living with global capitalism, London: Vintage.

Cohen, D. and Prusak, L. (2001) In Good Company. How social capital makes organizations work, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Dixon, N. (1994) The Organizational Learning Cycle. How we can learn collectively, London: McGraw-Hill.

Easterby-Smith, M. and Araujo, L. ‘Current debates and opportunities’ in M. Easterby-Smith, L. Araujo and J. Burgoyne (eds.) Organizational Learning and the Learning Organization, London: Sage.

Edmondson, A. and Moingeon, B. (1999) ‘Learning, trust and organizational change’ in M. Easterby-Smith, L. Araujo and J. Burgoyne (eds.) Organizational Learning and the Learning Organization, London: Sage.

Factor, D. (1994) On Facilitation and Purpose, http://www.muc.de/~heuvel/dialogue/facilitation_purpose.html

Finger, M. and Brand, S. B. (1999) ‘The concept of the “learning organization” applied to the transformation of the public sector’ in M. Easterby-Smith, L. Araujo and J. Burgoyne (eds.) Organizational Learning and the Learning Organization, London: Sage.

Gadamer, H-G. (1979) Truth and Method, London: Sheed and Ward.

Garvin, D. A. (2000) Learning in Action. A guide to putting the learning organization to work, Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

Gilley, J. W. and Maybunich, A. (2000) Beyond the Learning Organization. Creating a culture of continuous growth and development through state-of-the-art human resource practices, Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books.

Habermas, J. (1984) The Theory of Communicative Action Volume 1, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hayes, R. H., Wheelwright, S. and Clark, K. B. (1988) Dynamic Manufacturing: Creating the learning organization, New York: Free Press. 429 pages.

Hughes, C. and Tight, M. (1998) The myth of the learning society’ in S. Ranson (ed.) Inside the Learning Society, London: Cassell.

Kerka, S. (1995) ‘The learning organization: myths and realities’ Eric Clearinghouse, http://www.cete.org/acve/docgen.asp?tbl=archive&ID=A028.

Leadbeater, C, (2000) Living on Thin Air, London: Penguin.

Malhotra, Y. (1996) ’Organizational Learning and Learning Organizations: An Overview’ http://www.brint.com/papers/orglrng.htm

Maira, A. and Scott-Morgan, P. B. (1996) The Accelerating Organization: Embracing the human face of change, McGraw-Hill.

Marquandt, M. and Reynolds, A. (1993) The Global Learning Organization, Irwin Professional Publishing.

Marquardt, M. J. (1996) Building the Learning Organization, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Van Maurik, J. (2001) Writers on Leadership, London: Penguin.

Pedler, M., Burgoyne, J. and Boydell, T. (1991, 1996) The Learning Company. A strategy for sustainable development, London: McGraw-Hill.

Pieters, G. W. and Young, D. W. (1999) The Ever-Changing Organization: Creating the capacity for continuous change, learning and improvement, St Lucie.

Senge, P. et. al. (1994) The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization

Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Roth, G. and Smith, B. (1999) The Dance of Change: The Challenges of Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations, New York: Doubleday/Currency).

Senge, P., Cambron-McCabe, N. Lucas, T., Smith, B., Dutton, J. and Kleiner, A. (2000) Schools That Learn. A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education, New York: Doubleday/Currency

Sugarman, B. (1996) ‘Learning, Working, Managing, Sharing: The New Paradigm of the “Learning Organization”’, Lesley College, http://www.lesley.edu/journals/jppp/2/sugarman.html

Sugarman, B. (1996) ‘The learning organization and organizational learning: New Roles for Workers, Managers, Trainers and Consultants’, Lesley College, http://www.lesley.edu/faculty/sugarman/loandtd.htm

Tsang, E. (1997) ‘Organizational learning and the learning organization: a dichotomy between descriptive and prescriptive research’, Human Relations, 50(1): 57-70.

Watkins, K. and Marsick, V. (eds.) (1993) Sculpting the Learning Organization. Lessons in the art and science of systematic change, San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Watkins, K. and Marsick, V. (1992) ‘Building the learning organization: a new role for human resource developers’, Studies in Continuing Education 14(2): 115-29.

Content was really clear 477 Content hit the target 410 Thanks for the learning boost! 393

Is Yours a Learning Organization?

Leaders may think that getting their organizations to learn is only a matter of articulating a clear vision, giving employees the right incentives, and providing lots of training. This assumption is not merely flawed—it’s risky in the face of intensifying competition, advances in technology, and shifts in customer preferences.

Organizations need to learn more than ever as they confront these mounting forces. Each company must become a learning organization. The concept is not a new one. It flourished in the 1990s, stimulated by Peter M. Senge’s The Fifth Discipline and countless other publications, workshops, and websites. The result was a compelling vision of an organization made up of employees skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge. These people could help their firms cultivate tolerance, foster open discussion, and think holistically and systemically. Such learning organizations would be able to adapt to the unpredictable more quickly than their competitors could.

Unpredictability is very much still with us. However, the ideal of the learning organization has not yet been realized. Three factors have impeded progress. First, many of the early discussions about learning organizations were paeans to a better world rather than concrete prescriptions. They overemphasized the forest and paid little attention to the trees. As a result, the associated recommendations proved difficult to implement—managers could not identify the sequence of steps necessary for moving forward. Second, the concept was aimed at CEOs and senior executives rather than at managers of smaller departments and units where critical organizational work is done. Those managers had no way of assessing how their teams’ learning was contributing to the organization as a whole. Third, standards and tools for assessment were lacking. Without these, companies could declare victory prematurely or claim progress without delving into the particulars or comparing themselves accurately with others.

In this article, we address these deficiencies by presenting a comprehensive, concrete survey instrument for assessing learning within an organization. Built from the ground up, our tool measures the learning that occurs in a department, office, project, or division—an organizational unit of any size that has meaningful shared or overlapping work activities. Our instrument enables your company to compare itself against benchmark scores gathered from other firms; to make assessments across areas within the organization (how, for, example, do different groups learn relative to one another?); and to look deeply within individual units. In each case, the power is in the comparisons, not in the absolute scores. You may find that an area your organization thought was a strength is actually less robust than at other organizations. In effect, the tool gives you a broader, more grounded view of how well your company learns and how adeptly it refines its strategies and processes. Each organization, and each unit within it, needs that breadth of perspective to accurately measure its learning against that of its peers.

Building Blocks of the Learning Organization

Organizational research over the past two decades has revealed three broad factors that are essential for organizational learning and adaptability: a supportive learning environment, concrete learning processes and practices, and leadership behavior that provides reinforcement. We refer to these as the building blocks of the learning organization. Each block and its discrete subcomponents, though vital to the whole, are independent and can be measured separately. This degree of granular analysis has not been previously available.

Our tool is structured around the three building blocks and allows companies to measure their learning proficiencies in great detail. As you shall see, organizations do not perform consistently across the three blocks, nor across the various subcategories and subcomponents. That fact suggests that different mechanisms are at work in each building-block area and that improving performance in each is likely to require distinct supporting activities. Companies, and units within them, will need to address their particular strengths and weaknesses to equip themselves for long-term learning. Because all three building blocks are generic enough for managers and firms of all types to assess, our tool permits organizations and units to slice and dice the data in ways that are uniquely useful to them. They can develop profiles of their distinctive approaches to learning and then compare themselves with a benchmark group of respondents. To reveal the value of all these comparisons, let’s look in depth at each of the building blocks of a learning organization.

Building Block 1: A supportive learning environment.

An environment that supports learning has four distinguishing characteristics.

Psychological safety.

To learn, employees cannot fear being belittled or marginalized when they disagree with peers or authority figures, ask naive questions, own up to mistakes, or present a minority viewpoint. Instead, they must be comfortable expressing their thoughts about the work at hand.

Appreciation of differences.

Learning occurs when people become aware of opposing ideas. Recognizing the value of competing functional outlooks and alternative worldviews increases energy and motivation, sparks fresh thinking, and prevents lethargy and drift.

Openness to new ideas.

Learning is not simply about correcting mistakes and solving problems. It is also about crafting novel approaches. Employees should be encouraged to take risks and explore the untested and unknown.

Time for reflection.

All too many managers are judged by the sheer number of hours they work and the tasks they accomplish. When people are too busy or overstressed by deadlines and scheduling pressures, however, their ability to think analytically and creatively is compromised. They become less able to diagnose problems and learn from their experiences. Supportive learning environments allow time for a pause in the action and encourage thoughtful review of the organization’s processes.

Supportive learning environments allow time for a pause in the action and encourage thoughtful review of the organization’s processes.

To change a culture of blame and silence about errors at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, COO Julie Morath instituted a new policy of “blameless reporting” that encouraged replacing threatening terms such as “errors” and “investigations” with less emotionally laden terms such as “accidents” and “analysis.” For Morath, the culture of hospitals must be, as she told us, “one of everyone working together to understand safety, identify risks, and report them with out fear of blame.” The result was that people started to collaborate throughout the organization to talk about and change behaviors, policies, and systems that put patients at risk. Over time, these learning activities yielded measurable reductions in preventable deaths and illnesses at the institution.

Building Block 2: Concrete learning processes and practices.

A learning organization is not cultivated effortlessly. It arises from a series of concrete steps and widely distributed activities, not unlike the workings of business processes such as logistics, billing, order fulfillment, and product development. Learning processes involve the generation, collection, interpretation, and dissemination of information. They include experimentation to develop and test new products and services; intelligence gathering to keep track of competitive, customer, and technological trends; disciplined analysis and interpretation to identify and solve problems; and education and training to develop both new and established employees.

For maximum impact, knowledge must be shared in systematic and clearly defined ways. Sharing can take place among individuals, groups, or whole organizations. Knowledge can move laterally or vertically within a firm. The knowledge-sharing process can, for instance, be internally focused, with an eye toward taking corrective action. Right after a project is completed, the process might call for post-audits or reviews that are then shared with others engaged in similar tasks. Alternatively, knowledge sharing can be externally oriented—for instance, it might include regularly scheduled forums with customers or subject-matter experts to gain their perspectives on the company’s activities or challenges. Together, these concrete processes ensure that essential information moves quickly and efficiently into the hands and heads of those who need it.

Perhaps the best known example of this approach is the U.S. Army’s After Action Review (AAR) process, now widely used by many companies, which involves a systematic debriefing after every mission, project, or critical activity. This process is framed by four simple questions: What did we set out to do? What actually happened? Why did it happen? What do we do next time? (Which activities do we sustain, and which do we improve?) In the army, lessons move quickly up and down the chain of command, and laterally through sanctioned websites. Then the results are codified by the Center for Army Lessons Learned, or CALL. Such dissemination and codification of learning is vital for any organization.

Building Block 3: Leadership that reinforces learning.

Organizational learning is strongly influenced by the behavior of leaders. When leaders actively question and listen to employees—and thereby prompt dialogue and debate—people in the institution feel encouraged to learn. If leaders signal the importance of spending time on problem identification, knowledge transfer, and reflective post-audits, these activities are likely to flourish. When people in power demonstrate through their own behavior a willingness to entertain alternative points of view, employees feel emboldened to offer new ideas and options.

When leaders demonstrate a willingness to entertain alternative points of view, employees feel emboldened to offer new ideas.

Harvey Golub, former chief executive of American Express, was renowned for his ability to teach employees and managers. He pushed hard for active reasoning and forced managers to think creatively and in unexpected ways. A subordinate observed that he often “came at things from a different angle” to ensure that conventional approaches were not accepted without first being scrutinized. “I am far less interested in people having the right answer than in their thinking about issues the right way,” Golub told us. “What criteria do they use? Why do they think the way they do? What alternatives have they considered? What premises do they have? What rocks are they standing on?” His questions were not designed to yield particular answers, but rather to generate truly open-minded discussion.

The three building blocks of organizational learning reinforce one another and, to some degree, overlap. Just as leadership behaviors help create and sustain supportive learning environments, such environments make it easier for managers and employees to execute concrete learning processes and practices smoothly and efficiently. Continuing the virtuous circle, concrete processes provide opportunities for leaders to behave in ways that foster learning and to cultivate that behavior in others.

Uses for the Organizational Learning Tool

Our online diagnostic tool is designed to help you answer two questions about the organizational unit that you lead or in which you work: “To what extent is your unit functioning as a learning organization?” and “What are the relationships among the factors that affect learning in your unit?” People who complete the survey rate how accurately a series of brief, descriptive sentences in each of the three building blocks of learning describe their organization and its learning culture. For the list of statements in the complete survey, information about where to find it online, and details about how it works, see the exhibit “Assess the Depth of Learning in Your Organization.”

There are two primary ways to use the survey. First, an individual can take it to get a quick sense of her work unit or project team. Second, several members of a unit can each complete the survey and average their scores. Either way, the next step is to compare individual or group self-evaluations with overall benchmark scores from our baseline group of organizations. The benchmark data are stratified into quartiles—that is, the bottom 25%, the next 25%, and so on—for each attribute, arrayed around a median (see the exhibit “Benchmark Scores for the Learning Organization Survey”). Once you have obtained your own scores online, you can identify the quartile in which your scores fall and reflect on how they match your prior expectations about where you stand.

Having compared individual or unit scores with the benchmarks, it’s possible to identify areas of excellence and opportunities for improvement. If employees in multiple units wish to take the survey, you can also make the comparisons unit-by-unit or companywide. Even if just two people from different parts of a firm compare scores, they can pinpoint cultural differences, commonalities, and things to learn from one another. They may also discover that their unit—or even the company—lags behind in many areas. By pooling individual and unit scores, organizations as a whole can begin to address specific problems.

Holding Up the Mirror at Eutilize

Consider how managers from a major European public utility, which we will call Eutilize, used the survey to assess their company’s readiness for and progress in becoming a learning organization. In the summer of 2006, 19 midlevel managers took the survey. Before learning their scores, participants were asked to estimate where they thought Eutilize would stand in relation to the benchmark results from other firms.

Virtually all the participants predicted average or better scores, in keeping with the company’s espoused goal of using knowledge and best-practice transfers as a source of competitive advantage. But the results did not validate those predictions. To their great surprise, Eutilize’s managers rated themselves below the median baseline scores in almost all categories. For example, out of a possible scaled score of 100, they had 68 on leadership, compared with the median benchmark score of 76. Similarly, they scored 58 on concrete learning processes (versus the median benchmark of 74) and 62 on supportive learning environment (versus the median of 71). These results revealed to the Eutilize managers that integrating systematic learning practices into their organization would take considerable work. However, the poorest-scoring measures, such as experimentation and time for reflection, were common to both Eutilize and the baseline organizations. So Eutilize was not unusual in where it needed to improve, just in how much.

The portrait that emerged was not unexpected for a public utility that had long enjoyed monopolies in a small number of markets and that only recently had established units in other geographic areas. Eutilize’s scores in the bottom quartile on openness to new ideas, experimentation, conflict and debate, and information transfer were evidence that changing the company’s established culture would be a long haul.

Eutilize’s managers also discovered the degree to which their mental models about their own ways of working were inaccurate. For example, they learned that many people in their firm believed that “analysis” was an area of strength for Eutilize, but they interpreted analysis to be merely number crunching. The survey results helped them to understand the term analysis more broadly—to think about the degree to which people test assumptions, engage in productive debate, and seek out dissenting views. Each of those areas was actually a weakness in the firm. This revelation led Eutilize’s managers to understand that without a more open environment buttressed by the right processes and leadership, the company would have difficulty implementing a new strategy it had just adopted.

Eutilize’s experience illustrates how our organizational learning tool prompts reflective discussion among managers about their leadership and organizational practices. Without concrete data, such reflection can become abstract and susceptible to idiosyncratic assessments and often emotional disagreements about the current state of affairs. With the survey data in hand, managers had a starting point for discussion, and participants were able to point to specific behaviors, practices, or events that might explain both high and low scores. The results also helped Eutilize’s managers to identify the areas where their firm needed special attention.

Given that the survey-based scores derive from perceptions, the best use of the data at Eutilize was, as it would be at any company, to initiate conversation and self-reflection, not to be the sole basis for decision making. Discussions had to be conducted with a healthy balance of what scholars call “advocacy and inquiry.” The communication allowed people the latitude to assert their personal observations and preferred suggestions for action, but it also ensured that everyone took the time to carefully consider viewpoints that were not their own. In addition, managers learned the importance of using concrete examples to illustrate interpretations, to refer to specific practices or processes, and to clarify observations. Finally, the participants from Eutilize identified specific actions to be taken. Had they not done so, the discussions could have deteriorated into unproductive complaint sessions.

Moving Forward: Four Principles

Our experiences developing, testing, and using this survey have provided us with several additional insights for managers who seek to cultivate learning organizations.

Leadership alone is insufficient.

By modeling desired behaviors—open-minded questioning, thoughtful listening, consideration of multiple options, and acceptance of opposing points of view—leaders are indeed likely to foster greater learning. However, learning-oriented leadership behaviors alone are not enough. The cultural and process dimensions of learning appear to require more explicit, targeted interventions. We studied dozens of organizations in depth when developing our survey questions and then used the instrument with four firms that had diverse sizes, locations, and missions. All four had higher scores in learning leadership than in concrete learning processes or supportive learning environment. Performance often varies from category to category. This suggests that installing formal learning processes and cultivating a supportive learning climate requires steps beyond simply modifying leadership behavior.

Organizations are not monolithic.

Managers must be sensitive to differences among departmental processes and behaviors as they strive to build learning organizations. Groups may vary in their focus or learning maturity. Managers need to be especially sensitive to local cultures of learning, which can vary widely across units. For example, an early study of medical errors documented significant differences in rates of reported mistakes among nursing units at the same hospital, reflecting variations in norms and behaviors established by unit managers. In most settings, a one-size-fits-all strategy for building a learning organization is unlikely to be successful.

Managers need to be especially sensitive to local cultures of learning, which can vary widely across units.

Comparative performance is the critical scorecard.

Simply because an organization scores itself highly in a certain area of learning behavior or processes does not make that area a source of competitive advantage. Surprisingly, most of the organizations we surveyed identified the very same domains as their areas of strength. “Openness to new ideas” and “education and training” almost universally scored higher than other attributes or categories, probably because of their obvious links to organizational improvement and personal development. A high score therefore conveys limited information about performance. The most important scores on critical learning attributes are relative—how your organization compares with competitors or benchmark data.

Learning is multidimensional.

All too often, companies’ efforts to improve learning are concentrated in a single area—more time for reflection, perhaps, or greater use of post-audits and after-action reviews. Our analysis suggests, however, that each of the building blocks of a learning organization (environment, processes, and leadership behaviors) is itself multidimensional and that those elements respond to different forces. You can enhance learning in an organization in various ways, depending on which subcomponent you emphasize—for example, when it comes to improving the learning environment, one company might want to focus on psychological safety and another on time for reflection. Managers need to be thoughtful when selecting the levers of change and should think broadly about the available options. Our survey opens up the menu of possibilities. 

The goal of our organizational learning tool is to promote dialogue, not critique. All the organizations we studied found that reviewing their survey scores was a chance to look into a mirror. The most productive discussions were those where managers wrestled with the implications of their scores, especially the comparative dimensions (differences by level, subunit, and so forth), instead of simply assessing performance harshly or favorably. These managers sought to understand their organizations’ strengths and weaknesses and to paint an honest picture of their cultures and leadership. Not surprisingly, we believe that the learning organization survey is best used not merely as a report card or bottom-line score but rather as a diagnostic instrument—in other words, as a tool to foster learning.

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Feedback: You Need To Lead It

Practice is everything, right? Well, actually it’s nothing if you’re practicing the same wrong moves over and over again.

Feedback is a crucial element for success, and that is the crux of an enlightening new book called Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become and Expert in Just About Anything by Ulrich Boser.

While Boser, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, shows how feedback can be applied to athletics, music and art, it’s the business aspect of this that is particularly fascinating. After all, most people are accustomed to the idea of a teacher or coach who is there to correct your mistakes. And we live in the era of Yelp where everything we consume is up for review. Criticism — corrective and otherwise — is everywhere.

But in the office? Usually it’s sink or swim with the occasional scheduled reviews from a superior.

Studies show, though, that a successful office encourages a culture of feedback at every level of the hierarchy, and not just at prescribed moments. A culture of feedback, where peers feel comfortable sharing, asking for and receiving analysis of their performance, even on a daily basis, really changes how an office operates.

Officevibe statistics strongly support the value of feedback: “four out of 10 workers are actively disengaged when they get little or no feedback;” 82% of employees appreciate positive and negative feedback; and 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week as opposed to 18% of low engagement employees.

But here’s the rub: You can’t just tell your employees to start doling out feedback and expect improvement. It’s one thing to tell someone what you like about how they handle their duties. It’s another to tell them they aren’t doing something quite right. In fact, if a lot of the latter is going on in your office, you might end up with a hostile environment.

According to Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School: “As I discovered in recent research I conducted with Paul Green of Harvard Business School and Brad Staats of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, people tend to move away from those who provide feedback that is more negative than their view of themselves. They do not listen to their advice and prefer to stop interacting with them altogether. It seems that people tend to strengthen their bonds with people who only see their positive qualities.”

Gino makes it clear that we only will improve if we’re willing to really hear others point out our weaknesses. Yes, that’s a difficult task, and it’s highly stressful to all involved.

But if you introduce your team to the concept gradually, it is possible to implement, even in an office that previously had no or very little open opportunities for such an exercise. Studies show that a team’s ability to collectively reflect upon team objectives, strategies and processes can improve learning, creativity and innovation. When peers feel comfortable sharing ideas, asking for help and receiving analysis of their performance, it changes how an office operates and what can be accomplished.

Creating a culture of feedback at every level of the hierarchy, and not at just prescribed moments between managers and employees, is critical in realizing these benefits. Start, for example, by pointing out an example of when you personally stumbled in giving feedback — that sends a big message that you are serious about changing behavior. I often tell people that when I first started giving feedback, I was too insensitive. For example, sometimes at Goldman Sachs I would see people in the hall and offer my opinions, without taking account of who else could hear. This often had the result you'd expect of triggering defensiveness. Once I realized this, I changed course: quietly ask employees first if they are up for a little constructive criticism. If they say yes — which invariably they do — dispense it in private. They were far more receptive to my suggestions in this scenario.

There are a lot more excellent tips out there on how to offer feedback — the nice kind and the tough variety — and how to receive it. In fact, first steps really involve offering them plentiful opportunities to run through the skill, such as an hour on “Feedback Fridays.” And ask yourself from time to time: What is the most valuable feedback I’ve received in the last year? Why was it so valuable? Maybe it's time to let that person know how valuable you found it. These practices, too, support a strong feedback culture.

Everything takes practice. And you as a leader need to provide the practice field.

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Performance Management, Reinvigorated by Google and LinkedIn

Google and LinkedIn have revolutionized the way people find things online, how consumers buy and how businesses sell to other businesses. It was the classic underdog story of a young, nimble startup disrupting a new market. What’s interesting is how they have inherently changed a whole different market, seemingly by accident.

Back in the day, companies used to run annual performance reviews, just as many corporations still do today. In terms of helping an employee understand how they are doing, and how they can improve, 12 months is absurdly long. It’s an almost laughably long feedback loop.

That’s precisely why Google and LinkedIn didn’t see annual performance reviews to be a good fit and needed to engineer an alternative that worked just as fast as they did; and one that scaled. It’s those changes that created ripples at the forefront of a revolution in the HR field.

You see, the practice of measuring employee performance is nothing new, in fact, it’s a field that’s well known in HR circles called Performance Management. What’s changing the field are the big winners of Silicon Valley; they have the scale and data to allow them to advance the field faster than in the past.

What’s resulted is a Google-engineered modern, continuous performance management system that is revolutionizing the way HR works across all companies—all without meaning to do so. I’ll give you the primer on motivating and retaining great people at work but first…

What Is Performance Management?

“Performance management is an ongoing process of communication between a supervisor and an employee that occurs throughout the year, in support of accomplishing the strategic objectives of the organization.”

—UC Berkeley

They go on to say:

“The communication process includes clarifying expectations, setting objectives, identifying goals, providing feedback, and reviewing results.”

How Do Startups Run Performance Management?

Startups have narrowed performance management down to rely mainly on short-term goals, short-term projects, high-quality data and intellectual rigor. In committing to these modernized performance management practices, feedback is given fast and improvements are made.

1. Short-term goals.

Rather than year-long goals, LinkedIn and Google both rely on quarterly OKRs. 

Arguably the best fit for startups, short-term goals allow for undivided focus on key priorities that will scale your team. You want to support employees in matching the pace your startup is growing at and setting short-term goals will provide the structure they need.

2. Short-term of projects.

Similarly, short-term projects and view of employment are what it will take to assess present needs for a scaling team.

As Reid Hoffman identifies in The Alliance, “as much as companies might yearn for a stable environment and employees might yearn for lifetime employment, the world has irrevocably changed.” Gone were the days of two-year project development cycles and twelve-year careers with the same company.

Today’s workforce is growing and changing just as fast as the startup landscape. The alliance framework shows us that short-term projects align with the talent-dependent startup because we’re acknowledging that great employees might leave the company. 

Short-term sprints provide focus while generating much-needed rapport with employees so as to help them improve in shorter timeframes.

3. Radical feedback.

The true value of modern performance management becomes clear as a result of the consistent feedback being given. Consistent feedback brings an element of predictable growth to the otherwise changing startup landscape.

In fact, Kim Scott, co-founder of Candor, Inc., and author of Radical Candor argues that “criticizing your employees when they screw up is not just your job, it’s actually your moral obligation.” 

Giving radical feedback means delivering messages, both good and bad, in order to drive the quickest and best results. Match your short-term sprints with regular feedback to maximize employee growth.

As you reinvent performance management across your scaling startup, we want to dive head first into these three simple performance management practices.

Final Thoughts.

Setting goals and reviewing expectations for feedback once a year is no way to grow your team and company. It comes down to short-term goals, quick sprints, and regular engaging feedback.

Just as cultivating respect for your team’s time and efforts rarely comes from annual performance reviews; it stems from regular acknowledgment.

Bring your team up to speed with modern performance management practices that will put you up a notch for this year’s growth.