True cost of media/content; comparing the costs of my “free” media

Once again the BBC is under attack in the UK for its cost (less than 50p a day per person). Whilst most likely a distraction from other things this news did get me thinking about the value I get from the BBC. Today this really equates to the website and podcasts, all of which are monetized items outside of the UK via adverts anyway. The commercial aspect is an interesting one – for example I would say a number of big BBC brands, like Doctor Who, could do with a creative break/rest, however, revenue generation worldwide means the Beeb is not solely driven by being a public broadcaster to the domestic audience (and any quality standards this may pertain too). If we are to take “Global Britain” seriously then the BBC is perhaps the UK’s greatest brand, therefore the stakes can be seen to be high on many levels – not least the quest for impartial news coverage.

Anyway, all the BBC-bashing has got me thinking about how much other “free” media costs, in particular how much all my YouTube channels and podcast shows would cost me if I was to subscribe to their various Patreons, email lists and other revenue generation streams. What I have tried to do below is capture a realistic subscription cost – this is podcasts I listen to every time they come out (not ones I may be subscribed to but rarely listen to) and YouTube channels I get a lot out of (again there will be some more I subscribe to with Patreon and other links that I have not included as I would consider myself an irregular viewer/”fan”). I have also tried to balance to the “medium” subscription level – many shows offer different levels, whilst often trailed in podcasts as “buy me a coffee a month” in the roughly £6/$6 bracket there are a number with more expensive options. I have tried to go for a middle option where possible and ignored any obviously expensive ones that are there because they come with lots of merch, benefits I would not use or are simply a joke part of the brand and not actually intended for use. I have also included a couple where the producers ask for a charity donation rather than an actual subscription/donation to themselves.

Headline totals

For podcasts with an obvious “donate” option (i.e. it is in the show notes) my total costs came to: £67.64 per month (or about £2.22 a day).

For YouTube the figure was £46.50 a month (or about £1.50 a day).

There are probably other media sources I could have included here too, for example newsletters and indy game developers that I receive their creative work but do not subscribe to their payment channels.

All figures above include some exchanging from the $, Euro, etc.

Conclusion

Given the BBC manage to stretch their revenues across multiple outlets, from the the excellent BBC Good Food which at one point was set to close to regional news and much much more, the higher cost of individual subscriptions via podcasts and YouTube suggest they are doing things pretty efficiently. Obviously some of their presenters are paid obscene amounts of money, however, these are some of the biggest names in the UK and I would tend to say that most of those high paid names are good at what they do (even though I have rarely listened to or watched many of them in the last 10 years or so). Indeed a more commercial BBC would have to pay to hold onto them anyway.

Overall, this has been a bit of an eye-opening experience for me. I often feel bad when I ignore creators’ requests for subscriptions/donations – this exercise has shown that the reality is that subscribing to these individual services would actually be pretty expensive. It also confirms how much of a bargain the BBC, in many ways, is.

“Learning Transformation” : January ’22 edition

January and February have historically been important periods of reflection for the learning industry (at least in the UK) due to the Learning Technologies conference and exhibition (with its adult/workplace learning focus) and BETT (with its <21 education/school focus). This year the decision has been made to push the Learning Tech show back from February to May but I thought I would still take some time now to just reflect on where we are in terms of the evolution/transformation of learning in early 2022.

The language of learning transformation

Firstly it is difficult to ignore that “transformation” is a word being thrown around a lot online and in the media in relation to learning. What people are generally speaking about is the result of the Covid period and that, in terms of transformation, what people are really talking about is the response to the loss of the physical classroom as an option to facilitate/deliver education. Whilst the need to work without a classroom may be revolutionary for some, for example compulsory aged schooling teachers who had never facilitated much/any online learning before, for those of us who (at least in part) self-identify as learning technologists this has been a period that is actually largely evolutionary, not transformative nor revolutionary.

If we think less about schools and universities for the rest of the post and try to just focus on the transformation of workplace learning then too much of the conversation around “transformation” in the last couple of years is, obviously just in my opinion, about laggards catching up. Therefore, what we might be seeing in 2020-22 is those L&D departments who were stuck in the “Training Ghetto” either being transformed into virtual ghettos by Covid or finally waking up to doing things they probably should have always been doing. The “ghetto” idea is of course Don Taylor’s (the chair and organiser of the Learning Technologies show). Don has recently suggested there is a bigger change happening (“all change in L&D” blog post) that goes beyond the quite narrow lack-of-classroom focus of much of the discussion. I’ll come back to Don’s argument from that blog post later.

For those of us who have focused on eLearning (online learning, digital learning or whatever else we want to call it) the last couple of years is far less transformative, at least of the surface of things. That said, simply turning out SCORM modules or LMS courses is obviously not the way forward either – transformation will mean different things to different people. The Google Trends data (I had embedded it below but for some reason it keeps breaking in WordPress) would suggest a “start of the pandemic” spike in interest in what some of us have been doing for a long time. It would be wonderful if we could break this spike down between parents, school teachers, universities, L&D and other groups.

For workplace/organisational/membership/employee learning we could also see this as (instead of being specifically Covid initiated) being learning departments getting hit by the previous buzz around Digital Transformation of work and the preceding but related developments such as Big Data, Web 2.0, etc etc. Personally I would say continued evolution of practice was coming no matter what and Covid has accelerated some good and bad practice. One thing that I can agree with from a recent protocol Source Code podcast is that the panic and rush resulting from Covid led to a “disservice” for online learning.

A recent L&D Disrupt podcast (link to YouTube version) on launching an L&D department from scratch really reinforced for me that there is a pretty standard approach to what many of us do, have done or would do in that situation. However, the language on Disrupt was interesting. No two L&D departments are likely to be equal in terms of the quality of their needs analysis, their exact approach to design, etc. The Disrupt pod also made points about moving from a previous over-reliance on classroom training – is this still, really, what people are talking about by learning transformation, even in workplace environments?

Scope of learning departments

Arguably little has changed in regard to learning department scope. L(&D) departments are expected to maintain stakeholder relationships to develop and deliver appropriate learning strategies for their organisation(s). These learning strategies should reflect how performance improvement is being supported, to help colleagues deliver organisational strategies, behave appropriately and meet their goals. This needs to be aligned with (or part of) talent management – for example having apprenticeships or other ways to replace lost talent, deal with succession, develop managerial confidence/competency, etc.

I love Guy Wallace’s historical perspectives via Twitter and elsewhere. His recent WOINA Syndrome (What’s Old Is New Again.) blog post is great on how we rehash so much stuff. I seriously doubt WOINA is unique to learning within organisations (after all leadership theory, mindfulness and other areas go as far as to rehash ancient philosophy) but you do have to wonder if “transformation” as marketed by consultants, vendors, etc. is really transformational. New lipstick on a pig perhaps? The recent protocol Source Code uses the argument that more lifelong learning is needed due to the pace of change (a debatable argument) and that tech can enable this (less debatable). I tend to think this need and the demand from many employees has always been there – L&D can be the facilitator of upskilling in this model where previously the load was too often put on the individual.

Any organisational learning should be using personal, team and business targets to change knowledge, skills and/or behaviours. Simples. However, Don’s all change argument is that valid in that L&D is no longer “focusing on building and delivering content”. Indeed my first L&D role, rather than more learning/education focused, was initially about managing content. We have clearly moved on from that space with social learning. Where L&D teams continue to struggle is perhaps when the personal, team and business measures are still hidden from them? We hear a lot about data being abundant in organisations but I do wonder how many orgs really have clarity over performance and how many companies still promote based on simple measures (e.g. sales/revenue) or popularity (often risking negative DEI implications). Proper use of data could well be transformational for many on their practice within a scope that is less transformational.

Learning/instructional design

Call it what you will, the scope of L&D work is still likely to need something resembling analysis, design and delivery of learning and change solutions. Usually these will still come from something resembling an ADDIE project, even if the design/delivery is not about authoring content but instead curation or another solution.

I know there is justified hate out there for the use of “instruction” and ADDIE but, personally, these are semantic arguments we can live without as ultimately organisations divide labour between teams based on skill and experience. Therefore, learning and change projects should reach the L&D team as the experts in learning and change.

Ideally this should not be simply the “throw over the fence” approach to perceived requirements that jumps straight to DDIE. Proper task analysis should mean solutions tailored to stakeholder needs, ideally with those stakeholders and the target audience involved throughout. Of course, as always, what the audience’s needs are might have been misinterpreted, misunderstood, misrepresented, etc, etc. None of this is new or transformational.

Masters of our own destiny

Mastering the balance between latest market trends and WOINA has to be part of the solution of what the future of learning will look like.

I have written before about how some terminology has been usurped in work/corporate climates – for example information professionals/scientists losing the “information” moniker to the technologists. Similarly information work around curation often died out, for example information teams in law firms lost staff in the face of internet tools, yet curation has been a buzz word in L&D circles, in part thanks to further tech changes. What we perhaps need to finally acknowledge is that a training team can not “own” or “manage” organisational learning – we can lead, facilitate, curate, communicate, etc. We need to demonstrate the behaviours and show the value in personal development, knowledge sharing and related activities. Nigel Paine’s transformation plans for ’22 mentions L&D’s role should be in that it “encourages the whole organisation to take responsibility for working and learning together”. This is in part about the skills gap that Don focuses on as the change – i.e. organisations face skills shortages, not knowledge/content per se.

L&D’s focus can include offering strategic recommendations on the use of tools to enhance the employee (or other stakeholder/customer) experience. However, I would say we need to be careful on silos – simply having marketing select marketing tools, L&D select learning tools, etc. reinforces old paradigms. Purchasing projects need to recognise the power of digital tools to do things differently – not just replacing old ways of doing things. Don’s impression of Cornerstone Xplor seem to suggest they are taking something of a leap from old paradigms but much of it sounds familiar in ways too. Meanwhile the Source Code pod suggests AR/VR and some other metaverse like applications are the real change. However, the tech will enable new ways of doing things but many of the solutions will still, in my mind, be based on traditional ID/L&D logic – as Guy suggests with his WOINA. For example, the Novartis VR example at Unleash’18 showed how there can be value in moving scenario/location based learning into VR. As Guys says in his post: “technology advances have enabled us to do better” and I would say the iterative improvement (rather than transformation) for many in L&D will be to continue to identify when the time is right for investment in new tech for their use cases. No doubt we will see lots of bad metaverse usage as it becomes more mainstream – just as we saw bad use of other things such as Second Life – but there will be opportunities too.

Skills for success

Anyone who is unfortunate enough to come across me in person will have probably heard me referring back to my MA and MSc in how I go about my work. This might be surprising considering I recently “liked” a tweet supporting experience over qualifications:

My issue with the above tweet is really the “10+ years…experience” part, not the qualification or need for a combination of qualification and experience. Skills, knowledge and behaviours are important – mandatory recruitment requirements, like in the above tweet, ignores this. Is this because recruiting/HR are too often separate from L&D/talent management (theory at least if not practice in a particular org)?

Years of experience, for many roles, is total BS as a measure. Instead, ask someone about their evidence based practice, the theory behind their practice, their achievements, etc. No year, in no other role, is made equal to what you think a year’s experience is – even in theoretically comparable roles like, say, nursing across different hospitals. This is one area where hopefully Covid will make people realise how things have changed, e.g. a year of work experience in a 2021 Covid-impacted hospital would be very different to, say, working there in 2001. This applies in knowledge work too – consulting or sales are very different now too when you can’t travel to conferences, meet clients for coffee, etc.

In many ways the need for a combination of theory and experience is particularly important in L&D given many L&D pros do not come through an L&D education. The problem to tackle, as is hinted at in that L&D Disrupt podcast, is that people come into the learning profession through classroom experiences and we have a rinse and repeat cycle (albeit that there are good things about face-to-face learning too). Actually having some learning theory, learning tech or other related academic/professional qualifications should mean you have at least been exposed to other ways of doing things. Personally doing my MSc fully online has always been a big help in reflecting on my own practice of building such experiences, both in education and workplace learning. Do not get me wrong – 10 years of classroom teaching has value on a CV, however, rather than length of time we are really talking about a skillset as described in the LPI Capability Map or other model. It sounds like Xplor’s value is in automating skill mapping, learning resource mapping, etc – for those of us who have managed competency frameworks and related tools this sounds great but I would also hold quite a lot of scepticism over how well this will work.

Work is learning/learning is work

Difficult to disagree with the Nigel Paine in his wish for 22: “I want 2022 to be the year when learning becomes integrated with work…I want 2022 to be the time when the notion of a learning organisation, with a powerful learning culture, is not deemed an irrelevancy but is an essential part of the modern work environment.” However, this is obviously not a new concept – perhaps what we can hope for is a kinder workplace, one with an acknowledgment of long-term health issues as with live not just with Covid but long Covid and all the other health and personal issues that are too often ‘hidden’ in the workplace. Learning to encourage improvement, career development and more can be part of this more humane workplace.

However, when it comes to the wider move of learning in the flow of work I do fear this part of an automation of more and more roles, as mentioned in a tweet spurred by the Learning Technologies digital event that happened in place of the usual smaller version of the event that takes place as the “Summer Forum“:

End

This post has gone on long enough but, in summary, I think it is fair to say that whilst innovation for one organisation/professional will mean something different to another org/pro I can see transformation as being about a potential further split in the learning tech market between:

(1) LMS platforms that will continue to exist for organisations focused on “products” – this still makes sense for training providers, organisations offering CPD to members, content vendors, universities and more even if their marketplace continues to face real pressure.

(2) Xplor and other tools expand into career guidance (Don mentions acting as a career service an increasingly important role for L&D as I mentioned here) for the organisation, tying up/reskilling to roles/vacancies and acting as a reimagination of L&D into proper talent transformation.

How much other functionality makes sense in the above situations (such as social learning, collaboration, etc) will depend on the ecosystem beyond these tools. In other words an organisation may be happy with an LMS, HRIS and Microsoft Teams. Others may try and do all of this via a new talent platform. Ultimately it reminds me of a quote from 5 (!?!) years ago about whatever L&D’s focus and scope is it should behave in a way to act as “oil in the engine, not a spanner in the works”.

Thinking further about Visual Novels for learning (aka storytelling)

I recently enjoyed this interesting session by Training Magazine Network:

Storytelling is UNNECESSARY in Learning Lessons – Use Hyper‐Stories Instead
(https://meet50035645.adobeconnect.com/pgdcwyaopel0/).

The argument was made for short examples in learning activities, rather than long stories. This made a lot of sense, to me, given the difficulty in building narratives that remain realistic once someone starts to select different options in a role play or scenario-based learning.

In some ways this can lead to a starting question any time we might want examples or scenarios:

Will short stories, to illustrate specific points, be best or a more immersive, longer, story?

If Visual Novels are useful for long branching narratives perhaps tools like inklewriter can be of use for shorter form content and such narrative “snippets” – with inkle allowing for some basic images to be added along with the text narrative.

The role a VN (or VN style approach) could have in your learning strategy crosses over with a number of other areas, not least with the excellent work and guidance available on the Nice Media YouTube channel related to drama in/forlearning:

Trying Notion (after MS Ignite October 2021)

The legless avatars of Mesh stole the social media buzz around Microsoft’s latest round of news (mostly coming out of Ignite). However, there was a LOT of changes to existing tools and non-Mesh stuff.

Windows Weekly, as always, has done a good job of pulling things together from different press releases, blog posts, presentations, etc. Some thoughts…

Loop

One thing discussed on Windows Weekly was Loop, a new tool which the WW hosts compared to Notion. Elsewhere it has been compared to Google Wave and other tools (see the comments on this article for how this tool seems to cut across existing tools).

Well I hadn’t used Notion before so I thought I would give it a try (they have 200k followers on Twitter so I am clearly late to the party).

Notion

Free for individual use (and free trials for team use) you can access Notion here.

50+ tutorials are on the Notion YouTube channel for getting startedl.

I would say that the, individual use, Notion is really a kind of personal Wiki but with various templates and other functionality to plug in. In this regard it is likely great for small teams (or even individual freelancers) to track their work. Indeed they have a page on the website regarding Wiki use. That said I have been burned with using Wiki and other tools (inc. Google Wave) in the past that have closed and needed me to transfer content elsewhere so I would understand why people would prefer to do similar activities via MS Teams (perhaps using OneNote over the limited Teams wiki).

An email from Notion suggested “Notion can feel overwhelming at first” – and I think that is a fair acknowledgment from them.

atd’s “The Value of L&D Professionals Is Soaring”

I recently downloaded a copy of this new atd publication, you can get your own here.

Seeing the title I presumed this was going to be very much a puff piece with atd (The Association for Talent Development, formerly ASTD) jumping on the bandwagon for how there is some kind of new and exciting ‘future of work’ where L&D functions will be all conquering in up and re-skilling colleagues for bright (digital) futures. Below are some thoughts section by section as I read through the document…

False pretences

Remote work forced L&D professionals to pivot quickly from in-person training to virtual, online development while still maintaining a strong company culture, assessing and facing organizational skills gaps, and tackling other compliance, organization development, and individual development needs

Page 3 “Introduction”

I would argue that the above statement, from the paper’s introduction, is simply not true for many and in some ways is a false hypothesis for the entire paper. Many had little/no “pivot” needed due to existing models of digital learning and communications. I am also often a critic of the “company culture” idea, from what I have seen and read over the years I would say the presence of team cultures both promote and undercut any centralised idea of vision and working practices/culture. The “this is the way things are done around here” idea of a company culture rarely crosses organisational silos IMO.

L&D professionals became important stakeholders in diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion initiatives. In some organizations, L&D leaders own DEI. In other workplaces, they are consultants or critical players in DEI strategy

Page 3 “Introduction”

For the North American audience of atd, DEI has, of course, been a massive issue in the last few years. However, it should have always been central to talent-related initiatives and I have been on a few good webinars this year with long standing DEI advocates criticising much of what has emerged within the corporate world as a response to BLM and other initiatives. Of course people need to be aware of expectations (or you risk bad behaviour being normalised) but L&D approaches to DEI have been shown to be poor solutions to the issue(s).

Skills questions

Two in five HR leaders acknowledge they don’t know what skills they have in their workforce.

Page 5 “L&D Pros Play a Major Role in Upskilling and Reskilling”

I’ve argued before that competency models are useful in the above situation – at least for some level of developing an understanding of what to do next. A previous employer made much of their “bring your whole self to work” initiative so that no one felt uncomfortable, be it for a DEI or other reason. This was a great initiative in many ways but also raised questions, for me, about how far that can realistically go given that work has always sought the common elements between us (shared skills, knowledge and common behaviours) and avoided ‘trickier’ elements that make us all different. Ultimately recruitment really needs to be better if this a challenge – we are encouraged to apply to roles very specifically, there is little chance to really explain who we are and leverage the random non-role-specific skills and knowledge.

There is much in the report on the “skills gap” and solutions include “hiring more gig or freelance workers” – it really feels a shame to me that, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have ended up in a position where companies have failed to develop staff and the expense of up/reskilling has too often been pushed onto the worker. This is identified, to an extent, via data from Gartner:

Employers fail to future-proof skills. Labor market analysts Gartner TalentNeuron predicts that 30 percent of the skills workers needed three years ago are nearing irrelevance. The World Economic Forum places the figure at 42 percent. Skills programs are not keeping pace with shifting requirements.

Page 6 “L&D Pros Play a Major Role in Upskilling and Reskilling”

This supposed pace of change is used as an argument against competency/capability models as requirements change too quickly. However, I remain dubious that such skills are disappearing/changing. Even “digital skills”, mentioned on the same page as the above quote, often build upon existing skills. We are rarely talking about ripping up the rulebook and starting again from nothing.

L&D operations

TD functions overlook the value of internal partnerships, “Only 40 percent of TD professionals collaborate extensively—most often working with HR, business or strategic planning teams, or business function leaders. Although reskilling and upskilling has strong benefits for the organizations, the report showed that only 38 percent of TD professionals partner with senior executives to assess skills gap needs.”

Page 7 “L&D Pros Play a Major Role in Upskilling and Reskilling”

Whenever I see numbers/arguments like the above I do wonder how talent development and L&D departments get into such positions. Obviously silos exist, and L&D can be side-lined into marginal roles but you always have a route to the top via reporting structures so, at some point, you should be getting (some of) the correct information to partner with people to improve the organisations performance.

The following section on “Invest in Your L&D Professionals” is fair enough. The data from the industry, that has come through in various reports over the years, that suggests L&D staff are undervalued and not invested in is always a worry. Ideally L&D pros should be leading the way, clearly showing others how they are engaging with learning, bringing benefits back to practice, etc. There is some irony, however, in a paper talking about the rapid speed of tech/digital skill changes to then be selling their own capability model and certificates. The assumption, presumably, is that you need to be doing these atd programmes on a regular basis.

“Modern Learners Expect Employers to Invest in Career Development”

This section is fine, although I would argue this is nothing new and “learners” should really be ‘workers’ or just ‘people’. It might be the more socialist elements of my mentality but the logic that employers do not have a part to play for everyone (including L&D themselves) to develop is just alien to me. That said, if someone is happy ticking along in a role that is fine – however, they would need to be demonstrating high performance and be aware that a lack of engagement with opportunities might, one day, put their position at risk.

The report finds that 73 percent of high-performing companies have internal mobility strategies.

Page 19 “Modern Learners Expect Employers to Invest in Career Development”

The above is one of the more interesting stats – taken from HCI’s Talent Pulse 7.4 Recruiting from Within and Developing Internal Mobility Strategies – and is probably one of the things that could be taken away for (at least bigger) organisations to use internally in justifying talent management initiatives.

I did a bit of work a while ago around L&D for workforce planning consultancy so I tend to to advocate for such talent initiatives, having seen it done well, and therefore it is good to see the report encourage “a strategic workforce plan” to be in place. Career paths are also something that is encouraged, whilst my experience would suggest the ease that these can be created varies a lot between industry it is nonetheless good to seem them called for.

False conclusions

This data supports the need for TD pros to increase learning events and provide them in different formats (mobile learning, microlearning, gamification)

Page 21 “Modern Learners Expect Employers to Invest in Career Development”

Wow, “events” is not what we should be talking about. Proper re and upskilling are hard to support and hard for the individual to go through. What should be on offer is appropriate experiences for the roles you need with as much personalisation as possible for the different knowledge and skill starting points of your people (be they new hire or not).

Unfortunately the report is also somewhat ‘industry report eats itself’ at this point, justifying arguments based on reports from LinkedIn, Deloitte and others including atd’s own blogs.

The following “Recommendations” section starts with:

The reality of digital transformation and developing a future-ready workforce make the strategic need for robust L&D functions in organizations apparent.

Page 22 “The reality of digital transformation and developing a future-ready workforce make the strategic need for robust L&D functions in organizations apparent.”

This is pretty much what I was expecting from the paper (see my intro above) but the argument is confusing (or I’m being stupid). “The Value of L&D Professionals Is Soaring” yet “only 16 percent of organizations invest in the professional development of their L&D teams to a high extent”. Therefore, the paper is trying to justifying talent management and new L&D approaches but organisations do not seem to be on board. Thus it is indeed a puff piece to make L&D folks feel important whilst it would seem many remain not important in their organisations?