LearningPool Live South

Last week I was something of an impostor, attending the LearningPool user community’s third and final regional conference of the season.

A puppy
A dog yesterday

The session I attended on LearningPool itself introduced the organization under their four service offerings:

  1. Content
    • Off-the-shelf resources, including some customer generated eLearning modules.
    • Core catalogs are compliance, health & safety and public sector (including health care).
    • What they develop is based on the customer base (for example they have gained housing sector customers and have responded appropriately).
    • They also offer customers ebooks, resources, image libraries, etc for their own content.
    • Authoring tool (moving to online, producing adaptive content, from desktop) to help you build your own eLearning.
  2. Platform
    • Dynamic Learning Environment (DLE) based on Moodle.  Includes some customizations, such as ‘classroom connect’ for booking onto f-2-f environments.
    • Second solution is based on Totara version of Moodle with more development mapping tools (including user-owned aspirational paths), rather than just a focus on courses, and management tracking dashboards.
  3. Support
    • Offer first line support to customers’ platform users.
    • Learning consultants to help you with your designs and blended experiences.
  4. Community
    • Events such as this one, online communities, sharing of resources, tips, etc.

The event also saw advertising for their new Encore product, a tool for learning reinforcement via mobile application, helping to tackle the forgetting curve.

I have been aware of LearningPool and their services for a while and whilst most of the attendees were from their public sector-centric user base the list of speakers suggested it was worth me attending.  This proved the case, with me coming away reinvigorated.

Learning Futures: How new & emerging technologies will impact learning and development

The day started with Steve Wheeler on the ‘developing possibilities’ for future learning.  I have seen Steve present a few times before and this was on some similar lines, indeed he even mentioned how his own views and conference presentations have changed over time.  The biggest shift in his thinking of late being the role of pervasive tech, the web everywhere, rather than being specifically about ‘mobile’ devices.

The biggest eyebrow raising moment on my desk was when Steve argued that Learning and Development staff can no longer be happy working a 9-5.  Now I have mixed feelings on this.  In my current role I have been lucky enough to get in and out of the office largely on my contracted terms, this is quite different to my previous role – not least in that I am contracted for 30 minutes a day less anyway.  However, whilst this means I am home on good time to entertain my puppy (gratuitous photo included) I am then checking Tweetdeck, attending webinars, reading emails, checking my employer’s social network via the mobile app, etc.  This ‘informal’ learning may or may not help my employers directly in the future but will build up my personal abilities in the knowledge economy.  I would argue that you need to be flexible but that is for all staff.  However, as the recent Dispatches episode showed, you need to be careful in moving toward flexible hours, etc.  That said, you have to agree with Steve that, in many ways, you are lucky if you do have a job in the current environment and as such should look to develop yourself to offer a great service in every way possible.

This all said, L&D departments must surely now recognize that their technology enhanced learning solutions must support 24/7 learning.  Steve advocated that this is now developing away from just-in-time (JIT) to just-for-me (JFM) via the personalization options afforded by technology, such as augmented reality, with employer supplied learning options just part of an individual’s personal learning network (PLN).  Digital literacies will be needed to make best use of this and L&D can help develop staff along an evolutionary path, described as:

skills > competencies > literacies > mastery

Within this changing environment, Open Badges were advocated as the way to support the 70 of 70/20/10 and accredit that development activities and competency developments are actually happening.  One term, if not theory, I think was new to me was ipsative assessment – assessing you against your own previous attainment rather than that of others.  These assessment methods are useful when dealing with specialists where bench-marking is difficult due to limited numbers/data and is closely associated with some of the ideas around gamification and motivation.

Why does Employee Engagement matter?

I thought the pieces on PLNs and motivation were interesting in light of the following presentation by Dan Hardaker.  Dan argued that off-the-shelf surveys, such as those supplied by management consultants and ‘best places to work’ surveys, do not tell the correct picture.  What really matters is the combination of engagement, involvement and direction.  Using tips from engageforsuccess.org Genesis Housing created quadrants to label staff from their annual staff survey data.  These quadrants used deliberately provocative names to foster internal discussions which has helped create a participatory organization and speed up the authoring of policies and agreement on ways forward.  Overall, the message was that getting people involved is more important than surveys and other such reports – this is how you get people to ‘offer more of their capability’.

I would agree with much of what Dan said, emotional involvement and a feeling you are making a difference will be key for many staff and opening up decision making will help with this.

Getting the most from your DLE

Andrew Jacobs presented on Lambeth Council’s approach to L&D, now that their team has gone from 7 to 2 with 45% funding cuts.  What Andrew presented is not dissimilar to the approach I designed at my previous employer, using your VLE/LMS/DLE for JIT and self service learning.  Lambeth now offer no face-to-face training bar some classroom health and safety content, with some synchronous learning via virtual briefings.

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are responsible for maintaining their subject on the Moodle pages with links to ebooks, videos, LinkedIn, eLearning, etc as appropriate.  Andrew’s team offering fairly minimal support on this.  It is then up to the business and those SMEs to determine the success of what is offered in terms of impact on work and what might need to change.

This is not dissimilar to academic environments where the teacher/lecturer will manage the online environment and be supported by learning technologists.  Andrew may yet be a trailblazer for bringing this model to a corporate environment, albeit one where the business needs to take responsibility for elements they have previously passed on to a support department.  Overall, the approach has brought a culture change where people feel more empowered and the presumption that solution equals ‘course’ has disappeared.  Of course, this partly comes down to what a course is – and the corporate presumption that it is ‘classroom training’ is somewhat disparate to the academic which tends to assume some sort of blended learning these days.

Some of the points in this talk raised eyebrows near me again, including:

  • People can learn what they need via internal networking – external accreditation is facilitating people to leave so your L&D department should not pay for it.
    • I would say this is partly true but it is an interesting one in light of PLNs and that going forward your career may be based more on an ability to demonstrate prowess in multiple ways across multiple media.  However, I would advocate that external training still has a role for bringing in skills to your organization when they are missing, often more economically than hiring an expert or consultant in that area.  The problem comes when you encourage someone to develop via an MBA, or similar development activity, only to then not empower them to use that internally.
  • No training calendar.
    • Before working in corporate L&D I never realized how big a deal this was, enough said?
  • Without face-to-face training budgets they have instead given people a set amount of time that they should be seeking out personal development, for example in a public library.
    • Interesting but I do worry about the future of ‘time tracking’ in organizations and if it is simply unfeasible in the blurred world of learning anytime anywhere.  The need to set such guidelines seems to always suggest, to me, that the relationship between staff and their managers is not working.  However, it does at least give prominence to the idea of learning in the way Google’s 20% time gave prominence to internal innovation.

The argument was that, overall, we need to be the facilitators of training/learning in an organization, not simply the provider of courses.  I asked if Lambeth have a standalone Knowledge Management department, they do not, and I do think their DLE is ultimately being a success partly because it is performing the important task of structuring learning around tacit knowledge.  This is a similar chain of thought that led to me previously querying if Corporate Universities are dead.

The web has shown the way. eLearning needs to follow to be relevant

This presentation from the BBC Academy pointed out some of the old problems with eLearning and suggested some ways forward.  The presenter argued against the course/LMS centric model and that too much is signed off by L&D/HR rather than the consumers.  The point seemed to be to encourage a more open mindset, including breaking the course model to recognize the possibilities of the web (i.e. curating resources).

For what eLearning the BBC does have, an example was shown:

  • It looked nice
  • Navigation was standardized across modules for ease of use
  • Navigation was for discovery not locking progress
  • Visual elements were used throughout
  • Design for mobile first
  • Include onward navigation to web resources

I would hope most people would recognize these are relevant/appropriate, would anyone really disagree?  The only point I would perhaps criticize is a ‘mobile first’ approach as what is possible on different devices should be recognized and those different experiences levered in appropriate ways.

The presenter’s suggested takeaways being:

  • Need a different skill set going forward:
    • Design
    • Information architecture
    • User experience
    • Lifecycle of products, including data analysis
  • Move from course production to products which are improved continuously

Getting out of the Classroom

From the Houses of Parliament ICT training team – talking about shifting support for their 7000 staff from the classroom toward performance support and JIT.

Part of the change has been winning a battle with IT support to break the model of engineers taking calls which were assessed through metrics to one where staff perform floor walks and can immediately go to someone’s desk, having taken a first line call, to help people with what they are trying to do.  In my opinion this is a much more suitable approach in a world where everyone has different skill sets and you/they do not know what they do not know – a major problem in the new world at work and one where Grovo and others offer solutions.  I am a keen advocate of this, having seen how much help I could be to people in the past when pulling myself away from my desk to offer VLE/LMS support serendipitously.  To an extent this is not new, work-shadowing by support teams having been advocated in the past, but is perhaps something which has fallen away as organizations have looked to decrease the relative size of support teams.

This has all been done with the trainers supporting the IT engineers and as such the IT team have found their interpersonal and support skills have improved.  Morale has also jumped in that they are now clearly helping people and are seeing the faces at the other end of the line.

This was an interesting point to end on.  How much is this a success of personal, in-person, support versus making the IT department more transparent which could have been done via social networking, DLEs and other approaches?

Their IT helpline has been rebranded as ‘customer advice and support’ – answering calls with ‘what can I do for you today?’  The challenge for L&D today is, perhaps, how to make sure that all members of staff think ‘what can I do better today?’ with L&D offering the supporting infrastructure to ensure that can happen.

Author: iangardnergb

My name is Ian Gardner and I am interested in various topics that can be seen as related to learning, technology and information. To see what I am reading elsewhere, follow me on The Old Reader (I.gardner.gb) and/or Twitter (@iangardnergb).

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