The obligatory Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) post: With virtual working and online learning on most of our minds

This post has been in different stages of draft for a week or more and I am just doing a quick edit of the below before pushing it out – well aware that anything written on this topic soon becomes out-of-date. For example, the Facebook group mentioned below has gone from about 8000 members to 44000 in the last week.

Seeking the positivies

I would imagine I am in the majority on Coronavirus – namely a group thinking the response seemed excessive but unwilling to speak out too loudly in case this really does spread and start killing a far greater percentage of populations.  As we now hit pandemic stage it feels more real – not least in furthering all appreciation of the incredible medical service staff we have around the world who battle on whatever the conditions. However, whilst turning the corner feels a way off yet we can see some real advantages starting to emerge.

From trade shows, MBAs, sports events and more we are seeing rearrangements and cancellations.  For those, like me, who have been banging the drum for a long time about the advantages of online learning and remote working this might be ‘our time’. 

Remote conferences, trade shows, etc.

For trade shows and conferences the downsides to restrictions are that we lose some of the advantages of events – for example, they can help us find things through serendipity and “on the fringes”, including through chatting and socializing.  This is more difficult when self-selecting webinars and other online events that act as the equivalent of conference sessions. One thing I am trying to do is to network in a wider sense, including reaching out to people on LinkedIn and attending webinars from organisations I have not previously engaged with. Ongoing communicating can replace some of this, not least through peer networking online.

It has always been a bit ironic that some of the biggest online players in their different fields also have huge people gatherings – such as Microsoft, Workday and Blackboard events. In some ways you have to hope the move of events such as the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference (BBTLC), for 2020, being moved online will further encourage improvements in the offers of those companies. On a side note, I think it is nine years since I last attended, and presented, at BBTLC! Time flies!

Remote learning

A Facebook group – Educator Temporary School Closure – is already showing the power of informal collaboration and networking in helping those impacted by school closures. This is a massive network already with sharing and supporting in a collaborative way. The disadvatnages are there though – not least Facebook’s poor file management and search. For those of who have been community managers, intranet editors, etc these problems can be frustrating and group owners are clearly playing a loosing battle with people just posting the same questions over and over again. Basically a knowledge management nightmare – but better than no social learning at all!

Of course a problem of the speed here is that people are “getting by” dealing with immediate needs – will organisations find time to breath and realize there are specialists available to help (such as online community managers)? I am torn here a little as I advocate simple solutions but also aware that there will be lots of bad practice – for example generating huge files, duplication of effort due to lack of sharing between organisations, eLearning that ignores accessibility standards, etc. For teachers this is rapid professional development and hopefully, as Donald Clark writes, they will be better teachers for the experience. This all said, it does feel like there are clear opportunities for learning technologists and other groups to help the overwhelming load of free offers and advice that is currently being pumped out (yes, including this article I know). For example, plenty in this image (that was shared with me this week) is debatable:

It is depressing that it has taken something like this to lead to a change for so many. For example a TES article describing this as a chance to start to experiment with flipped learning really got my eyes rolling – I was helping deploy such models at scale about a decade ago (and there are obviously plenty of practitioners with more experience than me).

Parents stuck at home with their children will hopefully also be more useful advocates for digital learning in the future – both for their children but also when back into their own workplaces. In addition, they will have seen many of the difficulties teachers face and we may have a better balance of teacher/parent expectations overall in global society.

Perhaps the real advantage for schools, universities and other education institutions is that this is offering something of a holy grail in education – control groups.  We often hear that you cannot deprive learners of opportunities.  Thus education research is difficult.  Here we have a perfect opportunity to compare, at scale, data against previous years and those not impacted by closures as control groups. We should have some real data about what kind of models work, provided people have some time to number crunch!

Remote working

Remote leadership, willingness to delegate and trust are challenges that have long existed for those who are used to working in virtual teams.  These are now ‘normal’ issues for many more people and we can reimagine work around outcomes, not time spent, and develop our online networking skills. Clair Lew and others have lots of great tips on what meetings can look like remotely and more.

Hopefully commuting will be increasingly seen for what it is (a waste of time and energy for many) and better ways of working will be established. Obviously this does not relate some of the wonderful people out there who will continue to be tied to their place of work in hospitals, shops and other fields. That said, interesting to see Microsoft’s new Teams offer to healthcare being launched at this point in history.

I have written before about my love of Teams and it seems, from browsing Twitter and other sources, that it does seem to have become the de facto platform for many. As Rachel Burnham says, Teams is now everywhere. This is where I would like to add a celebratory gif. Rachel hits a good point though that L&D teams seem to be reverting to thinking about Teams as an LMS. Similarly schools closed for Covid will think about “lessons”, “timetables” and more. These may be useful starting points but the platform can (and should?) be more transformational (of course many are firmly in the S stage of SAMR currently).

Saving the environment

Science fiction is full of examples where mankind has to face a major event to limit the damage it is doing to the planet, World War 3 in Star Trek for example.  The virus so far has cut pollution in China and offers to cull airlines following the collapse of Flybe and US-Schengen travel.  Many of us will have spent time in pointless or, at best, overly long meetings in the past and this might make us far more appreciate of the implications of travel.

Hopefully the numbers will remain not too bad

This site has some really good graphs and number crunching on the implications of the virus spread, even at this stage the numbers are relatively small and that is something of a positive to hold onto. Best of luck out there to those with health conditions, elderly relatives, etc who are at risk.

10 years of Twitter

I recently received my “10th #twitterversary” email from Twitter and it made me reflect on my use of the platform.

I’ve never been a big tweeter, tending to use it share at events and also retweet/like things that I would later blog about from those same events.  Otherwise my use has been fairly limited.

Going back through my old tweets, tweet number one was:

That tweet is pretty indicative of my focus at the time – working with the Blackboard LMS/VLE and supporting users with/via free tech (like Screenr was).  In my early tweets, as with Screenr, there are a notable volume of dead-links – basically showing how Twitter is indicative of the web’s tendency for large amounts of redundant data.  The Blackboard focus includes plenty of early tweets from ongoing events such as #LondonBUG as well as historic date stamped hashtags like #BbTLC11.

More recently I have tried to shift from the work-only focus with an update to my profile (to include other interests like dog, football and gaming) to show more of my ‘personal’ side.  I’ve also written about being sucked into politics and tweeting about that – which obviously was not the intention ten years ago when tweeting new Blackboard resources!  Yet politics ‘sells’, considering my last tweet got 75 likes more than any other I think.

The often ignored realities of talent management (#2): one real solution for (screen based) workplace productivity

I think some posts on this topic have been lost on an old blog of mine so it can come in here as the second in this series…


Do you hunch over a laptop?  Do you constantly switch between apps, windows and tabs?  Are you desk based but just have one monitor?

If you answer yes to any of these questions a simple solution to improve your productivity may be to get more displays.

This is increasingly recognised (see a Guardian article here) and was touched upon at a JISC keynote that I must have seen/been about 10 years ago now.

A short post but a useful one – if your organisation presumes only IT, fx traders or other internal groups are worthy of multiple monitors then they are probably selling you down the river.


Miss #1 in the series? Here’s a link to location, location, location.

Thoughts on L&D Recruitment 2 of 2: Applying

As a follow up to my previous post, now some thoughts on my job hunt.

It’s over two years since my last job search, this time self-inflicted rather than redundancy driven.  I had gone very ‘eggs in one basket’ for a role in an organisation I am really keen on (but have heard today they do not want me for a second interview).  That said I have a couple of other applications ‘out there’ that would also be fantastic.

So let’s think about roles in a bit more detail…

Like when in that career gap last time (see Why I Work in ‘Learning’) it is a time of reflection and consideration.  The challenge is that my primary driver remains the same – I enjoy help[ing] people better themselves in the context of their organisation/environment.  This should, you would you think, leave plenty of room for opportunities aligned to my past experience and education – traditional L&D, digital learning, research, libraries and information management, operational support, etc.  However, I worry this is perhaps too vague a driver?  I suspect being ‘generalist’ (working across the ‘lifecycle’ of ADDIE-esque work for example rather than just instructional design or digital development) and keen to continue to adapt my sector expertise (having worked in FE, HE, professional services and healthcare) goes against what employers (myself included in that first post) look for, i.e.:

Someone to hit the ground running.

Rather than consider experience from other sectors and that it probably demonstrates adaptability in combination with the correct knowledge and skills too many recruiters, it seems, have an inflexible idea of what they want.  This is primarily articulated in my personal bugbear, the bloody “10 years of experience” line, when you could do nothing for 10 years or so and (in that model) be a better candidate just because you are in the correct industry.  I would argue, and it is the case with my experience, you could have experience across sectors/industries where you have achieved consistently – moving your organisations’ learning approaches forward every time – which is far more valuable than sitting on your hands in industry x for 10 years or more.

Yes, this is in some ways contradictory to my first post – I’m more than aware I’m not drinking my own champagne here in the balance of looking for a capable, experienced and reliable candidate.

…and me

Inevitably you also start to worry if personality is the issue.  I remember being given a talk ‘to one side’, when others were on a coffee break, in my post redundancy outplacement support that I didn’t seem enthused by the mock-interviews and doing our ‘elevator pitch’ type prep.

This is because I wasn’t, I feel the process tired and out of date.  I generally don’t like the introvert/extrovert dichotomy as I think it all depends on context but it is incredibly difficult to portray a personality in an interview and, as a person applying and a recruiter, I need to keep that in mind.

…and organisations

Part of my rather fuzzy ethos is that opportunities should be open to all.  However, there are many reasons why people have traditionally got by with ‘who you know not what you know’.  This is where I feel we can all improve upon this now – there is a very real opportunity to express an interest and allow that organisation to say “okay, let’s take a look” – online portfolios, twitter, LinkedIn, etc, etc. will give you a picture of their expertise and personality.  This is far greater than what can be perceived in an interview, although I would agree that the face-to-face or virtual meeting skills should still come across that way.

I wanted to give a shoutout here to https://www.smartrecruiters.com/ which seems by far the smoothest application process I have come across – express an interest backed up by your social links and ask for a call/email back if they are interested in you.  A great idea.  This also keeps things personal, unlike some of the recruitment systems out there, certainly when I was applying for this a couple of years back many of these just seemed to be tests of patience/willing.

Sure, if you get 100s of applications you probably need some automatic filtering but keep things personal to some level. Please!  For example, one role I applied for in late July still has my application status as “application received” two months later.  I’ve tried following up via a contact at that company (no reply, so okay, bad sign) but there is not even a generic ‘careers’ email, never mind a bot of live chat for me to say “hey, I’m still interested – what’s going on?”.

Dear Hiring Organisations,

look, I know you are looking to fill quickly and easily but remember many of your applicants (like me) will have been in that position too.  Think about how your recruitment makes you seem in terms of personality, transparency, etc.  I’d also say this may well be hidden away from most hiring managers so, hey, Recruitment teams – sort it out!

Flexibility

One thing I have looked at in detail this time is remote work.  This would be my preference just due to locations and personal circumstances (I am splitting my time between countries and due another house move in a few months).  However, whilst the business press, L&D (via webinars and collaboration), etc. all talk a lot about this there are virtually zero roles.  Some learning designers are home based but many will include that all important “regular visit to Brighton, London, Nottingham, etc” in the text.  We seem to lack a truly global approach to recruitment even in big organisations – again, you wonder why when organisations say they have multiple unfilled vacancies and are stymied by skills shortages they remained locked to physical locations.  Talent is everywhere, businesses remain locked to location with Brexit, GDPR and other trends just seemingly reinforcing old mindsets.

At the conference I presented at last year, there was a discussion where the room considered future talent needs.  I made the point that employers can’t continue to complain about skills gaps when they remain so inflexible.

It is in this research on virtual/remote work that I’ve come across Rodolphe Dutel who has some excellent resources and advice.  He is also, possibly, the first person I’ve come across who genuinely replies to emails from people subscribed to his newsletters so kudos to him too.

For now

I continue to support my old team and will keep my eyes open for that next new role!

Skillsoft Perspectives (EMEA) 2018

My first of these events and it was a useful mix of Skillsoft product updates/demos, (industry) experts and user/client presentations.  I tweeted a bit during the day but some major takeaways below:

Skillsoft as a company

Like a lot of learning technology companies there has clearly been a push to improve UI/UX of products and inevitably this led to stories of their own ‘digital transformation’, shifts to ‘agile’ development (Percipio updates coming out every two weeks is pretty impressive) and more.  These rounds of buzzword bingo included my personal not-so-fave of lots of “Netflix-esque” experiences being mentioned.

That all said, the “beautiful technology and engaging content” mission they set themselves two years ago has, at least in part, been met.

Indeed there was no lack of ambition from the Skillsoft presenters:

and you suspect they are continuing to have success with this.  The US equivalent of this, single track, EMEA day conference was a full three days in Vegas(!)

Undoubtedly there are advantages to their scale in terms of the workplace learning space, I was intrigued by what analysis of their different clients’ competency models might show:

I’d suspect the answer would be that many an L&D team are reinventing the wheel and stuck in a cottage industry of creating such competency records.

The content development team said their mission is to “help people achieve their fullest potential through learning” and that, hopefully, resonated with the clients and potential clients in the room!  The work being done with MIT on the evidence behind eLearning sounds interesting, and probably a fair few years late.

Percipio vs Sumtotal vs ELSA

The Percipio product has clearly had a lot of investment and looks like it could end the old problem of Skillsoft content being hidden away in ugly client LMS platforms via SCORM/AICC.  However, for reporting and the general usual experience do you want this fragmentation of platforms?

Fragmentation came up in one of the sessions…

…and I wonder if, in part, people are using ‘digital transformation’ as a term for throwing the kitchen sink at problems and hoping something sticks.  However, I suspect DT means many things to many people, as I hinted at:

Sumtotal itself looks much better than when I last looked at it – which must be at least three or four years ago at least – and seems to have been retrofitted to some of the Percipio model, including the “watch, read, listen, practice” break down of activities/resources.  I quite like this approach to breaking the blend down but it does also, reinforce how much this aspect of learning tech is really an evolution of the library world (i.e. the world of my first postgrad!):

The sell for still needing Sumtotal seemingly now being less on the learning side but the integration of that functionality with talent and recruitment components.  Indeed elements like the 9-box grid have been given a UI/UX facelift themselves.

ELSA, on the other hand, is an interesting new development in bringing learning more into the workflow.  Currently a Chrome plugin, we are seeing more and more of this kind of support tool and there is hope (from my side) that this will improve performance support being exposed away from being buried in a LMS or Intranet:

Leadership development

There was quite a bit on this – not least as a key part of the Percipio content puzzle.  There are, of course, mixed views on the value as whilst we are continuing to see increased investment there is arguably little real output:

The challenge I guess here is how bad could things be if we were not investing, certainly I’ve had friends who have burned out in manager roles, in part, due to a lack of leadership development support and guidance.  Obviously, you could argue this is less about formal support and more about their own managers being better coaches, etc.  Perhaps, all in all, a form of self-fulfilling prophecy?

One of the sessions mentioned research at Google (presumably this) that aimed to show the importance of leadership and management was a myth of the corporate world but actually showed the importance.  Perhaps, in England at least, those who really need a confidence boost can get it as a management apprenticeship.  The scenario based, video-heavy, learning in Skillsoft’s library reminded me of a (photo rather than video based) eLearning I built with the help of a vendor a few years back and really just reinforced, to me, that context is key with this and the need for realism in the story telling.

Overall, this was deemed a market ripe for disruption and they were pretty transparent on their instructional design approach and belief that this L&M product can be a big hit:

‘Modern learning’

The Fosway Group session was good, as always, on some of the data in the sector and it’s difficult to disagree with the idea that often learning is still delivery orientated and doesn’t get followed up upon, updated, reinforced, etc.

I recently saw a description of magpie syndrome and I fear how much I fall into that trap.  My problem is less the need for ‘shiny and new’ but rather jumping from one project to another, plus the day-to-day email deluge, without making the impact as one would like.  Do we need to assign L&D time by topic to ensure people are driving the improvement in those areas rather than trying to offer more holistic support?

The session also recalled the need for:
Acquire > Practice > Do
as a model – developed over fifteen years when it was clear blended learning too often focused on medium.  Some things don’t change.

Other sessions picked up on the fifteen year point – if we reflect, are we really in a transformation?  For example, people said much the same as today when talking about video discs and their potential to transform learning.  Personally, I always remember Encarta ’95 with my first PC and how it was perceived as a earthquake for teaching in schools and the encyclopedia industry – *waves at Wikipedia*.

Therefore, perhaps we have no real perception yet on what transformation looks like?  My view would be that this is going to be continuous and we just have to acknowledge that.

In the panel session I was pleased to see recognition that lots of people are not interested in the learning opportunities we can make available.  This is a tough one as it is about push v pull (as the panel discussed) but also how as a country/culture we need to realise the real transformation is that companies are going to come and go – with reskilling through a career essential.  Again, there is a balance here between snobbery, assumption and a need to bring people along for the ride:

The bringing people along piece has surely been a challenge for RBS due to their size and recent historical issues so their client case study was particularly interesting in how they are trying to adapt their approach:

as was how the National Trust is supporting their disparate workforce and volunteers via Skillsoft, including IT technical skills for their IT apprentices.

Diversity

Just a nod to an excellent, no slides used, presentation from Harriet Minter on women in leadership.  The session included some stats I’ve heard before and some new in terms of the importance of diversity and evidence of positive impact, with the easiest diversity to implement being gender.