A new identity: The Learning Reducer

Following on from my reflective posts in recent weeks about my experience, things I have seen in the workplace and the challenges the world faces I have come up with a title for myself: The Learning Reducer.

Inspiration (outside of learning)


instead of adding stuff, try taking stuff away” 


– Rick Rubin: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/rick-rubin/

The inspiration for this title is a combination of music producer/reducer Rick Rubin and what I have realised during this period of reflection.  Further logic behind the ‘reducer’ moniker:

“Girls” is indicative of Rubin, who initially portrayed his role as “reducer,” not “producer.” 1980s music had a lot of needless flourishes and additives. Rubin’s mission was to boil off excess and serve the essence. Rick is often portrayed as a producer who does almost nothing to the music he touches. Which isn’t to say that he does nothing. The opposite, in fact, is true. Like a great chef, he chooses the best ingredients and lets them speak for themselves. The genius is in the selection and arrangement of those ingredients.

In the case of “Girls,” it’s one part drums, one part piano, and four parts asshole.


DAN CHARNAS: https://www.complex.com/music/2012/03/25-best-rick-rubin-songs/girls

Inspiration (from learning)

In part my adoption of Reducer is based on some things that have really stood out to me during my time working in learning over the years, including:

  • Subject Matter Experts (or worse people responsible for something who are not even an SME) throwing requirements ‘over the fence’ to L&D whilst refusing to engage or find time for proper needs analysis.
  • Mandatory ‘training’ stipulated by government and other groups with no consideration for personalisation, real outcomes or other needs.
  • Bloatware learning where learning is elongated by everything from a corporate logo (even just for 5 seconds) at the start of a video through to fixing ‘learning’ into an arbitrary schedule of an hour, a work day, etc.  As a result organisations have been left with lots of legacy learning content that is difficult to manage, update and makes little us of the opportunities AI, AR and other tech gives us. 
  • Inefficiency – we hear a lot about productivity gaps but do very little about the basics around skills, process, etc.  There have been improvements in encouraging honesty and learning from mistakes but tackling fundamental bad practice, for example with Microsoft Office, remains an issue.
  • Self importance.  Unfortunately we all fall into the trap of thinking our piece of the pie is most important.  Realistically, the product/service of our organisation is most important and in big organisations we only contribute to (or sell) it.  Therefore, the need for learning to drive self aware and reflective practitioners is all important – what we don’t need are bloated learning (or other support teams) expecting the impossible or putting self interest ahead of the shared vision/goals.  There is also the snobbery issue here in self importance of learning professionals and a failure to support all learners – too often focusing on leadership and high level concepts.
  • The learning industry is in need of shedding a lot of dead weight (learning styles, Myers Briggs, etc).  We are seeing new ideas emerging but often people are clinging to ideas (like 70/20/10 in totally the wrong kinds of ways).  As an industry/profession it feels like learning pros constantly beat themselves up but are far too slow (still) in shedding the old sheep dip training for something that adds more value.  Admittedly because too often things are thrown over the fence as ‘requirements’ (see above).

Reducer as critical friend

So – can I be the learning asshole?  Well, perhaps I already am – I noticed myself verging into this territory recently when asked to give feedback on pre-launch content from new vendor Thrive and also with the UI of a recruiting platform I was given early access to.  

There feels like a value in looking at L&D from the perspective of critical friend.  Seperate from industry or SM expertise.  If only to ask a question of L&D pros practice: why?

What is applicable to super scientists is applicable to all.

Reducer and curation

Curation is not new – even though some L&D commentators would have you think it is.

Blog followers will know I get a bit of a “bee in my bonnet” about curation as an L&D topic.  However, it is a facilitator of ‘reduction’ – pick the best of what is out there and maintain current awareness without excessive build times and other traditional L&D activities.

Curation done well has to be part of a continuous improvement culture.

Reducer and culture

Through a learning reducer focus we can establish true learning organisations. 

Agile learning through experience and reflection, combined with ongoing collaboration via digital means.  Where face-to-face and virtual classroom are reserved for real value added sharing and relationship building.

Learning can be embedded in work, agile in deployment, is owned by everyone and contributes to learner/employee engagement.  This works both in education settings and the workplace.

What next?

Contact me to discuss further as I continue to develop this chain of thought.

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!

Thoughts on L&D Recruitment 1 of 2: Hiring

I have recently been involved in a bit of a departmental rejig – with me contributing to a couple of new job descriptions that would split my responsibilities as I transition out of role:

 

The recruitment process is always an interesting one.  Yet again I found myself falling into some familiar traps, such as the focus on experience – as one of my friends recently posted on Facebook:

40658246_10216739354573802_8419779597029081088_n.jpg

This is particularly troublesome considering my professed belief in the growing importance of values based recruiting and, if I was to follow the logic in my Strengthscope certification, recruiting for strengths.

The thing that really shone through in the process was how varied (and in many ways wonderful) “we”, as an L&D community/profession, are – we had excellent candidates who brought with them a huge variety of experience and personality.  Some candidates had clearly been focused on leadership/management development, some on digital learning, some on establishing learning in organisations whilst some were focused on the delivery or design.  Qualifications to have developed (or certify existing) skills and knowledge varied enormously.  No one had the joy of two learning related masters (like me) but there was a full gambit from masters to, basically, no qualifications.  Arguably ‘we’ don’t do ourselves any favours with this wide church, and it contributes to the idea that anyone can ‘do’ learning so it will be interesting to see what comes of the new apprenticeship standards as a de facto standard:

 

 

Thus recruitment can quickly become about apparent personality combined with experience with qualifications (for now at least) reduced in importance (compared to most industries).  This is an issue for me which I’ll post about in my second post on this topic…

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.