Certifications and completions

I’ve recently been having a look at Moodle HQ’s “Moodle 4.0 for Educators” course. Whilst the course itself is fine for introducing the new Moodle features (they also have plenty of videos on YouTube and a recent webinar covered most of what you would need as an experienced Moodle user) one section stood out: the “General discussion forum”.

Yes, you guessed it, an online course designed to help educators (basically just get up-to-speed on some relatively minor, if important, changes from Moodle 3.x) has a discussion board taken up with comments of two main types – “how do we complete the course” and “can I have a certificate”. Depressing. Neither of these things are important, especially in this experience, yet the expectation from these global educators is that this IS important.

Similarly, I recently had a piece of feedback on one of my designed online courses which was one of the lowest scores received to date (yes, I know, Level 1 feedback but it is kinda relevant here). Do you want to guess the reason for the poor score? The feedback was “how do you know people have learned anything” – in some ways a valid piece of feedback (i.e. we don’t) but it also jumps to the assumption that every online piece of learning content needs an exam. Particularly galling in this example as it is an introductory course and the content is assessed in later courses (the introduction branching to various follow-up courses depending on the user’s interest).

On a related note I’ve recently added a bunch of LinkedIn course completions to my profile, thanks to my employer paying for LinkedIn Learning. Some of these completions are a result of previous LL trials or LinkedIn premium use, others I have completed in the last few weeks to test content, learn something new, etc. I have not added all of what I have ‘completed’ onto my profile, instead opting to just include the (in my opinion) more useful items. However, the LinkedIn approach risks massively diluting the value of their own “certification” system/sections. There is a massive variety in quality between the LinkedIn ‘courses’ in terms of what value I would put on the “credential”. Ultimately these certificates, just like Moodle educators wanting a certificate, are just likely to be used to raise someone’s profile in search and/or add something to a CV – both examples of surface learning with no real judgment on knowledge or skill.

The skills to pay the bills: Learning Technologies Digital Days (March 2022)

I blogged a few weeks back that the Learning Technologies (LT) conference and exhibition had been delayed. Since then, three days of online talks were announced and run to somewhat plug the LT gap, under the branding of “Digital Days” (DD) – #LTUK22.

I have tried to summarise how I was feeling during these DD sessions via the power of gif:

Say skills one more time.

“Skills” was the buzzword. No doubt about it.

Thoughts on the sessions (skills)

Now I perhaps have to jump straight to the final day and Don Taylor‘s session to say that he did set out clear warnings about the “skills” bandwagon. This was timely and I particularly liked a section where Don had gone through the archives to try and find the genesis of this current buzz/focus. Interestingly it seems the initial focus was on “knowledge and skills” (i.e. that knowledge workers need ongoing development) but “knowledge” has been dropped through the news, consultancy, white paper, WEF, etc. hype cycles (LinkedIn have been at it since the DD). As Don explained, what we are now seeing is, amongst other things, lots of tools promising AI-powered solutions to the supposed skill crises. However, his call was to remind us all that skills alone do not lead to performance. As always, L&D needs to push back on the latest trends and concentrate on what we know, for example that knowledge alone does not help either (see, for example, this recent argument about needing more than knowledge for real transformation). In a few of the sessions, including Don’s, there was mention of what we really mean by skills, how/if the word is being used to encompass knowledge, if it is just rebranding of competency/capability, etc. Personally I revert to KISME (knowledge, information, skills, motivation and environment) as pretty much encompassing what we need to consider (with a doff of my cap to performance consulting accreditation with Nigel Harrison way back when). If anything, KS and the M/behaviour combine as the competency. Ultimately every org talks about this stuff differently but as Don and others suggested in the DD we are really just talking about people’s ability to ‘do the work’.

RedThread Research’s excellent recent podcast series has shown how business leaders have identified changes and implications around the ‘skills agenda’ [if I can call it that] (for example Deloitte being clear on the importance of skills, not least in ensuring their agility to create project teams). However, you presume this goes beyond the tech skills (which are obviously the bit that does change quickly as argued on the pod) into other things like engagement/project management (activities which also require a lot of behavioural competency). Indeed Deloitte’s model of development paths (as explained on the pod) sounded less than revolutionary – basically a formalisation of 70/20/10 concepts for ongoing development of competency.

The Fosway Group’s DD session mentioned the growth in skills platforms but also (just has been in the case in the past) the issue of what needs to be in the learning platform versus a HRIS or other location. Personally it feels like you really need to take a big picture view of your ecosystem and link things together as appropriate. The session called this something like ‘out of the box ecosystem-ness’ which is probably more suggestive of aspiration than the market’s reality(?).

RedThread did have a slot in the Digital Days too, with a focus on learning content. This session had various messages but I did like the idea of moving “from control…to facilitate”, this has always been part of my mindset to some extent (probably due to my learning experience growing from libraries rather than teaching). The growth in content however, of course, means a greater need for personalisation and RedThread did argue that if you are embracing a skills focus then you also need to think about content from that perspective. They argued for a 4 category approach to learning content:

  • specific and durable
  • specific and perishable
  • generic and durable
  • generic and perishable

The suggestions on what to do with the above was fairly straight forward but I guess makes sense for those who feel overwhelmed with content. Ultimately the most useful bit, for me, was a quote that asked a key set of questions:

“What’s the strategic change that’s happening? Is your learning content relevant to get to those organizational outcomes?”

Roundtable participant quoted on RT’s slides

The event finished with Nigel Paine, I recently blogged agreeing with some of Nigel’s arguments in an article and I similarly found myself agreeing with much of his DD presentation. Learning was pitched as needing to help with transformation by moving from “safe spaces to brave spaces”. This is fair, enough and to some extent an acknowledgment of the need for ‘stretch‘. However, I would say the humane requirement for having safe spaces at work remains, it is not to say that a team building day can not have a safe (culture) but also be very challenging in terms of team aspirations, agility and development. There was mention of Communities of Practice (CoP) as argued for by Wenger, this always get my support as CoP theory was one of the areas that hooked me in learning design in my MA and got me into my career in learning. Nigel correctly tackled the focus on skills, arguing that deep understanding of problems will lead to learning offerings made up of multiple components (people, content, data, technology) under the auspice of appropriate governance. There was a call to reframe, rebuild and redefine learning to grab organisational development, make knowledge management organic and more. All-in-all, a wide ranging call to action that I have probably not done a great job of summarising. There was also a bit on indicators of success.

Indicators of success

Nigel correctly suggested the organisation’s strategic plan has to be the basis of learning’s work. Learning should make promises that developing self-learning groups and other solutions will positively impact on the plan’s goals. Ultimately I think this is the challenge – we might know that learning needs to be reframed when the “classroom assumption” and “training ghetto” are not good for our organisations but how to prove this works for an organisation with very fixed views on “training” and divisions of labour based on that.

As well as the Digital Days, I also recently watched an excellent session in the Content Wrangler series, entitled “Rewinding the Web: The Internet Archive and Its Wayback Machine“. This session reminded me to look again at archive.org and the excellent Wayback Machine. These are tools I have used a lot in the past but not so much in the last couple of years. Anyways… I thought I would have look to see which of my “to read” wish list of books are available to borrow via the archive.org loan system. One such book was an early edition of “Learning and Development” (by Rosemary Harrison). This book’s editions are nice snapshots of L&D status (the online edition being from 2003). According to the book (which reads like it is essentially exam prep for CIPD qualifications) there are a number of L&D “indicators”:

  1. Integration of L&D activity and organisational needs
  2. Provision of value-adding L&D function
  3. Contribution to the recruitment and performance management processes
  4. Contribution to the retention of employees
  5. Contribution to building organisational capacity and facilitating change
  6. Stimulation of strategic awareness and development of knowledge
  7. Design and delivery of learning processes and activity
  8. Evaluation and assessment of L&D outcomes and investment
  9. Role and tasks of the ethical practitioner
  10. Continuing professional self-development

Ultimately if we consider such a list as what an L&D professional can be assessed on (see also the English Apprenticeship standard) then clearly skills (be it upskilling, reskilling or right-skilling) are very much only part of the puzzle (I also quite like this list as too much focus historically has probably just been on point 7) both as a professional and in what we (can) help with (if empowered to do so by management). Therefore, as Don argued on day 3, lets remember skills but not forget everything else L&D teams can/should be doing.

Thoughts on sessions (Case studies)

There were a couple of good case studies showing how we do have to go beyond skills to really impact our organisations. The British Red Cross and Girlguiding both simplified and aggregated learning for their stakeholders on new platforms. Both took plenty of time to analyse issues, the stakeholder experience, etc. Both found their improved online learning platforms have led to retention, recognising stakeholder’s past experience and building on that (not mass sheep dipping). I liked the Red Cross simplification of message by their presenter, their Chief Learning Officer:

There were some other aspects that sounded similar to models I have used in the past, including Red Cross having a buddy relationship between central learning and those with those responsibilities at site level and the Girl Guides retraining their classroom trainers to run virtual classrooms/webinars. Overall, good examples of being strategic, holistic and delivering modernisation of stakeholder experiences.

[I probably attended a couple of other DD sessions but I’ll leave this post as it is already long enough !]

“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.