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.

UKeIG: Digital Literacy in the Workplace

This day workshop really ended up getting me thinking and my thoughts (as articulated below) are probably still not very tidy.

What does being ‘digitally literate’ even mean?  What does digital literacy look like?  What does it mean to different industries/sectors?  How does it compare to Information Literacy?

Perhaps predictably for a CILIP group event the first couple of presentations were quite focused on Information Literacy [in the SCONUL kind of sense] and the day did continue to think a lot about electronic resources and e-information.  This said, it did highlight how different people have different views on DL, for example mine would be more in line with the Belshaw model than how information professionals might consider the topic [note I tend not to call myself an info pro anymore!].

Key activities related to the topic were included in the day’s presentations, my interest in attending being particularly around the training of ‘clients’ (although a number of delegates made the point of not calling it ‘training’ to increase engagement), to up-skill staff and students (the latter for the large number of delegates working in education).  The “don’t call it training” advice will be well known by L&D folks and Wendy Foster’s session on the City Business Library made the point perfectly: it should be outcomes/WIIFM focused, i.e. not “database training” but “creating business to business contacts”.  eLearning was also mentioned as increasingly important for library/information professionals – and I made the point on Twitter that some of us have moved away from the ‘traditional’ profession via this route:

 

Personally, when I think about digital literacy, I’m thinking digital competency and capability.  This includes how people can be encouraged to be open to technological change, continue to develop their knowledge and skills within the requirements of their role and for possible future needs.  Indeed in the initial brainstorm of what it meant for us, I made the point of saying that it really can mean anything and everything.  I continued by arguing a need to “get on with it”, more than worrying about definitions, in a similar way to how L&D faffed about with what “coaching” meant only for people to go ahead and crack on with it (in various guises).

The different perceptions, semantics and language used around the topic continued to come up throughout the day and I couldn’t help but feel that businesses have adopted “digital transformation” as a buzzword, largely via IT Services, whilst a lot of professions have been left behind.  This is an interesting one for libraries/information considering eLib was a very ‘early’ series of service transformations (again for education – and a key part of my MA dissertation) that arguably (at least in my dissertation) was not followed through (or at least maintained).  eLib, however, is largely the cause of the LMS language divide between workplace LMS (learning) and UK higher ed (library – and use of VLE over LMS).  Anyways, I’m getting waylaid by semantics and history (which I tend to be)…

The day considered various pieces of research such as the ‘Google Generation’ which got me thinking about the laziness, ‘buzyitus’ and other factors which might be as important as UI/UX decisions:

 

A couple of sessions referenced Information Literacy in the Workplace by Marc Forster.  I don’t think I’ve ever looked at this [at c.£50 (it’s a Facet book after all) I’m unlikely to] nor the also referenced Information Literacy Landscapes by Lloyd.  Overall there remained a feeling that we were talking about a narrow subset of the digital skills I would consider people need.  I quite liked this model when reflecting on the day and Googling alternatives and, for workplace’s aligning to the apprenticeship standards, perhaps functional skills frameworks are the standard to be applied.

The JISC session nicely considered the wider issues (Flexing our digital muscle: beyond information literacy) but, unsurprisingly again, was very HE orientated – their model of “digital capability” however could be flexed for other environments.  Is the model of creation, problem-solving and innovation (in addition to an information focus) the way to go when thinking about digital skills – i.e. should they just be embedded at appropriate (Blooms taxonomy?) levels of technical capability?

Overall, there is a huge impact on productivity from information overload, a lack of digital skills and related issues.  If we (as in our organisations and the UK overall) are to improve perhaps we need to recognise this and invest in people for longer term impact and improvement.  Whilst one session, correctly, pointed out that work is about “KPIs not coursework” it is also an oversimplification.  As required skills are changed by technology the knowledge, skills and behaviours will change and be reinforced.  In terms of quick wins, the start point may well be developing some shared vocabulary within your own organisation to then support people with.

Can L&D learn anything from The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) experience?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-40356423

The above article is one of many to pick up on the outcomes of the first UK Higher Education TEF results.  The standout piece of the story, for me, is that the measures being used to judge “teaching”, including:

  • facilities,
  • student satisfaction,
  • drop-out rates,
  • whether students go on to employment or further study after graduating.

are as, the article points out, “based on data and not actual inspections of lectures or other teaching.”  Swap out “data” for “indicators” and you basically have the L&D model.

The Ofsted inspection of schools is, of course, more teaching focused but, even there, judgments of schools use other metrics.  School teachers, for example, are expected to support “progress” that is influencing by beyond what is immediately impact-able.  The impact of other factors, like parenting, are not factored in.

Therefore, between Ofsted, TEF and L&D (via models like Kirkpatrick) we really do not seem to have cracked the nut of measuring how well we develop learning and improvement.

With TEF it feels like a missed opportunity to evaluate the quality of ‘traditional’ lecture centric programmes versus more seminar or online models.  Some included elements, such as student evaluation of facilities, are also surely difficult considering most students will only know one HEI and thus not have something to benchmark against.  The cost of London living presumably impacting on the poor perception of many London-centric organisations, including LSE.

So, beyond saying “well universities haven’t cracked it either” what can L&D departments learn?  I’d be interesting in hearing people’s thoughts.  One item from me – with the growth of apprenticeships and accredited programmes “training” is being reinvigorated but also being reimagined with a performance focus and approaches like bitesize learning away from the big “programmes”.  Therefore, for me, the more metrics the merrier to try and build a picture of our organizations.

RefME as an example for viral apps

Do you remember Harvard referencing and building lengthy bibliographies during your student days?  If yes, did you find it time consuming?  Yep, thought so, did you ever use the techniques again (presuming you’ve not continued in academia)?  No?  Didn’t think so.

Even if we’re kind to academic referencing it is, at best, a necessary evil to show the development of research skills and the correct representation of ideas (i.e. to avoid plagiarism).  I’ve been to two events this week, the first on Adobe products will get a longer post but the second, on RefME, showed how a tool can go viral with users if it is really well targeted on solving an actual problem.

RefME has built a following of more than one million users quicker than Facebook or Twitter – all thanks to the humble citation!  Why?  Well those negative experiences of citation and bibliography building are now finally tackled through this very easy to use app.

When I studied there were some tools in this space, some institutionally backed, but none as easy as RefME appears from the demos at the #BLEevent.  Overall, I took away a key message here – focus on your audience (whoever they may be) and their challenges/frustrations.  If you are facing a lack of adoption with your corporate/institutional technology then it is probably fair to presume that it is (a) not easy enough to use and/or (b) not solving a problem that is felt keenly enough.

It will be interesting to see if any institutions opt to stand against it as a way of students ‘cheating’ by not having to spend hours formatting their own lists … not to mention all the librarians who will have another thing they ‘own’ taken away from them by technology.

CILIP Update March 2015: Digital workplaces and metrics

I tend to skim CILIP Update magazine when on the train.  This month, a couple of articles jumped out – both felt like they needed a bit more reflection.

The first (“Information management leaders – we have work to do”) would sound familiar to a lot of support services (such as HR, L&D. etc).  The article argues for a strategic future for information management as CILIP’s IM Project progresses.  The article mentions major trends, such as Big Data, and it ends with a summary of the role in that “most of our information management enhancing [sic] the digital workplace”.  This will sound similar to some of my posts here and what I’ve argued elsewhere.  In the article the focus is on being “strategic information advisors” ensuring “easy to access, relevant and valid information”, but this could be swapped out depending on your personal focus to learning and other areas.  Personally, the blurring of these areas is become such that we perhaps should be looking at the skills, such as those related to mobile development and data analysis, rather than the expertise background.  Unfortunately this would involve a lot of organizational transformation, and challenges for organizations such as CILIP – created around ‘professions’.

“Using metrics to demonstrate the value of your service” was the second article looking at some of the automatic statistics and more qualitative approaches that can be used.  This went back to some extent to a previous event I attended.

I recently argued with a colleague that, in L&D, we will fail if we are seen as ‘a breed apart’.  People will learn in their own ways.  There is perhaps a need for support services to be the ‘go to experts’, after all we’ve seen what ‘learning’ looks like to some people, but so embedded this is just part of common practice.  The centralized, decentralized, embedded, etc. arguments will rage on for support services but if we operate in a digital workplace environment then that blurring may help the support rather than concentrating on the service.