Category Archives: Learning

How do we ensure competency?

Is training really the answer?

I’ve just watched Craig Taylor’s excellent Pecha Kucha ‘Using technology to enhance an assess-train-assess approach’ in which he shares examples of how assessing competency levels before automatically mandating everyone attend the same annual refresher has had a positive impact on business.

When I hear people talking about the need to design a course here may be some reasoning behind it:

a) there is an update
b) compliance -staff are required to attend refresher training every year whether they need it or not
c) there’s some new approaches to working practise

However, before you automatically go through the usual motions and go down the ‘we’ve got to design a new course’ why not ask yourself the following questions:

How much do they know already?

How often would they carry out that work?

and the biggie…. What REALLY tells you whether they are competent or not?

Why do we insist on putting everyone, no matter how experienced they are in the subject, through a course before establishing whether they actually need it? Even when the instructional design is top notch including relevant task based interactive activities, it’s a waste of resources and staff time if they already know the subject matter and are applying successfully. Of course we need to maintain quality and adhere to legal requirements but is herding us all through one-size-fits-all courses the most efficient or, indeed, effective way of doing this?

It seems we often pay more attention to recording ‘bums on seats’ – virtual or otherwise instead of establishing the quality of work performance. So our workforce are all too often taken off their important jobs and attend compulsory training where there is limited flexibility in what they can choose to do. There is a simple, logical and very effective solution – assessments not courses.

As I said in a comment to Ryan Tracy’s blog post ‘online courses must die‘ “why force individuals to go through the same mandatory content year after year when all they may need is a yearly, skills based assessment. If that assessment highlight skills gaps then a more flexible learning programme will make sure individuals learn only what they need not what they don’t”

Now I’m not saying that we’ll never need formal courses ever again. This would be rediculous and untrue. Besides, I’d be talking my way out of a job if I do that. There are many reasons why someone will need formal courses. But before we decide, we do need to be more analytical before designing how to facilitate our workforce’s learning paths. Yes, it may mean more hard work gathering all the information you’ll need. Yes, it will mean we would need to encourage ownership of learning more to the individuals themselves and help them develop their meta-cognitive skills. And yes, it will mean L&D professionals would then become more cultivators of learning.

When reflecting on why this ‘herding’ approach occurs so frequently, I was reminded of a conversation I had recently around the reluctance in considering just assessing staff to prove competence before deciding whether anyone needed more formal training. It appears it all boiled down to the quality of the assessment – or rather the poor quality of the assessment. This meant that everyone had to be forced to attend the same training course to make sure the content was covered (not I didn’t say learned) and which could be tracked for statistical purposes and to prove attendance.  Now, correct me if I’m wrong but the whole point of an assessment is to test whether a person is competent in the subject matter.

If you spend the valuable time and effort in creating great learning programmes, whether they are formal courses or a collection of learning nuggets on-demand, the only way learning can be confirmed is by completing an assessed activity.  If that assessment can easily be ‘guessed’, then the learner doesn’t have to use any problem solving techniques to analyse and apply.  If you honestly have little confidence in the assessment at the end of a learning programme, of course you won’t want to put it out there on its own.  It will about as much use as a chocolate  teapot!

We’ve often discussed what makes good learning, ‘e’ or otherwise. What now begs the question is “what is good assessment?”

The New Learning Architect – A review

On 7th January, Clive Shepherd announced the advent of his new book The New Learning Architect. I waited impatiently for it’s arrival later that month and promised a review. I wasn’t disappointed – not that I thought I would be – and dipped in and out of it when time allowed. This didn’t do it justice and before writing the review, needed to give myself dedicated time to read it all through in a shorter time. Even now, I know I’ll enjoy reading it all over again and still take more away.

Clive Shepherd, author of The Blended Learning Cookbook, is a consultant in learning technologies and their application in the workplace.

I reviewed his Blended Learning Cookbook 2nd edition where I predicted that his new work would likely take blended learning to a new dimension. Boy did it ever!

Clive starts explaining why a ‘learning architect’. “An architect is someone who creates the plans from which others build” and likens a learning architect to that of a building architect. Building Architects designs “environments for living” whereas the learning architect designs “environments for learning”. Although they wouldn’t necessarily become involved in building the environment they would have to have detailed knowledge of current research to design suitable and safe environments. Not only will they have to meet the brief but consider the needs of the inhabitants. Clive affirms what it really means to be a learning architect. We hear of the responsibility they have to advise and consult with the client on what would be most appropriate, drawing on their expertise in adult learning theories, brain science and learning technologies. Learning architects, he says, are not order takers – order takers are builders not architects.

The New Learning Architect reflects on how there has been a battle between delivery options in the past where you either had to choose between one or the other e.g. classroom v eLearning; formal v informal and people were firmly footed in one or other of those camps. What this book clarifies is that there is no need to choose sides. Each would work with not against the other where appropriate and towards one goal. It is the learning architect’s role to establish, based on the situation, how these options would work together.

Clive investigates when formal learning interventions are more or less appropriate and under what circumstances the learners can take more responsibility for their own continued professional development. We also see how we can provide opportunities for them to become more self-directed and independent. He goes on to explore the various contexts in which learning will occur:

on demand

The book also explores why it’s important to look at these contexts from two perspectives – top down (directed from the organisation) and bottom up (directed from the individuals) and why there is a place for both perspectives in learning at work. This book will guide you to establish what types of learning contexts will be suitable for your particular requirements, what types of top down or bottom up approaches to consider.

Whole chapters are dedicated to each of the four learning contexts in which Clive provides examples of various learning activities and media tools, when they are best used and when to avoid them. He also explores them from each perspective.

Clive discusses how important it is for people to be motivated to learn and that when breaking down the barriers to access resources, people will learn when the need arises. We also hear that it’s down to the good design of the instructional methods rather than the delivery medium that will ensure success.

In a recent article in the eLearning Age about the 70,20,10 rule, John Helmer calls for a template or a model to help L&D professional implement informal learning and until there is one, informal learning will be more style than substance. Well, The New Learning Architect does just that. Here L&D professionals can take Clive’s four contexts for learning together with his explanation of top down and bottom up approaches as that model.

So who is this book for? Well, I would recommend this book to anyone who is remotely interested in improving results and investing in the development of a workforce whether a large multi-national or small business.

I recommend this book to all those senior managers and CEOs who call for courses (eLearning or otherwise) as panaceas. This book will help you establish whether there really is a formal training need and help you seek advice from your learning and development professionals so that the most effective and efficient solution to a business need is put in place.

If you are a more experienced learning and development professional; if you have benefited from the Blended Learning Cookbook and already implemented some successful blended courses, this book will guide you beyond training and help you take learning into the workplace. It will help you explore and employ informal and social learning methods. It might also encourage you become more architect than builder by advising rather than taking orders from those who don’t know any better.

And if you are new to learning and development then this book will be a welcome guide taking you through the different learning contexts and providing your with lots of examples and case studies.

The New Learning Architect is available on Kindle and from Lulu. Oh and Onlignment will be reviewing individual chapters inviting open discussion too. It’s probably the cost of a couple of drinks or a cinema ticket but could be worth £1000s in improved results.

A Glee-ful approach to learning

My Sunday was a lazy one. I was vegging out on the sofa with my two dogs keeping me company while my other half was trudging up and down woodland shooting his bow and arrows. Bliss! I was flicking through the channels to find something of interest and came across Glee Club. I’ve never seen it before but heard a lot about it and thought it the perfect veg-out, feel-good way to spend an afternoon.

Well, I thought I was going to spend a lazy hour anyway not thinking about work – house-work or otherwise. But – no – not a chance. My little grey cells jumped into action during an interaction between Mr Will Schuester, the Glee Club teacher played by Matthew Morrison, and a substitute teacher, Holly Holiday played by Gwyneth Paltrow who was standing in from Will as he suffered from ‘monkey flu’ (well I need to put you in the picture). Holly, was a breath of fresh air to the students. She had an up-beat attitude and connected with them emotionally (and Gwyneth did an amazing rendition of Cee Lo Green’s ‘Forget You’ in the episode too).

What made my slumbering grey cells jump to life was the following conversation:

Will: “you’re a substitute – of course you can paint murals and let the kids sing whatever they want. You don’t have to deal with the hangover of all that fun”

Holly: “16% of all students dropped out last year. You can’t expect these kids to sit up and pay attention. These kids feel special. They have a voice and if we don’t listen to it they just tune out” (sound familiar?)

Will: “I give my kids a voice. I just don’t let it run free. It’s my job to know more than they do” (hmmmm – sound familiar?)

Holly: “Right – but you don’t know more about what they care about most – themselves. These kids get bored…. they change their Facebook status. They’re entitled to have all these emotions and not only that, they’re entitled for the world to care about them. That’s what this generation is all about.”

Will: “A great teacher is supposed to show them there are other points of view besides their own!”

Holly: “OK. What do you do when a kid does something really great in your class?”

Will: “I praise them!”

Holly: “I Tweet about it. Right there and then and then for 30 seconds I know that kid has a connection with me.”

Yeah! I know. Sad isn’t it. But it just shows we can learn from sometimes the most unexpected places and occurrences. Glee Club is an ‘all-come-good-in-the-end’ programme. I loved it (but then I loved Fame – the original Glee Club). So what connection did I make from this? Well, it’s set within a school so the teaching bit is obvious. But the message is clear:

We need to connect with our learners emotionally (it doesn’t matter how young or old they are).

We need to understand their point of view and give them a voice.

We need to encourage them to be more self-directed in their learning rather than be told what’s best for them.

They need to see the relevance to help them motivated to learn

We need to become familiar with the tools they use everyday and harness them

We need to step down off the soapbox and admit there is more for us to learn and they can teach us too

The first step is asking “what would YOU like?” “what would help YOU to learn?” “what would YOU like to see happen?”

We need to try and step into their world without it looking too much like ‘dad-dancing’ at a family wedding!

The new generation has already joined us in our organisations. They are the digital natives. They have already introduced some of us oldies to their world and welcomed us with open arms. We are the digital immigrants and are finding the ‘new world’ exciting, challenging and full of opportunities.

I’d like you to humour me a little more with my Glee themed post. Every feel-good story has a happy ending and this one is no different.

It culminated in my all time favourite musical number. A traditional classic – timeless. Singing in the Rain.

On Will’s return to the Glee Club, he wanted the group to perform it. Because it was timeless, a classic and his favourite too, he was convinced everyone else would be equally enthusiastic. Now the movie dates back to 1952 but the song ‘Singing in the Rain’ was actually written in 1929 for ‘Hollywood Review of 1929″. How could a younger generation relate to something so old. How could they connect emotionally with this ancient score?

Realising he needed help to connect with his students he sought the help of his nemesis, Holly, who worked with him to bring the classic up to date, keeping the magic of the traditional but adding a modern flavour to appeal to a newer audience. The result was a magical blend of old and new – tradition and modern. Here is the number the Glee Club performed.

Some classics are too good to be missed but to get the message across to a different audience, we need a different blend while still keeping the message fresh.

And for those hopeless romantics and lovers of the classic number, here is Gene Kelly. Enjoy!