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In June,I joined over forty companies and 100 delegates last a Brightwave event sponsored by Sky, which was designed challenge our thinking in the way that we approach learning.
The conversation was driven by an excellent group of speakers, many of whom have been involved in setting the standards within the Towards Maturity Benchmark:
Nigel Paine set the pace by explaining why innovation is no longer a luxury in corporate learning and Charles Gould, MD of Brightwave framed the core issues of the day that the course is no longer enough to help staff get up to speed in a world which is changing so rapidly. We need to shift our thinking away from 'how to build a course' to 'how can we make online learning more effective in business?' This theme was picked up by Clive Shepherd who unpacked the practical implications for learning design . Great Case studies from Kenny Henderson, Head of Talent Development at Sky, Barbara Thompson, Learning consultant at BP and Clare Shell, Learning technologies Manager at Bupa brought the ideas alive.
I don’t want to go into each session individually (you can do that yourselves by looking at the session summaries and slides ). But I would like to reflect on 16 practical action areas that came out of the day for me:
1. We need to actively challenge our own thinking: Innovation is critical for ongoing business survival and organisations have get beyond a narrow way of thinking if they are to thrive, but Nigel Paine showed us that the L&D function can’t engender innovation unless we ourselves are innovative. Just because we are asked for a course (online or not), it might not be the best thing for the business. We have to challenge our own thinking and that of our traditional sponsors if we are to support innovation within our business.
2. Deconstructing the learning process. The course (e or otherwise) is a continuous progression through a set of pre defined steps. But business life is accelerating and this process needs to be deconstructed for individuals to be able to work and perform in a constantly changing environment. We need help and resources at the time of need, the ability to connect with others, the chance to reflect – but the process still needs to make sense to busy individuals. Charles Gould suggested an alternative Mosaic idea for creating learning - creative blends of resources with good navigation, clear business outcomes & tough assessment are needed to make this type of approach work.
3. The role of resources – Learning and development professionals need to also focus on creating flexible practical resources to support learners, helping them to apply learning and explore further in a way that also compliments workshops – examples such as job aids, video resources, top ups, mobile resources and team meeting support were provided by the different case studies.
4. The importance of an authentic voice – When creating resources such as video or podcasts , they should feel authentic to the audience. In their onboarding programme, Bupa and Sky both introduced new staff to customers as characters, highlighting the lives that they lead and the impact on their decisions. Video provides an authentic voice through interviews with real practitioners. Organisations can film internal and external experts, distilling their learning points in short video. By showcasing talent internally this way, it is also possible to take the pressure off individual experts traditionally used within the formal course . Scripted video clips can also be to challenge views and perspectives in subject areas such as diversity where the medium is really the only way of treating subject with realism and subtlty. BP developed personas of characters, including their backstories and history
5. Role of games . It is clear that games can also be used outside of the ‘course’ to engage and help people apply their skills for example at Bupa they have introduced games to improve knowledge around medical terms so make staff more comfortable speaking to unwell customers via the phone.
6. Provide time to reflect . Clive Shepherd challenged us to understand that we achieve more when we reflect, observe, explore, experiment and generalise. L&D have a role in accelerating this process by encouraging interaction with peers, content, expert through activities such as blogging, personal reflection, and encouraging people to post what they have got out of the session.
7. Consider courses as resources- traditional elearning courses, if shortened to just 5 – 20 minutes can also be treated as resources. This approach creates more flexibility in learning modes, reduces production and maintenance time (by 90% in Bupa’s case) and allows content to be extended to a wider audience.
8. Think about ownership – A more segmented approach to courses and resources means different individuals can own their own pieces provding better engagement with Subject matter experts and quicker sign off and involvement. If content is produced on a project by project basis then no one carries on responsibility once the programme has been delivered. Ongoing ownership is critical, as is a continuous review cycle.
9. Create great environments in which people can operate - Part of our role in L&D not just to develop great people but to create great environments in which they can operate. Being on a course is not a great environment. Individuals need to be part of a social network in their organaisations. L&D need to be seen as thought leaders in environment where people can discuss, share and exchange great ideas,
10. Sensible pathways - learning designers need to assemble the most appropriate sources of information, provide a sensible pathway through those resources and focus on assessment that is rigourous and challenging. This could be in the form of a game or in a challenge such as ‘go & do your research then go to board room to present findings’.
11. Keeping it simple - When developing a richer environment of resouces to use and explore, it is critical to keep access simple via a portal with clear themes and structures, it is also important to prime staff to ensure that they are aware of what is available and how to use it.
12. Its about balance - Don't throw the baby out with the bath water, sometimes a course is good! We need staff to innovate contribute and develop but also need them to perform and comply. We need to find a balance in creating an archtiecture that is right for the job in hand , it is not simply one style over another.
13. Supporting the managers. For programmes to be successful, we need to support managers. BP’s ecosystem of resources supporting their diversity programme -can be used in any ways to stimulate rich discussion and managers are encouraged to explore video clips in sessions with their own teams, filtering them to deal with the issue that they want to address. They have created theme guides that enable managers to talk confidently which include supporting resources such as powerpoint decks with speaker notes.
14. Revisit the skills of the L&D team These shifts in progamme design show that the role of learning designers has never been more completx or more valuable . They need to be able to assemble resources, define how measure, be able to prime for learning, to help people to find own route through learning. This means they need to be curator not just creators . The architect of learning has a professional responsibility to their client to meet their needs in responsible and ethical way. To create environments for learning, they need to understand all the materials and techniques available and to be up to date with tools of the trade
15. Take risks - Great innovation comes through disruptive ideas and if were are not changing mindsets and not supporting risk taking then we have a problem! Nigel Paine showed us that desks are were creativity goes to die! We should all be finding ways to stretch our brains and think differently!
16. Finally Do something! The event in Edinburgh provided practical ideas that anyone could apply back in the office but we have to act. Why not use this article to start a discussion in your organisation? Start the debate how do we stretch our brains? We need to take time out to pilot new approaches and investigate opportunities to change, Thomas Edison showed us that the value of an idea lies in the use of it and this event certainly provided plenty of practical themes to help us turn those ideas into action.
Brightwave is a founding Ambassador of the Towards Maturity Benchmark - challenge your thinking and see how far your organisations has come in addressing these issues by taking part in the benchmark for free today (the 2012 benchmark is now open until 21st August 2011)