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Archive for the ‘Social and Informal Learning’ Category

Connection

Imagine for a minute that you are a Sales Director with a medium-sized company. Following a series of field visits and observations, you reach the conclusion that your team needs some additional training in negotiation skills. So you sit down with your HR Director or Head of Learning & Development and either agree to bring in a company to run a “training course” or perhaps reach into your company library of e-learning material, pull out the course marked “Negotiation” and ensure that your team complete the course. Job Done.

That is a scenario which probably takes place many times a day in organisations across the country. Unfortunately, the likelihood of seeing any improvement in skills or changes in behaviour is probably close to zero and large sums of money will have been poured down the proverbial drain.

Why am I so confident about that? Basically, because in the workplace, people simply no longer learn much through formal training. That’s not simply my opinion. It is based on huge amounts of research, much of it carried out and compiled by Charles Jennings, a global expert in learning. Charles has developed a concept which he calls the “70:20;10 Framework” to explain his theory. The research carried out with over 150 companies worldwide shows that:

* 70% of workplace learning is experiential ie, people learning through experience and their own investigations and then using that knowledge to develop their skills

* 20% of learning is “social”. ie, learning through either formal or informal interactions with colleagues

* 10% of learning is “formal” ie, classroom-style training or eLearning courses.

Let’s be absolutely clear, this isn’t an opinion or a theory about how learning might change, it’s about what is actually happening now.

So should FE college Principals and eLearning company CEO’s be having sleepless nights on seeing this data? Well “yes”, if they believe it is nothing more than some academic mumbo jumbo which may or may not happen in 30 years time and which they can comfortably ignore. However, more forward-thinking leaders may see this as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

The reason I believe that is because I do not see “formal training” disappearing completely. It may only represent 10% of learning but especially in areas of compliance, it’s a very important 10%. I do not want to be served in a restaurant by someone who is learning basic hygiene standards as they go, nor do I want to fly in an airplane, where the pilot is learning about the use of an altimeter from his mate in the cockpit.

The second point to remember is that these 3 different types of learning experience do not fall into strict silos surrounded by insurmountable barriers. Nobody wakes up and says “I think I will do some learning today and 20% of it is going to be social. When I’ve done that, I must do some eLearning in order to get my 10% of formal training”. A far more likely scenario is a “blended “ solution where different types of learning are moulded into a single experience.

This is very much the approach we have adopted towards the delivery of Functional Skills. Many of our learners have, for one reason or another, had a negative experience of learning and education in general and there seems little point in simply subjecting them to more of the same. So whilst we use some excellent eLearning software from our partners at Guroo to provide the “formal” part of our training and deliver some basic underpinning knowledge, we encourage our learners to reflect on their experiences in the workplace and use these to embed their learning and gain understanding.

Moreover, we are working on a number of different initiatives to encourage “social” learning. These range from Webinars to the use of different social networking platforms to raise issues and share solutions. Our objective is to create a single learning experience which brings together all the components of the 70:20;10 framework. It’s a long journey and we are continually seeking to evolve and develop our methodology, but our results and our exceptional pass rates speak for themselves and we are convinced that this is the right way forward.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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Learning-technologies

How can the UK address the current skills crisis, whilst at the same time reducing the disastrously high level of GREETs (Getting Ready for Education, Employment or Training)? One thing is for sure – the role of the adult education sector will be of paramount importance. The sector should be leading the way by implementing innovative learning techniques, and using technology to engage individuals and introduce efficiencies. Sadly, I believe that is often not the case.

Over the last 12 months, I have chaired conventions and workshops and attended a variety of conferences with fellow practitioners in the sector and I am deeply worried about the responses that I often get to questions and suggestions in the educational technology arena. Here are just a few examples:

eLearning: “May work for some, but not for us. Our learners don’t have access to computers”

Flipped Classrooms: “Never heard of it”

e-Portfolios: “There’s nothing wrong with workbooks. We’ve always used them”

Social Learning: “Twitter is a load of rubbish”

I believe that many of these responses are emotional rather than rational and are based largely on Fear. People are afraid of change, afraid of technology and afraid of losing their jobs. So if the sector is going to move on and play what could be such a key role on the skills agenda, we have to find a way of addressing those genuinely-held concerns.

Fear of Change

Change is never an easy process to handle. It takes us out of our comfort zones and into areas which are unfamiliar and challenging. . Yet change is an essential feature of our working lives and a critical process for any successful organisation. Type in “Change Management” in Amazon, and you come up with nearly 75,000 books on the subject but from my experience, there is one simple process you need to follow.

Consider the following two statements to a team of adult education trainers

“We have decided to implement an e-Portfolio system, so we will no longer be using workbooks and we are arranging some familiarisation sessions for you”

“We know that you have had a lot of issues with workbooks so we want to look at some alternative solutions and would value your input in the process. We have therefore arranged for some team meetings during which you can help to evaluate the different options”

There are absolutely no brownie points for guessing which statement will be more likely to win hearts and minds. Involve people in the process rather than imposing solutions and suddenly the fears dissipate and people focus on the benefits. It’s not rocket science but sadly it still seems to be alien to the culture of many organisations.

Fear Of Technology

Fear of technology is a different issue. The term “Educational Technology” covers a huge range of areas from mobile platforms to social learning. A vital first step is therefore to understand exactly where the fear lies and the reasons behind it. I suspect that in many cases, that fear results from a fear of redundancy. In other words, a belief that technology will in some way reduce the need for bodies on the ground. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Training providers who embrace technology will almost certainly be more successful than their compatriots who resist change and are therefore more likely to be recruiting rather than downsizing.

That said, we have to accept that the world of learning is changing rapidly as a result of the introduction of new technology and as such, the roles of the people within it will also change. The concept of the teacher or trainer as a “provider of knowledge” is no longer relevant when such knowledge is readily available via Google, The Khan Academy and thousands of YouTube videos. Instead, we are looking for people who can coach and mentor, people who can influence behaviour and people who can show learners how to functionalise and adapt the knowledge they have obtained to different situations they will face both in the workplace and in life.

That of course, requires a different set of skills, but they are skills which can be learnt and developed through experience and which potentially provide traditional trainers and teacher with a much more satisfying and fulfilling role.

So I think it is time to ditch the “Fear Factor” in vocational training and to embrace change and technology, not for their own sake, but because they can enhance the learner experience and improve the overall quality and perception of vocational training. That surely has to be an aim to which we would all aspire.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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edge_feb13_touchpoint

In a recent blog, I commented on the rapid development of “collaboration” both as a way of working and a way of learning. In this blog, I want to focus on the mechanics of making it work

1. Leadership from the Top

Collaboration simply won’t work unless there is genuine leadership from the very top of an organisation. So getting your CEO or head teacher on board is a key first step. That task is made so much easier if they understand how this new way of working will add value. Moreover, lip service simply isn’t sufficient. When I introduced Yammer into my last organisation, our CEO made a point of contributing every day and this sent out a very powerful message to everyone in the business.

2. Ownership Throughout The Organisation

You can’t force collaboration down people’s throats. Just as it needs to be led from the top, it needs to be owned by the organisation. If people are to commit to a new way of working, they need to understand what problems it will solve, how it will help both them and their teams perform more effectively, why it will make their work life more fulfilling. My approach was to identify some genuine evangelists and empower them to take responsibility and make things happen. That strategy was hugely effective, not simply as a way of implementing change, but of making it happen quickly and embedding it throughout the organisation.

3. Part of the Culture and Values

Collaboration isn’t something which can skim along the surface of an organisation. It has to be embedded deep within the culture and supported by an appropriate set of values. If openness, honesty, integrity and innovation are not contained within that value set, a collaborative culture is unlikely to gain ground.
In my last company, I knew that a collaborative culture would work because we had a set of values which clearly supported it. Moreover, those values had been developed by the people within the organisation – not handed down from on high on tablets of stone.

4. Social Networks Are A Great Facilitator but not the Total Answer

There are now a wide range of different Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) available of which Yammer is probably the best known. Yammer was acquired by Microsoft last year so expect it to be integrated into Office at some stage. If you are unfamiliar with ESNs, think about them as a combination of Twitter, Linked-in, Google +, a smattering of Linked-In and maybe even a bit of Facebook, but ONLY available to the members of a specific organisation. They are therefore totally private (unless you choose otherwise).
If you are thinking of introducing an ESN such as Yammer, my advice would be not to ram it down people’s throats, but to adopt a “softly softly” approach. I found that within 6 weeks of implementing Yammer into a global company, we had almost 100% of our people using it – not because they had been told to do so, but because they gradually started to see the value.
It’s important to remember that ESNs are facilitators. They are a great way to stimulate collaboration but they are not the complete solution. Without the other building blocks in place, they simply won’t work.

5. Quick Wins Are Important

The best way to win hearts and minds is for people to see positive effects at an early stage. So quick wins are important. We developed an Innovation project and used Yammer not simply for people to log ideas, but for others to build on them and to evaluate them using a “like” system. Within a few weeks, we had dozens of ideas flowing around our relatively small (200 people) company and many of these were agreed and implemented almost immediately via our “just do it” policy.

6. Focus on the Skills

There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about “new “ skills required to successfully implement a collaborative strategy. I don’t buy that but I do believe there are a number of “existing” skills which need to become higher focus and practiced more regularly. Collaboration will take people out of their comfort zones and into working in new teams, many of which may be temporary, and working with new people, many of whom they may not know or whom in some cases, may not even work for the same organisation. I find that skills such as listening, questioning and giving feedback become particularly important in these situations.
Somebody once defined “listening” to me (and sadly they meant it) as “Waiting for the other person to finish speaking so that I can say what I want to say”. Real or “Active” listening is of course so much more than that. It’s about not simply listening to what someone has said but showing through body language and responses, that you have not only heard them but understood what they were saying and why they were saying it. In an era of conference calls, webinars and multi-tasking, it is skill which is often poorly used and one I will return to in future blogs.
Finally, I would just like to touch on the area of Emotional Intelligence EI). Again, it is a subject I will return to in the future, but I believe that the self-awareness, social awareness and relationship management, all of which form a key part of EI, are of huge significance in any organisation which values collaboration.

And Finally

So effective collaboration is never going to be easy. However, I am convinced that it is worth the effort. The potential benefits both in education and business are huge, not just for the organisations in terms of resource management and productivity gains, but for the individuals involved. Collaborative work places tend to be more fun to be in and contain people who are far more engaged with the organisation. Not a bad starting point in my view.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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I remember someone once telling me that by the mid 1960’s, seven eighths of all the science that had ever been discovered had been done so since the end of the Second World War. If that is the case, then I expect that the figure now is well over 95%.

The figures, of course, reflect the astonishing rate of change over the last 60 years and those changes are mirrored in the field of learning. After centuries of traditional “classroom-style” learning, it has taken elearning a mere 30 years to establish itself as a genuine alternative and to corner a respectable share of the overall learning market.

But “social learning” has probably taken less than 30 months to “arrive”. Social learning has in fact been around for a long time. It’s just that in my days at school, it was called “cheating” and was actively (and sometimes painfully) discouraged. Nowadays “collaboration”, “working together” and “team projects” are standard practice both in schools and colleges and in the workplace.

I think it’s important to distinguish between “social learning” and “social media learning”.  Whilst social media platforms have no doubt encouraged the development of social learning, they are by no means the raison d’etre. An effective team meeting can be just as valuable a social learning experience as a session surfing the web.

So does this mean that social learning will replace elearning? I don’t believe that will be the case, but it does represent both a challenge and an opportunity for elearning developers. The new generation of learners, “Generation C” (Connected Communicators and Collaborators) will not respond to “traditional” elearning courses.  They will be seeking interactivity and the ability to share with friends and fellow learners, preferably on a mobile device

I feel that elearning advocates are ideally placed to respond to this opportunity, but will they do so or will they just stay in their comfort zones? 

At MindLeaders we have already started on this journey. Learners taking our Functional Skills programmes can interact directly with their online tutor via an ePortfolio and we are currently trialling the use of Yammer as a dedicated learning community. We are also actively investigating technologies and social platforms which can be embedded within our elearning programmes and which will enable our learners to interact with each other and with their tutors.

I believe the most important point we need to take on board is that social learning isn’t a “concept” which may or may not take flight in the next decade. It is happening now (and you only have to look at how your children are learning to recognise that fact).  I’m genuinely excited by the opportunity and will provide progress updates in future posts.

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Today’s post comes courtesy of Roger Francis, MindLeaders services and HR director, who’s been yammering and rather likes it.

Oh no, I hear you say, not another social network! Well, in fact Yammer has been around for nearly four years and whilst its user base may be tiny (4 million), compared with the big boys, its growth has trebled in the last three years.  The reason you may not have heard about Yammer is that it is a private as opposed to public networking site.  Membership is open only to the employees of an individual company and as such, its value proposition is very different to the public networks.

At MindLeaders we are constantly searching for new ways to engage our people as we recognise the strong relationship between engaged employees and  satisfied customers. As such, we became one of the 200,000 companies in 16 countries to open a Yammer network several months ago. It is only within the last few weeks that has it started to catch on and our people began to understand  how they could use the platform to share information, communicate, collaborate and learn. We have deliberately kept Yammer low key – no big launch event, no dictates to join and contribute. Instead, we have let the network spread by word of mouth. We want it to become part of our culture, not an additional task on the To Do list.

To date, we have been delighted with the results. Nearly 70% of our people have joined our Yammer network in the last six weeks. We expect  the vast majority of our company to be on board by the end of the month and usage is rising daily.  Here is one small example of how Yammer is adding value. One of our managers wanted to know about the “70:20:10 Framework for learning”. She posted the question on Yammer and within an hour answers had come back from different corners of our global business. Problem solved. And of course, it also meant that everyone else on the network gained the information –  a genuine example of Social Learning in action.

We also use Yammer to share success stories,  post hints and tips and as a short-term knowledge storage site. We can of course also discuss things on Yammer which we wouldn’t necessarily want to share with our competitors. Finally , the rate of information flow has increased dramatically. Information which previously took time to filter out through the organisation (and occasionally did not arrive at all), is now available immediately to everyone.

Not surprisingly, Yammer is particularly popular with our field-based people who now don’t feel that they are working on their own and as such are brought  much closer to the heart of the  business.  Of course, Yammer won’t replace emails when communicating on a one-to-one basis but we do expect it to reduce the overall levels of email traffic. For example, have you ever sent out an email to a group of 10 people asking for  input and feedback and got 10 different replies thereby starting 10 different threads? That’s no longer necessary with Yammer.

It’s still very early days and we are still learning how to gain maximum benefit from the network. However, we think we may have found a powerful collaboration tool and certainly at the moment we are very much “Enamoured with Yammer.”

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Today’s post comes courtesy of Roger Francis, Director of Services and HR at MindLeaders ThirdForce 

A few months ago I blogged about the scientific fact that wild rabbits have bigger brains than tame ones. Of course, this is because wild rabbits have a much wider environment to explore, have to fend for themselves and most importantly, they can learn from experience and from other rabbits. You can’t do any of that when you are stuck in a hutch.

Wild bunnies were very much on my mind when I sat down a couple of years ago with my team to develop a delivery solution for Functional Skills. We knew that Functional Skills would become a compulsory component of the Apprenticeship framework and that many of the 600,000 plus learners who start an Apprenticeship programme every year would be bringing along bad memories of their experience of Maths and English in schools, having been fed on often unappetising morsels of information in their classroom “hutch”.

If we wanted to address that challenge and release large numbers of “wild” Apprentices into the open countryside, we knew that we would have to develop a programme that was exciting, innovative and enabled our baby bunnies to learn from experience and from each other. We believed that informal learning as opposed to formal teaching was the way forward.

All our feedback to date suggests that we have been successful. Our delivery method enables learners to seek out their own solutions to the problems that we set them. They then receive detailed feedback and support from their Learning Support Managers (or perhaps we should call them mother rabbits…). Our clients tell us that learners who have completed Functional Skills are noticeably more confident, better motivated and more eager to progress than their colleagues who have been fed the old Key Skills lettuce.

In addition, we are incorporating more and more features of social learning into our delivery solution. Our bunnies already have access to podcasts and can participate in weekly webinars. And of course, we don’t plan to stop there. Over the next twelve months, we plan to incorporate more and more features of social and informal learning into our solution and develop a living, breathing Functional Skills learning community that rivals Watership Down. Learners will be sharing their successes with their “friends”, tweeting about their experiences and seeking support from fellow members in “learning groups” specializing in specific areas of their programme. It will be informal, interactive and most importantly, fun.

All of this is of course a million miles away from the classroom “hutch” in which I grew up and it took me a long time to plot my escape. So I am passionate about helping the new generation of baby rabbits to join me in the wild and determined to ensure that they survive when they get there.

Who would like to join me?

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Today’s post comes courtesy of Roger Francis, ThirdForce Services and HR Director

There was a time in the dim and distant past when we used the term “learning” as a single noun.  Now of course we talk about “traditional learning”, “e-learning”, and “informal learning” and I have now seen the term  “social learning” used in at least two recent articles I have read.

So I’ll start by sticking my neck out and define learning as “the acquisition of skills, behaviours and knowledge and values”.  That seems to fit well with the Wikipedia definition and if that is the case, there can be little doubt that the way we learn has changed dramatically. For example, it is a proven scientific fact that wild rabbits have larger brains than tame rabbits. Why?  Because tame rabbits spend all day in a closed environment and are fed lettuce leaves by their owner.  Wild rabbits have to work things out for themselves and  forage for food in a dangerous environment.

So  should we send people on training courses and “feed” them information  or should we put them in cross-functional project teams, let them try things out for themselves and coach them through the inevitable mistakes and  encourage them to join forums and discussion groups?

I firmly support the latter approach because I believe that we need to breed “wild” managers and leaders who can think outside the box, operate in difficult, highly competitive environments and yet still survive and develop. However, that approach throws up serious challenges for anyone involved in the e-learning arena . The danger is that e-learning simply becomes an electronic version of traditional learning techniques and we end up feeding juicy pieces of e-lettuce into the open mouths of our baby rabbits.

So if e-learning is going to continue to be of value, it needs to adapt to encompass the new world of social and informal learning.  It will no longer be relevant simply to expect learners to sit at a computer and work through a “course”.

I believe that such a change in approach is possible. For example, we can include e-learning content within a wider Talent Management system which can capture informal learning interventions and link to social networking sites and e-portfolios.  Looking for some extra support?  Tweet for information, join a Linked-In discussion group,  undertake a project in your e-portfolio and get feedback from your on-line tutor.  That’s real learning –  not just lettuce leaves.

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