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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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learning1-300x225The government appears committed to implementing many, if not most, of the recommendations of Doug Richard’s review on Apprenticeships. If you haven’t read the Review so far, you should try and do so. Unlike many past tomes, it is short, easy to understand and eminently readable and should therefore stand as a beacon for future such reports.
Most independent observers have quite rightly in my opinion, welcomed the review and the government’s commitment to its implementation. However, I wonder how many people have thought through the implications of these changes?

No More Apprenticeships for Competent Staff

Firstly, the government have made it clear that Apprenticeship funding will no longer be available for existing competent staff. That seems entirely appropriate. In the last couple of years, there have been too many examples of large programmes aimed at such staff whose purpose seemed to be little more than to gain access to huge amounts of funding. In the short-term, this could result in a significant fall in the number of new Apprenticeships.
However, there is a second more serious concern. Whilst existing “competent” staff should not be doing an Apprenticeship, there is every possibility based on government figures, that they will lack functional competency in Maths and English. Previously these skill deficiencies could be addressed within the Apprenticeship framework, but that route is no longer available.
Of course there will be those who say “So what – checkout staff and warehouse workers don’t need the equivalent of GCSE Maths and English in order to perform their job”. I think that is cynical, very short-sighted and in all probability, plain wrong. Our experience is that learners of any age and background who gain Functional Skills qualifications, become more confident in their own abilities, perform better, are more likely to seek and find career progression and are more engaged. Surely that is a scenario which any decent employer would want to encourage.
We would therefore urge employers who can no longer offer Apprenticeships to existing staff, to consider Functional Skills programmes as an alternative entry route back into learning. Unlike Apprenticeships, these courses are fully funded and can be run either as a standalone programme or in conjunction with other in-house training.

Are You Level 2 Ready?

The second area of the Richard Review which I want to highlight is the government statement that as from August 2014, all new Apprentices should be working towards a Level 2 (GCSE A-C Grade) qualification in Functional Skills. To date, the vast majority of learners on a Level 2 Apprenticeship have been working towards Level 1 Functional Skills qualifications and raising the bar is likely to result in a number of challenges.
Most Functional Skills practitioners would agree that the difference in standards between Level 1 and Level 2 is significant and inexperienced trainers who may have just about managed to get their learners to Level 1, will struggle without the necessary expertise, to get them any further. Employers therefore need to start planning now and ensure that their providers have the necessary expertise to deliver Level 2 Functional Skills. If not, their whole Apprenticeship programme is at risk
Implementing the Richard Review will therefore not be without its challenges. However that shouldn’t stop us doing the right thing. Challenges are there to be tackled, not avoided and the UK desperately needs a workforce with the appropriate skills for the 21st century. Like it or not, functionality in Maths and English has to be the basis of that skill set and we should therefore take advantage of the excellent levels of funding and the government commitment, to produce a more confident, engaged, higher-performing workforce.

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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