Thursday, 26 November 2009

KnowHow to KnowNow

What a difference one letter change makes to that old term “knowhow”. KnowHow meant retaining knowledge in your head so you could apply it at some undefined point in time in the future. While clearly there are basic skills and knowledge that we need to retain internally it is often a fallacy to think that short term, event driven training will be retained long enough, and in a good enough state, to be actioned confidently and competently at the point of need.

As we firmly move into an always online world our old assumptions of having to carry everything in our heads can and is being fundamentally challenged. Knowhow shifts emphasis from retaining facts and more to knowing how to find and fetch what you need when you need it. I call that “KnowNow”. That “N” that makes all the difference is the Network: the network of knowledge sources, people and tools that enable us to perform more reliably at precisely the time we need to. It represents a firm shift towards real time ubiquitous performance support.

Is this science fiction? Not really. Just look at the behaviour of anyone with an iPhone loaded with apps. On the immediate horizon is Augmented Reality – which in real time adds digital support to the immediate location you are in. All driven through your smartphone, which if you don’t have one now, you will do within 2 years.
KnowNow also represents a deeper understanding of how our memories really work and how technology can be used to support better long term recall. By simply bringing learning closer to the point of action and acquisition of experience, then it inherently becomes more memorable. Harnessing the spacing effect also helps cement the key learning drawn from that experience.

While much of education and training still dwells on digitising traditional practices, the real prize is in fundamentally reinventing the way in which we support learning. Rather than get in the way with our “learning interventions” (a descriptive phrase that is all too true for all the wrong reasons) we should be building ways to nurture natural learning. This can only be done economically by putting available technology at the heart of our education and training systems, and not as some digital appendage to longstanding, unchallenged, habitual methods.

KnowNow – spread the word.

Monday, 16 November 2009

How to roll out knowledge to contact centres

Just published on the popular Trainingzone site. Comments welcome.
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In a real-time business environment, how do you ensure staff are kept fully up to speed on new products and services, while also keeping customers happy? Lars Hyland outlines ways in which technology can improve knowledge, learning and communication in the pressurised environment of the contact centre.
It's hard to keep up, isn't it? Product cycle times are shrinking, in some industries down to a matter of weeks, with the frequency of product and service launches growing each year. Customers are demanding ever more variety and choice, with competition fierce for their money and attention.
Large organisations often struggle to communicate in as timely and consistent a fashion as they would like. Meanwhile, marketing pushes ahead, sometimes leaving sales and service staff struggling to service the resulting enquiries.
With the advent of the internet and the seemingly unstoppable race towards real-time communication, the stakes are raised even higher. So it's not surprising to read the results of the Customer Contact Association's 2009 membership survey indicating a strong trend towards customer self service. Essentially, this means providing the customer with information and services to answer their basic queries and conduct interactions with an organisation, without picking up the phone.
Interestingly, the expectations were not a huge reduction in call volumes, but more of a shift towards agents handling more complex (and emotional) calls. These are more demanding and support another expectation that contact centre staff need to be much less process driven and become knowledge workers who can flexibly address a wide range of issues for the customer.
So how do you keep knowledge workers knowledgeable? That requires a learning culture, regular and effective communication, as well as efficient performance support tools that staff can reliably trust and use with confidence. Let's take a look at how learning technology can be applied to deliver a more agile and dynamic customer service culture.
Build and maintain a product knowledge elearning portfolio
Every product and service your organisation offers to the market can be effectively explained using engaging interactivity, covering the key features and benefits, presenting how they sit within the wider portfolio. There is a commitment required to maintain and update this suite of knowledge modules, but when structured in an easy to access and intuitive fashion they can provide much improved consistency of understanding across your workforce.
The process needs to be fast, flexible and fit with the speed of product development and launch in your organisation - internal processes must be aligned with the e-learning for it to be engaging and responsive.
Virtual practice builds confidence and competence
Simulating customer interaction can help agents and advisors practice and model best practice behaviours. There are often significant constraints that will affect the call outcome based on what can be said, when and how. There is a fine balancing act to be struck between inflexible scripted responses and offering more flexible, "human" conversation, while remaining compliant.
Compliance/regulatory training can be automatically tracked and audited
Keeping compliant is a significant undertaking with high administration costs. Learning management systems automate the collection and reporting of completion data for later auditing purposes. Going beyond the letter of the law it is possible to have employees understand the spirit of the regulation to which they must comply. For example, no-one would argue with the need to protect data and treat customers fairly, but sometimes the regulation can overshadow the core message. Good e-learning design can address this.
Give customers and staff a shared learning experience
In the true spirit of self service, it makes sense to offer a similar experience for your customers and staff that ensures there is a shared understanding in place. A higher budget is often spent on 'superficial' customer communication and marketing than on staff training, often leaving the customer wanting more detail to inform their decision.
Staff also need detail and knowledge in order to serve customers well. Perhaps sharing these budget pots in a more balanced way will result in high quality learning and communication deliverables that will enable customers to self-serve, and contact centre staff to be more enthused and self-motivated about the products and services they offer.
Note that elearning content doesn't just have to sit inside an LMS - it can be on the external website, directly linked to applications your staff and customers use.
Less learning more often - focus on performance support
Product knowledge dates quickly. Pulling staff away from their jobs to sit in training sessions that do little to inspire, much to confuse, only for them to forget most of what was presented is not a productive use of time. Building learning opportunities into the everyday work flow is an essential part of a modern day contact centre environment. (See Less Learning More Often article for more on this).
Start staff learning before they arrive
The pre-induction learning portal is proving to be an excellent tool to dramatically improve new staff engagement and productivity from their very first day. The Aberdeen Group Report on Effective Onboarding Techniques and Strategies made this one of its key recommendations for organisations looking to reduce training costs and improve employee engagement.
As we move out of recession, there will be further pressure to retain talented staff at all levels. There is much evidence to show that staff decisions to stay with an organisation for the long term are strongly influenced by the experience they receive within their first three months of employment. The pre-induction learning portal is an excellent way to bridge the chasm of communication between accepting a new role and arriving on the first day.
Brightwave and Sky, the satellite television and media communications provider, worked together to build a highly engaging pre-induction experience that includes many of the recommendations made above, to good effect. Up to ten hours of learning covering product knowledge, compliance topics, as well as sales simulations, have led to staff arriving confident and competent. This has reduced induction training by one week and measurably improved sales and customer service performance. The portal also won the Most Effective Training Programme award at the recent Customer Contact Association Global Excellence Awards. It's a best practice model well worth replicating.
Serving a wider community
In a globalised and outsource driven economy keeping a consistent level of knowledge amongst suppliers, resellers, customers and your own internal staff can only be managed using technology. E-learning is a cornerstone of that strategy and, with the right design, deployment, and content management practices in place you can keep pace with the rate of change we are all experiencing.
In many respects as we hurtle forward, we need to manage knowledge in new ways. In the future it is less about "know-how" and more about "know-now". That means searching, finding, and acting at the moment of need. Hold on to your hats, it's only going to get faster.
Summary points
  • Current trend to customer self-service will lead to a shift in agents handling more complex (and emotional) calls – a positive learning culture with regular and effective communication is essential to keep contact centre staff knowledgeable
  • Give customers and staff a shared elearning experience - engaging elearning helps build and maintain product knowledge
  • Simulations can help improve customer service and interaction
  • Help staff understand the purpose of compliance and regulation with good e-learning design
  • Less learning more often – focus on performance support
  • Get staff learning before they arrive - the pre-induction or onboarding

Friday, 13 November 2009

Awards: Most effective training + Elearning company of the year

This post is a bit of self congratulatory trumpet blowing, but the past two weeks can’t go by without comment. Last night Brightwave won the E-learning Production Company of the Year Award at this year’s E-learning Age Awards. That’s a fantastic achievement and well deserved – the team are highly professional, talented and great fun to work with. Our clients seem to agree too with comments like:
“…completely agree with the judges comments and for me you were always the front runner…you’ve consistently out performed and out thought your competitors”
It’s great to get a gong, but even better to know that your efforts are appreciated by those who matter most.
CCA CONVENTION
Perhaps even more importantly, it’s good to know that the e-learning solutions you design actually work and make a real difference to real people in real need of support. So the previous week it was fantastic to win the Most Effective Training Programme at the CCA-Global Awards for our work with Sky. It’s a real exemplar of how a learning portal can genuinely be easy to access, offering engaging, interactive learning content and produce highly motivated and better performing staff.
It’s made a difference: that’s what it’s really all about. Too little training (whether in the classroom or online) can genuinely say that which is both indictment and an opportunity for positive change. If we can champion quality over quantity we will be making good progress as an industry.
On a wider note, it’s great also to report that Brighton ( probably one of the best cities to live in in the UK) continues to go from strength to strength as a centre of excellence for e-learning design expertise. It’s probably fair to say that the majority of commercial e-learning activity in the UK can trace its roots back to the seaside in the South.
For more on that and awards ceremonies in general, check out Donald Clark’s recent posts on the subject.
Trumpet blowing ends: normal service now resumed.

Monday, 5 October 2009

A mobile future for communications and learning

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the Handheld Learning conference is a far more vibrant community of Twitter users than the recent WOLCE attendees. You can get a great sense of the presentations, even get to review them and discover new things in ways which seem almost better than actually attending yourself.

One great find was this recent video put together to support the MOCOM 2020 vision that describes the impact that mobile communication will have over the next ten years. Feels persuasive - what do you think?:




Thanks to Louise Duncan for pointing me to this. She's a real pioneer in the use of mobile learning in the classroom and has valuable experience using the iPod Touch as an effective learning device.

In the next few years, these pilots will begin to move much further into the mainstream. Perhaps then we'll cling less tightly to the classroom's four walls as being the gold standard of an effective learning environment.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Onboarding staff in the 21st century

The British Computer Society (BCS) and IT Training Magazine have published my article on how onboarding new staff can be transformed in terms of overall time to full productivity and dramatically reduced training costs. As the economy picks up the quality and efficiency of induction will matter more than ever. What do you think?

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How we work and who we work for is changing rapidly. In an internet-enabled, networked age where we can communicate with anyone, anywhere, in real time, the way in which we acquire knowledge and develop new skills is transforming.

To cope with the pace of economic and social change we must re-evaluate how we train and support our people. The onboarding experience is the crucial start to reaching a desired level of competence and confidence needed to deliver a valuable contribution.

However, this is often sadly neglected. New joiners arrive in their new workplace to discover they are expected to fend for themselves - their manager is too busy fire-fighting, work colleagues are stretched enough getting through the day, let alone having time to 'handhold' someone new.

The induction training is not scheduled for a few weeks, by which time its value is greatly diminished. Furthermore, what about the increasing number of staff working from home or on the move? How do they become integrated into the organisation's culture?

It is no great surprise then that many new joiners don't stay the course. It is recorded that 90 per cent of employees decide whether to leave their new employer within the first six months (recently voiced by Gretchen Alarcon at Oracle).

Measuring time to full productivity of new staff reveals it can take anything between six and twelve months to reach the required levels of competence and confidence to deliver at expected performance levels.

As a result, staff attrition is extremely costly to an organisation. When a staff member leaves, all the investment made in that individual - from recruitment, selection and induction to salary - is lost before they can add any real value.

In areas where there are naturally high levels of staff turnover, such as contact centres and retail, this can amount to large sums of money spent on training and re-training without ever truly improving overall performance.

The Call Centre Association (CCA) claims a failure to retain employees is costing firms up to £1 billion per year and generating employee turnover rates up to 30 per cent. The current economic climate may have dampened these costs temporarily, but with increasing employee mobility, they will rise if not managed more effectively.

Employee engagement

A positive onboarding experience can seriously improve employee engagement. The government (see MacLeod Report commissioned by Lord Mandelson) has recognised the importance of improving employee engagement and its positive affect on productivity. Here's a definition of engagement taken from the report:

'Engagement is about creating opportunities for employees to connect with their colleagues, managers and wider organisation. It is also about creating an environment where employees are motivated to want to connect with their work and really care about doing a good job… It is a concept that places flexibility, change and continuous improvement at the heart of what it means to be an employee and an employer in a twenty-first century workplace.' (Professor Katie, CIPD, 2009)

The report also shows the difference employee engagement can make to the bottom line:

  • Engaged employees in the UK take an average of 2.69 sick days per year; the disengaged take 6.19 days. The CBI reports sickness absence costs the UK economy £13.4bn a year.
  • 70 per cent of engaged employees indicate they have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs, only 17 per cent of non-engaged employees say the same.
  • Engaged employees are 87 per cent less likely to leave the organisation than the disengaged. The cost of high turnover among disengaged employees is significant.

Ensuring that the early onboarding experience is a positive reinforcement of someone's decision to join will make a dramatic difference to these metrics.

Technology, more specifically e-learning, plays a central role in offering a more seamless, continuous support mechanism that simultaneously accelerates learning, releases managers from basic training obligations and significantly reduces time to full productivity.

The pre-induction portal

The provision of online learning and assessment can be used at all stages of onboarding new employees, all managed through a single learning portal. This portal, alongside the corporate website, actively reinforces brand values and culture.

Here are examples of how e-learning can be used to improve efficiency and effectiveness for each stage of onboarding:

Recruitment - potential applicants complete short scenario-based assessments that provide more accurate impressions of the job role. The organisation benefits by encouraging those seemingly best suited to submit an application.

Selection - more rigorous assessment and psychometric testing can further filter applicants prior to, or as part of, the formal interview process. Tests can include realistic experiences that represent the job activities.

Pre-induction - successful applicants can receive additional learning opportunities that are completed in the run-up to their first day. With high levels of motivation and enthusiasm these individuals are in a perfect cognitive state to learn more about their new organisation. Learning modules may cover organisational structure, welcome videos, product knowledge, activity or system simulations (perhaps customer scenarios) and mandatory compliance (like health and safety). Such early learning means new employees arrive on their first day with a high level of confidence and active knowledge. This dramatically reduces time required for further induction training.

Induction period - continuing access to the learning portal carries new employees seamlessly through their first few days. Access to social networking tools accelerate contact with other employees, as well as access to additional learning modules on key systems and processes that were not available during pre-induction.

Ongoing development - these learning activities naturally integrate with existing HR systems to ensure a full record on which the individual can build further training and development as their career develops.

Tracking progress - tracking and reporting facilities allow the organisation to monitor new employees' engagement with learning opportunities. The portal can reward those who demonstrate exceptional levels of motivation and attainment, whilst nudging and supporting those who need encouragement. Equally, identifying early on those new employees who are uncertain of their decision or are likely to fail to integrate is valuable for both the individual and organisation.

Unbeatable business case

For those looking to reduce costs and improve employee productivity, overhauling the onboarding and induction experience is a strong candidate.

Sky, the satellite TV and broadband communications provider, has launched a pre-induction learning portal that has reduced induction time from four to three weeks with measurable improvements in sales and customer service targets. High levels of commitment and enthusiasm shown by individuals completing the pre-induction activities have also been sustained into the workplace.

While many organisations may not be experiencing growth or normal recruitment levels in the current climate, this is likely to change over the next twelve to eighteen months as the economy recovers.

Cost pressures, however, will not go away, so introducing a more cost effective onboarding model must be a priority in order to take full competitive advantage when the upturn arrives. When it does, employees will begin to further flex their new-found freedom and the battle for talent will intensify.

Monday, 21 September 2009

UK Higher Education needs more radical change than a debate about who funds it

With the current media and political debate about the future funding of education (and the rest of the entire public sector for that matter), I was struck with the thought that perhaps the wrong question is being asked.

Is funding or cutting the same model of higher education the real issue. Or would a more radical shake up of higher education be more affordable and indeed more effective at preparing our young people for work and life in the 21st Century?

So, I've set up a debate which I'm inviting you to contribute your thoughts. You can access it it here:


To help you get going consider the following:

Do you think a smart student of today would be right to question starting a 3 year degree course and incur significant debt in the process...OR...

Spend those three years developing work experience with supplementary online study?

Imagine if this was your own decision, or your child's decision - what would you do?
Indeed if you are a young student this is a real dilemma for you - would love to hear your views.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

How to build a social learning culture

I was asked by Trainingzone to provide some tips for bringing the learning benefits to bear of social tools within an organisational context. All comments/feedback welcome.

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Resisting the rush to social media feels a bit like trying to push water back up a waterfall doesn't it? A fairly futile exercise. Why is it so popular? Well, homo sapiens are a particularly social, pack-like species whose success on this planet has been predicated on our unique ability to communicate. This is why we have gone to many lengths to build complex organisational structures. We've invented the telephone, television, and now the internet to the point where we can be in constant touch with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

We have always learned through conversation, self-directed reading, and interacting with the world and people around us. It's strange really that we now refer to this as 'informal learning' as if somehow inferior. The internet and the mobile phone provide us with all the information we could possibly want when we want it. Our main challenge now is finding the right information to use at the appropriate time. Equally, we can now practice new skills in virtual settings that are increasingly realistic and applicable. The learning experience has finally got personal and it has done so with technology beating at its heart. In that context it makes sense that social tools, which give us real-time access to the activities and experiences of others, tap right into our innate desire to share and belong.

But we are still in transition. Most organisations have yet to catch up. In a recent survey of organisations with 5,000+ staff, conducted by Brightwave, almost two thirds of those surveyed confirmed they do not plan to facilitate social learning in the next 18 months. Indeed the majority of UK workers in large organisations don't have any access at work to leading social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.
Data security reportedly is the key reason why most businesses do not actively encourage participation in social networks. Whilst a concern most organisations will already have processes in place to manage responsible participation. If not, any worries can be addressed by developing and communicating an effective information security policy.

So there are benefits but cultural and perceived technological barriers remain. What's the best way, then, to navigate around these and begin nurturing a social learning culture in your own organisation? Don't be daunted. It's easy to get started.

1. Don't wait for permission

Most successful social learning implementations to date have started at the grass roots level. So that's you providing the necessary jolt of enthusiasm and energy to get a pilot off the ground. Clearly this doesn't mean being irresponsible, instead identifying a community that you feel can benefit and deliver real business benefits.

2. Focus on the frontline

Managers will typically put up the most resistance as they perceive they have the most to lose. In many ways they are right. An effective social learning environment changes the model of management considerably. Frontline staff have the most to gain from sharing their knowledge and cutting across traditional divisional silos in the interests of serving their customer or solving their problem. Less time wasted hunting for information and knowledge to do their jobs improves customer service, and reduces their own levels of frustration and dissatisfaction. In many cases, your chosen community will already be active social users of Facebook, Twitter and the like, so you'll find a burgeoning demand. That said, provision of some training (elearning would be my recommendation) on how to get the best out of the tools you make available will be valuable.

3. Technology is the enabler not the driver

Don't get caught up in which platform to use. Start with the business objective you want to impact. Do you want to reduce customer complaint resolution times? Reduce the number of return visits made by engineers to fix a problem? Whatever it is try and add to the existing systems in place where possible. Your only option may be the corporate intranet. It may be a free software platform such as Elgg, Ning or harnessing the available (but often underused) functionality of Microsoft Sharepoint. You may need to think more creatively, such as setting up group texting facilities on your engineers' mobile phones with a private Twitter-like service such as Yammer. Whatever it is, technology choices must follow the business objective.

4. Guide rather than control

Social-learning communities are self policing so do not feel obliged to over-moderate the communication flow. In fact, encourage open debate but with some simple ground rules on etiquette and professionalism that you would expect employees to observe in other forms of day-to-day communication. One tip - insist that all community members retain their professional work identity. Anonymous posting may quickly degenerate into unhelpful, damaging messages. So don't allow it.

5. Be patient

It takes time to nurture social learning, especially when your organisation's existing culture may be far removed from the concept of knowledge sharing and cross-functional collaboration. Based on published case studies this seems to average three to five years. By starting small, with a focused community that can reap early benefits, you can use this success to persuade others to get involved. The network effect will take hold and growth can be exponential once a solid foundation has been laid. Note that it is normal for only a small percentage (5-10%) of your community to be active contributors while the remainder remain grateful consumers of the content made available.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Learning - augmented

I’ve previously posted on how we are beginning to move from training as a separate activity from doing, to a model of primarily supporting practice and performance on the job. Ubiquitous Performance Support (UPS) I rather snappily called it. One dramatic example of how this is developing is in the nascent area of Augmented Reality.

This clip amply illustrates where this is heading.

While there appear some practical oversights in this example, I can see this sort of thing working really well. Amongst the rather amusing Youtube comments about expensive services being done by mindless monkeys is one suggestion:

“Yeah like halfords should do these where the overpriced haynes manuals are.”

Too right. And in fact this is something I did attempt with Iveco Trucks way back in 1992 in constructing an interactive servicing tool that take information from an engine management system and provide performance support guidance for a service mechanic in both service manual and video formats.

This is now possible, and even exists already if you count the self instruction videos already available on Youtube and other video sharing platforms.

We’d do well to ensure our definitions of learning are closer to Charles Handy’s – as written in his book, Age of Unreason:

"Learning is not finding out what other people already know, but is solving our own problems for our own purposes, by questioning, thinking and testing until the solution is a new part of our lives."

What’s your definition?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Mobile learning – keep taking the tablets

There is growing excitement with a new class of mobile device hitting the streets over the next few months – the electronic tablet. Most of the buzz is about Apple coming out with what’s dubbed the “iTablet” that essentially would be a larger screened iPhone or iPod Touch.

Some enterprising people have mocked up images of what it could look like:

 appletablet1

But several other vendors are beating Apple out of the blocks in what will be an intriguing race for a market sector that is set to put mobile learning truly on the map. Have a look at the Archos tablet:

6-11-09archos9

These devices have 9/10” screens, are light (or should be), portable and connectable to all sorts of other peripherals. The screen means browsing and interacting with internet sites becomes even more natural and accessible, especially with modern gesture based touch screen technology.

There is something vaguely nostalgic about this new wave of tablets. Remember Apple’s first attempt at going mobile – the Newton?

newton

I had one of these and while it demonstrated a lot of promise it was an idea before its time. However things are looking brighter this time round. The processing power and connectivity is now here to make these devices excellent portable learning tools. The size is practical for all ages and seriously challenges traditional text book provision and the way we engage with digital assets such as video and online learning content. The personal nature of the device means we can annotate everything and still share everything.

It looks like the promise of mobile learning will finally arrive in force in 2010.

If you want to get a fantastic indication of where all this is heading, you really should read Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer which features an intriguing vision of a “state-of-the-art interactive device designed to raise a girl capable of thinking for herself”.

Imagine an education system that could do that…

Friday, 31 July 2009

Re-inventing the E-learning Experience

I ran a webinar for the Learning and Skills Group earlier this month on re-inventing the e-learning experience. I mentioned this in a previous post, so let me know what you think of the ideas and examples presented.


How can you show that e-learning is clearly adding value to your business? Learning portals provide a focused, engaging and contextual experience for staff that more directly supports their working day. In this session Lars Hyland demonstrates how global media company Sky is revolutionising its induction programme with a pioneering media-rich portal. Drawing on experience from some of the UK's most recognised brands (Bupa, EDF, Vodafone) Lars will examine:

  • Using focused learning portals to solve key business challenges
  • Improving performance of new starters with a smart onboarding or induction programme
  • How cutting the 'time to competence' clearly establishes the value of learning
  • Making 'self-service' performance support easy to use, engaging and effective
  • Five tips for building an unbeatable business case

Saturday, 18 July 2009

The Evidence on Online Education

Clive Shepherd tweeted a link to this research report: The Evidence on Online Education

The study found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction. Further, those who took "blended" courses -- those that combine elements of online learning and face-to-face instruction -- appeared to do best of all.

The US Department of Education noted that this new meta-analysis differs from previous such studies, which generally found that online education and face-to-face instruction were similarly effective on issues of learning, but didn't give an edge to online learning that may now exist.

While the new study provides a strong endorsement of online learning, it also notes findings about the relative success (or lack thereof) of various teaching techniques used in online courses. The use of video or online quizzes -- frequently encouraged for online education -- "does not appear to enhance learning," the report says.

That is something to think about - I wonder what the quality of these video and quizzes were like?

Using technology to give students "control of their interactions" has a positive effect on student learning, however. "Studies indicate that manipulations that trigger learner activity or learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding are effective when students pursue online learning as individuals," the report says.

Notably, the report attributes much of the success in learning online (blended or entirely) not to technology but to time. "Studies in which learners in the online condition spent more time on task than students in the face-to-face condition found a greater benefit for online learning," the report says.

That's an interesting statement - taking the time to learn is a critical factor, which is a clearly central to genuine self reflection and ensuring understanding. Having control over that time is crucial too. Many classroom situations are not conducive to this at all. So your learning environment is critical. Actual learning time in these situations may be minimal compared to the more effective time spent learning in a more concentrated, but spaced fashion (or virtually collaborating) online. This supports my own cry for less learning, more often.

Accountability and orientation

Here's a great comment on this report from "SL" who appears to be at the front line in offering students online learning opportunities and tells it like it is - give the right motivational support and guidance on online learning tools and students will respond positively:

Yes, I may have to spend a little extra time at the beginning of the term making sure my students understand how to navigate the LMS and point them to the online course resources, activities and communications tools, but they don't get the option of NOT learning how to use them, even in my F2F classes, which I would term all blended to a great er or lesser degree! In some EVERYTHING for the course is in our LMS and it is taught in a computer classroom.
The results are always the same:


1) An early steep learning curve, with a fair amount of "
I can't" and "You're making us do all the work!" whining.

2) A period of "Well yeah, maybe I can" when a lot of the tech-forward students start helping their tech-phobic classmates (with my encouragement because I am into the subject matter content phase at that point(although I will always help students one on one with tech issues outside of class) which fosters group interaction and interdependence.

3)What I like to call "the quiet time" from about three weeks into the term until near the end, when my blended courses are firing on all cylinders (meaning the students have finally accepted that I am NOT going to do this for them- it is up to THEM, individually and collectively), right through me attending meetings, "lost" class time from snow days, athletics trips (all our teams travel with a laptop), students having to go home for family or health emergencies (including one having to miss the last month of a term for major surgery), etc. My "class" is always in session, 24-7, rain or shine, internet-willing. "All" I have to do during this period is put out tech brush-fires (people suddenly locked out of their account, etc) and serve as guide on the side, spending parts of each class meeting as a "cheerleader", answering questions,doing demonstrations, reviewing 3D models (often in a "game" format), giving new topic overviews,leading (or just listening to) discussions, advising on group projects, and of course my "real job":, assessing learning (A LOT) with regular online quizzes and exams. A fair amount of classtime is "free" for them to work, alone or together, on class assignments and online learning activities. Then all I do is walk around to keep them on task and off Facebook.

4) And lastly, what I term the celebratory "We did it!!!" phase, when the students look up, realize the term is almost over and that they have accomplished a BUTTLOAD of work and learned a great deal and that they did it (mostly) all THEMSELVES. Sometimes they do accuse me of having "tricked them into learning stuff". For that I do not apologize!? ;-) >95% excellent course evaluations ensue, students ask what other courses I teach the same way and sign up for "extra" courses in my discipline, tests of retention in later classes and our program assessments show great retention for my blended students, and the students beg other faculty to use the LMS for course materials, the calendar, etc. and sometimes even show them how to do so. Students come back and report that the class made them a better, more responsible student in other classes, regardless of delivery method.

And no, these are not upper level or grad courses (which actually turn out to be a bit more comfortable taught in a more traditional Socratic style) however in those we still use the LMS for all sorts of course material exchange and communication. Its just a great way to put everything in one place, for faculty and students alike! The courses I teach as most strongly blended are a freshman-level non-majors class and a 200-level service course.

You just have to get past that Phase 1 with a determined and positive "Yes you CAN!" attitude ...

We need more people in education like this. What a difference that would make...

Minister regrets lack of training - induction matters!


Jacqui Smith. former Home Secretary in the UK Government wished she had been better trained for the role. According to the BBC, in an interview with Total Politics magazine:

"I hope I did a good job but if I did it was more by luck than by any kind of development of those skills," she adds.

There has been criticism of the way in which ministers are parachuted into departments, often without any prior knowledge or experience of the policy area, and expected to manage huge bureaucracies and multi-billion pound budgets.

She describes the way ministers are moved from one government job to another in Cabinet reshuffles as "pretty dysfunctional in the way that it works" but adds that it is "not just this government".

She says: "I think we should have been better trained. I think there should be more induction. There's more now than when I started as a minister but it's still not enough. I think there should be more emphasis given to supporting ministers more generally in terms of developing the skills needed to lead big departments, for example."

A poor induction affects employees at all levels of an organisation, not just "leaders". Being dumped "in at the deep end" is a lottery approach (with similarly weak odds) to effective performance and long term retention of staff. Far better to start engaging them at the point of appointment and providing 24/7 support through their first 90-120 days in the role. The only way you can achieve that is through provision of online services that give immediate access to quality learning content, up to date information, and the opportunity to connect with others in similar roles. This can only benefit the individual and the organisation through faster engagement, faster time to competence. This not only saves in training costs (while also improving effectiveness) but reduces the chance of catastrophic error.

I ran a webinar just a few days ago for the Learning and Skills Group on behalf of behalf of Brightwave recently on how learning portals can give new joiners immediate support from the moment they receive their welcome letter - not only can the person immediately start getting prepared, ensuring confidence and motivation levels remain high, but the organisation benefits through less lengthy induction training that when delivered traditionally often lacks context, relevance, personalisation to the individual's needs. Sky, the satellite TV company, are doing some great things in this area, and I'll be demonstrating/speaking about this in more detail for future webinars (let me know if you want details) and in Online Educa in December.

It is astonishing to think that senior government posts are being filled by people who lack the knowledge, skills and experience to do the job effectively from the outset. Unfortunately this is reflected right the way through all organisations, both public and private. And yet effective solutions are staring us in the face.

Surely everyone should be jumping at the chance to dramatically improve their induction and onboarding experience while at the same time save significant sums of money. If ever there was a case of successfully doing more with less, this is it.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

IT training should focus on performance support


Charles Jennings great article on "How not to train" has been featured on trainingzone but I recommend you go back to his blog for a fuller version. His point is clear. Systems training delivers little value (negative value according to Jay Cross' comment) when following the traditional model of delivery. Train weeks before go live, provide little intervening support then let them loose once the system is up and (sort of) running. Might as well as not bothered, says Charles.

Systems rollouts are a specific case of the "elephant in the room" - training delivered by the wrong people, to the wrong people, at the wrong time, in the wrong way. This equates to no learning, and no valued added to individual nor organisation.

Even a good training delivery by the right people to the right people (this is where most training measurement settles for fantastic feedback on happy sheets) if delivered at the wrong time in the wrong way, yields no learning in the long term and no added value.

One point though to consider - if you can design e-learning (in the form of simulations) for delivery prior to go live - accepting that it does not mimic the live system exactly (80/20 rule applies) - you can achieve a great deal in terms of confidence building and familiarity with the underlying business processes the system embodies. This e-learning can then be quickly updated (using the right tools and resources) and used as performance support and ongoing induction for new staff. EPSS can then take the weight going forward.

Of course, nothing beats making a system intuitive to use in the first place. But then I'm now clearly asking too much of the world...

Friday, 3 July 2009

Move aside CPD, UPS is here...

This article originally appeared in Training Journal in June 2009 (PDF). In it I coin the term Ubiquitous Performance Support (UPS) as a better description of how workplace place learning will develop in the future. Comments welcome.

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Lars Hyland investigates how Continuous Professional Development is being transformed by digital connectivity and challenges how we assess competence and performance in the workplace.

The worst recession since the Second World War is having a profound effect on the workplace. Jobs are being lost in almost every sector, some being hit harder than others. Nearly half of the UK workforce plans a career change, by choice or otherwise. So, having relevant, marketable skills and experience is more important than ever and a priority for those wanting to stay in work or search for new work.

Training professionals are in the same position and must also remain skilled, as was recently demonstrated by the CIPD who responded to the changing economic conditions with its own set of redundancies in April. More significantly, perhaps, is the CIPD's own attempt to update its professional development programme and help build the skills of the HR community.

The new ‘HR Profession Map’ replaces the current CIPD Professional Standards and is a result of detailed consultation with HR directors across the main economic sectors, as well as senior professionals and academics. The map describes key HR knowledge areas, associated behaviours and sets out four bands of competence. This is designed to be more relevant to today's HR organisational landscape and deliver "sustainable capability".

Now, this could be said to be the goal for all workers no matter what their discipline, be they engineers or accountants. How do you stay relevant in a highly interconnected, global marketplace? Where does the responsibility lie for learning and development? Is it with the organisation you work for, or with you, the individual?

Personal brand challenges professional qualification as sign of quality

We all have anecdotes about our educational experiences, about how little we remember and how what we do remember has little practical value to the activities and jobs we do. Clearly, education strives to provide a platform for transferable skills, to give us adaptability and resilience to apply what we know in new and constructive ways.

Once in a job, continuous professional development intends to keep skills fresh and relevant, building on our real world experience. But does it? Too often qualifications misrepresent the value and capabilities of the person holding the certificate. All too frequently the curricula fail to keep up with the highly bespoke and rapidly changing realities of the workplace.

In today's digitally connected society, the value of a qualification is in danger of being superseded by a highly public individual record of activity and achievements - the personal brand.

Marshall McLuhan famously wrote in 1964 that: “The medium is the message”, recognising how new technologies impact our social and professional lives. The technology available today, from internet-enabled personal blogging to social networks such as Linkedin, enables the individual to provide the message personally and truly gives rise to the individual as the medium. This is a seismic shift in the flow of communication and information.

A controlled hierarchy has been replaced by a multi-nodal, interconnected network where each one of us control what we send, receive and participate in. The internet works this model efficiently and cost-effectively. The commercial world is now realising the shift in consumer attention with exponential growth in online advertising and marketing. We have always liked connecting, sharing and creating with others, but we now have the tools to do so easily. Television, news and print media are struggling to redefine their roles in the aftermath.

Education and training will follow this shift, as individuals realise they can consciously control their own learning and development. Crucially it doesn't have to look and feel like the classroom and lecture halls of old – although this remains a revelation to most adult learners.

Your personal brand - or in other words your social capital - could be described as a product of your academic, professional and life achievements and your network of contacts. Online media tools such as social networks (for example, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and Xing) and content sharing (blogs, wikis, Youtube, Flickr, Twitter again) make it easy for individuals to control their own personal learning and sphere of influence.

This social capital cuts right across normal organisational boundaries and structures. The speed with which contacts can be made and expertise shared renders many traditional learning experiences achingly slow by comparison and frustratingly one-dimensional. It is this movement which has significant implications for the design of CPD support.

Impact of informal learning on CPD

Jay Cross, an active proponent of informal learning in the USA recently commented:

"As networks continue to subvert hierarchy, successful organizations will embrace respect for the individual, flexibility and adaptation, openness and transparency, sharing and collaboration, honesty and authenticity, and immediacy. Training is obsolete because it deals with a past that won’t be repeated. Learning will be redefined as problem-solving, achieving fit with one’s environment and having the connections to deal with novel situations."

Disappointingly, this world-view has yet to establish itself in any widespread reality. Much workplace learning is primarily formal in its delivery, using methods that at best make cursory use of the technology available to support and nurture a more effective and lasting learning experience.

Slowly, this is changing. Various market research surveys and studies in the past 6-12 months reveal a transformation towards a more blended learning experience. There is also an increasing use of e-learning and online collaborative exercises amongst geographically distributed groups of peers and mentors.

Brightwave's E-learning Trends Survey 2009 demonstrated this transformation by polling learning and development specialists within large UK organisations (5,000 plus employees). The survey revealed that while 80 per cent of total training budgets are likely to be cut or stay the same, half of the organisations are expecting their e-learning spend to rise.

This shift is being driven by the learners themselves, rather than HR it seems. An independent study commissioned earlier this year by the training provider, Cegos found that: "Half of employees across Europe want more e-learning and blended learning during the next three years, while only about 40 per cent of HR professionals plan to develop more programmes using these techniques.

“Learners are also keener to embrace collaborative tools like blogs, forums and wikis – 44 per cent of employees want to see these techniques developed, compared to just 32 per cent of HR professionals. Face-to-face learning is more popular among HR, with 42 per cent of respondents wanting to see more classroom learning compared to 38 per cent of employees."

With time and cost pressures growing, there is a real appetite for more flexible forms of learning. The same study found that over 80 per cent of employees were pleased with their e-learning and blending learning experiences. Employees were even calling for more work-based scenarios, self-assessment and tutor/peer support, rather than a return to traditionally exclusive classroom formats. This implies that HR professionals need to understand how to leverage technology to avoid being completely bypassed in the future, as predicted by Cross.

CPD in real time - Ubiquitous Performance Support

With the advent of real time, anywhere access to learning opportunities, it is now possible to offer what might be termed Ubiquitous Performance Support (UPS). Using a flexible, integrated set of tools that centre on your internet connected mobile phone, you can instantly query your professional and personal network of contacts to provide advice and guidance at the point and time of need.

At the same time, you can access your own personalised repository of knowledge, learning tutorials and other relevant content. The outcomes of how you perform in each situation can thus be recorded and self (and peer) assessed to help you improve your performance the next time you find yourself in a similar situation.

Just think of the power this environment has to support individual learning and performance. Instead of the inherently "just in case" model of CPD, which is subject to problems of updates and relevancy, UPS offers a "just in time" model that delivers actionable learning and accelerates the acquisition of practical experience. E-learning is crucial in underpinning this whole process from pre-induction (getting new starters up-to-speed) to ongoing performance support.

This thinking also extends the concept of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). Using Wikipedia (the reference resource of choice for the digital learner), PLEs are defined as:

"Systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning. This includes providing support for learners to:

  • set their own learning goals
  • manage their learning; managing both content and process
  • communicate with others in the process of learning

and thereby achieve learning goals."

Continuous Professional Development will need to find ways to accommodate this model of learning, providing a higher degree of flexibility and adaptability than ever before. This is more than likely to create some tensions. As the learning experience becomes more bespoke, it will increasingly challenge the concept of standards and levels of competency that are often used for comparison and assessment purposes.

Going further, how do you measure and certify completion? A common measure is contact time or hours learning. When using online tools, environments and peer networks, the learning becomes interwoven with normal daily activity - making it harder to quantify than attending a half-day course. Interestingly, the interwoven nature of the interaction is more effective in transferring the new learning experience into real performance improvement on the job.

Professional associations managing CPD credit schemes will need to work out viable and meaningful ways of measuring this learning activity when their target audience drifts away from more traditional learning. The International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET - www.iacet.org) is the caretaker of the CEU - Continuing Education Unit.

The IACET define the CEU as ten contact hours of participation in an organized continuing education experience under responsible sponsorship, capable direction, and qualified instruction. IACET CEUs may be: "Awarded by a college, association, company or any other organization willing and able to meet each of the ANSI/IACET 1-2007 Standard. Awarding IACET CEUs requires that a permanent record be established for each individual to whom IACET CEUs are awarded, and a transcript of that record must be made available upon request."

When learning activity is interwoven with other activities, how does this get meaningfully calculated? This is no doubt an interesting challenge, especially where learner activity records are spread out over many sites, services and personal interactions.

As I write this there is a significant amount of online discussion about the vagaries of measurement, including comments from the popular bloggers Tony Karrer and Harold Jarche. A serendipitous "Tweet" through Twitter pointed me to an amusing anecdote from Gloria Gery (http://www.gloriagery.com/articles/whydont). Gloria is a pioneer in the field of performance support systems and seeks real measures for learning effectiveness, she says:

“At a meeting one day, I suggested a new measurement criterion.

‘Why don't we weigh the students and report on a cost per pound?’

A deep quiet overcame the meeting. It was finally broken by a softly spoken question.

‘What?’

I guess I was being given a chance to reconsider, but I didn't take it.

‘Why don't we install a scale in the entry way,’ I said, ‘like the one they use for cattle. We can have each student stand on the scale before entering class each day. We can then calculate the return on our investment by volume.’

Needless to say, this attitude was a subject for much discussion both on that day and on my annual appraisal. While I wasn't exactly serious, the idea didn't seem any more irrelevant than some of the success indicators I was reporting on monthly.

None of the measurements I was supposed to take asked if anyone learned anything or if our interventions changed their performance.”

Measures that matter

As Gery rightly points out, traditional training measures (including hours spent "learning") demonstrate the separated nature of much training activity, which is divorced from the actual work context. Measures that matter - reducing errors, increasing productivity, reducing costs, increasing revenues are actually easier to track when learning is woven into the workplace environment.

CPD in its current form does contribute meaningfully towards this goal, but we really need to go further. We need to inject similar real time support across the board, just like my example above.

Looking forward

In lean times there is a tendency for organisations to cut back on overall training spend – although this short-term measure can in fact cause more long-term damage as it means you won’t be in good shape for the inevitable economic upturn and you risk losing the best talent.

In fact, there is an increasing importance of CPD during a recession, as re-skilling becomes more important for professional development with staff taking on new responsibilities if head count is cut. Furthermore, those that do take responsibility for their CPD are likely to be less impacted by the recession, and will come out with more skills.

Simply cutting training budgets is a mistake, because without effective investment in people and performance support when the economy picks up, opportunities will be missed. Indeed, many newly redundant people will discover that they can work productively in new ways outside the corporate structures they have left behind - and they may not return.

Instead of cutting budgets, organisations should instead focus their training attention on the business critical activities of the organisation. Thankfully, a new CiPD survey shows that despite the recession, 70 per cent of the HR community feels training will remain a high priority and CPD remains top of the agenda.

Social capital will inevitably grow in importance and the increased control we demand over our use of media - whether it be on-demand television or interactive shopping - will drive a wider thirst to be in control of our own learning and development. E-learning will continue to offer the most flexible learning opportunities and with mobile broadband internet access becoming more practical, my vision of ubiquitous performance support should become a reality for us all, not just the early adopters.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The Future of Learning Institutions


There is a lot of discussion at the moment about how organisations adapt to a world which is now profoundly affected by communications technology. The early hype of the internet is starting to make a fundamental impact to our lives both at work and at play. We shop differently, we work differently, we take part in world events like never before. It's a "real time" experience in the virtual online world (how ironic?).

Yet the way we learn has not really kept pace. I've grown up with computers and networks and made a career out of harnessing these to aid and improve learning effectiveness and workplace performance. Yet, it is only now that some of the fundamental assumptions around learning pedagogy and the structures of our learning organisations - both in education and in business - are being truly challenged.

Don Tapscott has recently written a piece on The Impending Demise of the University. Here he suggests:

"Universities are finally losing their monopoly on higher learning.There is fundamental challenge to the foundational modus operandi of the University — the model of pedagogy. Specifically, there is a widening gap between the model of learning offered by many big universities and the natural way that young people who have grown up digital best learn."

This gap has been gaping for some considerable time - I would suggest since well before the birth of digital communication and the internet. Technology has been a catalyst to reveal the core difficiencies and inefficiencies of our assumptions about learning best practice.

To add to the growing number of calls for change is a report - an impending book - by Cathy Davidson and David Goldberg on The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. In it they ask:

If we face a future where every person has (easy access to) a laptop or networked mobile device, what will it mean? What will it mean for institutionally advocated, mediated, and activated learning? How will educators use these tools and this moment? How will users—learners—adapt them to learning functionality, access, and productive learning possibilities? Will what is learned and the new methods of learning alter as a consequence, becoming quicker but shallower, more instrumental and less reflective? Or will the social networking possibilities prompt greater reflexivity, a more sustained sociality in which the positions and concerns of the otherwise remote are more readily taken into consideration in decision making? How can we use these tools to inspire our most traditional institutions of learning to change?

Lots of questions - and they also present some answers, well findings, that will help institutions start to change to support an audience who have - to a large extent - changed already and will look elsewhere for their learning needs.

Bravely they put forward ten principles for the future of learning:

Self learning
Learning through making your own connections and links - massively accelerated through the use of a browser and tools such as RSS, Twitter and note collecting tools such as Evernote.

Horizontal structures
Moving away from top down, authoritative, standardised education - which is by far the dominant model still - to one where collaboration dominates and you focus on learning how (process) rather than learning that (content).

Collective credibility
What is an authoritative and trusted source of information? Is it text books (long out of date usually)? Lecturers (ditto)? Wikipedia/blogs (who wrote it?) Learning what and who to trust is key to surviving in a fast changing sea of information where everyone is a publisher and voices an opinion.

De-centred pedagogy
Unclear phrase but essentially means learning institutions need to move away from "expert" authorised curricula and their current restrictive practices on the use of alternative learning sources (such as Wikipedia etc) and promote a more collective model where incremental learning comes from lots of sources and reliability and trust is managed in a very distributive manner.

Networked learning
Essntially collaborative learning, where working together is more effective than working alone as an individual. Technology makes this easier than ever before and requires team-based skills that are currently peripheral (rather than core) to a lot of higher education assessment and evaluation.

Open source education
Removal of intellectual property restrictions and open sharing of new content of learning purposes. Pioneered by MIT and now increasingly popular there is much to be said for this to reduce the huge amount of duplication of effort in learning institutions around the world. With a more commercial hat on, it's hard to see how this can be made sustainable in the longer term as the wider internet community is debating how long the "free" culture can actually last.

Learning as connectivity and interactivity
This says the same thing really as the earlier principles but with a statement that technology is the core enabler here, at the heart of the model, not on the periphery.

Lifelong learning
We are having to take more responsibility for our learning and development, so that we stay relevant, employable, and engaged with what is an increasingly digitally driven society. The Digital Britain report published this week demonstrates the importance of providing both the right infrastructure, policies and priorities to ensure we capitalise on the opportunities available.

Learning institutions as mobilising networks
Traditionally, institutions represent rules, governance, control of production and distribution of standardised content and learning practices. As mobilising force, the emphasis is on flexibility, interactivity, collaboration and crucially outcomes. This means institutions need to radically change in structure in order to rebalance their cost and revenue models to focus on new areas of value.

Flexible scalability and simulation
This makes similar points to those earlier again emphasising the potential of technology to connect groups, large and small, and to provide access to simulations/virtual experiences that accelerate learning enormously, making good the vastly unequal distribution of physical resources (for example science labs, access to geographical sites of interest, proximity to valued people etc).


So, not sure if these 10 principles are that profoundly stated but provides a useful platform for reflection on the way in which learning will be shaped, guided and modelled in the future.

We can no longer hang on to old ways - there will simply be no audience left.


Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Getting the balance right


Just realised that I have been neglecting this blog over recent weeks and could well have missed offering a post in the month of May. Well that just wouldn't do, would it? It's been interesting balancing the competing (and sometimes mutually supporting) demands of writing articles, tweets, linkedin messages, as well as the day job of consulting with customers and delivering on their requirements. It's busy times, which is a good sign I think, given a lot of the wider economic flux we find ourselves in.

But to put matters straight, I'm going to unplug for two weeks and head for the hills of Axarquia in Spain (I'll be climbing the one above). Of course the thinking will not stop so I hope to come back refreshed with further thoughts and ideas on how we can improve learning and performance in the workplace and in education. 

Reading material for the trip includes "What's the Point of School?" by Guy Claxton, "This is your Brain on Music" by Daniel Levitin and "Homicide" by David Simon (of The Wire fame). 

But it will be interesting to see if I can resist the temptation to twitter...

On my return I will be attending the Learning and Skills Group event in London. If you're going to be there, let me know. Sometimes it's good to talk face to face. Like most things in life, it's all about getting the balance right.
  

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Debating the future of e-learning (video)

I recently took part in a video debate for the British Computer Society (BCS) which discusses the future of e-learning. Good opportunity to discuss some key issues with Clive Shepherd, Chair of the e-Learning Network; Samantha Kinstrey, MD of 2e2 Training; Laura Overton, MD of Towards Maturity; and Jooli Atkins of Matrix FortyTwo and Chair of the BCS Information and Technology Training Specialist Group.

There was a general agreement that e-learning usage would continue to rise, that blended learning would ultimately replace isolated face to face delivery, not least for capturing the event itself and providing simple pre-session preparation and post session reinforcement.

I brought to the table my beliefs that e-learning has really only got started, that the quality of the learning experience is paramount over the medium of delivery and that we are beginning to see growing confidence in those being subjected to "training" that they can take ownership and control over their learning experience - which is invariably going to involve learning technology in all its forms. I also brought up my views on Less Learning, More Often.

Here's the video. Let me know what you think of the views expressed.







Thursday, 2 April 2009

Digital Learning for Digital Britain

Below is an opinion piece I wrote for Training Journal back last month which is published today. Would welcome your own comments on the Digital Britain report and what it means for us in the learning field.

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Should the UK be aiming higher?


The Digital Britain interim report published in January 2009 attempts to lay out an agenda for driving forward the UK's Digital Economy through investment in a high-speed network infrastructure and policy to build nationwide competitive advantage.
It's an ambitious plan but reactions to date report it does not go far enough. By setting a base level of 2Mb/s broadband Internet access speeds many believe that this will continue to leave us woefully trailing other countries. Japan and South Korea are often cited as leading the field with near universal availability of between 50-100Mb/s download speeds. Indeed, this is what they have now. South Korea is already planning 1 Gigabit networks (1000 Mb/s).
Let's also not forget that China has announced plans for a nationwide 100 Mb/s network. These speeds enable real time collaboration, high definition video conferencing and the use of highly sophisticated applications that run purely online. Put in this context, Britain's ambitions may be limited from the outset.

Universal access has the power to transform learning

That said it is laudable that the report starts to tackle how an improved network infrastructure can impact education and skills. This is primarily targeted at ensuring we provide our population, at all levels, with Digital Life Skills (needed by all), Digital Work Skills (needed by most of us) and Digital Economy Skills (needed by an increasing minority) to operate effectively in a knowledge economy.

More than 22 million people in the UK use computers for tasks of varying complexity. More than 2 million work directly in creating, providing, and supporting the hardware, software and digital content that underpin the online services we increasingly rely on.
More importantly perhaps is the imminent transformation of our mobile phones which we ALL carry in our pockets. These devices are fast becoming Internet access gateways, which will impact more profoundly on how we communicate, collaborate and learn in the future.
With 20 per cent of consumers already "cutting the wire" and dropping use of fixed line telephony, mobile network access is a critical area for investment. Here the report alludes to next generation broadband mobile networks offering up to 100Mb/s speeds. It may, therefore, be more prudent to focus hard-to-find public funding on accelerating universal mobile access rather than arguing over the "last mile" for fixed networks.

Digital Learning for life and work skills

However, infrastructure is nothing without smarter methods of application. This is where the education and skills sectors need to look more fundamentally at the way in which we teach children and train adults. It would be a huge mistake to simply replicate current "offline" models, as has been attempted in the past and with very limited success.

Digital Learning or e-learning methods demand a rethink in terms of instructional approaches. Digital Learning enables more fluid, more experiential, more interactive and more collaborative learning. It's more about supporting the learner than the teacher/trainer. Digital learning is also more performance focused and less about artificial testing and assessment.
Digital and e-learning is a constantly evolving field, but should be brought centre stage with appropriate funding to accelerate practical research and effective use. For example, Sector Skills Councils, have yet to put Digital Learning at the heart of their offer. Were they to do so, employers and employees alike would have a relevant and contextualised environment in which to utilise and develop digital life and work skills.

Appetite for Digital: training needs to catch up

Currently, there is still too much traditional training being delivered in ineffective ways with little practical impact in the workplace. Education is also struggling to harness the benefits of Digital Learning. We are still largely operating within the four walls of the classroom and not looking outside the box towards distributive learning models that a networked society offers. The disconnect between the social use of technology, through network and resources such as Facebook and Wikipedia, and a typical formal school or corporate training experience is growing rather than shrinking.
As learners become increasingly empowered through access to the wealth of interactive and collaborative resources available to them on the Internet, then further pressure will be applied for our institutions to rethink their own offer.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Up, up and away: E-learning in the travel sector

Here’s a thought piece covering the use and value of e-learning in the travel sector – this one made the cover story of e.learning age magazine. Again, would welcome your comments.

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Harnessing technology to build trust and improve customer care remains a priority for the travel sector.

There is no doubt that the travel industry is in a state a flux. As the recession gets worse, redundancies continue to plague the sector, with 5,000 reported since autumn 2008 from recognised names such as Hertz and Delta Air Lines. British Airways has also announced a pay freeze.

In these circumstances, trust has become a major issue for the sector, particularly in the wake of collapsing firms such as XL Leisure. ABTA has since appointed a PR consultancy to address the issue and help restore consumer confidence in booking a holiday. With the pound down, people are also staying closer to home and foregoing extras, such as car hire and flight upgrades.

To add further woes, travel firms must digest an unenviable cocktail of challenges, including changing energy prices, eco-tourism, sustainability, online booking and financial modelling, as well as a high staff turnover, which is double that of other industries.

On a brighter note, Travel Weekly recently reported that holidaymakers plan to spend the same in 2009 as 2008, with companies such as Hays Travel actively recruiting and EasyJet announcing a fourth quarter 2008 profit increase.

So, what is the likely impact on training? The challenges faced by the travel sector clearly demonstrate a need for ongoing training. And to survive the recession, travel firms must focus training on customer service skills to help rebuild trust and generate a long-lasting competitive edge. Changing needs of travel customers also bring different knowledge demands and, as learning and development professionals, we need to keep up. Sustainable destinations and offsetting carbon footprints were key desires in previous years, but these are now being replaced by cost as the priority.

Henrietta Palmer, e-learning manager at TUI UK and Ireland, confirms this trend, saying: "Aside from vital compliance and product knowledge training, other requirements can be incredibly reactive. It's all about one thing and as soon as something happens, another completely different skill need becomes the priority. As learning professionals we need to think smart and have a portfolio of learning objects, a library of modules and tools to use and repurpose as needed."

Delivering business benefits

As an industry, travel has a highly evolved learning culture, with nearly one in five more people in the sector, compared to all businesses, receiving training and ongoing development last year, according to People 1st and the ABTA Travel Industry Training and Development Benchmark Survey 2008. Crucially, the same report demonstrated clear business benefits from training, including increased customer satisfaction reported by 96% of survey participants, increased profits (88%), a rise in productivity (83%) and a gain in sales (84%).

While the economic climate brings uncertainty, it is heartening to hear that the majority in travel do not plan to reduce training budgets and half of them expect a slight increase over the next five years. This is different to other sectors, which plan to cut or freeze training budgets in 2009, according to research recently conducted by Brightwave. The research also found that, despite the overall reduction, half of those questioned expect e-learning spend to rise in 2009, qualifying the increase in demand we are seeing for effective online solutions.

As training and ongoing learning are crucial to the travel sector and with large volumes of people involved in the industry, e-learning was introduced in its infancy by some of the larger agencies, hotel chains and air operators. E-learning meets a large number of travel training needs as it is efficient, persistent, consistent, accessible and engaging. It can also help bring large numbers of new recruits up to speed through effective induction and ensure high levels of compliance are met. Further, it improves customer service, builds product knowledge, fulfils multiple language requirements and provides on the job support.

Another reason for the early popularity of e-learning in travel is that it enables new training opportunities, such as critical job simulations targeting cabin crew and virtual scenarios for customer care and sales. We expect e-learning to gain greater popularity as it delivers more cost reductions, faster delivery, higher levels of learner engagement and more opportunities to train people where and when it suits them - crucial for time-shift work.

The future is bite sized

For the travel sector to continue exploiting e-learning in future, it needs to continue viewing technology enabled learning as an investment and not a cost as the rewards and return on investment are huge. There is a great opportunity for learning innovation using new tools and models of working. Travel companies should also take a more flexible approach to e-learning dependant on their goals, learners and risk.

As we move away from traditional and often unnecessarily lengthy courseware, learning progresses towards more digestible and memorable learning bites, or knowledge chunks, which are more engaging. These can be delivered via podcasts, video on demand, social learning, computer simulations or games to help change behaviour and improve performance. Learners simply select the format that suits their need from a collaborative learning portal designed with performance support in mind.

Wendy Stubbs at British Airways supports this view: "Bite sized knowledge chunks will change the way that we do mandatory short sharp courses. If there's a new piece of compliance, let's validate first then get learners to take the course. This frees us up to spend the budget on important stuff that is business critical."

Social networking

E-learning is helping to generate more effective informal learning as it blends formal online training with social networking and knowledge transfer. With generation Y so well represented in the travel sector, informal or social learning is likely to take hold much faster than in other industries. Companies have a lot to gain by connecting people so that valuable knowledge and best practice can spread faster.

At Brightwave, we are seeing travel firms exploring the potential of social learning ahead of other sectors and expect this to grow as technology costs come down and new models are created. A wiki devoted to destinations or the handling of difficult customer scenarios could help share knowledge and best practice live. Imagine this, supported by a portfolio of learning bites and communication pieces, and you have a powerful learning resource. As part of this mix, mobile learning, intuitively aligned to a dispersed travel workforce is poised to give true access to location-based services and bite sized learning.

British Airways is piloting BABlend.net, a professional networking tool that enables employees to learn from each other. It is popular with staff and has already identified what works best. For example, first screens and tags are vital to early engagement.

Travel companies that increase their commitment to training during the recession will be in a good position to prosper once the economy picks up. With customer service so fundamental to success, a 96% increase in customer satisfaction from ongoing learning and development can be ignored only at companies' commercial peril.

Looking ahead, Palmer at TUI, says: "We will all be looking to maximise budgets, repurpose resources, maximise informal opportunities, reduce business travel and exploit technologies to work across distances. Alongside cost reduction and customer care, sustainability is high on the agenda. E-learning is a way we can make an impact."

There is no doubt that technology will increasingly move centre stage to deliver business critical training with increased efficiency. But the shift also catalyses a move to more engaging and timely learning experiences for a sector that, while hit first by the recession, will also lead the recovery into a new economic landscape.

Friday, 20 March 2009

E-induction

Here's an article I've written for publication covering the benefits learning technology offers in bringing new employees up to speed. Your comments are welcome, especially on the ideas around making use of the pre-joining period.

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E-induction: Save time, reduce costs and improve quality with e-learning

While the headlines are dominated by job losses and uncertainty, it's easy to forget that for the vast majority of organisations, there is still business to be won, customers to serve and employees to manage. Indeed some sectors are doing well in the downturn - examples include Sky the satellite TV broadcaster, Aldi the discount supermarket chain and Admiral Insurance - all announcing growth plans.

For large segments of the economy there remains an ongoing requirement to attract, recruit and retain staff. However, there is increased pressure to make this process more efficient and effective. It is more important than ever to ensure that new and existing staff are up to speed and fully productive in as short a time as possible. So how do you save time, reduce costs and improve quality of inductions all at the same time?

Too little, too late

The far too common experience for a new joiner is to be thrown into the deep end, relying on colleagues around them for immediate support. Then, if they are lucky they'll attend an induction training course three to six weeks after their start date. The training at this stage is largely a waste of time and the productivity of those initial weeks will be unnecessarily low, not just for the new starter, but for those colleagues around them.

This approach may not only lead to potential regulatory risks, but there is also a high chance that poor customer service or mistakes on the job could lead to lost business and sales - something no business can afford in the current climate.

Where induction training is provided, it is often delivered in highly compressed classroom formats with little opportunity for staff to fully remember and practice new knowledge and skills in preparation for use in their job role. Not only that, with even more pressure on existing staff, finding the time to provide adequate support to new employees becomes increasingly difficult.

It should come as no surprise then to learn that 90 per cent of employees decide whether to leave their new employer within the first six months (recently voiced by Gretchen Alarcon at Oracle). When staff leave early, all investment made is lost.

The overall costs of induction are therefore unnecessarily high. Measuring time to full productivity of new staff reveals it can take anything between six and twelve months for them to reach the required levels of competence and confidence to deliver at expected performance levels.

In areas where there are naturally high levels of staff turnover, such as contact centres and retail, this can amount to very large sums of money spent on training and re-training without ever truly improving overall performance. The Call Centre Association (CCA) claims a failure to retain employees is costing firms up to £1 billion per year, with employee turnover rates as high as 30 per cent.

E-induction is the answer

Using technology to support the timely delivery of core induction training answers many of the traditional problems described above. A well designed e-learning experience that covers key topic areas - company values, organisational structure, core product knowledge, health and safety for example - can engage and inform employees. And engage them at a time that suits them, all presented in a consistent and persistent manner.

Staff can also review and refer back to the e-learning as required, thus providing immediate remedial support and improving long term recall. New joiners are more self-reliant and do not need to interrupt colleagues for help on the basics. Managers and colleagues are liberated to provide essential coaching and localised support.

Faster completion times and more flexible delivery can also be achieved by introducing e-learning into an existing planned induction programme. For example, we recently worked with Bupa Healthcare on re-designing a five week induction programme to include e-learning on company policy, regulation, IT systems training, and simulated customer service calls.

This programme with Bupa led to an immediate saving of over two days in training time. And even more importantly, new inductees completed the learning experience more confidently and competently leading to a full two weeks saved in coaching and observation prior to being released into their job role. Time to full productivity can be greatly reduced with effective e-learning, all of which saves time and money, as well as improving the quality of the learning experience.

The rise of pre-induction

Some organisations are going further by using learning technology to support the recruitment and pre-joining phases of new starters. Not only can e-learning be used to test and assess applicants, providing a highly efficient filtering mechanism, it can also capitalise on the early enthusiasm and motivation of new starters from the moment they receive their Welcome Letter.

In the weeks running up to their first day, staff can access a secure induction portal via the internet to complete aspects of their induction in their own time ensuring they hit the ground running. By integrating the processes of attraction, selection, pre-joining and induction an organisation can make significant cost savings while also presenting their brand more consistently.

Looking ahead

As working practices become ever more fluid with increasing numbers of contract workers, deep restructuring of established industries (banking and automotive sectors for example) and the increased availability of broadband internet access, it is clear that e-induction should be at the heart of the learning and development experience.

This is the future of real employee engagement as a next generation reared on the internet and digital communication comes into the workforce. Traditional trainers will need to move to a more consultative coach/mentor role rather than delivering standard knowledge heavy classroom sessions. That can only be a good thing for all concerned.

By harnessing technology in this way, very significant cost savings can be made. An increasingly effective and speedy path to full productivity for each new employee means an organisation can be more agile, responsive and deliver better customer service. This is crucial to survival going forward.

Implementing e-induction - top tips to get new recruits up-to-speed faster

To get started, try looking at your current induction practices and explore how you can implement the following:

- Measure the time it takes for a new joiner to be recruited, start and then reach full productivity in their role. Then measure the associated costs, including salary, training costs, potential lost sales etc

- Develop an Introduction/Welcome e-learning module for your organisation. Representing your brand and culture, this can cover your mission, values, organisational structure, products and services. Your employees will have something of quality to engage with immediately they start

- Identify regulatory training and deliver this using e-learning that also tracks and records completion - this will save time and provide a compliance tool for all employees going forward

- Launch a pre-induction portal to support the selection process and also to enable new joiners to complete elements of their induction before Day One.

With these facilities in place, measure the time it now takes for new joiners to reach full productivity. Expect to see significant improvements.