Sunday, May 11, 2008

Yes, But Not Necessarily Just for Digital Natives

In answer to the May Learning Circuits Big Question, I say yes, I think we need to redesign learning but not necessarily just for digital natives. I think we have access to more tools now. In addition, the business world and how they view learning is changing. I realize that the Learning Circuits blog refers to e-Learning, but I find it hard to just stick to that mode of instruction because I think we need to think of how to get the right information to the right person at the right time. It won't always be a course and it won't always be online. I am going to use a re-designed management development course that we are implementing in phases (i.e. there are only 1 and 1/2 of us doing this - I am the half - so there is only so much we can reasonably get done). The program includes pre-work (reading materials we send, a virtual class, and possibly e-learning courses or parts of courses), three half-day classroom sessions (self awareness, communication, and coaching), and eventually post-work e-learning courses, virtual sessions, reading and whatever else we determine might emerging leaders as they transition into new leadership and management positions.

We are talking among our leadership group about transfer of learning, keeping in touch with people after the classroom sessions, and encouraging communities of practice. Some of this has been prompted by the realization that many of our new leaders are Gen Y, gamers, digital natives, or whatever you want to call them. But in these discussions and discussions with some of the non-Gen Y attendees to the pilot session for the course, I think we have realized everyone likes these ideas, not just digital natives. I know in Gen X and Baby Boomers you probably have more non- and late-adopters, but I think it is a big mistake to think that "we old people" wouldn't benefit from an overhaul of how we view training too.

The virtual session for the kick off to the course is something new we are trying for this type of class. For the pilot we just finished, about half the people had attended a virtual session before because we polled them to find out (we had a mixed generations class). We used this mode of instruction on purpose because we want people to start using these technologies, so we intentionally had them attend so they can see the tool and know it is out there for them to use. Everyone liked it. I think the fact that some younger people hadn't had a chance to attend a session points out something else I think is important - don't assume digital natives know every single type of device and tool out there. They only know the ones they have been using.

Getting away from technology for a minute, I think the other thing we have to remember is that the younger generation is used to collaborating. In our management class pilot, we are teaching soft skills so there were no computers in the classroom. We made sure we were getting them involved in conversations and doing partner or group activities often. Everyone liked them, but the younger attendees were totally into the participation in these.

I also would like to send up a caution or at least something to think about. I don't believe everything needs to be all digital all the time. We sent out a short booklet for pre-work on feedback. We got comments that they loved having this - it was a quick read, had very practical steps, and a list of common mistakes. Many attendees, including younger ones, mentioned that they have it sitting on their desks so they can quickly refer to it. We are trying to figure out how to use a variety of formats for information and reference so that they can choose how to access things. I agree with Karl Kapp when he said to give people just-in-time learning opportunities and think outside the course. That was a recurring theme at the SkillSoft user conference I attended.

It would be great to be able to implement all the things we want to try, but I think there is a certain amount of frustration in the corporate world because there can be a lot of resistance from the IS department. We still can't IM people within our own company even behind the firewall. Small pockets are allowed, and of course that includes our whole IS department, so it gives the rest of the company the idea that the IS department assumes that the rest of us are either too dumb to figure it out or not trustworthy enough to only stick to business uses. Karl Kapp mentions using gadgets in our training, but some companies still restrict who is allowed to use certain devices. I know we should try to blaze trails, and some of us in our training groups do. For example, we want to give using wiki a try soon (and so do a couple of other groups), so we are looking to see if we have something "approved" already. Otherwise we will implement and apologize later. (Gee, I hope no one from the IS department reads this!)

So yes - we need to think differently about how we train, and the digital natives are helping spur the transition. But I think it makes what we do better for everyone.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

What I Have Been up to Since I Clearly Haven't Been Blogging

Okay, Okay, I have been a bad blogger. I didn't even bother to answer the April Learning Circuits Big Question because I think it is obvious I need to get better at fitting blogging into my hectic schedule. I am setting up some time on certain days to research, think about, and write for my blog. I promise to do better.

Speaking of being busy, I was at the Skillsoft Perspectives 2008 conference last week which is basically a user group for Skillsoft products. There were about 500 attendees from large and small companies, non-profits, and government entitites from the U.S. and abroad. There was a pretty large contingent from Australia and besides presenting on some interesting programs they have developed, they were a fun group to party with (not that I would do anything like that!). I decided to pull out the themes and messages that were echoed among the keynote speakers, customer presentations, and general conversations among peers. They are not new or earth-shattering, but they definitely popped up everywhere I went.

  • Learning needs to be aligned in the talent and HR areas because the only way to attract and retain good employees is to ensure ample learning opportunities from the start. For example, an Aberdeen Group study shows that companies that align Learning, HR, marketing, and Lines of Business are more profitable and successful. (Hey, I am in the Talent Acquisition and Development area - woohoo!)

  • The only way to retain good talent is to provide opportunities to learn and move into different positions. The corporate ladder is being replaced by a web of opportunities; and this isn’t just for Gen-Y, either.

  • Training/Learning is a process, not an event. This referred to orientation, leadership development, and training in general. This was often referred to when programs involved many types of offerings from Web-based, to traditional classroom, to reference books, and more. And most programs I saw involved many delivery types.

  • Give learners nuggets. Everyone was referring to giving learners nuggets, that is, little bits of information when they need it. They did this by offering books online as reference material, encouraging learners to access parts of courses when needed, etc.

  • Most people are not tracking course completions for non-compliance courses or if they are, they are doing it begrudgingly. They want to encourage learners to use the courses as reference materials (see "give learners nuggets") so they aren’t as concerned whether someone takes the entire course, how long they spent in it, or if they passed a quiz.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My Latest Gig

As I mentioned in my original post, after several months of looking for a job, I landed a great opportunity. I am back at the company where I was working before - I had been in the training department in the Home Equity division of a financial services company and now I have moved to the corporate learning and development department. I am working for my former manager, which is a great thing since she is fun to work for and thinks I'm smart! This group has been reincarnated a bit over the last couple of years to accommodate a corporate-wide LMS and to leverage the talent and knowledge out in the various divisional training departments. In my mind it is the best of both worlds – the training departments are spread among the divisions because they know their businesses best, but the corporate learning and development department, in addition to maintaining the LMS, is helping to develop corporate standards, leverage our buying power with various vendors, encourage learning among the entire training community and anything else we can to raise the level of learning here. I am fortunate to get to work with a great group of people.

Mainly I will be helping with the management and leadership development courses, the LMS, corporate orientation changes, and anything else they throw at me. Another big area is working on the corporate learning standards – these have already been started and I will be helping to further evolve those. We also have the unique opportunity to consult with the training teams to help with best practices, project management, etc. I will be lending my expertise to the divisional teams on various projects including analyzing their approach to solutions, facilitating RFPs for projects, helping with vendor selection, and any other needs they may have on projects. My consulting background will definitely come into play there. So I know I won’t be bored and will have the chance to be involved in a lot of important initiatives.

Another perk - right now outside my cube I have a 23rd floor view of downtown Cleveland, which includes various downtown buildings, the Cuyahoga River, Lake Erie (which is currently frozen over), and a huge poster of Lebron James on the side of building (for the basketball fans out there!).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Who’s Job is It Anyway?

I thought the March Learning Circuits Big Question was a great way to start blogging. It hits on some of the subjects I have had time to think about over the past few months. In reading the blogs from people who have already written their responses, I find I agree with a lot of them. Also I attended the free-to-members ASTD Webex session, "Future Trends in Training and Development" in which Marc Rosenberg discussed how learning will move beyond training and several other trends he sees. Pat McLagen discussed making sure that the training field and learners are ready for learners to be more in charge of learning. Janet Clarey had blogged about the session and in my comments to her blog, I touched on some the ideas I have had about where we fit in and how we stay relevant. I do think we need to go beyond creating courses and curriculum and, like many of the other bloggers have said, figure out ways to encourage learners to learn on their own and find the information they need when they need it.

The reason I think we are more than qualified to do this is because an analysis needs to take place first. How should the information be organized? We are usually pretty good at this. Does a behavior change need to take place? Then at least parts of the solution may involve some type of training. How can we make all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together so that learners can make sense of the information and know when they want to use what type of information? Can we provide tools and information that fit into what they are already doing so they don't have to learn a whole new system? Can we facilitate more informal conversations and discussions to help people learn on their own? Again, I think we already have the strengths to do these things well.

In my last position in a training department, we had already started to do this for our division. (In fact we changed our department name so people didn’t just associate us with training classes.) We were in charge of our intranet which was based on a Sharepoint site, so we organized the documents according to how the users said they needed to access them. We got involved in all kinds of projects to ensure that the communication and information that went to our employees and customers was high quality and just what they needed and how they needed it. This included job aids, quick references, training tips, PowerPoint presentations for big meetings, etc. We became so ingrained in the division that we got invited to be in most projects right from the start because everyone relied on us to make sure things were communicated well. (Then they canned our whole division because of the mortgage mess, but that is another blog entirely!)

But after Tony Karrer reviewed what others had said, he had this to say:

"What's interesting is that there seems to be a disconnect from what is being said in these posts and the reality of what is going on out in various worlds, corporate, education, etc. Or is it just me? Is this happening all over the place and I don't see it? If these kinds of things fall into the responsibility of learning professionals, then why isn't this commonly understood and ACTED upon?

Likely a few different sources of this disconnect:
  • Rest of the world doesn't expect (or look to) learning professionals for anything other than formal learning interventions. When you offer something different, they tell you they just wanted a course.
  • Can you push bottom-up learning from an L&D organization?
  • What does this mean in practice?"

He has a point. I think this is where we should head, but I don't know how many people are doing this - or getting the chance to do this even though they can see that this would help their organizations. When I mentioned what we did at my last position there were seven of us in the learning and performance department in a division of about 400+ people - definitely a smaller scale than most organizations. And we had a lot of buy-in from all levels of management up to the head of our division (seriously - it was a great place to be). I think we will need to really work to make people see that we are the best ones to do this. And I truly believe we are. So maybe that means networking within our organizations to help them understand what we can do when we work with them on projects. And ensuring we understand how we can help with the company's objectives, not just course objectives. I think one place to start to show that the training organization can be flexible is to add some other options to current training courses. I know this may seem like it isn't that big of a change, but in a lot of corporations it is evolution, not revolution (I have to acknowledge that this saying is one of my former manager's mantras, I cannot claim credit for it!)

For example, let's say that people have floated the idea of trying to tap into the knowledge of experts in the organization on certain subjects, so the solution involves developing discussion lists, communities of practice, wikis, etc. Maybe the way to pilot the first one is actually through a training class. As the learners go through the class, they might develop their own wiki like Janet described for a workshop/class she is conducting. Then you see how that goes. An instructional designer may need to help edit the wiki to ensure all the answers are complete and don't leave out details an expert might assume someone knows. The ID also might be able to add links to other sources of information on the corporate intranet or courses in the LMS (if you can link to them). After the class, as people add more information and maybe reference different resources, the ID may need to look at the resources to make sure the information is credible, accurate, and applicable to the situation. The ID who designed the course may also need to look at the information generated and determine if the materials for the course need to be revised for the next go-around, if there is one, to include more information, etc. Depending on what happens, the ID may end up changing the way the course is designed. Then, if it goes well, you market the crap out of it within your organization. And if it doesn't work well, you can also go back to the learners to see why they think it didn't work and try it again in a different way.

That doesn’t mean that I think these tools should only be linked to a training course. I don’t. I just think this could be a way to try them out at a company and also let others know that if they want to do this in other areas of the organization, the training area can help. Because we have a user-centered perspective on what we do, we should be able to guide others to provide useful tools to their employees. In a situation like this, I would see the training department having a consulting role – helping another area introduce some type of tool to their group. (Hmmm, the training department as consultants – sounds like the title for my next blog…)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Welcome to my first blog post!

After reading many industry blogs and commenting on them, I decided that I wanted to do more to join the community. Janet Clarey at Brandon-Hall said we should all blog naked (don't freak out - I am wearing sweats). She blogs about things in my industry, training, and she is alway saying people should give it a go. And Penelope Trunk thinks everyone needs to be blogging for their careers, right? (Well I have to confess, I thought she was crazy at first - actually I only agree with her about half the time but I find her really interesting.) And then there is this Learning Circuits post with so many, many links to so many, many thoughtful and creative people about whether to blog or not.

And I have had months to plan, because right now I am gainfully unemployed. And I have been for over six months. Man, that stings. I am pretty close to getting a job though, so I will post all the cool things I will be doing once everything is all finalized.

With almost 20 years of experience, I am hoping to bring another perspective to the conversations happening in our field. Here are the things I am interested in and the areas I would like to blog about. (But of course, this is all subject to change as life goes on.) I plan to focus on subjects that interest me in the Learning space such as:
  • Learning 2.0
  • Where our field is going
  • Where it should be going (IMHO)
  • How we stay relevant
I am interested exploring areas such as ensuring learning experiences are meaningful, using new tools like discussion lists, wikis, blogs, etc. to enhance formal learning and begin to build on informal learning, learning about new areas of our field, and synthesizing these ideas into corporate environments (which is where I am heading back to).

I know the name of my blog is pretty boring, but I searched a lot of the ideas I had and they were already taken and I didn't want to delay putting up my blog to come up with some mind-blowingly creative name. Besides I am probably way to practical to come with a mind-blowingly creative name. I can't believe I just used "mind-blowingly." I hate it when people make up words. So, this should be interesting - maybe just for me - but we'll see.