Social Leadership: authority and humility

This week we are delighted to have a guest post from Julian Stodd, (@julianstodd) Consultant, Author, Speaker and Co-Captain of Sea-Salt Learning.

Things that used to be clear are changing: the world evolves, leaving us with uncertainty and doubt. The Social Age is characterised by an evolving relationship with work, where careers are made up of many jobs and for some of them you won’t even be in an office. The one constant is the communities that we inhabit: formal communities around projects, skills and organisations as well as informal, social ones that permeate our lives. It’s within and alongside these communities that we make sense of the world, that we learn. In this new reality, the mechanisms of leadership need to change too. 

The Social Age requires Social Leaders. Leaders who are able to derive authority in these communities, but these spaces work by different rules. Social Authority is founded upon reputation, it’s based in our curation, storytelling and sharing skills. Hierarchical authority, that which is based on positional power and control is subverted by social authority, grounded within communities. 

To lead effectively today, our formal authority needs to be supplemented by social. Effective leadership is about bridging the gap, about leading with humility and compassion and serving the needs of the community as well as the organisation that hosts it. 

Often facilitated by technology, we are seeing social learning approaches making progress in many organisations, from the informal communities of interest around specific topics through to the forums and spaces that are increasingly incorporated into learning design, but the technology itself is not the answer. Many of these spaces lie derelict, unloved, disengaged. Engagement is a core skill for Social Leaders: understanding how to form, guide and narrate the activities of the communities that they inhabit. 

Organisations that manage to cultivate strong Social Leaders, who manage to drive high engagement in social learning spaces, are able to be more agile, more responsive, more authentic.  

How does your organisation use communities? Where does the knowledge reside and how is it accessed? In the Social Age, knowledge itself is of limited value: it’s the meaning we create with it that counts, and that meaning is co-created, grounded in our communities. Social Leaders develop others, draw them along, support them in this process, ensuring nobody is left behind. 

In a time of constant change, agility is key. At the organisational level, this agility is what lets us innovate. For the individual, it’s about creating meaning and sharing it widely, to be effective. 

Alongside formal leadership, we need Social Leaders. 

I’m launching my Social Leadership Handbook and speaking at Learning Live, which is taking place in London on 10-11 September. The book illustrates a nine step curriculum for the development of Social Leaders, looking at how they built narratives, drive engagement and use technology to do that. It’s about how they become effective collaborators, great social leaders.

© Julian Stodd 2014

Join us to discuss and share ideas on Thursday, 4 September for #chat2lrn at 8am PDT, 11am EDT, 4pm BST.


Civility in the World and in the Workplace

This post is written by one of our facilitators, Patti Shank, so it may not reflect the opinions of the entire Chat2lrn crew.

I find the world to be a far less civil place than the one in which I grew up. Tolerance today seems to mean tolerance for those who share the same opinion. I’d like to see a return to civil discourse. One where we can learn from each other without  being in fear of being called names.

I see people expressing glee at putting others down. In fact, it seems to be a Facebook meme to do so. I told my Facebook friends a while back that I would be unfriending anyone that couldn’t act “civil.” And then I did so. I do not want to discuss things, even minor things, with people who do not know how to be tolerant and civil. The world has plenty of cruelness and I don’t see any purpose in adding to it. I am fine with spirited discussion. I learn a lot from it.

Civility must mean more than “politeness,” says Guy Burgess, Ph.D. and Heidi Burgess, Ph.D., Co-Directors, Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado in their essay, The Meaning of Civility ( They discuss civility in public discourse meaning the need to:

  1. Separate people from the problem: Focus solutions and not upon personal attacks.
  2. Obtain technical facts: Resolve factual disagreements and when this isn’t possible, determine the reasoning behind differing interpretations of factual information.
  3. Limit misunderstandings: Make continuing efforts to understand the views and reasoning of opponents.
  4. Use fair processes in appearance and fact.
  5. Look for win/win solutions.

My workplace is civil. We often have extreme differences of opinions about work-related things and the world in general. I am often “over-ruled” by others. (Waaa.) But we argue the merits of a proposition (#2, above) rather than about the people involved (#1, above) and win/win solutions (#5) are usually sought. We’re not perfect, but after reading 1-5 above, I think we do quite well. I have been in organizations where this has not been the case and the outcomes have been devastating. People simply stop communicating, or communicate only in cliques.

In his book, Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct, Dr. P.M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University has provided a list of twenty-five rules that are essential in connecting effectively with others, including:

  1. Acknowledging others
  2. Listening
  3. Being inclusive
  4. Respecting even a subtle “no”
  5. Respecting others’ opinions
  6. Keeping it down (and rediscover silence)
  7. Respecting other people’s time
  8. Thinking twice before asking for favors
  9. Refraining from idle complaints
  10. Not shifting responsibility and blame

How importance is civility in getting your work done? In being able to learn? In having a world worth living in? What is our role in restoring civility to a world run by email, cellphones, and multitasking? These are some of the questions I wanted my PLN to help me answer. I hope you will.

How Do We Do It? Crafting Decision-Making Practice in eLearning

Today’s post comes to us from #chat2lrn crew member, Meg Bertapelle. Meg is a Senior Instructional Designer for Clinical & Product Education at Intuitive Surgical. You can find her on twitter at @megbertapelle.

Decision-makingI think most of us would be happy to build more scenarios and practice decision-making activities into our elearning projects (time permitting) – if we knew up-front how to plan and execute them. Sometimes the hardest part is knowing where to start.

This week, I’ve asked a couple of our #chat2lrn community members to share their experiences crafting decision-making practice elearning activities. Fiona Quigley (@FionaQuigs), one of our #chat2lrn crew,  is Head of Learning Innovation at Logicearth, an Irish learning services company with a global client base. They specialise in the production of modern multi-device elearning content, learning technologies and training support services. Laura Payette (@ljwp) now works at Nielsen, but is coming off a three-year stint designing and developing elearning and corresponding product/marketing communication for KPA, a dealer services and internet marketing provider for over 5,000 automotive, truck, and equipment dealerships and service companies across the US. Her DOT Hazardous Materials course won the National Excellence in Training Award from the Automotive Training Managers Council in 2013.

We’ll get some great information from them in the form of an interview, then we can all discuss the pros & cons, and crowd-source some suggestions during the chat on Aug. 7th. I hope this will help us all take the initiative to help our audiences start applying their new knowledge & skills right away.

Q1: What kinds of decision-making practice activities have you been able to incorporate in your elearning projects?

Fiona: I’ve designed a lot of content for health and social care professionals, especially in the area of communication skills and policy compliance. I have designed scenarios that present a typical patient interaction and then ask the question – what would you do or say next? That would be what I call a level 1 decision making scenario.

Higher level scenarios are more immersive and instead of leading a leaner down a pre-planned path, they include random events that differ each time you ‘run’ the scenario. I’ve used these higher level scenarios with nurses and pharmacists in areas such as medication management – reducing errors and also for dealing with patient complaints.

Laura: I spent three years building elearning for the automotive industry, particularly in the areas of environmental safety and compliance. There was a lot of regulatory information that had to be included and I was constantly challenged to find ways to make it relevant and interactive. One of the ways I did that was to inject scenarios into the training. Keep in mind that many of them were on the smaller side. In other words, I didn’t build a course around one big scenario with a million branching options (although that would’ve been so cool!). My content simply didn’t lend itself to that. Instead, I used smaller scenarios and sprinkled them in where they had the most impact.

Q2: What kind of planning steps did you take before beginning to write the activities?

Fiona: You must talk to real people who do the jobs. Observing people making the real decisions is the gold standard – but it is often difficult to get the opportunity to do this. You need to be careful who you chose as the Subject Matter Expert is. Often SMEs are senior ‘expert’ people who are very far removed from day-to-day practice. To help people practice real decisions you must talk to the people who make the everyday decisions.  I also like to structure conversations with SMEs into what I call a ‘DIF’ analysis:

  1. Difficult – what if anything, do you find difficult about this decision
  2. Important – what is most important about getting this decision right/wrong?
  3. Frequent – what frequently comes up, e.g. common myths/misunderstandings, good practice?

Often competent practitioners won’t be aware of how they make good decisions. They are unconsciously competent; so it is the job of the ID to turn this tacit knowledge into explicit learning. Once that learning has been made explicit, you can more easily share that with others.

There is also a difference between formal and informal practice. There may be formal rules in place about how someone does their job – but many competent practitioners create shortcuts as they gain experience. Being able to identify these ‘tips and tricks’ is very useful learning in itself.

Finally, I would also advise talking to people at various levels of experience. For example, talking to a novice in the area will help you see the challenges first hand, rather than relying on the recall of someone more senior who may gloss over these challenges.

Laura: Research! Obviously, reviewing content from SMEs and talking to SMEs is critical but, like Fiona said, talking to people on the frontlines — or who at least aren’t far removed from the frontlines — really helps build context for understanding the challenges that employees face in doing their jobs. Sometimes that access can be hard to get; it was for me. If that’s the case, use everything you can to tease it out. Think of yourself like an investigative reporter. In my case, I had access to a robust database with thousands upon thousands of real-life examples that had been logged. I also had access to people who could elaborate on those examples to help fill in the gaps. I relied heavily on them and went back many times to ask additional questions.

Q3: How did you determine appropriate activities that would simulate the real-life application of your learning objectives?

Fiona: Again – much like the answer to Q2, observe decisions being made, find out how people actually make the decisions and base the activities on what actually happens in the workplace – not what SHOULD happen. Too often in elearning, we are forced to idealise and formalise the learning process, which then becomes so far removed from reality that it loses credibility with the target audience! You often see this in elearning content where the scenarios are so easy that you don’t actually need to complete the course to be good at them.

For example, when we designed a Medications Management programme, quite a few of our nurses said that one of the most difficult challenges they had was doing the ward round, handing out medication and being interrupted by patients or family members. They said they needed to concentrate and focus on making sure they gave out the correct medication – often a complex range of drugs for patients with very different medical needs. Another source of concern was worrying about patients who found medications hard to swallow and not having enough time to spend with them to help them. Together, we came up with guidelines about how to resolve these challenges and built in a scenario challenge around this.

Laura: The scenarios that I wrote were usually an outgrowth of the content development process. In other words, I didn’t approach a course with a specific scenario in mind. I generated them organically as I pulled the content together. It becomes apparent in talking to SMEs and frontline employees and in reviewing existing content where the gaps in understanding and practice are. Those gaps were usually the places I chose to insert scenarios because they illustrated the performance issue and allowed employees to think through things by answering the questions. In some cases with my content, there were right and wrong answers (remember, a lot of it was compliance based), but there were also usually shades of gray — and it was in those areas that I was able to challenge employees through scenarios to think about their actions and the ramifications of them.

Q4: How did you evaluate the effectiveness of your activities?

Fiona: I normally ‘dry run’ the decision plan with a selection of the target audience in a focus group setting. It is important to have a range of different people with different levels of experience. Role-playing the scenario, trying it on for size, works well to see if it is a realistic enough representation of the actual day-to-day-job. I normally use simple post-it notes to visualise the decision and focus on:

  1. Decisions – what is the actual decision to be made?
  2. Knowledge/Skill – what knowledge or skills do you need to make the decision?
  3. Actions – what specific actions do learners take to make the decision?
  4. Consequences – what are the results of each action, for both good and poor decisions?

Laura: I ran the activities by stakeholders and SMEs, as well as a core group of what I’ll call advisors for lack of a better word. (They were internal employees who interfaced directly with the external employees I built training for.) If they responded by effectively saying, “Oh, that really made me think about things differently,” or, “That really caught my attention,” then I knew I had hit the mark. If they didn’t, or if they were confused by what to do or how to respond, then I knew the scenarios needed more work. I know that’s vague, but there’s really no set recipe for scenario building; it’s very context specific. I also evaluated the activities by looking at actual evaluation responses from employees who took the course once it was deployed.

Q5: What made certain activities more effective/impactful than others?

Fiona: The more realistic the decision and scenario – the closer it is to the learner’s actual normal workplace activities, the better. Not only does the decision need to be realistic, but so does the consequence. We don’t want to use phrases like “Well done, that is correct” – rather, we need to show actually what happens in the workplace.

We have a challenge in elearning in that we usually have to design for a very generic audience. That means we lose the nuance and subtlety that actually drives high-performance. If you look at what drives and helps people to perform at a high level, it is mainly about understanding the subtlety of communication that goes on around you. It is also about reacting to unexpected happenings – like covering for a co-worker or working when you are understaffed.  We need to make sure we build in this nuance and realism.  To do this well, we perhaps need to have different types of scenarios to suit different types of people in our target audience. As learning designers we just can’t go on accepting a once-size fits all approach to our learners.

Also – a by-product to this analysis is that you need to be open to the fact that not all challenges that you uncover will be solved by training. For example, for our nurses, we identified that adding a simple “Drugs round in progress” notice to the drugs trolley, helped to reduce the interruptions staff faced. Identifying these possible environment or process problems is a great benefit of doing good decision making analysis. If you explain this to your client upfront, it can also be a great motivator for them to really engage with you.

Laura: Fiona makes some very good points here. I think including real consequences to real situations, and writing them in the parlance your target audience speaks, is key. If you fabricate your scenarios they won’t be authentic and people will dismiss them. They also have to be contextually bound. In other words, you may see a great idea for a scenario somewhere and think, “I’ll put that in my course!” But if you don’t mold it for your audience/content and their specific performance needs, it won’t be a great scenario for what you’re building. I think sometimes the scenarios that are most impactful are those that address gray areas — the places where employees are a little uncomfortable or uncertain — and the places where the biggest performance gaps are.

Q6: Please share your top tips/tricks for crafting decision-making practice activities.

Fiona: I think I have covered most of these in answering the questions above, but to summarise:

  1. Talk to real learners of different levels of experience.
  2. Be aware of the formal way of doing something versus the informal way.
  3. Help your SMEs make their decision making practice more explicit by asking good questions.
  4. Have a range of scenarios to suit different types of people in your target audience.
  5. Dry run your scenario plan with representatives of the target audience and adjust accordingly.
  6. Find out why people are making common mistakes e.g. is it a process or environment problem rather than a training problem?

Laura: Fiona’s tips are great. The only thing I’d add is be sure to craft your scenarios in the language your target audience speaks so they sound authentic.

Thank you to Fiona and Laura for sharing their insights. What about you? If you have some experiences and insights to share, or just want to hear what others may have to say, please join us Thursday, August 7th for #chat2lrn at 8am PDT, 11am EDT, 4pm BST.

Why L&D needs business acumen

We are delighted to have a guest post this week from Jonathan Kettleborough. Jonathan has written extensively on his blog about the need for L&D to align to business objectives. In this post he shares his thoughts on why L&D needs business acumen.

Business acumen – who needs it?  There was a time when the average L&D manager needed to understand a bit about training delivery and be able to spout on about one subject or another in front of a bored audience – but no more.  Now – more than ever before – L&D managers need to be skilled in a range of subjects and top amongst them is business acumen.

What the data tells us

For those of you who follow my blog, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of data. One organisation that’s helping to collate some real data about whether L&D professionals have business skills is the Learning and Performance Institute (LPI).  The LPI have developed the LPI Capability Map which measures the perceived capability level against a number of key measures.  One of the capabilities measured is Business Skills and Intelligence.  In 2103 – against four key elements – the average capability was 2.58.  This was one of the lowest scores.  One year on – in 2014 – the score had risen to 2.59, a rise of just 0.45%.  Clearly business acumen is not as strong as it could be.

Business acumen

According to Wikipedia, “business acumen” is keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome. The term “business acumen” can be broken down literally as a composite of its two component words: Business literacy is defined in SHRM’s Business Literacy Glossary as “the knowledge and understanding of the financial, accounting, marketing and operational functions of an organization. The Oxford English Dictionary defines acumen as “the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions”. Given these textbook definitions, a strictly literal definition would be “keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation.”

So, knowing L&D could be better at business acumen is one thing but just how do we begin?

Three steps to business acumen heaven

I’d suggest that there are three key steps that every L&D professional needs to take in order to reach proficiency with business acumen.  These are:

  1. Understanding your business
  2. Understanding your department
  3. Understanding your supply chain

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Understanding your business

Sounds obvious doesn’t it?  I’m sure we all understand the business we operate within, we all know the key business drivers and pinch points and operational models.  But do we – do we really?

A number of years ago Starbucks nearly went bust when the price of coffee on the commodity markets went through the roof.  Airlines constantly battle with securing aviation fuel at the most advantageous price for long-term operation as do steel works with their energy supplies.  These things matter so much they can mean the difference between being in business and being out of business.  But not many people necessarily understand that.

So you think you know your business – you think you REALLY know your business?  OK then, answer these few simple questions:

For your organisation:

  • What’s the core strategy for the next five years
  • What’s the vision, aims, strategies and tactics?
  • What’s the core products/services?
  • What’s the turnover for the last three years?
  • What’s the profit for the last three years?
  • What’s the EBIT/EBITDA for the last three years?
  • What’s the planned headcount/FTE base for the next three years?
  • Who’s your biggest competitor and why?
  • What one thing could really derail your business?
  • What’s the total spend on people related services (HR, L&D etc.) over the next three years
  • What’s the biggest skill gap in your organisation?

There are literally hundreds more questions that I could have asked but most people will struggle with the above. If you don’t struggle then please let me know and I’ll send you some more questions to explore. Put simply, if you don’t understand your business then you can’t begin to understand or apply business acumen. Let’s now look at your department.

Understanding your department

OK, we’re on home ground now.  You’ll surely know lots about your department and the way it operates, so the following questions should all be very straightforward:

For your department:

  • What are the top three strategic issues your department should be working on?
  • What’s the capital budget for the next three years?
  • What’s the revenue budget for the next three years?
  • What’s the ratio of revenue to capital budget? Does this change? Do you know why?
  • What’s your charging/chargeback model for services?
  • Do you know the cost-stack of your top three services?
  • What’s the cost of all your internal L&D people resources
  • How much are you charged for your training rooms/offices etc.?
  • If your services are funded by your organisation, do you know the real cost of providing ‘free’ training?
  • What’s the resource level of your department over the next three years?
  • What – if any models are you utilising e.g. 80/20, 10:20:70 Do you know why?
  • What has Big Data told you about the services you offer
  • If you purchase services externally, are they good value for money? How do you know
  • If you were asked about the ROI or value added of your department, what would you say?

As before, there are so many more questions that could have been asked but these will do for now. Still comfortable, still happy with your answers and knowledge? If so, then let’s look at the final of our three steps.

Understanding your supply chain

These questions apply to any externally provided goods and services.  You’ll probably know most of these so it should be fairly easy.

For your supply chain:

  • Who are your top three suppliers by value?
  • Who are your top three suppliers by volume?
  • How often do you evaluate your suppliers? What measures do you use?
  • Do you have a supplier selection process? Do you adhere to this?
  • Are you suppliers VAT registered? Do you know the difference?
  • How many of your supplier are sole traders?
  • Do you undertake a financial check on all of your suppliers? If yes, do you understand the results?
  • What percentage of your suppliers’ total business do you contribute to?
  • How many suppliers do you use/manage? Is this is right amount? How would you know?
  • What discounts can you get for bulk buying? Do you use these? Are they value for money?


If you’re able to answer most of the above – or at least know where to find the information – then you’re well on the way to demonstrating business acumen. If you can only answer a few of the above then perhaps it’s time for you to brush up on your business techniques and do some research – or perhaps even attend a course!

Remember, L&D isn’t just about classrooms or e-learning.  It’s also about a deep understanding of the business drivers that you need to understand and respond to.

Join us this week for #chat2lrn to discuss your thoughts on Thursday 24 July at 08.00PDT/11.00EDT/16.00BST and let’s chat about it!

Using Analogies and Metaphors to Enhance Learning

Today’s post is written by Andrea May, #chat2lrn crew member and Vice President of Instructional Design Services at Dashe & Thomson in Minneapolis, MN. Andrea is an instructional designer, project manager, wife, mother, Girl Scout troop leader and theater artist.


My mom was a junior high and high school home-economics teacher when I was a kid. She made sure that my sister and I knew our way around the kitchen and a sewing machine, whether we wanted to or not.  I distinctly remember helping her bake a scratch cake for my sister’s birthday one year and she used a metaphor to explain the difference between cooking and baking. “Cooking is an art, and baking is a science,” she told me.  A light bulb went off in my head. I suddenly understood that you have a lot more license to be creative with cooking. Baking, on the other hand, requires precision and attention to detail if you want things to turn out right.

The use of analogies and metaphors in learning programs can have a powerful impact on a learner’s understanding of new or complex concepts.  They highlight the similarities between knowledge we already have and that which we are trying to learn.  Analogies and metaphors create a scaffold in the learner’s mind allowing new information to be added on top.

In a recent post by Annie Murphy Paul The Key to Innovation: Making Smart Analogies she explains analogies and how they work for learning:

A useful analogy reveals the deep commonalities beneath superficial differences. We can think of analogies as having two parts: the base and the target. The base is the thing you know about. The target is the thing that’s new. Analogies are created by elaborating the similarities and the differences between the base and the target. When we us
e an analogy, we take what we know about the base and move some of it over to the target. Northwestern University psychologist Dedre Genter calls this process “bootstrapping the mind”—elevating ourselves into the realm of new knowledge, using the knowledge we have already to pull ourselves up.

For example, if we look back at the metap4196897_orighor my mom used to describe the difference between cooking and baking, the base is art and science.  I knew that art is all about creativity and making something new out of whatever materials you choose as
your medium.  Science on the other hand is much more rigid and focused on proving theories with repeatable results.  So if art is the base and cooking is the target, the commonalities are the ability to be creative, try new things and improvise where needed.  On the other hand with a base of science and a target of baking, the commonalities come down to following strict procedures to ensure repeatable results.

If you think back to your school days you might remember some common analogies and metaphors that your teachers used to help you understand a new concept.  Fractions are often taught by visualizing a pizza or pie with some of the slices removed.  Radio waves are compared to the ripples on water when you drop in a stone.  And electricity is often compared to water flowing through pipes.  These simple ideas that we all understand provide a context for the more complex ideas to take root.

As an industry, we need to use all the tools available to us to increase understanding and retention. Using analogies and metaphors is a great way to do that. In short, if we can find an example that is common knowledge for our learners that can be used to effectively draw comparisons to a new concept, half the battle is already won.

Join us this week for #chat2lrn to discuss your thoughts on using analogies and metaphor to enhance learning. Join #Chat2lrn this Thursday July 10 at 08.00PDT/11.00EDT/16.00BST and let’s chat about it!

Additional reading on this topic:

Skills Practice | Understanding and Making Analogies – by Jonathan Olsen, Sarah Gross and Katherine Schulten

Learning To Learn: Embrace Analogies – by Kalid Azad

Using Analogies – by Akron Global Polymer Academy

How to Write Better Analogies for Learning by Connie Malamed


What can L+D learn from the world of start-ups?

This post is written by Chat2lrn Crew Member, Holly MacDonald. Holly is the Principal Consultant for Spark + Co, and she has worked on several projects that provide training to entrepreneurs on the techniques discussed in this post. She has found inspiration from the start-up community and hopes this chat inspires others to think outside the typical L+D box.

The world of start-ups, which refers mainly to technology start-ups, may seem an odd source of inspiration for L+D professionals, but there are some interesting parallels and techniques that could be used. Those in L+D may not see it this way, but in many ways we are creating training or learning “products” and our “learners” and “clients” are our customers.

We’re going to focus on just three areas where we think start-up ideas or practices could be used in L+D.

  • There’s a drive to focus on understanding what your customer needs and who your customer actually is from Steve Blank’s Customer Development model Steve is a serial entrepreneur who teaches a whole series of lectures at Stanford which preach “customer discovery”. He’s a legend in the start-up world.
  • Mapping out the relationship between what you offer to customers and how they get your product, how you make your product and how you deliver value to your customers is a core concept. Using post-its to test your thinking and question your assumptions is almost a religion in the start-up world.
  • There’s an emphasis on iterative approaches, especially through the Lean Start-up. Creating, testing and modifying are how most things are developed. You can’t sit in your office/garage/café and come up with the ideal solution to anything, you need to start with something, get feedback and apply the suggested changes.

One big idea out of the Lean Start-up has been the Minimum Viable Product or MVP . What is it? It’s a concept that suggests products or solutions should be developed to just meet the needs of your customer and no more. Instead of trying to build something fully formed, you should make sure you focus on just the minimum needs and features to meet their needs. Once you have clear indication that your product or solution will meet your customer’s need, you can use it to build out more features and invest in making your product beautiful and fully functional. It’s a concept that most find hard to do in practice, because it forces you to focus on the essence of what your product can do to address your customer’s need, when really many of us think we know the answer already.

The MVP in particular is a concept that has some great applications for those of us in L+D. After hearing Brent Schlenker on elearnchat talking about this, we wanted to explore the idea in a #chat2lrn. Brent is the Chief Learning Strategist at Litmos, many of us probably know him from the e-learning guild. He also writes a popular (and long-standing blog) at

How do you see the notion of Minimum Viable Product applying to those of us in L+D?

“I was thrilled to read about MVP in The Lean Startup because there was finally a name for what I had been thinking and blogging about for many years. Much of what we used to talk about as Learning2.0 was really just the L&D industry discovering what tech start ups had discovered: the power of the minimum viable product.

However, it’s more complicated in L&D because we carry so much baggage from the past. We don’t often refer to what we deliver as a product.  And even if you are open minded enough to see that your course is a product, you may not be willing to completely change your development process to a shorter, iterative, ongoing, development cycle. It truly does require a significant shift in thinking…almost to the point of completely abandoning our traditional ISD models.

And on a side note, I think this is why non-ISD professionals, who stumble into a training role, perform better.”

More of Brent’s thoughts:

What are some examples of this?

“I’ve got 2 good examples: classroom training and eLearning.

I know we would rather not even think about designing classroom training any more, but it’s such a wonderful testing ground for content that I’ve become a big proponent of classroom training as being part of the design/development process. There is more too it than what I can cover here but I’ll give you some nuggets:

1) Let your SME expert include everything and the kitchen sink. This is blasphemy, right? No, it’s brilliant! Instead of our industry whining about this, we should be embracing it. Yes, SMEs want to include everything they know because they are passionate about the subject. So let them. Then get feedback and review it with the SME. You will be shocked to discover that he/she will discover the less desirable elements on their own. So, you work with to revise the content and then deliver it again.  And you continue doing this loop until you’ve got it nailed down to just the important nuggets.

2) Start delivering online learning content ONLINE as soon as you have it! If all that exists is a video of the CEO talking about the company at a conference then use it. Post it to your LMS and add a quiz. No, it’s not ideal, and it’s not perfect, but it’s probably GREAT content that everyone should know. With it loaded in the LMS you now have control, and access to viewing data. You could also offer achievements, badges, points, or whatever, to encourage engagement. The same could be done with any file: audio, PDF, etc”

More of Brent’s thoughts:

How do you alleviate fears from L+D practitioners about the concerns they may have about adopting a Minimum Viable Product mindset when it comes to training?

“There are plenty of valid concerns regarding minimum viable product in L&D. Companies that already have established training departments with a library of courses will probably have a difficult time adjusting to MVP. And like any other project or program change you will need to communicate it, and market it, to everyone.

Your team will also need to be constantly engaged with its products and customers. This is not something L&D is used to doing either.  We design the heck out of a course, cut it loose and then move on to the next course never seeing it again until approvals are acquired for updates may months later.

The reality is that we must provide value to the organization. MVP delivers that value consistently, iteratively, and transparently. When business leaders see progress they see value, and MVP opens up the L&D process for all to see. And that’s a good thing.”


Whether you are an instructional designer who finds inspiration in the MVP concept, or an educator who sees value in adopting a customer development mindset or a training manager/director or even freelancer who can see the importance of identifying the value that you provide to your customer, we think the world of start-ups offers lots of inspiration for L+D. We look forward to chatting about this on Thursday, June 19th.

Excelling as an ‘Accidental Trainer’

This post is written by Chat2lrn Crew Member, Lisa Goldstein. Lisa started her career in the four and five star hospitality industry and ended up being recruited in L&D to share her knowledge of best in class customer service.  During this journey she realized how much she enjoyed helping others to succeed, especially those also finding themselves in the role of an ‘accidental trainer’.

It seems that when I talk to other professionals in a Learning and Development role, I find that so few say that they have known since they were very young that when they grew up, they were going to do the type of job that they do today.  As Learning and Development Professionals, our backgrounds are so very diverse.  Some of us started off as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) or simply individuals who were really good at their jobs. We may have started off in teaching or moved into the position of teaching others how to do those roles as best as they can.  Our roles and our skills vary and are becoming even more diverse.  From small audiences to large we adapt. The way that training is delivered varies from live instructor led training (ILT) to virtual instructor in both synchronous and asynchronous classrooms and beyond. From being an eLearning designer to producing ‘just in time’ job aids and even more.  So, how do you succeed in this role as an ‘accidental trainer’?

Throughout my career as an ‘accidental trainer’, I know I have grown exponentially better at what I do.  This has been primarily because of the brilliant people I’m lucky enough to have made contact with during my career.   Whether that be through simple association via social media and/or as close industry friends. This experience has given me an opportunity to learn from others on a regular basis. I now find that the people I engage with are my most valuable resource.

In our next #Chat2Lrn conversation, we’ll talk more about what it means to be an ‘accidental trainer’ and discuss as a group more ways we can continue to excel in our role.

Additional posts and resources on this topic:

The Accidental Trainer by Shannon Tipton

Do You Really Need an Instructional Design Degree? by Tom Kuhlmann, Articulate

Getting Started in eLearning by Lisa Goldstein

How to Blossom as an Instructional Designer by Ethan Edwards, Allen Interactions

The Accidental Instructional Designer book by Cammy Bean