Personal and Organizational Benefits of “Learning Out Loud”

Learning out loud

To some, the three words above represent a personal learning philosophy of sharing what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. To others, it’s more reflective, sharing what you’ve done and how you did it. Both interpretations have tremendous value, but, for the moment, let’s focus on what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

Sharing what you do as you do it invites commentary, suggestions, and even criticism. The open-minded sharer can then evaluate that feedback and incorporate it into the work, improving the work product. Criticism can be debated, and perhaps new ideas get generated. That’s learning, hence the phrase, “Learning out loud.” It’s not a stretch of the imagination to see how the final work product can be better than if not shared, and that benefits both the worker and his or her organization in many ways.

To others, however, the title above represents a source of intense fear. Beads of sweat break out. Cold shoulders are turned. Reasons for not sharing work spew forward, often citing confidentiality or that, “It’s just not ready to share.” While there are many good reasons to not share some aspects of work, such as personnel-related tasks or proprietary content, many times the reasons given are really nothing more than excuses. For these people, sharing work as it’s performed is an invitation for criticism and commentary of an unfinished product, and they just don’t want to hear it. Then the end product is disseminated to an unprepared audience, accompanied by even greater fears of criticism.

While we could continue to discuss the advantages of sharing work in progress and the dangers of not doing so, let’s instead discuss these and other questions related to learning out loud at our next online gathering of #chat2lrn, Thursday 16 October at 16:00 BST / 11:00 EDT / 08:00 PDT. Come prepared, we look forward to seeing you!

Learning Management Systems: Do we need them?

LMS 1This week’s post comes from #chat2lrn crew member, Judith Christian-Carter. Judith is a Director of Effective Learning Solutions, a UK-based learning services company. You can find her on Twitter @judithELS

 

The LMS conundrum

Seldom in our community have I come across a topic anything more sharply bipolar than that of Learning Management Systems (LMS). ‘For’ and ‘Against’ camps are formed, with each side arguing passionately one way or the other. The LMS has become the ‘Marmite’ of the corporate learning world!

LMS2

Some arguments for …

  • If learning isn’t tracked and measured via a LMS then it’s not learning
  • We need to know what people are learning, what content they are accessing and if they are completing their training courses
  • Saves on administrative and paperwork costs, as well as saving employees’ training time
  • If you aren’t using a LMS, you aren’t operating your business as efficiently as possible
  • You can control the content that your employees can access
  • “What you do not measure, you cannot control.” (Tom Peters)
  • You can consolidate all training content for all employees into one central location
  • Course content can be bundled with online tests, enabling administrators to gauge easily learning levels
  • A LMS facilitates learning and the retention of content
  • A LMS allows administrators to create a culture of compliance, promoting safety in all situations
  • Detailed reports such as course completion, regulatory compliance training and employee statistics, allow managers to identify and track easily the progress of a large group of employees or individuals when needed
  • A LMS delivers a secure exchange of learning data

Some arguments against …

  • The LMS no longer fits into the corporate learning model of the 21st Century
  • The old corporate learning world of command and control is changing to one of understanding and facilitation, and so with it the LMS becomes redundant
  • We have no choice, we have to use it for all courses and this imposes major constraints on us
  • I can’t use the learning tools I want to because the LMS does not support them
  • From an instructional design point of view they are a nightmare, as they so often dictate the learning design instead of the other way round
  • If formal learning, such as training, only accounts for around 10% of what people learn then why bother to spend so much money and time measuring such a very small part of the total – it doesn’t make sense
  • “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” (William Bruce Cameron)
  • Whilst our LMS captures so much data, very few people look at this and, if they do, then they don’t do anything with it
  • I want people to create their own personal learning environments, to exchange ideas and to build their own communities of practice, none of which is possible with a LMS
  • It’s only administrators who like and want a LMS, simply because it makes their lives easier
  • The LMS is the ‘Big Brother’ of learning in the corporate world
  • Employees are not in the driving seat when it comes their learning mainly due the power and control of the LMS
  • The only thing that counts is that people can apply their learning in the workplace so that their performance improves, and no LMS can measure or control that
  • Work = Learning and Learning = Work, so where does a LMS figure in this equation?

In other words …

“Prescriptive, governed, instructional approaches that drive cost reduction and competitive advantage through better productivity and compliance are the sweet spot for LMSs. But what organisations really need to do is nurture skills and activities that computers cannot yet master and link these not to productivity and compliance, but to innovation and intrapreneurship.” (David Becker, September 2014, of “Kill the LMS” workshop.)

What next?

Well, there is always Experience API (xAPI or Tin Can API) to consider, as this new learning-technology specification claims to overcome all the limitations of the existing LMS, by bringing ‘tracking’ into the 21st Century. That is, if you wish to track any digital interaction someone has with content or other people, for therein lies the rub.

So, where do you stand on the LMS question? Join in the debate and discuss these and other questions in #chat2lrn on 2nd October 2014 08.00PDT/11.00EDT/16.00BST

Kathy Kruse of Expertus has provided some additional reading which you can find on the Links and Resources page.  If you would also like to provide additional resources for this, or any other chat, please email a member of the #Chat2lrn crew.

 

 

 

 

Under the hood of gamification

Today’s post comes to us from #chat2lrn crew member,
shutterstock_161270936_Small2Fiona Quigley. Fiona is Director of Learning Innovation for Logicearth Learning Services, an Irish based learning services company. You can find her on twitter at @fionaquigs

The potential of gamification

I’m a gamer. There I have admitted it – and it is good my secret is out! But I have never really been convinced of the application of games to eLearning content. Not because I don’t think it is a good idea in principle – but mainly because of the time and cost involved to do it well. And I have seen so many poor eLearning projects wrapped up in so called gamified concepts, which actually just turn out to be fancy quizzes with colourful badges.

It seems cost and time prohibitive for the average client and learning project to properly apply game thinking. However, my opinion has slowly changed over the last few months. I am very lucky to have started some work with industry gamification gurus Karl Kapp and Brenda Enders. Both of these folks come with wholly formed gamification credentials – they have been there and got the t-shirt. Brenda and I are about to start working on a gamified solution for a Sustainability project. Convincing people to use less water and turn out the lights is worthy of a gamified effort – right?

So for this week’s post, I asked Brenda to give us the practical low-down on what real gamification might look like in a learning project. Thanks so much Brenda for helping us out with this. I hope you’ll join us for further discussion on Thursday 18th September #chat2lrn at 8am PDT, 11am EDT, 4pm BST.

Question 1: What is your definition of gamification?
Over time, I’ve used a variety of definitions, trying to find the one that resonated best with L&D professionals. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the term but it is what it is. So, the current way I define gamification is the strategic use of game mechanics and game elements to increase your learners’ engagement within their learning curriculum.  (Game mechanics, if you are unsure, are the rules of the game experience.)

The heart of it you ask? Strategic engagement. When we gamify our solutions we are selecting and interweaving key principles and concepts from games that have been proven to engage players. As such we need to take a step back and understand how games engage us. In essence, game mechanics, game elements and game play thinking address and satisfy some pretty fundamental human needs and desires, such as: competition, reward, achievement, altruism, status and even self-expression. Think about it for a moment, these needs and desires are universal! They cross generations, demographics and cultures. The good game designers have been fulfilling these needs and desires for their game players since probably the beginning of time. By fulfilling these psychological needs and desires within our learning content we have the opportunity truly make an impact on the overall organization.

Question 2: Why do you think gamification is being talked about more and more? Just another buzzword or is it solving real challenges?
Let me start with your second question first. I’m sure you’ve heard the hype of the potential outcomes gamification can have on our organizations such as: influencing behavioral change, solving business problems, increasing letter grades in courses or even having a direct impact on the bottom line. When I hear these claims, I envision this shiny silver bullet that will miraculously solve all of our problems. Unfortunately, it’s not the end all be all solution, however, when strategically used and designed, gamification can without a doubt aid us in tackling these challenges and even more.

Why is everyone talking about it?” I think it’s because we’ve all been impacted by gamification on some level. For example your buying choices, professional networks and school systems have been “gamified”. It’s a topic that when discussed draws on both the positive as well as negative impressions. It’s personal, it’s emotional and we all have our opinions. As such, I would term it a hot topic versus buzzword or trend of the day.

That said, I’d like to believe the increased “buzz” in the learning and development community is centered around the potential of tapping into the powerful engagement potential that game elements provide and have our learners as immersed in the content as a great game experience. I’ve been in the field for almost two decades now and this has consistently been one of the top challenges we faced. By increasing engagement we can ultimately have an impact on our learners behavior and truly make an impact (assuming the content is solid).

Question 3: What common misconceptions are there around gamification?
As you can probably expect, there are quite a few misconceptions when it comes to gamification but I’ve decided to call out three that truly impact our community.

The first misconception that comes to mind is gamification is new. Many industries including L&D, have been applying gamification concepts to certain extents for decades. In fact, my first application of game elements and mechanics was in a WBT around 2000. Throughout the curriculum they earned points, rewards (virtual as well as tangible) all based on their performance. Sure it wasn’t SCORM complaint and at the time technology was a challenge but it was incredibly effective. Did we call it gamification? No. We simply knew we were reusing elements from games that engaged us when we played them within our course to engage our learners to complete and demonstrate a level of proficiency for non-mandated training.

Next on the list is that gamification is really just about using points, achievements/badges and leaderboards (the most common elements we experience in our daily lives). However, especially for learning professionals, we should dive deeper to utilize game elements and thinking such as feedback loops, freedom to fail, player control, and combine them with learning theories such as the spacing effect and scaffolding.

In my opinion this last misconception is extremely dangerous to the L&D community. I hear this all the time, “all you need to gamify your learning is some technology”. The heart of this misconception is that gamification is just plug and play. Quickly adding points, badges and leaderboards within the learning content at a moments notice. Just turn on the features and viola we have gamification! Sure, the technology is a key component however it’s strategic use and design of the game elements that result in the engagement not the elements in and of themselves. As always: “a fool with a tool is still a fool”.

Question 4: What sort of gamified learning solutions work well for adult learners in the workplace? Are we in danger of gamifying too much?
Let me start with a few scenarios where I’ve seen gamification have a positive impact. These include: encouraging or motivating your learners to research a new topic or take optional courses, encourage creativity within a team environment, teach and reinforce basic principles/concepts and even strengthen problem solving skills. This isn’t obviously a comprehensive list but gives you a sampling of the wide variety of uses within learning where they have been successes.

The other consideration with adult learners is which approach to take in gamifying your curriculum. The first approach is to overlay a game layer to your existing curriculum. For example, adding points to your existing check-on learning activities or interactions, awarding badges or other achievements based on the completion of lesson or course content and adding a leaderboard to display their status. In this approach, you are not modifying your content; so ensure it’s solid. The second approach focuses on redesigning your learning content to apply gamification techniques. In this approach, your instructional designers take a fresh look at the best approach to presenting the content leveraging game-play thinking, game elements and also game mechanics. For example, turning a boring page-turner into an interactive storyline including characters in which the learner interacts with the content and rewarding them based on their choices. Yes, using stories and characters are elements of games and as such gamification techniques!

To answer the question on can we gamify too much? That’s a simple one. Absolutely! It’s one engagement strategy and isn’t always the best solution.

Question 5: What is most likely lead to design failure in a gamified learning solution?
I think the largest risk is the lack of game design knowledge on our development teams. I’m not saying we need to have game designers on our teams; however, it would be beneficial to have our team members to have an understanding of basic game design principles and mechanics. One idea for addressing this issue is to have you ID’s take the lead. Maybe have them attend a game design course. They will be amazed at the amount of overlap and synergy between the two fields. Your ID’s can then take the lead on working with the rest of the team on increasing their knowledge base and discuss modifications to the development process.

Question 6: And finally – for someone who hasn’t designed a gamified learning solution before, what first steps would you advise?
First, I would suggest investing in some professional development on game design. Take a course, read some books, attend a conference, collaborate with others on your team or within your network.

Second and this one may sound silly, but play a bunch of games. All kinds of games and really dissect them. A few things to consider could include the following. What makes them tick? How and why are you engaged with the game, how do they use game mechanics and elements? How do they incorporate the element of chance, risk and reward, the freedom to fail? Brainstorm on how you can reuse some of the concepts within one of your own courses.

Third, observe others playing games (even the one’s you would never play on your own). We can gain tremendous insights by experiencing others playing. Maybe even ask your kids to walk you through that World of War Craft game they are always playing, you may be amazed at some of the life skills they are developing in that game.

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 (http://www.colorado.edu/conflict/civility.htm). 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?

Conclusion

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!