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Three people with one vision for learning

In this month’s “Stimulearning” magazine, you can find my article on the L+D Talks that took place in October of this year, translated into Dutch. I wrote about the event and the content of Charles Jennings’ and Donald H Taylor’s speechs. Kristof wrote about Manon Ruijters. This post delivers the English translation of my part… Enjoy!


In the last few years, there has been somewhat of a revolution in the learning world. Training professionals are repeatedly being told that training doesn’t necessarily lead to learning and that learning is not only about training. The possibilities are infinite to help people build their competence at work.


Donald H Taylor says is time to change. If learning professionals continue to sit in the training ghetto, moving more slowly than the world around them, they will eventually face extinction when they could have been driving the organisation forward. The major changes in technology and how knowledge is handled have created a new environment with new demands; demands which it seems the learning profession itself admits to not being able to face today, and which organisational leaders claim indispensable to achieve the growth they need to face the challenges of tomorrow.


In the September issue of the StimuLearning magazine Dr. Manon Ruijters, a consultant at Twynstra Gudde, already underlined that we need to stop focussing on pushing training and formal learning to people and focus instead on creating conditions in which people can bloom. Our obsession with creating standardised professionals (who tick all the right boxes in the competence framework) must develop into a more holistic vision that pulls up and supports on-going learning from the ground up. Supervisors and employees must learn together what is right and wrong, what works and what does not and the ways in which we can develop. The role of the learning professional must therefore evolve into a more conversational style, supported by effective workplace support and encouragement that can take best learning practices from everywhere for the benefit of the whole organisation.


Charles Jennings says that learning is a far more diverse activity than training professionals have suggested in previous years. Only 10% of workplace learning actually happens via formal intentional organised education sessions that are structured by someone other than the learner; 20% of learning happens via our non-formal interactions with other people; the other 70% on a day-to-day basis (sometimes without intention) through our experience of day-to-day tasks, challenges and practice. Yet in contrast, the majority of our learning budgets remain driven towards creating learning tracks that seek to deliver competence to the learner in a formal way: Training, e-learning and such. If we want to reap the potential benefits of the full 100%, L+D people need to focus more on creating and supporting learning environments that capture and support learning through social exchange, work narration and a plethora of other work-based media and approaches.


With these three visions of learning, the singular message is clear: We need to do things differently. That was the subject of the Stimulearning L+D talks in October…




Charles Jennings on “Unleashing the Full 100%”

This post is part of 3 covering my review of the Stimulearning L+D talks of October 2013. The full article was published in Dutch in the Stimulearning magazine, December 2013.


Charles Jennings used to be a professor and is attributed with the creation one of the first online learning modules. This happened long before 2013 and sometime after the black and white picture he showed us of him playing guitar (“every waking hour in his 20s”) in the last century. Taking “the graveyard shift” in our October L+D Talks, Charles introduced the 70:20:10 model and told us that it is time to think differently about organisational learning.


Jennings founded the 70:20:10 forum to help learning people develop and share strategies to unleash the huge amount of non-structured non-formal and non-intentional learning that happens in organisations. Underlining the non-existence of peer-to-peer academic studies to show accuracy of the numbers 70:20:10, Jennings insisted that there is nonetheless a lot of empirical evidence to show that high-performing people learn a huge amount more from work and practice, rather than structured learning. That is to say: Without you the learning professional having to get involved. The goal of the forum and 70:20:10 strategies is to create a framework for extending and improving that organisational learning, pulling more profit from what is already going on.


Jennings admitted that actually he is “not terribly interested in learning, but … passionate about performance” but added that it seems to him inefficient to “leave good food on the table”. If we focus purely on designing and delivering structured learning programs (the 10%), we may miss many opportunities to add-value in other areas. Quoting a “Bersin by Deloitte” study, Jennings said that that companies who have strong informal learning capabilities are 300% more likely to excel at global talent development. So what can we do around and outside of structured content-driven learning? During the talk, we saw that the possibilities are enormous. People learn in so many ways and support in those activities can (and should) be provided by the learning professional.


According to Albert Einstein “learning is experience, everything else is just information”. The key is to draw from those experiences to profit the individual and his network. Creating new and challenging experiences for workers, expanding the scope of work, adding in elements of change and adversity or simply giving more time to reflect or try something new are simple ways to help people grow in their competence.


And if individuals are growing, the network can profit. Creating conversation via enterprise social media platforms, work narration or more structured events like Reuters’ pizza sessions or the US military’s “Action Review Sessions” can help to spread knowledge and experience within the organisation.


But in line with Donald H Taylor’s opening speech, Jennings insisted that we are not only talking about “doing more stuff”. In fact, what we need is a change in mind-set and a more professional approach. He is still surprised to hear that organisations that have clear strategies for sales and marketing, operations or product development still don’t have a strategy for learning. Yet business leaders and HR directors all agree that if we are going to achieve future business targets (12 months from now) we need to either grow the workforce or work better. People surveyed by the “Corporate Leadership Council” said that in the future we will need a 20 to 25% performance improvement, but that we won’t be recruiting 20 to 25% more people. As Liz Wiseman would say: “The time for addition is over. We need to multiple.” If we want better retention, more output and business results, we need to change the way we work and learn.


Charles Jennings wants to see learning organisations that respond faster to changing business conditions. He wants us to help integrate learning into the everyday workflow. He wants better transfer of structured learning into the workplace. He wants L+D to align more to real business priorities. He wants to unleash the full 100%.


He wants a lot. But is he wrong?



Donald H Taylor on “Raising the Level of the Learning Profession”

This post is part of 3 covering my review of the Stimulearning L+D talks of October 2013. The full article was published in Dutch in the Stimulearning magazine, December 2013.


According to Donald H Taylor, there have been a lot of changes in learning in the last 5 to 7 years. Many of these are due to the arrival of new technologies that allow learners to serve themselves. Taylor says it is time to raise the level of the learning profession.


In the latest survey of “Top 100 Learning Tools” published by the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, nearly everything is electronic. Social media tools feature high on the list (Twitter is number 1) and Donald H Taylor says this is an indication of how learning will continue to evolve in the future. Even if “nothing beats a pen and paper and a little conversation”, we have moved on considerably in the past few years with regard to acquisition of knowledge and skills. But Taylor is not so sure we have moved on with our culture as learning professionals.


In the 1980s, before Tim Berners-Lee’s revolutionary work, there was no World Wide Web. We had books and training. If you wanted to know something at work, you went to the library or you asked for training. The trainer would tell you what was in the book and control the way you read it (“we’ll be looking at pages 20 to 64 on day 2”). If you had questions, you were told “it’s in the book”. The trainer had probably even written the book.


But today, everyone is writing and reading in his own way. As the Ruder Finn Intent Index states, the top reason to go to the internet is learning. We have blogs, micro-blogs, YouTube, Wikipedia and a multitude of other media, which we can access from any device immediately. “Frictionless information handling” is the new norm. So trainers (and the whole learning profession) need to evolve. But for some reason, the learning profession doesn’t believe it’s true. They think of self-learning as “a nice start, but not 100% reliable”. They still want to control things.


And today’s working environment is very different to the 1980s. At the end of the last century, we saw a switch in the value of companies from tangible to intangible assets. Asking the L+D Talks audience what else had changed in the last 5 years, we heard that people expect things to happen faster, learning has to be more adaptive, better linked to strategy and focusing on lean investment and more return. CEOs of the Big Four all same the same thing: human capital, talent or knowledge is the top 1 or 2 concern; they recognise the need for good learning strategies, but they don’t believe that HR and Learning is agile enough to deal with it.


According to Donald H Taylor, these changes will continue evolving in the same way. Executives want more skills to deal with more problems, with less cash and less time. So the challenge for the learning profession is to find ways to deal with that, getting out of the training ghetto and helping the organisation and its people to change.


Taylor talked about how environments and people might change: Fast or slow. The people moving faster than the environment are considered as “pathfinders”. Like “Instagram” and “Facebook”, they create new ways of doing things that are ready to go when the environment catches up; they pave the way for the future. At the other end of the spectrum are those who don’t change in line with the environment. Like Kodak and the short-hand typists of the 1940s, they will end up out of work. So the goal of learning is to be fast and agile enough to keep up with an ever changing environment.


One major area in which Donald H Taylor says we need to improve is in our general business skills – performance improvement, analysis + strategy, interpretation of information and business acumen. According to the Learning and Performance Institute’s Capability Map (27 skills in 9 groups), the learning industry itself accepts that it is good at design and delivery, getting better at social learning, but still lacking in business intelligence, communication and marketing of learning solutions.


To better engage with the future, we need to focus on getting ourselves to a professional level with these skills in this new environment.