Why learning is where it’s at

HR Tech WorldI am incredibly excited to be attending the inaugural HR Tech World Congress this month. Partly because having been to the HR Tech Europe events in London and Amsterdam, I know I can expect some great speakers, slick production and interesting conversations over the course of two days. Partly because the big draw is Sir Richard Branson himself. And I won’t lie, partly because it’s in Paris (j’adore).

My background is on the learning and talent side of HR and indeed, learning is the focus of just one of the streams of the conference. But when I look at the big picture at the moment, learning it seems, is where it’s at. In the last couple of years, MOOCs have taken off in an incredible way and the phenomenal investment in so called ed-tech companies like Coursera stands at over $2 billion in 2015 alone. Recent backing of organisations such as Fuse Universal securing $10 million follow this trend. Such levels of speculation would not be happening if learning was not (potentially at least) big business.

The real prompt to write this post was the announcement at the end of last week about Workday Learning. Workday has grown exponentially but previously they have partnered with the likes of Saba and Cornerstone OnDemand to provide a learning solution. However, they are committed to providing a complete suite for the enterprise and are focused on further growth, particularly in Europe.

Interestingly, Workday’s focus seems to be on supporting video based content and the social elements of learning. As we all know, there has been enormous criticism of learning management systems for focusing too much on administrators and taking a ‘command and control’ approach with learners forgotten about for too long. But I have seen for myself the lengths to which many established LMS providers (and new kids on the block) have gone to really change the way their systems work and make them more learner-centric and user friendly.

So why is Workday investing here, and why are all the other LMS providers trying to keep up with the evolving ways we learn now? Because the learning market is alive and kicking (and I don’t just mean the LMS market when I say that). Because upskilling and developing people needs to be a priority for organisations today. It is costly to lose staff (this figure is from 2014 but astonished me). Retaining and nurturing the talent pipeline and the ‘leaders of tomorrow’ is now seen as business critical.

If learning is really where it’s at though, why aren’t L&D taking a more prominent seat and holding more top level influence in organisations? Recent research still demonstrates a gap between L&D priorities and overall business strategy. But if developing talent and training staff is in itself a business priority, why does this gap still exist? Is something getting lost in translation? I am not pretending to have the answers but surely we can bridge this gap more effectively?

As an event that spans the whole spectrum of HR, I am intrigued to see how much focus is on learning and performance at HR Tech World Congress in some of the plenary and keynote sessions. Those outside L&D perhaps need to understand more about the positive impact learning could have on their organisation. And those inside might benefit from a broader view of their business context. I will be aiming to share as much insight as I can. And there are some great writers already contributing content via #HRTechWorld in the build up to the event. So tune in if you can and I’ll keep you posted. Au revoir!

Disclaimer: I have no links to Workday or any vested interest in writing about their recent announcement.

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A day in the life of an E-learning Awards judge

As part of my role with the eLearning Network, I am fortunate enough to have been a judge on the panel for the annual E-learning Awards for the past three years. When Chair of the Judges, Tony Frascina, asked if I’d like to participate again this year, I didn’t hesitate in accepting. And why would you hesitate you might ask? Well actually, it’s not a task to be taken on lightly. This post aims to show a little of what goes into judging just one category and highlight the rigour and challenges that come with being given this great responsibility.

I thought it would be fun to bring a flavour of the judging experience via Periscope and have saved the videos here to share with you and give you a little of the inside track.

Disclaimer: Due to the sensitive nature of the judging process, I have deliberately omitted the specifics of which category I was judging and of course any details of the entries involved. This post is written with the intention of telling a story of the overall process, not the particulars of the submissions I have judged.

At the beginning of August, every judge is assigned a category and receives copies of all the submissions entered within that category by the deadline of 31st July. Last year I judged two smaller categories, this year I had one larger one. Each panel consists of three judges with one chair who co-ordinates the shortlisting process. I was nominated as chair this year, so early on in the process set a date with the other two judges in my category to run through the submissions and aim to create our shortlist.

As someone who has written a *lot* of award entries, I really appreciate how much effort goes into writing them. So I always set aside plenty of time during my evenings and weekends to read the submissions and go through the scoring process against the set criteria. All judges give up their time for nothing and have to fit in their duties around their day jobs and it can be quite labour intensive. After making my own judgements, each entry was discussed in turn during conference calls with my fellow judges. We then submitted our shortlist towards the end of August and wrote (hopefully constructive) feedback for each of the unsuccessful submissions. There is then a gap of three weeks until the judging presentations.

It’s not all glamour…
Judging can involve early starts and for many, a fair distance to travel into London for the presentations.

An appropriate venue
Regular readers will be aware of my love of cricket, so arriving at The Oval where the judging presentations were held was no hardship. They even organised a little match for us between Surrey and Northants where the legendary Sangakkara scored a century. Upon arrival, each panel sets up camp in their own room and is given their schedule (run with military precision by the excellent Kate Vose) and fresh scoring sheets complete with all the criteria and scoring guidelines.

We then spent an intense two days hearing from some of the brightest and best in L&D. More of which later. During the breaks, the judges get a chance to mingle with those involved in other categories although there’s an unspoken code that the contents of the presentations are never discussed. I managed to catch eLN Chairman, John Curran, at lunch for his insights as a judge of many years.

After an intense two days…
I arrived home on Thursday evening exhausted! The travelling and early starts aside (5.30am on day two) it is the sheer ongoing concentration and focus required to give every presentation its due that is frankly, extremely tiring. But as well as being tired, I know was not the only judge to come away buzzing with excitement about some of the stories and innovation I had seen and heard. I tried to reflect on all of this when I got home.

Learning that is social, collaborative, innovative, technology-driven and part of people’s workflow. Have we reached L&D Mecca? Maybe not quite yet, but as the cream of the crop, these award entrants can show others how it’s done. I’d like to offer massive congratulations to everyone who entered, was shortlisted and those future winners at the awards evening in November. I can’t wait to share your stories and let the learning continue.

To find out more about judging and the eLearning Network, visit the website, become a member and get involved. I have no vested interest in saying that other than as a committed member and enthusiast.

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Looking ahead to Learning Live 2015

Next week I’m going to be attending the annual conference of the Learning and Performance Institute, Learning Live. There will be a whole team of tweeters there that I’ll be one of but not co-ordinating, so I get a bit more time to do some other things to, which mean I’ll be reprising my use of Periscope at a live event for the second time. More on that in a bit.

20140911_102846I’m fortunate enough to attend quite a lot of events, so it’s always encouraging to see new names on the programme and speakers I haven’t heard before. I love it when I gain new insights, maybe something creative and something inspiring. I love coming back to my desk with lots of new ideas buzzing around in my head. I’m covering the ‘Our Future’ stream which will be using the hashtag #OF1 on Wednesday 9 September and #OF2 throughout Thursday 10 September. That’s in addition to the official conference hashtag #LEARNINGLIVE.

There’s going to be lots of great stuff going on across the event so whether you’re following from afar or there in person, here are some of my predicted highlights:

* This year’s keynote is from Jamil Qureshi and focuses on how we maximise our potential and that of those around us. After last year’s Chimp Management keynote from Dr. Steve Peters, I have high expectations and I’m sure Qureshi will deliver

* An audience with Jerry Maguire – a must see session on ‘the things you want to say in L&D but never do’ with Chief Learning Officer of the Year 2014, Dave Buglass. He’s achieved some fantastic things at Tesco Bank and it will be great to hear more about his approach

* The exhibition is always a good way to see what’s new in the market, I’ll try and bring you some of the stand out solutions on offer

* Checking out Learn Appeal and their exciting new learning capsule on their stand at the exhibition

* Tying in with the keynote’s focus on performance, I always enjoy hearing Paul Matthews’ practical advice. He’ll be sharing his insights on a new approach to performance management

* L&D Question Time with Nigel Paine and a panel of experts debating current issues and trends in learning and development

In fact, I could point out pretty much every session on the agenda as so many of them sound exciting! As always with these events, it is about so much more than the sessions themselves. I am looking forward to catching up with old friends, and hopefully making some new ones at the networking dinner. And this year I’ll be using Periscope to bring you some live insights too.

Tune into the live action
Periscope2Following on from my first foray with Periscope at this year’s Learning Technologies Summer Forum, I’m evolving how I use the app at Learning Live. I’ll be posted between sessions at the LPI stand bringing you interviews with speakers, conference attendees, LPI members and fellows – all to bring you the latest on the action and share hot-off-the-press insights from all the sessions and conversations at the event. There’s no schedule as trying to stick to particular times didn’t work too effectively for me at LTSF. So instead you need to tune into the LPI official Periscope channel. Search YourLPI within Periscope (same handle as their Twitter ID) and follow, then you’ll be alerted live every time we broadcast. Alerts will also be tweeted via #LEARNINGLIVE.

I look forward to seeing you there in person or online and if you have any questions you’d like me to ask people, leave them in the comments below and I will do my best to get them answered by the experts.

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Update on me

So just a quick update on me for regular readers. Four years after co-founding Ascot Communications, I will be stepping down as director at the end of August. I am relocating thanks to my husband’s promotion in the RAF and feel that now is the right time to move onto the next challenge.

Myself and Martin Belton founded Ascot back in 2011 and it has grown from two individual consultants into a thriving agency with a great team and super clients. I have immensely enjoyed building the organisation but now Martin will take the business forwards.

I wanted to thank you so much to everyone who has supported me during the last four years. As an industry, we often reflect on the importance of a personal learning network (PLN) but I have truly felt the value of mine and know that Ascot would not be where it is today without the help of some incredible people and their ongoing support. It really is so much appreciated. I remain a shareholder of mylearningworx and am excited about the potential of the new opportunities that lie ahead.

In the short term, I will be tweeting and Periscoping (is that a verb yet?) from Learning Live next month and am already looking ahead to HR Tech World Congress and Learning Technologies 2016. You can contact me via all the usual social channels or email kategraham23@hotmail.co.uk. My phone number remains the same for those that have it ;) And if you’d like to contact Martin, he can be found here on Twitter or via martin@ascotcommunications.com.

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Learning the rules #blimage

This post is inspired by the #blimage series. Read about the genesis of it here with Steve Wheeler. Thanks to Don Taylor for the challenge/invitation to contribute. Don posted a selection of images. Naturally I chose the cricket picture to write about.

2015-05-12-15-15-5610 years ago, England famously won The Ashes for the first time since 1987. I was working at QA at the time and vividly remember having a discussion with a colleague about the marketing campaigns that were running throughout that summer. He said we should have some kind of Ashes references linked to our training courses at the time – one dayers, five day tests, that kind of thing. To which I scoffed and said ‘nobody really cares about cricket’. Because at that time I didn’t care about cricket. And by the way how wrong was I given how much coverage that particular series gained at the time and ever after!

I grew up as a lover of sport. As a tomboy who wished to be like my hero George from the Famous Five, I played football with the boys, collected Panini sticker albums and, being Welsh, fully embraced rugby madness from a young age. But cricket? No thanks. How could a game where nothing happens possibly be of any interest?

But then during the 2005 Ashes series, the Edgbaston test happened. Mr G is a big cricket fan and previously I had always left him to it. But for some reason – probably as the match started getting tighter and tighter – I got drawn in. As he started to explain the rules I found myself barely able to peek out from behind the sofa as England beat Australia by two measly runs. It had been so tense, so thrilling that I found myself hooked.

Cape Town test 2010Now, as England are on the verge of winning this current Ashes series and having even travelled to South Africa on my honeymoon to watch England play, I am indeed a bit of a cricket tragic. But why this change of heart? Without wishing to sound like a headmistress, I believe it has to do with learning the rules.

When I had previously looked at cricket on the TV, it didn’t interest me because I had no idea what was going on beyond the fact that the bloke in the middle is meant to hit the ball that the other guy is throwing in his general direction. So far, so dull. But once Mr G had drawn me a map of the field placings (I still have it), started to explain the different types of bowling and shots that can be played, it became more interesting. Also the fact that the match at Edgbaston was such a tightly fought contest engaged me with its drama, so I had more of an interest in gaining a deeper understanding of what was going on. And I have been on a journey with this beautiful game ever since. It isn’t like football or rugby where I grew up just inherently knowing the rules and understanding the subtleties of the game. I am constantly learning more about the intricacies of reverse swing or the impact of a turning pitch, and I love it.

Because you see, without the rules and the complexities of the game, all the hitting of balls in the world wouldn’t mean very much. It is the rules that make it interesting. And how the players work within those rules. Muralitharan has a crazy bowling action that many felt broke the rules of cricket. Kevin Pieterson’s switch hits provoked controversy, with many feeling the shot should be outlawed.

So what’s the learning message in this? Well, from my own perspective, I knew as soon as I saw the cricket picture that I would pen something about the journey I have been on with this beautiful game. It is a journey because I am still learning about it. But as someone who hates instruction manuals and never reads the rules of board games properly before starting to play, it’s a funny realisation that rules can work in our – my – favour.

picassoHowever, the best thing about rules is that they’re made to be broken right? Here’s a quote from Picasso which is something of a perfect philosophy for me. I think I will have to actually read some of those instruction manuals from now on…

Beadnell BayAnd to pass on the #blimage challenge, here’s a pic from my personal collection. If you’re game, I look forward to seeing your post on it!

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To follow or not to follow, that is the question

Earlier this week, I checked Twitter in the evening and saw I had a few new followers. One was a marketing agency who mentioned cake in their bio. Right up my street. So I dropped them a tweet to say thanks for the follow and then followed them back. I get a fair few of these agency type accounts following me, so I paused to consider what made me follow them back. I liked the use of humour in their bio and they are also relevant in that they are not just a marketing agency, they also have a focus on technology, so their tweets should be of interest to me.

I ‘manage’ my personal account quite differently to the brands that I work with, in that I don’t really manage it. I just organically let it go where it wants. There are so many insight tools out there now which can be helpful, but I was intrigued to see what prompts other people’s Twitter follows. So I threw out a tweet asking:

Follow Tweet

I didn’t expect so much response on a quiet week night but it provoked a lot of discussion and over 70 tweets from various members of my PLN in the space of an hour. It obviously isn’t a huge sample or a terribly scientific experiment, but I thought it was interesting enough to share some of the replies.

Recent tweets: The key factor in deciding whether to follow someone or not seems to be based on their recent tweets. Browsing back through people’s timelines seems to provide enough of a flavour of their Twitter behaviour for someone to decide if they’re worthy of being followed. For me, that’s fascinating because when I follow accounts (via my personal Twitter) I don’t tend to even look back at people’s timelines! Two respondents took it one step further and would have a quick stalk of people’s recently posted pictures. Images that reflect a mix of professional and personal interests were preferred, but too many pictures of someone’s lunch is deemed a boring no-no.

Connections: Who an account is connected to is also important. Do they have relationships with people already in your network? This adds to an account’s credibility, but there was also a general consensus that following accounts from outside one’s immediate circle of interest can be both challenging and useful. There was a comment that it is not a positive thing when Twitter becomes an ‘echo chamber’ and I couldn’t agree more. I like following accounts outside of L&D and marketing, and often have binges where I get stuck into a particular topic and follow new accounts based on that particular area of interest for a while. I also enjoy the random nature of Twitter and like it when someone follows me that I might never have found but adds depth and content to my timeline.

Other deciding factors in the to follow or not to follow debate included:

• Details of bio – my key deciding factor!
• A mix of personal and professional pursuits – hobbies and interest show a human side
• Real profile pictures – logos and avatars a turn off for many, an interesting conundrum for brands as people will always connect more with people
• Propensity to RT – generally perceived to be a positive behaviour
• Location – only one person mentioned this and he is based in Australia, no idea if that has any bearing on his interest in location as a deciding factor. I must confess it isn’t something I look at very much at all

Keep it real: Whether or not someone has loads of followers wasn’t a deciding factor at all. It is much more about the authenticity of what they do on Twitter and the potential value they can bring to someone’s timeline, which could be in the form of content sharing or just good conversation.

Turn offs: There are a few Twitter crimes to avoid though it seems. Social media etiquette is an oft discussed topic and it can be very subjective (let’s face it, some parts of Twitter can be pretty dark and disturbing). But in the nice civilised part of Twitter that I live in, general no-nos include:

• No picture – nobody wants to talk to an egg
• Not enough information in bio – a personal bug bear
• #A #bio #stuffed #with #too #many #hashtags
• Tweeting too many motivational quotes – stop it *now*
• Too much self-promotion
• Too much automation
• God complex – don’t style yourself as a guru, let your tweets do the talking
• Auto direct message upon following – nobody does this any more, and it wasn’t even cool four years ago when lots of people did it

Device dependent behaviour: For someone who spends a lot of their working day in Twitter, one respondent brought up an interesting point. And that is that he uses a different device for Twitter when he is not working. This is one of the people that likes to view people’s pictures when evaluating whether or not to follow and account. I asked him if he tends to use an iPad for tweeting because the photos are so readily viewable in the iPad app (the answer was ye). Whereas I use TweetDeck a lot and you have to go digging for photos in there, so it isn’t something I do very often.

This lead me to consider the influence of the device and its functionality on my Twitter behaviour. And it is significant. My Android phone app doesn’t give me general notifications – I get @ replies of course but it doesn’t have a stream to show me when people have favourited or followed for example. TweetDeck gives me all of that information in one column. Therefore I am much more likely to follow accounts when I am within TweetDeck. Again, this isn’t very scientific but shows that what we engage with on Twitter isn’t just about useful content or well positioned accounts.

The punchline to all of this for me, is partly that following an account on Twitter is not a big commitment. I don’t tend to check people out in too much detail, but if a stream of ‘inspiring’ motivational quotes start appearing in my stream, I can (and do) quickly unfollow. The other takeaway is that whilst there is some science that can be applied to growing your presence and being ‘successful’ on Twitter, I believe the most important thing is to be authentic. Whether you’re a person or tweeting on behalf of an organisation or a brand, you need to behave like in a ‘real’ way, with real interests and a real point of view.

Would love to hear your thoughts on what prompts you to follow Twitter accounts (or not as the case may be).

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Looking beyond learning #LTSF15

This week saw the fourth annual Learning Technologies Summer Forum take place at Olympia in London. And although the format itself remained largely unchanged, there was a definite shift in the content and the mood around W14.

IMG_20150616_095159407This began in style thanks to a keynote session with a difference. Deborah Frances-White is an author, screen writer and comedian whose work I was aware of but not seen. She delivered a track session on storytelling at a previous Learning Technologies which went down a storm so I had high expectations. And boy did she deliver! Deborah explored the ‘power of play’ and its relevance to learning. The subject matter was engaging in and of itself, but it was her presence and facilitation that really set the auditorium alight. When she asked her first question of the audience, nobody answered or put their hand up…but by the end of the hour, the entire audience was on their feet cheering on a fiercely contested paper/scissors/stone tournament. I kid you not. She eloquently demonstrated and described how we lose the ‘gossamer threads of play’ as we grow up and become serious adults that are all about work. As the mother of a 20 month old who is learning every day just by playing, this really resonated with me.

Play tweet

Play tweet 2

She acknowledges the need for work and that not everything is suitable to play or being gamified. Work and play are both processes and both can deliver results. But I loved the message of making things more lighthearted and embracing a less serious side to learning.

As if to prove a point, once we were out of the keynote and into the exhibition, one of the first things visitors came to was a company giving people a ‘go’ in Deborah’s speak, on a set of Occulus Rift goggles. There is such a sense of fun here – imagine if we could transfer even an ounce of that into some corporate learning.

Kim George on Occulus Rift Martyn Steveson-Read on Occulus Rift

Reproduced with permission from Kim George and Martyn Stevenson-Read.

Breaking out of the L&D bubble

It wasn’t until I got home and was reflecting on the day’s events that I realised there had been a number of influences outside L&D on my takeaways. Lisa Johnson of Barnardo’s is a Learning Technologies regular but was unable to attend because of an internal Senior Leadership event. When she came to look at the back channel tweets via #LTSF15, she found that many of the key themes mirrored content from the event she had attended that day.

We heard from the world of comedy thanks to Deborah. Plus speakers with backgrounds in marketing, video production, personal development and psychology. These people don’t necessarily bill themselves as learning experts. But they all had so much value to give. And this is particularly rewarding for me as someone who is not strictly speaking, an L&D professional.

Mark Davies on video production revealed top tips on which equipment to buy, how to shoot different camera angles, how to edit video and capture interesting and engaging footage – all incredibly useful and practical. My key takeaway from Mark is such a simple but important one:

Video tweet

In the same track, Gemma Critchley from BP revealed the story behind its online video ‘Hub’ – an internal sharing platform that provides both professionally produced content from the learning team, but also user generated content created by BP staff. They work on a theory of providing their learners with ‘effective context’. That is, if the learner appends an emotion to what they are seeing then they are much more likely to remember it, therefore making the learning more likely to ‘stick’. For example:

Video tweet 2

The punchline to this is that Gemma actually has a marketing background. So when asked how BP measures the success of the Hub, she referenced metrics more typically associated with marketing like Net Promoter Score and using Google Analytics to understand hit rates and key search terms. They are treating their learners more like consumers – and guess what, it’s working. The engagement stats for the Hub are great.

Video tweet 3

Sheena Wyatt’s session after lunch was a workshop focusing on maximising personal impact. Again, as a marketing professional this resonated with me, but her insights on personal branding are important in any profession. And I do think that L&D as a function needs to consider its ‘personal brand’ within an organisation. Is it a department that takes orders for training courses? Or is it a proactive business partner that helps solve problems by developing the performance of its staff? One to seriously think about – and again, not learning specific.

Familiar territory

There were still lots of sessions with insights from L&D experts. I was delighted to see Gill Chester presenting on ’10 design ideas for your next elearning project’. I am a huge fan of Gill’s practical, hands-on approach and her lively session left people buzzing with ideas. I heard similar things about the likes of Binnaz Cubukcu and Julian Stodd too. Chairman Don Taylor has skilfully moved the agenda on from some of the theory and abstract ideas on taking learning technologies forward, to the context and realisation of how we can actually do it. Asi De Gani for example had a long line of people wanting to talk to him about how he’s successfully implementing mobile learning at Telefonica.

But there is no doubt in my mind that the external influences will also help move the L&D conversation forward. It is good to look outside our bubble and be challenged by other ideas and philosophies. I would love to hear your takeaways from the event and if anything popped up on the back channel that particularly struck you as useful – please do share!

And finally

I can’t finish this post without a massive thank you to Mark, Ian, Jonquil, Don, Annie and all the team at Closer Still for yet another fantastic event. But the last word is reserved for the brilliant social media team – Nic Laycock, Michelle Parry-Slater, Sam Burrough and Tanya Randall who all tweeted their fingers to the bone in order to share the highlights from the day’s proceedings. Plus a special mention for Con Sotidis who is such a great participant all the way from Australia. I love that the back channel opens the event up to the world and he has set up Eventifier to help dig further into the shared content. As always, if you have any feedback on the back channel, let me know. And there is a separate post in germination on our first Periscope experience too.

Roll on January…


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