The punchline: learning for impact and performance

Last week, two things happened within a few hours of each other. (Well actually, an incredible number of things happened last week but Learning Technologies always means one of my busiest times of the year.) But the two things I refer to bear referencing in relation to each other because they form the punchline -for me – of what the event is really all about.

In the last session of the conference, David Perring succeeded in rousing some tired attendees in his session on ‘showing the impact of learning, painlessly (almost!)’ He asked some challenging questions around who finds measuring learning impact painful (more than half the room), who thinks they are good at evaluation (one or two cautious hands in the hair) and should we resign Kirkpatrick to the dustbin (OK maybe that’s not a tough one, the answer was a resounding yes!) He argues that evaluation is not as important as making a measurable impact. ‘Learning should be a strategic investment to drive performance and to build business capability. But how do you measure the impact it really has or maximise that impact?’ One of the keys is to stop thinking of learning as a one-off event. Start considering longer – even ongoing – learning experiences and the picture shifts beyond Kirkpatrick levels 1 and 2. Start thinking about goals such as ensuring proper engagement with learners, improving the design of current learning solutions and even being able to demonstrate the value of learning investment to senior management. He encouraged us to put values against key measures like cost reduction, sales increases, productivity rises. Value isn’t about outputs, it’s about impact and supporting the winder goals of the organisation. You can view his slides here with some useful questions and models that will get you thinking about more than just happy sheets.

Demonstrating the impact of learning

Just a few short hours later, I found myself at The Dorchester for the 21st annual Learning Awards hosted by the Learning and Performance Institute. I was lucky enough to sit down with Managing Director, Ed Monk, before the event where we discussed the importance of recognising, not just clever or innovative learning initiatives – but actual business impact.

He believes that L&D is often an unsung hero in organisations, so the awards is about giving credit for what they do because ‘learning can change lives’. The awards have evolved since their inception in 1996 (originally the Institute of IT Training awards). As well as the obvious shift away from IT training, they are now much more focused on how learning affects the performance of individuals and their organisations. Anyone who wants to win an award is faced with a tough panel of judges – headed up by chairs Colin Steed and Nigel Paine – drilling into the detail on how learning has made an impact in this way.

Monk feels passionately about sharing stories of the winners through the LPI’s member network, its events like Learning Live and this year, with interviews from Learning Now TV. ‘A big part of our mission is about inspiring and motivating others. Every winner’s story has takeaways that can be used in different organisations to deliver learning that makes a difference. The affect on the winners themselves can be sensational – I’ve seen it transform careers and encourage even greater achievements as they continue on their own learning journeys’ he commented.

You can view the full list of the 2017 winners here. And I can report it was indeed an inspiring evening. From seeing the excellent work done by GoodPractice recognised in External Solution of the Year, the delighted team at Dell pile onto the stage as one, the demonstrable results delivered by Villeroy & Bosch with very little infrastructure and resources, to CLO of the year Naomi Lockwood thanking her team and crediting her colleagues with so much of her success, and seeing Nick Shackleton-Jones bestowed with the prestigious Colin Corder award. There is something for everyone in L&D to take inspiration from in the list of winners and finalists.

For me, this is why we all attend industry conferences and trade shows – to find out what we can potentially achieve and evaluate new ways of delivering that. Everyone in L&D is trying to make a difference and if their lens is focused on impacting the right areas as described by David Perring and as recognised by the LPI, then learning has the power to be truly transformational.

Footnote: The LPI also does a huge amount for the very worthwhile charity, Dreamflight. Seeing Paralympian Liz Johnson – previously a child who benefited from this incredible journey – talk about how it helped give her confidence and ultimately become a gold medallist, is still one of the most memorable speeches I’ve ever seen. Between a charity auction and countless generous donations from attendees, thousands of pounds were raised on the night. If you can spare a few bob, you can donate vis their website and if you’ve only got a tenner, brighten up your office with one of the excellent LPI charity calendars.  

All photos courtesy of olgamanzano via Flickr and the official photos of the Learning Awards 2017.

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Is the future of L&D already here?

Three days isn’t really long enough to reflect on everything that I saw and heard at Learning Technologies 2017 last week, but whilst things are fresh in my mind I wanted to capture some immediate takeaways.

The stand out session for me was from the keynote speaker on day one, Thimon de Jong. You can hear my immediate thoughts in this interview with Martin Couzins straight afterwards. Even though the talk was not about L&D specifically there was so much that resonated with me, especially with reference to the Digital Learning Realities research that Fosway has been conducting in partnership with Learning Technologies. This isn’t a plug – it genuinely gave me lots of reasons to be cheerful. I often leave keynote talks from futurist type speakers, or look at the gap between what’s being talked about on the conference floor versus the exhibition, and feel a bit depressed. But this talk combined with the initial results from the research indicates, to me at least, that L&D knows where it needs to go.

‘You know me’

Thimon talked about a ‘you know me’ culture. One where we want companies to respect our privacy, but conversely to exploit the data they have on us to create tailored experiences based on our preferences that speak to us in a more personalised way. That might be as a customer of Vodafone, or it might be as a learner within your own organisation. Consumer-facing organisations are improving at this all the time and it’s a trend that needs to happen internally as well as externally. The digital realities research bears out an understanding from L&D professionals (1,060 at the time these particular numbers were crunched) that they key drivers for digital learning are increasing availability (87%), speed of learning (84%) and learner engagement (83%). All of which point to a need for creating ‘better’ learning experiences.

The numbers also demonstrate an increasing focus on the importance of analytics. And it is the artificial intelligence and algorithms which drive analytics that give us a realistic hope of being able to deliver personalised learning experiences en masse. Netflix is so often cited as an example of an experience that learning should aspire to that I now eye-roll whenever I hear it. But interestingly, Thimon told us that there are over 300 people working in the in AI department at Netflix….that’s a serious amount of human intervention in what’s purportedly ‘artificial’ intelligence right there! The average L&D team clearly can’t compete with that! However, if we continue this emerging trend of treating learners like consumers – much as Thimon referenced – then getting a grip of analytics, and learning how to apply the insights it provides us with, is a key step in getting the right content to the right people at the right time.

And the reason this made me cheerful (or at least not depressed) is that L&D seems to recognise this – and there is lots of decent technology out there that can help us act on it. This isn’t about looking ahead at how virtual reality might one day land in the average organisation. This is about something we can start doing now to improve what L&D does.

In L&D we trust

The second part of Thimon’s talk which also resonated, was a discussion on trust. The internet is so full of information, but he questions how we determine what’s fact and what’s opinion. In the current climate of ‘fake news’ this could hardly be more timely. But focusing back in on L&D again, we know that learners don’t just get their information from the learning department these days. Everyone has access to Google (even if it’s via their personal phones rather than company systems) but sifting through what’s fact and what’s opinion, which videos are worth watching and which sources are worth reading can be hard work. This is where the evolution of L&D’s role kicks in.

The excellent Lloyds TSB case study session from Richard Clayton and Angela Sweeney talked about how they successfully began surfacing relevant content to the right people at the right time based on internal ‘demand plans’ carefully crafted with each business department. They worked out what was needed and by whom, and how best to filter that content through to their learners (whilst making some incredible cost savings). Later on, Tobias Kiefer of EY went one step further and explored the concept of ‘Own Your Own Learning’. My tweet on where this leaves the L&D department seemed to strike a chord, because where does this leave L&D?

Kiefer believes L&D needs to become ‘challengers, storytellers, curators, eonomists and data analysts – a list to which Andrew Jacobs (quite rightly in my opinion) added engineers (there still needs to be some infrastructure). ‘By thinking of how we can make ourselves obsolete, we can generate the value the business has always been expecting from us’ Kiefer said. I’m not sure I agree with this 100% but changing the focus from trying to be the last word in where/how learn in an organisation, to one of providing access, filtering, tailoring and nudging is one I can get on board with.

Coming back to Thimon’s point, L&D has to establish itself as a trustworthy source. And coming back to the research, it’s not only about providing content and resources that are accurate and useful – but providing them in ways that are easily available, contextual and engaging are all part of building that trust with learners.

This all makes me feel optimistic because my sense is L&D has grasped that this is the direction of travel. And the technology needed to support it is already out there. It’s not about stuff that’s super expensive or out of reach (although I’m sure you could spend a lot if you have the budget). And that makes me think it’s eminently achievable in the not too far distant future.

More on Learning Technologies 2017 to follow…


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The who, what, where and when of Learning Technologies 2017

Following my previous post on the Learning Technologies 2017 social team, here are the details on who’s covering what, where and when. Our contributors will be working hard to share insights and key takeaways from every single session of the conference. Remember, we use individual session hashtags so you can hone in on the specifics of certain topics or presentations. So, if you particularly want to know what John Stepper has to say (and from the pre-event buzz, many of you do!) then you can just search #T1S5. All session tags are detailed below (we don’t have specific tags for the keynotes because SO many people share from these that you can just follow the overall #LT17UK hashtag and keep up). Contributors’ Twitter handles are shown below – check the previous post for details if you don’t already follow them.

Note, for the first time this year there will be lunchtime sessions running during the conference. These have their own hashtags and will be worth following although, as with the keynotes, we don’t have designated coverage for these sessions.

Day one: Keynote: 09.30 – 10.40: Future change – living and learning in the connected society, Thimon de Jong

Thimon de Jong runs a think tank specialising in future human behaviour, societal change and business strategy. He is an experienced keynote presenter and leadership trainer and has worked for clients like Morgan Stanley and Vodafone. In this year’s opening keynote, he will share an inspiring blend of research eye opening business cases from around the world that will help you reframe and possibly reinvent your work in learning.

Day one: 11.10 – 12.20

Day one: 12.20 – 13.50 – Lunchtime

Day one: 13.50 – 15.00

Day one: 15.30 – 16.40

Day two: Keynote: 09.30 – 10.40: Story for learning and learning from story, Deborah Frances-White

Deborah Frances-White is a comedian, screenwriter and executive coach. Her corporate clients include Facebook, PWC and JP Morgan. Her keynote will explore why too much training is simply dispensing information – often in fun and palatable ways – but when information isn’t ordered in narrative it is easier to disengage and far more difficult to retain. Discover how the most sophisticated content or dry facts can be presented as a compelling and gripping story.

Day two: 11.10 – 12.20

Day two: 12.20 – 13.50 – Lunchtime

Day two: 13.50 – 15.00

Day two: 15.30 – 16.40

Excitingly this year, we’ll be interviewing speakers on video and capturing the reflections of the social media team on their key takeaways. I’m excited about getting into the detail and helping share new ideas and insights in more different ways. For the full conference programme and to pick which sessions you’d like to tune into, click here. There is also a programme of seminars in the exhibition which is full to bursting. So place your bets, choose your sessions and I look forward to seeing you there or online – learning Glastonbury awaits!

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14 key people and four useful things you need to know about Learning Technologies 2017

The build up to Learning Technologies 2017 is now well underway. As social chair of the event, I’m pleased to bring you everything you need to know to make the most of the event whether you are attending in person or following from afar.

The backchannel
As ever, the place to have eyes on is the main conference hashtag #LT17UK. This is used on all conference tweets and is used by exhibitors and attendees of the Learning Technologies part of the exhibition. It’s a great way of tapping into people to meet, things to read and what to see before the event, not just during. There is also the Learning and Skills hashtag #LAS17UK but if you’re following the conference, then tune in via #LT17UK. In order to help cut through the sheer volume of tweets, we use individual session hashtags as well as the one for the overall event e.g. Welcome to this session on the future of technology #LT17UK #T1S1. The details of the hashtags for each session will be published in a follow-up post. In addition to tweets, there will be blog posts, LinkedIn updates, graphic summaries and videos.

The 2017 team
Here are the people that will be capturing the action and reflecting on what they’ve heard at the conference. If you’re not already connected with these experienced L&D folk, this is a unique opportunity to make some new connections and expand your network as well as the chance to tune into all the action.

Susie Finch – @susiefinch
Sam Taylor – @samt_el
Alistair Cockroft – @acockroft
Kim Edwards – @kimsedwards
Michelle Parry-Slater – @MiPS1608
Ollie Gardener – @olliegardener
Joan Keevill – @Designs_JoanK
Krystyna Gadd – @krystynagadd
Sam Burrough – @samburrough
Stephen Walsh – @stephentwalsh
Steve Rayson – @steverayson
Julie Drybrough – @fuchsia_blue

(And me – @kategraham23)

Also, don’t forget to follow:

Don Taylor (Conference Chairman) – @DonaldHTaylor
Learning Technologies official feed – @LT17UK
Learning and Skills official feed – @LAS17UK

My next post will detail who is covering which sessions.

Captured for posterity

In addition to the tweets which are somewhat transient, we’re capturing many of the conference speakers on video this year. Barbara Thompson will be finding out more about their thinking delving into some of the detail from their sessions. Be sure to follow Barbara via @CaribThompson and look out for the opportunity to ask the experts your questions via Twitter. All videos will be shared online after the event.

What else is going on?




towards-maturity-exchangesMore to come on the session details soon and as always, if you have any feedback or thoughts on how we can make the most of this learning opportunity, let me know.


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Recognising the brave and the bold of learning technology


Tonight, myself, my colleagues and 800 close friends (ahem) will descend on London for the annual Learning Technologies Awards. They started life more than 10 years ago as the E-learning Awards and I have been involved with these awards as an entrant, a collaborator, ghost writer and for the last five years, a judge.

For 2016, I judged two categories, chairing one and a panel member on another. Having sifted through an impressive number of entries in the summer, the shortlisted entrants all presented during an informative, exhilarating and exhausting two days at The Oval in September. I meant to write this post back then but it feels appropriate on the day of the award ceremony to share it now. Because my over-riding reflection from those two days was how inspiring the dedicated learning professionals are that I saw passionately present their work.

I saw L&D people who are fighting the good fight, trying to evolve what their people do and how they learn – often without much support or buy-in from the broader organisation (at least initially), frequently without much budget and sometimes pitched against much greater forces than themselves – the economy, mergers and acquisitions, the law, the list goes on. One presentation even showed a video interview with a rather grumpy colleague in another department talking about how he didn’t like e-learning and thought the whole project was a terrible idea….then a later interview in which he’d completely changed his mind! What all those shortlisted have in common is such enthusiasm for what they do, motivated (in my opinion) by a desire to help others learn, develop and hopefully, progress.

I also witnessed some fantastic partnerships between suppliers of learning technology and their customers. Almost all the suppliers stood back and let their customers tell their story, often watching with real pride on their faces. Sounds cheesy but it’s clear that these good relationships are at least partially responsible for their success.

There’s also resourcefulness, innovation, technical know-how and brains in abundance. On occasions during the judging process I felt really quite humbled by people’s commitment and vision around what they’re trying to achieve. And that’s really important. The best practice examples we’ll see on the back of these awards are almost all focused on an organisational goal that’s far bigger than just completion rates.

I obviously can’t talk about specifics before the results are announced. But the decisions in both my categories were pretty agonising.  Whether or not those shortlisted win a gong tonight (cliche alert) they’re all winners really. And when their stories are shared far and wide, the lessons are about more than just fancy technology. They’re about solving business challenges within a specific context in a way that works for them. And they’re about being brave and about being bold. I applaud you all from behind my desk and look forward to being able to do so in person this evening.

If you’d like to keep up to date with the winners, I’ll be live tweeting the ceremony and the hashtag is #LT16Awards. See you there or online.

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The evolution of organisations and HR at #HRTechWorld

hr-tech-world-congress-2016That’s HR Tech World done for another year. It’s been busy, buzzy, loud (I’m looking at you Gary Hamel) fun and insightful. In a change of pace for me I decided not to do back to back conference sessions. Instead I cherry picked the talks I attended and spent more time in the expo and in meetings. I’ve met some incredibly passionate and dedicated HR profesionals all trying to make sense of their existing technology, new technology and their organisational context. The audience was made up of folk in pretty senior HR roles across medium-large organisations from right the way across Europe. There’s a lot to reflect on but here are some of the highlights.

Organisational structure is up for grabs

This year the millenial klaxon was replaced (for me at least) by the start-up klaxon. I’m not talking about actual start-ups (more on them below) but the number of times large enterprises seem to be encouraged to act ‘more like a start-up organisation’. I’m over simplifying of course but I heard this a lot and I’m not sure how helpful that advice is for a company with say 17,000 employees across 23 territories. I don’t disagree that the traditional hierarchy and org chart need to change, but trying to change a large organisation is going to be like turning the QE2. It’s not an easy or straightforward task. What’s more, I’m not convinced some of these unicorn start-ups a) have got it perfect anyway and b) won’t end up evolving to become more like the large enterprises they were originally disrupting. There was some useful advice from Gary Hamel about starting to eliminate bureaucracy including a nice case study about the NHS cutting through its usual layers of hierarchy as to get staff input on improving patient care as part of a massive change project. A crowd sourced change model which shows how even in the most complex organisations, innovation in how things are done and how things are structured is possible.

It’s a complicated area but remains a hot topic and I’m increasingly interested in how organisations start to shift their structures and strategies. Hamel referenced some resources that might be of interest at the end of his keynote. And Dr. Daniel Thorniley (who was brilliantly honest, dour and funny all at the same time – all with no slides whatsoever) promised some resources that I haven’t yet got my mitts on, but will share as soon as I do. This isn’t a subject that’s going away any time soon.

Positive disruption

I love the disruptHR zone that HR Tech World hosts. Every year a raft of new and enthusiastic new solution providers show off their wares in an area of small, simple booths dedicated to the power of positive disruption. There’s everything from recruitment apps to wellness solutions, engagement software and new concepts around payroll. This year’s winners Tandem HR Solutions received great validation from the judges – oh and a cheque for 15,000 Euros – so should be one to watch. Read more on them here and on the other new providers via Faye Holland’s excellent blog posts.


Women in tech

It was great to attend the women in tech panel on the second day. Chaired by Kim Wylie of Google, the speakers included the legendary analyst Naomi Bloom, Workday’s Leighanne Levensaler and Dell’s Pascale Van Damme. I’m planning a separate post just on this session as it’s a subject pretty close to my heart. But it was engaging and lively and actually in a room that was way too small for the level of interest it generated. It was also good to see some men in the room too! More on this one soon.


Photo credit: HR Tech World app via Dorothy Dalton

The reality of HR in Europe

Full disclosure. This research was conducted by the company I work for, Fosway Group, and the organisers, HRN. But this research paints such a useful picture of HR in Europe. So much data that is available is US-centric but this takes into account the particular challenges of HR in organisations that are inherently multi-cultural, multi-lingual and widely dispersed. Obviously I’m bound to think this is interesting but the results from over 500 HR professionals are hard to ignore. The full slides from the presentation are online and make interesting reading.


The power of people

One of the over-arching messages from the keynotes in particular was that if people are allowed to flourish at work, organisations will perform better as a result – and HR can unlock this potential. It’s one of the reasons employee engagement remains such a hot topic. Times are tough for many organisations at the moment but making short-term cuts that damage your long-term relationships with your people can undermine your future success. Dr. Thorniley focused on the need to foster a long-term view that nurtures trusting relationships with your people. Because they provide the talent that will ultimately see you through the bad times. ‘Not enough organisations have HR in a strategic position’ posited Thorniley. Maybe if they did, an organisation’s people would be treated with this longer term view. It backs up the Fosway research that places the desire for HR becoming a strategic business partner at the top of its priorities.

It is also reflective of the many conversations I had with HR professionals who are automating ‘transactional’ processes and focusing much more on ‘transforming’ their function to become more strategic.

It’s potentially an exciting time to be involved in HR and to have a role in the impact of what HR can help organisations achieve. Having the right technology should play a key part in that and my next post will focus more on the different solutions I saw at the event. In the meantime, thanks to Marc, Peter and the indefatiguable HRN team. It was great to see them come together at the end of the event, demonstrating an organisational culture that many should be inspired by and could perhaps learn from.



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Good event curation doesn’t happen by accident

I got tagged in a conversation on Twitter yesterday regarding the hashtag for an event that was taking place. Seemingly there was a volume of tweets and activity surrounding the event but not enough of any real value. More ‘I’m here watching so and so speak’ rather than specific insights on what was being shared at the conference.

hr-tech-world-congress-2016Next week, I’m attending HR Tech World Congress for the third year running as a member of their blog squad. The organisers, HRN, take a lot of time and effort to create a team of people with diverse interests and specialities to share what’s happening at their event. It’s a broad church so there are people with different backgrounds in recruitment, analytics, learning etc. They provide resources, make introductions and outline the sort of content they hope the blog squad will share. It’s not dictated and we’re free to write about our highlights and reflections how we choose. There’s no stated expectation to tweet although unsurprisingly, many of us do. And what you’ll see from next week’s event isn’t just a flurry of tweets across the two days (although I’m fairly sure there will be a storm of these via #HRTechWorld). There will be links to books, videos, research, presentations and more. There will be tips on the latest technology. There will be shiny new tech to go and look at courtesy of inside opinions on the disruptHR zone. By filtering other people’s tweets and blogs, I even managed to curate a ton of useful resources from HR Tech World Spring in London back in March, and I was at home with tonsilitis at the time! But none of this happens by accident.

Sure, some attendees will tweet. And some of them might even blog. But the organisers aren’t leaving that to chance. They understand that by assembling a team (bloggers assemble!) there will be a volume of decent content that shares a slice of the event they have painstakingly put together.

Regular readers will know I am involved in lots of backchannel type activity and I take my role at these events seriously. Live tweeting and blogging isn’t for everyone. As agreed with a couple of my PLN yesterday, using tweets as a form of note taking then reflecting and potentially blogging afterwards in a more considered way is what works for me. It doesn’t – and frankly, shouldn’t – work for everyone. If some attendees want to sit and listen or write notes in a notebook, that absolutely has to be OK. You need to pick people who this type of activity does work for, who enjoy it, and who are ideally passionate about the topics being covered at your event. Give them some guidance, give them some support and great sharing should follow. But it takes time and effort to make that happen.

See you in Paris (or online) next week!



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