CERTainly room for improvement

As mentioned before, I’ve become a member of my local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), as in the case of disaster, the official first-responders (police, fire, and paramedics) will be overwhelmed.  And it’s a good group, with a lot of excellent efforts in processes and tools as well as drills.  Still, of course, there’s  room for improvement.  I encountered one such at our last meeting, and I think it’s an interesting case study.

So one of the things you’re supposed to do in conducting search and rescue is to go from building to building assessing damage and looking for people to help.  And one of the useful things to do is to mark the status of the search and the outcomes, so no one wastes effort on an already explored building. While the marking is covered in training and there’re support tools to help you remember,  ideally it’d be memorable, so that you  can regenerate the information and don’t have to look it up.

The design for the marking is pretty clear: you first make a diagonal slash when you start investigating a building, and then you make a crossing slash when you’ve made your assessment. And specific information is to be recorded in each quarter of the resulting X: left, right, top, and bottom.  (Note that the US standard set by FEMA doesn’t correspond to the international standard from the International Search & Rescue Advisory Group, interestingly).

However, when we brought it up in a recent meeting (and they’re very good about revisiting things that quickly fade from memory), it was obvious that most people couldn’t recall what goes where. And when I heard what the standard was, I realized it didn’t have a memorable structure.  So, here are the four things to record:

  • the group who goes in
  • when the group completes
  • what hazards may exist
  • and how many people and what condition they’re in*

So how would you map these to the quadrants?  And in one sense it doesn’t matter if there’s a sensible rationale behind them. One sign that there’s not?  You can’t remember what goes where.

Our local team leader was able to recall that the order is: left – group, top – completion, right – hazards, and bottom – people.  However, this seems to me to be less than  memorable, so let me explain.

To me, wherever you put the in, left or top, the coming out ought to be opposite. And given our natural flow, group going in makes sense to the left, and coming out ought to go on the right.  In – out.  Then, it’s relatively arbitrary where hazards and people go.  I’d make a case that top-of-mind should be the hazards found to warn others, but that the people are the bottom line (see what I did there?).  I could easily make a case for the reverse, but either would be a mnemonic to support remembering.  Instead, as far as I can tell, it’s completely arbitrary. Now, if it’s not arbitrary and there is a rationale,  it’d help to share that!

The point being, to help people remember things that are in some sense arbitrary, make a story that makes it memorable. Sure, I can look it up, assuming that the lookup book they handed out stays in the pocket in my special backpack.  (And I’m likely to remember now, because of all this additional processing, but that’s not what happens in the training.)  However, making it regenerable from some structure gives you a much better chance of having it to hand. Either a model or a story is better than arbitrary, and one’s possible with a rewrite, but as it is, there’s neither.

So there’s a lesson in design to be had, I reckon, and I hope you’ll put it to use.

* (black or dead, red or needing immediate treatment for life-threatening issues, yellow or needing non-urgent treatment, and green or ok)

When (and not) to crowdsource?

Will Thalheimer commented on my ‘reconciliation‘ post, and pointed out that there are times when you would be better off going to an expert. His apt observation is that there are times when it makes sense to crowdsource and when not to, but it wasn’t clear to him or me when each was. Naturally that led to some reflection, and this is where I ended up.

As a framework, I thought of Dave Snowden’s Cynefin model.  Here, we break situations into one of four types: simple or obvious, where there are known answers; complicated, where it requires known expertise to solve; complex, where we’re dealing in new areas; and chaotic, where things are unstable.

With this model, it’s clear that we’ll know what to do in the simple cases, and we should bring in experts to deal with the complicated. For chaotic systems, the proposal is just to do something, to try to move it to one of the other three quadrants!  It’s the other where we might want to consider social approaches.

The interesting place is the complex.  Here, I suggest, is where innovation is needed. This is the domain of trouble-shooting unexpected problems, coming up with new products or services, researching new opportunities, etc.  Here is where you determine experiments to try, and formulate plans to test.  While when the stakes are low you might do it individually, when the stakes are high you bring together a group.  It may be more than one expert, but here’s where you want to use good processes such as brainstorming (done right), etc.

Here is where the elements of the learning organization come in.  Here is where you want to value diversity, be open to new ideas, make it safe to contribute, and provide time for reflection. Here is where you want to tap into collaboration and cooperation. Here is where you want to find ways to get people to work together effectively.

Will was insightful in pointing out that you don’t always want to tap into the wisdom of the crowd, not least for pragmatics, so we want to be clear about when you do.  My point is that we want to be able to when it makes sense, and facilitate this as part of the new role for L&D in the revolution. So, as this is new to me, let me tap into the power of the crowd here: does this  make sense to you?

Facilitating Knowledge Work #wolweek

In the course of some work with a social business agency, was wondering how to represent the notion of facilitating continual innovation.  This representation emerged from my cogitations, and while it’s not quite right, I thought I’d share it as part of Work Out Loud week.

5RsThe core is the 5 R’s: Researching the opportunities, processing your explorations by either Representing them or putting them into practice (Reify) and Reflecting on those, and then Releasing them.  And of course it’s recursive: this is a release of my representation of some ideas I’ve been researching, right?  This is very much based on Harold Jarche’s Seek-Sense-Share model for Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM). I’m trying to be concrete about different types of activities you might do in the Sense section as I think representations such as diagrams are valuable but very different than active application via prototyping and testing.  (And yes, I’m really stretching to keep the alliteration of the R’s.  I may have to abandon that. ;)

What was interesting to me was to think of the ways in which we can facilitate around those activities.  We shouldn’t assume good research skills, and assist individuals in doing understanding what qualifies as good searches for input and evaluating the hits, as well as establishing and filtering existing information streams.

Similarly, we can facilitate the representations of interpretations, whether informing properties of good diagrams,  prose, or other representation forms.  We can help make the processes of representation clear as well. Similarly, we can develop understanding of useful experimentation approaches, and how to evaluate the results.

Finally, we can communicate the outcomes of our reflections, and collaborate on all these activities whether research, representation, reification (that R is a real stretch), and reflection.  As I’m doing here, soliciting feedback.

I do believe there’s a role for L&D to look at these activities as well, and ‘training’ isn’t the solution. Here the role is very much facilitation.   It’s a different skill set, yet a fundamental contribution to the success of the organization. If you believe, like I do, that the increasing rate of change means innovation is the only sustainable differentiator for success, then this role is crucial and it’s one I think L&D has the opportunity to take on.  Ok, those are my thoughts, what are yours?

The Uberfication of Workplace Learning

I wanted to thank all of you who responded so positively to my post on The L&D world is splitting in two  – either publicly or privately – to tell me about what you are doing to bring about fundamental change in your own L&D departments. It was particularly encouraging to read that a lot of […]

Reconciling two worlds

A recent post by my colleague in the Internet Time Alliance, Jane Hart, has created quite the stir. In it, she talks about two worlds: an old world and a new world of workplace learning.  And another colleague from the Serious eLearning Manifesto, Will Thalheimer, wrote a rather ‘spirited’ response.  I know, respect, and like both these folks, so I’m wrestling with trying to reconcile these seemingly opposite viewpoints.  I tried to point out why I think the new perspective makes sense, but I want to go deeper.

Jane was talking about how there’s a split emerging between old-school L&D and new directions.  This is essentially the premise of the Revolution, so I’m sympathetic. She characterized each, admittedly in somewhat stark contrast, representing the past with a straw man portrait of an industrial era, and a similar version of a new and modern approach much more flexible and focused on outcomes, not on the learning event.  And I’ve experienced much of the former, and recognize the value of the latter.  It’s of course not quite as cut-and-dried, but Jane was making the case for change and using a stark contrast as a motivator.

Will responded to Jane with some pretty strong language.  He  acknowledged her points in a section where he talks about points of agreement, but then after accusing her of being too broad brush, he commits the same in his section on Oversimplifications.  Here he points out extreme views that he implies are the views being painted, but are overly stated as “always” and “never”.

Look, Will fights for the right things when he talks about how formal learning could be better. And Jane does too, when she looks to a more enlightened approach.  So let’s state some more reasonable claims that I hope both can agree with. Here I’m using Will’s ‘oversimplifications’  and infusing them with the viewpoints I believe in:

  1. Learners increasingly need to take responsibility for their learning, and we should facilitate and develop it instead of leaving it to chance
  2. Learning can frequently be trimmed (and more frequently needs to change the content/practice ratio), and we should substitute performance support for learning when possible
  3. Much of training and elearning is boring and we can and should do better making it meaningful
  4. That people can be a great source of content, but they sometimes need facilitation
  5. That using some sort of enterprise social platform can be a powerful source for learning, with facilitation and the right culture, but isn’t necessarily a substitute when formal learning is required
  6. That on-the-job learning isn’t necessarily easy to leverage but should be a focus for better outcomes in many cases
  7. Crowds of people have more wisdom than single individuals, when you facilitate the process appropriately
  8. Traditional learning professionals have an opportunity to contribute to an information age approach, with an awareness of the bigger picture

I do like that Will, at the end, argues that we need to be less divisive and I agree. I think Jane was trying to point in new directions, and I think the evidence is clear that L&D needs to change. I think healthy debate helps, we need to have opinions, even strong ones, hopefully without rancor or aspersions.  I don’t know quite why Jane’s post triggered such a backlash, but I hope we can come together to advance the field.




How to become a Community Manager (online workshop)

Next public online workshop runs: 23 NOVEMBER – 18 DECEMBER 2015 Setting up and running an online community takes time and effort. In this online workshop we look at how to support the planning, launch and running of an online community.   Agenda This 4-week online workshop covers the following topics: Planning the community Launching […]

Learning and frameworks

There’s recently been a spate of attacks on 70:20:10 and moving beyond courses, and I have to admit I just don’t get it.  So I thought it’s time to set out why I think these approaches make sense.

Let’s start with what we know about how we learn. Learning is action and reflection.  Instruction (education, training) is designed action and guided reflection.  That’s why, by the way, that information dump and knowledge test isn’t a learning solution.   People need to actively apply the information.

And it can’t follow an ‘event’ model, as learning is spaced out over time. Our brains can only accommodate so much (read: very little) learning at any one time.  There needs to be ongoing facilitation after a formal learning experience – coaching over time and stretch assignments – to help cement and accelerate the learning experience.

Now, this can be something L&D does formally, but at some point formal has to let go (not least for pragmatics) and it becomes the responsibility of the individual and the community. It shifts from formal coaching to informal mentoring, personal exploration, and feedback from colleagues and fellow practitioners.  It’s impractical for L&D to take on this full responsibility, and instead becomes a role in facilitation of mentoring, communication, and collaboration.

That’s where the 70:20:10 framework comes in.  Leaving that mentoring and collaboration to chance is a mistake, because it’s demonstrably the case that people don’t necessarily have good self-learning skills.  And if we foster self-learning skills, we can accelerate the learning outcomes for the organization. Addressing the skills and culture for learning, personally and collectively, is a valuable contribution that L&D should seize. And it’s not about controlling it all, but making an environment that’s conducive, and facilitating the component skills.

Further, some people  seem to get their knickers in a twist about the numbers, and I’m not sure why that is.  People seem comfortable with the Pareto Principle, for instance (aka the 80/20 rule), and it’s the same. In both cases it’s not the exact numbers that matter, but the concept. For the Pareto Rule it’s recognizing that some large fraction of outcomes comes from a small fraction of inputs.  For the 70:20:10 framework, it’s recognizing that much of what you apply as your expertise comes from things other than courses.  And tired old cliches about “wouldn’t want a doctor who didn’t have training” don’t reflect that you’d also not want a doctor who didn’t continue learning through internships and practice.  It’s not denying the 10, it’s augmenting it.

And this is really what Modern Workplace Learning is about: looking beyond the course.  The course is one important, but ultimately small, piece of being a practitioner, and organizations can no longer afford to ignore the rest of the learning picture.  Of course, there’s also the whole innovation side and performance support when learning doesn’t have to happen as well, which is something L&D also should facilitate (cue the L&D Revolution), but getting the learning right by looking at the bigger picture of how we really learn is critical.

I welcome debate on this, but pragmatically if you think about how you learned what you do, you should recognize that much of it came from other than courses. Beyond Education, the other two E’s have been characterized as Exposure and Experience. Doing the task in the company of others, socially learning, and by the outcomes of actually applying the knowledge in context, and making mistakes.  That’s real learning, and the recognition that it should not be left to chance is how these frameworks help raise awareness and provide an opportunity for L&D to become more relevant to the organization.  And that, I strongly believe, is a valuable outcome. So, what do you think?

Crossing the Mindset Chasm

The responses to my last post, The L&D World is splitting in two – whether left on my blog or on Twitter – have been enlightening! Those who agreed with it have been very encouraging. For example this comment came from Andy Tedd .. “Hopefully this post signals a start to a large section of the industry realising […]

JAY CROSS – Pushing the Envelope to the End




“It all boils down to learning, but not the sort of learning you experienced at school. No, this is learning as a life skill. You’re learning all the time, taking in new information and making sense of it. You learn from experience, from conversations with peers, and from the school of hard knocks. You’re in charge of it, not a teacher or institution.”

(extract from the first draft of Real Learning, the book Jay was working on when he died on Friday 6 November 2015)





Jay Cross driving a 1904 Pope Tribune,Beaulieu Motor Museum June 2010

Jay’s premature death last week at the age of 71 has brought forward an enormous number of tributes from people whose lives he touched in so many ways.

David Kelly, amongst others, has done a wonderful job in gathering many of the remembrances of Jay that have been written over the past week.

Our Internet Time Alliance colleagues Jane Hart, Harold Jarche and Clark Quinn have each written poignant tributes. Jane has also done a great job curating Twitter condolences. For each of us, as for many, Jay’s loss is a deep personal and professional one.  He brought us together in 2009. He thought there were synergies (there were) and that we’d all get on well (we did).

Jay’s contribution to the field of organisational learning was huge. He made us think hard about the edges of our profession. When many were fretting about perfecting the irrelevant with better classroom courses Jay was pulling us into the emerging world of eLearning. When most were still focused on integrating eLearning into courses and curricula Jay was shouting that the real power wasn’t in structured learning at all but in workplace and in informal and social learning approaches.

The analysis he carried out for his 2006 Informal Learning book says it all. He called the focus on formal learning ‘absurd’. He was like that, never backward in saying it exactly as he saw it.


Jay didn’t come to informal learning by happenchance. He had studied and admired Ivan Illich and Illich’s views on the straightjacket of schooling for years. He’d also absorbed the thinking and writing of many other important contributors to the field of learning (he was fond of quoting the work of Kurt Lewin and Bluma Zeigarnik amongst many others).


Jay aligned himself with Illich whenever the opportunity arose:

“Together we have come to realize that for most men the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school”

Jay was a renaissance man. Deeply knowledgeable and widely read on many fronts, he saw a better way for people to learn and achieve their potential. He wrote about the importance of happiness and helping people to use learning to lead fulfilled lives. He was passionate about making a difference.

A quick look at Jay’s contributions to the field over the years uncovers a deeply humanist view of the world.

“My calling is to make people happy. They deserve more fulfilling, satisfied lives” https://about.me/jaycross

“When I look out 10 years, I see businesses prospering by treating people like people. Trusting people changes EVERYTHING.http://www.scoop.it/u/jay-cross

“The Real Learning Project aims to help millions of people learn to learn, increase their intelligence, and realize their life goals.” http://www.internettime.com

Jay could be direct, challenging and didn’t take prisoners. He often rattled and got under people’s skins, but never just for the sake of it. His underlying desire was to make the world a better place and improve the way we go about helping people learn and, subsequently, achieve that aim.

Jay Cross was great fun to be around. Obsessive (I once introduced him to a song by the fine British musician Richard Thomson. He told me he played it on continual loop for 4 solid days), and restless, he was continually generating new ideas and throwing them out to whoever was in talking distance or on the end of an email. He could be enthralling, mischievous and frustrating at the same time. My wife described having Jay to stay as being “like having a clever, over-excited child in the house”. Ideas and action bounced off every wall. He was also never without a camera close at hand to act as his ‘external memory’. His Flickr stream contains thousands of photos. Jay was like that, he shared everything.

Jay - LMSJay and ClarkGuinness Brewery, Dublin July 2010ITA
Jay was fun to be around

Above all, Jay provided a beacon to light the way to new and better approaches for creating high performing organisations. It is terribly sad that he died at a time when only the beginnings of the transformation he championed are starting to appear. He also lived his credo that ‘conversation is the best learning technology ever invented’.

Jay’s premature death is a huge loss to his family and close friends, and also to the many people he and his ideas touched across the world. It has taken one of the true original thinkers from us at a time when we most need him.

I have no doubt that Jay would want others to continue to build on his ideas and work. He was like that, generous and sharing. It was an absolute privilege and pleasure to have been one among his many friends.




So, farewell, Jay Cross. You’ve left the world a much better place. Your ideas and work have helped push the boundaries. You showed the way and helped us ‘keep it on the road’.



11th November 2015


Posted in Uncategorized

The L&D world is splitting in two

It is now very clear to me, that the world of L&D is splitting in two.  There are those who think that the old ways of training are still valid and sufficient for today’s workforce, and there are those who realise that the world has moved on and a new approach to supporting workplace learning […]

Levels of Design

In a recent conversation, we were talking about the Kirkpatrick model, and a colleague had an interesting perspective that hadn’t really struck me overtly. Kirkpatrick is widely (not widely enough, and wrongly) used as an evaluation tool, but he talked about using it as a design tool, and that perspective made clear for me a problem with our approaches.

So, there’s a lot of debate about the Kirkpatrick model, whether it helps or hinders the movement towards good learning. I think it’s misrepresented (including by it’s own progenitors, though they’re working on that ;), and while I’m open to new tools I think it does a nice job of framing a fairly simple but important idea. The goal is to start with the end in mind.

And the evidence is that it’s not being used well. The largest implementation of the model is level 1, which isn’t of use (correlation between learner reaction and actual impact is .09, essentially zero with a rounding error). Level 2 drops to a third of orgs, and it drops from there. And this is broken.

The point, and this is emphasized by the ‘design’ perspective, is that you are supposed to start with level 4, and work back. What’s the measurable indicator in the organization that isn’t up to snuff, and what behavior (level 3) would likely impact that? And how do we change that behavior (Level 2)? And here’s where it can go beyond training: that intervention might be a job aid, or access to a network (which hasn’t been much in the promotion of the model).

To be fair, the proponents do argue you should be starting at Level 4, but with the numbering (which Don admits he might have got wrong) and the emphasis on evaluation, it doesn’t hit you up front. Using it as a design tool, however, would emphasize the point.

So here’s to thinking of learning design as working backwards from a problem, not forwards from a request. And, of course, to better learning design overall.

Under the ‘Content’ Cover

Too often I see instructional design training and tools, in addition to talking about ‘objectives’ and ‘assessment’ (which I tend to call ‘practice’, for hopefully obvious reasons), talking about ‘content’. And I think that simplification is a path to bad learning design. It misses emphasizing the nuances, and that’s a bad thing.

What should be the elements of content are an introduction to the learning experience, a presentation of the concept(s), examples that illustrate applying the concept to contexts, and a closing of the experience. Each of these have component parts that, when addressed, contribute to the likelihood of a good learning outcome. Ignoring them, however, is likely to lead to a lack of impact.

The problem is that our cognitive architecture is prone to mistakes in execution. We’re bad at remembering bits and pieces, and we naturally can skip steps. That’s why we create external tools like checklists and templates to support good design. So if we’re not scaffolding here, we run the risk of creating content that may be well-written, but isn’t well-designed.

And we see this all too often: eLearning that’s content-heavy and learning light. It may have good production values, with a consistent look-and-feel, elegant prose, and great images, but it also tends to have too much rote information, little enough concepts, sparse and un-illuminating examples, and no real emotional ‘hook’.

Instead, we could be using checklists or templates to ensure we get the right elements. We could have support for designing introductions, concept, examples, and closing, (and better support for good practice too ;). It doesn’t have to be built into an authoring tool, but certainly should be manifest in the development tools for interim representations.

There are other reasons to be a bit more granular, such as flexible content that supports repurposing for delivery in the moment, and adaptive learning, but overall the real reason is for good design. It doesn’t have to be granular, but it does have to explicitly consider the elements that contribute to learning and get those right. Right?

Twitter Tributes to Jay Cross

News of Jay’s death has quickly spread round the Twittersphere  – and there have been some wonderful tributes to him.  I’m trying to capture them in this Storify. If yours is missing, let me know and I will add it in. [View the story “Tributes to Jay Cross” on Storify]