What it means to transform workplace learning

arrow-945260_640This is a re-work of a previous post.

There is a lot of talk about transforming workplace learning. But what does it actually mean?

A recent Harvard Business Review article, What do you really mean by business “transformation” describes three different “categories of effort, and this is valuable to help us understand workplace learning transformation.

The 3 categories of effort for business transformation are:

 Operational  OPERATIONAL MODEL  strategic transformation
This is the use of new technologies to solve old problems.

Although operational change  can drive business impact, it doesn’t bring about transformation.

This involves doing what you are currently doing in a fundamentally different way.

But this is s still not transformative.

This is about changing the very essence of the company.

Thiis is transformative.

So if we apply this thinking to workplace learning transformation, then

 Operational  OPERATIONAL MODEL  strategic transformation
This is about USING NEW TECHNOLOGY TO SOLVE OLD TRAINING PROBLEMS, e.g. by digitizing training and converting classroom into e-learning, and adding in new technologies (and trends) to the same top-down training activities – whether it be mobile learning, micro learning, gamification, and so on etc.

Whilst this might have some business impact (e.g. be more cost effective) the essence of “learning” doesn’t change in the company; it is still focused on L&D designed activities as the primary way to learn.

This involves CARRYING OUT “TRAINING” (a catch-all phrase to encompass all L&D organised activities0 IN A FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT WAY, so for example, moving from (push) courses to (pull) resources, or setting up learning communities (or communities of practice) are still activities organized and managed by the L&D department. This means CHANGING THE VERY ESSENCE OF WHAT “LEARNING” MEANS IN THE COMPANY – through both a new understanding of how it happens in the workplace (i.e. not just through top-down L&D organised activities (aka training/e-learning)  but as people carry out their daily jobs), as well as how performance problems can be solved in different ways.

It also means that learning and performance improvement is no longer the sole remit of the L&D department, but something that everyone in the organisation – managers and employees alike – has responsibility for.

The HBR article concludes

“Focusing on “today better” operational efforts does nothing more than create parity with the best executors of yesterday’s model. It is a recipe for short-term survival, not long-term sustainability.

Leaders instead should be thinking about how to blend together operational model and strategic transformation to execute what Innosight calls a dual transformation.” 

So once again if we apply this to transformation of workplace learning, the key point is that operational training efforts (ie applying new technologies to old training problems) are only a recipe for short term survival.

For long-term sustainability it will be important to blend together the operational training model and strategic transformation to bring about a  dual transformation of workplace learning. This is what Modern Workplace Learning (MWL) is all about – it means:

doing things differently and doing different things

Want to find out more how you can transform workplace learning in your organisation? then sign up for the MWL Challenge starting Monday 4 September.

Trying out videos

DevLearn, the elearning conference I’ll be attending in November, has suggested adding videos to promote your talks.  I haven’t done much with video (though I did just do this <6 minute one about my proposed learning pedagogy), but I’ve found the ‘narrated presentation’ capability built into Keynote to be of interest, so I’ve been playing with it.  And I thought I’d share.

First, I created this one to promote my talk on eLearning Myths. It’s a fun session with a MythSmasher format (e.g. the possible myth, the appeal, the damage, the method, the results, and what you can do instead if it’s busted) . It’s important, because if you’re supporting the wrong myths you can be wasting money and vulnerable to flawed promotions. Here’s the pitch:

Then, I’m also running an elearning strategy workshop, that’s basically the Revolution roadmap.  In it, we work through the elements of the Performance Ecosystem and not only make the case for, but workshop a personalized roadmap for your organization.  As things move forward, there’s an opportunity for L&D to lead the charge to the adaptive organization!

I welcome hearing your feedback on content or presentation, and of course invite you to attend either or both!

The rise of the MWL Intrapreneur

idea-1019906_640I recently read a powerful blog post by Helen Blunden called Learning & Development need to get their groove back. Helen is the recipient of the inaugural Jay Cross Memorial Award, and has wide experience both of working within L&D and more recently as a external consultant. All of which has led her to the conclusion ..

“the more I’m working and talking with other businesses, professions, and industries outside L&D, it’s becoming painfully obvious that we are falling behind”

She writes too about how she is increasingly going to conferences and events outside L&D, because she is not learning anything new in L&D anymore …

“I’m still seeing and hearing .. the same old and tired discussion on courseware development and design; circular arguments around the validity of the 70-20-10 numbers (frankly, who really cares?!); general fear of the use of social media; a disdain for Enterprise Social Networks such as Yammer (even though they have never used it themselves) and this mistaken belief that the LMS implementation will solve the organisation’s woes as to why their people aren’t collaborating with each other.  (I hate to break it to you but just because your LMS has a discussion forum, it doesn’t necessarily mean your people will use it). 

Helen does, of course, rightly, recognize that there are some out there who are inspiring and leading new workplace learning skills and who are role models, influencers, connectors and who network extensively themselves. She refers to thee people as L&D intrapreneurs.

This concept of an intrapreneur is interesting. Claudia Chan explains it, in The Rise of the Intraprenuer  ..

“This isn’t employees trying to do better at their existing jobs or move up the ladder; this is them wanting to create something new that doesn’t currently exist.”

Alexa Clay, a spokesperson for the League of Intrapreneurs, explains how the movement of intraprenuership has come a long way (my emboldening) …

“It started (seven years ago) almost as Alcoholics Anonymous,” she said. “We would create these safe spaces for intrapreneurs to come together and share their stories about working in the corporate world because they are going against the grain so often.

The article also makes the valid point (again my emboldening) …

“Obviously there have always been go-getters in companies who try to move the needle forward and push the status quo. But never before has there been such a push for employees to take ownership of their own corner of a company. This can mean creating a new division or launching a new initiative like an environmental or women’s leadership campaign.

So what does it mean to be a MWL (Modern Workplace Learning) intrapreneur?

It means breaking out of the box of doing things the way they have always been done where the only valid learning is considered to happen when L&D organise it – notably through some form of (e-)training initiative.

So it doesn’t mean building a little empire in a corporate academy or corporate university – since that simply perpetuates the approach that L&D organised (and managed) learning activities are the only things that are important. It also doesn’t mean tinkering with training – i.e. tarting it up with social media, gamification, or the latest buzzword – and thinking that this is innovative or transformative! And it certainly doesn’t mean acquiring yet another learning platform – in an attempt to capture, track and measure everything everyone learns!

Of course, there is a need to modernize (e-)training, but there is a much, much bigger picture to consider. For instance, how to help individuals get the most out of what they do (and learn) in their everyday working lives, and how to help them work (and learn) effectively alongside one another. And indeed how to empower individuals to take ownership of their professional self-learning –  so that both they and the company benefit from it.

In other words, being a MWL Intrapreneur means building a completely new vision and approach for workplace learning in the organisation and L&D’s role within it. One where the emphasis moves from DOING things to people (and making sure they do it) to SUPPORTING them as they do things for and by themselves.

Breaking out of the old L&D box is hard –  as it is all too easy to fall back into old ways. And there is also a lot of vested interest in maintaining the status quo! For this reason, the most successful MWL intrapreneurs often come from other areas of the business, as they are not hamstrung by traditional L&D notions about where and how learning happens, and the traditional learning technologies they have been told they need to have in place. But anyone with a broad and open mind – who believes there is a fundamental need to support learning and performance in more relevant ways in the modern workplace – can (and is doing) it.

Going against the grain takes strong will and determination to turn around old organisational ideas and thinking –  and there will of course be many companies who want to stay stuck in their comfortable old ways. But MWL intrapreneurs are able to articulate their ideas, and influence a change in attitudes and behaviour.

Being a MWL intrapreneur is therefore not for the faint-hearted. But anyone can take on the role – young or old – as the article (cited above) explains …

“The rise of the intrapreneur is driven in part by a restless, younger workforce eager to make a real impact with their careers … Older generations, perhaps inspired by their younger colleagues, are thinking more about their legacy and launching new projects in the companies they’ve worked for.”

Just like the League of Intrapreneurship, I create “safe spaces” to discuss MWL intrapreneurship, so if you want some help to become an MWL intrapreneur, if want to consider new possibilities, and/or if you want to hear what others are doing or want to do, then join my MWL Challenge where I will also share my own experience of working with MWL intrapreneurs from around the world. If, however, you prefer some bespoke advice, then please do feel free to contact me personally.


I recently wrote about serious comics, and realized there’s a form I hadn’t addressed yet has some valuable insights. The value in looking at other approaches is that it provides lateral insight (I’m currently reading Stephen Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From) that we may be able to transfer.  And the source this time is editorial cartoons.

Editorial cartoons use imagery and text to convey a comment on a current topic.  The best ones portray a poignant insight into an issue of the day, via a twist that emphasizes the point to be made.  They’re usually combined with a distinct visual style from each artist.  They reflect some of the same thoughts that accompany internet memes (the captioned photos) but require more visual talent ;).

The common approach appears to be (and I welcome insight from others) the ability to use another context to exaggerate some viewpoint. It’s a bit metaphorical, but I think the trick is to abstract the structure from the situation to be illuminated, and to map it to another situation that highlights the relationships.  So you could take some recent pop star spat and map it to a political one, or highlight an economic policy as a personal one.

As context, I happened to stumble upon an exhibition of Conrad‘s work in my college art gallery, and as he was the local cartoonist for my home newspaper (The LA Times), I recognized his work.  I had the chance to explore in more detail his award-winning efforts. Agree or disagree, he made powerful comments and I admired his ability.

Now, editorial cartooning is very context-sensitive, in that what is being talked about is very much ‘of the day’. What’s being commented on may not be relevant at a later time, particularly if they conjoin a popular culture event with an issue as they often do.  But the insight, looking for the twist and the way to make the point, is a valuable skill that has a role in learning design too.

In learning design, we want to make the content meaningful.  There’s intrinsic interest in pretty much everything, but it may be hard to find (see: working with SMEs), and also hard to convey.  Yet I believe comics are one way to do this.  You can, for instance, humorously exaggerate the consequences of not having the knowledge.  I’ve done that with content where we introduced each section of a course with a comic (very much like an editorial cartoon) highlighting the topic and necessity.

The point being that we can not only benefit from understanding other media, but we can appropriate their approaches as well. Our learning designs needs to be eclectic to be engaging and effective.  Or, to put it another way, there are lots of ways to get the design implemented, once you have the design right.

The Modern Workplace Learning Challenge

Challenge Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

(or email Jane.Hart@C4LPT.co.uk to organise a private, bespoke challenge for your team)

Modern Workplace Learning doesn’t just mean modernizing training and e-learning, but radically changing the way you think about and support learning in the organisation. It means helping to build the social organisation – so that individuals can learn from one another everyday as they work together, as well as empowering employee-led learning, where individuals take more responsibility for their own learning and development.

The agenda for the 12 week challenge is is as follows. (Note that whilst the 12 weeks gives this Challenge some structure, it is not a finite deadline; you can take as long as you like to work through it.)

    1. Introduction to MWL
    2. Don’t try and do it all
    3. Provide flexible resources
    4. Drip-feed training
    5. Run learning campaigns and challenges
    6. Support continuous social learning
  1. Help groups solve problems collaboratively
  2. Foster connections through networking events
  3. Empower employee-led learning
  4. Develop new professional learning skills
  5. Build new learning mindsets
  6. MWL Challenge Review


This is not a traditional course, where I provide all the content and then test you on it! It is a social experience hosted in a private Yammer group. Each week there will be a short (web-based) briefing followed by a personal Challenge activity, where you are encouraged to share your thoughts and your work with the rest of the group. Note: there are NO synchronous activities, so the Challenge is suitable for any time-zone.

Nothing is compulsory, but you will find that the more you work out loud with the other participants, the more you will get out of the workshop. Even showing ra” examples of your work is valuable for others to see; it doesn’t have to be a perfect product. And of course, it is also helpful to comment on each others work as well as consider how their ideas might work within your own organization.

You will probably want to commit a couple of hours a week for this workshop, but once again it is up to you how much time you devote to it, and also when you do the work. If you would like a Challenge Completion Certificate you will need to complete the final review activity.

All participants will receive a PDF copy of Jane Hart’s Modern Workplace Learning book as part of the Challenge materials plus draft material from the upcoming 2017 edition, Modern Workplace Learning: Refresh 2017


Participants come from all over the world and from all types of organisations where they work as L&D specialists as well as consultants. They therefore offer a wide mix of perspectives and ideas. Here is some feedback from the L&D Challenge that ran earlier in 2016.

“Jane Hart’s L&D challenge takes you through all of the steps for implementing a shift in the role of L&D towards facilitating social and everyday learning, both at personal and organizational levels. I took part in most of the activities, which are relevant and interesting (and fun!) but there is no obligation to participate if something isn’t relevant to your organization or if you don’t have time that week. This takes away the guilt I often feel when I participate late or not at all during a course and so I never lost the motivation to continue working through it. I highly recommend it to everyone – beginners and experts alike.” Carolyn Gregoire

“If you’re in Learning & Development, you know that you need to change. Traditional Training won’t cut it any more. You need to shape and support modern workplace learning – informal, social, beyond the course and LMS. Jane’s Challenge takes this from an abstract, scary task and makes it possible. The interactions with other professionals are invaluable – you realise you’re not alone and everyone’s willing to help each other out with ideas and practical tips. You’ll come through the challenge with a fresh set of insights for reinvigorating your approach to supporting your business. Highly Recommended.” Stephen Walsh

“The Challenge is a unique learning experience. I would recommended it to anyone in L&D who would like to understand not only where the role of the L&D Practitioner is heading but who also wants to be involved in shaping the role too.

I enjoyed experiencing first-hand one of Jane Hart’s modern approaches to learning – the Guided Social Learning Experience – which is the way in which The Challenge is structured. I think it is both an effective (and enjoyable) structure and I learned a huge amount by completing the weekly Challenge activities and by learning with others on Yammer.

I found Jane’s MWL book (provided as a resource in the program) to be thought-provoking and an excellent read and one that I have continuously referred to. I also found the links to the articles, blog posts, tools etc. written and/or provided by Jane for the activities to be both current and of the best quality.

I will definitely miss receiving the weekly Challenge activity. They not only made me think but they also gave me the proverbial ‘kick’ to try out new activities and tools, and to develop new personal and organisational learning skills and habits.” Justine Jardine


£149 – for payment by credit card or PayPal. Follow the payment instructions below

If you prefer to pay by invoice and inter-bank transfer, please email Jane.Hart@C4LPT.co.uk. Please note this incurs an admin fee of £25, and all payment will need to be made in advance of the workshop date.

Payment instructions

Once you click on the sign up link below you will be taken to a page at the PayPal site to pay.

  • You can pay in two ways:
    • By credit card: select Pay with a debit or credit card in the right-hand column, and complete the form with your credit card details. You will also receive a payment receipt. Note: our merchant name is Tesserae Ltd, and this is the name that will appear on your credit card statement.
    • By PayPal: enter your PayPal details in the box shown.
  • Where there is more than one participant, please provide the name and email address of each participant in the Instructions to Merchant.
  • Click Return to Tesserae Ltd to return to this site.
  • You will then receive an email from us with your joining details.
  • If you do not receive the email within 24 hours, please contact jane.hart@c4lpt.co.uk

Meaningful and meta

Over the weekend, one of my colleagues posted a rant about MOOCs and critical thinking. And, largely, I think he was right.  There’re several things we need, and MOOCs as they typically are constituted, aren’t going to deliver.  As I talked about yesterday, I think we need a more refined pedagogy.

So the things we need, to me, are two things:

  1. meaningful learning, whereby we have individuals learning skills that are applicable in their lives, and
  2. meta-learning, or learning to learn, so that people can continue to develop their skills in the face of increasing change.

And I don’t think the typical ‘text on screen with a quiz’ that he was ranting about is going to do it. Even with hand-shot videos.  (Though I disagree when he doesn’t like the word ‘engage’, as I obviously believe that we need engagement, but of both heart and mind, not just tarted up quizzes.)  He wanted critical thinking skills, and I agree.

Hence the activity framework. Yes, it depends on your design skills, but when done right, focusing on having learners create products that resemble the outputs that they’ll need to generate in their lives (and this is strongly influenced by the story-centered curriculum/goal-based scenario work of Roger Schank) is fundamentally invoking the skills they need. And having them show the thinking behind it developing their ‘work out loud’ (“show your work”) skills that ideally will carry over.

Ideally, of course, they’re engaging with other learners, commenting on their thinking (so they internalize critiquing as part of their own self-improvement skill set) and even collaborating (as they’ll have to).  And of course there are instructors involved to evaluate those critical skills.

As an aside, that’s why I have problems with AI. It’s not yet advanced enough yet, as far as I know, to practically be able to evaluate the underlying thinking and determine the best intervention.  It may be great when we are there, but for now in this environment, people are better.

The other component is, of course, gradually handing off control of the learning design responsibility to the learners. They should start choosing what product, what reflection, what content, and ultimately what activity.  This is part of developing their ability to take control of their learning as they go forward.  And this means that we’ll have to be scrutable in our learning design, so they can look back, see how we’re choosing to design learning, so they can internalize that meta-level as well.

And we can largely use MOOC technologies (though we need to have sufficient mentors around, which has been a challenge with the ‘Massive’ part).  The point though, is that we need curriculum design that focuses on meaningful skills, and then a pedagogical design that develops them and the associated learning skills.  That’s what I think we should be trying to achieve.  What am I missing?

Activity-Based Learning Walkthrough

I spoke to my activity-based learning model as part of a larger presentation, and someone suggested that it really helped to be walked through it. So this was on my ‘to do’ queue.  And, finally, I created a walkthrough; here you go (about 5 and a half minutes).

I should note that I don’t view this as all that novel; most of these ideas have appeared elsewhere in some form of another.  The contribution, I feel, is twofold:

  1. representing curriculum in a way that makes it hard to think of ‘info dump and knowledge test’ as a learning experience
  2. including explicit ways to develop thinking and learning skills

And it’s very much dependent on the quality of the choice of components: activity, product, reflection, etc.

As I close in the presentation, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Modern Professional Learning (MPL) meets Modern Workplace Learning (MWL)

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 09.41.42Modern Professional Learning (MPL), an approach which many professionals are now (consciously or unconsciously) adopting, involves taking responsibility for their own career and self-development through continuous learning, on demand problem solving and getting the most out of their daily work. A large part of it happens, of course, outside of their organisation – primarily on the Web.

Modern Workplace Learning (MWL) is an L&D approach that recognises how modern professionals learn in today’s world, and enables and supports their activities in the workplace – not just by organising modern approaches to training and e-learning and ensuring they have access to useful resources, but by helping to build a social organisation that values the learning that comes from working with others. But a key part of MWL involves empowering and supporting modern professionals to organise and manage their own learning and development aligned with organisational objectives – and share what they are doing/have done so that their team and ultimately the organisation can also reap the rewards from all this self-learning. This is Employee-Led Learning (ELL).

ELL is where MPL meets MWL.

In the upcoming MWL Challenge (starting 5 September) we’ll be looking more closely at MPL, MWL and ELL, and helping you consider what it means for your own organisation and L&D team. Click HERE to find out more and how to join us.

70-20-10: Origin, Research, Purpose

This is a re-post of an article by Cal Wick of Fort Hill. The original is on the 70-20 Blog site. There are a few observations from me at the bottom.

Calhoun Wick

Cal is deeply experienced and knowledgeable in the area of workplace learning. He been studying and supporting it for many years and is co-author of the highly acclaimed Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results (Pfeiffer, 2010). Cal’s company has also developed the 70-20 tool, which supports learning in the workflow in innovative and measurable ways – it is well worth test driving.

Cal - Bob - CharlesLearning through Conversation – April 2016
Cal Wick, Bob Eichinger, Charles Jennings







70-20-10: Origin,Research, Purpose
by Cal Wick


Where It All Began
The 70-20-10 model has been part of the corporate learning and development lexicon for decades. Some people find implementing 70-20-10 brings transformational change to their corporate learning cultures. Others are not quite sure what to make of it or how to leverage the model. A last group discounts it claiming 70-20-10 has no research to back it up and that it provides little value because the numbers are not accurate.

Robert W. EichingerRecently I had a conversation with Bob Eichinger, one of the original thought leaders who created the 70-20-10 model, about its origin, research, and purpose. I found what Bob said to be so compelling that I asked him to write it up. Bob agreed.


Here is what he shared:







To Whom It Apparently Concerns, (Bob Eichinger)

Yes Virginia, there is research behind 70-20-10!

I am Robert W. Eichinger, PhD. I’m one of the creators, along with the research staff of the Center for Creative Leadership, of the 70-20-10 meme [the dictionary defines a meme as an “idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person”]. Note: see The Leadership Machine, Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger, Lominger International, Inc., Third Edition 2007, Chapter 21, Assignmentology: The Art of Assignment Management, pages 314-361.

The Lessons of ExperienceAt the time in the late 1980s, Michael Lombardo and I were teaching a course at the Center called Tools for Developing Effective Executives. The course was basically a summary of the findings of The Lessons of Experience study done over a 13-year period at the Center and published in 1988. My job was to convert the study’s findings into practical practices. Mike represented the CCL research staff and I was a practitioner at PepsiCo, and then at Pillsbury.

We were working on a section of the course on planning for the development of future leaders. One of the study’s objectives was to find out where today’s leaders learned the skills and competencies they were good at when they got into leadership positions.

The study interviewed 191 currently successful executives from multiple organizations. As part of an extensive interview protocol, researchers asked these executives about where they thought they learned things from that led to their success – The Lessons of Success. The interviewers collected 616 key learning events which the research staff coded into 16 categories.

The 16 categories were too complex to use in the course so we in turn re-coded the 16 categories into five to make them easier to communicate.

The five categories were learning from challenging assignments, other people, coursework, adverse situations and personal experiences (outside work). Since we were teaching a course about how to develop effective executives, we could not use the adverse situations (can’t plan for or arrange them for people) and personal experiences outside of work (again, can’t plan for them). Those two categories made up 25% of the original 16 categories. That left us with 75% of the Lessons of Success for the other three categories.

So the final easy-to-communicate meme was: 70% Learning from Challenging Assignments; 20% Learning from Others; and 10% Learning from Coursework. And thus we created the 70-20-10 meme widely quoted still today.

The basic findings of the Lessons of Success study have been duplicated at least nine times that I know of. These include samples in China, India and Singapore and for female leaders, since the original samples of executives in the early 80s were mostly male. The findings are all roughly in line with 70-20-10. They are 70-22-8, 56-38-6 (women), 48-47-5 (middle level), 73-16-11 (global sample), 60-33-7, 69-27-4 (India), 65-33-2 (Singapore) and 68-25-7 (China). A number of companies including 3M have also replicated the study and found roughly the same results.

So some have said that 70-20-10 doesn’t come from any research. It does. Some have said the 70-20-10 is just common sense. It is now. Experience has always been the best teacher. Still is.

I might add that there is a lot of variance between organizations and levels and types of people. These studies were mostly about how to develop people for senior leadership positions in large global companies. The meme for other levels of leadership and different kinds of companies might be different. There might also be other memes for different functional areas.


From My Perspective (Cal Wick)

From my perspective, Bob and Mike’s genius was to take the 16 sources of learning present in the 616 key learning events, as recounted by the participants in the Lessons of Success study, drop out the 25% of learning that comes from hardship and beyond work, and turn the remainder into a meme of three sources of learning now known around the world as 70-20-10. As a meme or reference model, it both validates the importance of Formal Courses – the “10” as well as opening up the opportunity of intentionally activating Learning from Challenging Assignments – the “70” and Learning from Others – the “20.”

Implications70-20-10 Model

1. Bob and Mike’s 70-20-10 meme made visible that learning takes place both in formal settings (the 10) as well as in experience (the 70) and through relationships (the 20). As a model, its value is not in trying to determine with precision the exact numbers to the left or right of a decimal point, but instead to use it to open our eyes to learning that is happening all the time on-the-job, but is largely invisible.

2. When 70-20 learning becomes visible and intentional, the implication is that Learning & Development has the opportunity to harness its potential. The challenge is how can L&D activate and support informal and social learning in an intentional, high impact way that builds a vibrant learning culture? And this learning culture leads to higher performance as employees embrace continuous development on the job. The 70-20 learning of today’s workforce is largely self-directed. Just look at the web searches you have done in the last week. The opportunity for L&D is to add value by making available the resources, people, expertise and digital tools to support and accelerate the 70-20 learning that happens every day and everywhere.

3. It turns out that there is now significant research that supports the reality and value of learning Experiential Learningbeyond the formal “10.” For example, David Kolb in his Second Edition of Experiential Learning cites nearly 4,000 bibliographic research and application references. The question is how can L&D best take advantage of the great research that has already been done and put it into practice? How can today’s L&D groups be effective at delivering formal learning with support so that it is well applied on the job? What approaches can we take to enable self-directed 70-20 learning that improves capabilities and performance throughout an organization?


This is a very exciting time in our industry and we’re delighted to be part of the conversation and the exploration of new strategies to drive competitive advantage and improved performance through 70-20 learning.


My Observations (Charles Jennings)

There’s no doubt the work of Bob Eichinger, Mike Lombardo and the team at the Center for Creative Leadership was fundamental in highlighting a critical fact – that most learning, most of the time, comes not from courses and programmes, classrooms, workshops and eLearning, but from everyday activities.

This research set the ‘70:20:10 ball’ rolling, and Bob’s explanation above answers many questions that I’ve heard raised over the years.

It’s also important to recognise, as Cal Wick points out above, that many other researchers have also identified the importance of learning beyond the ‘10’.

jay - spending outcomes paradox

Jay Cross, a friend and colleague in the Internet Time Alliance, spent the last years of his life raising awareness of the importance of ‘informal learning’ across the world. As early as 2002 Jay was describing the unrelenting focus on formal learning in terms of the ‘Spending/Outcomes Paradox’. 

Jay talked about ‘the other 80%’, the informal learning that happens beyond the control, and often the sight, of the HR and L&D departments. Jay cited a number of studies and observations that supported this. They were briefly documented by Jay here.

More recently, researchers have been validating the importance of the learning that happens as part of the daily workflow. One example of is the work of Professor Andries de Grip and his team at the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Professor de Grip’s 2015 report ‘The importance of informal learning at work’ explains that:

On-the-job learning is more important for workers’ human capital development than formal training’

and also that:

’Rapidly changing skill demands and rising mandatory retirement ages make informal learning even more important for workers’ employability throughout their work life. Policies tend to emphasize education and formal training, and most firms do not have strategies to optimize the gains from informal learning at work’

We’ve known for years that the ‘70+20’ are critical and that it’s in these zones that most learning happens. It’s now time to put this knowledge into action.

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Dave Gray Liminal Thinking Mindmap

I was fortunate to have a chance to hear Dave Gray (author of Connected Company) speak on his forthcoming book, Liminal Thinking. Interestingly inspired by his investigation of agile, it end up being about how to break through your barriers. He shared personal stories to make a compelling case that we can transcend our established approaches and make the changes we need.

Learning Through the Wild

So last week I was in the wilderness for some more time, this time with family.  And there were several learnings as an outcome that are worth sharing.

VogelsangLakeAs context, Yosemite National Park is one of the world’s truly beautiful places, with the valley as an accessible way to see the glacier-carved rock. Beyond the valley, however, there is backcountry (mountains, rivers, lakes) that is only accessible by backpack, and I’ve done plenty of that. And then there’s one other option: the High Sierra Camps. There you can stay in tent cabins, eating prepared meals, but you can only get to them by horse or by hiking. (You can also get just meals, and carry in your tents and bags and all, which is what we did.) What this does is get you to a subset (a spectacular subset) of the high country, a chance to experience real wilderness without having to be able to carry a backpack.

Also as context, I am a fervent believer in the value of wildness.  As I expressed before, there’s the creativity aspect that comes from spending time in the wilderness. You can reflect on your regular world when you’re no longer tied to it.  As you hike or ride along the trails, your mind can wander and process in the background. There are also mental health benefits to be found in escaping from the everyday clatter. (This is very necessary for me! :) And, importantly, the processes in nature provide a counter-balance to the artificial processes we put in place to breed plants and animals. The variation generated in the wild is a complement to our own approaches, just as computers are a complement to our brains. Consequently, I believe we need to preserve some of our natural spaces.

So, one of the learning outcomes is being able to experience the wilderness without having to be physically capable of carrying everything you need on your back.  I reckon that if you can experience the wildness, you can appreciate it, and then can become a supporter.  Thus, just the existence of these alternate paths (between cars and backpacking) means to me a higher likelihood of preserving the environment.

Similarly, there are rangers who visit these camps, and provide after-dinner campfire talks.  They talk at dinner, talking about what they will be covering, but also advocating for the value of the programs and the wilderness. Similarly, the staff at the camps also do a good job of advocating for the wilderness (as they would), and there are guidebooks available for perusal to learn more, as well as information around the dining rooms (and great food!).

One of the larger learning lessons is that, once you’re in context, the interest is naturally sparked, and then you’re ripe for a message. Your curiosity gets stoked about why coyotes howl, once you hear them. Or you wonder about the geology, or the lifecycle of plants, or…you get the idea.  Creating artificial contexts is one of the tricks of learning (please, don’t keep it abstract, it doesn’t work), but layering it on in context is increasingly doable and more valuable.

Meaningful engagement in context is a valuable prerequisite for learning. The reason we can go to conferences and get value (contrary to the old “you can’t learn from a lecture”) is because we’re engaged in activity and conferences serve as reflection opportunities.  Sometimes you need to get away from the context to reflect, if the contextual pressures are too much, and sometimes the context naturally sparks reflection.  Making time for reflection is a component of a learning organization, and getting support in context or having time away from context both are parts. So my recommendation is to support wilderness, and get out in it!

Empowering Employee-Led Learning

woman-1353803_640Over the last 10 years (since I’ve been running my Top 100 Tools for Learning survey) I’ve written lots of posts and articles about how the way the Web is changing the way we learn. And recently there have been a number of other studies that have concurred with my findings!

One of my own recent posts considered the individual’s perspective of workplace learning and how L&D departments can learn from this to modernize their own practices.

By use of the term, Modern Workplace Learning (MWL), I’ve always been very clear that this doesn’t JUST mean modernizing training to bring it more in line with the way that people are choosing to learn for themselves, but about doing some very different things. In particular, with respect to social learning, that this doesn’t mean making people interact with one another online, but helping to build social teams and groups, facilitative collaborative problem solving and innovation, and foster connections across the whole business.

However, there is a much bigger – and much more significant – aspect of Modern Workplace Learning that I think needs more prominence – and that is promoting and supporting employe-led learning (ELL).

By ELL I don’t just mean offering a self-service selection of courses and resources for employees to choose from – although that might be part of it, I mean empowering individuals to organise and manage their own personal and professional learning to improve their own knowledge, skills and ultimately their performance in the workplace, in the way that best suits them.

Why is ELL necessary?

  • We need to stop treating employees like school children and spoon-feeding them with all the training they need to do in exactly the way we prescribe for them – but instead treat them like the intelligent adults they are!!
  • We need to stop treating employees as if they are all the same and providing then with a one size fits all training solution – but instead treat them like individuals, and help them to have personal (i.e. personally constructed, relevant and appropriate) learning experiences that fit their own needs.

ELL is about empowering them to make their own choices, but it is also about ensuring they take personal responsibility for what they choose to do and how they do it.

So what does it mean to support ELL?

  • It means working with individuals to identify their own personal development goals – ie what they need/want to do (or do better) in their existing jobs or to prepare for the future – which will undoubtedly be aligned with business goals.
  • It means helping them to identify what internal or external, formal or informal, resources, activities or people they can make use of – to achieve their goals .
  • It means ensuring they have time in their busy working days to focus on achieving these personal goals because ultimately this will help the business.
  • It means helping them to evidence what they can do as a result (i.e their new performance) rather than evidence what they have learned – in their personally-owned professional portfolios (rather than in a enterprise LMS) – to ensure they own their own learning.

Some organisations are already supporting employee-led learning approaches in this way, whilst for others it provokes a range of reactions. One comment I hear from time to time is “We can’t let people organise their own learning, they might learn the wrong things”. Clearly those people believe L&D knows best, so aren’t quite ready for EEL in their organisation!!!

But, if you are interested and want to find out more, then come and join my MWL Challenge (running 2 September – 25 November) where this will be one of the key topics we’ll be looking at.

The probability of wasting money

Designing learning is a probability game.  To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, you can lead a learner to learning, but you can’t make them think.  What I mean is that the likelihood that the learning actually sticks is a result of a myriad of design decisions, and many elements contribute to that likelihood.  It will vary by learner, despite your endeavors, but you increase the probability that the desired outcome is achieved by following what’s know about how people learn.

This is the point of learning engineering, applying learning science to the design of learning experiences.  You need to align elements like:

  • determining learning objectives that will impact the desired outcome
  • designing sufficient contextualized practice
  • appropriately presenting a conceptual model that guides performance
  • providing a sufficient and elaborated suite of examples to  illustrate the concept in context
  • developing emotional engagement

and so on.

And to the extent that you’re not fully delivering on the nuances of these elements, you’re decreasing the likelihood of having any meaningful impact. It’s pretty simple:

If you don’t have the right objectives (e.g. if you just take an order for a course), what’s the likelihood that your learning will achieve anything?

If you don’t have sufficient practice, what’s the likelihood that the learning will still be there when needed?

If you have abstract practice, what’s the likelihood that your learners will transfer that practice to appropriate situations?

If you don’t guide performance with a model, what’s the likelihood that learners will be able to adapt their performance to different situations?

If you don’t provide examples, what’s the likelihood that learners will understand the full range of situations and appropriate adaptations for each?

And if you don’t emotionally engage them, what’s the likelihood that any of this will be appropriately processed?

Now, let’s tie that back to the dollars it costs you to develop this learning.  There’s the SME time, and the designer time, and development time, and the time of the learners away from their revenue-generating activity. At the end of the day, it’s a fair chunk of change.  And if you’re slipping in the details of any of this (and I’m just skating the surface, there’re nuances around all of these), you’re diminishing the value of your investment, potentially all the way to zero. In short, you could be throwing your money away!

This isn’t to make you throw up your hands and say “we can’t do all that”.  Most design processes have the potential to do the necessary job, but you have to comprehend the nuances, and ensure that the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed on development.  Just because  you have an authoring tool doesn’t mean what comes out is actually achieving anything.

However, it’s possible to tune up the design process to acknowledge the necessary details. When you provide support at just the right places, and put in place the subtle tweaks on things like working with SMEs, you can develop and deliver learning that has a high likelihood of having the desired impact, and therefore have a process that’s justifiable for the investment.

And that’s really the goal, isn’t it?  Being able to allocate resources to impact the business in meaningful ways is what we’re supposed to be doing. Too frequently we see the gaps continue (hence the call for Serious eLearning), and we can only do it if we’re acting like the professionals we need to be.   It’s time for a tuneup in organizational learning.  It’s not too onerous, and it’s needed.  So, are you ready?

Being clear on collaboration

Twice recently, I’ve been confronted with systems that claim to be collaboration platforms. And I think distributed collaboration is one of the most powerful options we have for accelerating our innovation.  So in each case I did some investigation. Unfortunately, the claims didn’t hold up to scrutiny. And I think it’s important to understand why.

Now, true collaboration is powerful.  By collaboration in this sense I mean working together to create a shared representation. It can be a document, spreadsheet, visual, or more. It’s like a shared whiteboard, with technology support to facilitate things like editing, formatting, versioning, and more.  When we can jointly create our shared understanding, we’re developing a richer outcome that we could independently (or by emailing versions of the document around).

However, what was on offer wasn’t this capability.  It’s not new, it’s been the basis of wikis (e.g. Google Docs), but it’s central.  Anything else is, well, something else.  You can write documents, or adjust tables and formulas, or edit diagrams together.  Several people can be making changes in different places at the same time, or annotating their thoughts, and it’s even possible to have voice communication while it’s happening (whether inherently or through additional tools). And it can happen asynchronously as well, with people adding, elaborating, editing whenever they have time, and the information evolves.

So one supported ‘collaborative conversations’.  Um, aren’t conversations inherently collaborative?  I  mean, it takes two people, right?  And while there may be knowledge negotiation, it’s not inherently captured, and in particular it may well be that folks take away different interpretations of what’s been said (I’m sure you’ve seen that happen!).  Without a shared representation, it’s still open to different interpretations (and, yes, we can disagree post-hoc about what a shared representation actually meant, but it’s much more difficult). That’s why we create representations like constitutions and policies and things.

The other one went a wee bit further, and supported annotating shared information. You could comment on it.  And this isn’t bad, but it’s not full collaboration.  Someone has to go away and process the comments.  It’s helpful, but not as much as jointly editing the information in the first place, as well as editing.

I’ve been a fan of wikis since I first heard about them, and think that they’ll be the basis for communities to continue to evolve, as well as being the basis for effective team work. In that sense, they’re core to the Coherent Organization, providing the infrastructure (along with communication and curating) to advance individual and organizational learning.

So, my point is to be clear on what capabilities you really need, so you can suitably evaluate claims about systems to support your actions.  I’ll suggest you want collaborative tools as well as communication tools.  What do you think?

Radically rethinking the role of L&D

forward-165245_640In July 2016 I read a number of blog posts and articles that argued the case for a radical rethink of the role of L&D in today’s workplace. Here are just three.

The first one, It’s the Company’s Job to Help Employees Learn written by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Mara Swan (HBR 18 July) made a number of significant points. Here are a few soundbites:

“most jobs today demand … the capacity to keep learning and developing new skills and expertise, even if they are not obviously linked to one’s current job”

“a major pillar in Google’s recruitment strategy is to hire “learning animals””

“Sadly, most organizations have yet to wake up to this reality, so they continue to pay too much attention to academic qualifications and hard skills, as if what entry-level employees had learned during university actually equipped them for today’s job market.”

“workplace learnability is far less structured and formulaic than college learnability, and employees must juggle the tension between the demand for the short-term efficiencies of productivity with the long-term quest for intellectual growth”

“So how can managers do a better job of fostering learnability in the workplace? Select for it … Nurture it … Reward it”

For me, this is what today’s L&D department should be focusing on … helping their people become learning animals.

Josh Bersin also writes how there now seems to be a clear recognition that L&D role needs to change, in Using Design Thinking to Embed Learning in Our Jobs  (HBR, 25 July)

“As I talk with learning and HR executives around the world, I hear these issues coming up everywhere. In fact, our recent research on global human capital trends shows that 84% of business leaders cite the “need for improved organizational learning” as a top priority, and 44% say it’s urgent.

Unfortunately, the problem is not one of designing better programs or simply replacing or upgrading learning platforms. Rather, there is something more fundamental going on — a need to totally rethink corporate L&D, to shift the focus to design thinking and the employee experience.”

And Mary Slaughter, in Stack the learning deck: Embrace new skills and roles to build a “full-stack” L&D function (HR Times, 21 July) also makes the case for a different approach

“Today corporate learning is less about developing and conveying content and more about enabling people to adapt, contribute, and excel throughout their careers. This shift has created the need for a much broader definition of what it means to be a learning professionals”

This new full-stack L&D function includes a range of professionals, not only those with “classic” degrees in teaching or instructional design but also people with knowledge of data science, neuroscience, marketing, user interface and user experience design, application development, information design, and content development.

It includes people who can think holistically about what the business needs and what learners need to support the current and future business.”

The issue for many is what they should be doing now to make these radical changes – after all as Josh Bersin says above it is not about “designing better programs or simply replacing or upgrading learning platforms”; it requires something more fundamental – “a need to totally rethink corporate L&D”. I have been working with a number of L&D teams around the world helping them make significant changes to what they do – using an approach I refer to as Modern Workplace Learning #MWL.

I wrote about what this change might look like in my Modern Workplace Learning in my book which I released at the end of 2015, but since that time I have been building on this  work, so from September I’ll be running a new MWL challenge where I shall be sharing a lot of new ideas on how to do things differently as well as do different things. If you’d like to find out more and/or to share what you have been doing to radically rethink the role of L&D, then come and join us.

The Power of Reflection in an Ever-Changing World

(I wrote the original article this is based on for Training Industry Quarterly in Winter, 2012 but feel it still speaks to a key issue for building high performance that has barely been touched by many L&D professionals).

Reflective Practices

3762182349_77fa97705f_bIn a world where speed and agility are the driving forces for most of our organisations we tend value our ability to look forward rather than to backwards. Yet one of the most useful tools for effective learning and development is reflection.

Critical reflection is one of the four fundamental ways in which we learn and improve. This holds true for learning in the workplace and in life. Yet many organisations have lost sight of the value of reflective practice as an effective means of development as well as a way to identify where and when things have gone wrong (and have gone right).

Of course there are exceptions. Military after-action reviews (AARs) are tremendous structured processes that analyse what happened, why it happened and how it could be done better. The US military four-question AAR, for example, could serve as a template for any organisation to help embed a culture of reflection. It may only take a minute but can be used as a simple technique to reflect and analyse how things can be done better next time. The four questions of the typical AARs are:

1. what did we set out to do?
2. what actually happened?
3. why did it happen?
4. what will we do next time?

Reflection as a Critical L&D Process

The speed of learning and development in our organisations is often reduced to a slow walk focused on following defined processes and procedures – and often on content-centric ‘knowledge transfer’ - without acknowledging and taking time to understand errors (and we all make them from time to time) and deciding the required changes in behaviour and action to ensure the same errors are not made again. Helping people reflect and analyse what’s going right or wrong are rarely core parts any L&D kitbag.

Even if your organisation has an after-action or project review process it is always helpful to spend some time reflecting individually and in small teams on a regular basis quite apart from any specific project process. Some forward-thinking organisations now encourage this type of reflection and narration of work by providing the facility for personal blogs on the intranet or by implementing storytelling. Qualcomm, the global mobile technology company, uses its successful ’52 weeks’ program to encourage employees to use structured storytelling for reflection and to share information, attitudes and behaviours across the company. Initially started as a weekly email for new hires, the program is now firm-wide and provides a key repository of reflective stories and experiences.

Learning in 4 Steps – the Role of Reflection

There are many deep theories of learning, but we can boil the process down into these four key areas:

4 steps

  • Learning Through Experience: we learn a huge amount through exposure to new and challenging experiences. ‘Work that stretches’ is often the best teacher any of us will ever have. Research tells us that immersive learning and learning in context provides the most memorable learning experiences. This is one reason for the increased interest and activity in experiential and social learning in the past few years. However, experiential learning is still often under-valued and under-exploited by learning professionals. As the late professor Allan Tough said ‘most of the learning is under the waterline’.
  • Learning Through Practice: we learn through creating opportunities to practice and improve. Without practice we can never hope to become high-performers. We can’t for a minute imagine our great sportsmen and women rising to the top of their game without hours and hours of practice, even when they are world champions. What makes us think becoming high performers in our work is any different?
  • Learning Through Conversation: we learn through our interactions and dialogue with others – through informal coaching and mentoring, and building social networks inside and outside work. Conversation is the ‘lubrication’ of learning and development. Jerome Bruner, the greatest educational psychologist of our era, once said ‘our world is others’. We often forget this fundamental fact.
  • Learning Through Reflection: Reflection is the ‘glue’ that we need to exploit the other forms of learning. Charles Handy, the management ‘guru’, writer and observer, points out that ‘experience plus reflection is the learning that lasts’. We learn through taking the opportunity to reflect both in the workflow and away from our work. We can then plan further activities that will incorporate our learning and improve our performance further.

Reflective Practice

A good starting point for embedding reflection into daily workflow is to approach the practice at two levels; individual reflection, and then reflection with colleagues and team members. Reflective practice itself doesn’t ‘just happen’. It is a learned process. It requires some degree of self-awareness and the ability to critically evaluate experiences, actions and results.

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