Window on Learning Live 2016

Window on Learning Live 2016

This is a view of Learning Live 2016 from the outside – and from an outsider.

It is from the outside because I did not manage to attend Learning Live this year; and I am an outsider because I do not work in L&D.  I am a marketing consultant and have been doing a project for a learning company over the last two years. This has fired my interest in two ways; firstly, realising how vital learning is for my own self-development and the improvement of marketing; and secondly because of the similarities between learning and marketing and what each discipline can take from the other.

My insights into the event come from tweets, blogs and videos.  My special thanks go to David Kelly (@LnDDave) and Con Sotidis (@LearnKotch) for their backchannels.

Learning Live: Challenges and Insights

So what is my view of Learning Live from what I have seen and read?

It is certainly a challenging time for L&D.  However, as well as identifying the challenges, the conference also shared insights into solutions and pathways to overcome these challenges.

3 of the challenges that struck me most were:

Doing it for themselves

"Learners and business units think they can do it for themselves" was a challenge identified by Tom Spiglanin.

Learners have their own networks that they can ask for help and their connections can answer rapidly via social media.

Also a quick search can unearth "how to" videos and articles with information about every conceivable topic.

So how does L&D remain relevant and involved with both learners and business units?

Missing touchpoints

Many people including @CaribThompson and @DavidInLearning tweeted the slide used by Tom Spiglanin which showed the frequency that learning was needed in a person's working life versus the frequency with which the person had contact with L&D.

L&D is just not in touch with learners frequently enough to help them at the points of need.

Safe Failures

Elliott Masie's keynote speech at Learning Live highlighted the need for "safe failures".  As Henry Stewart (@HappyHenry) commented: "We need more failure. I don't want to be on a plane with a pilot who hasn't crashed (in a simulator)". Andrew Jacobs (@AndrewJacobsLD) made a similar point in his #ldwish tweet "More failure - that's where the learning happens."

Pathways forward

The challenges identified above are all made more difficult by the distance between L&D and those who need to learn.  So it is not surprising that the insights shared in Learning Live on ways to overcome these challenges tend to focus on coming closer to the learner:

Be at the start

Visitors to Learning Live were encouraged to share their #LDwish.  Claire Haynes (@WildfireSpark) contributed “To be ‘at the start’ of the biz thinking”.  On a similar note, Cathy Hoy (@Cathy_Hoy) pointed out that we need to engage with learners and line managers BEFORE the course.

So here we have one way to meet the challenge of missing touchpoints – work to create touchpoints at the start of any project and whenever new objectives are set,

It may take a change of mindset and require screwing up your courage, but you can ask people and business units “What learning and changes in behaviour do you and your team need to meet your objectives?”. The answers will allow you to work alongside the business to develop learning programmes to meet these aims.  The initial touchpoint can be the catalyst for many more.

Design with the audience in mind

If you have already managed to “be at the start” then designing with the audience in mind becomes easier.  You should have established contacts with the business that let you talk to the learners and understand their needs.

Even if you have not managed to make contact earlier, you can make the design stage a place to involve the learners, to gain understanding and to build trust.  Richard Wiseman in his keynote pointed out that you should “visualise the process and not the end point”, which involves understanding and responding to the learning journey that your audience want and need to make.

Surface resources

Kate Graham (@KateGraham23) reported on the session given by Joe Tidman, Director of Learning Capabilities at GSK.  He talked about the need to surface resources out of the huge mass of learning material available nowadays.

Surfacing resources is one of the ways that L&D can meet the challenge of learners doing it by themselves, as well as the need to have more touchpoints with learners.

It requires L&D to use their skill and effort to find, evaluate and categorise learning resources.  Also it requires a mindset of searching widely, both internally and externally to the organisation, to find the best material.  Learners can be asked what sources and type of material they have found useful previously.

Once a directory of good resources has been identified, it is then necessary to provide “signposts” to help learners use it.  These signposts will suggest the next resources to use based on where the learner is in their journey, where they want or need to go, and how they want to travel (e.g. bite-size videos for understanding new concepts or help tools for on-the-job help learning).

This approach is effectively content curation in a learning environment.  It provides a valuable tool that self-directed learners should want to use often and provides frequent touchpoints between L&D and learners.

Jumping off the cliff

“Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down” was the provocative statement of Sarah Lindell, Global Director of Digital Learning and Innovation at PwC, from her session on “Getting Practical” as reported by @JamesMcLuckie.

This might seem like the worst thing to do to meet the challenge of “safe failing”.  But, if the conditions are right, it can be a good way to try out new ideas and ways of working.

Firstly, you can involve others at the beginning to help you build your wings as you fall.  Take the example of surfacing resources discussed above.  You could involve a small group of learners to help you identify useful resources for a particular learning need.  They could suggest useful resources and give feedback on the different ideas for signposting that you are considering.  Involving others not only helps with the wing-building but also provides their encouragement to give you the courage to step off the cliff and enjoy swooping down rather than being petrified about the landing.

Also you can choose a small cliff to begin with.  So again using the example of surfacing resources, you could choose a small area of required learning to tackle first.  That way, there is less risk if you do land with a bump

With the support of others and starting with small jumps, you can fail safely.  Learning from this, your next jump will be more controlled.


The Marketing Analogies

As I said at the beginning, I do not work in L&D.  So if my insights do not truly reflect some of the challenges and opportunities faced by L&D professionals, then I stand ready to be corrected and would welcome constructive criticism.

My marketing background inevitably makes me consider the analogies between the situations of L&D and marketing whenever I consider the learning industry.  The challenges for L&D identified above are very similar to those faced by marketing today:

  • Marketing is faced with self-directed customers who will ignore most pre-packaged promotional material and instead ask their friends for recommendations or search for them online.  Meanwhile business units can blog, create videos and use social media by themselves
  • We also need more touchpoints to make customers aware of our products and their benefits well before they decide to buy.  If we do not keep in touch, other brands will come more readily to mind when they are ready to purchase
  • Ever-changing technology and new trends are constantly creating new ways of listening and talking to customers as well as new sales channels.  Marketing also needs to experiment all the time and to have ways of failing safely

Marketing Learning

Marketing can also learn from the opportunities for L&D that are discussed above.  Like L&D, it needs to be in at the start – to help define product development and to underpin sales and profit targets.

It must design with the audience in mind: listening to customers and prospects so that products are developed to meet real needs; creating messages and content that help customers understand what the products can do ease their pain or improve their lives. In this area, marketing can learn from L&D who are often closer to their customers and who evaluate the outcomes (even if too often they are prisoners of Kirkpatrick Level 1 as Elliott Masie said).

In the field of surfacing resources, however, marketing may be able to shine some “marketing light in the toolbox of L&D”, to quote Barbara Thompson (@CaribThompson), since content marketing is such a focal topic at present.

Both marketing and learning (and many other professions) need to “jump off the cliff”.  It is encouraging that we are not alone and we can gain support and advice from each other.