A message to business leaders

I’ve just returned from a meeting at the CIPD’s headquarters in Wimbledon, London, where the CIPD‘s Andy Lancaster and Towards Maturity‘s Laura Overton led a meeting on the business alignment of L&D. As chairman of the Learning and Performance Institute, I was invited to speak and participate in what proved to be a very useful discussion, with plenty of great case study contribution.

At the end of the meeting we were asked what our key messages were to L&D and to business leaders, and the following popped into my head:

A  message to business leaders: “If you think learning belongs in the classroom, enjoy the view as your competitors overtake you.”

Returning to my desk I found it had been retweeted a few times:

I was trying to convey the idea that L&D is constrained by traditionalist managerial views of training, and that knowledge, skills and learning are now core to business success, all in a tweet-sized packed.

What would your learning message to business leaders be?

Why classrooms are like cans of baked beans

Classrooms are very much like cans of baked beans.

Baked beans are great, but a 415-gram standard tin is too much for one man alone to eat, and yet not quite enough to split with a friend and satisfy both.

Why do beans come in tins of 415 grams? Because that’s roughly one pound. Since its commercial origins in feeding the Victorian British Navy, the canning industry has long been set up to produce cans of this size and weight, meaning that the whole supply chain is standardized, with the humble tin can dictating arrangements for packaging, for forklift truck operations and for shelving. Inconvenient sizing or not, nothing can change all that, and so we get our beans in 415-gram cans.

Classroom training is the same. Classrooms are costly real estate. Justifying them means filling them, however inconvenient the size may be. In the early ‘90s a fill rate of six was acceptable in PC training. A decade later rising costs and falling profitability meant private training companies needed fill rates of double that number.

And if you’re pulling that many people together for a course, you have to justify their time away from the office and travelling. You can’t run a 12-person course for just 1 hour, so typically courses run for at least half a day, and usually one or more whole days. The result: content is regularly padded up or cut down to fit a teaching day, regardless of the impact on learning.

And that’s why classrooms are like cans of beans: they both beautiful illustrate how supply-side efficiency can trump demand-side effectiveness.

While it is now possible, in reaction to changing consumer habits, to buy plastic packs of beans just the right size for an individual, physical classroom delivery is not as flexible. You can’t shift the walls, transport people into the room faster, or easily reduce the cost per square foot. This is why the classroom, this legacy investment, continues as L&D’s default, regardless of its effectiveness, accounting for some 70% of workplace training activity.

Overturning the legacy will take time, but more flexible and more effective electronic alternatives are winning their place in workplace learning, and I believe that before the end of the decade we will see a shift. The classroom will only be used when it is the best – rather than the usual – place for learning.

Unlike bakes beans, learning is no commodity. It’s time it was done the best way for the learner, not the most efficient way for the L&D department.

This piece of whimsy was the introduction to the much more substantial Inside Learning Technology and Skills Magazine June 2014 (#49). Click to read the whole magazine.

What makes Twitter? The people.


Like many people on Twitter, I go through periods of finding it distracting or pointless and sometimes even downright unpleasant.

But sometimes I sit back amazed at the power and value of social media and Twitter in particular.

Like this morning.

I awoke early, yet fully rested, and turned to Twitter on my iPad after checking the news.

What a revelation. So many people sharing so much of value. What an extraordinary privilege to be in touch with them and to be able to hear their thoughts, regardless of their location.

In a few minutes I had caught up with:
Gautam Ghosh (@GautamGhosh) on the news of the appointment of Vishal Sikka as the new Infosys CEO

Stats guru Nate Silver’s brilliant analysis of the teams in World Cup (he proves what we all know: Brazil are going to win, England will be lucky to get out of their group)

Holger Mueller’s (@holgermu) report on the SAP SapphireNow Conference

Ted Cantle’s (@TedCantle) piece in the Daily Telegraph about the issues around England’s faith schools, oversight and governance

A slew of infographics from Conrad Hackett (@conradhackett) from the latest piece in TIME about US political and social values

The grim situation in Iraq, as ISIS moves apparently unstoppably towards the capital. (Thanks to various commentators for this.)

A view in the Hindustan Times on the impact of the recent Indian elections on secularism by Samar Halarnkar (@samar11) – pointed out by Shantanu Bhattacharya (‏@shantanub)

… and all this before breakfast!

It is easy to take all this for granted, but when I think back to information flows in the past, it just seems incredible. Whether abroad, so often reliant on the BBC World Service for news, or at home, reading the paper and watching the evening news, insight and analysis was slow and sporadic. Finding something of interest and insight was a matter of chance. Now that information has become virtually free, I am lucky enough to know some smart people on Twitter who will share great stuff and who will also – importantly – sometimes challenge my thinking.

I still read the daily paper, and a range of magazines and yes, I even listen to the World Service still from time to time, but for all its faults I wouldn’t want to be without Twitter as a doorway to an unparalleled range of resources, filtered by some very smart people all over the world.

Ultimately, this is what makes Twitter valuable – the people on it. I’ve been on Twitter for a little over 7 years, but only this morning did I realise I’d been taking the tool and the people I follow for granted. This is my moment to thank them all for the fun, thinking, challenges and resources that they’ve made available over those 7 years. In return, I’ll do my best to share the best of what I come across.

Thank you.




Enjoy #NLAWDay / L&D False Dichotomy Day!

Today it’s the European elections. It’s also once again National Learning at Work Day in the UK, a day that all L&D professionals should warm to. But we don’t. Like the parties in the election, we’re divided and a bit miserable, with many involved wanting nothing to do with the whole affair.

[Yes, this pretty much a re-run of last  year's post. I'll keep saying the same thing each year until I think I've made my point.]

The Campaign for Learning explains its Learning at Work Day (#NLAWDay) like this:

Learning at Work Day ….  aims to draw attention to the importance of workplace learning and skills. It encourages people to offer learning to all employees especially to those that may not participate in current learning opportunities.

What’s not to like? Yet each year the L&D community uses this as an opportunity to engage in the false dichotomy game, otherwise known as the fallacy of false choice. Here are three:

You should be learning all year long not just on one day!

False choice: you can learn all year long and learn on one day. In fact, if you are learning all year long you have to learn on Learning at Work Day, don’t you?

We shouldn’t be concentrating on learning at work, we should be concentrating on technology/performance/mobile at work/[insert speaker's hobby horse]

False choice: you can want both learning and technology/performance/mobile

We should have an [insert speaker's hobby horse] Day instead!

Sigh. Guess what: you can have both. In fact you can have as many as you like (well, up to 365 in total). If really you want that day, go out and start it! Meanwhile, we already have Learning at Work Day. It’s today. Having to choose between your invented day and what’s happening today is a FALSE CHOICE.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The thing is this: today we celebrate and promote L&D to those who don’t get it. By making a concerted effort together, we can have more effect. It doesn’t mean that we don’t try to promote learning the rest of the year (that would be a false dichotomy). It just means that today, for one, single day, we work together and as a result have more impact.

It’s a bit like the 39 parties going into the Euro elections. We have a choice: pull together or stand apart. We can have impact, or be seen as a bickering, internally-divided and irrelevant to the real world.

There is an alternative. We could just all agree that learning at work is a good thing, and a day that celebrates it has to be a good day too.

How do you react to the words ‘Learning Management System’?

Today we had a great webinar for the Learning and Skills Group. I host 30-40 of these each year, and we always invite a lot of audience participation, usually by asking questions.

Today’s event was delivered by Paul Morton of CrossKnowledge who began with a provocative question to the 100 or so learning professionals present:

How do you react to the words ‘Learning Management System’?

Not everyone responded – that never happens – but over a third those present did, a very high proportion. And what they had to say wasn’t flattering to the Learning Management System (LMS). Here’s the text chat from the session, with individuals’ names removed:

Administrative Overhead
slow, creaky, hard to get into
I would like one for a starter!
Total headache!
Thats my job
Learners, learning modules, and assessments
it makes me fell cold
It pays my mortgage
90s usability
control by trainer, admin,
web 1.0 concepts.
delivery of e-learning and tracking completions
Just something you need
Old fashioned and too slow – not immediate enough for learners
structured, formal approach to learning
Sounds like a supplier’s (teacher’s) word, not a clients (learner’s) term
good for tracking and reporting
Huge amount of untapped potential
reflect what companies/schools want – control. Not learner driven
great potential but delivery disappointing
My customers like them because they track, record and report for compliance purposes.
Also a critical part of our multi $m learning business
untapped potential
its not necessarily the LMS but the 90’s approach to it
Too Bl***dy Expensive (if you want all the bells and whistles)
Needs to go.
better than no system at all – but need to move forward
not fit for purpose
Good for the overall enterprise re reporting but not a great experience for the learner

Remember, this wasn’t a zealously anti-LMS crowd. By and large they were familiar with these systems, and used them daily. That’s what makes this list of pejorative adjectives so worrying.

I’ve long said that LMSs are constrained mostly not by their native functionality. For me, the two comments that stand out are:

untapped potential
its not necessarily the LMS but the 90’s approach to it

It seems we could definitely get more out of our corporate investments in LMSs. Do you agree? What’s your reaction to the words ‘Learning Management System’?