The limits of Twitter – trite, glib and lazy

We can expect lots of Twitter activity in the run up the UK election on May 7th. Here’s an early shot in the skirmishes:

Shocking, right? The problem is, it’s not true. Not in the literal sense of the words.

30% of nominees to the House of Lords contribute 97.9% of donations to political parties.

Literally, that means that the vast majority of money given to political parties comes from 30% of nominees to the House of Lords. A moment’s reflection told me this couldn’t be the case, so I went back to the source, a 33-page paper from Oxford University: Is there a Market for Peerages?. I also scanned reports on this paper in the press. Here’s how the Guardian put it:

That left 92 “others”, who donated between them 97.9% (£33.83m) of all the donations coming from nominees to the Lords

That’s clearer. It’s still pretty shocking. As the Daily Telegraph summarizes: 92 nominees to the Lords had effectively bought their way in. (Got the cash? Interested? Best bet is the Tories, accounting for almost half the 92 nominees.) However, the point is also that this is not all money donated to political parties. The 97.9% only refers to the share of money donated from among those nominated to the Lords.

The problem for Twitter is this: the Guardian’s phrasing may be clearer, but it’s 5 words too long, and a little too complex. What to do? Cut. Never mind the accuracy, feel the brevity.

This is why I’ve been using Twitter less recently than I did in the past – it’s just a little too noisy and a little too inaccurate.

To be precise: there is always noise, but the noise to signal ratio seems to have increased significantly over the past year. Also, among the noise is too much of the glib and the trite. The glib includes motivational quotes that irritate more than they motivate. The trite manipulates the truth to lazily present an inaccurate picture of it, which is what @Election_HUB seems to have done with this fact about buying peerages.

And of course at the intersection of the glib and the trite is the misquote. Twitter’s favourite is probably this:

In the 9 hours since midnight today, this has been repeated and amplified 20 times. It’s an admirable sentiment, but as Brian Morton pointed out in the New York Times in 2011, Gandhi didn’t say it. If you care about accuracy, there’s no excuse for not discovering that when doing your fact checking … unless of course you don’t care about accuracy and you don’t do any fact checking.

I do hope that I’m wrong about this. I would love Twitter to be a friendly exchange of useful information, banter and conversation, and indeed, I continue to read interesting, sometimes challenging, Tweets from the more thoughtful people I follow.

However, lately Twitter seems to have become more of a haven for the lazy and the inaccurate, not to mention the hateful. I hope that in the run up the UK election we’ll manage to have some better informed debate than this. I somehow doubt we will.

The L&D skills gap on #Ozlearn chat


I’m very much looking forward to joining Con Sotidis for an #Ozlearn tweet chat on Tuesday 10th February at 8 pm Melbourne time, 9 am London time. Together, we’ll be discussing something that’s become increasingly important over the past few years: the L&D skills gap.

L&D, like many professions, faces dramatic changes today, changes with their roots in technological, economic and geopolitical shifts that began in around 1990. Like most professions, however, we are still largely equipped with structures, attitudes and skills sets suitable for the world as it existed before that date.

So just what is our current L&D skills gap? How short are we of the skills we need to be effective in the new, connected, global age? For an answer, I’ve looked at data from the LPI Learning Capability Map. The Capability Map is a description of the 27 skills of the L&D profession, arranged over 4 levels. Nobody suggests you need all 27 of them individually, but a department should certainly have access to them all, whether internally or via partners. (You can self-assess against the LPI Learning Capability Map here: It’s free.)

Just 6 months after the Capability Map was made public, we published an initial report on the first 980 people who had assessed themselves against it (click to download the report). We are now preparing a 30-month report for March this year, based on some 2,000 self-assessments.

The results from the 6- and the 30-month analysis are entirely consistent and show that – perhaps unsurprisingly – the highest ranked skills are those in areas where L&D has traditionally operated, and continues to do most of its work, such as face-to-face delivery and content design. There are strong signs, however, that the skill of virtual/online delivery of courses is growing far faster than these traditional skills.

In contrast, some of L&D’s weakest skills are in the newer, but essential, areas of social learning and developing collaborative skills in others. Hearteningly, however, this also appears to be where we’re developing our skills fastest.

‘Communication, marketing and relationship management’ remains among the seven least popular skills, and yet to my mind is now essential for every L&D department and professional. The reason: it’s core to performance consulting – an essential facet of L&D today.

I cannot pre-empt the entire 30-month report here in the limits of a blog entry, but I am looking forward to exploring this topic in more detail with Con and his #Ozlearn cohort on Tuesday. Here are the questions that I’d like us to reflect on for our hour together:

1) What skills do you feel L&D needs for the future?
2) How do you know where you and your L&D department skills are right now?
3) Where do you see classroom delivery in 3 years? Will it be online delivery, e-learning, self-access resources or something else? Whatever it is – are you ready?
4) Does your organization management, workforce and L&D department view social learning the same way?
5) How do you currently handle communication, marketing and relationship management with the rest of your organisation?

Con, of course, is an expert at running these sessions and will provide the precise wording of these questions. If you’re in the right time zone, please do come and join us for a discussion about what I believe is an essential topic for everyone in L&D today.

An end-of-year wish for L&D

As we move towards the end of the year, many of us will want to take some time out. It seems like it’s been another year of too much to do and not enough time to do it. This sense of being overwhelmed is widespread among everyone I talk to in our field, in every sector and every location.

And it’s based in reality. L&D genuinely is under pressure to do more, usually with fewer resources.

There’s an issue with this pressure, and it applies to everyone who experiences it, whatever field they work in. Abraham Lincoln reputedly said “If I had a tree to feel and eight hours to do it. I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax and two hours chopping.” Whether he actually said this or not, the point stands: we work best when our tools – and our brains – are sharp.

Conversely, when we work flat out, our tools lose their edge, anything achieving becomes harder, and takes longer, and we slip into a downward spiral of decreasing effectiveness.

What we’re left with at the end of this is a learning and development profession that has no time to either learn or develop. That is bad for us, and bad for the organisations and people we serve.

So, if this year it felt like you haven’t had time to pause and take a breath this year, perhaps it would be a good idea to use any holiday time at the year’s end to accomplish two things.

First, take a break. Do not read anything about L&D, design, corporate strategy or anything to do with work. Concentrate instead on unbending from the working year, stretching muscles you haven’t used for a while. And have a bit of fun too.

The second thing I’d ask is this: make a new year’s resolution. Now these are notoriously tricky things to make work, but aim to keep at this one for at least 4 weeks. If you can make it to the end of the first month of the year, the odds are you’ll carry on successfully to the end.

The resolution I’d ask you to make is this: make time to read a good book in our field. Reading helps lift your head from the remorseless grindstone of the week’s daily chores, and gives you time to reflect. It is a slow, deep process that switches your mind from the immediate to the longer-term. And with this unbending, comes an additional benefit. There’s a fair chance you’ll learn something new, and that your axe will end up a little sharper.

Happy reading.

This, my final blog entry for the year, is the preface from the December 2014 edition of Inside Learning Technologies and Skills Magazine. Click to read.

The state of L&D in two tweets

Over the past 24 hours I have had Twitter exchanges with some people who really made me think about where we are in learning and in the L&D profession, against the backdrop of the huge changes that are taking place in our working lives.

The second of these was this morning (19 December), in reply to the regular Friday morning #LDInsight Tweet chat. The question was “What would you give to learners this Christmas?” This is Katherine Chapman’s response:

Which I though summed things up beautifully.

10 hours earlier, I had been in conversation with Todd Tauber, Tom Gram and Guy Wallace about the changing nature of work and the impact on workplace and the L&D department. Todd summed up the conversation succinctly:

For me these comments are two faces of the same coin. There is an ideal state of learning integrated into the workplace that successful organisations will head towards. Those that do not integrate individual and organisational learning practices into their daily working life will lose competitive advantage and fail.

What is L&D’s role in this? It can ignore the change, facilitate it, or even lead it, but the change is happening.

Our response, and our fate, are in our own hands.



Oh dear … what I learnt from Wordle today

First Rob Hubbard produced a word cloud during a webinar to get a sense of participants’ answers to a survey (see the recording here).

Then Ryan Tracey did a summary of his year’s blogs using a word cloud (see his post Thinking out loud).

“Excellent!” I thought. “I’ll do the same with my own blog. I wonder what I have been talking about all year?” I went to and put one together. Here it is, and I’m not sure I need have bothered:2014 Blog WordleCall me crazy, but I think I can spot a trend here.

New Year’s resolution: a little more variation in the blog.