Friday, March 16, 2018

5 Tips for Getting Started with Sketchnoting

Rachel Burnham writes: I have recently started offering workshops in Sketchnoting and as a result have been contacted by a couple of people asking for help in getting started with Sketchnoting and making use of visuals in their work. 

Sketchnotes combine simple pictures, with words and graphics – they are often colourful and are a way of making notes that are memorable and aid reflection and sense-making.  I started Sketchnoting about 3 years ago and these are some of the things that have helped me.

Recent Sketchnote summarising a book chapter

1.  Getting beyond ‘I can’t draw’ and ‘I’m terrible at drawing’

If I am ever talking about Sketchnoting or drawing or using visuals at work, someone is bound to say ‘I can’t draw’ or ‘I’m terrible at drawing’.  So many of us hold this belief!    And of course, this belief makes it hard for us to get started at drawing or sketching, which in turn makes makes it harder for us to practise and get better and more confident at drawing.

As children we all draw.  Confidently, unworriedly, messily, happily.   And then most of us stop.  There are all sorts of factors in why we stop, but opportunities to practise and fear of looking foolish are probably two key ones. 

The latter is something I work with all the time – I can picture this rather disapproving looking person with her hands on her hips looking over her shoulder at my pictures and pursing her lips and saying ‘What makes you think you can draw!’ She is probably based on one of the art teachers I had at school.

I find what helps me to ignore this voice, is to recognise that there are all kinds of levels of ‘drawing’ and types of drawing.  There is beautiful art work, there are rigorous representations of the real world, there are lovely drawn illustrations in children’s books, there are cartoons – so many styles, so many purposes for drawing.   And what I draw  is ‘good enough’ for my purpose  - my Sketchnotes work for me – they help me to recall information, I refer back to them all the time,  they help me to make sense of disparate information, to summarise what I am listening to or reading and so on.  And I know from sharing them, that other people find them of interest and of use.  So, they work and that is ‘good enough’. 

This is my very, very first Sketchnote from June 2015 - we all have to start somewhere!  

And secondly, I can see that my pictures are getting better all the time.  

This was live-Sketchnoted in November 2017 - my Sketchnoting has definitely come on a bit! 

I think we can all draw.  But like any skill, if you don’t use it, you lose it.  And for many of us, we haven’t drawn for a long time, so we are rather rusty and a bit stiff and self-conscious.   We need to play and relax and have fun.

2.  Make it easy to acquire the drawing habit

If you want to draw, then you need to make it easy to practise.   And that means have things to draw with easily to hand. 

For Sketchnoting, I use A4 blank notepads that are spiral bound.  I prefer using Staedtler triplus fineliner pens – they are easily available for lots of shops and when the children are starting back at school, can usually be found at a better price.

I now always carry a pencil, black felt tip, rubber and pencil sharpener so that I can draw whether I am – I have them pre-loaded into my everyday handbag.  I recently read Gretchen Rubin’s book about habits ‘Better than Before’ and she says if you want to build a habit, one approach is to make it convenient.

3.  Practise – build your visual repertoire

Even if you think you can’t draw, there may be things that you already doodle.  Sunni Brown in ‘The Doodle Revolution’ suggests that there are different kinds of doodlers – some of us are drawn to doodling words, some to faces, some to abstract shapes and some to naturalistic shapes.   If I am ever in a meeting or long phone call, I will find that my notes are interspersed with doodles – mostly plants – sunflowers, roses, trees, tropical climbers and ferny dells.   So you may find that there are some things you can already draw – even if it is only arrows – and this in part will be because you are already practising them – they have become part of your repertoire.

The next step is to practise drawing simple outlines, to form simple images of things.   I would suggest objects – it is useful to build up a bank of simple images/icons that you are likely to use eg laptop, mobile phone, pens, car, sun, sea.  What images you are likely to use will vary depending on the field you are working in.

Secondly, think of metaphors for more abstract ideas and again practise drawing them eg heart, rainbow, mountain top, ladder, measuring tape.

It is also good to practise lettering and symbols such as exclamation marks, question marks, plus signs, speech or thinking bubbles.
Gradually, build up the range of things you feel comfortable drawing.   This takes time.  I am still working on this.   

4.  Practise – listening and sketchnoting

The next step if you want to Sketchnote is to put it altogether and create sketchnotes.   Again, it is useful to practise.

A useful place to start is to create a Sketchnote to summarise something you have read or to listen to a podcast and summarise key points in a Sketchnote.  

When Sketchnoting from a podcast or to a ‘live’ session, listening is key.   You can’t capture everything, so deciding what to include and what to skip is essential.

5.  Let go of perfection

I want to return to the mindset needed for Sketchnoting as I think this is the crucial thing.   When you are Sketchnoting, you don’t need to aim for perfection in your drawing – actually I don’t think this is possible or even desirable. 

I think the drawings I do are a bit like home grown vegetables from my allotment – they may not have the glossy perfection you would find on a supermarket shelf, but they taste good!   Like a home-made cake, that is sometimes a bit wonky, hand drawn images may not be perfect, but they are personal and memorable.

Marmalade Cake - with a terrible crack in it, but it tasted lovely! 

So, don’t worry if your Sketchnote isn’t perfect – if a line is a bit wobbly or a drawing a bit hard for anyone else to recognise.   If I make a mistake, I draw a flower over it!

Have fun and have a go!

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D works with individuals and organisations to help them learn and work more effectively.  As part of this I help L&D professionals to be even more effective through updating their skills and know-how.  I have a particular interest in curation and the use of digital technologies in learning.  I frequently Sketchnote at events and offer workshops in Sketchnoting.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Launch of PrintCity, MMU

Rachel Burnham writes: I had the opportunity last week to participate in the launch event for PrintCity, which is a part of Manchester Metropolitan University.  PrintCity is a new digital training centre for 3D printing and additive manufacturing, which is based within the university and builds on their previous work in this field. PrintCity can be contacted on Twitter @PrintCityMMU and the team is led by Professor Craig Banks.

3D Printing enables the creation of individual objects from a wide range of differing materials which can be used in prototyping or to create one off pieces such as individualised prosthetics or art-pieces.   It was explained to me, that ‘additive’ manufacturing is so called because it differs from traditional manufacturing processes which have been based on essentially removing materials (the words chipping, grinding and engraving spring to mind), whereas ‘additive’ manufacturing is based on gradually building up materials into the shape required.  There are a number of different ways of doing this.  Additive manufacturing allows for much greater precision allowing finer pieces to be created; makes it possible to produce unique pieces for a smaller initial outlay; and reduces waste.   An example of the latter, is that this process is being used to create the extremely heavy duty connectors required for vehicles in the American military.  These were previously  made from huge blocks of specialised metal, which then had to be whittled down to create the links, involving a massive amount of waste, whereas this way they can be built up from scratch and  then polished off, leading to much less waste.

The event involved a good combination of talks explaining what PrintCity does and setting out the potential for the use of 3D printing, input from Siemans and other partners on how this sort of change is transforming engineering and manufacturing processes, plus opportunity to look around the facilities at PrintCity and see many examples of 3D printing.  These examples included lots of different engineering parts made from various materials, but also fashion items, prosthetics, furniture and sculpture. 

It was great to hear about the many uses of this technology.  It is already being used in fields such as dentistry and medicine to create models to prepare surgeons for surgery, enabling them to ‘see’ in advance and prepare more fully for difficult surgical procedures and also to create individual prosthetics and other items.  We were told how the team at PrintCity were approached by the father of a young girl who was missing part of one of her arms and how a multi-disciplinary team worked together to create a prosthetic just for her, but this learning has then been applied for the benefit of other children.  

This technology can enable businesses to create prototypes of new equipment and products far faster and more cheaply than was previously possible, supporting innovation.   One particular advantage of this is that it makes it possible for smaller companies to engage in R&D and test things out.  One of the other participants in the event told me about how advantageous this is by comparison with the previous situation where a small company might easily spend a substantial sum (£40,000 was the amount mentioned) on the development of a prototype only for it not to work and in his experience this had led to the closure of companies. Whereas using 3D printing you could prototype for much smaller amounts and therefore adjust and try again if the first attempt was unsuccessful.   PrintCity are keen to collaborate with local businesses in this sort of way.

I was fascinated by the very wide range of skills that Alan Norbury of Siemans identified engineers as needing today.  This included use of big data, cyber security, AR and VR, robotics, cloud, gamification, design of apps and many, many others. 

One of the things that most excited me, was hearing about the very wide range of professional disciplines that are making use of this technology at PrintCity and are taking part in their new MSc in Industrial Digitalisation.  As you would expect the engineers are using it, but so are people from medicine, dentistry, fashion, art and so on.   There are a very wide range of applications from these different sources from custom-made buttons, through to lampshades created from sounds!  Apparently the fashion students are particularly good at coming up with new uses.

Some familiar themes to those of us in L&D were mentioned too, but in relation to manufacturing – in particular the use of agile design and manufacturing processes and the increasing importance of personalisation of manufacturing products as a way to add value.   Alan Norbury from Siemans talked about how adding value to products through the increasing customisation of products, coupled with agile manufacturing meant that increased productivity was attainable, without job losses.  

I would love a visit to PrintCity to be included in the fringe activities available around this year’s CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition – I think we in HR and L&D would have much to learn and be inspired by from this kind of collaboration.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D works with individuals and organisations to help them learn and perform more effectively.  As part of this I help L&D professionals to be even more effective through updating their skills and know-how.  I have a particular interest in curation and the use of digital technologies in learning.  I frequently Sketchnote at events and offer workshops in Sketchnoting.  


Monday, February 26, 2018

The Smartphone as Swiss Army Knife

Rachel Burnham writes: I found myself looking at my Smartphone last Thursday afternoon and thinking about all the different ways I use it to support my own learning.  As I tend to, I picked up a pen and started to sketch a few of these out – then thought how interesting it would be to hear from other people in my network about how they use their smartphones. 

This is the tweet I shared:

Thank you to all who responded and contributed over the next few days.  I received lots of great suggestions – some I had thought of and lots of additional ones too, plus different perspectives, which is just what I had hoped for.

Many people shared with me the different ways that they used their phone to enable learning – some mentioned listening to podcasts, or using Audible to listen to audio books.  Others mentioned reading articles and blogs and also saving these articles or other resources and making use of tools such as Evernote or Pocket, so that you can return to them.   Many people mentioned watching short videos and some mentioned using screen capture and annotation or specialist apps such as that provided by @Coach’sEye.

For a couple of people a key factor was being able to ‘learn on the go’ and that their smartphone enabled this.  For example, @LindaRuthMcGee shared that she had completed several MOOCs using her smartphone and that its convenience had been crucial to this. 

A couple of people mentioned the importance of access to a search engine, Google, as a vital resource for them via their smartphone.   This led to some discussion about whether the information gathered in this way was learning, or just data.  We had different views on this. Richard Martin @indalogensis homed in on the fact that I had asked about Smartphone use to enable learning and reminded me that our phone is just a tool.  I think the learning comes with how we respond to the stimulus from our phones, whether a tweet, a podcast or a search that we do – does it lead to reflection, insight, action?  So how we use our phones may lead to learning or not. 

You can link this to Harold Jarche’s ‘Seek, Sense, Share’ model of Personal Knowledge Mastery.  Lots of us immediately focused on the ‘Seek’ part of this model in reporting on how we use our phones. 
But people also mentioned using their phones to capture notes, ideas and plan actions eg through use of Trello. The sense-making aspect of Jarche’s model. And some also mentioned sharing, particularly through their networks.

And of course, asking this question on Twitter meant that lots of people mentioned using their phone for conversations with their network – ‘to expand my network’, ‘to learn via my Twitter feed’ and twitter chats.  People also mentioned other networks and groups such as ‘WhatsApp groups’. I particularly liked the breadth of Helen Blunden’s response:

One additional element, that is important for me is that my smartphone helps me to easily collaborate with others and this has been a significant source of learning for me in recent years – one example being my collaboration with @niallgavinuk to explore the use of VR and AR in learning – here is a link to our most recentcuration of resources. 

Taruna Goel @write2tg summed it up for me ‘A smart phone helps me to stay connected and engage in continuous, self-directed learning.’

We know that it is really important for us in L&D to be continuously developing our skills and insights, so one step in this direction would be to make sure we are making full use of our smartphone in doing this.   I know that this exercise, has given me a couple of ideas for how I can make even better use of my phone.  

It could be a useful exercise for an L&D team meeting to review and share ideas about how you and your colleagues are using your phone to enable learning.

And this could also be the basis for a useful short session or online conversation with employees – encouraging them to share tips and ideas for using their own phones to support their learning. 

And here is what you have been waiting for, my sketchnote:

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I do this through: writing & design commissions; facilitating learning to update knowhow, 1:1 and bespoke ‘train the trainer’ programmes; and the use of Sketchnoting to facilitate learning.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Let's talk digital and face to face

Rachel Burnham writes: Every now and then I come across an article, in my experience from someone involved in face to face learning programmes, who seems to feel the need to make the case for the value of face to face learning opportunities, and who seems to think that ‘people’ (I am not sure who – it never seems to be that clear), are arguing that face to face learning opportunities are out of date and should be replaced by digital solutions.  There always seem to be a number of these articles in the wake of events, such as last week’s Learning Technologies Conference and Exhibition – or perhaps it is just that I notice them more after this immersion in the world of digital?

And from time to time, I read or hear from an L&D professional, who says ‘But learners prefer face to face’ again as though, the argument is simply face to face or digital – ‘one or the other’ and that someone is threatening that face to face delivery mode and is threatening classroom training.

Different tools for different jobs

My background originally was also in face to face delivery – I imagine that that is true for a great many of us in L&D, particularly of a certain age.   I own that I enjoy working with a group of people face to face and I think it can have huge value. But I also now make use of digital technologies to support learning – both for myself and the people I work with – whether through webinars, Virtual Learning Environments, Twitter Chats, curation of digital resources, on online forums and VR.

I personally prefer not to use the language of ‘classroom’ or ‘teaching’ – too many people have had bad experiences of school and formal education and in any case we, in L&D, are not in the business of education, but as I have argued on many other occasions ‘learning and performance’.

I think that this is an un-needed defence of face to face.  I am not sure that a strong case is being made anywhere that face to face learning opportunities aren’t needed at all or have no place in learning for the future, though we need to reduce the over-reliance on this – all the evidence is that face to face modes of delivery are very much in use in organisations and will continue to have a place in the future – but organisations, if they aren’t already doing so, need to be making much more effective use of digital technologies, combined with and as alternatives to face to face learning opportunities.   This has been the evidence from repeated Towards Maturity benchmarking surveys. 

Face to face learning opportunities and digital learning opportunities are not in opposition – are not either or.

Now the form of the face to face learning opportunities may well need to change.   Content dumping, 'talk from the front' dominated approaches to delivery are not effective – there are years of research into cognitive psychology – spaced & retrieval practice for example, years of experience of practitioners using interactive methods and new emphasis on social learning from peers and impactful experiences that all point to very different approaches to learning that do work and lead to application in the workplace.  The extent to which these face to face learning opportunities need to be ‘organised’ by L&D is in debate and up for discussion.  

And much digital learning needs to change as well.  Traditional approaches to e-learning are being challenged too and there are great examples of much more effective use of digital technologies to enable learning and support performance.

So, please let’s stop talking as though it is one or the other.   We need to move on from this.  

I think it is all about using the right approach in the right situation.  One of my favourite points from this year’s Learning Technologies, was hearing John Fecci, from VR Learning Studio, talking about the value of VR in learning and making the point that it is right in some situations and not in others.  He used a very effective analogy and compared VR to using a microwave in cooking – great for many things but ‘you wouldn’t use it to make toast or do a roast’.   

I think this is a super analogy, with wider application across the choices we need to make about modes of delivery in L&D.      For example, I love cooking on an open-fire – it’s a real experience – I have such strong memories as a child of making fires to cook over, on holiday outside the cottage we rented in Torridon, on the west coast of Scotland.  It was a whole day experience – in the morning, we children were sent out to scour the countryside and foreshore for firewood.   We made soup in a cauldron – always known as ‘witches-brew’ and cooked pancakes/scones on a griddle – we called them ‘crannogs’.  I can see the view of the loch now, the mountains opposite shrouded in mist, smell the woodsmoke and taste the slightly burnt, slight undercooked ‘crannogs’ with butter and raspberry jam – I have a distinct sense of sticky fingers.   It had a huge impact on me.  It was deeply memorable.   I can still cook ‘crannogs’ should they be needed (perhaps something for a future #LnDCoWork Manchester or maybe not?!).  But I don’t want to cook over an open fire, every time I need to satisfy my hunger at lunchtime!

This afternoon, I have an afternoon of gardening planned with a friend.  We will use the right tool for the right job – I have no intention of cutting a lawn with a pair of scissors.  Scissors are great tools, but they aren’t really scalable for a large lawn!   Nor are they great for cutting back ivy up a wall or a climber smothering a pergola.  

Face to face and digital are not in opposition.   Just different tools for different tasks – often best used in combination.  So, let’s celebrate what face to face has to offer and explore the full potential of digital.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I do this through: writing & design commissions; facilitating learning to update knowhow, 1:1 and bespoke ‘train the trainer’ programmes; and the use of Sketchnoting to facilitate learning.

Collection of Sketchnotes from Learning Technologies 2018

Rachel Burnham writes: I had a busy day visiting the Learning Technologies event in London on 1st February – I definitely confirmed that there are too many interesting people to talk to, too much to see and too much to do for a single day’s visit.   
Here are my four Sketchnotes from sessions I attended that day, which look at the uses of AR and VR, learning transfer and the latest report from Towards Maturity ‘TheTransformation Curve: The L&D journey to deliver lasting business impact’.  

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I do this through: writing & design commissions; facilitating learning to update knowhow, 1:1 and bespoke ‘train the trainer’ programmes; and the use of Sketchnoting to facilitate learning

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Art of Imperfection

Rachel Burnham writes: When I was 11 or 12 we were set homework by our art teacher each week.  We were to draw, in pencil, an object that she specified – a tea cup, a pair of scissors, a chair.   She marked each drawing out of 10.  If we received less than 5, we had to do the drawing again the next week – alongside the drawing homework for that week.  By the end of the first term, I was having to do 8 drawings a week.   I remember the chair particularly well.  I drew it over and over and over.   After I finished that year, I didn’t attempt a drawing again for 40 years.

Actually that isn’t entirely true, I doodled.  Incessantly.  When on the phone.   In lectures.   When thinking.  And constantly in meetings.   Faces, shapes, houses, patterns and lots and lots of flowers and leaves.  But I never counted that as ‘drawing’.

Years later, I joined Twitter and I saw pictures shared, particularly by Doug Shaw and Simon Heath (You can find them on Twitter @dougshaw1 and @SimonHeath1).  One day in the summer of 2014, whilst doing Harold Jarche’s PKM programme, we were set the task of putting his Seek, Sense, Share model into our own words.   I had had a particularly wordy work week and at the thought of trying to write something over the weekend, my heart sank.   But as I pondered over the model and dawdled in the garden that summer’s day, it occurred to me to draw what it meant to me instead.  And this is what I drew.

And I shared what I drew not only with my fellow course participants, but on Twitter.

Later that year, I was contributing to an event and co-facilitating a session alongside two colleagues, so I decided to draw little pictures of each of us to illustrate the welcome slide.  A year on at the CIPD NAP conference, I took along some coloured pencils and a notepad and started putting my doodling to good use by drawing points from the various sessions at the event.  I then took photos of the pictures and shared these on Twitter.   I was overwhelmed by the positive response they got. 

Over the summer and autumn I practiced at every event I went to.  Gradually switching from A5 notepad to A4.  Working out how to get all the points onto a single sheet.  Thinking about layout.  Experimenting with how best to use colour and combine graphics and simple pictures.  Realising that you can’t capture every point and that careful listening is key.   Letting go of an expectation of perfection.  I had started Sketchnoting.

Last week there was a very interesting thread shared on Twitter about ‘imposter syndrome’ by Gem Dale – here is the link to the storify. ‘Imposter syndrome’ - that fear that so many of us have of being caught out, of not really having the expertise that is required of us, that somehow we have got where we are by luck, rather than as a result of our skills and hard work.

Alongside that, there is also the self-talk, that stops us from even starting something.  That holds us back and tells us that we can’t do that – that we aren’t artistic, or athletic or wouldn’t have anything to contribute to an online Twitter chat or whatever the limit that we have about ourselves.  If we never have a go, it we never experiment, we will never know whether we just might have those talents?

And in most things it isn’t a question of absolutes – it isn’t that   you are either exceptionally talented or nothing.  I think we can all draw.  Not everyone will be Georgia O’Keeffe and that is OK.  Sometimes it is fun doing something even when you aren’t fabulous at it, just for the pleasure of doing.  And by doing it, you can get better at it and develop those skills.   We know that great artists, musicians, writers, athletes all have to work hard for their talent to blossom.

This is one of my very favourite pictures – I am very proud of it – not because it is my best picture, but because I tried something out.  I drew it two years ago on holiday in Greece with my son.  I very often draw from life – sometimes I get a bit stuck doing that and I love this picture, because I drew what I felt, rather than just what I saw.  It captures the feel of the narrow streets and their vibrancy.  I am really happy that I tried something different and did it whole-heartedly.  

Actually, when I look at it I can also see that the perspective is all off.   It is OK to try something and for it not to be perfect.

There are parallels with  Working Out Loud (WOL), the idea of sharing what you are working on at an early stage, partly so that you can benefit from other people’s input and partly so that other people can learn from and be inspired by what you are doing.  Sometimes our self-talk holds us back from Working Out Loud – ‘ I don’t have anything special to share’, ‘I’m not an expert’, ‘What if look foolish?’  It was WOL by Doug and Simon that inspired me to start drawing and it was the positive feedback and support of my contacts on Twitter, my Personal Learning Network, that encouraged me to continue.  If I hadn’t shared publicly what I was doing, I wouldn’t have benefited from that encouragement.

This picture began as being about seeing the world through rose-coloured lenses, but ended up as the much more exuberant rose-covered glasses - probably in need of some garden maintenance!

I have found that I love to draw.  I am so glad that I took the risk and shared that first drawing publicly.   I have learnt so much as a result about how to draw.  But I know my learning is much broader than just about drawing. 

I have discovered that if I want to get better at doing something then:
  • ·       I need to make a start
  • ·       It is OK not to be perfect – forgive yourself for mistakes and spend time enjoying what you are doing well
  • ·       Iterate and improve
  • ·       Work with a generous spirit – share  with others
  • ·       Nurture the people around you and you will be nurtured in return

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I do this through: writing & design commissions; facilitating learning to update knowhow, 1:1 and bespoke ‘train the trainer’ programmes; and the use of Sketchnoting to facilitate learning.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Examples of favourite Sketchnotes

Rachel Burnham writes: Here is a collection of some of my favourite Sketchnotes from recent years.  

Personal reflections on how my ideas about networking have changed

Live Sketchnote from CIPD L&D Show 2017

Summary of key points from session at NAP conference June 2017

Live Sketchnote from CIPD Annual Conference & Exhibition November 2017

Live Sketchnote from GoodPractice Research Launch event November 2017

Reflections on research into the application of VR to L&D Spring 2017

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I do this through: writing & design commissions; facilitating learning to update knowhow, 1:1 and bespoke ‘train the trainer’ programmes; and the use of Sketchnoting to facilitate learning.