Monday, September 30, 2013

Awards and Unsung Heroes

Awards and Unsung Heroes

Rachel Burnham writes: All the publicity and discussion around the People Management Award Ceremony last week, has had me pondering who my L&D role models have been over my career.  My list of unsung heroes is quite a mix: an L&D consultant, two particular colleagues, the MD for a consultancy I used to be an associate with, a learner who always asked the most difficult questions and my Dad, who is a retired Church minister. 

Let me share with you some of the things I have learnt from them.

I began to do some training quite early on in my career when I worked for a small housing charity.   The first training session I delivered with my colleague was particularly challenging and I wouldn’t say it was a great success – but what turned it from a near-disaster into a very important part of my development was that we worked with an external consultant to review what  had happened and how we could learn from it – and that was so powerful!  I still draw upon the learning from that review day: working with a co-trainer; managing your energy levels when delivering; to more particular challenges such as how to work with line managers when training their team.  So, my first unsung hero is nominated for her facilitation skills – particularly careful listening and questioning skills to help us to learn from this real experience.

Other key people in my development have been colleagues.  From one I learnt how to become more relaxed in my delivery style and to balance my desire for structure with a more fun approach.   From another colleague, who is always trying out new IT possibilities, I am continually challenged to move out of the familiar and have a go.  From her I have learnt that I don’t have to be an IT whizz to make use of new technology to enable and enhance learning.

Over the years, I have worked as an associate L&D consultant with various organisations and consultancies.   The MD of one of these organisations, was the most polite person I have ever met to everyone he met.   In contrast I realised that I could seem quite rude and abrupt with people I met casually and I have set out to adopt more of his approach – though I am not sure that I will ever quite achieve his level of consistent & genuine charm!  

My next nomination for unsung hero in L&D, was someone who had a bit of a reputation for being a ‘difficult delegate’ in one of the organisations I worked in.   He often came up with really challenging questions in sessions and sometimes trainers felt quite put on the spot by him.   However, I had one of those ‘light bulb’ moments that we all look forward to and realised that he had absolutely no intent to be ‘difficult’, he genuinely wanted to know and had a particularly enquiring mind.  Once I realised that, I changed my approach to difficult questions from all learners, not just him.   I realised that he and other learners putting posers could actually help me to deliver a session that was much more lively and relevant to that particular group of learners.   Questions can often helping you to tailor the session.

My final nomination in this blog, is my father, who is a church minister, now retired.  In the course of my childhood, he was probably the person who I heard most often speak in public, when he delivered the weekly sermon from the pulpit of our church.   (By the way, if he ever mentioned one of us children in these talks, he was required to pay us at, I think, 50 pence a mention – we were tough negotiators!  Of course, this now means that that I owe him for this blog and with the rate of inflation as it is, this amount should be considerably increased!)  My father is a brilliant preacher, because he speaks with passion – not the fire and brimstone kind, but with conviction.   And that is what I aim to bring to any delivery that I do too.  Sometimes, L&D professionals (and ministers) present with so little heart in it, with so little sense of their own belief in what they are delivering that the impact of their material is undermined.  So, I have learnt to let my passions and enthusiasms shine through when delivering.  

So, those are some of my key role models in becoming the L&D professional that I am.    If you would like to share your inspirations and role models, please do add these to the comments section for this blog.   I look forward to hearing from you.

Rachel Burnham

25 September 2013

Burnham L & D Consultancy specialises in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

Friday, August 2, 2013

You say 'attendee', I say 'participant'

You say ‘attendee’, I say ‘participant’

Rachel Burnham writes: I recently read an interesting article all about how you could make use of exciting new technology to make your L&D sessions more interactive.  It was full of examples of how this could be done.

What struck me the most though, was the way the author referred to the learners in these sessions.   The term used was ‘attendees’.   And that got me thinking about the language we use to refer to learners and what this says about our mindset as L&D practitioners.
There are lots of different terms that we can use to refer to learners: participants, delegates, audience and so on.   Each term comes with a slightly different connotation.  Each suggests a differing level of involvement and responsibility for what happens.   Each suggests a different relationship with the learning and with those organising the learning.  Each might even suggest different ideas of what success for this L&D activity looks like. 

You can put these terms onto a sliding scale.

  Attendee        Audience        Participant        Collaborator/
                                                                    Fellow Learner

Consider what each of these terms means to you.   With ‘attendee’ I’m immediately focused on physical presence, issues of attendance and crudely ‘bums on seats’.  There is no emphasis on the learner doing anything but turning up!  

With ‘audience’ it’s a little different – I’m immediately thinking about listening, being an appreciative or good audience and responding to the ‘lecturer’ or ‘presenter’ and their humour, stories and information.  I suspect that for many of us the picture includes an effective presentation, with ‘Powerpoint’ or lets be radical perhaps even ‘Prezi’.  The role of the learner is still fairly passive and based on receiving from someone who’s considered to be ‘an expert’ or at least an expert speaker.  And in this situation, the role of the L&D professional can sometimes feel more akin to being an entertainer, than a facilitator of learning.

Moving along, ‘participant’ feels a lot more comfortable to me.   This is probably the term I use most readily.  It brings to mind learners actively engaged in the learning process, discussing, sharing ideas, asking questions, moving around the room, doing lots of activities in many different formats.  And identifying their own learning from these activities.

I found it a lot more challenging to identify a term for the fourth point on this scale.  Two came to mind – ‘Collaborator’ and ‘Fellow Learner’ both of which pick up on the shared responsibility and ownership of the learning process and content.   At this end of the scale, it is harder to pick out who has the expertise and this may be much more fluid within a single L&D activity.   The learning here may be much more exploratory and open ended than with the previous points on the scale. As a facilitator of learning this feels both exciting and can also feel a little scary!

If we genuinely want to make our L&D sessions and in fact all our L&D activities, as effective as possible in terms of impacting on performance in the workplace, then we need to make them more interactive and learner-centred. So a good starting point is to change is the way we think and speak of learners.  This is our key technology, though perhaps not the easiest to change!

I thought I would share some of my thoughts around this subject with you.  They are very much first thoughts and I’d be very interested in your responses to these points.  Please do add your comments to this blog.

Rachel Burnham
1 August 2013

Burnham L & D Consultancy specialises in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation
Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

Friday, June 21, 2013

Toffee Pudding or how to make learning stick

Toffee Pudding or how to make learning stick

Rachel Burnham writes: Learning & Development in organisations is all about the impact on performance.  Or rather it should be about the impact on performance.  But too often we focus on learning as an end in itself, rather than keeping in mind that the reason that learning in organisations is so important is because of the impact it can make on performance.  The performance of individuals, and teams, and whole organisations.  

So, this blog is all about what we can do to ensure that all our L&D activities have a positive impact on the performance of learners.   To do that we need to create learning that sticks. So, here are 10 tips for sticky learning:

1.  Make it real, make it relevant – Set out to make the learning experience as relevant to your learners as it can possibly be.  The closer it is to reality, the easier it will be for learners to put any learning into practice.  The more relevant it is to them, the more motivated learners will be to get the most out of the learning experience.   Consider every aspect of the L&D experience and how you can make it relevant to your learners – think about: the language used; the examples explored; how practical can you make the activities; whether the learning can be done in the workplace and the timing of the learning in relation to when learners will need to use it.

2.  Learning Needs Analysis – Make sure you do the LNA you need to give you the information to make it real & relevant.  So often, we are pressured into skipping this step and yet expected to miraculously design & deliver just what the learners & organisation needed.   In particular, find out about the context(s) in which learners will need to use the learning – what supports & barriers are there?

3.  Design with application in mind – Sometimes we create wonderfully informative and content rich programmes that help learners to learn all sorts of interesting material.  Often organisations are very impressed at how much we can pack into a short session.   And that is great, till a few weeks down the line when little seems to have changed in the performance of staff.  

So, it would be even better if we integrated how to make use of that learning in work into the design from the outset.   Often this means covering less ground and adding more depth.  By this I mean that the more information included in a programme, the more likely we are to focus on presenting knowledge and using ‘tell’ styles of delivery.  Whereas if we focus on key material this can allow us more time to build in more effective interactive learning, with time for learners to focus on how to make best use of this in their particular work situation.  Less is very often more.

4.  Set up & set down - Pay as much attention to the design & delivery of the ‘set up’ & ‘set down’ as to the core learning activity, whether e-learning, workshop, a shadowing opportunity etc.   By ‘set up’, I am thinking about all those things that we can do prior to an L&D activity that communicate expectations, generate interest and stimulate learners.  By ‘set down’, I have in mind all those things we can put in place post the main L&D activity, often with a focus on encouraging the transfer of learning.  These are a great way to extend the learning, but more than that the set up can contribute to learners approaching the core learning with an understanding of its relevance to their work, feeling motivated and already learning.   

Think more broadly than just workshops for the core L&D activity – Blended Learning opportunities includes all sorts of e-learning related possibilities, workplace learning methods, informal learning, social learning and even plain old reading a book.

5.  Practice, practice, practice and lots of quality feedback – Build into your design lots of opportunities to practice the skills and apply the knowledge.  This of course, can continue after the core learning, and it is helpful to consider how to support and encourage this.   Alongside this find ways for learners to get high quality feedback – a great way of doing this is to get learners involved in providing peer feedback to each other.   This generates great learning both from receiving feedback, but also the process of assessing other people’s work, gives great insights into what works & why.   I have been encouraging peer feedback into interpersonal skills development for some years and find it is an incredibly powerful process.  Both practice and the provision of feedback require an investment of time in the learning.

6.  Incorporate evaluation into the learning – If you know that the organisation is interested and will be checking out how you are using the learning, all things being equal you are more likely to use it.   This means that evaluation needs to be more than a ‘happy sheet’ - it is about evaluation as a learning intervention in its own right.  I will return to the topic of evaluation in a future posts.

7.  Don’t limit yourself to learning on its’ own – Learning is wonderful, but sometimes we need a bit of additional support to really raise our performance.   Why not consider if some form of Performance Support tool? Job aids such as collections of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (FAQs) & their answers, flowcharts to guide you through a process or short video clips demonstrating a ‘how-to-do X’ are excellent ways to do this.   This is an area with lots of potential to make a big impact on performance.

8.  Involve line managers – L&D doesn’t have to go it alone.  Communicating & building relationships with line managers can be a great way to help learners to get the support they need to apply the learning.   Think about how to make it easier for line managers to do this – what support may they need from us?  Communicate the benefits to line managers from providing this support.

9.  Encourage peer support – I’ve already mentioned the value of getting learners involved in peer assessment & review.   On-going peer support can be another effective approach, through sharing tips & ways to solve challenges – it could even involve peers gradually building a shared FAQs resource perhaps in the form of a wiki.   Peer support could be encouraged very easily using social networking platforms, or an in-company networking tool or simply through a regular item in a team meeting.

10.              ‘Learning out loud’ – I came across this term only this week (see Tom Spiglanin’s blog  It expresses so well the idea that recording your learning, in some form, helps you to clarify what it is precisely that you have learnt and to absorb what this means for your actions.  You might be recording this by writing a reflective record, or a blog or actually recording sound or video clips, perhaps via a mobile phone.

So, this may not be a toffee pudding, but these tips can make your learning really sticky (and there are guaranteed fewer calories involved!).

Rachel Burnham

21 June 2013

Burnham L & D Consultancy specialises in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

Friday, June 7, 2013

My L&D Bookshelf Favourites

My L&D Bookshelf Favourites

Rachel Burnham of Burnham L&D Consultancy writes: I love to read.  I always have, despite finding it very difficult as a child to get started reading.  I remember sitting in my primary school class feeling completely at sea and thinking I was never going to get the hang of this.  I was helped by my parents bribing me with the present of a new Ladybird book, every time I completed a book.  Somehow I metamorphosed into a bookworm. 

One of the joys of reading is sharing books with other people – I share literary novels with my mother; histories with my husband; mysteries & thrillers with my father and teenage books with my son (the Percy Jackson series is a particular favourite).

Over the years I have learnt such a lot about L&D from reading (and then trying to apply the learning).    Even though I enjoy learning using social media and lots of the new technological tools – I continue to return to books as a preferred option.  Here are a few of my favourite books and authors that I’d like to share with you.

‘Workshops that Work: 101 ideas to make your training events more effective’ by T. Bourner, V. Martin & P. Race

I came across this wonderful book, packed full of ideas for interactive workshops, when I was very new to ‘training’ and it was hugely influential on my whole approach to learning.  It was originally published by McGraw-Hill, but has since gone out of print.  Some way along the way, I lost my copy, so I was delighted to discover that it is now available as a free download from Phil Race’s website.   Although many years have passed since it was originally written, it includes lots of great ideas that are well worth taking a look at.

This brings me to another great book by Phil Race

‘Making Learning Happen’ 2nd Edition P. Race (2010) Sage Publications

This is primarily written for lecturers in colleges and university and so much is not directly relevant to L&D professionals, except that it includes the Ripples model of how people learn and this is well worth exploring.  A free powerpoint presentation on the Ripples model of learning and the background to it is again available from Phil Race’s website  


Let’s get onto some actual books:

‘Psychology for Trainers’ by Alison Hardingham (1998) IPD

Alison Hardingham is definitely one of my favourite writers on L&D and I have several great books by her.   This is my top choice as it introduces ideas from the study of psychology and applies them to understanding common challenges when designing & delivering learning activities eg building rapport & establishing credibility.  Unfortunately, this is also out of print, but copies can often be picked up second-hand.


A very practical book that I return to time after time is:

‘Learning Needs Analysis and Evaluation’ 2nd Edition by Frances & Roland Bee (2003) CIPD

My copy is now rather bashed and well thumbed.  I like the way the Bees link LNA and evaluation and one of the great features of the book are the extensive appendices with examples of forms, tests and other practical bits & pieces.


I recently read Myles Downey’s book ‘Effective Coaching: Lessons from the Coach’s Coach’ (2003) Thomson Texere and wished I had read it a lot sooner.  It is both a great introduction to coaching and also a very thought-provoking read if you are already involved in coaching.  It really made me think again about how I listen.


My final pick for today is:

‘Use Your Head’ by Tony Buzan (2006) BBC

I have gone for this because it introduces the idea of Mind Maps, which I find one of the most useful tools in helping people to learn.   This book looks at a whole range of techniques to aid learning in addition to the guidance of mind mapping.  I love the pictures of mind maps included, but confess that none of my mind maps have ever looked as beautiful as these!


There are many other books that I’d like to share with you, so I promise to return to the topic in a future blog at some stage.  This has been a classic collection, so next time, I will turn my attention to some more current topics.

Rachel Burnham

6 June 2013


Burnham L & D Consultancy specialises in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD



Monday, June 3, 2013

Breaking Out!

Breaking Out!

On-the-job training, coaching, in-house development courses, e-learning, external courses & workshops, internal knowledge sharing events, job-rotation, secondments & shadowing, action learning sets, video based learning, mobile learning, social media (eg Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc), games & simulations, podcasts, virtual learning systems, wikis, webinars, mentoring, on-line forums and talking around the water cooler. 

Rachel Burnham of Burnham L& D Consultancy writes:  These are just some of the dazzling array of learning methods discussed in the CIPD’s Annual Learning & Talent Development Survey for 2013, which came out recently.  The survey explores what is happening in L&D in UK based organisations from the learning methods used, to budgets , with more detailed exploration of current issues such as apprenticeships and evaluation. 

It is an interesting read, particularly when you look at the sheer range and variety of learning methods discussed.  

So, why is it that oftenpeople new to L&D focus on traditional training courses as the answer to every learning need.  Not only that, but often the kind of course envisaged is a presentation, very trainer led and probably using lots of bullet-pointed Powerpoint slides!   Face to face courses can be very effective, particularly when interactive, but they aren’t the magic pill.

I guess there are many factors that lead to this situation:

·       Often this is our personal experience of education at school, college and even university – so perhaps it is hard to imagine an alternative.

·       This may be our experience of being ‘trained’ at work – let’s face it there are many organisations who adopt very directive management styles and so we shouldn’t be surprised if this also affects the approach to learning.

·       Sometimes the expectation of our learners and the other stakeholders we work with is that learning can only happen in a workshop environment and learning only takes place if learners  are told what to learn

·       There may even be some in L&D who yearn to be the ‘expert’ at the front of the workshop – all eyes and ears on them!

There are definitely times when I feel as though I am switching between two alternate realities – in one world sharing tips and ideas with L&D professionals on how to make more effective use of informal learning, social media and games/simulations - where sometimes the idea of a formal course delivered in person can seem an anathema  - and then working with organisations and L&D professionals for whom the formal course is the default position, but when challenged and supported to consider other options are like children in a sweet-shop excited by the possibilities open to them.

We need both to be excited by the options open to us, but also able to consider the particular requirements of each situation and strengths & weaknesses of each learning method.  We need to consider all options open-mindedly, neither defaulting to one option nor writing any off, keeping the focus at all times what will have the greatest impact on performance.

Rachel Burnham

3 June 2013

Burnham L & D Consultancy specialises in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

Friday, May 10, 2013

Simple Pleasures: Small Satisfactions

Rachel Burnham of Burnham L& D Consultancy writes:  After this long winter I’m enjoying the simple pleasure of waking up to sunshine streaming in through the curtains.  I enjoy a tea-break outside and revel in feeling the warmth of the sun on my back as I read this month’s edition of PM magazine.   Whilst working in the office typing up this article, I glimpse apple blossom on the tree outside.   I’m eating asparagus at every given opportunity and look forward to moving on to cherries, gooseberries and peas in the pod later in the season.

There are simple pleasures to be had from Learning & Development too:

·       Asking a question and seeing someone work out what the right answer is.

Even better – when a learner asks you such an interesting question that you are still thinking about it days later.


·       Marking a set of assessments and everyone in the group passes.

Even better – when everyone has tackled that assessment in their own way, to meet the needs of their particular organisation, showing a whole range of ways of getting it right.


·       A well prepared interactive activity in a workshop session that works out well on the day.

Even better – an ‘off-the-top of your head’ activity, which meets the needs of that group of learners at that moment in time and leads to a learning break through.


·       When L&D professionals new to the field get that ‘training’ doesn’t have to be limited to workshops.

Even better – when a request for ‘training’ from line managers is analysed and options other than L&D activities are considered (such as job aids or improved business processes).


·       When you receive positive ratings from learners via feedback forms.

Even better – when learners show how they have applied their learning at work and identify what is changing in their organisations as a result.


Simple Pleasures: Small Satisfactions


Rachel Burnham

10 May 2013

Burnham L & D Consultancy specialises in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

Monday, April 29, 2013

Filling the Skills Gap: Singing & Dancing All the Way!

Kiss Me Kate by Cole Porter is one of my very favourite musicals.   It retells the story of Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and wins on so many levels  - a musical number every few lines, memorable tunes and comic gangsters singing ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ – what more could you want?   On Friday evening, I went to see a wonderful performance of this show at the Royal Northern College of Music by their Youth Peform group.   All the roles were taken by teenage students and pupils from local schools and colleges and they were terrific. 

You may be wondering what the link is with L&D.  The RNCM  Youth Peform group is part of the outreach programme by the College and was originally funded by AimHigher, the programme established to raise young people’s aspirations  and to widen participation in higher education.   Whilst many of the performers at the weekend hope for careers in music and theatre, others plan to become doctors and police officers.

It got me thinking about all the different ways that L&D and our organisations can support young people in their transition to work and at the same time develop the skilled people we need now and in the future.   Here are some ways we can be involved:

ü Offer well planned and structured work experience to school pupils.  Many pupils find that the work experience offered isn’t nearly as effective as it could be.   This should be an opportunity to build employer brand and communicate meaningfully what skills and knowledge your business requires from education and from potential employees.

ü Get involved with Apprenticeships, if you aren’t already.  There is a new report out from CIPD  which gives information on parents’ views on Apprenticeships  and this can be found at

ü Build links with colleges and universities around courses supporting key skills and qualification areas for your organisation.  Where are your current or likely future skills gaps?

ü On a personal level, you could get involved in mentoring a young unemployed person through CIPD’s Steps Ahead Mentoring Scheme.  Current mentors meet face to face or via phone/Skype and report it to be a very rewarding programme to be involved in.  Information is available via CIPD or the dedicated Facebook page for the scheme.



Even as I write this article, I notice that a report by PwC indicates that almost 65% of UK business leaders say that skills shortages are ’hampering business growth’ (People Management 29 April 2013).  What are we waiting for?

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy specialises in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD


Friday, April 26, 2013

Are L&D Programmes getting bigger or smaller? Or possibly both at the same time?

Are L&D Programmes getting bigger or smaller?  Or possibly both at the same time?

Remember the scene in which Alice, in quick succession, drinks and then eats mysterious items that make her shrink and then grow enormously.  Modern L&D seems to show similar Alice-like tendencies.

One trend is to ever shorter and more intense L&D sessions, perhaps in the form of a ‘Lunch & Learn’, taster session or webinar in which a subject is explored in a ‘bite-sized’ session.   This sort of session might be from 30 minutes to a couple of hours in length and arises in response to the challenges of getting learners away from busy operational roles for longer periods.

At the same time increasing sophistication in the use of blended learning programmes is leading to L&D programmes that are longer and made up of several elements spread over a period of time, perhaps months.   These programmes combine several different learning methods and are usually undertaken alongside work.  These blended learning programmes typically combine off-the-job workshops, with self-study and on the job learning such as job shadowing, coaching and experiential learning.  Some blended learning programmes are designed to have a single learning route; whilst others are created with a choice of pathways or with optional elements.  Many programmes designed in this way create a single substantial learning programme from a mix of much smaller learning activities – rather like a mosaic created from a myriad of tiny tiles.

What trends do you notice in your organisation?  Are L&D programmes shrinking or growing?  Or like Alice are they doing both?

Rachel Burnham
Burnham L & D Consultancy specialises in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation
Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD