Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Informal Learning - Search for a Pattern

Rachel Burnham writes: I had the pleasure of reading through Paul Matthew’s ‘Informal Learning at Work’ earlier in the autumn as part of the preparation for an earlier post about informal learning.  

Informal learning refers to learning that is outside of formal training or education and is a type of learning that has always been around, but is of growing interest & importance to organisations and L&Ders currently. 

I was particularly struck by the wide range of different methods of informal learning which Paul Matthews sets out in the fourth chapter.   These are illustrated by a set of excellent practical examples.   There were so many different types of informal learning contained within the chapter that I found myself overwhelmed and unable to get an overall sense of them.  What I needed was a visual!

So, I decided to have a go at grouping these learning methods and creating a diagram to illustrate them.  Paul Matthews warns in the chapter that the methods ‘don’t fit nicely under simple headings’ (Matthews, P 2013 76) and I know now that this is true.  But I have still given it a go – see what you think?

I have begun at the centre of the diagram and a group which I have titled ‘Starting with the Individual’ – these are all methods which an individual can initiate for themselves, no matter what else is going on in your organisation.

The second grouping and much the most numerous, focuses on informal learning methods that are essentially ‘Person to Person’ and primarily one person to one person, such as coaching, shadowing, asking colleagues – they all seem to have conversations at their heart.

There is an undeniable blurring across to the next grouping, which I have called ‘Learning in Groups’.  I have put social learning here – but this could also apply to ‘Person to Person’ and some of the other categories.  Here you find learning methods that are all about learning with many other people – of course not necessarily face to face.

In the bottom right hand of the diagram, I have placed a couple of approaches to learning that relate to ‘Management Style’ and I am sure that others could be added here.  For example, it seems to me that delegation could be usefully included here.

In the centre of the bottom of the page, I have collected together a number of ‘Resource-based Approaches’ which include help-desks, on-line help and various kinds of content provision.

The divide between ‘Resource-based Approaches’ to the final grouping of ‘Social Resources’ is so weak, that I have shown this as a broken line.  The distinction for me is that for the Social Resources, the format may be provided & supported by the organisation, but the content comes from learners themselves.  Whereas with ‘Resource-based Approaches’ the organisation is in control of the content.  These ‘Social Resources’ may be integrated in with content provision sourced from elsewhere,  but they do have distinctive features because of their home-made ‘socially generated’ content and therefore they also link with the ‘Learning in Groups’ category.

I took the decision to exclude ‘appprenticeships’ from the diagram, although it does appear in Paul Matthew’s list – I felt that in their current format in the UK these are more formal than informal and so decided not to include them.

I have found this a useful exercise to help me get my head around some of the range of possible methods within the area of informal learning.  I would be most interested in your views on this.

And do read ‘Informal Learning at Work’ if you haven’t already done so!

Rachel Burnham

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Breaking our Complacency!

Rachel Burnham writes: I had the opportunity last week to participate in the CIPD’s Annual Conference in Manchester and took part in a number of excellent sessions on the Thursday.  I have had a week to let my thoughts on those sessions marinate and here is what I have come up with.

One of the sessions I took part in was led by Rasmus Ankersen and was titled ‘Curing Business Complacency: Creating ‘Hunger in Paradise’.  He spoke about the risks of successful businesses becoming complacent and then suddenly finding themselves unable to stay ahead because of leaps forward by other businesses or because of other changes in their environment.   This is familiar territory - the story of how Nokia overlooked the threat from Apple is well known.  More interesting was the story of how SAP looked behind the headlines to realise, in 2010, that their key stats were only superficially telling a success story and had the courage to dig behind this & face up to their reality.  

Ankersen encouraged us to compare ourselves not to someone who makes you look good, but too someone or an organisation that makes you need to stretch.  He described how constraints and scarcity can drive new thinking, which is a topic I have been reflecting on a lot recently.  His overall message being that if it isn’t broke, consider breaking it.

Now, none of those messages were for me particularly new, but they resonated in a new way with me in the light of the two earlier sessions that I had participated in at the CIPD conference.  Both of these were more focused on L&D – the first looked at ‘Creating the Learning Practitioners of the Future’ and had thoughtful sharing of practical experience from both Helena Moore and Andrew Jacobs.  The other session had the almost ‘if-it-is-a-HR-event-then-we-must-have’ compulsory speakers from Google, on this occasion Aimme O’Malley and Steph Fastre, who were most informative and spoke on the subject of ‘Tailoring the Learning Experience: how people data can help’.  Although the session titles didn’t immediately suggest this, there was a coming together of themes from both of these sessions.
For me, Andrew Jacobs, summed it all up by immediately starting his input with a challenge for all of us in L&D ‘if we don’t change in L&D, we will die’.  All of these speakers shared examples of just L&D is changing & being approached differently within their organisations.  

Common themes include:

  • Encouraging curiosity amongst staff and ‘allowing’ access to the information & learning they are interested in, rather than controlling access
  • L&D as curators not teachers;
  • Focusing on supporting a learning ecosystem (Google) or a sustainable environment that supports learning (Jacobs)
  • Rethinking old ways – what we know about learners (Google) evaluation & what we measure (Jacobs – to find out more read Andrew’s blog on ‘The ClotheslineParadox’, which he referred to in the session) 
  • Learners negotiating & directing their own learning (‘Just for me’) or becoming ‘masterful learners’ at Google
  • Importance of learning from/with peers eg 85% of courses are run by fellow Googlers!
  • Learning needs to use methodology that is appropriate - technology is an enabler, but quite low tech can be very effectively used.

Key ideas:
  • ·       L&D as curator rather than controller;
  • ·       The value of informal & social learning; and
  • ·       Enabling work as a learning environment.

Clearly there are organisations who are adopting these ways of working and this is where there is a link with Ankersen’s session.  I think many of the organisations adopting these approaches are facing constraints & scarcity.  Here are the  4 factors which I have identified as influencing the adoption of these new approaches to L&D:
  1. The need to do more with fewer resources – this can either be due to a reduction in the actual resources available, as has been the case in many public sector organisations or because the organisation is growing and so there is a need for an increase in scale as at Google.
  2. Expertise – Again, there are two aspects of this, firstly that the speed of change is such that it is impossible for us in L&D to keep pace with the new learning required.  And secondly, that the range & depth of expertise required throughout the organisation is such that we in L&D struggle to meet the range of needs, if we take the approach that we have to control the learning taking place.
  3. Effectiveness – Learning that is closer to work and learner-led is effective and for example, much reduces the difficulties faced by workshop based learning in being transferred into practice.  New insights from neuroscience and behavioural science are adding to the case.
  4.  Expectations of learners – Our expectations & demands as learners have changed.   The way we interact with the world, with information and with technology means that our expectations are for instant access to information, answers and support when we need it.  We have less wish for spoon feeding (Moore) and more wish for personal direction – though we may want support with this.
If you are working in an organisation that is comparatively well resourced for L&D and where it is possible, just about, for L&D to maintain the illusion of operational expertise and where learners are less demanding – then you may be getting by taking a more traditional course based approach – but for how long?

If you are an L&Der with some decent facilitation skills, who uses interactive learning methods in your face-to-face sessions and who is approachable & available post session to coach & support learners, you may even be getting reasonable results - but for how long?

Let’s shake ourselves out of our complacency now, because if we don’t the future of our organisation is at risk and the future of our profession too.

So here are a couple of steps to take:

Research & reflect on the ideas shared in this blog – why not
  •  read some of Andrew Jacob’s excellent articles on his blog titled ‘Lost and Desperate’ or
  • watch the first episode from Learning Now TV, particularly the interview with Denise Hudson Lawson who talks through how she introduced these sorts of changes or
  •  read Paul Matthews book ‘Informal Learning’ which is a great introduction to using informal learning in the workplace.  He is also interviewed on that first Learning Now TV programme, so you can hear him talk about it too.
But don’t reflect too long!

Start experimenting now – try out some new approaches – run small, fast tryouts and review.  Don’t expect them all to succeed.  The speakers from Google mentioned many times that they are always trying new things out & experimenting and they very often fail.  But you can learn from that and sometimes they will work.

I would very much welcome your comments & responses to these ideas.

Rachel Burnham

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

Friday, October 17, 2014

Taking a Big First Step

Rachel Burnham writes: Yesterday’s conference on Social HR organised by CIPD Manchester, brought together people from with a very wide range of HR backgrounds – generalists, recruitment specialists, L&Ders, equality & diversity consultants and so on, not only from Manchester, but farther afield.  Some were brand new to social media and a little bit sceptical; some participants had done some social media, but didn’t really get it; some wanted to build on what they are already doing; and some of us were social media enthusiasts.  A wide spectrum of experience.

The thing that struck me both on the day and afterwards wasn’t the tremendous range of social media tools out there – though there are a staggering array of different tools.   It wasn’t the many, many different ways that you can use social media in HR.  It wasn’t even the amazing energy present amongst participants as we got working together in the event and sharing ideas & asking questions.

What struck me the most is the big difference it makes once you get a sense of how social media can be useful professionally.  The crucial difference I noticed was not really between social media users and non-users (although there is an overlap with this), or even to do with levels of expertise in using social media, but between those who’ve grasped something of the possibilities that social media opens up for working life and those who currently see social media being just personal and probably rather fluffy.  (And of course with all those animal photos being shared and all that discussion of chinchilla’s there is definitely some fluffiness!)

If you aren’t using social media at all or are using it just for personal use, it can be hard to imagine just how much it can be used professionally. 

I think this is the big first step.  The bit that requires the leap of faith.  The step into the unknown.  Because until you give it a try, you can’t really work out just how social media can be useful for you, in your particular work, in your specific context, and just how it can fit into your already busy day.

That’s where I was 18 months ago. At that stage the only social media, I made use of was LinkedIn and that was only very feebly, as I had a limited CV held on it.  And then everything changed and I decided I really needed to give some ‘new’ things a go – well they were ‘new’ to me.  Over about a fortnight, I set up a personal Facebook page, a professional Facebook page, updated my LinkedIn account, began using Twitter and began writing a blog, which because I decided to publish on Blogger, meant setting up on Google+ too.  

And breathe! That was a busy fortnight! 

And I was rather scared doing this.  It was a step into the unknown for me.  

I had resisted Facebook for ages – my main concern being how to keep a professional approach if my clients were mingling with my friends – many of later are Viking re-enactors & frankly a bit unusual – I solved that by having the two pages and simply not letting professional contacts become Facebook friends.  You can probably tell that I’m feeling much more relaxed about that issue now.

With Twitter I simply couldn’t see how it could be useful professionally.  Prior to the decision to join, I only knew two things about Twitter – 140 characters and that Stephen Fry tweets a lot.  I am forever grateful to the Certificate in Learning & Development Practice (CLDP) students who introduced me to using Twitter professionally – I always to say to new CLDP groups that I will learn lots from them & I think they often don’t believe me, but it is inevitably true.   

At first I did find Twitter confusing – it is a bit like jumping on a crowded commuter train, in which lots of travellers are all talking at once and usually to someone at the other end of the carriage.  Since you have missed the beginning of the conversation and have no idea who any of these @XXX’s are, or what RTs and DMs are, it can be hard to unravel.   From listening to the stories told yesterday, I think this is what often gives people a bit of a wobble.  So stick with it.  Because there are lots of friendly HR & L&D people out there who will only be too glad to encourage and help you to make sense of it.

I can’t believe what a big difference social media has made to the way I’m working, the work I’m doing, the people I’m in touch with, the growth in confidence and thirst for learning I’m feeling now.

There is a lovely jazz piece ‘The Computer Age (In Motion)’ by the singer Susannah McCorkle, who wrote the very funny lyric to an infectious tune by the Brazilian drummer, Thelmo Porto.  She wrote the lyrics before the impact of social media and so the refrain goes:

‘Here in the computer age, where we heading for?
Internet is all the rage, where we heading for?’

Now, we might sing to the same beat:

‘Here in the so-cial age, where we heading for?
Collaboration’s the rage, where we heading for?’

And we don’t know where we are heading for – but if you want to find out, you need to take that seemingly big first step and join in.

If you do take that first step, there will be lots of hands outstretched to welcome you.  So, why not take that step now?

Rachel Burnham


Here are some resources to help you take that first step in using Twitter for professional development.

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning,

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Treat people as adults: Be more playful

Rachel Burnham writes: I don’t know about you, but I love a contradiction – something that stretches me in two seemingly opposing directions.  
Managing with both my head & heart
Holding both the big picture & obsessing about the fine detail
The value of analysis and beautiful pictures

I like the creative tension of doing both.  I like the ‘and’ thinking rather than ‘or’ thinking.  I like the cracks in the pavement created.

This last week or so, the contradiction that has been echoing through the conversations I’ve been participating in and the reading I’ve been absorbing, is between treating people (learners in particular) as adults and wanting/needing to be more playful.

 'Home-grown lettuce sandwiches' - in playful mood one lunchtime.

A little while ago I was asked if I ‘only taught classroom-based training on the Certificate in Learning & Development Practice?’ – to which the answer is a resounding ‘No & no!’  For those who don’t know me, one of the things I do is work as an Associate Tutor for MOL Training on the CIPD’s CLDP Level 3 programme. I am passionate about CLDP as a starting point in L&D & I will enthusiastically drop this into conversation at any opportunity.  What I don’t do is ‘teach’ – I describe what I do as ‘facilitating learning’ and this is much broader than just face to face learning.  I also see myself as a ‘fellow learner’.  I am astounded at just how often I am challenging people who ask ‘what am I teaching today?’
I think we in L&D do ourselves no favours when we 'infantilise' the people we work with by using the language of education and particularly schooling to describe what we are about.  This whole area was recently discussed by Andrew Jacobs in a recent post, so I won’t go over this ground.  Though I think this is one of the things 50 big ideas that actually is quite straightforward and we could do right here and now!

But treating people as adults is more than just the language that we use – it, of course, impacts on the relationships between L&D and the people we work with, what approaches to learning are used and ideas such as peer assessment.

Playfulness was something that very much came to mind, as I participated in last week’s LDConnect Unconference in Glasgow.   If you haven’t participated in an unconference or something similar based on an Open Space environment – this style of event very much works on the basis that we are all adults and take responsibility for our own learning, contribution and the direction & form of the learning. 

One of the discussions I participated in during the day, was about what other professionals & fields we could learn from.  We shared ideas about learning from medicine, software development, sports, curating in museums & galleries, nature and children.  Leaving aside the question of whether children are more or less creative than adults, which is discussed in a recent post by Alf Rehn, children certainly now how to play.  We talked about how children can play & what we can learn from this.

Part of my experience this year, as a self-employed consultant, is of having a quiet summer work-wise.  I had a super busy spring and the autumn is shaping up to be full of interesting work, but the summer was quiet.  And what a joy this was!  I had time not only for family & friends, to garden, to fully participate in the Manchester Jazz Festival, but also time to pursue my own work interests.  These included some studying, lots of reading and an amazing amount of play – experimenting with different social media, trying out ideas, drawing pictures, talking to people.  It made me appreciate just how important playtime is for us as adults and how core it is to learning new stuff.  Vera Woodhead recently shared an interesting article on the value of play from the Guardian.

 Sweet peas - combining summer play of gardening & drawing

Last Friday’s Unconference was for me a fabulous example of both being treated as an adult and being playful.  Maybe some contradictions are more apparent than real.  Perhaps it is only when we treat people as adults & are treated as adults ourselves, that we can be free to play?

Be more playful: Treat people as adults

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

With thanks to @acockroft for playfully responding to a tweet on this topic, whilst being in the midst of introducing Twitter & PLNs to colleagues!