Monday, May 23, 2016

Productivity, Fairy Dust and Developing Effective Managers

Rachel Burnham writes: One of the major challenges facing the UK economy is the low level of productivity in the UK compared to other economies.  This is has been a long standing and growing concern, so I won’t rehearse the data around this – but do take a look at the reports and articles on my Productivity Puzzle Pinterest board if you want to find out more.

It is linked to many other important issues for the wider economy, organisations and individuals such as levels of low pay in the UK, the mix of businesses working in the UK (manufacturing, service, relationship with growth, etc) and skills agenda topics such as the skills mix available in the UK workforce.   I find it interesting that we don’t spend more time focusing on the contribution of L&D to raising productivity within organisations.   One of the challenges is that often these topics are discussed in different forums and with different groups of people – economists focusing on productivity, ‘training providers & colleges’ on the skills agenda and so on.   It would be good to get more cross-over in these discussions.

Back in February of this year, Sukh Pabial wrote about productivity and the contribution that modern workplace learning could make to that.   I want to follow that up in this post by focusing on the development of management skills.

One of the ways in which L&D can make a contribution to improving productivity and therefore the overall effectiveness of organisations is by focusing on the development of managers.  Acas has identified 7 levers that contribute within organisations to raising productivity and one of these key levers is ‘skilled managers’.  Acas have produced a helpful tool to encourage organisations to reflect on where they are now in relation to each of these levers and take action.  

We know how damaging an ineffective manager can be to the performance of the staff they manage and how the ripples of ineffectiveness can spread through an organisation causing damage to engagement, trust, communication flows and of course performance.   Yet many organisations still pay insufficient attention to developing effective skills and behaviours amongst their managers.

I remember a group of students, on a CIPD course, discussing the management development programmes within their organisations, some years ago.  One student described their organisation as relying on ‘magic’ weekends for management development – I was puzzled, I hadn’t come across this development tool before – use of horse-whispering, juggling, orchestra’s for team development, but magic for management development? Then she explained that when a manager was appointed from within her organisation, they left on a Friday as an experienced and competent team member and were expected to start back on a Monday morning as a fully competent and effective manager – as though they had been sprinkled with fairy dust over a ‘magic’ weekend!  

I have subsequently heard the CIPD’s Peter Cheese use the same phrase when arguing that ‘we have not done enough to train and support line managers’ (A20:20 Vision Joint Acas/CIPD Manchester Conference 2016).
So we need to make sure that every manager has access to the learning they need to develop the skills they need – whether it is as a first time manager in their first few weeks, a long-term manager recognising the need to improve and further develop their skills or a more senior manager taking on new responsibilities and needing new perspectives.   And we can’t rely on a one-shot development programme to achieve that or even a series of development programmes at each at key stages of a manager’s career.   
Managers, like other staff, will need support and access to relevant learning when they need it, at the point they are facing an issue, a difficulty or a new challenge.

Which brings me to the new report, ‘Inside the Heads of UK Managers’ published today by Good Practice.  This examines what it is that managers find the most challenging aspects of their role.  Perhaps unsurprisingly dealing with organisational change was top of the list of the most challenging, with managing conflicts and maintaining a work-life balance also high up there.   I found the break-down of the information into sub-sets most fascinating – for example within the respondents maintaining work-life balance was higher up the list for men than for women and coaching/training my team higher for more senior managers than for lower management.

The report encourages you to do your own research, to identify what would be the biggest challenges for managers in your own organisation and then compare this with your existing provision. It suggests using the methodology they have developed to enable you to do this.  This echoes a point made by Nick Shackleton-Jones, at the recent CIPD L&D Show, when he talked about identifying what bugs people and addressing these needs.

It is time for us, in L&D, to get real about supporting managers to be effective in their work.   I’m all for fairy dust, but let’s keep it for bedtime stories and out of management development!

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. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Get Started in Developing Your Digital Skills

Rachel Burnham writes:  This Sketchnote summarises the session I delivered in the Technology for Learning arena at the CIPD L&D Show on 12th May 2016 on behalf of MOL Learn.

If you are interested in finding out more about how digital tools and technology can be used to enhance learning in the workplace, why not also read my review of this year's OU Learning Trends Report.

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. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My 5 Key Themes from CIPD L&D Show 2016

Rachel Burnham writes: Whenever I participate in an event as lively and as broad as the CIPD L&D Show, with conference, exhibition, free events on the exhibition floor, fringe events and many serendipitous meetings with interesting people, I am very aware that every participant will have their own impressions, their own stories to tell of the event and their own list of significant points.  

So here are my key themes from this year’s show.  They are based on the sessions I took part in as a member of the Blogsquad – you will find a link to my Sketchnotes from these sessions here. 

1.  Performance rather than learning

The overwhelming theme for me from the sessions I took part in on the first day, was the need in L&D to focus on performance rather than learning.   This was not a new insight for me, I have written before on why this is so important a change in approach for us in L&D, but I haven’t heard so many speakers address this so consistently as part of the essential thinking within their practice.  

Charles Jennings in A1 ‘Beyond the Blend’ spoke of a need for a change in mindset ‘from learning to performance’ and spoke about new roles for us in L&D, including the ‘performance detective’.  Jane Hart in C1‘Supporting Social & Collaborative Learning in the Workplace’ talked about focusing on performance when designing guided learning opportunities and in ‘Equipping your L&D with Essentials for the Future’ Derek Bruce shared that the biggest change in ABN AMRO had been introducing ‘performance consulting’.

It was great to hear so many speakers having this as the backdrop to their practice, but there is a long way to go for this to be the case for most organisations in my experience.

2.  Focus on the learner

The second theme of focusing on the learner, also ran through many of the sessions, but this time in many different forms.

In a superb session B1 ‘The Secret to Learning Design’, Nick Shackleton-Jones urged us to ‘take time to understand what bugs your people’, in other words what makes it difficult for them to perform to their very best and then address these issues.   He shared a model: Concern –Task – Resource which he and his team had used to help identify these ‘bugs’ or concerns and address them.  

He used an analogy which really caught my attention, urging us to ‘draw what you see’ when focusing on these concerns, rather than what you expect to see.   One summer I spent a happy afternoon drawing some lilies that were in full flower.  I think of lilies as elegant, with flowing lines and great colours.   But when I started drawing this particular flower, I realised that it was also bumpy and hairy!   Not what I had expected at all, but part of the reality of a real lily!  

In contrast, Lisette Toetenel from The Open University, Laura Overton from Towards Maturity and Tom Pape from BT, each in different sessions, all spoke about the importance of understanding how learners actually learn.   Lisette Toetenel focused on making effective use of learning analytics to understand how learners made use of online learning and using this information to generate even more effective learning experiences.  Laura Overton referred to the work on ‘Learner Voice’ which Towards Maturity has done and Tom Pape talked about building tools for the user – designing systems so that they were easy and straight forward to use for the learner.

This was the theme that challenged me the most.  I know that within the organisations I work with, this is where we have a lot of scope to do better.

3.  70:20:10

Just about all the sessions, I took part in, referenced the 70:20:10 approach at some stage.  It was particularly great to hear this coming through so strongly and practically in a number of case studies in various sessions.   Derek Bruce in ‘Equipping your L&D Team with the Essentials for the Future’ talked about the key values which his organisation worked with around learning – this included ‘365 – learning is everyday’.  And it was mentioned both by Tom Pape of BT and by Steve Mapp and Gary Bellamy of Lloyds Banking Group in their case studies on collaborative learning.

Charles Jennings of course explored it and talked about extending learning into the workplace through two approaches: either adding learning to work; or taking learning from work.

Whilst, this approach has been around for ages, it is still uncommon thinking in most of the organisations with which I have contact with and in my experience not fully bedded into the practice of most L&D professionals.   I think we still have a long way to go to get the full benefits out of this approach as a profession.

4.  Technology is a secondary issue

This was a refreshing note that was sounded on a number of occasions over the event. 

I had deliberately chosen many sessions which explored using technology or digital tools (to use the new preferred terminology), yet even in these sessions, presenters were making it clear that technology should not be a driver.   Jane Hart emphasised people first and foremost.  Lisette Toetenel emphasised that platform and other technology questions were secondary to the issue to what learning do you want learners to experience. 

It is certainly important that we are aware of how technology can be used in L&D and The Open University launched a useful short guide to this during the Show – here’s a link to my review of the report.   And without doubt we need to be addressing the gap in the digital skills of L&D practitioners which was discussed by Laura Overton in ‘Equipping your L&D Team with the Essentials for the Future’.  But it is good to be reminded that technology is just one factor to consider.

5.  Collaboration & cream

My final point from the Show tackles a concern that has often been raised in relation to social and collaborative learning which is the fear ‘what if the wrong information is shared?’.

What was lovely in the sessions involving case studies was to hear this issue raised and robustly answered from practical experience.    We were urged not to over-control what gets shared socially, as ‘cream rises to the top’ and reminded that our colleagues in our organisations are savvy enough to share and recommend what adds value.   A number of speakers were directly asked about the issue of incorrect material being shared and responded in a similar way by saying that if incorrect or misleading information is posted, colleagues are very quick to correct this.  

So, these are my 5 significant points from two days of conference going, Sketchnoting, discussing and reflecting.  If you were there, or participating at a distance via social media, they may not be yours, so why not compare notes and share your impressions.

You may also be interested in a broader curation of material from the Show by the brilliant Ian Pettigrew, which brings together a range of material shared via social media.

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. 

Sketchnotes from CIPD L&D Show 2016

Rachel Burnham writes: Last week I had a very interesting time participating in CIPD’s L&D Show 2016, as a member of the Blogsquad.   I had the opportunity to attend the conference and report on it.  Here are all the Sketchnotes I created on the sessions I attended.

I will be blogging about the key themes from these sessions shortly.

You may also be interested in a broader curation of material from the Show by the brilliant Ian Pettigrew, which brings together a range of material shared via social media.

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. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

OU Trends in Learning Report 2016

Rachel Burnham writes: This year’s CIPD L&D Show on 11 & 12th May at Olympia, is in partnership with the Open University, which happens to be the first organisation I ever worked for. So, I was particularly interested to discover that the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology has produced its second annual ‘Trends in Learning Report’ and that this is being launched at the Show.

The report focuses on the way that technology can be used to  support L&D in the workplace and identifies 7 trends:

·       Harvesting incidental learning;

·       The power of adaptive teaching;

·       Embracing MOOC’s;

·       Accrediting informal learning;

·       The science of learning analytics;

·       E-books as learning platforms; and

·       Learning to love mobile.

If you have been keeping up-to-date with the way that technology can be used to aid learning and enable L&D to better meet the needs of organisations, most of these topics will come as no surprise to you.   However, if you are looking for a good introduction to a broad range of current thinking about how technology can better aid learning in the workplace, then this short report is particularly worth taking a look at.  It is written in the form of a short accessible article on each of the trends which introduces the topic, then explores the benefits for workplace learning and also includes tips to consider.

I found three of the pieces particularly interesting.

The power of adaptive teaching

This section describes how technology based learning can make use of algorithms to personalise and make learning much more responsive to the needs of individual learners enabling them to work at the pace that they need and with the kind of practice that they need.

This is what an effective trainer or tutor can do easily in one to one training or when working with a small group, but is so much harder to achieve with larger groups.  And until comparatively recently was not part of what e-learning could deliver.  But that is all changing.

Just as Amazon and other on-line retailers can now make recommendations of what else you might find of interest, through the use of algorithms, so algorithms can be used to adapt learning materials.  ‘Adaptive programmes analyse data collected from learning activities and employ algorithms, to modify content, in real-time based on the results.’ (‘Trends in Learning Report 2016, OU pg 6).

I’m currently participating in Curatr’s year-long MOOC ‘E-learning: Beyond the next button’ and this is a topic we have explored in a section on Artificial Intelligence or AI.  AI isn’t all about robots, when it comes to learning – mostly, it is about these types of algorithms described in the OU report.  

As a result of the MOOC I was inspired to have a go at using a learning tool which takes this approach for language learning – and it was most interesting to see how the programme responded to my mistakes to provide me with extra practice in the areas I struggled with.   I can contrast this, with then using a more traditional on-line tool to learn some Greek, prior to a recent holiday and how less effective this seemed when it could only either ‘pat me on the back’ or suggest repeating the section when offering feedback.

So, I think this use of technology has great potential for providing tailored practice opportunities, not just for language learning and more relevant feedback within an approach that is scalable.

The science of learning analytics

The second area that particularly interested me, was the section on learning analytics.   Analytics has been a big topic in the wider HR field for a few years now and it is good to see more specific details about how this can be used within L&D field. 

The piece explains how technology makes it possible to identify much greater detail on how learners are using learning resources and what is happening in online communities.  This information can then be used to improve the effectiveness of the learning.  

Which of course, is one of the purposes of the evaluation of learning.  

Reading this piece, I felt that this area raises more questions, than have yet been answered and to be fair, this is acknowledged within the article.  Just because we now have more flexible and powerful tools at our disposal, doesn’t mean we know how to get the best out of them.

E-books as learning platforms

This was my surprise in the report – I haven’t heard much about the use of e-books as learning tools, except as one of the many options for delivering learning content.   This article touches on the use of a new generation of e-books in a social learning context – groups reading a common book whilst spread out over many locations, perhaps annotating a text or even co-creating a text. 

As a confirmed bookworm, I found these ideas exciting.  I have read some e-books, but confess to preferring the look, touch and even smell of paper-copies.   However, these ideas have given me a new impetus to explore some other approaches to using e-books to aid learning.

The team from OU will be showcasing the findings from this report  at their presentation at the CIPD L&D Show exhibition on Day One, Wed 11 May, 10:55-11:25 in the Technology for Learning Zone.  So, if this has wetted your appetite, why not go along and find out more – for more details

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. 

I am part of the Blogsquad for #cipdldshow and will be reporting from the show via Twitter.  Follow me on @BurnhamLandD