Monday, September 11, 2017

'And' Thinking - Thoughts from Learning Live 2017

Rachel Burnham writes: I had the opportunity to participate in last week’s Learning Live event, held in London and organised by the Learning and Peformance Institute (LPI).   

This two day conference brought together Heads of Learning from very many different organisations, predominantly in the UK, but with individuals from other countries participating too.   The programme included a wide range of sessions, an opening Question Time session with a panel and a keynote speech from Jeanne Meister, co-author of ‘The FutureWorkplace Experience’.  A feature of this event are the many breaks, which provide great opportunities to extend the conversations begun in sessions and I really enjoyed the conversations I had with participants and exhibitors.

It is always challenging to pick out themes from conferences of this sort – everyone will have their own take on the event, will have participated in a different mix of sessions, had different conversations and have applied their own filters to the event – but here is my take on this year’s Learning Live.

When I stand back from the event and review my Sketchnotes and memories, what stands out for me were all the ‘And’ pairings throughout the event.  What I mean by that was the emphasis on pairings such as ‘Learning and Peformance’, ‘Creation and Curation’, and ‘Formal and Informal’,

I like ‘And’ thinking. I like the possibilities in it. The opportunity to value different approaches.  To appreciate what works when and why and in what situation.  I quite like the stretch in it, of holding sometimes seeming opposing views. I much prefer it to ‘Or’ thinking – where often one right way is promoted and the other critiqued or even rubbished.  I find ‘And’ thinking more realistic, more challenging, more fruitful as a broad approach.  (Though I do realise that in writing this, I am setting up ‘And’ thinking in contrast to ‘Or’ thinking, which means I am indulging in some ‘Or’ thinking myself!)

The ‘And’ thinking began early on in the event, when digital transformation was discussed in the Question Time session and one of the panel members talked about how digital learning can now bring both ‘rich’ experiences and also ‘reach’ a wide number of people.  

Many sessions discussed ‘content creation & curation’ – in her keynote, Jeanne Meister shared the example of GE’s digital curated platform ‘BrilliantYOU’ – a learning marketplace including all sorts of different kinds of learning support – micro-learning, courses, and also user generated materials ie created materials.  It was interesting to hear that GE offer help to employees on how to contribute your knowledge and create resources to share that knowledge eg how to write for other people. Kelly Palmer, also discussed curating content in her session ‘Learning Disrupted’.  She identified three different approaches to curating content: a) to jobs/roles/projects; b) using AI to aid curation and enable personalisation; and c) by letting Subject Matter Experts curate content.

In the session, ‘The Social Aspects of Learning’ Lucy Standing, from The Association of Business Psychology, began by warning us that she had nothing new to say, as social learning is the oldest kind of learning, though she gave us plenty to think about.  She explored some of the key ways that social learning occurs through observing others and through talking together.   She closed her session by sharing a range of research findings exploring the value of social learning as part of formal learning experiences – social learning – time to question, discuss and explore can add depth of learning.  It was interesting to see her referring to Julian Stodd’s Scaffolded Social Learning Model which brings out the value of combining formal learning with social learning opportunities. Definitely ‘And’ thinking.

In ‘Finding the Right Blend’ from Paul Cooper and Rebecca White, the emphasis was definitely on ‘And’ thinking.   The session explored how Rebecca’s organisation had begun to make use of blended learning, from a position of L&D being very face to face.  This has involved far more than simply introducing elearning. They found that digital enhances face to face, rather than replacing it, but also that there is no one right blend, what works will depend on staff, customers and the broader context.

In Julian Stodd’s own session exploring ‘Social Communities in the Workplace’, he spoke about how communities can filter and help to make sense of the huge amount of information individuals are experiencing, but the value of this will depend upon the diversity of that community.  He talked about the ‘dynamic tension’ that occurs between formal structures and social structures, each bringing value, scaling differently, but both being needed.  ‘And’ thinking.

But the biggest area of ‘And’ thinking for me was around the area of ‘learning and performance’.  Not surprisingly, it being the LPI’s event there was quite an emphasis on the importance of ‘performance’.   Charles Jennings in the opening ‘Question Time’ session said ‘Be passionate about performance’ and went on to share ‘The only metrics that count are business metrics’.   But no one was arguing that this means learning is unimportant, simply that both learning and performance need to be integrated into everything in the organisation.  For Joseph Richardson, from Lego Group, one element of doing this is to move from topic thinking to identifying what behaviours we want to trigger at different points in the process and designing learning to enable this.  Both Jeanne Meister and Kelly Palmer focused on integrating learning into the everyday.   Jeanne Meister quoted Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft about encouraging ‘Learn-it-alls rather than know-it-alls’ and Palmer spoke about how learning every day is needed and about creating a learning culture in our organisations, where for example it is OK for someone to be watching YouTube at work for learning.  Charles Jennings spoke of the relationship between learning and performance, when he shared a colleague’s take on this ‘Learning is the intelligent by-product of continous improvement in an organisation with a learning culture’.  This turns on its head our usual thought that learning leads to improved performance and recognises that sometimes it is reflecting on improved performance that helps us to see what we have learned.

I have come away from the event, with much to think about and much to action.   Which is just as it should be.

If you were part of Learning Live, I would love to hear about your takeways from the event and what you do as a result. Do share – we need these practical stories and experiences to develop our learning further.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Collection of Sketchnotes from Learning Live 2017

Rachel Burnham writes: I had a very interesting two days, this week, participating in Learning Live, organised by the Learning & Performance Institute, which took place in London on 6 & 7 September. 

There were many topics explored in the plenary and workshop sessions throughout the two days.  Here is the complete collection of my Sketchnotes, from the sessions I participated in. 

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Skills, training and the language we use - the big divide?

Rachel Burnham writes: I feel incredibly privileged because I love my work - both the paid work I do as an L&D Consultant, working for myself and the work I do as a volunteer, whether for L&D Connect or CIPD Manchester, as a member of the branch committee and their Public Policy Adviser.  I get to do some really interesting things for CIPD Manchester that I wouldn’t get to do otherwise, such as contributing to organising the recent ‘Shape the Future’ event for CIPD.  As Public Policy Adviser I have got involved in facilitating focus groups and meetings around a very diverse range of topics from dispute resolution,  the National Living Wage, the Northern Powerhouse, to new Psychoactive Substances and EU Migration policy – and look out for exciting news in the early autumn on a new venture ‘The Big Conversation on Families, Parents and the Workplace’.

It is fascinating to be working and making things happen both in the L&D field and also in the wider HR Public Policy field.  I get to work on some different topics and also on some areas that are common to both fields.  It has broadened my perspective on the HR field – it helps me to understand more practically the connections between L&D and other aspects of HR – this has been particularly true of the recent work on EU migration policy that has impacts across many aspects of HR from recruitment, to talent management, skills development, job design & use of automation.    I get to work in different sorts of ways and with different networks of people.   And I notice some interesting differences between the L&D agenda and the Public Policy agenda and also the language that is used, even when we are discussing topics we have in common. 

For example, in the L&D world there is a lot of focus on modern workplace learning with emphasis on how we can make effective use of digital technologies and also social learning, so that learning can be much more responsive to the needs of organisations and individuals, with individuals being able to access learning as and when they need it.  And often that learning may be through access to resources, so actually may be more about performance support.  

Of course, in very many organisations face to face learning still plays a huge and important part, whether that is on its own or as part of wider blended learning programmes.   Amongst these programmes will be ones leading to qualifications – some of these qualifications may be quite sector specific eg medical qualifications, qualifications for the financial services sector or job specific eg health and safety qualifications. However, in many organisations, much learning will be uncertified particularly informal learning – without that in any way that limiting its value or effectiveness.  Indeed, it is hard to imagine how much of our learning can be certified given the rate of learning needed to be effective in some roles or the degree of organisation and job-specificity often required.

Yet in the public policy area, when skills are being discussed then the focus is largely on qualifications and the language is mostly that of training.   This feels more limited, dated and also rather confusing – I find myself wondering when a report refers to the amount spent on training or the amount of training being ‘received’ by employees – just what is being included within those figures – qualifications almost certainly, all face to face training probably, e-learning possibly, informal & social learning - it really isn’t clear, but I suspect it isn’t, learner led development – probably not.  

I was delighted to see that the recent CIPD report on skills, which I have previously blogged about, was consciously moving away from just looking at qualifications. Informal learning is mentioned (briefly), but the focus is still on this formal end of learning and the language is still largely that of training.  So there is a gap between what is happening, at least in some organisations, around L&D and the way this is being examined at a national policy level.

But I think that L&D also needs to get more engaged with the whole skills agenda and public policy area too.   It is interesting what is happening with the introduction this year of the Apprenticeship Levy, as this is impacting on so many organisations, some of whom have already got experience of apprenticeships, but there are also many organisations that haven’t previously had experience in this area.  Some people in L&D have been getting their heads around the Levy and have thrown themselves into working with it for the benefit of their organisations.  In many organisations, responsibility for apprenticeships is a niche L&D role or part of talent management role or part of a wider HR responsibility.  It feels like there hasn’t been as much discussion of the Apprenticeship Levy and its implications within the wider L&D community as might have been expected for such a broad initiative with such potentially huge impact.   The recent round of CIPD Leaders in Learning events which focused on the Apprenticeship Levy had a lower turnout than previous sessions.  In previous years I have noticed a very different mix of participants at events with a skills agenda focus, to those events with a broader L&D focus. 

So there are different groups of people engaged in discussion and action in relation to ‘Adult Training’ or the Skills Agenda field to those focusing on L&D within organisations and some different conversations taking place, with different focuses and different language.  Diversity of views can be a source of strength and bring new ideas to the fore, but if there is a lack of dialogue, if there is an absence of challenge around the differences in focus between the fields, if different language grows up and goes unexplored, then there are also big risks.

For example, are we focusing on the right things in our national statistics in this area; to what extent does it matter if the overall amount spent on workforce development is decreasing if we are spending it more effectively (if we are?); if only some aspects of workforce development are being measured, will these be focused on in policy discussions to the neglect of possibly more fruitful areas; and so on.  I worry that we aren’t talking enough together and as a result the national policy agenda is missing out on more recent thinking and practice from L&D. 

But what do you think?

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Image from Pixabay

Monday, July 3, 2017

Supporting Emotional Wellbeing in the Workplace Sketchnote

Rachel Burnham writes:  This Sketchnote is based on Jon Bartlett’s session at the CIPD NAP Conference in June 2017.  It contains great advice for supporting emotional wellbeing in the workplace and life.  

If you would like to find out more about Jon Bartlett’s work, why not take a look at his website.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Collection of Sketchnotes from CIPD NAP Conference 2017

Rachel Burnham writes: I was fortunate enough to participate in the CIPD NAP conference over the past weekend, 9-10th June 2017, in York.  This conference is organised annually by a team of volunteers from the northern branches of the CIPD and is one of the friendliest HR conferences around. 

The theme this year was ‘Enhancing the Employee Experience’ and a wide range of topics were explored under this heading from Emotion at work, through diversity & inclusion, to Personal Learning Networks and Apprenticeships.  

The highlight for me was the keynote given by Peter Cheese, CIPD’s CEO, who spoke passionately about the contribution of HR to organisations and society, in the context of the new Professional Standards that CIPD is currently in the process of developing.  I have heard Peter Cheese speak on many occasions, but I have never heard him speak so powerfully and movingly.  It made me proud to work in HR. 

Here are my Sketchnotes from this event, including Peter Cheese’s session.  

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Less Talk, More Action

Rachel Burnham writes: At a large event, like this week’s CIPD L&D Show, everyone has their own experience; their own take on the event, particularly when there are 4 options for every session in the conference, plus an exhibition and stacks of free sessions on the exhibition floor all running concurrently.  It was a great pleasure to be there as part of the CIPD's BlogSquad, reporting from the event, via social media (#cipdldshow).  I do find trying to make sense of an event like this is a bit of a head-spinner and I always benefit from a bit of calm-reflection after the event.   So, here is my take on this year’s Show.

My overall impression this year, is that the focus is more practically focused than previously.   Sure, there were still some big name speakers with big picture narratives and ‘new’ or ‘newish’ things to share, but the emphasis in the sessions I participated in felt more practical, more focused on stuff you can take away and use.   And that was a welcome change for me. 

It felt good, after so many years of hearing about the challenges that L&D faces and the ways that we ‘should’ be changing to respond to those challenges by:  

being more strategically aligned, more agile, modernising learning by making better use of digital and social learning and the latest understandings of neuroscience and how our learners learn and so on (And breathe);   

to focus on ‘how’ we do this!  I know that there are huge differences in our profession in the extent to which we are aware of these challenges and these ‘new’ ways of working.  For some people in our field of L&D these messages almost seem ‘old’ news, whereas for others they are still brand-spanking new, fresh and in some cases quite shocking.   There are still a lot of organisations and a lot of ‘trainers’ still to reach – choosing my language with care and deliberation here! But perhaps a different way of reaching people is to move on from talking about what we ‘should’ be doing and that we ‘should’ be investing in developing our own L&D skills, to just getting on with it.   And that was what this CIPD L&D Conference felt like it was doing, in my experience.

Now, there was still some new research out from Towards Maturity – two new reports to dig into and learn from ‘Driving the New Learning Organisation’ and ‘Work-Based LearningDividend’ and a new set of standards/guidance from BSI for Learning & Development were launched (PD76006) – and I don’t in anyway intend to down play their value and importance and in fact I do plan to write about these in future blogs. But the rest of this blog will focus on the more practical take-aways in the sessions I participated in.  I created Sketchnotes for all of the sessions that I participated in – so do refer to these for more details of each session (I will put the session code in brackets for ease of reference to the Sketchnotes).

Dr Liz Mellon spoke about how we could create ‘agile workforces to thrive in uncertainty’ (D1) – this is distinct from discussions about the need for agile learning, design or even agile L&D functions, which I have written about previously.  She was exploring how whole workforces could be encouraged to work in more agile ways, in order for organisations to be able to cope and indeed succeed in times of change and great uncertainty.   This is a very big topic and one that has been discussed many times before – Liz Mellon’s approach was to focus on three particular elements, under the headings of Stop, Continue and Start.  Step 1 is to take fear out of the system; Step 2 to create a learning culture and Step 3 to become an authentic leader.  It was in this third step that I thought her most interesting points came.  For her being an authentic leader is more than just being yourself – she had a more nuanced message around this than I had heard before in the context of leadership, that it is about being the best version of yourself – the version of yourself that your team, your organisation needs at that moment in time.  Which involves great self-insight; the balancing of some really tricky leadership dilemmas such as around specialist/generalist, instinct and using EQ, inclusion and collaboration; and understanding how your behaviour may contradict eg asking for A but rewarding B in your teams.

In another session, I found Sarah Lindsell from PwC’s insights into ‘Designing a Future-Fit L&D Strategy’ (G2) particularly helpful and rich with her experience – so do check out my Sketchnote from this session. Her starting point was ‘Before you do anything understand your world’ and by this she was getting at that  in-depth understanding of your own organisation, it’s business, its environment, its culture and all the other aspects involved.  That is a good reminder for us all.  Here is a Storify by Donna Hewitson of the Tweets from this session.

One of the major challenges facing L&D teams in the UK at present is how to make the most of the opportunities presented by the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy this April.  In session (C2) we had the opportunity to hear from a number of organisations with long-term experience of working with apprenticeship schemes for the benefit of their organisation, as well as the individual apprentices.  It was particularly great to hear from a number of apprentices in person about their own experience and its value.  Many of these organisations are offering apprenticeships across all levels and across a number of occupational fields.   All of these organisations had invested in their apprenticeship schemes, both in time, resources and commitment throughout the organisation and as a result were also reaping rewards: such as new ideas brought into the business, highly skilled staff developed, reductions in recruitment costs for staff at intermediate skills levels, career paths established and more.  Two key messages came over to me from this session – firstly that as an organisation you need to really work out what will work best for your organisation and build partnerships with providers (colleges or private training providers) to tailor provision to meet the needs of your business.   Secondly, it is worth going ‘the extra mile’ in terms of the investment in the scheme, as that is when you get these amazing benefits. Here is a Storify by Donna Hewitson of the Tweets from this session.

In another session (F1) that included a great case study, we heard from Jack Phillips about using ROI methodology.  He spoke about how this can help conversations with senior managers and change their perception of L&D from being a cost to seeing it as an investment.  Now hearing about the benefits of working out ROI is not new and if you already have senior managers within an organisation convinced of the value of L&D investment, then this may not be a route you need to go down, but it was great to hear the practical example from EDF Energy shared by Darren Gleave about how they used this methodology and how this impacted on future conversations about L&D and helped to build the credibility of the L&D function.  Here's a Storify from Donna Hewitson of the tweets from this session.

One way that L&D can make an impact on our organisations is by upskilling managers to be more effective.   A particular focus in recent years has been in enabling managers to develop their skills in have effective coaching conversations – this is something that I think can make a massive difference in an organisation and it was the topic for session H2.   Sandra Nixon of QVC and Rhona Howarth of Nestle shared their differing approaches to doing just this and lots of practical insights were shared.   My key takeaway from this was the reminder that if you want to make a real shift in this kind of behavior, you can’t just put on a learning programme, you have to build a whole series of intiatives around the learning to reinforce and support this kind of behavior change.   Here's Helen Amery's live blog of this same session.

Finally, my two favourite sessions were the most practical of all, both filled with helpful tips, shared by practitioners with lots of personal experience in these areas.  These were the session on Webinars (A3) led by Michelle Parry-Slater and Andy Lancaster and the one on Creating Videos using your smartphone led by Dr Mark Davies (E3).   These sessions got us involved and started the process of building skills (as far as is possible with sessions designed for 80 people).  They were inspiring – do take a look at my Sketchnotes, where I tried to capture as many of the tips shared as possible. If you want to build your skills around Webinars or Creating Videos there are some good tips here.  Here is a Storify from Donna Hewitson of the Tweets from the session on creating videos.

I really appreciated this year’s focus on ‘how to’ and ‘practical tips’.  Though many of the sessions were not covering new ground for me, every single one of them gave some additional insight, a reminder, some practical tips and in a few sessions real inspiration.  So now it is definitely time for some action!

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Complete Collection of My Sketchnotes from the CIPD L&D Show 2017

Rachel Burnham writes: I have been fortunate to spend the last two days at the CIPD L&D Show as a member of the BlogSquad.  This is the team of volunteers who report on the conference via social media through Twitter, blogs and video tools (eg Periscope and SnapChat).  During the event my preferred medium is to Sketchnote, which I then photograph and tweet out on the hashtag for the event #cipdldshow, though I also produced a short video, using SnapChat, to capture a flavour of the second day and this is now available on YouTube.  

The conference is fast paced with up to four sessions a day and a number of different options for each of these sessions – all relevant to today’s L&D professionals.  Some sessions such as the ones on webinars and creating your own videos using your mobile phone, which I report on below, were highly practical tips sharing sessions.  Other sessions were more about giving the big picture and sharing stimulating ideas - an excellent example was Dr Liz Mellon’s session on ‘Creating Agile Workforces’.  Whilst others focused on sharing practical experience from organisations - great examples of this were Sarah Lindsell, from PwC, drawing on her experience of creating a ‘Future-Fit L&D Strategy’ and also both speakers in the session on ‘Upskilling your managers to have Effective Coaching Conversations’.    

In addition, there was also the exhibition hall full of stands and lots of free short sessions to attend.   For a flavour of this why not take a look at these two short videos, also produced on SnapChat, by my colleague Mike Shaw – Day 1 and Day 2.   I participated in a session about the launch of the new BSI standards for L&D PD76006 and you will find my Sketchnote about this below.

At this stage, my head is still reeling with the amount of information and ideas bouncing around.  I know it will take me some time to sort through and make some sense out of this.  I will be blogging on my learning and reflections from the Show over the coming days and weeks. 

In the meantime, here are all nine of the Sketchnotes I created live at the Show.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Getting off the Skills Merry-Go-Round  

 Rachel Burnham writes: The overwhelming key message, from the CIPD’s new report on skills in the UK, is the need for us to get off the ‘skills merry-go-round’ of reports and enquiries into the poor state of the UK’s workforce skills, followed by re-organisation of the various bodies involved, development of ‘here today - gone tomorrow’ policies and initiatives, gradual abandonment of said policies, only for this to be followed in a couple of years by a fresh round hand-wringing and more reports and enquiries, which start a new cycle of poorly thought through re-organisation and policy development.  

The report argues that ‘Bringing stability to the system is paramount. The employer response is almost bound to be sub-optimal given the in-coherence of the policy development process.’   This is pretty strong stuff, coming from the CIPD and gives a sense of just what a mess the whole national skills policy is in.

The report touches on the almost constant state of change in national skills policy and institutional frameworks over the past 30 years – over that time the report reminds us that we have had over 65 Secretaries of State and 11 changes of departmental responsibility.   So, if you feel your head is spinning and can’t quite think who has responsibility for what when you think about recent national skills initiatives, you are not alone!

My involvement in this field goes back over that 30 year period.  For my sins, I was part of a National Advisory Board for the Manpower Services Commission during the time when the Commission oversaw the introduction and then rapid expansion of the Youth Training Scheme (YTS).  This was introduced to provide ‘quality’ training for young people as they started working life, but with the rapid expansion, all aspirations to quality very quickly went out of the window, in the pressure to meet targets for growth – this sounds awfully familiar to the current position around apprenticeships.   I was a youth representative from the British Youth Council at that time and having previously been on a YOP (Youth Opportunities Programme) as a WEEP (Work Experience on Employer’s Premises) was deemed particularly suitable to provide advice on the new youth training scheme.  If you have been involved in any of these programmes you will know how three, four and even five letter abbreviations proliferate! 

CIPD’s new report ‘From‘inadequate’ to ‘outstanding’: Making the UK’s skills system world class’ by Ian Brinkley and Elizabeth Crowley was launched just a couple of weeks ago and is available from the CIPD website.   The report is not for the faint-hearted!   It is not an easy read, but it is all the better for that, as it attempts to honestly make sense of where we are now, why we need to tackle the skills agenda and to put forward some genuinely useful recommendations.  

It is good to see that the report focuses on skills, rather than on just the acquirement of qualifications.  The report identifies that the ‘skills’ it is focusing on are primarily communication skills, numeracy & analytical skills and digital skills, notably using computers to solve problems. It also refers to relating to customers and clients, being caring and being creative.  And the report explains in some detail why the distinction between skills and qualifications is important. Whilst I was pleased to see that the report moved beyond just looking at qualifications, which has been the traditional approach in the UK in policy discussions, I still have concerns that this is too narrow a focus in the skills considered and doesn’t consider the wider range of skills that organisations need for success.  

The report explores the evidence for how we compare internationally on skills development in the UK and also looks at the knotty problem of assessing if we have the skills needed for the requirements of jobs.   There is a long section of the report which examines sometimes conflicted evidence for whether there is under or over qualification in the UK workforce (or possibly both simultaneously).  This is the most difficult part of the report to make sense of because there is no one agreed methodology for assessing this and the different methods in use are giving different pictures.

The report sets out very detailed and thoughtful recommendations on quite a range of areas across this skills agenda from the need for stability, to a need to re-balance emphasis on university education with vocational paths for young people, to the need for quality career guidance.   I think the report is to be commended for these suggestions and the willingness to go beyond easy headlines.

I do have a hesitation.  I still feel some disconnect between the emphasis and language used when skills policy is discussed, as in this report, compared to the ongoing discussions I am involved in about L&D in organisations.   For example, although this report gives a welcome emphasis to skills development, the focus is primarily on qualifications and on ‘training’ to address this development.  So, the approaches to learning within the report, don’t seem to be picking up on current thinking about workplace learning and performance support.  The report does briefly touch on informal learning, and so I would love to explore how much this is just a difference of language or whether there are real differences in emphasis here.   At the same time, I wonder how many people involved in those discussions about modern workplace learning are also thinking about the challenges explored in this report.   It does feel at times as though two very different conversations are being held in parallel, using different language.  I would love to hear from other people on this topic, so do get in touch and let me know what you think. 

If you are interested in finding out more about the issues raised in this report and if you are participating in the CIPD’s L&D Show this week, why not go along to the presentations on the CIPD stand at 15.30 when these issues will be explored.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Future of the Professions

Rachel Burnham writes: I was very pleased to see that Daniel Susskind is speaking at the forthcoming CIPD L&D Show in May.  Do take the opportunity to hear him if you can.  I was fortunate to hear him speak last autumn at CIPD’s Annual Conference in Manchester on the impact of technology on the professions and found his session engaging and thought-provoking.  In fact, I was so impressed that I bought the book that he co-authored with his father ‘The Future of the Professions’, which I have not long finished reading.  Before this turns into something reminiscent of a razor commercial (& letting slip my age!), let tell you a bit about their ideas.

Sketchnote from Daniel Susskind's session at CIPD Annual Conference 2016

The Susskinds have been exploring what the professions are for and why we need the professions, as well as how the professions are changing, particularly with the impact of technology.  They see the professions as a way of managing access to practical expertise.   In a print-based society they argue that the privileges and responsibilities placed upon the professions made sense and balanced each other out.  But in an internet-based society, where information and knowledge is created and accessible in many different ways, this ‘grand-bargain’ is being increasingly challenged and is no longer sustainable.  They argue that many professional fields are creaking - being too costly, inaccessible to many, disempowering, under-performing and inscrutable. What a catalogue of criticisms!  Think about how many people in the world have inadequate access to good quality medical care – not just in poorer countries.  Think about how access to the law is rationed in many ways by people’s ability to pay. Consider how access to high quality education is stretched thin around the world, at a time when we know that we are going to need to keep on learning throughout the whole of our lives.  

Daniel & Richard Susskind focused their research on 8 professional fields: health, education, divinity, law, journalism, management consultancy, tax and audit, and architecture.   They explore the challenges these fields are facing, how the ‘vanguard’ are responding to these challenges and in particular how they are tapping into and making imaginative use of technology to transform their profession.   Within each profession they identify that there are different priorities in the challenges and differing ways that these are being responded to, so that patterns of change vary between the professions.

From our point of view it may seem a shame that HR and L&D weren’t also studied, but many (if not all) of these criticisms of the professions are often also aimed at our field – indeed often this is self-criticism from within the field.   And when I pondered the sorts of changes they picked out as developments in the these other professions, I could immediately begin to parallel these with changes taking place in our own field such as routinization, labour arbitrage, new specialisms, on-line self-help, personalization, online collaboration etc etc.  

These changes are already impacting on all the professions studied and the Susskinds suggest that they will lead to a substantial and continuing change to the professions, so that these professional fields may be near unrecognisable before too long. They argue that each of these professions needs to be engaging with this agenda and actively experimenting with how to make the most of the opportunities that technology offers to enable us to provide better, more accessible, more affordable services.  But also that each of the professions and wider society needs to be considering carefully what kind of future we want –  a key issue being ‘who should own and control practical expertise in a technology-based Internet society?’ (pp. 304)

I found particularly interesting two fallacies that the Susskinds picked out.  Firstly, that often professionals when introduced to these issues are quick to acknowledge that indeed these are the challenges faced and these are the sorts of changes emerging – but only for other professions not their own!  

The second is in relation to the emergence of ‘increasingly capable machines’ which is how the Susskinds describe the new ways that AI (artificial intelligence) is developing.   This is now developing immensely fast and in surprising ways, so things that only a short while ago seemed most improbable are now practical realities.  Driver-less cars being just one example.  The other fallacy they pick out, is that often we assume that machines/computers will need to tackle tasks in the way a human does and therefore dismiss the likelihood of many tasks being possible for a machine to do.   However, very many of the break-throughs in what machines can do, have come from tackling tasks in a very different way to the way that humans would do that task.   Our imagination is limiting us, from seeing just what might be possible and how fundamentally ‘increasingly capable machines’ will change the world of work and indeed the wider world.

I do recommend that you read this book.  And take the opportunity to listen to Daniel Susskind at the CIPD L&D Show or follow the session on Twitter via #cipdldshow.  There is a lot for L&D professionals to consider in the Susskinds ideas both in relation to our own professional field HR/L&D and also in relation to the professions that we may work with in the health, education, management consultancy, law and other fields.

Rachel Burnham

14 /4/17

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Learning Every Day – Collaborative Learning

Rachel Burnham writes: If you want to be learning every day, then one of the most effective ways in my experience is to find someone to learn alongside, a practice partner, someone to collaborate in learning with.

I have had two brilliant experiences of this recently.  Over the last three months I have been engaged in collaborative learning about how VR (Virtual Reality) can be used effectively in workplace learning, with my friend and fellow independent L&D consultant Niall Gavin (@niallgavinuk).  We both participated in a webinar on the subject of VR and that kickstarted a series of conversations, which led to us finding out more about VR and giving it a go.  As a result of our collaborative learning we put together a series of blogs, Sketchnotes and video conversations to share what we discovered under the #VRinLearning. 

In a similar way, I have also been learning practical skills of video making and particularly how to use Snapchat for this purpose, with my fellow Manchester-based Mike Shaw (@MikeShawLD).  Learning alongside, can be a great way of learning a practical skill such as video making, where there are skills & confidence to be developed both behind and in front of the camera, which can be difficult to practice on your own.

There are many benefits to collaborative learning:

·       You can pool resources – sharing your insights and helpful resources – thus accelerating the learning process.

·       Practical tips – when you get stuck, your partner can often help you practically problem-solve.  I’m not sure that I would have ever got my head around Snapchat without tips from Mike.

·       Extend your thinking – being able to share ideas and talk them through with another person can challenge and develop your thinking.  This was key in working on the VR project with Niall and seeing Mike’s completed Snapchat videos has inspired me to try out different ways of presenting information.

·       Above all encouragement & fun – learning alongside someone else is just more fun and encourages you to keep going when otherwise you might just give up.   It is great to go to an event such as CIPD’s L&D Show 10th & 11th May (for details) with a colleague and share the learning from this together, comparing and contrasting your learning from the event. Or follow the event via #cipdldshow

Why not give collaborative learning a go yourself?  Or share your stories of how you have done this – I would love to hear about your experiences.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Niall & Rachel's VR Odyssey - part 4 - Summary & Lessons Learned

Rachel Burnham writes: Over the last few months Niall Gavin and myself have been learning about VR and how it can be used to enhance learning experiences in the workplace. In our first blog post, we explained why we started out on this voyage of discovery and explained what VR is.   In part 2 we shared our experiences of using VR in a short video conversation and accompanying blog posts.  In part 3, we discussed the potential of VR and also its pros & cons in a second short video.  Here is the final part of our journey.

Ancient Greek ship (Pentekonter)


VR in Learning Research – Summary & Lessons Learned Rachel Burnham and Niall Gavin

After our three month discovery Odyssey exploring Virtual (and Augmented) Reality, its potential impacts and possible applications, we feel much more informed about VR and how it is currently being - and could in the future be used in Learning and Development.  In no way do we consider ourselves experts and, of course, the field continues to change and evolve at pace, but we find ourselves much better informed and alert to the possibilities and also to some of the risks.

We’d like to share our current thinking with you here.

1.  Virtual – and Augmented - Reality is the shiny new kid on the block in the consumer world, in education, in business and latterly, in Learning & Development. As has tended to be the case with the increasing consumerisation of technology (think smartphones, think Siri, think Pokemon GO, think Amazon Echo…), the people who will show up looking for learning and performance support in the workplace – and looking to L&D to demonstrate leadership, expertise and potential solutions – will have an expectation that VR may be part of the mix.

2.  VR, with its immersive experience, has tremendous potential as a tool for use in Learning & Development.  There are some very exciting ways in which it can be applied to create powerful, engaging and effective learning experiences.  And this can be done within all price ranges.

3.  VR is not a magical tool that will once and forever transform L&D.  It is potentially a great tool – but like all L&D tools, only when it is used in the right place, for the right need and in the right context.  Consider carefully if the VR experience is adding to the learning, beyond that which can be gained from another approach.

4.  Consider where on the scale of VR immersion (passive <> some interaction <> total immersion) would be the most effective approach to meet the need.  If the requirement is for less than total immersion, then go for the cheaper option, with less investment in kit and skills development and which uses technology already familiar to employees.

5.  As an L&D professional, it is important to build your own awareness and familiarity with new tools such as VR, so that you can spot where and when it can be used in your own organisation or to support your own clients effectively (and also where and when it would be inappropriate to use it). So make sure that within your network you have people who are working with VR and are sharing what they have learned about it.

6.  If you do decide that there is some potential for using VR in your own organisation, start small.  Consider a small pilot using equipment and VR software at the low/no cost end of the spectrum.  And then review, learn and experiment again.

7.  Where you need a bespoke, rather than an off-the-peg, solution make sure that you use an experienced and reputable provider.  Ask around first, compare and contrast.  Speak to other clients that they’ve worked with.

8.  Consider how accessible to the intended learner a VR option would be.  Think especially about those with disabilities, those who wear glasses and/or those with conditions such as vertigo.  How robust is your proposed solution for these individuals?  We had a mixed experience, in most cases with no problems at all, but some VR options did not meet our needs and, indeed, proved to be ineffective and unproductive.

9.  Keep an eye on developments in AR – Augmented Reality.  This is a related field, which is developing rapidly and could have even more applications to improving performance than VR. The principle of overlaying ‘real life’ (as seen through the smartphone or tablet camera and/or a headset or tech-enhanced glasses) with other imagery and or text, has huge potential in engineering training, medical training, safety training, asset management and location/geographically sensitive experiences. The recent news from Apple (conspicuous by its absence in the VR arena thus far) that it sees AR as the next big thing – as big as the smartphone, according to CEO Tim Cook - suggests that AR may be the ‘killer app’ here. Expect some interesting ideas and applications here from the tech giant.

10. We have compiled a Resource Sheet to complement this blog and video series, with curated links to other research, blogs, webinars, podcasts, reports and other curated resources and is published separately . Inevitably, in this fast changing and evolving landscape, this will be (indeed, probably is already) out of date shortly.

Finally, we would love to hear about your experiences in using VR. Tell us your stories. Have you used it? How and where have you used it? Are you now thinking about using it or have you decided not to use it - and why? Let’s keep the conversation and the learning going in the rapidly evolving and dynamic field in Learning and Development. Use the Twitter hashtag #VRinLearning.

Rachel Burnham and Niall Gavin

March 2017