Monday, January 23, 2017

5 Pointers for Getting Your Head Around the New E-Learning

Rachel Burnham writes: I have had an amazing time over the last year participating in the Curatr based MOOC ‘E-learning: Beyond the NextButton’.  This was a 12 month based free online course to explore new ideas and approaches to e-learning – each month new material was released and an international group of participants explored a whole range of e-learning related topics.  I have learnt so much.

I was already aware that e-learning is a much broader field, than the traditional e-learning course, which is often used to deliver compliance training and involves those endless ‘Next’ buttons to take you onto the next page (hence the title of the MOOC).   I have previously used the CIPD definition of e-learning

‘learning that is delivered, enabled or mediated using electronic technology for the explicit purpose of training, learning or development in organisations.’

(Egan, 2012)

And this recognises that e-learning can include: webinars/virtual classrooms/live online learning; podcasts; use of video; discussion forums; digital resources such as blogs/infographics/e-books; and the use of social media and enterprise social networks.

What this MOOC introduced me to was e-learning as also encompassing the use of AI (artificial intelligence), VR (virtual reality), AR (augumented reality), Wearables, Proximity Beacons and Bots, plus how these links to some of the research into effective learning, such as spaced learning.  So it has widened my understanding of how technology can be used to support and enable learning hugely.

This is a rapidly expanding and developing field.  It was great to hear about the possibilities of AI to enable much more personalised learning experiences and to experience the use of AI in language learning through programmes such as Duolingo. It is fascinating to hear how rapidly messaging is growing and along with this chat bots that are being used to answer customer queries. These can be used in learning both to provider learner support and also to aid with learning practice.

‘Wearables’ is another rapidly developing field – probably most of us have heard of tools such as Google Glass and fitness bracelets, which opens up the possibility of using wearables to host performance support tools. Proximity Beacons came as something entirely new to me, but are beginning to be used in museums and galleries to provide additional information directly to visitors’ phones where they have the relevant app installed and again I can see the huge potential in these for performance support, particularly in equipment rich environments.  

Augmented Reality or AR hit the public awareness over the last summer with the Pokemon Go craze, but as the technology develops there are lots of possibilities to use AR for performance support and as a new kind of resource for learning.   Virtual Reality or VR is already being explored by very many organisations to provide opportunity for people to have immersive experiences with lots of potential for impacting on behaviours and attitudes as well as to orientate people to new roles and locations.

With so many different kinds of e-learning and with the speed of developments in this field it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all of this.   In L&D we urgently need to steer a course between being an ostrich with our head in the sand and being a magpie picking up every new and shiny thing that comes along.

Instead, I have 5 pointers to help you get your head around these developments.

1)  I recommend deploying your Personal Learning Network (PLN) to help you keep up to date with developments in these fields.  By PLN I mean your network of colleagues, contacts and acquaintances that you interact with both in person and virtually.  Make sure that within your PLN you include people who are already working with these kinds of technologies  - follow them on social media, read their posts & blogs and engage with them.  They will act as translators & conductors for developments in these fields helping you to stay in touch.  Plus, this will give you some ‘go-to’ people as starting points if you want to find out more about any particular technology.

2)  Develop a broad awareness of each of these technologies in terms of their particular characteristics and how they can be best used to aid learning - what are their strengths and weaknesses.  This is just the same as understanding when and how best to use a game or video or other more traditional learning tool.  Not every tool is useful in every situation.

3)  Link this awareness to a deep understanding of what is needed in your own organisation to help people and teams perform to their very best ability.  Consider carefully which tools will help to make learning more effective. Some tools will have potential for use in your organisation and some won’t.  Avoid magpie tendencies to get excited about something that isn’t relevant to your own organisation.

4)  Don’t fall into the trap of just limiting these tools to creating more effective learning.  Keep focussed on performance.  Some of the tools may do away or reduce the need for learning at all, by substituting the need for learning with improved performance support.

5)  Experiment – once you have identified which tools have potential within your organisation, try them out.  Experiment with small trials and learn from this.

So these are my 5 pointers to help you navigate through this changing technology and steer a course clear of both ostriches and magpies!

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  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. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

10 Resources to Help You Modernise L&D

Rachel Burnham writes: I thought I would begin my blog for 2017 with a collection of resources to help L&D professionals review where your practice is. 

This is not in anyway a best of 2016 collection – if it was I would have missed out some wonderful pieces!  Nor does it focus on the new & shiny – some of these ideas in this collection have been around for quite awhile.  It is, if you like, a capsule collection of blog articles, sketchnotes, video clips and reports, which taken together can provide you with a concise introduction to what modern workplace learning is about. It also includes some great resources on ways to invest in your own learning and development and so be #always learning.

A great place to start in any piece about L&D is what is learning and I have picked two pieces to explore this.  The first is a short blog and a wonderful Sketchnote by Tanmay Vora, who is one of my very favourite Sketchnoters.  He can be found on Twitter at @tnvora.  His drawing explores four ways we learn as set out by Charles Jennings – challenging experiences, opportunities to practice, challenging conversations and time for reflection.

2.  ‘Learning is Complicated’ by Sukh Pabial

The second piece on learning is a thought provoking blog article from Sukh Pabial, which explores some of the challenges we face when we are designing learning – it is good to produce short, focused resources to stimulate learning, but to really develop complex skills and mastery takes more than this, and also more than traditional content driven courses.   I think this is where Tanmay Vora’s picture of Charles Jennings’ four ways of learning is so helpful, in reminding us what is required for learning that has an impact.

My third pick is a piece of my own, which argues that if we want learning to be effective in the workplace, we paradoxically need to focus a little less on the learning and a little more on the performance required.   This performance focus will subtly shift our emphasis on every aspect of the L&D role, whether it is identifying needs, design, delivery or evaluation.

This blog by David James picks up on focusing on performance and explores how dialogue could help to identify real needs.  David suggests that creating and curating resources to address these needs will be more effective than traditional courses rolled out across an organisation. 

5.  ‘Experience Design: Dump the Content’ by Nick Shackleton-Jones

Nick Shackleton-Jones has written on many occasions on a similar theme to David James, about the need to develop resources rather than courses.  But in this particular post, he tackles the other side of the design challenge, which is to design experiences and so this piece connects back to the earlier points made by Sukh Pabial and covered in Tanmay Vora’s Sketchnote.   Nick Shackleton-Jones argues passionately against ‘content-dumping’ and sets out ideas about how to create experiences that really help people to learn.  I think a key point here is about designing with ‘what we want people to be able to do’ in mind, rather than what they need to remember – and this links again to focusing on performance.

In this video clip Martin Couzins is being interviewed for Learning Now TV about the process of curation by Nigel Paine.  Curation is the process of searching out, selecting and collecting together resources produced by others – and it is therefore an important part of the process of moving from courses to resources.  Martin is an expert on all things curation, so it is great to hear him discussing this.

7.  ‘Unlocking Potential’ the Towards Maturity 2016-17 Benchmarking Report

If you haven’t come across the organisation ‘Towards Maturity’ or their CEO Laura Overton before, then this latest report in their annual series is a good place to start.  Towards Maturity is a benchmarking organisation that enables organisations to compare their approach to tackling L&D to that of world class organisations and by doing this make improvements.  This report presents a picture of what these world class organisations are doing and how other organisations compare.  It is full of insights and action points for both organisations and also for the development of individual L&D professionals. 

The report identifies how L&D professionals are developing their skills and notes the part that networking and reflective practice play, alongside participating in courses.   So that provides a good lead into to my final group of pieces.  

Back in October I wrote about how my own views about networking had changed from seeing networking as a rather unpleasant necessity for business development (I have my own business after all!) to seeing networking as a key tool for my own learning and personal development.   And I drew this Sketchnote to illustrate this change.   Is networking part of your development toolkit?

In this short video, Michelle shares how she and her team make use of a range of social tools such as Sharepoint, One Note and Storify to communicate and learn together.  This video has a very practical focus and demonstrates how internal social networking can be enabled through the effective use of digital tools.  Michelle is a great exponent of Working Out Loud (WOL), which involves sharing what you are working on to enable learning from one another – the concept is discussed in my post on networking - but this video from Michelle demonstrates it in practice.

10.      ‘It Starts with You’ by Julie Drybrough

This blog is all about reflective practice, what it involves and how to approach it. I particularly found it helpful because it digs a bit deeper into how to approach personal reflective practice.

So, that is my 10 pieces.   My selection box, to help you to update your skills and stretch your L&D practice.  I hope you find it interesting, but more than that I hope you find it useful! 

I would be interested in your responses to this piece.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  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.