Browse Month by February 2011

A Glee-ful approach to learning

My Sunday was a lazy one. I was vegging out on the sofa with my two dogs keeping me company while my other half was trudging up and down woodland shooting his bow and arrows. Bliss! I was flicking through the channels to find something of interest and came across Glee Club. I’ve never seen it before but heard a lot about it and thought it the perfect veg-out, feel-good way to spend an afternoon.

Well, I thought I was going to spend a lazy hour anyway not thinking about work – house-work or otherwise. But – no – not a chance. My little grey cells jumped into action during an interaction between Mr Will Schuester, the Glee Club teacher played by Matthew Morrison, and a substitute teacher, Holly Holiday played by Gwyneth Paltrow who was standing in from Will as he suffered from ‘monkey flu’ (well I need to put you in the picture). Holly, was a breath of fresh air to the students. She had an up-beat attitude and connected with them emotionally (and Gwyneth did an amazing rendition of Cee Lo Green’s ‘Forget You’ in the episode too).

What made my slumbering grey cells jump to life was the following conversation:

Will: “you’re a substitute – of course you can paint murals and let the kids sing whatever they want. You don’t have to deal with the hangover of all that fun”

Holly: “16% of all students dropped out last year. You can’t expect these kids to sit up and pay attention. These kids feel special. They have a voice and if we don’t listen to it they just tune out” (sound familiar?)

Will: “I give my kids a voice. I just don’t let it run free. It’s my job to know more than they do” (hmmmm – sound familiar?)

Holly: “Right – but you don’t know more about what they care about most – themselves. These kids get bored…. they change their Facebook status. They’re entitled to have all these emotions and not only that, they’re entitled for the world to care about them. That’s what this generation is all about.”

Will: “A great teacher is supposed to show them there are other points of view besides their own!”

Holly: “OK. What do you do when a kid does something really great in your class?”

Will: “I praise them!”

Holly: “I Tweet about it. Right there and then and then for 30 seconds I know that kid has a connection with me.”

Yeah! I know. Sad isn’t it. But it just shows we can learn from sometimes the most unexpected places and occurrences. Glee Club is an ‘all-come-good-in-the-end’ programme. I loved it (but then I loved Fame – the original Glee Club). So what connection did I make from this? Well, it’s set within a school so the teaching bit is obvious. But the message is clear:

We need to connect with our learners emotionally (it doesn’t matter how young or old they are).

We need to understand their point of view and give them a voice.

We need to encourage them to be more self-directed in their learning rather than be told what’s best for them.

They need to see the relevance to help them motivated to learn

We need to become familiar with the tools they use everyday and harness them

We need to step down off the soapbox and admit there is more for us to learn and they can teach us too

The first step is asking “what would YOU like?” “what would help YOU to learn?” “what would YOU like to see happen?”

We need to try and step into their world without it looking too much like ‘dad-dancing’ at a family wedding!

The new generation has already joined us in our organisations. They are the digital natives. They have already introduced some of us oldies to their world and welcomed us with open arms. We are the digital immigrants and are finding the ‘new world’ exciting, challenging and full of opportunities.

I’d like you to humour me a little more with my Glee themed post. Every feel-good story has a happy ending and this one is no different.

It culminated in my all time favourite musical number. A traditional classic – timeless. Singing in the Rain.

On Will’s return to the Glee Club, he wanted the group to perform it. Because it was timeless, a classic and his favourite too, he was convinced everyone else would be equally enthusiastic. Now the movie dates back to 1952 but the song ‘Singing in the Rain’ was actually written in 1929 for ‘Hollywood Review of 1929″. How could a younger generation relate to something so old. How could they connect emotionally with this ancient score?

Realising he needed help to connect with his students he sought the help of his nemesis, Holly, who worked with him to bring the classic up to date, keeping the magic of the traditional but adding a modern flavour to appeal to a newer audience. The result was a magical blend of old and new – tradition and modern. Here is the number the Glee Club performed.

Some classics are too good to be missed but to get the message across to a different audience, we need a different blend while still keeping the message fresh.

And for those hopeless romantics and lovers of the classic number, here is genius that is Gene Kelly. Enjoy!

The problem with informal learning is people!

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am a big advocate of informal learning although I’ve never been happy with the term. In fact I’m living proof that it is effective. To find out how you’ll have to wait til the end of the post for my own experiences. But before that, I wanted to investigate further why people are the problem with informal learning.

I recently read an article in this month’s eLearning Age by John Helmer about informal learning. It’s about the 70 20 10 rule but in essence, the 70 and 20 of that rule equates to a lot of informal learning. I was particularly interested in a reference John Helmer made to “Jay Cross et all decreeing the shutting down of training departments”. It reports on suggestions that if 90% of learning actually goes on informally, “need they (L&D professionals) even show up for work?” It goes on to reference Epic’s Oxford Union debate raising concerns that we couldn’t risk the professional development of our medical experts, pilots etc to informal learning.

Like I said in the title of this blog, the trouble with informal learning is people. And the problem with people is they sometimes act rashly without thought. Or they think but don’t analyse properly. Or they misinterpret. And all too often they hear what they want to hear like ‘if informal learning means workers learn as they do their jobs and from their colleagues, we obviously don’t need all those trainers and learning developers’. The problem with some other people is when they hear the word ‘informal’ they really hear ‘haphazard, chaotic, left to chance, won’t happen’. It’s a bit like when people hear the term ‘blended learning’ they really hear ‘eLearning + classroom + a little more eLearning’.

So some people think informal learning is an excuse to axe L&D teams while there are others who when they hear ‘informal learning’ think “that’ll never work – can’t measure that – what statistics can we report back with that?”

Now before I go on any further, I’d like to share a little secret you may not know. Jay Cross isn’t advocating no formal learning at all – formal learning will be essential for certain areas such as training novices or for compliance and where death/safety/litigation etc might be a consequence of learning being left to the motivation of the individual. And of course this relates back to the 70 20 10 theory.

So what’s the future for L&D professionals with this movement towards more self-directed, workplace learning and less formal courses? If L&D professionals are shrewd enough, shout loud enough and they have the backing from senior managers, they can become the cement that holds the organisation together by working with individuals as coaches and cultivators of their personal learning journey. People will need support from learning professionals, they will need to learn how to use the new tools, they will certainly need to learn how to critically appraise the information they find. L&D professionals are just that – professionals in learning and development.

They have the opportunity to be the consultants they really are and advise senior managers how to encourage their staff to, as Jay Cross and the Internet Time Alliance refer to as ‘work smarter’. Formal learning will not disappear but its future will be more meaningful and relevant, more in line with business goals and therefore more effective.

Ok – so now we’ve accepted that informal learning is being taken on board how on earth do we know if it’s doing any good? Here’s my question to you. How do we know when a person is capable of doing their job? Does tracking every click through a screen or have everyone sit for hours in a classroom do that? Or is it by assessment of their skills?

In my view, the ONLY way we can assess competency is in them applying any learning to a work-based task. In preparation for that they may undertake a formal assessment followed application in the workplace. Tracking what I call ‘bums on seats’ or clicks through pages only tracks attendance. It doesn’t tell us anything about whether those individuals have even paid attention let alone learned anything. Therefore, does it really matter how they gain the knowledge or skills?

Formal assessments will still have your learning objective. After all, a learning objective should be a description of the assessment anyway. It’s referencing the END of the journey. How your workforce get there will depend on the level of experience of the individuals. Those dependent learners i.e. newcomers, or those with no prior experience will likely need a more formal approach. Those more experienced, who can build on prior knowledge and are used to a more self-directed way of learning would benefit from a more organic learning journey. So what if the individual has gained the majority of their knowledge by being self-motivated enough to follow current research, have conversations with experts whether face to face, by blogging and reading blogs attending conferences, connecting through tools such as Twitter, asking colleagues on best practice. At the end of it all, it’s still an assessment which will prove how effective any learning method has been.

As learning professionals, aren’t we supposed to be following the androgogical principles in our learning solutions? Ryan Tracey has an excellent post on this. Quoting from his article, androgogical principles are based on the assumptions that adults are…..

1. Adult learners are self directed.
2. Adults bring experience with them to the learning environment.
3. Adults are ready to learn to perform their role in society.
4. Adults are problem oriented, and they seek immediate application of their new knowledge.
5. Adults are motivated to learn by internal factors.

And we all know what assumption is the mother of don’t we? No? You might need to Google that one.

Ryan goes on to say that life isn’t that simple. We know from experience that adults’ motivation for effort (whether that’s for learning or working) is directly affected by circumstances and they can range from how pressured they are by deadlines to having to learn something brand new where they become novices again (and the actions of their superiors). Sometimes, a more formal approach to learning will be the solution, sometimes a more experiential, self-directed, informal approach will be the order of the day but what is a fact, it’s not about battling them out against each other but more about how they work together.

Going back to the article in eLearning Age, John Helmer calls for a ‘north star’ and says that “until we have templates, until we have frameworks, until we have proof, informal learning will remain more style than substance”. If you’re looking for guidance, there are plenty of case studies from major organisations who have successfully encouraged a more informal approach to learning which you can find on the Towards Maturity site As for templates and framework, you need to check out Clive Shepherd’s new book The New Learning Architect which not only gives an excellent framework to work with.

And finally, in defense of informal learning I would like to share with you how it has played an enormous role in my own personal development and, as such directly influential in my career progression, expertise and growth that has constantly helped shape the blended courses courses I deliver for my employer in the field of online learning.

When I joined the Digital Learning team in a previous job, I attended formal courses in all my now areas of expertise. It started with a blended learning course. That was the only ‘formal’ element of my learning journey in these topics. I was hooked. I always had a liking for technology and a passion for learning so I already had motivation. My destiny was then delivering that same course and I sat and observed, then delivered a bit at a time, then all on my own. That’s what I would class as application back in the workplace which embedded the learning. Since then, it’s instilled a passion that set me on my eternal informal learning journey. I also had amazing support and encouragement from my colleagues and line managers.

Now I research, connect, analyse, blog, read, collaborate to keep my knowledge fresh and up to date. No-one has forced me to do this, it wasn’t asked of me at work and it certainly hasn’t been managed or directed (apart from it being necessary to keep out of date). It’s all purely self-directed and informal. Without the technology such as Twitter (my biggest and best professional development tool), blogs, white papers, and then dabbling in blogging myself, I doubt I would have been as successful. Even thought I work from home I can assure you that I’m also able to access these tools when in the company office. None of our staff ‘waste’ our time on it – we don’t have the time to waste. But my passion has extended beyond work and I continue my professional development in my own time probably unhealthily so.

If you were able to track how many Tweets I read, how many websites and blogs I visit and read, how many people I speak to, that wouldn’t tell you whether I actually learned anything. My self-directed, informal path may not be measured by tracking but it is measured in the success of the courses I run, the feedback I get, the achievements of those individuals who have benefited as a result of my own efforts.

So the only piece of advice I can give to organisations is if you think it’s a risk to allow your staff to pursue a more informal approach in their own development and ban the use of the tools that facilitate that learning just take a moment to think about the risks of not doing it. Think about what you are are not achieving as a result. And for those individuals who are frustrated and complain that your organisation won’t allow you to learn this way, if you value your own personal development you will find a way on your own in your own time. It may not be fair but life rarely is.

To re-iterate my initial thought. The only problem with informal learning is people!

5 Quick tips for engaging visuals

Image by Monsterkoi from Pixabay

Creating engaging eLearning – Part 5

Increasingly those of us who are involved in putting together any sort of visual material whether it’s slides for live sessions, eLearning screens, Slideshares, classroom presentations are finding it necessary to have a reasonable knowledge the basics of graphic design and marketing. Graphic design because we need to make an impact with visuals appropriately but marketing because we are actually ‘selling’ our content through visuals.

Here are 3 quick tips to get you started:


1. Use the rule of thirds

One simple but a very effective rule that will help anyone starting out on their journey to engage with visuals is the ‘rule of thirds’. As a little task to my readers out there, just do a little Googling on the subject and you’ll be amazed what you find and perhaps it might explanation why we’re drawn to some photos and not others. Those photographers out there may already be aware of it or perhaps you have a natural eye and didn’t even know the principle your were automatically applying to your compositions.


2. Look not just see

I often recommend those on my courses to take a closer and more analytic look at adverts as they take the morning bus ride. Note the composition; how have the people in the pictures been placed? How much text is displayed and what influence does the font style (typography) have on the message being conveyed? How much ‘white space’ is there and how does it help the message? We can learn a lot from advertisers and photographers.

We can also be creative in how we combine text and images. Have a little think for a moment….. as we go through our daily lives, on what objects do we see text written? Where are they positioned and how is colour being used to ‘gel’ the composition?


3. Use visual context

Context is important; you can place content in context quickly making appropriate image choices.  For example, in an office environment there are notepads, folders, computer screens, laptops, diaries, labels, post-it notes. In a kitchen there are cans, menus, order pads, jam-jars, packets of food. In a hospital there are prescription pads, medicine bottles, medical record sheets, signage, x-ray panels.

No matter what our topic is for either presentations, live online sessions or eLearning screens, we have a plethora of objects to choose from. Taking a piece of eLearning for example, if our topic was about chairing meetings the agenda for the session could very appropriately be displayed on an image of an official agenda sheet. We could, perhaps, type a question in a handwriting font on a spiral notebook or even use a post-it note to display each possible option in answer to a question.


4. Take inspiration from around you

Next time you look at the news on TV, pay more attention to the graphics they use when presenting any statistical information and pinch any ideas you can.

5. Trash the (PowerPoint) template


Ditch that boring PowerPoint template (although some of the more recent designs you can choose from are pretty good).  The default PowerPoint template is old-fashioned with centred heading and bullet lists. 

Of course, there is much more we can apply to make sure our visuals are not only engaging but meet usability guidelines too but these will get you off to a good start. 

Remember my mantra: our only limitation is our imagination.

For previous posts in this series see:

Can eLearning designers learn from retail designers
Putting the learning back in e-learning
Creating engaging eLearning – as easy as CSI
What hope is there for eLearning?

J.R.Hartley who?

I just had to write a little blog post about the new advert for Yellow Pages. Or, rather, Some of the old adverts have seen somewhat of a resurgence lately and wonder whether it’s a little like those comfort foods that have also made a comeback in these days of recession. I hear Arctic roll is back in vogue (yeah I know – beats me too, although I did rather like it as a nipper).

The advert took me back to a grandad-like, kind looking old gent, patiently trudging around all the bookshops looking for ‘fly-fishing’ by J.R. Hartley. (bear with me on this…. ). After a fruitless day, the kind old gentleman returns, forlorn, to his home where his daughter comforts him with kind words, a cup of tea and the Yellow Pages. There he let his “fingers do the walking” (don’t you just love good advertising – I can still hear that jingle in my head?) and finally hit the home run. The kind old gentleman places an order and they ask for his name “oh yes, my name…. it’s J…. R….. Hartley”

Yes all that from my little grey cells. The power of a really good advertising message – remembered often long after the product has gone. Here’s the video for full effect:

This evening I saw the ‘remake’. I’ve found it on YouTube for you (no I’m not getting paid by and it made me smile. Where’s this going? Well, it was the soundbite line that struck a chord…”what we do hasn’t changed – just the way we do it”.

For those of you who might know me know I’m a little like a policeman or a doctor in that I’m always ‘on-duty’. That is, I see connections with learning and new technology for learning almost everywhere. This short little advert just made me think how what we do or need to do for effective learning actually doesn’t change. We still need to analyse, collaborate, observe, read, listen, apply, reflect and seek feedback but now we just have different, up-dated, quicker, more efficient tools to do them with.

Online courses must die!

I just love Twitter even though it’s sucking the life-blood out of that work/life balance of mine (what work/life balance? my husband says). Anyway, last night I was catching up on the stream peering through my blurry eyes when I came across this super blog post by the e-Learning Provocateur (@ryantracey). The title is alone ‘Online courses must die‘ warrants a read. It’s an old post (in social media terms anyway – going back to July last year) but no less topical for that. It certainly lives up to the title of the blog – provocative.

It’s full of very thought provoking stuff and matches my own ideals one of which is using authoring tools for the right job. So often they’re the proverbial hammers cracking nuts with equal devastation.

I’ve popped a reply on Ryan’s post but it has piqued my interest that I may well explore some of those points further.

Read and enjoy!

Content v Technology

Since the Learning Technologies Conference and Exhibition, there have been some great blog posts pondering on the results and looking to the future. I was also interested in the short Voxpops interviews (Voxpop1, Voxpop2) with a selected few from the event. The question posed to interviewees was “What changes would YOU like to see in L&D for 2011?” I was going to do a short review of what people said in their interviews but instead thought I’d just capture the main points in the Wordle you can see above.

It’s interesting that the advice for L&D is to focus on the learning, the learners, the business goals, performance based.  Surely that shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone and it’s a shame that we needed reminding.  There was a lot of references to the learning being effective.  Quality certainly should be at the heart of developing our staff.  In order to produce quality learning we need to make sure the learning is relevant, learner-centred, bite-sized with plenty of practical application and which can be assessed in a more realistic method that handing out quiz questions no matter how you dress them up.  It’s our responsibility to help people learn to do their jobs well which has a direct effect on the bottom line.  We shouldn’t be teaching them how to pass tests – where’s the learning in that?  Give them work-based projects instead.  Help them feel they are contributing.

At the same time as calling for more effective learning, there was also a call for it to be more efficient and to make use of more online learning.  The danger of taking our effective courses online is we may leave out what makes it effective in the first place.  That’s all the learner-centred stuff.  The conversations, the group work, the feedback, the questioning, the collaboration.  Where will that all go?  So they become efficient but now their ineffective.  Efficient without efficacy actually leads to more inefficiency.  Without good quality learning, people won’t learn well (or at all in some cases).  So what happens?  They make more mistakes in their work and/or have to retrain.  If they retrain using the same ineffective materials as before, what’s going to happen?  Yep – a never ending circle.

What’s encouraging is the recognition that training – the formal stuff – is only  a small part of the development of individuals in the workforce but it’s what happens after they’ve had the formal training that really embeds the learning.  We’ve heard a lot about formal training accounting for only 20% of our knowledge on the job. The rest being attributed to informal learning.  However, there’s a little more to it than that as Clive Shepherd points out in his ‘The New Learning Architect’ but performance support will be the cement that makes the learning stick after the formal events have long past.

What I also found interesting from the Voxpops (considering we were at a the Learning technologies) conference was the low key references to using technology for learning.  Oh yes, there was a whole floor at least dedicated to technology but when speaking to the L&D people not the vendors, there was little emphasis on using new media or more technology in their solutions.  James Clay’s post ‘Focus on the technology or not’ puts it brilliantly.  He says:

… it is vital that practitioners are aware of the potential and availability of technology. When they know what is available and importantly what it is capable of then they can apply technological solutions to their learning problems.

L&D should more than capable of designing an effective solution that meets adult learners’ needs but a more efficient delivery means the more likely it has to include new technologies thus creating a huge skills gap. It’s no longer about content versus technology but about content AND technology. In this media filled world where people are always connected and will find it very difficult to avoid using technology to communicate, work, rest and play we can no longer separate the two. We need to think of the technology as the enabler. L&D really need to become more tech savvy and keep up to date with research. They need to try things out and exercise their creation and innovation muscle. Think about using technology not normally considered a learning tool for a learning activity (see Milo). I know we shouldn’t try and shoe-horn a particular piece of technology into a learning solution just for the sake of it but if people are already using the technology in their working or personal time, isn’t it about time we can help them continue to use them for learning.

To quote again to James’s post:

you have to start from somewhere and by explaining the potential that learning technologies offer, you are starting from a good place that will open minds to future potential and possibilities

Overall, the message I got from listening to the VoxPops was that following a logical blended approach to designing learning solutions in organisations is definitely the way L&D can become more than just the ‘training department’.  L&D can become the cement that holds the organisation together by becoming more cultivators of learning.  Helping learners learn for themselves and providing more performance support.  By increasing their knowledge, understanding and skills in using new media tools for more efficient delivery of learning, L&D will ensure their longevity in the organisation by becoming an integral part of the bricks and mortar.  Organisations will pay a high price if they don’t invest more in their L&D professionals.

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