Friday, October 08, 2010

Debate on Informal Learning at the Oxford Union

I posted the following comments to a blog by Barry Sampson. Thought it might be of interest here too.

Although I found the debate interesting as a main participant, I also found it disappointing because in reality we didn't really have a debate about the core motion. Last year I had to improvise as much more of the content had covered what I had planned to say. This year I had a totally clear run as those for the event (maybe with the slight exception of Nancy) were arguing for formal learning not against informal learning. I crudely defined informal learning as "learning informally within work or the social processes of work" and this seems to me to be valid, whether you are a knowledge worker, a transactional worker, a student or a researcher.

In prepping for the session, I realised how strongly I felt that the issue was L&D's labelling of something that was outside their scope of visiblity or control, and then claiming it doesn't happen, or in the words of the motion has no substance. This is clearly ridiculous.

That doesn't mean that I completely believe L&D couldn't have a role to play in helping enhancing informal learning. Most work processes and tools are not good containers for learning informally. It often happens despite them, and therefore there is an opportunity to improve informal learning by enhancing work processes and tools to more explicitly focus and magnify the learning outcomes. This is therefore embedding mechanisms to enhance learning within work.

The idea that informal learning can be an incremental layer of learning activity divorced from work seems to me to be contradictory, but this seems to be the strategy being adopted by many organisations, especially when experimenting with social tools. IMHO, the more "informal learning" is separated from work processes and the social processes of work, the weaker and more artificial it gets! That's why many of these solutions end up getting limited usage and becoming redundant, especially when they duplicate functional systems that already exist are delivering value for their members.

ps. Will also post this to our blog with a link back ...

pps. I have posted the link to my mindmapped prep notes here:, in case anyone is interested. Used this with iThoughtsHD on my iPad instead of the printed copy and it worked a dream!

Friday, October 01, 2010

The challenges of deploying an LCMS

I recently received a note from an organisation in the US who is deploying an LCMS solution and struggling to get much enthusiasm in adopting it. Here are some of my comments in response ...

"Very interesting to hear your comments and experiences with your LCMS roll-out. Obviously your experiences mirror some of those we saw in our research process. Since the research project, we have continued to track the progress of LCMS within our corporate clients, and provide some advisory work to some. Whilst every organisation has its own unique challenges and opportunities, many of the core issues are common to most of the organisations we've looked at:

Much of the benefit and business case for LCMS is an organisational benefit associated with managing and reusing content at a strategic level. From the developers and designers perspective, they often see the tools as limiting their creativity and options. For e-learning designers this can be a significant negative, making it hard to get them engaged and positive about the change. Some of the most effective (by scale, output and overall ROI) LCMS projects we've seen remove significant autonomy from the developer, building in highly segmented product roles and workflow to support an operating efficiency that would never be possible with hand-cranked tools and artisan designers. So a key barrier is convincing the individuals that actually the tools that embracing them and driving value from them is a positive thing, not a negative thing. Either that or change the designers ...

The other key challenge is one of L&D leadership. Whilst L&D likes to use the language of business, it is rarely a very "professional" business function. This manifests itself in many ways, including a general lack of clear business metrics relating to its key processes, outputs, quality, cost management, and business impact. (a bit sweeping but generally true unfortunately). The lack of these metrics, and the lack of business focus in the leadership of L&D, allows the artisan approach to training design and delivery to perpetuate and culturally this requires a huge shift in mindset and behaviour. The reason I mention this, is that there is often a lack of real action from L&D leadership to the need to reengineer content design and development, and the need for business-managed design processes. I assume that this need was an element (explicit or not) of your rationale for deploying an LCMS solution - in your case at a network level between your members. Whilst they may sign up to the theory of a professionally-managed content production process, in reality, they often do not follow this through with the real commitment required to force the changes at an operational level. Culturally L&D is not used to managing itself like this - it still likes "artisan" really.

Either of the above is quite challenging, both together can be fatal. Where we've seen greater success, it's typically taken a strong combination of:
* Absolutely clear leadership on what you are aiming to change with the LCMS and why this is non-negotiable - or a clear external threat that makes it blindingly obvious why the change is needed
* Clear operational metrics relating to the content design process that are visible at all levels in the learning organisation (ultimately this may be the key element as it is the one that proves the value of the change)
* A hearts, minds and fingers change process to turn key stakeholders into active advocates. This must include an influential subset of the design/development team.
* Reskilling of resources and replacement where not possible."

Not sure whether the above makes any sense, but hopefully it will align with some of your experiences. Very interested if you have related or contradictory stories to tell ...

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A response to the supposed "Death of the LMS" question

It seems very trendy to ask this question currently, but in my view the debate is not very objective. Market pundits often link the discussion of potential demise of LMS to the growth in interest in informal and social learning, defining the LMS as a tool that's relevant only to formal. Other big advocates of the "no LMS" world are often vendors whose vested interests lie in alternative solutions. Neither of these is to my mind a convincing argument.

So what's the reality? We do a lot of research in FTSE100 companies and similar organisations. The reality is that the major business drivers for an LMS within these companies are not just intact, they are increasing. Regulatory and compliance pressure has increased not decreased. Pressure on efficient operational processes has increased not decreased. The importance of talent and capability has increased not decreased. All of these drivers reinforce the need for coherent and automated management processes for learning, and therefore the need for an LMS.

The pressure in most corporates is actually to consolidate their LMSs, as most of them have multiple solutions in different units and geographies, and to better align the processes of the LMS to a 21st century learning model. That means more than just classroom training and click-and-turn e-learning content. The majority of our clients want to adopt informal learning, but this is an add-on, not a replacement for their formal learning. Of course some existing formal courses can get replaced by more efficient and effective informal approaches, but the majority cannot and will not.

The other argument that gets raised against the LMS is that of "tracking". The view seems to be that when a course was formal we wanted to track and report it, but if its informal we don't. If we don't want to track it, we don't need an LMS. Or at least that's the argument. Personally, I think this is rubbish. The entire Internet is tracked. Doesn't matter whether its a PDF, a youtube video, a page of html or an entry in a discussion forum, its always tracked.

The question is not one of tracking at all - its really about purpose of tracking. It is right to say that the purpose of tracking is different between an informal learning resource and a formal course. But it was different anyway between a classroom event and an e-learning module. With informal learning, the purpose of tracking is to ensure relevance, to rate its value, and to sometimes to pay for it if its someone else's IP. These patterns of relevance and value help connect informal and formal learning. After all, this a continuum or ecosystem of learning, not completely separate worlds. All of these approaches have a place together, and ultimately LMS's have to adapt to this new reality, just as they had to adapt to e-learning and virtual classrooms.

Organisations will still need their LMS and the LMS vendors aren't going away - in fact despite the mergers and acquisitions, there are still probably more LMS companies now that ever. The needs of an LMS are changing though to reflect the change nature of learning. Whilst certain vendors may want you to think otherwise, the reality is different.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wordle: E-learning Authoring - The Shifting Landscape

We've just announced some new research focusing on e-learning authoring strategies and tools, including the first of a series of three research papers. The first paper, titled E-learning Authoring: The Shifting Landscape analyses the the key forces driving changes to the way corporates are approaching the creation of bespoke e-learning, together with a high-level perspective of the new strategies for content authoring and new types of authoring tools. The next two papers, to be published in Q2 2010 will focus more specifically on a deeper analysis of the strategies and the tools.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Key learning trends 2010 - A quick response

The following was my short response to a recent question on the the key trends in learning in 2010. Any thoughts?

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Overall, Elearnity sees 2010 as a transformational year where lots of changes in 2009 become more formalised.

The biggest trend will be the reevaluation of the role and value of learning to the business. Training budgets were under a lot of pressure in 2009, with precedence given to mandatory learning that manages compliance risk but does not add real value or enhance performance. In 2010, companies will seek easier ways to automate their compliance agenda, and increasingly focus discretionary spend on enhancing the performance of the business, and building core capabilities.

Both agendas will see increased adoption of learning technology to better manage, focus, personalise and deliver key elements of the learning. Constraints on travel and subsistence budgets will continue to make virtual learning and e-learning attractive options. For many companies, these are now standard channels for learning, but many learners and trainers still lack the skills to use them effectively. More focus will need to be placed on the skills for effective virtual learning to support the growth in these channels.