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 ...