Learning Spaces or Spaces to Learn – What can we learn from delivering training to the homeless.

The concept of where and how learning programs are delivered has been on my mind a little bit lately, particularly since a particularly good presentation I attended recently on the interface between homeless persons and training delivery.  One of the key points which was bought up during the presentation and subsequent conversations was the fact that if we take a group of people like those who either homeless or at risk of homelessness, we will tend to find that there are a raft of other issues that sit with and around the issue of homelessness and all of these issues will have a significant impact on the delivery of training programs to people within these groups.  These impacts are things like;

  • a mindset of failure particularly around academic/scholastic pursuits
  • uncomfortableness in traditional learning environments (classrooms)
  • limited ability to travel to get to training venues
  • limited support network
  • possibility of having to move a significant distance from where training is conducted to secure accommodation
  • limited financial means

These issues and a range of others mean that it is difficult if not impossible to deliver training within what could be considered traditional environments.  This means that learning programs need to be adapted and delivered in different ways such as;

  • within the environment where the person already is and is comfortable
  • shorter sessions to allow participants to take care of their other priorities (it is difficult to concentrate from 9-5, but imagine how much more difficult it would be if you were worried about finding a bed for the night)
  • a wide range of learning activities to engage participants in a variety of ways
  • changing assessment models to ensure that all participants are able to display in competence in ways that are most effective for them

The thing is when I started to think about developing and delivering learning programs, particularly workplace programs it struck me that most of the adjustments that I was considering were things that we should be doing anyway.   We spend large sums of money on creating physical spaces for people to learn in, or online platforms delivering state of the art gamified elearning, when in reality the participants are probably going to learn more from a 2 hour session held in the staff room, coupled with solid support tools to allow them implement the things they have learnt.

And to be honest I think the problem might be us, it is far more challenging to deliver training in a staff room, a homeless shelter or a skate park where there are a range of other things happening in the background, than it is to deliver the same training in our lovely state of the art training room.  Walking though an instruction manual or workbook with a participant is far less fun for us than creating sexy video content or gamifiying our learning programs, but does it make the participant more comfortable and able to learn better.

We need to be able to create spaces for people to learn, that fit with what they need, not with what makes us comfortable.

Competency based, Time based or something in between?

I have been involved in a number of conversations recently about training (what a shock), but in particular about how long it takes to train some one.  The easiest answer here seems to be well as long as it takes, different people will learn at different rates so the amount of time it might take me to learn something may be radically different from the amount of time it takes you to learn the same thing.  Now essentially that is the right answer, particularly where we are talking about skills based training, if I am able to demonstrate that I can perform a skill to whatever criteria are necessary then surely I have demonstrated that I am competent and shouldn’t need to spend additional time on ‘learning’ that skill simply because it should take say 5 days to learn that skill.

I have a question though, lets take the example of making a cup of coffee.  I attend an online training course called making a cup of coffee, the course is delivered in a state of the art simulated coffee-making environment, includes a range of videos from the worlds best coffee makers and lots of reading questions to think about. Oh and there is  a ‘skills assessment’ at the end of the course where I have to make a cup of coffee in the simulated environment.  I answer a range of questions about making coffee and do a project on how coffee makers work, well to be fair my project is about how the simulated coffee maker works and my answers are largely regurgitated from the videos and printed materials and it takes me less than a day to complete.  These questions are assessed and found to be satisfactory.  I then undertake the ‘make a coffee skills assessment’ and pass with flying colours.  Am I competent?

Some people would clearly argue yes, of course I am competent I have done all that is required to show my competence in making a coffee, however what happens when I go out into the workforce with my making a coffee qualification, get  job, and find myself confronted with a coffee machine that is utterly unlike the one I have used on every previous occasion (in the simulated environment) and my consumers are much more demanding about their java than my simulated customers ever where, and struggle to manage to make a cup of coffee.  Am I still competent?

Would the situation have been any different if there was a requirement that the course took a minimum of 6 months and 100 hours of placement to complete or are we going to get exactly the same result.  Am I more likely over this extended period of time to encounter situations and equipment and people who stretch my skills then I would have been with entirely online or face to face training plus a practical skills assessment.

When we add to this the added dimension that in most cases I am not undertaking this training alone, but rather as part of a group, a group which has both widely ranging skills and abilities, including how fast they learn, how does that affect not only my competent but the competence of the other members of the group.

 

The first thing to say here is that I am not bashing online training, I like online learning and find it really useful for what it is.

What my focus here is is the question that if we are truly serious about competency based training then  surely we need to recognise that there is for the most part actually a minimum amount of time that it takes someone to become competent in a particular skill.  Now for me whether that time comes from work experience before entering training or through work placement or on the job training is unimportant, what is important for me is that there is minimum amount of time and that that minimum should be part of the recognition of competency.  If you have only ever done 40 hours of work in an aged care facility in your entire life and that was a training placement, then no matter how good the training is you have received I am going to really, really doubtful that you are actually competent across any real range of situations and environments.  There is simply not enough time for you to have experienced enough variety of situations to be able to be competent, even if you have done hours of simulated, intensive, innovatively delivered training to go along side this.  (To caveat this, of course there may be a very small range of people who after this type of training are competent, but in my opinion and experience not many)

 

We need to have a system that ensures that when someone is given a qualification that they are actually competent and one step towards achieving this seems to me to be the concept of mandating at least the level of placement hours that various qualifications need.

That’s what I think anyway.

 

Chasing Butterflies – Evaluating the organizational impact of informal learning

Turning informal learning into measurable business outcomes

We all learn things all of the time.  It is part of being human; we pick up a snippet of information during a conversation that we remember later, which makes whatever we are doing easier or quicker.  We watch a video on the internet to show us how to do something we haven’t done before or can’t quite remember how to do.  We read, we interact with people and things and we learn informally every single day.

Informal Learning and ideas like 70:20:10 have been on the minds of Learning and Development Departments and organisations for a while now.  Everyone knows that staff learn while they are at work, and that while a proportion of that learning comes to them through formal means, another proportion comes to them informally, through talking and interacting with others, through reading and watching videos, posting on forums, attending MOOC’s and this learning can happen both inside and outside of working hours.

What does all of this informal learning mean for organisations though, what kinds of impacts does it have on the overall performance of the organisation or the individuals which make it up?  Does it increase productivity and efficiency, does it increase the competency of staff, and does it improve the bottom line?  Anecdotal evidence suggests that it does, and if you believe the pundits and evangelists for the value of informal learning, it is far more valuable to an organisation than all of the formal learning that happens and it is the thing that organisations should be investing in and assisting their staff access in order to maximise their ability to operate in their chosen markets.  Is this really the case however, and is it the case across the board for organisations, does informal have a real and significant business impact, does it make a business and its staff better at what it does, and does it provide individuals and the organisation with identifiable increases in competency, efficiency and overall effectiveness?

This post will not actually argue the case either way for informal learning, it will not pit informal against formal learning and it won’t make an argument for an investment strategy based around informal learning.  What this book will seek to do however is;

  1. Look at what organisations need to think about when they think about the value of informal learning,
  2. Look at the information an organisation needs if it seriously wants to determine the value of informal learning, and
  3. Look at how to capture that information and what methodologies to use to make sense of it.

This post is also only concerned with learning that has some organisational impact, where the skills and knowledge gained by the learner, is translatable in some way to their current or future role within the business.  If a persons what to go off in their own time and as a colleague of mine likes to call it, study underwater basket weaving, then that is fantastic, but it is only of interest to an organisation if some formal link to an improvement in day-to-day work can be seen.

 

 

What is formal and informal learning?

 

Formal Learning is any course or program designed using industry-recognised disciplines and methodologies that have a formal structure, and specific, well-defined learning objectives, which may lead to formal outcomes or qualifications for the participant and which is delivered through a form of Student-Teacher relationship.  That is formal learning is what we are all used to as learning, it is the learning we did at school, at university and at the courses and programs that we attend at work.  It is structured learning, which has learning outcomes defined not by the participant, but in the training itself.

So then what is informal learning?  One could say that it is simply everything else, every other way in which we manage to learn new skills and be fairly accurate.  Informal learning is where there is no set learning outcome, at least not one that is set by anyone other than the participant.  It is unstructured, not designed using robust principles of instructional design and often not even seen as learning by the participant.  It is as I have said before the day to day conversations, the videos, the books, the jobs that we do, they all for part of our informal learning.

 

 

Evaluating informal learning

 

If we look at the definition of informal learning as opposed to that of formal learning, the problem in terms of evaluating its impact can be clearly seen.  There are no outcomes that can be looked at to see if the participant has successfully achieved, it is not delivered in traditional methods and formats, there is by its very nature no assessment as part of it and in a lot of cases we may not even be sure when or where the learning itself actually occurred.  So it is no wonder we struggle with not just the concept but with the practicality of how to evaluate the informal learning that staff do during the course of their days and what if any personal or organisational impact that learning may have.

It seems to me that there are two types of informal learning which are important to organisations, learning that simply increases, builds or improves a skill and learning provides some ‘formal’ recognition pathway for the learner.    It is important to note that it is some kind of formal recognition that is important here, recognition, where there is some ‘qualification’ style outcome as a result of the learning, where the participant is assessed in some way prior to being deemed as competent in the skill or knowledge.  I am not talking about badges or other such methods to capture the results of informal learning, be they peer-reviewed or not, because from an organisational point of view they in these methods are (at least currently) virtually meaningless.

Why meaningless; I have often recounted a story of being asked as part of an investigation into an incident involving a member of staff, “How did you know this person was competent?”  Now if my answer had been, well he has a badge for it, I think I may have gotten a much different reaction to saying, as I did, “Well, they have completed all of the assessment tasks, including a third-party observation, necessary for us to be satisfied that they were competent under the rules of evidence set out in the legislation pertaining to the operations of Registered Training Organisations, in Australia.”

This is not to say that the person with the badge was not competent, or the one with the assessments didn’t make a mistake or had forgotten what they had learnt.  It is to say however that it seems more likely that we can be confident that the second person was actually competent than we can be of the first.

Is this to say then that if informal learning does not lead to some kind of qualification that it is of no use, or much less use than what we would normally see as formal learning?  No, not all informal learning though is going to lead a staff member to a qualification, some of it is not related to or captured by the range of qualifications available, some simply adds to the skill set they already have, making them better at their role, but not providing them with a new skill. This suggests that any process of evaluation that we may seek to apply to informal learning must be capable of dealing with both that learning that will lead to a formal outcome and that which will not.

To this end there seems to be a number of things that we need to know in order to be able to begin to evaluate informal learning, and I am indebted to Saul Carliner for some of his thinking around this.  In order to be able to evaluate effectively the impact of informal learning both at an individual participant and an organisational level we will need the following information;

 

  1. A baseline – what is the staff members current skill level,
  2. What they have learned,
  3. How they have learned it,
  4. New skill level,
  5. Is there a competency attachable to the learning,
  6. Effect of learning on organisational metrics – reduction in customer complaints, less injuries etc., and maybe
  7. Return on Investment?

Interestingly this list looks very much like what we need know about any learning process in an organisation.  This of course then leads to the question, if this is what we need to know to evaluate the effectiveness of organisational learning, why are we treating the outcomes of informal learning differently to how we would treat formal learning.

Now it may not be relevant, we may not or able to or we may not want to, capture the standard ‘smile’ sheet satisfaction style data that we collect from formal training and yes, the natural of the learning, pull not push, driven by the individual, just in time etc., all make the nature of the process of learning different.  However, when we look at it from an organisational point of view are we not looking for the same thing as with formal learning?  We are looking for an increase in the skill level of the staff member, such that increase in skill will have an effect on the relevant workforce metrics that relate to their role in the organisation.  If we aren’t looking to improve the skills of our staff and the organisation as a whole, what are we investing in informal learning systems in the workplace, and why has it become so important.

So how do we achieve this, the process outlines what we need to have in order to really make this idea work;

  1. Skills Outline for each role type within the organisation,
  2. Assessment of Staff member against skills outline – there are a range of options here, but I think there has to be at least self-assessment + manager assessment at the very least,
  3. System for capturing staff informal learning activities,
  4. Regular (6-12 Month) updates of Staff skill assessments,
  5. Data capture of changes in skills levels across the organisation,
  6. Method of mapping skills changes to competencies. and
  7. Methodology of converting skills changes to organisational metrics and ROI.

 

 

Creating a baseline

 

If we start with the idea of a baseline we might be able to sort out some structure and processes around this idea.  So, where might a baseline come from?

  • Position Description,
  • Performance and Professional development plans,
  • Self-Assessment,
  • Formalised Assessment, or
  • Job skills analysis plus a rating system.

But how can we do it without it being onerous on everyone involved.  If we use position descriptions as our starting point, we have the problem of there not being enough detail or they are not skills based or we don’t assess the person against them in a really formal way that gives us any real data to work with in the first place.  They could be coupled with self-assessment, and direct manager assessment to give a fuller picture of the skill set and levels of an individual staff member.  PPD plans can be seen in the same light, in order to make them more useful in terms of presenting us with a baseline we need to capture more granular detail about the role and the staff member’s skills relating to that role.

To really make this process as robust as possible there is a definite need to skill groups determined for each role type within an organisation.  These skill groups are entirely separate to any particular position description and are tied to role types and levels rather than to specific staff or positions.  Now to what level of granularity an organisation is going to need to go to is going to have to be determined by each organisation.  My thinking however is that for most organisations there would be general role types to which skill groups could be attached.  The skills contained in these skill groups would also have some similarity through the hierarchy of the organisation, everyone in the organisation needs to be able to communicate, but the level of skill expected may well be different.

 

Once we have the skill groups established, we then have to come up with a way of assessing the current level of competent staff have in relation to the skill group which applies to their role.

Again a number of ways of doing this have been suggested;

  • Self-assessment
  • Peer assessment
  • Manager assessment
  • Formal evaluation and testing

The problem associated with most of these suggestions is that they either don’t really provide us with strong evidence of skill levels or competency or they are or are likely to become onerous and time consuming.  Self-assessment is probably not going to provide us with the robust kind of evaluation that we require, particularly if we are looking at this assessment process as providing us with a baseline from with to build evidence towards a qualification from.

Peer assessment and management assessment may also fall into the same trap and in addition they may also depending on the number of assessments and the number of people managed, become onerous and time consuming.  While formal assessment processes certainly could meet the criteria in terms of robustness, there is again, depending on the kind of assessment and how it is delivered the real problem of it becoming expensive and time consuming for everyone concerned.

This is of course less of a problem with new hires into the organisation than it is with those staff currently employed.  With new hires a system which captures their current skill levels with respect to their specific skill group can be quite easily developed and maintained, providing baseline data, at least on that group relatively easily.  The reason for this is that the process for capturing the data can be made part of the recruitment and induction process.  Current staff are going to be the group for which capturing this data will be most difficult, as any process is going to additional to their current workloads.  One way would be make the Performance and Professional Development review process more robust and include a form of assessment against the skill groups as part of it, in addition to staff and manager perceived assessments of skill levels.

All of this data begins to present us with other problems as well however.  How and where do we capture this data so that it is accessible and usable both in terms of individual staff progress and advancement in the relevant skill areas, but also on an organisational level where roll ups of this data could and would be invaluable in determining trends and needs across the entire organisation?  How this will be achieved will of course a decision that individual organisation make according to their current systems and needs.  It is vital however that this and the other information that is going to be generated through this process is captured, because it provides a wealth of information not just for the organisation, but for the individuals themselves.  It allows the organisation to see the value and the benefit of its learning investments, be they formal or informal and allows individuals to track their own progress towards a variety of goals.

 

 

What they learnt and how they learnt it

 

Having the baseline data available gives organisations a place to start when looking at the evaluation of learning, be it formal or informal, however one of the problems with capturing and evaluating the effects and impact of informal learning, is quite simply identifying when and how it happened.  Unlike traditional formal learning, there are no classes, no events, no calendar of activities to point to, to show when a staff member undertook training on a particular subject.  There are no learning outcomes, no standard content to point to establish what is a participant may have actually learnt.  This has and does present a significant problem for evaluating the impact and effects of informal learning, if we don’t know what, when or how someone learnt something then how can we determine where that knowledge came from?   Unfortunately from the perspective of this work there is little to talk about here except to say that organisations will need to find a way to capture this data, which is meaningful to them and suits their needs and individual situations.  One method would be to establish a database of ‘learning activities’ which staff could update as needed or which could capture data from a range of sources using technology solutions around a staff members interactions with informal learning opportunities.  There is no single answer here and no single best way of achieving this.  There will even be differences of opinion about the level of granularity that is sufficient to show that a participant has in fact had an informal learning experience.  Again, as with the baseline data what is important here is that data of some description that is meaningful to the organisation and individual is captured.

 

 

Changes in skills and knowledge

 

We have captured the baseline skills data across individuals in the organisation and we have also captured when and how they are learning, what is needed now  is a method or a process of regularly assessing individual’s fluctuations in the skills within their skill group.  Again it is going to be up to an individual organisation how robust they make these assessments, at the lowest end would sit, I think, a 6-12 month self-assessment by staff of where there skills now sit.  At the highest end would be some form of regular, controlled, formalised testing process which provided solid evidence in relation to changes in key skills.  If we were thinking about say desktop applications such as Word, staff members could at set time intervals be required to undergo a standardised external test of their skills and knowledge, which should give solid, meaningful data on changes to skill levels.  The other point of note here is that there needs to be a correlation between the kind of assessment done at this stage and initial baseline assessment.  While some variety of methods of assessment will work and provide meaningful data, this cannot be said of all methods.  For example if the initial assessment had be a rigorous formal evaluation, carried out through validated assessment tools, administered professionally, but then when it came to the point of reassessment a simple self-assessment tool was utilised, it may be the case that the results of the data are not as useful as they could be.  My thinking here would be simply that the same type of assessment, even the same assessment should be used to detect changes in an individual’s skills and knowledge; otherwise we are simply not comparing the same things.

 

 

Metrics and measurements

Once this data has been collected we are at some point going to have to decide what it means either on an individual level, an organisational level or both.  It is here, I think, that the real challenge may lie.

If we look at the following example; an organisation has been capturing data on its staff skill levels across, they have also been providing staff with access to and encouragement to utilise and learn through informal methods.  After 12 months they see an average rise in skill levels across the organisation of 5% and over the same period a rise in sales of 3%.  Can we make a connection between the two, is there any correlation between the increases.

At least at this point I think you would be hard pressed to make much out of it.  It may even be difficult to make the correlation between the informal learning and the rise in skill levels, why?  Well simply because unless all they have been doing is engaging in informal learning and there has been no formal activities, or coaching and mentoring, supervision etc., then we are going to need to come up with a process of separating out the gains make from formal learning and the gains made from informal learning.  At this point we might be tempted to fall back on something like 70:20:10 and say something like, well 70% of learning is informal so 70% of the skills increase is due to informal learning, namely a 3.5% increase.  I that I would and I think that a lot of other people would find an argument like that to be somewhat less than satisfying.  It could be the case that it was the 10% formal learning component that produced the entire 5% rise in skill and informal learning did not contribute to the skills increase at all.

Even if we can make a strong case that informal learning contributed to the skills increase, we then still have to make the case that the skills increase contributed to the sales increase and unless we can show a link between the learning, the skills and the increase in sales that is going to be difficult.  Here I think it is the level of granularity that we apply to the data we are collecting.  If we can show that members of the sales department accessed a range of informal learning resources all related to closing sales, and that their skill level at closing sales went up (by whatever means of assessment we are using) and then the overall sales figures for that sales department increased, then I think we might have a strong enough case to suggest that the informal learning the staff did, had a correlative effect on the sales figures. For me however, this is still quite a big question mark.  It is hard enough to do real, robust return on investment calculations with traditional formal learning; with the complexities surrounding informal learning it is much more difficult.  Does this mean it is impossible?  No, it simply means that organisations need to really figure out what it is that they are looking for in terms of success and what kinds of metrics and measurements will provide them with evidence of that success.  If an increase in sales is an indicator of success and sales increase there has been a success, the problem comes with trying to determine what it was that caused this success.

One way which might allow us to hone in more on what it was the catalyst for the changes and therefore the success would be apply a process such as Brinkerhoff’s ‘success case method’ for evaluating training.  If we formally ask those staff who met the criteria for success what they did, or what they think was the reason they were successful and we formally ask those who were not as successful what they did and what they think was the reason they were not as successful, we can then compare the sets of answers.  This sort of process may give us some solid insights into whether there were specific things which were the root cause of the success.  The successful staff may tell us that they think the formal training was responsible for about 50% of the success, because it gave them the skills they needed, but the other 50% came from the fact that their manager was supportive of them utilising the new skills they had learnt.  On the other hand staff might tell us that one member of the team found a really good YouTube video that had a lot really helpful ideas and skills in it and shared it with the entire group and the successful staff were the ones that watched and applied the information in the video.  This sort of information would give us data from which we could begin to look at what were the significant drivers of the successes.

 

 

The competency connection

 

The other part of the puzzle around the evaluation of informal learning for me is the link to formal qualifications and measurements of competency.  Now for non-Australian readers and readers not familiar with the Australian competency based vocational education training system some of this might seem a bit foreign to start, but essentially it is all part of the same puzzle.  One thing that I think it is necessary to be clear on here is that I am talking about formally recognised types of qualifications, there is a lot of talk about things like badges (peer-reviewed or otherwise) and other types of ‘endorsements’ of people skills.  These are not what I am talking about here, and from a talent management, recruitment and learning perspective I see little value in these badges and related concepts.  What I am talking about here are formally recognised kinds of qualification or certification where there is a robust, standardised and formalised assessment attached to the awarding of the qualification itself.

One of the values I see coming from informal learning is the ability to use the information collected about the kind and type of learning undertaken and results this learning has caused, is that it provides evidence which could be used to show that staff members met the requirements for certain formal qualifications.

Take for example the following;

A staff member, who is in a retail role and has a desire to move into store management, begins to take some online courses/MOOC, both in their own time and with the support of their manager, at times when they are able to during their working hours.  The manager also allows them to undertake some stretch tasks around stock management and ordering and financial management.  The staff member also actively becomes involved in a number of online and face to face discussion groups with other retail managers and staff around increasing store sales, better stock management and staffing and HR issues in the retail environment.  As a result of these activities the staff members own personal sales increase, they receive numerous positive compliments from staff, the manager is comfortable letting them handle some of the stock ordering and closing off of the store financials at end of day.  The manager and the staff member then decide that as a result of this the staff member should look at undertaking a formal qualification around retail or frontline management and decide that they will undertake the Certificate IV in Frontline Management (An Australian Vocational Education Qualification).  If good records of the learning activities and achievements have been kept by both the manager and the staff member, they may find that significant parts, if not all depending on the length of time and the amount of experience the staff member has, of the qualifications requirements may have already have been met and that the staff member may be able to undergo a process, in Australia referred to as recognition of prior learning, to show evidence of their competency and be awarded the qualification by  the appropriate authority.

This for me is one of the great values that lies untapped as part of the informal learning process, that is transitioning from just learning that may have quite a significant outcome in terms of both the business and the individual in terms of quality of work, productivity, effectiveness etc. and adding to that the additional value of giving the staff member access to formal qualification outcomes.  This will be of particular advantage where the staff member in question does not have formal qualifications either in general or in the particular area they are working in.  This is a definite value added outcome for the concept of formal learning and one that I think really needs to be explored further.

 

 

Conclusions and final thoughts

 

Informal learning is an incredibly valuable tool for both organisations and individuals, it provides individuals with the learning that they need, when they need it, in environments which may be very conducive to their learning.  It provides organisations with an avenue to reinforce and build on the skills and knowledge that staff obtain through formal training activities and to provide them with additional skills through alternative methods of learning.  We need however to understand the value, both in terms of what that value is and what that value means for organisations.  Utilising anecdotal rules of thumb about the value of informal learning and what it provides are not useful tools, particularly when considering investment strategies around Learning and Development in organisations.  We need to treat to treat informal learning like any other part of the learning business and make sure that we know what our success criteria are, what the real value is and the return on investment that we are getting for informal learning.  We also need to embrace the concept that informal learning can be a pathway for staff to formal qualification outcomes and that this can only enhance the value that is gained both individually and by the organisation from its investment in informal learning.

 

Creating a High Impact Learning Culture

2013 ASTD State of the Industry Report

So as many of you know I am an avid consumer of the ASTD’s yearly State of the industry Report and guess what, the 2013 edition is now available.

So what does it have to save about the world of L&D this year. Well it is interesting, there is not a lot of change from last years report.  We see that spending on L&D globally was about $164.2 Billion with an average direct expenditure per employee of about $1,195.  In terms of Average Direct Expenditure, this represents a very small ($13) increase over last year.

Again however Learning hours used per employee stuck at around the 30 hours mark, 30.3 this years to be exact.  On suggestion for this stalling over the last four years in the increase in usage of non-traditional instructor led training and the more informal, workplace, just in time learning which is much harder to track and quantify.  We also see that Direct expenditure as percentage of payroll rise only slightly to 3.6% as has the Direct expenditure of percentage of revenue rising slightly to 1.32%.

There has also been little or no change in the percentage of expenditure taken up by internal costs which remains steady at 61.5%, lower that 2009 (62.4%) but higher than last year (60.5%).  There has however, been a not insignificant (5%) drop in the number of employees per L&D staff member which now sits at 299:1, there is an even more startling drop of  around 40%, in this number in the ASTD BEST organisations, taking the number there from 288:1 down to 178:1.

The cost of learning has also gone up both in terms of the cost of providing one hour of training to one employee, rising to $89 and the overall cost of developing one hours training rising to  $1,772, a rise of 20% over the last 4 years.  Some reasons suggested for this increase if the up front costs of technology and the reduction in the ratio of employees to L&D staff members.

Managerial and Supervisory training makes up the largest content area for Learning programs, closely followed by mandatory and compliance training, business process and practices, and industry specific training with these four areas taking up just of 40% of all the learning programs delivered.  How these programs were delivered tells what I think is an interesting story however, while yet again, instructor led classroom delivery dropped (5% down to 54.28) and technology based learning rose slightly to 39.20% which is not unexpected.  What I find interesting is that  All Online delivery has remained around the same percentage, (27.29% this year) since 2008.  When you pair this with the fact that instructor lead training (either classroom or online/remote) accounted for some 70% of all training delivered, it seems to suggest, at least in my opinion that participants like to have instructors to interact with even when utilising online training.  The other final thing I find interesting about the content and delivery data is that while there was a big jump in the percentage of hours used in terms of mobile technologies between 2009 and 2010, this usage has flattened out of the last three years remaining at 1.51%

So what does all this data mean?  A couple of comments I would make would be that

  1. Instructor led learning is still the preferred method of delivery for a large amount of participants,
  2. New technologies may have had a quite significant effect on the overall cost of the development of training,
  3. Mobile learning is not the powerhouse, game changing, way of the future that everyone keeps suggesting it is.

I would be interested to know what others think of the data and what it means for the industry.

Can you teach innovation and entrepreneurial skills

So, Can you?

I have read a number of articles recently were Governments, business and various luminaries have suggested that what we need to be doing more of, what we need to be teaching more of is how to be innovative, how to entrepreneurial, however, and this is my sticking point here, can we actually teach these skills or more importantly, if we can teach a set of skills with we deem to be entrepreneurial skills them will that actually make people more entrepreneurial.  Will teaching people ‘innovation’ skills lead to more and greater innovation or more innovators.

My answer – I am really not sure.

 What makes me not sure is something very simple, is there something about, truly great innovators, entrepreneurs, and even leaders that isn’t teachable.  Even if we can distill what makes a true innovator down to a set of definable skills, which we can impart to others, will the people we impart the skills to become truly great innovators or do they need something else.

Not everyone who plays sport (no matter how much they train) will go on to be the best in the world, or even approach being the best in the world, or even their country or state.  Why, well, for a range of reasons, genetics for one, luck, environment, other people, there are a range of reasons.  Do they gain skills and knowledge through the process yes, does that make them an athlete, maybe, does it make them a truly great athlete, probably not.

I have seen lots of people struggle through courses and programs, Leadership, Innovation Entrepreneurship and other such topics, because their employer wanted to them to, they had to have it move forward in their careers, or they had been marketed the hype that these courses would really teach them how to be innovative.  Did it work? In some cases probably, but in a lot of cases, they went back to their roles, they continued their jobs, they did what they were good at, and were successful at it.  They were successful at it because it was what they were good at or what they enjoyed.

Teaching someone entrepreneurial skills, who is really not interested in being entrepreneurial, seems to me, like a lot of these sorts of training to be a real waste of time and resources, and even more so if it turns out that we can’t really teach people how to be entrepreneurial in the first place.

Workforce participation, Training for the long term unemployed and the needs of industry.

I attended a very interesting breakfast earlier in the week, (thanks to the wonderful people at Busy@work)  where the central topic of discussion was around the subject of how to better unemployed and underemployed people with industry needs in order to facilitate meaningful return to employment.  Aside from a range of other issues that were discussed one thing that was raised a number of times was the gap between the skill level of, in particular long-term unemployed, and to be even more particular long-term unemployed youth, and the skill needs of industry and business.

So I got to thinking what are those basic skills that employers, large or small, need job seekers, particularly those coming from medium to long-term unemployment to have, in order for the employer to feel comfortable employing them initially and to retain them.  so I have come up with a list of what I think those really, really basic skills are, so here goes:

  1. Punctuality – The ability to be at work and ready to start work, at the time their day/shift/whatever begins.  I was always taught when I was young and in my first couple of jobs, both when I was at high school and in the workforce, that you should be there 10-15 minutes before your starting time so that you were ready and able to start work on time.
  2. Appropriate clothing and accessory choices – All work places have rules and expectations, some safety related, some organisational and culturally related.  Insisting that you wear a long sleeve shirt,  that your uniform is clean and or ironed, that you removed some of your piercings, are not unreasonable requests.  when I was in the police force in the very early days of my career (it was my first job) our Senior Sargent used to check our uniforms, shoes etc, to make sure that we looked professional and well turned out before we went out in public, representing the organisation.
  3. Basic maths – If you cant figure out that $1.60 is the out of $10.00 when I purchase an $8.40 item, without the use of a cash register or calculator, then you probably shouldn’t be working in a role that requires basic maths, and it shouldn’t be up to an employer to give you training in basic maths.
  4. Basic appropriate communication/language skills – I am not suggesting that new job seekers  or those returning from long-term unemployment need to have the communications skills of senior executive or master facilitator, but they do need to be able to talk to customers, in a polite, respectful, understandable manner.
  5. Basic customer service skills – I don’t care what job you are in, you have customers, they might be internal or external, but you have them, everyone needs to have some level of customer service skills, even if it is don’t swear at the customer when they ask you a question, because it drags you away from your txt/facebook conversation.
  6. Basic understanding of business – Really all I am saying here is understand that a business is not going to change its policy on facial piercing, simply because it is your preference to have a three-inch, pointed, metal stud protruding from the center of your forehead.  It is an understanding that they work for someone else and that working there comes with a set of rules and expectations,both from the business and from the clients of the business.

Now certainly there are going to be roles out there that are appropriate for the groups of people that I am talking about here that require, different or higher levels of skills to the ones listed, but for most entry-level positions, having these six basic skills, place those candidates head and shoulders above all of the others.

How do we give youth, long-term unemployed and other groups, these skills.  Is it something that young people should have been taught at school,  (particularly maths and communications), or come from parents and role models (punctuality and politeness), some of it should and for those that have it, it probably has.  Unfortunately though, for some long-term unemployed, whether they are in the youth demographic or not, even if they did have these skills at some point (and a lot of them probably didn’t), they have dissipated with lack of use over time.

The bigger issue for me, (and this seemed to be a bit of a theme at the breakfast) is how do we teach these people these skills.  In Australia we have government-funded organisations, whose roll it is to assist people with entering or reentering the workforce, particularly those who have been unemployed for a significant period of time, but still we seem to have this situation where candidates turn up for interviews and ongoing employment without even the basic skills i have listed and then we wonder why business and employers either don’ take them on in the first place or only retain them for a short period of time.

I would really like to hear what people think, both about my basics skills list and any ideas about how we might better be able to increase these skills in the people that need them most.

Corporate MOOCs – What’s my incentive?

pauldrasmussen:

A fantastic post by Craig Weiss on the value and problems associated with Corporate MOOC’s. This is well worth spending the time reading and thinking about.

Originally posted on E-Learning 24/7 Blog:

In the past two months, a trend is showing up at am amazing rate – MOOC platforms within a LMS.  For the most part, those that have been adding them, have done so on the education side of the house.  In fact, one vendor offered me an opportunity to create a MOOC and they would stick on their platform – an honor, but not something of interest.

If you think MOOC platforms are just for education – you are in for quite a surprise – they are making an appearance in the corporate platforms too.  A couple of vendors are already in the process of adding them – and if you know this industry – and hopefully you are gaining more knowledge – you would know that the industry screams lemmings – so expect more to come in 2014.  But, I digress.

The question or questions must be why?  Why…

View original 1,574 more words

AHRI – Pulse Learning and Development Report 2013

As most of you know I devour these reports and state of the industry papers about the world of L&D so it was with interest that I read the 2013 release of the Australian Human Resources Institute – Pulse L&D report.

So what are the interesting little highlights I found when I read through the data collected.  Well before I talk about that it is important to note that this survey unlike the 2010 survey was not done in conjunction with the AITD, but was done solely with AHRI members, which may or may not have had an effect on the results.

The first thing I found interesting was in the comments from the AHRI Chairman, where he says ‘it is pleasing to note also that nearly a third of the sample group (31 per cent) report that learning and development budgets account for more than 5 per cent of revenue’  but seemed disappointed that 68% of the organisations surveyed had L&D budgets which were less than 5% of revenue.  I find this statement a little strange and at odds with the general level of L&D investment (as a % of revenue) globally, and this may be a case of simple misunderstanding of the wider global L&D community trends.  I say this because in the 2012 ASTD State of the Industry report the average figure for direct expenditure as a percentage of revenue is around the 1.2%, with most Global Fortune 500 companies averaging around 0.7% of revenue.  Now while it is true these levels globally are rising, it would be difficult to suggest they would top 5% of revenue anytime in the next few years at least, which to me says that investment in Australia in L&D is in very very good shape, when we compare it globally and to intimate that budgets of less than 5% of revenue are disappointing, is a little bit strange.

Still as always the vast majority of people in the industry are female (70%), though I would really like to see a survey done in the Australian market that look at gender across roles within the industry as I think, particularly if we think about senior management and executive learning roles these figures may not be giving us the full picture.   If anyone knows of a survey like this, particularly one with data collected from organisations with a range of L&D functions I would be interested to know about it.

Again as we tend to always see in these surveys, most L&D functions sit either solely with HR or within HR and externally to it, with only 11% sitting outside of HR as a separate function.  Now as we know where Learning should sit has been a topic of debate for a long time now, but in reality it seems nothing much has actually changed.  The other thing that interested me on this page of the report was the size of L&D team with more than 75% of learning functions only having between 1-5 staff.  Now I am sure that this has something to do with the fact that 60% of the respondents worked for companies with less that 500 staff and 80% for companies with less than 2500 staff.  I also think and this is just personal opinion here, that it has a lot to do with the Learning function sitting inside HR, and to some extend being treated as a poor cousin to other HR functions, and a misunderstanding of the value both in people and monetary terms of a well-funded, highly functioning Learning unit, but then again I am a L&D person I would say that.

Some of the really interesting information for me starts on page 11 of the report were it begins to look at the mix of L&D activities with organisations.

The vast majority of L&D activities within organisations turn out to be….. wait for it……Internal face to face training, Well who would have thought that.  Certainly not anyone who had been to any of the major conference recently where it almost seemed that if you talked about-face to face training and not, informal MOOC’s than you were a dinosaur, who needed to move out of the way.  In fact this idea is only further supported on page 12 where we see that only 8% of the Learning Activities provided by organisations are e-learning based, with the two largest percentages being in-house training and inductions. (Sorry had to say that, it is just nice to see some real figures that point to the fact that online learning in not taking over the world at least not inside organisations.  The other two really interesting bits of information from this were that the split between formal and informal learning was about even with informal a little bit ahead, nowhere near the 90:10 split we would expect to see under some models of informal learning and the in terms of kinds of training compliance and other training were split about 50:50 as well.

So what then do people think are the most and least valuable learning and development activities, well the most valuable are clearly induction of new staff and leadership training (though I am unsure of the real value of leadership training myself), closely followed by training relating to in-house operations, (surprising all the stuff that organisations need their staff to know), with the least valuable (as I have always suspected to be the case) Team building activities followed by compliance training.

So there you have it, nothing stunning, but some facts which I think tend to shed some light on some of the rhetoric of learning pundits and evangelists out there.

As always if you have any thoughts of comments I am more than happy to hear them.

 

 

Evaluating informal learning – some more thoughts

Yesterday I started talking about how we might look at evaluating informal learning and I suggested that there were a number of steps or processes we might need to implement if we really wanted to look seriously at getting meaningful metrics out of the informal learning that was occurring within our workforce.  I suggested the following list of steps which might make up the process of evaluation;

  1. Skills Outline for each role type within the organisation,
  2. Assessment of Staff member against skills outline – there are a range of options here, but I think there has to be at least self-assessment + manager assessment at the very least,
  3. System for capturing staff informal learning activities,
  4. Regular (6-12 Month) updates of Staff skill assessments,
  5. Data capture of changes in skills levels across the organisation,
  6. Method of mapping skills changes to competencies. and
  7. Methodology of converting skills changes to organisational metrics and ROI.

Today I want to look at some of the options and some other ideas around some of the items on this list.    I think there are a number of key issues here, firstly, the issue of establishing a baseline skill level, the issue of measuring changes from that baseline and finally the issue of taking the data relating to those changes either at an individual level or at an organisational level and translating them into something meaningful.  I think that, as I said yesterday, there are a number of ways in which that initial baseline data can be captured, however the more I think about it the more it becomes clear to me that there is a definite need to have robust skill groups determined for each role type within an organisation.  These skill groups are entirely separate to any particular position description and are tied to role types and levels rather than to specific staff or positions.  Now to what level of granularity an organisation is going to need to go to is going to have to be determined by each organisation.  My thinking however is that for most organisations there would be general role types to which skill groups could be attached.  The skills contained in these skill groups would also have some similarity through the hierarchy of the organisation, everyone in the organisation needs to be able to communicate, but the level of skill expected may well be different.

Once we have the skill groups and have assessed staff members against their relative group (through whatever method we choose), we then need to come up with a method or a process of regularly assessing individual’s fluctuations in the skills within their skill group.  Again it is going to be up to an individual organisation how robust they make these assessments, at the lowest end would sit, I think, a 6-12 month self-assessment by staff of where there skills now sit.  At the highest end would be some form of regular, controlled, formalised testing process which provided solid evidence in relation to changes in key skills.  If we were thinking about say desktop applications such as Word, staff members could at set time intervals be required to undergo a standardised external test of their skills and knowledge, which should give solid, meaningful data on changes to skill levels.

At some point however, we are going to have to decide what this data means either on an individual level, an organisational level or both.  It is here, I think, that the real challenge may lie.  If we look at the following example; an organisation has been capturing data on its staff skill levels across, they have also been providing staff with access to and encouragement to utilise and learn through informal methods.  After 12 months they see an average rise in skill levels across the organisation of 5% and over the same period a rise in sales of 3%.  Can we make a connection between the two, is there any correlation between the increases.

At least at this point I think you would be hard pressed to make much out of it.  It may even be difficult to make the correlation between the informal learning and the rise in skill levels, why?  Well simply because unless all they have been doing is engaging in informal learning and there has been no formal activities, or coaching and mentoring, supervision etc., then we are going to need to come up with a process of separating out the gains make from formal learning and the gains made from informal learning.  At this point we might be tempted to fall back on something like 70:20:10 and say something like, well 70% of learning is informal so 70% of the skills increase is due to informal learning, namely a 3.5% increase.  I that I would and I think that a lot of other people would find an argument like that to be somewhat less than satisfying.  It could be the case that it was the 10% formal learning component that produced the entire 5% rise in skill and informal learning did not contribute to the skills increase at all.

Even if we can make a strong case that informal learning contributed to the skills increase, we then still have to make the case that the skills increase contributed to the sales increase and unless we can show a link between the learning, the skills and the increase in sales that is going to be difficult.  Here I think it is the level of granularity that we apply to the data we are collecting.  If we can show that members of the sales department accessed a range of informal learning resources all related to closing sales, and that their skill level at closing sales went up (by whatever means of assessment we are using) and then the overall sales figures for that sales department increased, then I think we might have a strong enough case to suggest that the informal learning the staff did, had a correlative effect on the sales figures.

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