Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) iTunesU, and Learning via YouTube

Does Online Learning Equal Competency?

I love Learning; lets get that one out of the way right from the word go.  I love to be able to look for a solution to something by searching google, then reading and article or watching a YouTube video on whatever I need to know.  I have iTunesU on my IPad, I watch Khan Academy video’s, in essence I tend to devour learning and information from whatever source I can get it.  Do I learn things by doing this – Yes I think I do.  Does this kind of Learning make me competent – I am far less sure of this one, and I guess this is where my headspace is with these kinds of courses and programs.  In most cases there is no real assessment of outcomes for the participants and where there, will they, or do they fit what employers etc might consider to be relevant outcomes.

Consider two applicants for a position one who has done a degree via traditional delivery and assessment and one who has done and equal amount of ‘online’, ‘free’ programs.  All other things being equal, (even without them being equal in my opinion) who are you going to give the job to.  I would think hands down the person with the degree and would challenge anyone to justify to me, why they would choose the other candidate.

What about recognition of prior learning, some which is a core component of the Australian VET system, do these freely available online courses count as acceptable evidence of competence or is there still further work that needs to be done, perhaps independant assessment of competence, before they are recognised?

I have a deeper issue though with this kind of learning which is one of transfer and application of skills.  Let me give you an example of what I mean.  A number of years ago I was in a training role, where after the courses had ended, clients would often contact me with a range of technical questions around some of the software that was use as part of the course (even though the course itself was not a technical course).  I quickly learnt that it was simpler for me in most cases to Google their question and give them the answer there and then, rather than  say I wasn’t sure and try and get back to them at a later date.  It kept them happy, value added to what we did, and positioned me a technical expert in a piece of software, that I actually knew technically very little about.  Was I competent; I dont think so, I never had any background knowledge about how the system worked or why some of the things worked the way they did.  I was just following the instructions of someone else.  This is not to say that I did not learn things I certainly did, but learning things does not in my opinion equate necessarily to competence, and if I am being compeltely honest most of the solutions went straight out of my head after I had given them to the client, simply because I did not need to know.  If a got multiple clients who wanted the same or very similar information I would bookmark the site or video so that I could simply go back to it when needed and pass the instructions on. The other thing that I could never understand about this situation (and this is a bit of an aside) is why clients rang me in first place, when they could have simply searched the web themselves and found the answer just as quickly as I had.

The other and final issue Ihave with all of these programs is how do we integrate them into the range of informal learning with our organisations and more importantly for me at least, how to we evaluate the learning that comes from them for both or staff and the organisation as a whole.

I would be really excited to hear any ideas that you have around this subject.

Creating a Learning Culture that works

We all talk about Learning Cultures, we all talk about embedding the process of learning within our organisations or those that we work with, we  all talk about valuing informal learning, creating opportunities for staff to learn and grow.  Some of us are lucky and work with organisations for which Learning is a Value, linked to the mission statement and strategic plans, so of us work with organisations were learning is less valued, either overall, or in significant parts of the business. We all know the theory and how it is all supposed to work,  but I wonder when the rubber hits the road what actually works.

The reason I ask this is I was having a conversation where we discussing the involvement of supervisors, team leaders etc in the learning process.  Specifically in this case reporting on whether or not staff that had attended training had changed behaviours, learnt something, had become competent or satisfactory at particular tasks, essentially whether or not the classroom learning had been transferred back to the workplace.  We were also talking specifically about 3rd party reporting under the Australian VET system, where supervisors are called upon to indicate whether they have observed a staff member successfully and satisfactorily undertake specific tasks related to their assessment as competent in particular units of competency.

I wrote a little while ago about some ideas on engaging managers and supervisors in the learning process but again I am talking about some thing more concrete, I am talking about how we get managers to take responsiblity for deciding if their staff have actually transferred their learnings from the classroom to the office or factory floor, which is a far more active involvement than I was talking about previously.  I guess I am looking at ways to stop the process being a tick and flick, they’ve attended so they must have learnt it, I don’t want to spend anymore time or money on them getting it so I will just say they have learnt something kind of process.

The problem is that the best tactic, the one that gets the best results is to use the stick of, well if you sign them off and something goes wrong then it your issue and your responsibility.  There is something deeply unsatisfying about that though, in fact there is something deeply unsatisfying about having to have a strategy in the first place to deal with this.

So there it is;  how do you create this concrete level of engagement, this concrete learning culture, effectively and efficiently, without having to resort to what seems to me like the stick end of the carrot and stick equation.

Why do we do Training ( A great post from Chief Learning Officer Magazine)

David Vance is a real thought leader in the Learning Arena and his recent blog post on Why do we do Training is definately worth a read.


Training the Untrainable (The E-learning vs Face-to-face Dilemma)

I have been thinking a lot recently about the delivery of some of our more challenging training and professional development programs, particularly given that almost everyone these days seems to be an e-learning evangelist of some description (just Kidding) and our large and quite dispersed, regional and remote workforce.

I am not talking here about the delivery of Workplace Health and Safety compliance training, or basic computer skills, or even management and communications skills, I am talking about the hard edge training programs we run;

  • Suicide Prevention and Awareness
  • Domestic Violence awareness and intervention
  • Mental Health and Depression and
  • Psychological First Aid

to name a spectrum of them.  These are programs where there is a strong chance that at least some of the people who are attending the training will have been effected by theses kinds of trauma in one way or another, and often significant issues and reactions arise during the training.  This means that all of these programs are run on a face to face basis usually with 2 facilitators in the room, so that issues can be dealt with, without compromising the integrity of the training.

So the dilemma is, is it possible and also is it ethical and safe to utilise new technologies (e-learning) to training people in these skills, when we know that there is a certain proportion of people who are going to have adverse reactions to the materials for one reason or another.

My questions then are relatively simple does anyone know of any instances where these sorts of programs have been delivered through e-learning options successfully and how where the issues related to participant reactions handled in this environment.

The Future of L&D

I read this piece this morning in my wanderings around the internet and thought that I would share it with everyone as I think David makes some really valid observations.

People Performance Potential

Last Friday, thanks to @DebbieCarter20, I was lucky enough to attend the Training Journal L&D2020 event on “The new L&D skill set – building relationships with the business”. Run by John Baker from Capita and Andy Holmes from Ernst & Young, the focus was on the changing role and skill set of L&D to meet the business challenges of the future.

I don’t want to repeat the training content here though I must say the use of Steps Drama was very effective and engaging.  Instead I’d like to share some lasting thoughts and observations.

The L&D Opportunity

The opportunity is for the L&D function to engage more consultatively with the business.  I think this need has existed in many organisations for some time. However, there are perhaps good reasons why it’s not happened to date…

  • Focus on the transactional delivery of learning & training can create a sense…

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Who wants to be a trainer? (Is L&D the HR Sweet Spot)


I was chatting to some friends over the weekend and some interesting comments came up that seemed to circulate around another conversation I had been involved in about the transience of trainers and how it seemed hard to keep them.  So I thought I would look at the questions that came up, offer my perspective and then see if we can’t see why in the long run transience might be an issue.

The first question was ‘How did you get into L&D’ – My answer was simple, I want to make a real difference in people’s lives, I want to help them to grow, become more skillful , build their capacity and capabilities.   I was good at presenting and training people how to do and understand things and what some times seems a very long time ago I fell into sales training when a friend needed some help with his sales staff.  So in reality I didn’t initially choose to be in L&D, I was in the right place at the right time and I was good at over, but it fitted, it fitted with my idea of wanting to make a difference.

The next question caught me a bit off guard, it was ‘So where do you go from where you are?’  This one was a bit harder I guess for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, I like my current role and I work for a very large organisation, in a very senior role, where I am given an enormous amount of autonomy and responsiblity, in fact probably more than most HR director’s in a lot of organisations. (I am incredibly lucky and very thankful for the opportunity by the way).  But it points to a conversation I had with an L&D friend around this time last year where he said that  he had to move from the organisation he was in because his only career progression within it was to take on a senior generalist HR position and he hated the idea of doing that.  Another friend and colleague of mine who moved from a senior L&D role to a senior HR Director role, clearly articulated that L&D was his preference, but if he want to advance his career he had to make the move back into HR.  So is that what we are destined for if we truly want to advance our careers past where we are?

The rise, particularly in the US of the Chief Learning Officer, I think provides some light at the end of the tunnel around this as well, but probably only bigger organisations will ever really embrace the idea.  It is a role that I think is incredibly important and one that is long over due in terms of giving Learning its own place at the Big Table.

So is L&D the HR sweet spot, but is it a HR sweet spot that we almost by necessity have to leave in order to advance our careers.

Sometimes it is the Feedback that makes it all worthwhile

Today I just wanted to share with everyone some feedback that I got recently from a staff member that has just completed their Diploma of Management.  Getting something like this, completely unsolicited, reinforces in me why what we do is so important, not just to the organisation but to the individuals with in it.

I would just like to tell you how appreciative I am that I had the opportunity to gain my diploma of management.  Not only was our trainer fantastic, but the content has already helped me improve my practise, not only with the way I converse with staff but also clients .  I only wish that more staff, particularly managers put their hand up to do this training as it really reminds us all of so many basic concepts that we can tend to forget about once in a position.

I think this course also really upheld each the organisations shared values, reminding us to:

  • have compassion towards others as they are different to ourselves and therefore may have different personalities and learning styles.
  • show respect  to our colleagues and how to do this through having those open and honest conversations, and being compassionate
  • to ensure justice is upheld in our centres by enforcing our policies and procedures especially in relation with harm and justice
  • to work together even if you are a manager, it takes a team to get things done and each of us have a place within that team, but this doesn’t mean we can’t step up and help with jobs that may be considered “not our job”
  • and of course leading through learning – this is self-explanatory but the course really emphasised how by withholding information from staff it can be detrimental to the organisation so by having a sharing supportive environment  that fosters sharing knowledge not withholding it (this is especially important for staff members that may feel by withholding information their positions are more stable, we were given tools to ensure that these staff members did not feel the need to withhold that information as they feel valued in their positions

I think it is a credit to this organisation that it values its staff as much as it does to enable us to do these training courses that in turn will only better the organisations staff.

Does Governement Regulation mean Quality Training

Government Regulation and Quality Training

(An Australian Perspective)

My blog post recently on the value of accredited and non-accredited training has generated a fair bit of discussion in some of the LinkedIn groups I inhabit.  One of the things that has come out of the discussion for me is around the value of government regulation in terms of ensuring that training which is providers is of a certain quality and standard and delivered by people who are appropriately qualified and competent to be able to deliver it.  (At this point I should apologise to my overseas readers as this post is entirely about the Australia Regulatory frameworks, sorry, feel free to comment though)

So here is my question;  Does the current Australian regulatory framework (NVR Standards)  for accredited training and the registration of Registered Training Organisations, actually contribute to the quality of training that is being delivered to individuals or organisations within Australia, or overseas for that matter, because a number of RTO’s (both public and private) have used the regulatory frameworks as a sign of competence and quality when marketing to overseas clients and customers.

In my mind the answer is NO.

The thing that has always troubled me about the regulator, be it ASQA or whoever, is their focus on this minutiae of compliance with standards that in real terms do not in any way relate to whether or not the training that is being conducted is actually quality training.  I do not think ever in all my years I have ever been asked by an auditor, can we see your training presentations, or shock horror, ‘could we sit in on one of your training sessions so we can see how you deliver the content.’ NO it is all about assessment tools and qualifications of trainers and policies and procedures, because as we all know all it takes to deliver quality training to people is to have qualified instructors and good polices.

The suggestion that any of the standards and regulations and visits by Auditors actually assists in any way to creating quality delivered training is laughable, at least until they actually start to look at, and by look I mean actually look, at what is being delivered and how it is being delivered, instead of assessment tools, strategies and policies.  In fact as I have said previously some of the best training I have ever been on was delivered by training providers who have never seen an auditor, nor have ever had the Standards applied to anything they do yet the content and delivery of their product is far superior to anything I have ever seen delivered by most RTO’s (public, private and enterprise).

Why has this training been so good and the content and delivery been of such high quality, because they are competing in real, ungovernement supported marketplace, where the only way in which they will survive and be able to continue as a viable concern is to provide such quality training.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with regulation and everything to do with market forces.  Market forces which are badly skewed by government funding and the standards designed to support it.

Is this training course any good?

I really do wish I had $1 for every time a manager or a staff member has asked me that question.  It usually comes in an email with a flyer about some program or other that has landed in their inbox (electronic or otherwise) and its sparks interest for either themselves or a staff member.

Of course how does one determine if a course or a program is good or valuable or will produce a discernible ROI for the organisation from a one or two page pdf flyer.  Now I could of course just simply look over the provided information and given that overview say yes or no and if I say yes, indicate that I would like the person attending to evaluate the program utilising our standard evaluation tools and provide that feedback to me so I could make a more informed decision in the future.  This is not too much of a big deal when the program in question costs between $50 and $150 per participant, particularly if we are only going to send one person as almost an evaluator.  However given that the cost of these programs often runs in the high 100’s or in some cases 1000’s of dollars there may actually be no positive benefit in sending someone along, unless there is some other incentive , to evaluate the program.

I could also take the time to ring the provider and talk to them about the content, delivery etc ask for referees, ring them, talk to other people and see whether there is a consensus on the value of the course or program, the problem with that is it takes time, in some cases a lot of time, particularly given that on an average week we would probably get 6-12 contacts from staff asking this question and on bad week, well lets just say a lot.

Now admittedly we do have a database of those programs which people have attended and found valuable and more often than not we can make recommendations based on that, same provider, same facilitator, good testimonials from people whose opinions we trust etc.  but just as often we can’t, so it comes down to almost a gut feeling, based on experience etc, by either me or the manager in question or both of us (an a little bit of hope sometimes) that the program will actually be good and provide us with solid ROI for the staff that attend.

So I guess the question I am asking is how do people make these kinds of decisions, how do you decide it a course or a program is going to be worth sending staff to.

Integrating Formal and Informal Learning in an Agile Organisation

A ‘choose your own adventure’ model for the delivery of organisational training

Now some of you may have read this article previously as it was published earlier in the year in Training & Development, the magazine of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD), but I was reading over it again today and thought it was worth sharing on here.

Delivering integrated workforce training which is able to quickly meet organisational requirements with minimal interruption to the workplace is a challenge faced by most organisations and in particular those organisations with highly geographically and culturally diverse workforces.

Can I have that as a ½ Day?

How often have all of us heard that from a manager, team leader or staff member?  The reality for organisations, as it has always been, is that the more time an employee spends away from their regular duties undertaking training the less time they are providing a service to clients.  There is a business imperative to ensure that staff are ready to work as soon as possible after they join an organisation and that their continuing training interrupts their day to day work as little as possible.  We, as Training and Learning and Development professionals, are tasked by our organisations with ensuring that staff are not simply ready and able to undertake their roles, but that they are competent and have all of the training that is necessary (and in some cases mandatory) for their position.  This is a balancing act that most of us face on an almost day to day basis, meeting legislative, regulative and organisational requirements as quickly as possible, yet still be able to ensure that participants are actually capable of doing what they have been trained to do.  The larger and more geographically or culturally diverse your organisation is the more difficult this is to achieve, particularly in very agile, entrepreneurial organisations, or organisations or roles with high staff turnover, where new staff often need to be upskilled rapidly in order to meet the demands of the business.

Utilising traditional methods of training delivery such as face to face, off the job, facilitated training is no longer able to meet all of the needs of either organisations or the individual participants.  Neither, however, is online learning the answer to all of these issues; while it does provide an answer, issues of access, bandwidth, computer literacy, assessing competency, ensuring learning transfer and learner preferences all impact upon its usability and application.  It is necessary to adopt a blended, or as I prefer to call it an integrated approach, not just to particular training courses learning experiences, but to organisational learning as a whole.  We need to integrate formal and informal learning across our organisations, we need to think about multiple delivery avenues for the same information and provide staff with a choice about how they access and interact with the materials.

Organisational Touch points

One way to make this integration more effective is to understand that employees often have multiple organisational touch points.  There is their line manager, who provides them with day to day support in the accomplishment of their tasks; Training and Learning and Development units who provide them with courses, workshops and e-learning opportunities; other staff, be they at the same or different levels, practice or process leaders who while not managers by necessity, have high levels of skill around their particular job roles.  All of these touch points offer opportunities for learning; more than that however they offer us the opportunity to integrate these learning opportunities to achieve the best possible outcome for the participant and their learning preferences and therefore for the organisation itself.  L&D provides the formal, off the job training in the mandatory skills required both to be job ready and to upskill staff.   Line managers take on a coaching and on job training and assessment role, providing evidence of competency through observation and training through stretch tasks team and group activities and one on one feedback.  The practice and process leaders become the subject matter experts providing further coaching and mentoring experiences in their area of expertise.  They provide answers, best practice solutions, allowing the learner to get the wisdom of their experience when they require it.  All of these touch points provide staff with the ability to access the information they need in the format that is easiest for them to learn from, this support and integration of the learning functions throughout the organisation reaffirms the skills taught in the standard classroom environment and embeds the transfer of learning.

These touch points work in the opposite direction as well, they provide Learning and Development units with the ability to assess competency and ensure that the training being provided centrally meets the needs of the end users, the business.  Line managers can be provided with checklists of skills they should see in their staff after attendance at training, allowing them to evaluate not only the participants but the effectiveness of the course as well.  If they see over a period of time that staff attending particular training are having difficulty with certain aspects this can be easily raised with the learning and development unit and if necessary the training content or delivery modified to better suit the needs of the participants.  Practice leaders can provide moderation and validation of current content and assessment, become training resources in the area of expertise and administer and lead discussions around their communities of practice.

Piecing together the Jigsaw

Learner driven but organisationally directed learning is the key here.  L&D and training departments need to understand the purpose of the training being undertaken by staff.  Is it to acquaint them to the organisation, ensure compliance, assess competency, provide them with necessary skills, give them access to answers or to build knowledge and capacity?  It is the business driver that will to some extent determine the delivery model and content.  If staff need quickly accessible information about solving specific problems an online book supplier, where they can instantly look up the definitive text on the subject, an organisational wiki or a shared discussion forum are all going to provide a better outcome than having to attempt to remember something they were told in training six months previously or flip through pages of notes (if they can find them).  Introducing a new hire to the organisational structure, and the faces and names of their Managers, Directors, Team members and Mentors while at the same time ensuring that high level polices around areas such as health and safety and workplace harassment and internet usage may be better served by a video presentation followed up with an e-learning module and concluding with a quiz.  A staff member working through a Certificate IV or Diploma program in a remote area, may get the most value out of having all of the learning materials and assessments burnt onto a CD or even printed out and posted to them so they can work through them in their own time, with this supported by regular telephone contact with the Assessor and development of a relationship with a workplace mentor.

Often organisations have a lot of these things in place in various areas, or they have a blended model of delivery for different programs, or collaborative wikis and workspaces but it is not integrated.  It is not learner driven.  If a new hire without a computer can’t access orientation and inductions prior to commencement, we lose valuable time on their first day.  If a learner’s preference is for collaboration and discussion, yet the course material consists of 100’s of pages of reading they are likely to lose interest and drop out.  As much of the material and training on offer needs to be in as many forms as possible to increase the learners in order to maximise learner engagement yet still provide us with the opportunities to assess them and ensure their competency.

Video presentations and e-learning induction modules need to have paper based equivalents, backed up by a workplace buddy and formal face to face learning.  The pages of written material need to be available online or on a CD and searchable, computer skills training needs to be broken down into bit size chunks that answer specific questions and  line and practice managers need to be engaged and motivated to observe, give feedback and respond to their staff.

It seems daunting when you first consider it, but most of us don’t have as far to go as we think.  It is a small shift in perception from blended course delivery models to an integrated organisational learning model.  A small shift with huge payoffs however, not just for the organisation, but most importantly for the learners and staff themselves.

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