Learn to love your tools

Old tools
Not so long ago I was at a conference, and I went to see a session being jointly presented by an elearning supplier and their client (a large organisation, represented by someone with the job title of Elearning Manager). The client gave a good introduction to the business issues they had faced and the problems they set out to solve, before handing over to the supplier to talk abut how this was done. The troubling thing was that the client handed over the presentation by saying something like “of course I don’t understand how any of this techy stuff works, so let me pass you over to someone who does”.
It would be nice to think that this was a joke, but I know that it wasn’t. I’ve met a good number of people with responsibility for learning, who almost wear it as a badge of honour that they know nothing about technology – probably because they are aware that this lack of knowledge is an issue and making a joke of it is the easiest way to deal with it.
I sympathise with anyone in this situation. In a world in which it appears that digital content is all around us, and everyone and everything is online, it can be difficult to admit that you don’t actually know what’s going on.1
For me, it’s critical that people with responsibility for learning understand more about how digital learning content is created. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to code, create interactive scenarios, build websites or make videos (although some of these things could certainly be advantageous), but they should understand how these things are done.

  • Trainers can benefit by being able to produce better assets to use in the classroom.
  • Instructional designers can benefit by better understanding how to combine different media in their content.
  • Managers can benefit by being better able to manage the relationship with their suppliers, and with people producing content in house.

When I started out as a trainer it was a given that we all knew how to use a flipchart and an overhead projector, because they were the tools of the trade.
Today the tools of the trade includes video, slides, podcasts, quizzes, tutorials, interactive content, web sites, mobile apps, PDFs and so much more. We need to learn to love our tools and the first step to doing that is to understand them.

  1. This isn’t limited to learning. I recently met someone that runs a completely online business, who confided with me that he had never actually logged in to his own online store as he was afraid he might break something. 

Lessons From Learning Ukulele

I’ve been playing the ukulele for a while now1, but decided recently that it was time for some proper lessons. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve participated in any kind of formal face to face learning and it’s been useful not just as a budding ukelelist but also because of what I’ve learned (or been reminded) about what makes a great learning activity.
Each of the seven points below can be applied to learning and mastering anything.

Choose the right mode and method

I’m something of an introvert and my preference is generally to learn on my own – from books, videos or online content. Joining a group of local learners was not a natural choice for me, but it’s turned out to be exactly the right decision. Video lessons can be great, but with something as practical as learning a musical instrument it’s hard to beat the experience of in person teaching from an experienced musician.

Social context matters

We were expected to play (and sing!) from the start and doing that as part of a group feels much easier than it would be solo. You’re much less exposed when the occasional duff notes and poor singing are covered by the rest of the group.
The group is a mix of beginners and improvers and within those two categories I think it would be fair to say that we’re a mixed ability group. Everyone is supportive of everyone else and we each have things to learn from the others (even if sometimes it’s how not to do something).

Make loud mistakes

I think it was natural that some of us were quite hesitant when we first started playing, but the advice we were given was simple – it’s better to make loud mistakes than to be timidly perfect. If you want to get good at anything you’ve got to have a go, and that means making mistakes. Approaching it with energy and enthusiasm might make those mistakes louder, but it will also make them more obvious to you and the sooner you recognise them the sooner you’ll overcome them.

You need solid foundations

I wasn’t the only one who had previously tried learning from self study materials and a few of us shared stories of getting demotivated because we were trying to do things that we simply didn’t have the skill to do. These early lessons have focused on the basics and understanding and mastering those builds confidence. This would have been much harder to do without the direction of an experienced teacher, which brings me nicely to…

Honest feedback is necessary

Right up front we were told that we would get blunt feedback; and that really matters. The benefit of making mistakes early on is to be able to learn from and rectify them – there’s no point practicing doing something the wrong way.

Practice, practice, practice

The lessons take place once a week and are a mixture of learning new things and then practicing them. We probably spend 5% of the time being told how to do something, 5% having a go at something (a new chord or strum) and then 80% actually playing songs that include those chords and strums. Of course, it would be ridiculous to think that we could learn to play just by coming to the weekly lessons. You have to commit the time between lessons to practice. And then practice some more.

You’re a musician now

One thing that really struck me was when the teacher said:

You’re a musician now. You’re not trying to be a musician. The moment you picked up the ukulele and started playing you became a musician. Think like one.

This is so true of learning anything. If you want to be a singer, think like a singer. If you want to be a leader, think like a leader. If you want to be a coder, think like a coder. By taking action you start to become what it is you want to be.2
Ukuele image: creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by kevin1024

  1. By which I mean I would occasionally strum tunelessly along to tutorial videos on YouTube. 
  2. In case anyone reading this wants to be a surgeon or an airline pilot, keep in mind that taking action can be starting the learning process. It doesn’t mean grabbing a scalpel and practicing on your friends and family, or asking if you can have a go at flying the plane next time you head off on holiday… 

What If The Problem Is You?

In 2013 I’m celebrating a notable personal milestone – it’s been ten years since I entered the world of elearning. In that time I’ve seen many things change (where do I start?) but sadly some things stay the same, and the L&D department is often one of them.
In a previous post I mentioned the Corporate Leadership Council’s L&D Team Capabilities Survey, which Charles Jennings had referred to at the 2012 Learning Technologies Conference.
According to the survey, when asked if they would recommend working with L&D, barely 14% of corporate leaders said yes, they would actively do so. Of the remainder, 34% had no strong opinion and just over half would actually recommend not working with L&D.
And they’ve given us the reason why; the same report states that less than a quarter of line management were satisfied with L&D’s impact on achieving business outcomes.
Stop reading for a moment and let that sink in.
More than half of the manager’s surveyed would recommend not working with L&D and over three quarters were dissatisfied with L&D’s impact on business outcomes.
The root of this is a lack of ownership on the part of L&D. This isn’t about ownership for designing and delivering a piece of training, or of creating a good piece of content and giving a good experience. It’s about sharing in the ownership and responsibility for delivering actual performance results.
Real Partners
How do we do that? For a start, we act as partners.
I do need to qualify this; I’m not talking about a change of job title, I’m talking about a change of behaviour. There are plenty of people who have gone from being a Training Manager to an L&D Managers to an L&D Business Partner without any significant change to the role they play.
This is about real partnership, and real partners;
* Are equal in their status
* Involved in the decision making process
* Aligned to the organisational plan
Again, this isn’t about job titles. No one needs to give you permission to start acting like a partner instead of an order taker (and let’s be clear, that’s the choice). Do you want to be an order taker forever? Being a partner is hard work. It certainly takes more effort than being an order taker and it’s more risky because it requires you to take on your share of responsibility for the success or failure of the business.
As L&D specialists, everything we do should be working towards achieving the organisation’s goals. When someone comes to talk to us about a perceived learning need, it’s those business terms that we should be discussing their requirements;

  • How does this align with the organisation’s goals?
  • What are the specific measurable goals in doing this?
  • What will people do differently as a result of this? (Not know, but do)
  • How will things be improved by doing this? (What are the results we expect to see that will tell us if we have succeeded?)

It’s important that people understand what we do, and what we could do – the potential benefits that we can bring to the organisation. We can only do this if we can talk credibly to the rest of the organisation in terms of achieving their goals, not ours. We must be talking about organisational results and not courses run or modules completed.
Of course, we also need to understand what our customers need and want, but that doesn’t mean coming away with a shopping list of functionality in an LMS or a list of courses to deliver – it means getting a real understanding of what they are trying to achieve, so that you (as the learning expert) can offer solutions.
The better you understand what they need to achieve, the better you understand how you can help them, and long term the greater the chance you have of getting their support,
Build Alliances
Partnership is a two way thing, and it isn’t something that just happens at the point someone has a particular training need. We should be proactively building alliances.
Ask yourself;

  • Who can I build alliances with?
  • Who can help me identify the ways in which L&D can demonstrate more business focus?
  • Who can help me to demonstrate our business focussed approach?
  • Who would benefit from the support of a truly business focussed ally within L&D?

There may be some obvious candidates; line managers who you regularly work with, colleagues in IT, senior HR stakeholders, but don’t limit yourself. Look for anyone in the organisation where it would make sense to develop a real solid relationship; People with whom you can align your short, mid and long term goals and share resources.
Influence the Influencers
One of the greatest benefits of forming the right alliances is that we are better able to influence organisational decision making. If you want to establish a really effective L&D department, it doesn’t do any harm to get somebody senior on board as a cheerleader. Especially if we’re starting from the kind of position that the Corporate Leadership Council survey suggests that we might be.
Perhaps it’s obvious, but if you can’t directly influence the decision makers, then try and influence those people that can influence the decision makers. Use those alliances!
There is one other aspect of ownership that we need to cover, and maybe I’m being a little tough, but it’s tough love I promise you!
Stop Making Excuses
We really have to stop making excuses. In my ten years I’ve heard the same excuses trotted out, whether the subject was LMS, elearning content, social learning or using mobile devices.

  • It won’t work here
  • It won’t work with our people
  • IT says we can’t do it

If we’re going to take ownership for results, this just isn’t going to cut it. At the very least we need to make reasoned arguments why these things are or aren’t true.
Let’s just consider the last point; IT says we can’t do it. It’s a pretty common thing to hear, but if you just accept no for an answer, you become the single point of failure. So what do you do?
If we want be a partner, we should be able to develop a mature relationships with IT, one in which we partner with them, but aren’t dependent on them. Even then, it may be that they say no, and for perfectly good reasons, so what else can we do?
We explore the possibilities;
Are there external relationships that can offer us a solution? Do we have suppliers who can do what we need without the requirement for support from IT?
What about the tools you do have? Can you adapt something you already have to do what you need, or at least get close to it?
Or is there an alternative that IT will support. It may not be exactly the same solution but if it gets you closer to the result than you were before, it’s a winner.
Remember we’re also building alliances, so look for mutually beneficial solutions. If you want to install social enterprise platform ‘X’ and IT say no, but you know they really want to build something with collaboration platform ‘Y’, don’t treat it as second best, get on board and find a way to use that and support their goal too.
Clearly, what I’ve said doesn’t apply to everyone in L&D, but be honest with yourself; does any of this sound familiar? If so, it’s not too late to change.

What Business Are We In? – Part 2

You can find the background to this post in What Business Are We In? – Part 1 
Fast forward to the present day and we have a much more sophisticated take on things, with a greater understanding of how people learn and an unprecedented array of tools and technologies to help us. But we still treat training as a poor second cousin (if we can even bring ourselves to say “training” rather than “the t-word”). Which is a shame, when so much of what we do could best be described as training.
There’s now plenty of research which shows that most of what we learn in the workplace happens informally. The figures vary, but they’re usually in the region of 50–80%. That gives us some nice quotable figures such as around 80% of learning is informal and the remaining 20% is formal. We must remember that the numbers aren’t fixed, that they will vary from organisation to organisation, but they’re well accepted figures and sufficient as a guideline.
We’re also told that although we have the 80% informal, 20% formal split, we spend 80% of our budget on formal learning and 20% or less on informal. Why is that? Easy. We do that, because it’s exactly what we should be doing.
Remember, the 80% that’s informal is happening on the job, without the support or interference of L&D and quite often without the learner even realising that what they’re doing is learning. They’re just getting on and doing their job. Informal learning is doing quite nicely, largely doesn’t need our help, and contrary to what some people seem to think it’s been this way for a very long time, long before social media, mobile devices or the internet in any form played a part.
The reason that we focus our budgets and our efforts on the formal 20% is because that’s where it’s needed; by the business and more importantly, by the learners.
This slightly more formalised (excuse the pun) definition below is based on work published by David A. Cofer in 2000 in the Practice Application Briefing on Informal Workplace Learning.[1]

It is a characteristic of formal learning that the training or learning department sets the goals and objectives, while in informal learning the learner sets the goals and objective themselves.

Sound familiar? Remember, training is focussed on the needs of the organisation and learning is focussed on the needs of the individual.
The informal learning is happening in the workplace as and when the learner needs it. The rest is what the business needs us to design, deliver and to some extent, manage. It needs this because;
It’s too important
Some things are too important to leave to chance, such as compliance and regulatory subjects; things that are being done to ensure legal compliance and to mitigate risk. It also includes things that are critical to the way things are done in the business, for example; customer service standards, reporting procedures or keyholder responsibilities – in essence things that have a ‘right way’ to do them.
Novices need support
Every day is someone’s first day, whether that’s their first day in the organisation, their first day in a new role or just the first time they do something. It’s tempting to assume that everyone knows how to go about finding the information they need and where they should go to look for it. It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a novice; someone who lacks the necessary knowledge, skills and organisational context. This is a serious issue. If you look at attrition rates in newly recruited managers, by far the most commonly stated reason for leaving is some variation on “I didn’t know what to do, or how to do it”. They want and need some structure; they need some degree of training.
The business requires efficiency
Even if it is possible for someone to explore and discover these things themselves, it’s often much quicker if their learning is given some formal goals, objectives and structure. Reducing the time to competency is a very reasonable business goal.
We can describe it any way we like, but to me it looks a lot like training.
Am I suggesting that we return to the days of endless face to face courses and tedious page turning elearning? Heaven forbid. What I am suggesting is that we recognise that the 20% isn’t just important it’s most of what we do and to make sure that what we do is well designed and aligned to organisational objectives. We should understand that compliance training may not excite us, but it’s a significant part of the real and perceived value we add to the organisation.
And maybe, if start using the word training with some sense of pride, we might be able to deliver something better than before.

  1. David A. Cofer. 2000. PRACTICE APPLICATION. BRIEF NO. 10. Clearinghouse on. Adult, Career, and Vocational. Education. Informal Workplace Learning  ↩

What Business Are We In? – Part 1

For some time now, I’ve been wondering what business we’re really in. Is it learning or training? About ten years ago the job we did was called training, and we worked in a training department. Some time soon after that the name changed to learning and development, but has the job really changed? More importantly, has our customer’s expectation changed?
What got me thinking about this was the Learning Technologies conference last January, where I took part in a debate with Andy Wooler and Charles Jennings. The subject; should we be attempting to manage learning? It was a good natured debate, and although each of us was presenting a different viewpoint I don’t think it was any surprise that we all agreed on one thing; we can’t manage learning, only learners themselves can do that.
Part of the argument I made was that we were looking at this the wrong way. The three of us had quickly agreed that learning can’t be managed, and yet we had all felt there was something worth debating. So if we weren’t debating about the management of learning, what were we debating? For me, the answer was pretty straightforward. You can’t manage learning but you can, and often should, manage training.
At the end of the session, I asked the audience for a quick show of hands; in their view, what service did their own internal customers expect them to provide, learning or training? Around three quarters of the people in the room indicated that it was training.
Earlier in the debate, Charles Jennings had shown some interesting research results as part of his presentation. The research came from the Corporate Leadership Council’s L&D Team Capabilities Survey in 2011. According to this survey, when asked if they were satisfied with the performance of L&D only 23% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed. A similar figure, just 24% thought that L&D was critical to business outcomes. Overall, a little more than half of the respondents would actively discourage their colleagues from working with L&D. Scary stuff.
We need to be cautious not to jump to any unsubstantiated conclusions, as these high level results don’t give us any insight into the reasoning behind the answer. However, they do clearly indicate that there’s a serious disconnect between what the business wants from L&D and what they believe they’re getting.
Bridging that gap is going to take some work, but it’s critical that we’re successful. Considering just how unsatisfying the experience seems to be, I don’t think it’s over dramatizing it to say that the continued existence of L&D may be at stake. After all, if you were looking to reduce costs, it would be an easy decision to get rid of the department that more than half of managers recommend avoiding, and which three quarters say makes no critical contribution to achieving business results!
There can be no excuses here either. We can’t simply tell ourselves that the business just doesn’t understand what we do and then carry on as before. Even if that’s true, which to some small extent it may be, we’re not delivering to the standard that’s being set for us.
Could the gap in performance be a simple semantic difference? Do we think we’re responsible for learning while the business thinks we’re responsible for training? What does that even mean – are we (and they) clear about what the difference actually is?
If we go back to the point where training started to become L&D, what were the perceived benefits? Well, the suggestion was that the term training implied an outside in approach, with the learner as an empty vessel to be filled with appropriate knowledge. Learning on the other hand, implied an inside out approach, developing the learner’s capabilities and strengths so that they could reach their maximum potential. Training is focussed on the needs of the organisation, learning is focussed on the needs of the individual.
Worthy aims, and ones that we should continue to strive for. However, it’s in this move from training to learning that I see the seeds of the problem, the place at which we and the business started to lose sight of each other.
The problem was that training had become a dirty word. As L&D practitioners we became disdainful of what had previously been the mainstay of our existence.
In tomorrow’s post I’ll take a look at the current situation.

Towards Maturity 2012 Benchmark Study

Today sees the launch of the Towards Maturity 2012 Benchmark Study, the largest benchmark study of its type in Europe.

The Towards Maturity Benchmark study provides a unique opportunity for organisations to review their current approach to learning, compare their progress with peers and to use this information to take action to improve performance. In 2011, an astonishing 73% of participants reported that just taking part in the study had given them new ideas to improve the impact of their learning services. This year’s study is even more thought provoking, thanks to the valuable input of leading industry experts including Jane Hart, Charles Jennings, Nigel Paine, Rob Hubbard and Onlignment’s own Clive Shepherd. 1

Taking part in the confidential 2012 Benchmark Study is easy; it takes between forty minutes to an hour to review an organisation’s approach to learning using the online survey. Once completed, participants will receive a complimentary paper entitled 101 Tips for Success and a free personalised company benchmark report, worth £300 about six weeks later.2

Within the personalised Benchmark report available to each participant of the study, is their organisation’s unique Towards Maturity Index (TMI) – the measurement of how mature an organisation’s learning technology implementation is and, more importantly, how to improve it – Companies in the top quartile of the TMI scale engage twice the audience, save an additional 33% of cost and 50% in reduced study time. Their staff also reach proven competency 6 times faster as a result of using learning technologies.3

Laura Overton, Managing Director of Towards Maturity said, “Despite the growing investment in learning technologies, a shocking percentage of organisations are not using these tools to their full potential. I urge the learning industry to not reinvent the wheel in these difficult economic times, our free 2012 Benchmark Study will help you identify priorities, reduce risk and deliver business benefits.”

The Towards Maturity 2012 Benchmark Study is free to participate in thanks to the Towards Maturity’s Ambassador Programme, made up of 20 leading learning organisations. They work together as Ambassadors for change, identifying and improving good practice, raising awareness and driving the whole learning industry forward.

For more information about the Towards Maturity 2012 Benchmark click here.

  1. Onlignment is a Towards Maturity Supporter and as such we feed into the benchmark process, providing insights on future trends and practices that should be investigated within the study.  ↩

  2. Participants, who complete the Benchmark Study before the end of June, will receive their personalised benchmark in the middle of July. Participants who complete the benchmark after the end of June will receive their personalised report by mid-August. ↩

  3. Data from 2010 Towards Maturity Benchmark Study.  ↩

The 80:10:10 Rule for Selecting Learning Platforms

In any infrastructure project1, there almost inevitably comes a point where we find a gap between the desired functionality and the available budget. Often that leaves us with a stark choice; remove the requirements or attempt to increase the budget.
So how do we avoid this?
The trick is to find the gap early on, in fact the earlier the better, because it’s much easier to deal with the gap before choosing a solution. To identify the gap you need to do two things:

  1. Really, really clearly define your requirements.
  2. Rigorously test potential solutions against those requirements.

Simple? Well, it should be but rarely is.
Defining requirements does not mean writing a list of functionality that a system should have. It means listing exactly what that system will enable you to do within the organisation. That may sound obvious, but I’ve seen plenty of requirements documents that are a shopping list of features when they should be a shopping list of benefits.
The worst cases is when the project ends up being led by the functionality. If a vendors offers features outside of the requirements, ask yourself how they will help you achieve any the business goals you have identified. If they don’t, they are superfluous to your needs and should be disregarded.
Once you are clear about your requirements, the only way to be sure that any solution will address them is to test the one against the other. Again, a list of functionality or vendor assurances is not enough. Testing means using the system in a simulated environment that is as close as possible to how it will really be used.
Proper testing takes time. You should be arranging at least a 30 day evaluation, and then making as much use of that time as possible. A couple of hours is not enough. Remember that you are the worst person to do any testing, because you know what you expect it to do. Instead you should test with people who are typical of real end users.
So what do you do once the gap has been identified? I generally follow a simple set of rules:

  • Find a solution that meets at least 80% of your requirements out of the box
  • Look to solve 10% of your requirements through configuration2 changes
  • For the last 10% ask yourself if you can change your business processes to fit the chosen system; if not, you may have to commit to customisation.
These percentages are flexible, but you should never start with a solution that meets less than 80% of your requirements.

  1. I’m deliberately not limiting this to any particular type of system, but what I’m talking about here is relevant to any learning related systems; e.g. LMS, virtual classrooms tools, social learning platforms.  ↩
  2. Configuration is different to customisation, in that it involves making changes through the interface, not in the code. It’s usually easier to do than customisation, and causes less problems when upgrading.  ↩

Telling Stories with Social Media – Part Three

In part two we looked at four ways in which we can use social media to enhance our storytelling. In this third and final part we’ll consider the key benefit and share a few tips.

Stories Sell

We may not always like to acknowledge this, but a lot of what we do as learning and development professionals is about selling. We sell the benefits of different ways of doing something, we sell the concept of a new process, we sell people tools and techniques that can make them more effective or efficient.
What any good salesman know is that it’s not enough to just tell someone about the features of a product or service. The emphasis has to be on the benefits it will bring to the individual (and it’s worth remembering that only the most dedicated of employees will be interested in the benefits it brings to the organisation more than the benefits it brings to him!).
One of the most effective ways of selling the benefits is to do so in the form of a story, and most importantly that story needs the right context.
There are many ways that social media can help us with this, but here are a few ideas.

  • We can use it to publish stories about the benefits that the training has brought to other people who have completed it. Better still, we can use social media as a vehicle for those people tell those stories themselves
  • We might ask people to use a hashtag to identify posts about this particular topic and then pull together all of them into one place.
  • We may select more active posters and invite them to blog regularly about their experiences, to tell the story of applying their learning in the workplace.


If you want to use stories more in your social media activities, here are a few tips.
The heart of a good story is often personal experience, so get into the habit of sharing your experiences, good and bad. Learning from your own mistakes is good, but learning from other’s mistakes is even better. By sharing your own bad experiences you can become that other person for your audience to learn from. This may require a shift in mindset; publicising our mistakes may not come naturally.
It’s not just about our own stories though. We may have no experience of a particular subject, or someone else’s experience may be more relevant or useful, so get into the habit of collecting stories. Write them in a notebook, store them on online or make audio recordings, do whatever works best for you but just make sure you keep them somewhere. Sometimes it’s a good idea to keep a note of who told the story, but unless they give their permission to be mentioned you should probably make the story anonymous.
If you feel comfortable doing so, make use of video. It’s an incredibly powerful medium that can make a really strong connection with your audience. For some people it’s actually much easier to record a video that tells a story than it is to write that story down. It doesn’t have to be slickly produced; most smartphones have a good enough video camera for recording online content.
As well as using it to record ideas when you hear them, you may want to use audio as a way to share your stories. Services like AudioBoo are a great way to record and share short snippets, and if you want to produce something longer maybe you could consider producing a regular podcast.
Go on, tell your story.

Telling Stories with Social Media – Part Two

In part one we considered why stories are so important to learning. Now we’ll look at four ways in which we can use social media to enhance our storytelling.

User Generated Context

We work in an industry that was, and in many cases still is, driven by the production and distribution of content. No surprise then that many of the early conversations about elearning included the phrase ‘content is king’. Along with the rise of social media tools came another phrase, ‘user generated content’, and there was much talk of how they enabled anyone to produce their own content. This is true, but social media also opens up other possibilities.
Using storytelling as a technique for training is not new, but social media allows us to do so in new and interesting ways. We can go beyond just delivering stories, and invite our learners to become part of them. We can move away from a scenario in which the trainer tells the story and learner receives it, to one in which they work together to co-author an evolving story.
The learner’s ideas can extend, enhance and improve the original story. Most importantly, they can give it the right context. In previous roles as a training manager, one of the more common issues with training was when learners didn’t recognise the situation or the people in it, and therefore don’t connect with it. By giving our learners the opportunity to become part of how the story develops, they are able to make it more useful to themselves and to others, by adapting it to fit their context.

The Making Of…

Something that we don’t often do, is give our learners an insight into the story behind the learning; how and why a course or programme was created, why we chose certain topics and techniques and so on. Social media gives us an opportunity to give our people an insight into that process. You can use tools like Twitter to provide regular snippets of information about the programme, blogs to provide more in depth updates and features and videos of key people involved in the programme.
It doesn’t have to stop once the programme is running. More and more programmes are using social media to connect the learners with each other, but what about taking the opportunity to connect them with people not on the programme? You only have to look at the rise of reality TV to know that people have an interest in what other people are doing. We can give our learners the chance to share their story as it happens.
Imagine a manager getting her team involved and engaged with her own development by providing them with regular updates about what she’s doing. They are already part of her development, whether they know it or not. This approach invites them to take an active part in the story.

Engagement and Support

The history, and future, of your organisation is nothing but a sequence of stories. Some of those stories are positive (successful new product launches, new premises, big sales increases) and others less so (downsizing, closures, drops in the share price) but they all contribute to the wider story of what makes your organisation what it is. Of course, you can’t really have a story unless something is happening, and if something is happening that usually means change, and we all know that can be a difficult thing to manage.
The trouble is that we often forget that our employees are all part of the story, and we use staff magazines and intranet pages to tell them that story as if it was happening to someone else. If you want to check whether this is what happens in your organisation, just listen to people talking and see if they refer to the organisation by its name or as ‘we’. If it’s the former, you may have a problem.
What we can do is use social media to build a framework around the story and give people the opportunity to get involved, by encouraging feedback and discussion. The key is to stop thinking about your staff as an audience, and instead to treat them as collaborators.

The Two Screens Approach

You may have heard the term backchannel, usually in relation to conferences and perhaps live online events such as webinars. In essence this involves the audience using social media tools to interact with each other, with others who aren’t physically present and occasionally with the presenter themselves.
This is something that has become quite common in many areas, and a broad social media backchannel has existed around traditional media such as TV and movies for some time. Until recently this has been driven by consumers themselves and by dedicated sites such as GetGlue and Miso. It is becoming more common to see content producers embracing what is referred to as ‘two screen viewing’, in which additional content is made available on your smartphone or tablet at the same time as you watch the programme on TV. It isn’t just about content though, with services such as Zeebox adding a social layer to TV by pulling in Tweets and other social content related to what we watch.
No matter what its format, we need to start designing our learning with the backchannel in mind. The backchannel is the place where the learners can become fans who will go on to tell their own stories and in doing so promote the learning to others.
In part three we’ll share a few storytelling tips.

Telling Stories with Social Media – Part One

As human beings, we’re natural storytellers. Outside of the confines of academic and scientific discussion, much of our communication is done in the form of stories. When we talk about our weekends, what happened to us at work today, a great day out we had or a sporting event we attended, we do so as stories.
When a significant event happens in our lives – a child is born, we get married, a friend or relative dies, we get a new job – we don’t tell people about it by just reporting the facts. We tell stories about it; how it happened, how we felt, how people reacted, where we were.
It’s how we make sense of things, and that’s as true of conversations in the workplace as it is of those that take place outside.
In fact, the idea for this post came out of a conversation with some collaborators on a recent project during which we talked about our experience of conferences and similar events. We all agreed that we learned something from presentations about theoretical subjects, learned a bit more from case studies, but gained the most from the conversations with other delegates in the breaks.
We asked ourselves why this might be the case? The conclusion we reached was that the break time conversations are more likely to be in the form of stories. In those stories we share our own experiences, both good and bad, and in doing so we take the theoretical and make it more real. We also agreed that the most memorable presentations we saw were the ones that were story based, or at least had a storytelling element to them.
Stories also provide a form of learning that is safe and risk free. One example we discussed was surgeons, who can learn much about routine operations from typical theory and practice, but often learn about more advanced techniques from the stories told by other surgeons.
Just to prove that you can’t get away from storytelling, the previous three paragraphs are just that; a story about a conversation I had.
Social Media and Storytelling
When we talk about connected learning, we often start by saying that it’s nothing new; that in fact it’s just the application of technology to the things that we’ve always done. We may have replaced the coffee machine conversations with Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. Indeed, we might have moved much of the in person social interaction online, and in doing so opened up those conversations to much wider groups of people. What hasn’t changed is that at the heart of each and every one of those conversations is a story.
What social media does is open up new possibilities for how those stories are developed, shared and adapted. In part two we’ll explore some of those possibilities.
In part two we’ll look at four ways in which we can use social media to enhance our storytelling.