Future Trends and Innovations in Learning

I’ve been working with a group of HR professionals today, facilitating a session around ‘Future Trends and Innovations in Learning’. As part of my #WorkingOutLoud, i share seven of the ideas generated by the group. Interestingly, i wouldn’t have chosen all of these myself, but they represent the grounded reality of this community.

Future Trends and Innovations in Learning

Video: a range of experiences within the group, from some organisations starting to develop platforms and capability to use ‘democratised’ video, whilst for others it’s new, or a distant dream. Democratised? Absolutely: older models of ‘broadcast’ video are well known in most organisations, but the potential in the Social Age is to tie into the tacit, tribal knowledge of the organisation by encouraging devolved experts to record and share their experience. To get this to work well, we have to consider aspects of social scoring and reward, but it’s an area with great potential.

Crowd Sourcing: this was something of an end state for me. Once you have high functioning communities in place, and high Social Capital throughout the organisation, you can crowd source solutions. You can, of course, already do that outside of the organisation, but this group was primarily interested in engineering problem solving and ways to enhance internal performance. For me, the ability to crowd source is dependent upon high Social Authority and Social Leadership: a mindset of helping others succeed, which creates the conditions whereby they will help you succeed.

Day to Day Learning: this was a neat perspective from my point of view. A recognition that the everyday pressures of the organisation (budget, travel freezes etc) have changed the reality of our day to day learning. Normally i come at this from the other side: we need to evolve the day to day reality of learning, because so much of what organisations do is abstract and unapplied. But we meet in the middle: the reality of day to day learning has changed in the wider world, so it’s high time organisational learning caught up.

Models of Learning: as the circumstances of learning change, so too should the models of learning that we use. As you know, i’m a firm believer that learning is about change, about making people more effective. So we need models that support that: in my language, Scaffolded Social Learning approaches, developed with a mindset of technology, but an understanding of the underlying sociology. Not simply learning developed on rapid authoring tools.

Scaffolded Social Learning - the overarching narrative

A scaffolded Social Learning solution will include both bubbles and boxes, a combination of formal and social spaces

Future Classrooms: again, budgetary pressures and the shift away from the classroom has driven this one out. As more learning is done in virtual instructor led environments, we need to consider the design of learning, the facilitation skills of trainers, the supporting roles of managers and community, and the ways people learn within them (and whether they need support around this).

Community: the group were interested in many different types of community, from ‘sense making’ ones within technical functions, to communities of practice spreading beyond the organisation. My main challenge to any organisation is the extent to which they feel they can own or control communities: in reality, i think we need a mindset of permission: if we foster and nurture these communities, we may be granted a permission to be in the conversation.

Simulation: finally, great interest around the potential for simulations. I’m a fan of these, but only if we use structured approaches to surface the underlying processes at work. Task based outcomes alone are not enough: we need to understand how they got there, and provide rehearsal spaces for people to prototype different ways of making the journey.

Constructivist Simulations

So those were the key areas discussed by a predominantly HR community. Missing were a few of the key innovation areas i see more widely: ways of measuring effectiveness of community, wearable technology and machine learning, but that’s the joy of perspective. We all have one, and the state of the future we are most interested in is filtered through it.

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Words About Learning: Sand

You can draw a line in the sand: the final sanction, the ultimatum. You can make castles from it: fanciful and free. In your eyes, sand is bad, and to build a house upon it, pure folly. The sands run through the hourglass, get in your eye and the feel of it under your feet is a metaphor for freedom and happiness. Quicksand can swallow you up, as, in time, it will swallow the pyramids, reduced to sand and dust.

Nothing has permanence: not structure or law, idea or life. In time, all things come to pass. The line we draw in the sand today is eroded by wind, by the action of waves, by the passing feet of children. The great edifices of power are ground down slowly, one abraded grain at a time: nothing can resist that corrosive power. Great ideas are humbled by the intractable action of time over matter. Those things we hold true, those facts that are immutable: all humbled by the the sand in the wind, the constant abrasion and touch. Permanence is the illusion, made real by perspective, but thwarted one grain at a time. Because the lesson we learn is that nothing is forever, not idea or notion, premise or belief. To learn is to change, to be tumbled by new ideas and thoughts as grains of sand roll along the beach.

Words about learning is an occasional series of posts reflecting on aspects of learning in a more poetic style.

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Playing It Safe: Codified Errors

A minor investigation on an old shoulder injury today necessitated an afternoon at the hospital: “and it’s your left shoulder?” was the soundtrack. Each time a new person interacted with me, they asked the same question. They also asked me my name a lot. And when i had an injection, the nurse clearly read out to the doctor what she was putting into the syringe.

Codified Knowledge

This codification of practice into habit is great for avoiding errors: nobody x rayed the wrong shoulder or accidentally injected me in the leg. There were multiple opportunities to just be sure that i was the person they were supposed to be treating, not just someone who sat in the wrong chair, or happened to share the same first name.

Codifying certain things into habit like this can be a great way to play it safe. It takes assumption and risk out of the equation, or at least tries to mitigate against it.

The trick is realising when safe is static: when we need to create space for error.

Too much codified knowledge makes the organisation lethargic, unable to respond, adapt or change. Too little leaves it blowing in the wind, subject to constant uncertainty and unable to effectively learn. So knowing how safe to play it is important.

A certain amount of codified knowledge is good, capturing best practice and ensuring conformity and compliance, but too much stultifies us. It’s a balance, but better done consciously than left to chance.

Tacit and tribal knowledge

Under a Social Learning approach, we try to balance the codified knowledge held by the organisation with the tacit, tribal and dynamic knowledge held in the everyday. Constantly adapting and evolving. Tapping into both these sources, the tacit and the formal, leaves us more able to change.

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Afraid of the Dark? The Perilous Grey Space

There’s the light of the engaged: people who are committed into the organisation, driving it forward, valued and valuable. Then there’s the dark side: people who are uncommitted, detract from success, pulling us down. In this polarised view, It’s easy to deal with this: lose the losers, engage with the winners. Head to the light, abandon the dark. And yet in reality our problem is neither black nor white. It’s grey. And it’s vast.

The Perilous Grey Space

The Social Contract governs the relationship between organisation and individual: it’s the trade off of security, freedoms, reward and aspiration. It’s about balances of power and control, as well as intent and desire.

In the Social Age, the Social Contract is fractured: redundancy, restructure, uncertainty and change, all conspire to make our journey more disparate and disconnected. Indeed, the only constants will be ourselves and our communities, floating through a sea of organisations on a raft of technologies and contract types. In this new space, many of the old levers of power are broken, replaced instead by reputation based authority and earned trust.

Engagement and Silence

A consequence of this is that excellent organisations can attract the very best talent, but good ones can be in a harder space. Where the Social Contract is fractured, we can have people inhabiting the space, but not contributing to the evolution of the organisation. They are in grey space: quite possibly amiable and present, but not dynamically engaged and certainly keeping their options open.

It’s not a bad thing that so many people are in this grey space: indeed, they have been driven there in response to the systematic erosion of trust driven by the organisation itself, but it carries significant risk.

If we fail to engage fairly, we can drive them out. Worse, if we engage with ambiguity, we may keep them there, simmering away, neither leaving, nor fully engaged. When we are in the grey space, we are not fully engaged, but neither have we fallen away. These are people who may be dragged along, but only at a cost of energy and effort.

These are the people we need to engage, with fairness, with respect, and with purpose if we want to truly make the organisation Dynamic again.

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A Great Surprise: Thank You

With great surprise, i was very flattered and somewhat humbled to receive the ‘Services to Learning’ award from the Learning Performance Institute in London last night. Surprised, as it came out of the blue, and humbled because i feel my work is hardly started yet. My ideas are still developing, and the journey we take as we explore the new realities of the Social Age is a long one, best made in company.

Services to Learning award

In the old world, we wrote our books and published them: in the Social Age, we publish, and then rewrite, iterating our understanding as we #WorkOutLoud and share our stories. Our stories of success and failure. To be successful, we need to nurture and support our communities, so that they in turn nurture and support us when we need it.

The ecosystem of the Social Age 2016

I had the opportunity at the Awards to share the notion that the world needs a new type of approach to learning, and new organisational and individual mindset: one where kindness, fairness, humility and a striving for equality are differentiators. Where the relationship between organisation and individual is based on earned trust, not contractual power.

If we wish to attract and retain the very best talent, we need to create organisational culture that is appealing not only through the physical environment and associated benefits, but one that is attractive through the way it values and rewards people in authentic and meaningful ways.

We need to foster coherence in values and purpose if we wish to avoid the fractured cultures that afflict so many of our organisations today: disjointed, ruled through formal power, unable to adapt and innovate at speed.

The Social Age will require and reward Dynamic organisations: ones which value people at the heart of what they do, ones which are fair, equal and exceptional at what they do. That’s the type of organisation that we would be proud to be part of and invest our effort within. Investing, because it provides value and reward, where it counts.

I am very grateful to the LPI and Community for the award last night, not for what it represents and the pride i feel, but rather for the momentum and permission it gives me to keep exploring, to keep writing, to continue to share and build our community around the world as we take this journey together.

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Reflections on Learning Technologies 2016: Infrastructure and Lethargy

There’s a dilemma: when an organisation is small, it tends to be Dynamic by design. As it grows, it engineers in it’s own lethargy: systems, processes, mindset, embedded power and authority, culture, all contribute to make it safe, but inhibit it’s ability to adapt.

Learning Technologies 2016

Infrastructure is a case in point, and as i’ve spent the day at the Learning Technologies Conference in London, it’s very much on my mind. Here’s the challenge: many of the technologies on show are great. They are heavily engineered to solve a problem. The challenge is, it may be yesterdays problem.

In the Social Age, the most Dynamic organisations utilise a diverse ecosystem of technology, not one system that thinks it can rule them all. Why? Because of that lethargy that’s built in. One system may solve one set of problems, but it won’t solve all problems and, indeed, as it reaches out and tries to, it just becomes more complex, more frustrating, more lethargic and unable to fundamentally reengineer itself to the task at hand. Within a diverse ecosystem, you just swap out the component that you’ve outgrown, or add in the node that you are missing.

Learning Technology Map 2016

Learning Technology Map 2016

Part of the problems is in the suppliers who try to overreach their expertise to capture too much of a market, the other part is with procurement that makes it hard to let go.

Organisations tend to procure for the long term, in an ecosystem that favours agility, prototyping, experimentation and iteration. Long term procurement leads to the purchase of dinosaur systems that are not flexible, not adaptive, and simply try to bolt on the solution to your latest challenge.

4 aspects of the agile organisation

Four aspects of the agile organisation

Fundamentally what’s needed is a mindset of adaptation: an understanding of how people learn, of what they need to perform, and a diverse ecosystem technologies that learns to service that.

Not control it.

In the old world, technology was a mechanism of control over the individual: in the new world, it should be facilitating. And in the new world, we are used to App based solutions that are both lightweight and disposable.

The notion of disposable is important: on my iPad i currently have 140 Apps, of which i have used 12 in the last month. What are the odds that the organisation backed one of the 128 that just didn’t work for me right now?

The boldest organisations that i work with are ready to break this cycle: keep control of the mindset, own the space, and cycle in the technologies that suit the organisation in the moment. And cycle them out again when they don’t, even if that’s in six months time.

Facilitating technology that moves away from a mindset of control.

Adaptive technology that can be trusted.

Changeable ecosystems of diverse technologies that fit our current needs.

Innovative technologies that are lightweight and solve one problem well.

Connective technologies that support social and adaptive learning.

Disposable technologies that are not deeply embedded.

Truly Dynamic organisations adopt a holistic pattern of adaptation: always remaining relevant in the moment. Not anchoring themselves to the past.

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End Of The Tour: #WorkingOutLoud

Time is remarkably elastic: remember those schoolroom days of double physics lessons, where the drone of the teacher was lulled to insensibility by the warmth of the sun through the dusty window and dreams of fields outside through the endless hours until break? The childhood car journey to visit Aunt Edith through endless miles of towns and traffic? Remember the late nights studying for final exams and the speed with which they arrived? Time goes fast, time goes slow, but go it does, and the question becomes what we take from it, what we document as we travel.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The last three weeks have been a blur: over 23,000 miles, six cities, many friends, old and new, and ideas more than i can count. But it’s not been all about performance: much of it has been for learning.

Consider three spaces: learning, rehearsing, performing. What balance do we seek between the three? It’s no idle question: many of the pressures of the Social Age force us down to performance. In the old model, ‘learning’ was formal, done when we were young, then parcelled out by the organisation to suit it’s development pathway as we climbed the ladder to leadership and obsolescence. But today the ladder is gone, and the heady heights of management hold little allure when you know that the foundations are shaky.

Today, ‘career’ is a fiction, replaced by eclectic roles we will play throughout the journey, some of which are paid, some of which are for learning, some of which we will enjoy, others that we endure. The common element will be ourselves, our story, our community. The narrative of our lives is ever more under our stewardship, guided and mentored by those around us.


Who owns your development? It all seemed so easy when we were at school

Organisations have lost many of the levers of power that they used to exert over us: the lever of formal authority is eroded, the lever of permanence is gone, the lever of infrastructure (where we couldn’t do what we wanted to do without them) is fading, as the old world of ‘work’ and ‘social’ is replaced by a world of co-working, portfolio careers, open badges, global mentoring and Social Leadership. Put simply, the mechanisms of learning, rehearsing and performing are increasingly democratised and available to all. And in this new world, loyalty and trust must be earned through authentic action and fair reward.

The ecosystem of the Social Age 2016

Learning itself is evolving, away from something formal and abstract, defined by time and place and owned by the formal authority, towards something fluid, dispersed, on demand, co-created and often co-written by the community itself. Our responsibility as organisations changes with this: sometimes to be less about providing (and owning) the learning itself, more about providing prototyping, rehearsal and practice spaces. Safe spaces to develop vocabulary, to try new behaviours, to figure it out.

Throughout this, we write our story: as an approach, #WorkingOutLoud can take many shapes, but it’s essentially about exposing ourselves to the idea that the story is not yet fully formed. It’s about claiming or inhabiting permissive spaces where we can share our reasoning and co-create a view.

It’s not easy.

Our ability to survive and thrive in Socially connected spaces can be described as our Social Capital: partly it’s the ability to master the technology and understand how the spaces work, partly it’s the social skills that sit behind this. It’s about promoting equality, demonstrating empathy and humility, helping others to succeed, not because of any expectation of reciprocity in the moment, but because we value the community around us that will help us to succeed.

Humility in Leadership

I have no boss, no employer, but i do have a community (or maybe many different communities), and even in this relatively liberal space, i feel pressure to perform. Regular readers will know that i write across broad spaces, but still i carry that old world notion that if i’m not ‘performing’ i’m not truly adding value, that somehow i’m wasting my own or others time.

Yes that ‘wasted’ time is often the most valuable. It’s the sense making space, the place where we roll ideas around and try out new ideas. Because try new ideas we must, unless we have an arrogance to assume that the old ones will last forever, or that the new ideas will land fully formed and ready to serve us.

It’s an infrastructural shift for organisations: away from an old model of formal learning and constant performance, to a new model of social learning, rehearsal where we #WorkOutLoud and develop capability, and performance, where we come together with our new voices and an earned authority.

For this new model of learning to work, it needs space to flourish: as well as looking at learning, organisations must adopt a holistic pattern of adaptation, which will see them change every aspect of what they do, from their approach to technology, to the ways they lead and the ways that they manage performance. Annual reviews and closed systems will no longer cut it. Formal leadership alone is simply a route to redundancy. In the Social Age, only the agile can thrive.

So here i sit, at the end of the Tour: left with a collection of air miles, a thousand photos, memories and new ideas. My writing has been constant, #WorkingOutLoud within the permissive space i have claimed or created. Will all of it be of interest to everyone? I doubt it, but if i censure myself to target one audience, i end up missing the most important audience of all: me. Because by engaging in our community, we are developing ourselves. Writing an open story that we learn from as we go.

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