Have we become too comfortable and over-reliant on digital learning? CIPD research suggests we are losing sight of the richness of varied learning experiences and their role in effective learning transfer. So do learning professionals need to think afresh about designing content that can meet the changing expectations and needs of both the organisation and learner?
Join Nigel Cassidy and this month’s guests: coaching and professional development specialist, Jilly Julian, and David Hayden, Learning Content Manager at the CIPD, as we question whether we are sacrificing purpose for convenience when it comes to organisational learning.
Nigel Cassidy: Enriching workplace learning. What are we missing when screen learning just takes over? I'm Nigel Cassidy, and this is the CIPD Podcast.
NC: Digital learning is the new normal, it's flexible and convenient, few organisations will probably choose to go back and rely on the classroom to upskill their people. And yet, could it be that we've got just a bit too cosy? Since the pandemic changed things, might have we become just a little bit too reliant on online everything? CIPD research suggests that we might be losing sight of the rich variety of ways that learning can be instilled so it sinks in. So this podcast is all about reshaping your learning for success, how to gauge what your organisation and its people expect, ways to challenge existing learning practice and the use of tools and data and more to, not only redesign learning, but make sure that you know that it's working. Well in a moment, it's our pleasure to hear from Jilly Julian of Jilly Julian Coaching and Development, she draws on 20 years' experience developing senior talent, and what she calls learning experience that sticks. Hi, Jilly.
Jilly Julian: Hi Nigel.
NC: But first to set the scene for us, someone who we can rely on to mix things up when it comes to L&D, because he's CIPD's learning content manager, a welcome return to the podcast for David Hayden. Hello, David.
David Hayden: Hi, Nigel, hi, Jilly, good to see you again. Yeah. So you, the, you mentioned there about redesigning learning and, and kind of, if we think about that word design, what is it that people hear when they, when they hear that word design? And, and, and, and what is, how do they translate it? Is it defaulting to designing a training course? Or is it thinking around how we design that rich variety of tools we've got to support learning and performance in an organisation? And that rich variety of tools that we can use on digital products, not just defaulting to a virtual classroom.
NC: Yeah, because I mean, if we look at the CIPD research, it did highlight a, a lack of sort of evidence based principles to inform what programs look like, I mean, how they're designed. It's, it's almost as if deliberate and purposeful design is being neglected. How's this happened?
DH: It's, it's really strange. So just 11% in our 2021 survey said they included any kind of explicit role for, for design. So that's, that's a role, not a person. But yeah, just over 1,100 respondents, just 11%, which is, which is really kind of low. Our 2023 survey's coming out later in the year, so we'll, we'll be interested to see whether there's any change on that.
NC: I mean, Jilly, it almost seems as if, because of lockdown or something, we've taken up lots of good things, but it's kind of gone too far.
JJ: I feel like there's something here about almost a kind of consumerist view of convenience that sits alongside some of the shifts that we've seen over the last few years, that have been maybe on the way already, but exacerbated by the pandemic and shifting ways in working. I think part of what goes along with that speaks to something that David just said about what we mean by design and what design looks like in organisations. Because I'm sure we've all had those conversations where designers started with right, we've got 20 minutes, or right we've got a day, and if we talk at people for a day about this subject, it'll be the knowledge equivalent of plugging them into the matrix and they'll know Kung Fu. It's almost like we can simply download knowledge and skills as opposed to the design stemming from, right, OK, organisationally what's happening? What needs to be happening? What do we need to achieve for our customers or our market or whatever the circumstance might be? And working backwards from that horizon sort of stage end point rather than saying, right, OK, yeah, we can release people for an hour.
NC: OK. So David, let's start from first principles. What is the, the classic process then and how has it got distorted?
DH: The classic process on a few people in my network has, has been, well, I open my laptop and I start typing into PowerPoints. And I, I, I pulled together, I pulled together a load of activities that I love doing, and then I try to think of what the objectives are. It's really kind of, yeah, doing a real disservice to the organisation and to the individuals coming through, coming through learning. And then we, we, we've kind of got some very traditional approaches to, to design in terms of the, it's commonly called the waterfall method, where kind of the, the, the, we go out and we, and, and we, we look at creating a wonderful program, but we've taken that long to create this wonderful program, the organisation's moved on and our data's way out of date. And I think one of the reasons why it's fallen out of favour a little bit is, it tended to take too long, and the perfectionist in us as learning and development seems to take over, rather than just wanting to offer a, a minimal viable product.
NC: OK. So Jilly, talk us through maybe an occasion when you've gone into an organisation, and dare I say, you've seen a project rather like the one we've described. Tell us how you immediately tell something is wrong with it, and then just start talking us through with David on how you start a new design, beginning with presumably actually something that the organisation wants and needs to do.
JJ: Ah, so David will attest to this for, from years back when we worked together. Back then, when we were all still very much in the mindset of very strict learning cycles and styles and lots of other things, that I venture to suggest we've moved on from to a large extent. The first question that we can generally come back with in any situation where somebody says right, L&D here's the ticket, go fulfil my order is, right, is this actually a training need? Because in many cases you wind up having a conversation that's actually about, there's something here that needs to be communicated, you know? People aren't performing in X, Y, Z way that you would like or expect them to be. Have we actually been really clear with people about that expectation and what they need to do in order to fulfil it already?
NC: Just out of interest, Jilly, are organisation's surprised when you throw it back at them in that way?
JJ: I'd venture to say horrified, Nigel.
DH: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, so Jilly and I worked on a, on, on a particular project a while back, and thinking what we've got in terms of rich digital offering, I once wrote a, a, a two hour training product on decoding a very formal certificate. I'll not say too much, because it might give the organisation away. But decoding a very formal certificate. What I would do now is, is, is create an infographic, because that wasn't a training need.
DH: That was a, I just need something to access at the point of need when I'm checking this certificate. So that is, but, but to have gone back to that organisation and say, no, do you know what? We'll save everyone two hours. I'd have probably been in a disciplinary.
JJ: But I think that's indicative of exactly what we're talking about there is, I think there's this kind of really blinkered mindset that says, right, OK, learning is this and it must look like this, it must take this long, it must be on this platform or in this environment. Whereas actually now, the conversation's moved on so much more to things like, you know, performance tools and in the flow of work learning and how we enable performance in loads of different ways, which makes the conversation richer. But there's no point that just being an L&D conversation, because they'll still look at us like we've got three heads if we turn round and say, but what exactly is the need that needs to be fulfilled during that half day workshop, whatever?
NC: I don't want to lose the thread, Jilly. You've already made this point that maybe you don't need a piece of learning, but just supposing you do, just talk us through what happens next. And, I'm bound to say, I heard you use this phrase, in the flow of work. So presumably one of the first things you might need to think about is, is this something people are going to do as part of the job that they're hopefully learning to do better?
JJ: Yeah, absolutely. Really understanding the environment in which somebody is performing and expected to perform, and by understanding the barriers between them and that performance, then we're starting to see, OK, so where can we perhaps do some skills work outside of that environment? Where could we perhaps support in that environment in a way that doesn't detract from kind of productivity overall? I must admit, I am thinking about a fairly specific example here in my mind, that's quite a process based operational situation. But I think it applies in, in lots of areas, and ultimately it needs to come back to what, what people need to connect with as well. And dare I say it, how they need to feel about their learning and their experience. And I think too often, traditionally, there's that urge to just take people away from their environment. Like I say, that matrix style knowledge or skills dump, and put them back and expect them to feel great about that experience. Whereas no wonder people in that circumstance might have that natural assumption that this is very remedial activity, and I'm going to have an anti reaction to that, and I'm probably going to do everything I can to psychologically repress it.
NC: OK. So David, take us a bit further along the design process.
DH: OK, so there's a few different models that are, are, are gaining popularity, if, if, if you look at discussion threads on LinkedIn, influencer's blogs, those kind of things. So the first thing I want to say though is, is a nod to Jane Hart. Jane Hart has said a few times, you can't design learning, and absolutely agree with that statement. You can't design learning. Learning is something we do as humans that is, is, is unique to us. We can design programs that will allow for something to happen, ideally that would be learning and improved performance. But we, we tend to use designing learning as a shorthand for that much longer sentence. So, so I am, I am very aware that, you know, designing, learning, we're designing approaches to enable people to learn. But the programs that are, are being talked around a lot at the minute and there's, there's, there's quite, quite a bit around user centred design, the double diamond method from the design council, and human centred design. And what, what's interesting about human centred design, that's got its origins in the 1950s. So it's not, if anyone's thinking, oh, this is new, it, it, it's not. And actually it came from a guy called John Arnold, who suggested that engineering design should be human centred, and I just, I just love that kind of concept, 1950s people talking about human centred engineering, and it really kind of blows my mind a little bit. Bizarrely we, we, we can sometimes forget when, when we're designing learning that it's, it's about humans. All too often, you can see where a program has been designed for the process and not for the human using the process. So give you, give you an example of that. I go into a coffee shop and I say, right, can I have a black Americano please to take out? And the server has been really well trained in the process, you can see how well they've been trained in the process because they go, do you want that to take in or, or take out? Well, I've already told you to take out. But the process there says, eat in, take out. And then the next step, oh, coffee, right, do you want milk with that? No, I've already told you that I, I don't want milk. But the, they've been trained to the process, because the next step is, ask this question. So that approach takes the human out of it. It's, it's, it's, it's developing to the process. So yeah, anyone listening to this think about, are you designing to the process or are you designing to the human interaction that that process brings?
NC: I, I get all that, and that's a very powerful story. I have seen, there was some research, I think it was from Deloitte, saying that increasingly, Jilly, organisations need to custom build their learning. They don't want to buy something off the peg. Is that because of this sort of thing? The fact that what you actually get just sort of vaguely suits your needs, but doesn't properly, and you get all these kind of things which make it cumbersome?
JJ: I think there's, there's an element of that, and there's an element of everybody being very different and special and therefore wanting to see they're different and special reflected for very valid reasons. That sounds disparaging and I don't intend it to. But also I think, I want to come back on something that David just said there. Because one of the things that has to sit alongside that, whether it be bespoke development or kind of really off the peg, what sits alongside that is the environment that's created, that empowers somebody to feel comfortable to apply that knowledge and to step outside of that process, David, in that example that you gave there. And if you've not got that environment where somebody feels confident and competent then, or you can apply all of the, all of the solutions, all of the off the peg or tailored learning to that, and it's not necessarily going to change anybody's behaviour when it comes to that interaction with a man who needs his caffeine.
NC: Do you think, David, learners are savvier? I mean, what do they expect do you think?
DH: So our history, our history in learning and development is kind of continued from an educational basis where we, we, we put people in rooms. 2020 came along and we put people in, in virtual rooms. And so there, there's a whole host of people working in organisations what says, I've got to go on a training course. Which means they've got to go on something where they're going to have lots of words on PowerPoint slides and they're going have an 80%, get this, get, get this knowledge check and get 80% right. Loads of words on a slide and 80% of a knowledge check isn't great design principles. We are starting to hear lots of challenges to that, in terms of people saying, actually, do you know what? I want something, I want something at the point of need, I want something that I can access in a way that is relevant to me and my context. So those people who are entrenched to traditional design methods are, are, are going to find that the, the satisfaction rates are going to start falling down because people are starting to want different things.
JJ: I'd go a step further than that, David. I'd, I'd suggest that perhaps it's not just satisfaction rates that are going to go down. It's people actually getting into those environments to learn in the first place. It's going to be people who are showing up --
JJ: Because increasingly, at the moment with organisations under the pressures that they are, with individuals under the pressures that they are, nobody has the time to spend half a day doing something they've been told to that may or may not contribute to how effective they are at the end of the day.
DH: To put a positive spin on that, because I kind of realised I've, I've, I've been a little bit negative. To put a positive spin on that, I have had a few different conversations lately, just this last couple of weeks, from very different sources where for instance, compliance, compliance training, as, as an example where people are starting to move away from, it's not about knowledge is it? It's, it's, it's about how people respond and behave, and the behaviours associated with our organisations being compliant. And yeah, few different people in very different industries starting to, to make that shift and that connection, and how do we design better to allow people to have the behaviours they need to be able to make sure our organisation's compliant? So that gives me lots and lots of hope.
NC: And looking at expectations as well, Jilly, from the point of view of employers, do you think that they've changed? I mean, in the end, do they care how training is designed and delivered?
JJ: I have to say yes, I have to. That might be the optimist in me, but I think they do care. I think what they don't necessarily have is the same specialist insight as somebody who is an L&D professional into how that then manifests. But I, I genuinely do think that organisations are making the links now between learning opportunities being a key part of engagement overall, everybody's working in a really employee led marketplace at the moment. And actually there's a lot of people out there who are deliberately seeking out the organisations where they know that they're going to be able to grow and thrive. Not necessarily in terms of the career ladder, but in terms of their overall skills and knowledge and that kind of investment in them as an individual. So I do think it is something that's probably higher on the agenda than it has been for a while. And I think part of that is probably, for all that I've said, there's a tendency to want to plug people into the matrix. I think it is the variety of ways that we can develop our, our colleagues and kind of the options that are out there now for organisations, to do this more effectively and cost effectively, that has probably woken people up to that a little bit more.
NC: And there is a wealth out there isn't there, David? I mean I almost implied at the beginning that somehow there was something rather dull or passive about online learning. But I mean virtual is here to stay in so many forms isn't it? I mean live training simulations, panel discussions, there's all kinds of ways of mixing it up.
DH: Absolutely. There is a real kind of rich, rich variety of, of digital tools that we can access, and, and really kind of build our design skills even further. So you, you've talked earlier about learning in the flow of work, so things like curating content to help with learning in the flow of work. We can't just throw a, a video at someone and say, hey, here's a video on presentation skills. How we build the, the excitement around that video, how we contextualise that video, and how we offer maybe some reflection points at the end of it, we can top and tail the curated piece in, in a really nice engaging way. So our design shifts from maybe designing five days that nobody's going to do anything with to, oh, here's, here's a five minute video that someone else has created, let's, let's top and tail this with, with, with some amazing stuff, or produce an infographic to go alongside it. Which can be really, really powerful.
NC: But of course. Jilly, people are very different. How do you actually work out the best mix for a given situation?
JJ: So David's talked about the richness of the different offering that we can put around this, the importance of kind of careful and considered curation and creating that, that opportunity for people to engage with their learning, and that emotional engagement as well, I think is hugely important. You know, we see people like Nick Shackleton-Jones talking about this a lot at the moment, the, the greater variety we can put around it obviously helps, but also it needs to work for the environment. It needs to be accessible for somebody, and frankly it needs to not feel like it's a huge, additional ask and a huge, additional task on the to do list if you like. I think there's something here to really consider about the way that people not just digest information, but the way that they apply what they get from it, and making sure that that application again, is surrounded by confidence and excitement to, to make that difference. Because we need to pull in all of those other motivators that constitute sort of great performance at this stage too.
NC: And of course as, as I have learnt more than once from this podcast, it's not so much what you learn, it's how you reflect on it which matters --
NC: Which creates the change. David, before this podcast, we were just chatting and you, and you made reference to visiting the Design Museum. Now I would have thought that is a, a physical place where you go to look at an object and its story. I was quite interested that you were drawing a parallel between how you make a physical thing and how you design a program.
DH: Yeah. So look, for me, the, the, the skills around design are, are, are common, regardless of what industry you're in. So a learning product and a chair, the concepts of the design are, are, are pretty similar in terms of, you know, you've got, you've got, you've got an end user, you've got a designer and you've got the materials you're working with. But yeah, there's, there's a rich, rich learning experience to, to the concept of design itself and, and Steve George and myself talk about that in the, in the book that we've just recently wrote, which I do need to give a public apology to Jillian for spelling her surname wrong in it. That didn't get past the edit, sorry. But yeah, just, just thinking around how, if anyone's seen the, the, the program Amazing Spaces, George Clarke just really kind of getting excited about bricks and mortar. And, and, you know, we, we need to get more excited about learning management systems and what they can do, rather than be frustrated around what they can't do and what they can't offer. So, yeah, be a bit more George Clarke is, is kind of my throwback from the Design Museum. Yeah.
NC: I mean, David, hardly a day goes by without seeing something about AI chatbots. I mean, it's quite funny, isn't it, when they lose their rag or make mistakes, but I mean, who knows they might pinch our learning materials. I mean, do you think that we should be concerned about them? How might they help learning delivery?
DH: There is a, a fair amount of chat and opinion around AI and chat, chatbots in, in learning. There's a couple of things, there's a couple of things in terms of, it's something new, so there's still a lot of learning ourselves to be done in, in, in this arena. One of my default go to on this is, is Donald Clark. So Donald Clark has, has written a book around AI in learning, and he's just kind of written a book around learning design itself, where kind of this features as well. With chatbot, there, there's, there's kind of different parts of the conversation going on, but I was heartened on LinkedIn to, to read, an HR director had, had asked a chatbot, is it OK for one employee to hit another? And got quite a few bits back. The first statement was, it's never acceptable for one employee hit another. But as the conversation got a little bit more complex, the advice from the chatbot was to get advice from an HR professional. Which so, so, so she took great heart in that, that it, that it was programmed to make sure that you were getting correct evidence. It, it's definitely worth kind of diving into it a little bit deeper rather than just looking at the headlines.
NC: So, Jilly, would you say you've got an open mind about AI?
JJ: I've got an open mind about most things. And I think with these things, if we take it in the spirit of, there's the potential there for tools that may be helpful, but that we keep that inherent curiosity that makes us what we are as learning professionals, then that feels like a healthy way forward. So that we don't embrace it as all of the everything, and it'll be the panacea and the answer to all of our, all of our problems. But also nor is it necessarily the root of all evil. I think, any, any kind of new development like this, we get, we run the risk of being over excited and perhaps distracted dare I say. Whereas actually it might, it might wind up being a useful tool in a given situation, but let's make sure that we keep it as kind of one of many options that we've got available to us. So healthy curiosity will be my council.
NC: We've covered a lot of ground, coming up to our final thoughts, David Hayden, just a very short checklist things to do to make your learning better?
DH: Get better at knowing what makes learning better is my top tip. So do some reading in this area, so I've mentioned Donald Clark, Jilly mentioned Nick Shackleton-Jones, you've got Neelan and Kirschner's evidence, evidence informed learning design, (inaudible) phrase evidence informed. You've got Nelson Sivalingam, sorry, Nelson if I've said that wrong. He talks about lean learning sprints, which is just fabulous. So you've got a design methodology there. So yeah, have a read of that. Andy Lancaster, Michelle Parry-Slater have both done some stuff and (inaudible) and Hayden have got a whole chapter dedicated to design. So yeah, refresh yourself what learning design is, is, is my top tip, role model it.
NC: And Jilly, the secrets of better design for you?
JJ: Keep that purpose for the design in your mind at all times. Don't just think about necessarily who's actually going to be learning in this circumstance, think about who are the people that they're going to impact? Get as far towards that horizon as you can, and make sure that all of those perspectives play into how you approach what you're doing. But first and foremost, please make sure that we're not just thinking about like, right, let's communicate these process elements here. Let's think about the emotional environment and the context, and let's work with our organisations holistically to make sure that people are in the best possible place, not just for learning, but to actually do something with that.
DH: I'm guessing Jilly, if we, if we knew that 15 years ago, yeah.
NC: Never too late to learn.
DH: Never too late to learn. Yeah.
NC: Brilliant. Well, our thanks to both of you, to our learned duo this month, CIPD's David Hayden and Jilly Julian of Jilly Julian Coaching and Development. Just time to mention last month's exploration of cultural intelligence, it sparked a lot of interest on socials with particular attention to highlighting the potential benefits of greater cultural awareness on the bottom line. For example, coach Manuel Guidant mentioned, following the framework discussed on the podcast by one of our guests with his clients in four different global regions, would have made a significant difference to productivity and projects finished on time and on budget. Impressive. Well that and another CIPD podcast editions can easily be found if you listen back via our podcast page. Until next month from me, Nigel Cassidy, it's goodbye.
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