Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Don't Go Back to School!

What comes to your mind when you hear or read the words, back to school?

I have often wondered about the phrase, back to school and its significance with respect to how we perceive education, training and learning. Like many students in North America, I will also be going back to school this September. But I only mean it as a way to highlight the courses I will be undertaking as a part of my Certificate in Adult and Continuing Education program at the University of Victoria that I have been pursuing part-time since the last two years.

But is going back to school all about courses and curricula? What about all the learning that happens outside the school; does it not matter? Is September 04 more important than any other date just because we have a backpack telling us we are going to a place to learn something?

On September 04, more than any other day of the year, I remind myself that learning is not about classrooms, courses and training days; it is ongoing and happens everywhere. As an L&D professional, I take it upon myself to make sure I act as the champion of informal learning and help others make their own informal learning more visible, accessible and usable to them.

I suspect September is a time when many adults might contemplate going back to school to learn something new, improve their job prospects or get a promotion. While I respect that thought and encourage the decision, I urge everyone to not go back to school; instead, try never leaving the school. I urge everyone to keep learning, continuously, every day of the year in this school of life.

This September, discover a new way to learn: listen to podcasts, read and comment on blogs, share your insights on LinkedIn, participate in twitter chats, meet professionals in your community, volunteer for causes that matter. Remember, you don't need to sign up for courses in order to learn.

“The more I live, the more I learn. 
The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.” 
― Michel Legrand

Friday, August 31, 2018

What Can L&D Learn from Marketing?

Both marketing and L&D share the single-minded goal of influencing thinking and behavior. They deal with similar challenges including how to build more connection and engagement with their target audience. So, is there something L&D can learn from marketing?

  • Treat learners as customers - Whether we call them learners, participants, workers, professionals or customers, as L&D, we need to know their goals and motivations, existing knowledge and experiences, demographics, learning preferences and behaviours. Marketing starts with understanding their customers and marketing teams are diligent about audience analysis and use that information to design the right message for their target customer. As L&D, we must be clear about our target audience and create a compelling learning experience that is suited to their needs. One of the ways to do that is to adopt and adapt the concept of customer journey mapping to visualize each learning experience through the learner lens. As we take our customers through the learning experience, it is important to think about all those critical points of connect that L&D will have with them through the entire journey and focus on keeping the journey contextual and connected to real-life and work.

  • Tell a story - We have all heard a good marketing story. Simply put, a good story makes the message more memorable and personal. For marketers, stories help engage customers so that they buy into the product or service. It is safe to assume that the same can be done using the right stories around learning and performance. As L&D, we can leverage the impact of powerful, meaningful stories and narratives. Stories can help us engage our learners in conversations that are important to them. Besides, a good story is able to make a deep emotional connect where a perfectly designed training manual can't! As L&D, it is important for us to not only know who our learners are but specifically know how emotionally-invested they are into the learning experience. Knowing this, we can use stories and narratives to address some of their mental roadblocks and challenges and create the right expectations before and after the learning experience. 

  • Align to business - Marketing closely aligns with the business at all times. Infact, I don't think it would exist without this alignment. L&D needs to do the same. I spoke about the value of alignment to business in an earlier post. A constant focus on business and how L&D can impact the bottom line by improving everyday work performance is critical. In the absence of this alignment, we tend to design training or learning experiences that have little or no value to the business and to the learners. To take this a step further, marketing constantly demonstrates the value it adds to the business through various metrics and L&D must do the same. Using ROI, ROE, surveys, feedback, anecdotal evidence, etc. L&D must make a conscious effort to articulate its value to the business and to all its stakeholders including learners. Establishing an L&D brand positioning and using that as a guideline to identify the core capabilities and the unique value that L&D brings to the table is also a part of staying aligned to the business. 

  • Go where the learners are - The mark of a good marketing strategy and excellent customer service is to go where the customers are. Marketing teams don't wait for customers to get to them; they anticipate customer needs, build products and solutions and identify multiple ways of reaching and engaging with their target audience. L&D can do a lot more of that with their customers. L&D needs to move away from the 'if you build it, they will come' mentality towards 'how do we best provide learning and performance tools at the point of need.' L&D needs to make an effort to listen to what the learners need and where and when they will find the learning most useful. This means providing greater flexibility with learning including at work, online or via blended learning models and empowering learners to choose what, where, when and how they want to learn. L&D departments have to be where the learners are. They need to explore the themes of personalization and customization and think about using informal learning, social learning, microlearning and other emerging concepts, tools and technologies to reach learners and respond to their needs. 

If L&D wants to be customer-focused like Marketing, then it is time to:
  • stop managing and start empowering learners.
  • stop directing and start responding to learner needs. 
  • stop creating courses and start solving business problems. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

My Top 10 Learning Tools - 2018

It is that time of the year when Jane Hart (http://c4lpt.co.uk/) polls learning professionals around the world to weigh in on their top 10 learning tools.

I submitted my vote via the form available on this website. But I also wanted to use this blog post to share my submission with my peers and friends in the L&D community.

Here are my Top 10 Learning Tools for 2018 (in no particular order):
  1. Google Search - This tool has made it to my list for the last few years. If there is something I want to learn, Google Search is almost always my first tool of choice. 
  2. Blogger - All that search is of no use if I am unable to learn from it and then reflect on what I have learned! This tool is the home for my blog and my sanctuary to reflect and learn.
  3. Twitter- Over the last few years, I have developed my PLN even more strongly via twitter. This is my go-to place for new ideas and thoughts and to share my own discoveries and insights. I use Tweetdeck and especially enjoy using 'lists' to create streams of conversations on things that matter the most to me. If you are looking for people to follow, Jane has a public list here: http://c4lpt.co.uk/learning-resources/top-100-tweeters/ 
  4. LinkedIn - I have found myself using LinkedIn more than ever before. With access to more video-based and curated posts rather than 'reshares', I find myself drawn to my LinkedIn feed every morning. I am especially enjoying getting to know people as they are and not just as a 'list of skills and recommendations'. This year, I also used LinkedIn Articles to cross post my blogs and found a different type of audience. 
  5. Podcasts - I have always loved listening to podcasts but I have subscribed to more professional podcasts this year than before. I am so glad to see many learning/training/human performance topics being discussed in the airwaves and I especially appreciate real-world examples. Sam Rogers is currently curating a list of L&D podcasts: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1F7-7zjfpZR3cPAfqCZuUVg_GIqNOYt_8p8M2qLBdB7s/edit#gid=0
  6. YouTube - This is my 'how to' tool. I use it for microlearning when troubleshooting tasks. I also find it extremely useful to discover and watch important talks and conference excerpts. Following specific Youtubers feeds my 'need for information' around my hobbies and interests. 
  7. Meetup - Over the last year, I have found myself being drawn to more F2F conversations and engagements. I have discovered several members of my own tribe through local meetups. It is also easier to engage with people from different fields with diverse experiences through meetups. In that sense, I have found this 'tool' as a useful way to consciously break my filter bubbles, engage with a wider variety of people and stay open to learning new and different things. 
  8. Instagram - I started using this tool primarily to share and publish nature photography. However, I have been able to meet a few local instagrammers who share the same interest in photography but work in diverse professional fields. This is another way to connect with people who share some things in common with me (hobbies and interests) but are not necessarily related to my professional area of work. The conversations are getting refreshing and engaging. 
  9. Dropbox - I have discovered some neat features over the years and rely on this tool for working in the cloud, collaborating with clients and teams, for synchronizing my work across various computers/laptops. I have even got my 14-year old hooked on to Dropbox for her collaborative school assignments with other students!
  10. Microsoft Word - I do all my professional work using Microsoft Word and can almost 'forget' about this tool since it has become seamless with my work. I use Word to create design documents, content and complete other client projects. I especially enjoy the 'Track Changes' feature to keep a sense of all review feedback and track each item to closure.
Other mentions:-

Email - While most email is transactional, ever so often, I do find myself pondering about deep questions related to my work that come to me via emails from clients and other teams. I often type long responses to such emails and these responses eventually make way into a blog post! I specifically use Gmail as it allows me to work with other Google services including calendar, drive and photos, etc.   

WhatsApp - I don't know what I would do without Whatsapp! Not only do I use this tool for personal reasons (connecting with family and friends, etc.), I have increasingly started using this tool as a way to connect with my teams, mentees and mentors. It is a handy tool for quick questions and answers or to plan group chats on common topics of interests. There is certainly some untapped potential to use Whatsapp for learning.    

Skype - This has been my tool of choice for conversations and collaborations with my clients and teams. But I am increasingly exploring other options like Zoom. 

Facebook - Although this is a tool I continue to use, I now find myself drawn away from Facebook. It certainly doesn't fit into my top 10 list. I still use it to remain connected with family and friends but it is getting challenging to find any meaningful content worth engaging with other than scheduling local events, festivals and activities into my calendar; for which I find it most useful. 

As I was reflecting about my tools, I realized that some of these tools may not appear to be strictly 'learning tools'. But for me, conversations and connections are opportunities for learning and that's what made me include these tools in this list.

I also realized that there are some tools that I use exclusively on my mobile including Podcasts, Instagram and Whatsapp and some that I exclusively use on my laptop/computer including Microsoft Word and Blogger (to publish my posts). Finally, there are some tools that I use equally on both my mobile and laptop including Youtube, Google Search, Twitter and LinkedIn. It will be interesting to see how I access and use these over the next few years.

Voting for the Top 200 Tools for Learning 2018 is now open. You can share your favourite tools here. The Top 200 Tools for Learning 2018 will be released on 1 October 2018.