Monday, July 9, 2018

My Top 10 Learning Tools - 2018

It is that time of the year when Jane Hart ( 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: 
  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:
  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.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Alignment and Authenticity in Learning

When it comes to designing learning experiences for the 21st century learner, two factors seem critical: Alignment and Authenticity. 

1) Alignment - Most people associate alignment with a connection between the course goals, learning objectives, instructional activities and assessment. While that is alignment, it is only one part of alignment. The other (and perhaps the more important) part of alignment is to ensure a connection between learning, real work demands and business needs. It is important that learning and training tie into the requirements and goals of the business. One way to think about business alignment is to identify the business needs, assess the tasks to be performed to meet those needs, review the existing knowledge and skills that are available to perform those tasks and then identify the gaps in the knowledge and skills that can be addressed by training.

Once training is linked with job tasks, it is easier to establish its connection with the overall business because the tasks that people do at work are done in the context of the business. This way, the goals of the business and the training practices that support it are aligned  organically. We often talk about the importance of connecting strategy to learning. In my view, it is this alignment with job tasks that makes this connection with business and aids in transfer of learning and improved performance on the job.

Besides, a constant focus on task and work performance is critical to meet real demands and business realities. In the absence of such a focus, we tend to design training that has little or no value - to the business and to the users - and ends up in what is often known as the 'content' pile'. In the absence of alignment with business, there is a wastage of effort, resources and dollars.

2) Authenticity – The second important factor is staying true to the context in which people work and design learning interventions that are appropriate for the intended use and the target users. 

One way to ensure that we stay authentic to the context of work is to do an audience analysis to find out information about people and their work setting. We must know very clearly what tasks need to be performed, who performs those tasks and under what work conditions those tasks are performed. Based on this information, we can use the right instructional approach(s) and methods and design and embed appropriate learning activities and exercises including personal learning, social and collaborative learning and project-based learning, etc.

Authentic learning is defined as learning that is seamlessly integrated or implanted into meaningful, “real-life” situations (Jonassen, Howland, Marra, & Crismond, 2008). So, in order to be authentic, we must ground the learning experiences in relevant occupational context using genuine workplace materials and resources that people have access to in real life. The ideal way to do this is to embed learning into work so that there is no separation between the two. But when there is training outside of work, we must design for transfer. Once we ensure that the learning context and training environment mimic the work context closely, we can be hopeful that people will stay engaged and will be able to transfer the new skills to the job. 

If the learning experience lacks alignment with the business and authentic "real-life" connection, we can't expect a leap from learning to transfer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Aligning L&D with Business

The traditional focus for L&D has been training-centric. It is slowly moving towards being learning-centric. But it is important to not stop there and continue to make it business-centric.

In trying to align itself with the business, at times, L&D tends to feel isolated. There can be many reasons for the same. Sometimes, it may be the mindset more than the structure that prevents us from making the shift. As L&D, if we consider our role as tactical rather than strategic, then we get caught up in the details of 'what training to build' and don't feel the need to see the bigger picture of 'what will help the business perform better'. When L&D thinks about performance as the main objective, the alignment with the business is not forced; it is natural. The view becomes more long term rather than short term.

I hear people and businesses talking about performance consulting as L&D merging into OD (Organizational Development) initiatives. If such is the transition, L&D needs a broader range of skills including wearing several hats including business, marketing, HR, and OD. It is also important that when L&D wears these hats, it also uses the right vocabulary. If L&D cannot talk business with folks who understand that language, partnership becomes tricky. Sometimes, vocabulary does really get in the way.

Before L&D makes an attempt to demonstrate their value to the business, we need to evaluate where our time, effort and resources have been invested. Perhaps, reviewing all the work that we are currently engaged in and identifying the degree of alignment with the business is a good place to start.

It is important that we re-prioritize, re-align and re-focus on questions like:
  • What is the challenge that the business is facing or is likely to face in the near future?
  • What can L&D do to meet the challenge? 
  • Can training/improving performance address the challenge partially/completely? If yes, what skills are important to address the challenge?
  • How can L&D create opportunities for gaining those skills - both the underlying knowledge and the overarching experiences - to meet the challenge?
  • How can L&D communicate more effectively with all its stakeholders including employees, managers and leaders?
  • How can L&D articulate its impact on the business and communicate how a challenge was met successfully? 
  • How can L&D run like a business and build its value and credibility?