Here is the full slide deck from my session at #LT15Uk today and you can see Storify of the Twitter stream here. I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments and experiences of building communities of practice for learning. Thanks to: Niall Gavin, Con Sotodis, Martin Couzins and Helen Blunden for their input into my thinking:
I’m a big advocate of the potential for peer led networks and communities to help improve performance, build shared understanding and develop professional practice. I’ve written about this before and I’m looking forward to talking about my experiences of building networks and communities in and beyond the workplace at the Learning Technologies conference at the end of this month. I’ll maybe see some of you there, and if you’re coming along you can also pick my brains at an LT eXchanges session on the 28th Jan.
As Julian Stodd has expressed beautifully in his work on the Social Age, agile learning and community building are key to how we can continue to make sense of our rapidly changing world. We have moved on from (or at least we should have) assuming that the classroom or instruction are always the best route for helping our teams make sense of their work, learn new approaches and develop their practice. Communities, and conversations, whether face to face or online, formal or informal, are critical.
Image by Julian Stodd
But where do you start and how can we support communities so that they flourish and grow?
I’ve found networks & communities can be invaluable for empowering staff and appreciating & recognising the expertise already in your organisation. They can also help to expose great work which sometimes get buried within team or departmental silos. I’ve had some really positive experiences watching communities grow and visibly fizz with energy but equally have seen well-intentioned networks and communities start loudly and then fade away.
A sense of shared purpose is important, as is having the right organisational foundations and support, but it’s not always easy especially when everyone is busy and hard pressed for time. Even with the best intentions sometimes communities of practice don’t take off or have the hoped for effect.
I’ll be (attempting!) to tweet the key messages from my slot on the day but I’m really keen to gather other perspectives and experiences for sharing with the audience, I know many of you out there have your own insights and experiences to share so I’m asking for your help, I’d love to know your thoughts on these questions:
- what makes for a great community of practice?
- what experiences have you had, good and bad?
- what advice would you give to someone just starting out with a new community?
Image from jarche.com
Do let me know your thoughts in the comments below, I’ll share them on the day (with attribution) and here…
This is one of a series of recent activities which indicate a fresh commitment & willingness on the part of the institute to reach out to its L&D members and, more importantly, to become part of wider discussions about shaping L&D practice for the future.
I really welcome this. L&D felt like the Cinderella of the CIPD when I first joined four years ago and I often found more progressive and challenging mind sets outside rather than within CIPD. I can see this changing, that CIPD is working alongside the LPI, and other formal and informal groupings of folks who have a connection to and interest in developing L&D, is a really great step forward. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t like what your professional body is doing you should get involved to shake things up so I was very happy to give up my holiday deckchair for a morning and come along and contribute to what was a lively and inspiring discussion.
Our themes for the day were:
- What do today’s leaders expect from L&D and what should they expect?
- How can we improve L&D alignment to strategic organisational goals?
- Are we equipped in L&D to respond to changes in the future of work?
There are various outputs which will come from the session as a whole but suffice to say each session was ably kicked off by two speakers drawing on their own experiences to provoke debate. I was asked to tackle the final question and I got to speak after Don Taylor of the LPI which is always a pleasure, I knew we’d be talking the same language. Don’s challenge to business leaders was “If you think learning belongs in the classroom, enjoy the view as your competitors overtake you.” I couldn’t agree more.
In the spirit of working out loud these are my background notes for my part of the session, my main theme was that learning and learners will not wait for L&D to catch up, apply a model, or craft a theory around their new ways of working and learning. We need to accelerate and expand our capacity quickly before we get bypassed. Our workforce has changed, we have more part-time workers, more diverse, more transient workers, we work at different times of the day and week and from different places. We use a range of devices and routes to find out about things we need to know for our jobs, we go to the source, we talk to people outside of the business. It isn’t a question of when technology changes the workplace; that’s already happened and will continue to happen. Now it’s a question of how we respond to these changes.
We’ve always been quick to adopt new shiny buzzwords – e and m-learning, MOOCs spring to mind… but less quick to recognise that all the shiny tools will make not one iota of a difference if we don’t understand that how people work and learn has changed, and then we change how we work as professionals accordingly.
The findings from this years CIPD L&D survey and the Towards Maturity Benchmark show a greater desire from our profession to be business aligned and focused on outcomes and impact. But look again at the surveys, especially the LPI capability map and the TM Learner’s Voice, and you’ll also see that L&D in our workplaces remains strongly classroom based, a lot of e-learning is still ‘click next’ and blended learning is not as much of a reality as we’d like to think. This despite the fact that learners are telling us they have changed how they like to learn. In my own organisation we’ve been on a real journey over the last three years and it’s not over yet. Just changing what we offer (from predominantly classroom based L&D to something more fluid and responsive) has been challenging for us and for our colleagues but immensely rewarding. When a community of practice takes hold it it becomes an agent for change, vastly strengthened by the multiple voices within it drawing on their own experience of the work, the practice, the business.
People now have access to a vast range of knowledge, information and learning at their fingertips, at the touch of a keyboard or a screen we can find huge swathes of information, how to videos, toolkits etc. We can personalise our learning and draw it down when we need it. That learning comes in many shapes and sizes from professional qualifications through to amateur You Tube videos, L&D can’t control that flow any more, if we ever could. But we can help business make the most of that flow, find what they need easily and be equipped to critically appraise it. That’s what I want my team to be doing.
Much of how people learn now is informal, social and collaborative. It’s not that expertise is dead, it’s simply that people have ways to access expertise which no longer needs to be mediated and funnelled through formal learning events. In an environment where people can access expertise from across the globe directly with a tweet or a post, why would they wait for the next scheduled course from their L&D team?
I am painting a deliberately bleak picture but our profession needs to change and change rapidly before it gets passed over.
I really believe we have an important role going forward as curators and facilitators of learning, helping others to share their knowledge, skills and experience. We can be agents of change but not if we continue to see ourselves as the sole custodians of that knowledge armed to the teeth holding out against attempts to wrest control from us. I wrote in my blog recently that:
I don’t want to be doling out pearls of wisdom from my carefully guarded stash, I want to see people talking to each other about new tools, ideas and ways of working in their teams, at staff meetings, during project work and over lunch. That’s a learning culture, one where a good idea spreads contagiously, where fresh takes on persistent problems are grabbed by the people affected and worked through collaboratively. But it’s challenging in workplaces where training is the norm, where time is pressured and resources are scarce.
We are uniquely placed, with our cross-organisational remit to act as agents for change and to help people to develop curious and enquiring mindsets and skills which enable them to adapt and respond to changes in the workplace and wider society. I want learning in our organisation to be personally owned but organisationally supported (thanks to @andrewljacobs for that phrase if not the acronym it produces!)
We need to ask what we need to do (as individuals and as a professional body)? What do we need to change? What are the sacred cows that we need to let go of? And we need to keep asking these questions. Here are my starters for ten, more great ideas came out in the discussion and will be collated in a white paper:
- We need to be alert, observe what is happening (or not happening) in our workplaces and outside our workplaces and able to think strategically about what that means for our practice and activities
- We need to walk the talk, if we think social, informal and collaborative learning is the way of the future we need to be seen to do it ourselves and be able to influence leaders in our businesses to embrace it too.
- We have to get better at consulting and diagnosis, and where it isn’t appropriate we need to be prepared to challenge requests for ‘training’. We can have an important voice in shaping how work is done at our organisations and influencing change. Providing ‘solutions’ we are comfortable and confident with might be comforting but probably won’t be helping as much as we could.
- On that note we need to learn to innovate, try new things, be prepared to fail small but think big. And we need to be thinking carefully about how we work alongside senior leadership, managers and staff to ensure that learning and development are woven into everyday work rather than something which is bolted on, has to have time made for it. Curiosity is a mindset and trying new things is a way of demonstrating that curiosity, we have to persuade and influence our colleagues that new approaches are valid.
- Let’s not adopt technology mindlessly simply because it’s a new and shiny thing that everyone is talking about, but not be afraid to adopt new tools that will support changing cultures of work and learning.
- And I’d really like it if we stopped guarding everything so zealously between organisations and within organisations. We really need to learn to collaborate and help our colleagues to collaborate to hear different voices, expertise and perspectives.
- I think we have to get used to the permeability of disciplines and embrace it. Where does OD start and L&D stop? Does it matter? Let’s learn from marketing about how to sell L&D and talk to our comms colleagues about engaging an audience. Let’s get less hung up on whether we’ve got a seat at the table, or what our job titles are, or which department we sit in and concentrate more on what impact we can have.
And if that all seems a bit overwhelming then bite off a little bit of it and get started. You have insights which are valuable to your organisation, demonstrate that. Be confident but reflective, if you don’t know something learn it, if you’re not sure where to start ask for advice. After all a little role modelling never goes amiss!
Oops I almost forgot, what’s the answer to the question? We agreed it was a work in progress, the report card says we can do better. Here’s just some of the future capability we thought we need to build up as a profession:
This blog was first posted here: http://www.natcen.ac.uk/blog/quantitative-literacy-is-a-life-skill October 3rd, 2013
We’ve got a problem with numbers in the UK. From parents browsing school league tables, to voters weighing up the comparative costs of party manifestos, quantitative literacy is a life skill. And nowhere is this truer than in the social sciences; year on year young social scientists graduate without the numerical skills needed to master the age of ‘big data’.
Concern about this deficit has been troubling social science for a number of years and a range of initiatives have sought to address it from the great work being done by the Getstats campaign to the ESRC Quantitative Methods initiative tackling the issue in the social sciences.
Today the Nuffield Foundation, HEFCE and ESRC have raised the stakes and announced a significant investment to address this persistent gap. £19.5 million has been awarded to 15 universities to create a step change in the skills of our next generation of social scientists. The funding will support 15 new Q-Step Centres, additional teaching posts in quantitative methods and targeted university degree programmes which focus on developing quantitative literacy in a range of social science disciplines.
As a major employer of social scientists with a commitment to support the quality of social research in the UK, we welcome this bold move. We are delighted to be working closely with three of the Q-Step Centres at City University London, Cardiff University and the University of Edinburgh. Our researchers will be sharing their expertise and experience of working on some of the most complex quantitative policy research with undergraduate students through lectures, careers workshops and work placements as well as a range of other activities. This role continues our long history of being at the heart of capacity building for social science through NatCen Learning including our past stewardship of the ESRC funded Survey Skills scheme for early career researchers, a current programme working with lecturers to boost their skills in delivering quantitative methods training and our own graduate researcher scheme.
We need to act now to ensure that in ten years time Britain is still producing social scientists who are skilled enough to run complex surveys, communicate with the public effectively, and continue to push the envelope of quantitative methods. We hope it has not come too late.