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:
Have you ever watched a small child learn to stand up and walk? It’s a long process with their first steps preceded by many months of pulling themselves up by the sofa, a random toy, your leg, the cat…the environment may be familiar but the longing to stand and the views from a different height are new and full of potential. Even when they achieve the standing position it takes many more months for them to become consistently stable, hence lots of tumbles, trips and falls. And yes sometimes there are tears but also there are giggles and laughs, and often wide-eyed wonder at how the work looks from their new vantage point. And they will still look for their Mum or Dad, for a stabilising hand, someone to turn to when the path gets rocky or the knee gets scraped. But it’s a journey full of exploration, learning, excitement and practical experience. Now think about the worst type of learning you’ve experienced at work. All too often we ask people to join us in the classroom for a single one-off ‘hit’ of training, we take them from crawling to walking in one foul swoop and sometimes we don’t even bother to ask if or why they want to learn to walk. For some people that’s a bruising, scary experience and it’s no wonder they fall over when they’re back in their jobs, the learning experience is so ephemeral or awful that the skills, knowledge and behaviours mentioned are half-remembered but rarely acted upon. L&D needs to step up to its role in supporting holistic development rather than just providing training. We should be helping people to identify their goals and needs and responding with a more comprehensive but varied approach. If we want people to learn to walk tall we need to start with small steps (through discussion, listening, bite sized learning, stretch assignments, shadowing), offering a blend of different experiences and resources to support them as they develop their skills and capability. There might be some formal training in there, I’m not evangelical about informal and social learning (just very enthusiastic!). I do think there is a place for workshops and formal training but context & integration have to be key – how will people apply their new skills, how will they pick themselves up and start over again when they tumble? And how can we support them with that (for example by coaching, mentoring, action learning, building networks of peer support) so they’re encouraged to persist, practice and share new skills without reverting to old behaviours or getting stuck where they land.
The biggest small step we can take with our colleagues is to help them see that they can stand on their own two feet when it comes to their ongoing development and that they are able to choose an approach that suits them and the particular issue they are facing. We need to be curating resources people can draw upon at they point they’re needed, building connections and networks, helping people to build their competence at sharing their expertise with others and giving them the confidence to take control of their own development and learning. To use a bit of a hackneyed phrase we need to move from being the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. I’m comfortable with that it feels right to me.
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. It means we need to get out there and talk to our colleagues, understand their work and their goals and then shape our support to meet those needs. We should have been doing this anyway, it’s not rocket science and our world is full of people thinking carefully about how we do this and providing heaps of inspiration about how to do it. To name but two see Jane Hart’s work on learning concierges or Andrew Jacobs on the transformation he’s led at Lambeth Council, he also gave us this list of 50 crazy ideas to change L&D, why not pick one…
For me it’s been about learning new skills & approaches like digital curation, appreciative inquiry and action learning sets, exploring the role of social platforms like Curatr and Yammer but above all else it’s been about climbing out of the training box and thinking creatively. It’s involved going back to the basics, talking to people and managers about what they need and taking it from there. That means we, (yes that includes you), have to take a long, hard look at ourselves, our own ways of thinking and ways of working. Are you clinging onto something, an approach to ‘training’ or L&D because it’s appropriate or because it feels comfortable? Do you listen to your fellow L&D’ers on these changing practices and think ‘how exciting but it won’t work at my organisation’? If that felt familiar, do you ever stop and ask yourself whether you’ve tried something new in the last six months. If not, why? I’m still learning, still taking those baby steps, tentative and fragile though they may be but it feels good. Sometimes you’ve got to try something new, stumble and persist to be able to walk tall. Will you join me? What small step will you take to transform your practice?
Over the last three weeks along with 298 other MOOCers I’ve been working my way through a mini-MOOC on how to be an effective digital curator. If you’re not sure what a MOOC is I point you to this BBC article and this post by Steve Wheeler on Massive Open On Line Courses. If you’d like a crash course in digital curation then all the resources from the MOOC are also available now via Sam Burrough here.
When I heard this mini-MOOC was being planned by two of my Twitter network Sam Burrough (@burrough) & Martin Couzins (@martincouzins) I was genuinely excited. This was something to kick off my 2014 CPD, something which interested me & would be helpful in the day job.
When I started out my motivations were to:
- Finally finish a MOOC – I’ve started two possibly three before and never completed them, I’m a completer-finisher at heart & when I don’t finish things I beat myself up, third time lucky I thought.
- Learn something about digital curation – I’ve been pulling together & sharing digital content for a few years but I was hoping to get a better framework, a set of guiding principles for an activity which I genuinely enjoy. Curation lets me wander around the thoughts & ideas of a huge range of talented, thought-provoking folk (and stumble over a few cow pats along the way but that’s life digital or not!)
- Share reflections with like and not like-minded fellow MOOCers and learn from their experiences & insights.
- Have a bit of light relief from January’s bleakness, KPIs & implementing a new IT system at work.
- Understand the MOOC approach better, see it from a student’s perspective rather than as a learning professional and evaluate if my cynicism about the grand claims made for them as the saviours of formal education was on target or completely misguided.
Two and a half weeks later, which ironically coincided with possibly the busiest period at work I’ve ever known, I reached Level 7 – the end. Each of the circles on the screenshot below represents a resource to be viewed and commented on, an easy coast it was not.
The mini-MOOC (mini because it only lasted three weeks not three months like some of the more formal MOOCs do) was provided on the Curatr platform which awards you experience points ‘XPs’ for viewing and commenting on resources, taking quizzes, answering open questions and commenting on other people’s contributions. When you reach a certain Level threshhold you’re invited to reflect on a question for the level, add your thoughts & bingo you’re levelled up to the next stage. You can rush through not comment or contribute, much like any other MOOC, but I saw little evidence of people doing that. Most were commenting, contributing some more extensively than others but there was more cross-commentary & discussion than I’ve seen before.
It’s easy to point to some obvious reasons for that including : The topic, if you’re interested in digital curation you’re already likely to value the thoughts of others and the role of dialogue online. The designers, Sam & Martin are pros they designed an engaging, effective learning journey peppered with well chosen thought provoking content. They also both happen to have a strong online network of people interested in learning design, social learning & collaboration who signed up for the MOOC bringing insights & comment.
And finally, the platform I think I forgot to mention the leaderboards? Jo Cook has blogged about these already but they warrant another mention. One part of the platform shows you leaderboards of people who’ve earned the most points for resources viewed, contributing comments, adding content and voting up other people’s comments. When I first saw it my heart sank. Gamification, I thought… I won’t like that. I could live with levelling up which is based on levels in video game playing but having everyone see where you are on different scoreboards no thank you.
As is so often the case time makes fools of us. The experience made me realise that far from hating gamification it really motivated me, not as much so getting a reply to a comment or seeing someone using a resource I posted, but it did motivate me. It made me think back to nights playing Scrabble with my Mum, being closeted in my bedroom playing Space Invaders when I was 8 or 9, doing pub quizzes etc etc. and a dawning remembrance that I am extremely competitive. This isn’t a complete shock to me in my mid-40s but I really didn’t expect a MOOC to trigger it or that I’d be learning so much I wouldn’t care if my competitive leanings were obvious to others.
So what did I learn?
That built well, designed carefully & implemented with care a MOOC can be a powerful learning tool. It won’t be a ‘one-size fits all’ cure for every context but I’ve come round to recognising it should have a place in our toolkit for L&D. That gamification works ( this will be old news to some of you!) and it doesn’t have to be complicated or tricky to implement. I’m already thinking about ways to implement elements of it in our work. That the process and platform is only as good as the people in it or on it, this MOOC was made by the huge amount of sharing that went on between people, it buzzed with energy & conversations every time I logged in. Oh and I learnt a heck of a lot about being an effective curator and I’m amazed by how deeply that learning feels embedded already. I said during last weeks t-MOOC that the learning shone through in the quality of the chat and it really did.
So a MOOC that managed to surprise me and keep me motivated draws to an end – oh well we’ll always have #dcurate!
Social learning is the new ‘buzz’ in learning and development. The role of informal collaborative learning and the rise of social media tools have high currency in topical debates about how we learn. Understandably so, the ‘social’ is everywhere we … Continue reading