Real Life Learning

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Engaging Learners with On Line Learning

One of my many different freelance roles is a tutor for MOL who is the partner for the CIPD’s Flexi Plus Learning System. This learning programme is designed to offer students a blended learning experience, combining face to face workshops with workbooks and then an on line environment.

Over the last two years I have been developing ways to support my students to become more engaged with on line learning as I have grown to recognise that it is the learning facilitator and not the technology that determines engagement.

These are my main learning points:

Be Pro-active

As a tutor I need to be pro-active in the use of the various elements involved in the learning process. If I want a discussion to be started relating to one of our workshops then I will not only set the question but I will often supply an example of practice to demonstrate the point.

Don’t be a Lurker

I encourage the participants to comment as well as reading entries and I role model this by making comments on the discussion boards and the on line blogs. I do more of this at the beginning and then let the participants take over. I combine this with advice to the participants to participate and “don’t be a lurker”

Set Expectations

By the end of two months of the programme beginning I have set an expectation that I expect each participant to have written their personal learning blog, added a comment on the suggestion box/or made a suggestion and made a comment on the discussion board. I brief students on this commitment and then track them against this commitment and remind them about it during a telephone tutorial before the end of this two month period. This ensures that everyone has written something on both the private and public parts of the learning environment.

Be Passionate

I express enthusiasm for the element of the programme that will be conducted on line, I encourage the students to embrace this as an opportunity to learn and share on best practice outside of the classroom environment.

Provide a Learning Reason

In addition to the benefits of on line learning from their peers I also suggest to the participants that they will learn about elearning by personal experience. They will be much better able to contribute to discussions in their organisation about the use of virtual learning environments from the users’ perspective if they have had more than just a theoretical experience. I make a benefit of the slightly clunky nature of the Blackboard backend to our virtual classroom because this will make them better purchasers of any system, they can ask better questions of the technology providers.

I have now got a tipping point with my groups on the Certificate programme; they are now driving the virtual learning environment forward without loads of effort from me. I am starting to notice comments from them about this being a valuable part of the blended programme. I am looking forward to developing and involving them even further as my own skills and experience develop. I would love to hear about other tips of how you have got engagement in the virtual world.

Time Management Tips in Practice

One of my least favourite courses to run has always been Time Management. At the beginning of my career I tried to meet this request by running a one day course and it was always a disappointment to me and the participants. This does not mean that time management is not an issue but just that imposing a standardised solution on people fails to meet the high expectations people have about training.

These days I focus on individualised approaches to time management. For many people what is needed is a fundamental look at their priorities and approach to time, this requires an understanding of psychology beyond the “if you think you can do you will” approach.

Other people need to consider tips and techniques, to have time to try these out and to reflect on the usefulness of these approaches. This means I am always alert to new time management tips and some of these I try out myself. Here are the two most recent tips I have been testing out:

Weekly Planner

My work involves a lot of planning and I used a to do list to keep track of the tasks. I have now supplemented this with a white board with the next 5 working days in a table format. I can then write on the board the events/meetings that I have in my diary and schedule time to plan for these and also to plan for other projects.

It is a simple visual idea which helps me to see ahead into my immediate future and ensures that I am meeting all my deadlines effectively. I like the focus that it gives me and the way it helps to reduce my panic when I am about to move into a busy delivery phase.

Don’t Switch on your Email

The idea of switching off your email is something I have incorporated into my practice for many years. I have often switched the email off when concentrating on particular tasks to avoid distracting my creative flow. The new tip I am focusing on is to do a task first before switching on the email. This is a great tip because it means you have achieved a task before taking on lots of new urgent tasks generated by your email. This works for me because it keeps me focused on the important but not necessary urgent tasks and avoids me getting sucked into my email at the cost of other things.

As I said at the beginning, time management is such an individualised subject that these tips may be of no use to you because of the unique challenges you face in your role. So it would be great to share some thoughts here:

  • what tips work for you?
  • What ideas have you taken from others and incorporated into your daily routines?
  • Why do these ideas work for you?

Presentations and Facilitation

Today I was giving some presentations at the CIPD Human Resource Development exhibition.
It was great to see so many people turn up to these random events. The second presentation I did was on “Influencing Without authority”. There was a massive crowd turned up for this topic which made me reflect about what a massive issue it is for the learning and development profession.
As learning and development facilitators we spend a lot of time influencing in both our groups and with our clients and stakeholders but when did you last focus on this as an area of development.
The session has made me realise that this is something I want to focus more on in my work. It will bring together all the research I have been doing with some really practical insights of influencing from the 20 years of working in learning and development. So watch this space for the development of the ideas around influence.

Customer Journey Mapping: a large group intervention

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping is a method of identifying the main processes that a customer meets when they have an interaction with an organisation. By spending time mapping the journey a customer actually takes organisations can make changes to their processes which are based on real customer requirements.

Completed map

Customer Journey Map Sample

There has been a lot of work done in the UK about mapping customer journeys and the Cabinet Office website is a great place to explore different types of journey from the physical journey of customers using Eurostar through to the virtual journey of someone apply to enter the UK as a worker from outside the EU.

My project involved the careers team from a large University in the UK who wanted to know more about what customer journey mapping was about before they could decide whether to use it in practice or not.

The activity I designed was based on some fictional student profiles. These were designed so that the team could explore the journeys of those students who were not current users of the careers service so that they could identify if there were opportunities that were being missed by the service.

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Steps in Facilitation – Collecting Data

I am mentoring a graduate from the Leeds MBA course who wants to learn about facilitation before she returns to India, so I have 2 months to guide her the skills and tactics of facilitation.

Brainstorming Facilitation

Our initial thoughts

Our first session was about how to use Post It® notes to generate a range individual responses to a question concerning a team/organisation for example: What causes our meetings to overrun? What is helping employees to feel engaged with the business? What do consumers want from our business?



Once the answers have been recorded and grouped into categories the next task is to clarify the meaning of each item and ensure that they are in the right category. If the meanings of each note is clarified it then become possible to remove any items which are clear duplicates. This discussion is really important because it will start to define what the key priorities are for the group.Having agreed the categories it is often useful to have a reflective dialogue. A dialogue is a listening space where each individual can choose to share their insights so far and any themes that are starting to emerge from the conversations so far. Inexperienced facilitators often miss this stage and move straight onto voting on the issues and this can mean that some of the more complex grey areas remain unexplored.

The next option might be to prioritise the issues and one very simple way of identifying which are the most important issues for the group is by using a technique called Multi Voting. I have tended to use multi coloured dots so that each person can record their vote on each item at the same time and not have to see their score recorded on a chart.

The number of dots can be allocated by taking the total number of categories eg 6 and allocating 6 points to the top choice, 5 to the next point…., this requires 16 dots per person. However if there are more categories than this and lots of people, then this can become very messy in which case it is often recommended that the number of items are divided by 3 and then dots allocated so there is enough to put one dot on 2/3rds of the items. I often propose that a maximum of 3 dots can be placed on each item.


Using multi voting and coloured dots

Our attempt at multi voting

I wondered what other facilitators were doing on the topic and I discovered lots of different methods. One other method I liked was from an organisation called Dotmocracy and they have printed sheets you could use. I can see how these could be combined with the post it notes to really gain some insights from larger groups on the issues:


Then I came across this blog discussion on the use of dots and I realised that this was a really big area of debate amongst facilitators.

My conclusions are to stick with a process that makes pragmatic sense at the time and the facilitator will need to make a judgement call. All the attempts to make a science out of the number of dots looked flawed in practice and I am drawn back to the title of Tony Mann’s book: “Facilitation: an art, a science or skill or all three” and would conclude that this is a great example of “all three”

Facilitation Book

Facilitation – an Art, Science, Skill – or all three? Build your expertise in facilitation

Appreciating the Good Things

One of the complaints I get from managers is how their own managers only notice the bad stuff that they do. At the same time as saying this they will talk about all the bad things that their employees do and list the problems in the organisation.  I often wonder why we do this, and I know that I am not perfect myself, so my learning challenge is how to get out of the “isn’t it awful” and “if only” type of conversation into something that gives more potential for moving forward.

I use a couple of different tools and techniques to help move the conversation on. The first is a model used by colleague Ian Cunningham( called the 3 P Model. The Ps referred to are puzzles (there is a solution) problems (there may be a solution but not currently known) and predicaments (the only solution would require massive change in government/organisational policy). In my experience lots of energy is spent in organisations trying to work on challenging the predicaments. The nature of predicaments means that they are difficult to change.  For more junior managers predicaments might be the inflexible nature of the pay structure which makes it difficult for them to give the financial rewards that they would like to. As a facilitator I might suggest that they accept the nature of the predicament and look at what they can influence instead.

The next tool I use is Appreciative Inquiry. This is a model developed by David Cooperider and others and there is a good website which gives a detailed overview.

My work is mainly with Northern Europeans who can be very cynical about anything which they perceive as too Californian, referring to it as “happy, clappy stuff”. So whilst I have yet to convince an organisation to adopt the whole approach advocated by the Appreciative Inquiry movement I have used it to change the way that we review and plan. Instead of starting with “what are the problems in this team” I encourage managers to ask the questions about what is going well, what can I build on in this team? It just helps to shift away from a negative viewpoint to something that gives some needed energy and boast to the team and the manager.

The final technique I use is the Strength Based approach. One of the advocates of this is the Gallup Organisation and their book “Strength Finder 2.0” is one I recommend to managers who want to take a different approach to appraisal, recruitment, talent management. I also use a set of card which I ordered from St Luke’s Innovative Resources There are 54 cards each of which describe a strength. I encourage individuals to select strengths that they think they have or their team have and explore why this will help the team develop further.

These tools start to help a shift to seeing the world through a slightly different lens. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t still problems and that everything in the world is lovely but it does help to look at how we can move forward from the “isn’t it awful” coffee talk into something that might help contribute to better organisations and governments.

Using Tiny Url

This week I have become a late converter to Tiny URL. This website allows you to take a link to a website and convert it into a shorter verision. I am finding this really helpful when I am writing follow up resource guides. I have often put web links into these documents and if participants use the documents on line this is not a problem, they just click on the link. However people often print off the material to follow up later at home and then the really long link becomes a barrier to people following the material. By using Tiny Url I can now eliminate this problem. It means that this link to the BBC Personality Test becomes a much easier

I have also discovered the TinyCC site which does the same activity as Tiny Url but allows you to track activity on your shorten web link, which could be really helpful if you have designed a link for a group of participants on a learning programme, you can access which of the materials seems to have generated most interest. The tinycc link to the personality test is here the fact that you can review use is very helpful to me but I have had more problems getting the link to work than with tinyurl.

Another similar site is Notify url, this does the shortening aspect and will send you an email when the first person clicks on the link which is helpful if you are sending information to one person, perhaps someone you are coaching.

Being a Learning Technologist

As increasing amounts of content are available on line the role of the traditional chalk and talk trainer needs to be questioned. Is the new role more about facilitating learning through the use of technology?
I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of the traditional trainer who stands with a set of prepared materials and “trains” people. During my career I have had to do this type of work and often I was conscious that I knew only a tiny bit more about the topic than the slides and handouts contained but could be safe in the knowledge at the participants in the group would know little more than me. I heard a story yesterday about a trainer who was given some materials to deliver the night before the training session and was about 3 slides ahead of the group. This seems to reduce the role of the trainer to someone who can read slides in an animated way and ask a few open ended questions to stimulate debate. In hotels and training centres around the country this type of training is still going on.

When I am working with a group of people I like to focus on using the time to discuss and debate the issues. This may be around some core content materials but I think we can do more than just provide a package of set reading materials. I am starting to establish a new role for myself as a learning technologist. I facilitate people to find the information that they need by introducing them to useful sites, exploring podcasts, setting up groups and using forum boards to explore challenges that they are facing. The group of people I am working with suddenly expands to incorporate input not just from me and the people in the group but from people all over the world.

I am going to focus over the next few weeks on sharing some of these sites which I think offer valuable content for learning about a variety of topics and would welcome suggestions from others about sites which I could feature in the future.



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