Learning Sustainability

Coincidentally I entered into the discussion in separate occasions with others on how to sustain the impact of learning interventions.   Whilst achieving 100% learning transfer all the time is not possible, I think the question is more about ‘How to sustain learning impact to a larger extent?’   Among all the ideas we discussed, it seems to me the ARL (Action Reflection Learning) practice is still the key.   (Yet, it is not without implementation challenges)

I may have written some of the following points before.   Allow me to refresh my thought (to myself) by possibly repeating some.

I think ARL, or the practice of ‘Learning whilst Earning’ is the future.  I once was asked a question ‘What do you think the future of leadership development will be?’   Ideas came to my mind and I said:

“I think we will not have any traditional openly-nominated classroom-based workshop.   We will not have a fixed schedule and thick binders for the learners.   We will not do Just-in-Case learning anymore.   In the future, we will do Just-in-Time learning.   Our facilitators will go into business meetings, perhaps those annual strategy planning meetings. We facilitate their real business discussion.   More than that, we will pause the leaders to reflect on their behaviors in the meetings and if necessary we will introduce some concepts or tools for them to use on spot.”

There are a few reasons why this is probably the future:

Learners’ Commitment – There are lot of problems in the Just-in-Case setting.   I become more and more skeptical of ‘prisoner’ type of learners. They are in the learning event because they are asked to.   Everybody suffers – themselves, the fellow learners and the facilitator.   Time is wasted.   However, if the event is a real business meeting, everyone will be much more engaged.   Things are relevant and real.   And if we can introduce tools and concepts to be immediately used in the on-going situations, learning retention is high by definition.

Sponsors’ Commitment – No matter how well one learns in a workshop, learning retention will drop a great deal if he or she is not supported to apply the learning back in the workplace.   And the line managers are the most important factor determining whether there is enough support.   A typical example – one learn the GROW model to coach.   He applies it back to the workplace but is challenged by his line managers on why he asked so many questions instead of just telling.   And the line managers in fact always just tell.   This will kill his learning on coaching skills right away.

On the other hand, if we install learning in a real business setting, the sponsors are likely involved and in fact become learners as well.

Effectiveness Measurement – Learning professionals have been struggling how to measure effectiveness on leadership development initiative.   There is no perfect solution yet.   However, in the Just-in-Case setting, the intervention effort can possibly result in better business result e.g. cost saving / attrition rate, on top of developing leaders.

Cost Pressure – Given the more and more difficult operating environment, learning resources will likely be cut ……. unless we can prove the effectiveness.   When the next financial crisis comes, it is not unlikely that corporations will further either cut down the stand-alone learning department or outsources majority of the work.   It will however be a different proposition if the so-called learning department can facilitate both earning and learning.   I wrote more about this idea in my previous blog post Forget about ‘Training’

Despite the above, the move from traditional practice to ‘Connecting Earning with Learning’ is still a big paradigm shift for most organizations.    Essentially, it is ‘safe’ to run traditional classes.   And there are often stakeholders with vested interest to the traditional practice.

To me, the key outstanding questions are:

  • How to balance the need for consistency in learning across the organization in adopting Just-in-Time learning approach?
  • Should we adopt a higher balance of conformity for more junior learners i.e. less Just-in-Time?   And if so, how much and where to draw the line?
  • What kinds of quality are needed for the facilitators or Team Coaches to be able to conduct Just-in-Time learning?
  • How to build the initial success in order to influence other stakeholders?

TEDx

(null)

My on-going ‘Swiss adventure’ is a lot about conducting ‘experiments’ for my profession.   The Tavistock experience is definitely an example.   Last week, I just tried out facilitating in a setting completing new to myself – TEDx Lausanne.   After a series of talks, the participants were free to join something called Idea Bubbles – a discussion corner on a specific topic.   Interesting to experience the diverse participant mix and the non-profit nature of the topic.

Tavistock Experience – Learning Design

Further reflection on the Tavistock experience – As said, it is a very uncommon learning experience. To the extreme, for some parts, I could not help comment them as bad learning design.    On the surface of it, there were things looking like ‘shallow debrief’, ‘loose instruction’, etc.    On the other hand, I questioned myself on ‘What am I missing?’.   In sharing these thoughts with others, I was challenged with a question ‘So, what does good learning design mean to you?’

I think this is a good question to ponder on.   Given how unusual the Tavistock experience is, the question can really uncover and challenge my assumption on learning design.    I think there are a few elements which a good learning experience should consist of (not meant to be a prescriptive answer to good learning design).

A good design should create an environment which generates more learning around the topic as agreed with the learners than environments otherwise experienced by the learners.   What such intended environment should look like thus depends on what the topic is.    By environment, it includes the process, facilitators, the physical set up, the material, the learners mix, etc.

In order to achieve the above, a good design should take into account the Adult Learning Principles.   To me, the key ones are WIIFM, variety in learning styles, repetition, a balance of realness and unfamiliarity, learning transfer, effective use of pre and post experience.

In particular, a good design should enhance learning transfer as much as possible so long as it does not crowd out learners’ own responsibility and compromise learning depending on the nature of the intended learning topic.   To be more specific on experiential learning, a good design should provide space for learners to make sense out of the experience individually and collectively with fellow learners.

In that sense, my Tavistock definitely create an unique environment to learn about group relations which the participants would not experience otherwise.  In particular, it is very successful to create the learners’ mix – the size, the willingness to learn and the variety.   Re the Adult Learning Principles, being an open program, the Tavistock conference has limitation on repetition and ‘pre & post’.   I think it did well on variety in learning styles and realness.   Yet, i think there is missed opportunity in WIIFM and learning transfer.

For those who have been to Tavistock experience, what good learning design means to you and what do you think of Tavistock from the learning design perspective?

Power of Facilitation

Michael Sandel 2I talked about Professor Michael Sandel before here.  See the post ‘What’s the Right to do?’   I am drawn to his works again recently given what is going on in Hong Kong around the ‘Occupy-Central’ initiative.

Putting the content aside, I am amazed again how his facilitation has helped the debate. As mentioned by him in his interview with BBC, his work is basically to enable public debates though there may not be agreements at the end. I think it makes sense and he has done a great job.

Moreover, he has been enabling debates in different countries like China, Japan, etc. In one of his forum in Japan, the comments from the audience speak for the power of facilitation. See the news report here.

“We tend to shy away from these debates, worried that we might hurt other people’s feelings. But with the help of a good facilitator, Japanese people, too, can have an active discussion.”

And perhaps the biggest attraction of the “Sandel Theater,” as Hayakawa Publishing President Hiroshi Hayakawa called it, was that the professor demonstrated an exceptional ability to put people at ease, treating everyone equally and with respect — as seen in his policy of calling everyone by their first name.

In fact Kan, who said he found Sandel more inspiring than U.S. President Barack Obama, confessed he was “almost in tears” when Sandel called his name. Kimiko Morinaka, 38, a volunteer counselor from Hokkaido, was likewise thrilled.

“When I saw the NHK program, I felt very strongly that I wanted to participate in such an outstanding course,” Morinaka said. “Coming here tonight was my dream come true. I had long dreamed of being asked, ‘What’s your name?’ “

PS See his recent talk on ‘What Money Can’t Buy’.   Amazing examples and arguments!

Sit on your hands and shut up

I heard a veteran facilitator talking about Open Space earlier this month. Great wisdom. She said that there are 3 necessary conditions to make Open Space work. First, there are burning issues which the participants care collectively. Second, all participants join the event voluntarily. Third, the sponsor (who calls for the event) is really interested what may emerge from the process.

If these are in place, after giving the instruction, the facilitator should just sit on his / her hand and shut up.   It is so true but not exactly easy to do.

To the contrary, an Open Space will surely fail if the participants as a community do not see any burning issue, some (if not all) of them are ‘forced’ to join the event and the sponsor calls for the event just for sake of doing it. For the last point, the worst is that the sponsor in fact has his / her solutions in mind already.

 

IMG_1679.JPG

Facilitation at High Schools

I am taking an edx course on the topic of learning.   In doing so, I come across a video describing a teaching practice in the US.    I am surprised how facilitative it is.    I wish my high school experience was like this.   I certainly want this for my children (but also hope that the examination system will not discriminate such practice)

Just 10 mins.  Watch it.   If you are in a job of helping people learn (and especially if you have children), you will like it.

Basically, the teachers ask students to read original documents highlighting the history instead of telling dates, names and incidents.  The students will then act like CSI detectives to construct what happened, formulate views, debate, etc.   It is particularly interesting that the teachers start each session with a question.   They then help out the students’ own discovery.   They probe and challenge. 

<script src=’https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/reading-like-a-historian-curriculum/embed?format=js’ type=’text/javascript’></script>

‘Learning’ from Ancient Chinese

IMG_0241Triggered by a discussion with a friend, I would like to write a few posts about Chinese ancient wisdom, and more importantly what it means in corporate learning nowadays.   I believe it would be a good reflection for my own experience in the corporate learning world as well, both in China and outside.

 The first one is the one that I have thought of the most (by 荀子 Xun Zi)

不闻不若闻之,
闻之不若见之,
见之不若知之,
知之不若行之,
学至于行而止矣.

The literal translation is:

Not hearing is not as good as hearing.
Hearing is not as good as seeing.
Seeing is not as good as knowing (intellectually).
Knowing is not as good as doing.
True learning is complete only when we put it in action.

This quote illustrates a great deal on corporate learning:

  • How the industry has changed – The quote highlights the evolution of corporate learning in the past decades.   In the past, when we thought of corporate learning, we tended to have experts standing up and talking for the whole day i.e. teaching.   As visual technology e.g. powerpoint became popular, the experts talk and show picture, video, graph and unfortunately mostly bullet points.   This is from ‘hearing’ to ‘seeing’.  Further, the focus changed from ‘what is sent’ to ‘what is received’.  The learning professionals were transitioning from trainers who tell to facilitators who guide people to discover and make meaning themselves.  This is from ‘seeing’ to ‘knowing’.  

(Whilst this makes sense, I do not find facilitating people to learn common in the corporate learning field, especially in Mainland China. Here is an interesting phenomenon – when you are waiting for your flight in Mainland China, you often find shops selling video with an expert talking loudly and vividly about certain topic.)

  • Action – The last part of the quote i.e. from ‘knowing’ to ‘doing’.   In a way, experiential learning activities and business simulation are answers to it.    For example, getting a group of people to compete in a treasure hunt activity and debriefing on what they learn about working in team.   Depending on how the intervention is framed and run, this can be much more effective than traditional teaching in terms of learning transfer.   However, I have experienced how learners just went through the motion in the intervention.   They sort of decide to take it just as a ‘game’.   In the debrief, when asked about say what they learn about team communication, they can produce a laundry list of ‘standard answer’.   People cheer and clap their hands as people present back.   But that’s it…..

To me, a more advanced version of the ‘knowing’ part is Action Learning.   There are different practices in the market under the name of Action Learning.   The one I prefer is called ‘Action Reflection Learning’ or ARL – where guided reflection plays a significant part to learning.   See my previous post athttp://www.ask-nottell.com/?p=751    This practice tackles nicely the ‘realness’ problem mentioned above by always working on real work.   (By real work, I mean the result of those will have real consequence to the learners.)    I particularly like the philosophy of ‘Learning whilst you are Earning’.   Using the ancient Chinese language, it would be something like 行学并行.

  • Kirkpatrick 4-level of evaluation – The quote also illustrates the 4 levels.   The ‘Knowing’ part is like Level 2.    Learners can remember the learning and demonstrate say by passing the test at the end of a learning event.    The ‘put in action’ part is like Level 3.   Learners can put the learning into action in the workplace.   The natural challenge of course to the quote is that it misses the Level 4 i.e. real learning is complete only when the learning intervention creates impact as mentioned by the pre-determined business measurement e.g. revenue, cost, attrition rate.    Yet, this challenge is from the corporate perspective rather than the individual learners.

It is amazing how the ancient Chinese has figured out the above a few thousand years ago already.   But even more interestingly, why such wisdom has not been commonly practised though it has been around for so long?

Leadership Development

20140504-121713.jpg

A friend of mine once attended a Leadership Development workshop all the way in the US.   I supposed it was a huge investment by the company who hired an external facilitator and flew talents from all over the world.   I was surprised when my friend showed me her course material.   It was basically a presentation skills workshop.  And they did do the typical presentation training drill e.g. stand up to present, video-taped, receive feedback, etc.    I wonder how could a presentation skills workshop be considered as ‘Leadership Development’.

What is ‘Leadership Development’ after all?

In fact, if you ask 10 business executives what they will expect to happen in a ‘Leadership Development’ workshop, you probably have 10 different answers.  Probably very different ones.   It is like the term ‘Leadership’.   See my earlier post on ‘Really.. what is Leadership?’   Further, in my experience, ‘Leadership Development’ does not always carry a good reputation.   Some find it very vague and disregard it.   Some will welcome it because of the wrong reason e.g. being invited to attend one means ‘I am in the club’.   

On reflection, there is actually one (probably unconscious) definition on ‘Leadership Development’ that causes this problem.    To many, ‘Leadership Development’ means any development intervention to people in the leadership position.   By this definition, this really could mean anything, including presentation skills workshop.

Well, there is no right or wrong definition.   I guess the question is whether it is useful.   And if it is useful, it should base on a conscious definition on what ‘Leadership’ is.