Category Archives: Learning

Blended Learning – Without the numbers!

In the early noughties, when online learning (okay e-learning, but I am trying so hard to lose the “e”) started to take off, the shiny new thing was Blended Learning.

Right from my earliest days selling Computer Based Training (CBT) – this when the internet was little more than an idea – I would say to my customers “Using only CBT is as bad as only using Instructor Led Training”. Because it was always only common sense that there had to be some sort of mix or blend.

Then some smart aleck coined the term “Blended Learning”, and I was often amused when people said “E-learning doesn’t work – that’s why we need Blended Learning”. My standard retort “Well actually, when I was taught how to deliver classroom training, one of the good principles of Instructional Design was to use a variety of media, choosing the right medium for the learning objective”. So other than the fact that we now have computers as a delivery medium, what has changed. The basic principles stay the same. Read more


Jolene had just been on the best training course – and nobody cares (a fable )

Jolene, a Personal Assistant at Hightech Inc, has just been on a Productivity Improvement training course. She is very excited about what she has learned, which includes Time Management, dealing with E-mail effectively and much more. She can’t wait to start applying some of the new skills and ideas she has learned into practice.

On her return to the office, she has to play “catch-up” on the work and e-mails that have piled up in her absence: she finds this frustrating because she is so keen to use her new skills to change for the better. Michael, her boss, breezes past her desk and says “How was the course?”  “Fantastic, says Jolene, “I learned….”  “We’ll talk later”, Michael says as he dashes away.

Later on, when an opportunity presents itself, Jolene makes another attempt to share with Michael some of the Time Management techniques she learned, because she is sure he will also find them useful, but he really doesn’t seem that interested.

She realizes that it is going to be difficult to implement and use most of what she learned,   because the workplace is just not conducive to transferring the new skills  to the job. And as all L&D practitioners learn, when you don’t use what you have learned within a relatively short space of time, you lose it.

What a waste of company money and opportunity cost. What a waste of Jolene’s time! Perhaps she was sent on the course as a “perk”, but she ends up feeling disheartened and de-motivated.

This story is intended to show that any Management and Personal Development training that is provided in a vacuum is wasteful and counter-productive.  Such courses should be run in-company, so that the new skills and behaviours are understood by several people. Moreover, the training must be linked to organizational objectives.

An Aberdeen report on Learning and Development (2010) lists the top three ways “Best-in-class” organizations align their workforce with organizational objectives:

  • Link Learning Programmes to development plans – this prevents learning from happening in a vacuum, or being provided as a “perk”;
  • Link development plans to career paths, which are essential for organizations to achieve a positive return on the investment in their human capital’ ;
  • Measure learning against organizational objectives – does learning result in achievement of business strategy?

If you are part of a small company, you are probably wondering what you can do. You don’t have enough people to run an in-house course, so you have to send employees on public courses. There are ways you can make it work for you though, with a bit of planning. Some suggestions:

  • Ensure the Manager understands what the course objectives are, and has a plan for providing a workplace that is conducive to the employee using newly learned skills and behaviours.
  • Using a training provider who is prepared to offer coaching to the delegate and the manager for a period after the training has taken place, to deal with issues that may arise.
  • Use e-learning courses instead of sending delegates out to courses, but make sure there is an opportunity for the skills learned to be practiced in a safe environment. The suggestions in points 1 and 2 still apply.
  • Encourage staff to access on-line materials for refresher and remedial learning.

Irrespective of how big or small your organization is, you must measure at all five levels as described by Kirkpatrick & Phillips:

    1. Level 1 – reaction – how did they like the course?
    2. Level 2 – Learning – measured by both formative and summative assessments.
    3. Level 3 – Job application – were the participants able to apply what they learned in the workplace. This is where the problem often lies. Management needs to be provided with tools that allow them to observe and measure transference of skills, and also might need an outside consultant who can assess whether the environment is conducive to applying new skills, and suggesting corrective action if it is not.
    4. Level 4 – Business results – did successful on-the-job application produce business results (this won’t happen if the training plan is not aligned to the business objectives).
    5. Level 5 – Return on Investment – did the monetary value of the results exceed the amount of money spent on the training?

If you don’t measure the results of your learning, you are wasting time and money. You also run the risk of having disengaged employees, who only want to go on courses to get out of the office.

If you need to help or advice on anything discussed in this article, please contact me for an obligation-free consultation.

Education – getting past the myths about learning

Whenever I read an article or blog, or view a TED talk on Education, I’m always struck by how the problems are similar around the world. Some developed countries get it right –Scandinavian countries certainly seem to – whilst others such as the US seem to be engaged in the same struggle as the rest of us. Similarly some developing nations, such as South Korea, seem to have the winning formula. It’s clear that the amount of money spent is not the key issue: Education is not a problem we can simply throw money at.

In South Africa blaming the Education Minister is almost a national sport, and yes I have been as vocal as the next person.  If we can get the educators frame of mind right, then maybe we will have a chance of improving the situation.

I was thrilled to be sent this Infographic “18 Myths people believe about Education” from Dyeseka Budac, Community Outreach Specialist , Open Colleges.

Dyeseka was a member of the team who developed it.  Get the Infographic and read the explanations of each myth here.

The explanations on the aforementioned site are sufficient. But why I wonder do these myths prevail? I believe some reasons problem might be:

  • Teaching instead of facilitating learning. Pedagogy by its very definition is teacher-centric. Teachers should engage the natural curiosity of their learners. Children are all different, so the process should engage different kids in different ways.
  • Teachers are too bound by the syllabus and the assessments. When we teach to improve pass marks we are focused on numbers instead of learning. In business we say “You get what you measure” – doesn’t the same apply in education?
  • Sir Ken Robinson points out that STEM education is very necessary, but not more so than the Humanities, Arts and Physical Education. All of these are important for the creative process.
  • Teachers should be treated and compensated as Professionals. As Professionals they must subscribe to a Code of Ethics, and embrace life-long learning.
  • Learners should be made to believe they are capable of learning and succeeding. So the teacher has a critical role to play in building self-esteem.
  • Class sizes must be manageable (despite the contention of Myth 15). If the class has more than 35 learners, it’s not teaching it is crowd control!
  • Technology can be used very effectively for delivery of content, and self paced learning does help with the natural learning of curious kids. However it is not effective if it is not provided in an enabling environment.

In my view we have to stop embracing the myths, which are simply excuses which are not factual. We need to focus on enabling teachers, and providing a more flexible environment where the focus is on learning.

Benjamin Franklin contended that there were three types of people in the world: Immovable people, who can’t and won’t change; Movable people, who with some encouragement will change; and Movers who are the people who drive change. Let’s ignore the Immovables, and be the Movers who bring the Movable’s around.

Learning & Teaching – Why they are different processes

I completely understand why the South African Minister of Basic Education is doing away with Outcomes-based Education. The results speak for themselves. But do we focus too much on pedagogy (teacher-focused) and too little on experiential learning? Going back to the basics is no bad thing – fundamentals such as reading and writing and even computer literacy are fundamental. Indeed the first two are  good examples of subjects that need to be taught. Although a love of reading is surely something that is learned by experience – you can’t teach that!

My favourite example is about divorce. If  anything can be taught, then we should teach people how to get on and have a successful marriage, or they should have learned by other’s mistakes, but as we all know, they don’t!  That’s because human behaviour is just so complex!

All of the things that ultimately make an individual “employable” , or able to create work for themselves, are behaviours that must be learned. For example, good communications skills, and customer service are behaviours. You can tell people over and over what makes for good customer service, but unless they have experienced good and bad, and had positive  reinforcement for good behaviour, it’s really just so many words that can be learned but not internalized.

Can we teach entrepreneurship? I think not – we have to help an individual to uncover their own inherent ability and wish to be creative and entrepreneurial. On the whole though, the pedagogical approach to education destroys creativity.

So in my view, by removing outcomes based education, we might just be throwing the baby out  with the bath water. Leaners might get better marks, but be even less employable because they  do not demonstrate good soft skills, and are not able to think for themselves.

So why (in my opinion) was outcomes based education such a dismal failure? Perhaps because the pedagogical approach was used to try to teach the concept to educators, and their behaviours never cahnged!