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Disruption Debate with Cammy Bean: Shifting the Titanic

Welcome to the fourth instalment of our new Disruption Debate series, where we speak to leading industry experts to discover more about disruption in the L&D industry. In this post, Lars Hyland speaks to Cammy Bean. Cammy Bean is a long-time e-learning veteran and currently a solutions consultant with Kineo, a global provider of technology based learning solutions and one of the founders of Totara LMS. A frequent conference speaker and active blogger, Cammy is the author of The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design for the Digital Age.

Real life vs work

“There is a fundamental disconnect,” said Cammy, “between the technologies we use in our real lives and many of the technologies we use at work. This gap is particularly bad, with regard to learning technologies. Old school e-learning courses and learning management systems give e-learning a bad name because they don’t meet people’s needs.”

This is a complaint L&D professionals hear time and time again - that the way we use technologies for workplace learning doesn’t align with the way we use them in our ‘real lives’. We may use the exact same laptop or tablet for work that we use at home, but we use different tools and access information in different ways. L&D technologies haven’t really kept up. Cammy believes that this is a symptom of widespread inertia in the L&D community.

“At Kineo, we’re trying to look beyond what L&D is doing today. But we recognise that it’s hard - with regulatory compliance requirements to tick off boxes and millions of dollars spent on licenses for big systems, organisations don’t want to shift the Titanic. It’s almost an insurmountable problem, so L&D keeps doing more of the same. But we need to take a broader viewpoint - there are lots of different platforms and tools out there. Platforms like Totara LMS are super flexible and allow us to experiment with other approaches, like gamification and virtual roleplay tools. As a learning partner, we need to decide if we’re going to pull everything into the LMS and build those features in a ‘one-platform-to-rule-them-all’ approach or become tool aggregators, cherry-picking the best of everything out there in a more agile plug-and-play approach.”

24/7 change management mode

The world is changing at a faster rate than ever before, and this is particularly relevant to businesses. The average lifespan of the world’s top 250 companies is now around 15 years, as opposed to around 70-year lifespans just 20 years ago. And with this huge shift in organisational lifecycles comes all the accompanying product life cycles, which are also shorter than ever before. Businesses worldwide need the ability to respond to change rapidly, in particular to changes in technology. As Cammy says, change management mode is the new norm:

“You always have to be in change management mode, and that’s hard for people to accept. We have to look at all technology solutions as temporary. The shelf-life of technologies is so short that if you’re thinking long term, you need to know that pieces of your solution will be changing. For many people, this is a disruptive, unsettling, even paralysing mindset.”

Cammy believes that many organisations are struggling to get a grip on the myriad of new learning technologies which have become available in recent years. For instance, some organisations are opting for technologies created not by learning experts, but by software experts with no real understanding of how the tools will be used for learning. “Companies are letting technologies lead the way, not performance outcomes. This needs to be our starting point. We shouldn’t just be adopting the technologies vendors are pushing without thinking about how these technologies will help people do their jobs better.”

There’s also a myth that millennials (those born between the early 80s and late 90s) have different learning requirements than previous generations. But this isn’t really the case. “Millennials don’t learn differently,” said Cammy, “but they do access technology in different ways, giving them different expectations about how it should be used for learning.” But this mindset is true of not just millennials, but many tech users across all ages. We need to be agile in our approach to current and future generations and their expectations of workplace learning - how can we best prepare for when Generation Z (born post-millennium) hit the workforce in the coming years?

Embedding social learning

In these rapidly changing times, one of L&D’s key roles in learning is to facilitate deliberate practice to ensure new skills and behaviours remain front of mind. “Kineo’s award-winning solution for US Beef focused on giving learners opportunities for deliberate practice. We can use technology in smart ways to scaffold that experience, building in accountability and structure, and the opportunity to reflect on one’s learning experiences in meaningful ways.”

Social learning, which was a darling buzzword of a few years ago, has become more accepted and mainstream. However, “Social learning isn’t always seen as the purview of L&D,” said Cammy, “and we’re not always talking to the right people in organisations to get it on the agenda. Often, it’s a bigger conversation that needs to happen including more than just the L&D department.”

Cammy sees that Totara LMS features and social learning tools allow learners to pull their managers into conversations much sooner, keeping them in the loop and alerting them to any obstacles or challenges in the learning process. “We can use technology in smart ways to create these types of structured learning experiences that build in that social element with real-world, deliberate practice - it’s a disruptive approach in e-learning because it’s not just 30 minutes of self-paced content. It’s about creating smarter blends that use technology in meaningful ways to support the learning process. that’s becoming increasingly popular.”

Making learning technologies work in your organisation

A vital part of ensuring L&D professionals remain productive is to keep priorities front of mind at all times. “Always come back to your business goals,” said Cammy, “and don’t just chase the shiny new technology. Keep an eye on your mission, and make sure what you’re doing will help you achieve that. Are you designing a meaningful learning experience? Do you understand how your programme is helping you drive your bottom line?”

Another thing to consider is how reliant our learners are on technology. As we’ve seen, the rate of change can be paralysing for many people, so we turn to technology to help us with the increasing complexity of decision making. Cammy shared a story about a colleague who, when faced with the vast array of toothbrushes available at the supermarket, had to look up toothbrush reviews right on the spot before he could make a decision. For better or for worse, we’ve gotten so used to our ratings and reviews that we can no longer make simple decisions without them! We’re all susceptible to information overload, so the job of L&D is to cut through all the noise, take away unnecessary decisions and provide only the necessary information at the most convenient time.

Cammy’s final tip is for L&D teams to take inspiration from other industries. “Many organisations are growing at a very rapid pace, and facing challenges such as fast onboarding and high staff turnover. How can they meet the needs of their audience? They might want to ask themselves what other industries are doing. For instance, a bank could look at what fast-food restaurants are doing - they face similar challenges in different spaces. What are they doing to train their people? This can help you think outside the box and come up with more creative solutions.”

Finally, L&D must always remember that the technology itself won’t be around forever, but the learning principles are often timeless. “Technology is temporary, but organisations move really slowly when it comes to L&D. By the time they’ve decided on which technology to use, there are five new iterations available. Start small - pilot things with single divisions, not the entire company. You won’t necessarily find a one-size-fits-all approach. In the real world, not everyone uses Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, but at work we expect everyone to use one solution - instead, think about ways to get information out to people in many ways to suit everyone. This is how L&D professionals will be able to keep up in an ever-changing business world.”

Enjoyed this piece? You can follow Cammy Bean on Twitter @cammybean, and her book, The Accidental Instructional Designer, is available here. We’ll be posting more from our new Disruption Debate series soon - follow us on Twitter @totaralearning for all our latest posts.

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