Think differently – reflections on Learning Technologies 2012

by | Feb 12, 2012 | Articles

If you want to dramatically improve business results through learning technologies this year, then it’s time to put aside previous experiences, shake off preconceived ideas and think differently!

This was the Towards Maturity Challenge  for visitors and delegates to #LTUK12 and was at the heart of our conference contribution (you can download the slides below) but it also turned out to be the theme for the conference as a whole.   It is clear that conversations alone are not able to influence our actions and outcomes.

So for me the excellent Edward de Bono delivering his lo-tech but thought provoking keynote on day1 provided a framework that helped me to capture practical ways in which the conference can help us think differently and improve results. (read more on his work here).


‘Creative thinking can be blocked by familiarity’

He highlighted that something that is already successful blocks can block our ability to have different and better ideas. In the track that I was contributing to, we discussed how the benchmark highlights that 4 in 5 organisations are now using some form of learning management system, with self-paced elearning courses, 77% of organisations are also using live online learning environments. Reducing cost and improving access is a priority for over 4 out of 5 organisations and, on the surface these tools are  really helping us to deliver more for less , critical in today’s economic climate.

However, organisations now are looking for ways to become more agile, to encourage sharing and to respond faster to change. Top performers [measured by the Towards Maturity Index ] are thinking differently about these things and starting to embrace change but sadly the majority are not.Compared with 2008, we are less likely to agree today that our e-learning supports the skills the business needs; we’re even backing away from training our trainers how to blend technology more effectively.

Are we now ‘living in a box’, blinkered by past experience successes and an overwhelming desire to reduce risk?

EBNE – excellent but not enough

Edward de Bono used this term to help us challenge our thinking by considering that an idea might be excellent but not good enough. Evidenced by our behavior, our current thinking is clearly ‘elearning is great for compliance training and imparting knowledge ‘. This has a form of excellence, – it works, it delivers results and businesses are demanding more.

However our research clearly shows that for the majority stop at this point but the top performers go on to do more. The conference illustrated a wide range of areas where we can go deeper still.

For example Guy Giffin created a great case for the use of modeling and simulation in developing complex and subtle tacit skills such as communication and stakeholder influence. Our old style 15 minute course or 1 hour web presentation won’t hack it in this area but harnessing the power of technology to model behavior and provide branching really has the power to  make a difference.

Joanne Jacobs highlighted how we can move beyond consuming online resources to really start to engage staff in sharing and collaboration using social media by building trust.

Having alternative ideas does not mean that current ideas are not relevant

The debate around formal and informal learning has been going on for some time and yet we are seeing little progress in adopting the opportunities outlined by Joanne Jacobs and others throughout the event – in fact 45% of us still only see ‘the course’ as the only option for building performance.* Edward de Bono encouraged us to consider that we can explore alternative ideas without rejecting the current ones.

Boyd Glover from Dixon’s Retail speaking on the exhibition floor opened with a challenge ‘ Informal or formal learning – why not both?’ and went onto discuss how integrating informal sharing strategies with formal learning approaches on the shop floor resulted in a 30% increase in revenues for new laptops launched. Boyd drew closely on Bob Mosher’s 5 moments of need to help him think through the best ways of combining formal and informal learning. In fact Bob, speaking at the LT eXchange also highlighted that by introducing performance support ideas during formal learning itself is a great strategy for encouraging change.

Challenging familiar allows us to introduce change

In the opening keynote we were encouraged to challenge – challenge is never an attack .So how do we challenge our familiar and successful approaches?

Professor Steve Wheeler, speaking at the new LT eXchange, encouraged us to seek out and learn from the ‘positive deviant’, who is out there currently driving innovation by challenging the rules and sometimes going against them? He certainly provided a number of examples where bending the rules created new opportunities that were subsequently embraced.

Nic Laycock also highlighted how that crucial challenge can also come from within the businesses itself. He outlined in his session how the South African Energy giant Eskom is in the process of completely transforming their thinking driven primarily by a critical business need to have a vast number of highly skilled individuals to fulfill their business objectives. It was clear that traditional learning approaches would not be enough which has led to senior executive commitment to innovation and experimentation with new approaches where staff can learn from immersive experiences and from sharing with each other in new and creative ways.

Parallel thinking – looking at a problem from 6 different perspectives

We know that introducing any change comes with challenges but applying Edward de Bono’s ideas around parallel thinking and considering a problem from different perspectives (6 Hat thinking) can work really well.
One problem many face is the unwilling learner and Mark Bethelemy from Captita  and Gareth Williams from Cambian Group both highlighted  the importance of engaging stakeholders in discussing the issues before necessarily coming up with the solutions. This approach to looking at a problem from many perspectives can really work – I’d love to see it taken one step further by applying the 6 hat principles directly to the challenge!

Emphasise benefits not novelty!

When asked the question ‘how can we overcome resistance to new ideas and change?’ Edward de Bono stressed the importance of demonstrating value back to business. Kevin Streater from the OU and Matt de Feo, Snr VP of Sales, Training and Recruiting at Techtronics underlined this when they emphasised the importance of aligning new learning approaches to metrics that really matter to the business communicating those successes back to key business stakeholders.  From our own research we know that less than 2 in 5 organisations monitor results against pre-agreed business indicators top performers are and 3 in 5 organisations don’t even communicate successes to business managers*.

Stop talking, start thinking

This last one isn’t an insight from the man himself just one of my own reflections! From our own research we know that organisations who think differently in these areas are getting great results!* Talking about change and how new technologies can support that change doesn’t deliver – thinking differently does!  Learning Technologies 2012 certainly provided much food for thought, now it is time to think, decide and act!

* statistics taken from the 2011- 12 Towards Maturity Benchmark which can be downloaded at www.towardsmaturity.org/2011benchmark.

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