Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Sharing learning across the third sector

Today, I am delighted to be launching the Academy – sharing learning across the third sector.  This new initiative has been a long time coming: since I first discussed the concept with David Elder nearly three years ago, the model has changed twice, funding partners have come and gone, but at last, today, the company I incorporated last year finally gets off the ground.  The launch event is being held this afternoon at founder member Sense Scotland’s TouchBase facility in Glasgow.

The Academy is a not-for-profit social enterprise, a co-operative consortium, and a company limited by guarantee, registered in Scotland.  It’s also an expression of the “shared academy” model I blogged about in February of last year.  The company is incorporated as The Academy for Shared Learning Limited, but will trade as The Academy, with the strapline ‘sharing learning across the third sector’.

The Academy is first of all a marketplace for charities, social enterprises, community organisations and individuals involved in the third sector, to buy and sell learning services.  Secondly, it’s a means for its members to network, collaborate, and share resources and opportunities.  It’s a partnership model for charities and others to work together, access high value services, generate income, and co-operate for mutual success.

To begin with, the Academy is offering a range of courses, e-learning and publications such as workbooks, developed and sold by its members.  All the proceeds go directly to the members themselves.  Over time, we expect to extend the range of learning services, and feature collaborative services from more than one member.

Membership is open to anyone who shares the Academy’s aims, so not just charities and not just those in Scotland.  Anyone who values the contribution of the third sector, and especially its expertise and ethos in learning and development, would benefit from membership, including local authorities and other public bodies, individuals, and other organisations involved in similar services.  And many of the Academy’s services, including e-learning and printed publication, reach well beyind Scotland.

More information is available at the Academy’s website.  You can join the Academy at
I hope to blog further with updates about the Academy’s growth and progress.  Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Performance Improvement

The phrase “A Good Thing” crops up a few times on this blog, in the context of “learning is A Good Thing” – it’s even an index item in The Learnforever Book.  And of course, my strapline invites you to learn like you are going to live forever.  Learning is good for you, as an individual, and is good for organisations too, not just because of what you learn, but because of the doors it opens to new learning, and because of the skills you acquire for adaptability, to cope with change, and to handle new situations.

Learning and development practitioners could embellish this argument, sharing the belief that learning is beneficial to everyone, and a worthwhile investment for any organisation, but… (There had to be a but coming, didn’t there?)

Learning is ubiquitous: it happens everywhere, planned or not, and we are increasingly aware of informal learning and social learning.  Organisations have limited resources and need to make some tough choices about what to invest in: planned learning is only one of them, as there are many other competing investments that can drive productivity, profitability and success.

And so typically we look to learning and development to cause performance improvement, which should yield measurable business impact.  And the key to successful L&D is to ensure it directly contributes to performance improvement.

As planned learning usually takes place away from the job, or even on-the-job is often protected from exposure to normal risks and costs, this means ensuring that learning transfers to work.  To put it another way, the knowledge, skill and competence people learn in organised L&D activities need to be applied at work.

This is reflected in Donald Kirkpatrick’s evaluation levels, where his second level is about ensuring knowledge and skill have been learnt, and his third level is about ensuring that knowledge and skill are applied to work.

Dr Ed Holton has identified an academic model of 16 learning transfer factors, based on research in the USA, and there are other models. The essential truth is that no L&D initiative is complete unless it has a built-in process to overcome any barriers to learning transfer and ensure learning transfer actually takes place.

Learning and development are important in life, in almost any context, but in organisations their importance lies in how they are embedded in, and contribute to, performance improvement.  The simple paradigm is that learning and development leads to performance improvement, which in turn leads to business results.

L&D practitioners need to pay more attention to performance improvement.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Why you should join the Learning Evaluation Network

Many people, if they’re honest, will admit that they aren’t doing enough to evaluate their learning and development. Most of us get regular feedback from learners, and can be confident learning interventions are well received; most of us know that learning is a good thing to do; and in many cases there is broad alignment of learning interventions with organisational goals.  But how many of us, hand on heart, can show the value that learning adds, can point to where it makes a difference, and can measure its contribution to business results?

Do you regularly and robustly measure the business impact of your learning and development?  Do you collect and analyse meaningful data about the impact of your learning and development?  Do you learn and apply the best techniques for this?  Do you invest in resource to make this possible?  Are you up-to-date with the latest innovations? Do you have a portion of your L&D budget dedicated to evaluation?  Have you undertaken any specialised evaluation or research training?  Anyone who answers any of these questions “no” is missing out.

The thing is, dedicating scarce time and resources to evaluation can feel like an added burden, an excess cost, even where no external help is bought.  External help may be very valuable, but it may also be very expensive.  And if the organisation’s managers already balk at the demands on them to support learning interventions, how much more will they resist being asked to contribute to evaluation?  These are among the reasons why learning evaluation is frequently neglected.

But the answer is to hand.

What you need is ready access to information, resources, a sense of what others are doing, and the opportunity to ask questions of experts, whenever you need it.  All this and more is provided by the Learning Evaluation Network, and at an affordable price.  So even if you don’t invest in evaluation consultants, or costly processes, or specialised training, there is a minimum you can do to keep abreast of evaluation issues and equip yourself to do better evaluation.

The Learning Evaluation Network is an online community of members with a shared interest in, and experience of, evaluating learning and development in organisations.  Members are drawn from all over the world, and include lots of practising L&D managers, and leading thinkers like Professor Robert Brinkerhoff and Dr Alasdair Rutherford.  The network includes not just connections with other members, but blogs, a Q&A forum, book reviews and recommendations, downloadable resources, a compendium of links to free resources elsewhere, and much more.

Membership is usually £132 (that’s £110 plus VAT in the UK), but you can benefit from an introductory discount for a limited period by quoting promotional code AL421 when you register at http://www.airthrey.com/network/, making the price £118.80 (that’s £99 plus VAT in the UK).  And you can pay by credit card via PayPal.

For further information about network features and benefits, contact info@airthrey.com.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Learning Evaluation Network

When is a social network not a social network?  This issue was raised in the testing phase of the Learning Evaluation Network (LEN), just launched on the Ning platform.

Ning describes all the networks it supports as “social networks” but this conveys all sorts of assumptions, largely based on the most widely-recognised Facebook model. However, to take just one example, the Learning Evaluation Network is closed to the public, and open only to paying subscribers.

And so the founders of LEN (of whom I am one) don’t use the term “social network” – instead it is based on Etienne Wenger’s theory of Communities of Practice, and on the more recent concept of the personal learning network (derived in part from the idea of personal learning environments). In fact the term used by LEN is a “shared learning network”, which encapsulates some of all of the above – let’s see if that one catches on!

Evaluation of learning and development is pretty niche. Some would say that about L&D, and concern about its impact, and relationship with performance improvement, is even more niche, so evaluation of L&D bounds on the extremes of esoterica…

Except that it is rather important. Someone told me recently I should forget about trying to sell clients what they need and focus instead on what they want – at the risk of perpetuating a form of condescending paternalism, I’m going to carry on ignoring that advice. L&D practitioners need the learning evaluation network.

All of which amounts to some philosophical musings about what is really a very concrete proposition – members who subscribe to LEN connect to experts and practitioners in learning evaluation from all over the world, get free information, advice and resources, and the scope to accomplish much more. I think it’s a great concept, and I commend it to you.
Followers of this blog can join the Learning Evaluation Network at a discount of 10% from the published annual subscription by quoting promotional code TL420 when they register at http://www.airthrey.com/network/

Monday, 9 December 2013

Hot off the press!

The Learnforever Book is now published.

You can find it on amazon, and further links will follow.

Any follower of this blog, or commenter, may request a copy directly from the author - I'll be happy to post a personally inscribed and signed copy with no added charge for postage.

I'll blog again with any reviews or other feedback.

And of course, comments are (always) welcome.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Learnforever Book

I’m pleased to announce that my fifth book will be published by Paragon in time for Xmas.

The Learnforever Book is a compendium of selected posts from this blog, compiled by theme, and featuring a new introduction, editorial comments and bibliography.  If you enjoy this blog, you should like the book too.

The book’s themes include e-learning and blended learning, leadership and management development, and evaluation of learning and development, among others.  The foreword is by Nigel Paine.

All of the posts included are from before this post, and nothing that follows will be in the book.

More information once the book is available in December.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Explaining Total Value Add

One or two people who have read the e-book I published last year with Alasdair Rutherford – Total Value Add, a new approach to evaluating learning and development – have asked for more information about how Total Value Add works.

Total Value Add includes two related ideas.  The first is that organisations derive a lot of value from learning and development, and need to capture more of it, as cost-effectively as possible.  The second is that different evaluation methods and tools lend themselves to different kinds of capture, and so a range of tools and techniques need to be applied in different situations.

Let’s take the first idea first.  Opportunities for development are increasingly seen as part of the benefits package of working for an organisation – at least by the more enlightened and ambitious employees – and so it makes sense to check that learners enjoy the learning opportunities.  Reaction sheets do this well, but do you really need to check the reactions of every employee to every learning experience?  Yet that’s what most organisations actually do, and it’s not cost-effective – judicious sampling would serve the same end, for a fraction of the effort expended.

That’s one example.  Another is that learning interventions do not necessarily provide the sole means to effect the kinds of behaviour change organisations need – but they may provide a spur.  Acting in concert with line managers dedicated to managing performance, learning interventions can help bring about improvement, perhaps by training line managers to be better coaches, or by providing performance support to employees on-the-job.  This sort of intervention requires analysis of the performance desired, a measure of the current level of performance, and means to record progress in improving performance.

Turning to the second idea, our first example should direct you away from universal distribution of happy sheets.  These are often poorly designed, usually poorly distributed, and rarely properly analysed or acted upon.  A better use of resources, and a better way of capturing value, would be to select representative samples, and interrogate them in more detail, perhaps using interviews rather than surveys.  The barriers here are that L&D practitioners lack survey design skills, question writing skills, and typically don’t know how to select a truly representative sample.

The second example calls for an evaluation method that tracks employee performance, and gauges the impact of L&D in improving that performance.  Possible methods include Business Impact Modelling, Dave Basarab’s Predictive Evaluation, or Ed Holton’s sixteen learning transfer indicators.  Most L&D practitioners – in the UK at least – will have scarcely heard of these methods, far less have the skills to implement them.  Yet neither of the more commonly recognised evaluation models – Kirkpatrick or ROI – features the means to tackle this sort of issue.

Part of the problem is that many L&D practitioners are not even conscious that they don’t know enough. We need to raise awareness of what’s involved in evaluating L&D, spread knowledge of a wider range of tools, and clarify what extra skills are needed.  More information can be found at www.airthrey.com