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


Friday, 23 August 2013

E-learning: better than face-to-face?

blended learning > e-learning > face-to-face learning!

I recently discovered a three year old research report from the Department of Education in the United States.  A meta-analysis, encompassing studies covering a 12 year period from 1996 to 2008, it compares the effectiveness of e-learning and blended learning to face-to-face instruction.

Advocates of e-learning have argued for some time that it is at least as good as face-to-face methods, but this research appears to provide substantial supporting evidence.  In fact, the research shows blended learning (a mix of online and face-to-face) works best, purely online learning is second best, and face-to-face the least effective option of the three.

Barbara Means, an educational psychologist and the report’s lead author, has said “the study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing - it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction”.

Before we get too carried away, we should note that the scope of this research was schools, where the objective was to evaluate the effectiveness of learning.  In the world of work, we need also to take account of the transfer of learning to the workplace, and subsequent impacts on performance and business results.  But this still amounts to an emphatic endorsement of the use of digital technology in learning.
Report here.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Don’t waste your money on training!

Like most L&D practitioners, I regard learning as A Good Thing, something to be encouraged at all times, and a good habit to get into.  Learning, in its broadest sense, helps people get better at everything they do, and it helps organisations succeed.

But that doesn’t mean all learning is always good for organisations.  This is basic economics.  Organisations have scarce resources, and need to make difficult decisions about what to spend their money on – what activities will add most value?

Ignoring this basic economic principle is the reason why expenditure on training is often wasted.  I’m reminded of the marketing manager who knows half of his advertising budget is wasted – he just doesn’t know which half.  Organisations often undertake training as little more than a matter of faith – they know it ought to be good for them, but they’re not sure exactly why, or to what extent.  This means the organisation can’t tell whether they’re best spending money on training, or better spending it on something else that might impact more on performance and results.
This is one of the reasons why Dr Alasdair Rutherford and I set up Airthrey, the learning evaluation solutions business, two years ago.  We wanted to help organisations work out whether training is working for them, and what parts of their training budget might be wasted.  Thus the message not to waste money on training, but to find ways to measure (or otherwise accurately judge) the contribution training makes, and so target scarce resources for training more effectively.

Airthrey’s flagship programme, Learning Evaluation Action Development (LEAD), is a means for organisations to work this out, using the best techniques available, with support from their peers, with the best resources on the subject, and with tuition from Alasdair and me.  It’s not another training course, but a form of supported consultancy, by the participating HR/L&D professionals themselves.  It works really well, and I commend it to you.

Monday, 12 August 2013

The Seven Pillars of the Corporate University

Thanks to Business Annual for re-publishing my 2009 article, The Seven Pillars of the Corporate University, in July 2013, as part of a feature on corporate universities.

You can read the article here:

Thursday, 6 June 2013

CIPD Centenary

The other day, I received my new membership card celebrating 100 years of CIPD, and then the latest issue of People Management popped through the letterbox with its inbuilt, if slightly repetitive, supplement telling the story of the 100 year history.  I usually enjoy historical perspectives, so why is it I feel marginalised by it?  And not for the first time.
People Management traces the history of CIPD back to the formation of the Welfare Workers Association, forerunner of the Institute of Personnel Management, but has nothing to say about the origins of the Institute of Training and Development (ITD) as the British Institute of Training Officers in 1964.  The picture of the institute’s magazines over the years follows the same line, through IPM publications, with no mention of any ITD journal.
This is part of a paradigm that regards learning and development (L&D) as a sub-set of human resources, ignoring the many thousands of L&D practitioners (and CIPD members) who do not work within an HR function – writers, consultants, coaches, independent trainers, vendors of L&D services, e-learning developers, learning technologists, staff of colleges and universities, community learning practitioners, and more.
When I blogged about this before, I attracted retorts from CIPD, but clearly the mindset hasn’t changed.
Some of my best friends are HR professionals; many of my clients work in HR; but I’m not one of them.  I am happy to be part of the CIPD community, as I have been for nearly three decades, but does that mean my professional identity has to be subsumed? Surely CIP isn’t trying to drop the D?

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


I attended the Hr Network Scotland annual conference for the first time last week, and it's fair to say I was blown away.

I don't know what I had expected, exactly. I knew it would be a decent conference, but I was unprepared for just how good. Ten years ago, Iain McMillan, the Director of CBI Scotland, told me that anyone who could bring together 100 people for a one-day event in Scotland was doing very well indeed. A decade on, times can't have improved, and yet Hr Network Scotland must have had about three times that number, and of a strong calibre too, featuring many heads of HR, OD and L&D, along with senior representatives from the supply side of the market. All of which made for great networking opportunities.

Hitherto, I had assumed the CIPD Scottish Partnership annual conference was the only game in town. How wrong I was.

The conference contributions were of an excellent quality too, from Jane Sparrow's keynote on culture and performance, through case studies of good practice in fostering employee engagement - and I say that in all due modesty having chaired the e-learning session, featuring the case study of Midlothian Council.

In passing on my congratulations to Lee Turner of Hr Network Scotland, I may have erred on the side of emphasising my former misconception - I hope he wasn't insulted! Perhaps I can make amends by recommending next year's conference to anyone interested in HR in Scotland. I certainly plan on being there.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

A book a year

I’ve been doing a lot more writing in the six years since I launched this blog.  After an eight year gap from my first book to my second, I’ve had three books published in the last four years (see sidebar links), and I’m planning to step up that rate.  Not that this is the season for resolutions, but I’ve decided to aim to write and publish one new book every year.
Later this year - within six months - I’ll be publishing my next work-in-progress, and I’ll be blogging further information in the coming weeks.  Next year, Alasdair Rutherford and I plan to publish our first print book on learning evaluation and impact (last year’s Total Value Add: a new approach to learning evaluation was an e-book only) – we’re collecting content, and we have a title, although that’s under wraps at the moment.  After that, my next solo effort will be in 2015 (I have a couple of ideas for new books on learning and development), and so on from then.

One area I’d like to move into is writing/publishing for the academic market.  I’ve just completed an undergraduate course for the University of Sunderland on Contemporary Developments in Business and Management (book length – about 80,000 words – but not counted towards my book-a-year target), and I’m about to start a postgraduate course on Managing and Leading People (similar length).  I’ve also co-written a postgraduate course on Strategic Action and the Environment for the University of Bedfordshire, and edited some Scottish Qualifications Authority management courses for Opus Learning. I’m open to offers!

Monday, 29 April 2013

I'm Spartacus!

In the current issue of Management Today, Nigel Nicholson offers “A New View of Leadership”.

Some of what he describes is not new – he offers a triangular model of seeing (vision), being (identity), and doing (action), which may be considered an attempt to bring together visionary, authentic, and action-based approaches to leadership.  Nicholson calls his contrivance “The Leadership Formula”, but it seems to me to contradict the much more interesting opening to his article.

Describing the collective behaviour of animals and birds, in herds and in flight, Nicholson asks “who is leading?” and characterises this as a “very human question and presumption”.  We can all, no doubt, recall instances where managers (aspiring leaders) see the key to teamwork as effective leadership (their leadership). Instead, Nicholson argues, teams that lack leaders do not lack leadership, because “leadership is not a thing (nor is it necessarily embodied in a charismatic individual) but a process”.

I’ve written before that anyone who has served in the forces, or has played a team sport, knows that leadership is often exercised by individuals other than the designated leaders, and sometimes by a collective. There is an increasing understanding that leadership is not the exclusive preserve of senior managers, something exercised from the top down – rather it is something anyone can do, in the right place and the right time.  We are all (potential) leaders, we are all Spartacus.

Nicholson seems to me to have carried this argument a step forward, emphasising that leadership is more than an individual quality, it is a condition to be cultivated in a work team or organisation, a pre-condition for success.  I am grateful for his insight and analysis, even if I feel he does spoil it a little by decrying “recipe books”, then going on to offer his own individual-centric “formula”.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Reason overcome by emotions

If you’re not interested in football, you could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about recently-appointed Sunderland coach Paolo di Canio, and revelationsof his fascist sympathies.  In a nutshell, many people involved with Sunderland Football Club would prefer they did not employ someone of such an extreme political persuasion. Less well known was the recent attempt by some supporters of Hamilton Academical Football Club to remove a stadium director who was once a member of the British National Party (BNP).  I suspect there are many other examples.

This is not confined to football, of course.  The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that a Bradford bus driver sacked (nine years ago) for membership of the BNP had his human rights breached (and by implication was unfairly dismissed).  Since the leaking of a BNP membership list in 2008, there have been calls for BNP members in many occupations to be sacked.

One correspondent to People Management argues that BNP members should not be admitted to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Fascism (like its bedfellow racism, with which it is often confused), is understandably repugnant to most people, but does that mean its adherents should be driven from employment and society? Of course, it may be very upsetting for employees to find a colleague holds such views, but the emotional public reaction to fascism does not help judgements as to whether this is acceptable on a case-by-case basis.

The very word “fascist” is akin to “paedophile” in its capacity to evoke outrage, and provoke ill-considered responses – the modern equivalent of a medieval burning at the stake.  Surely in an enlightened society, a modern civilization, we should have better ways to combat people with these attitudes, using reason, and a measure of understanding and compassion?

Human resources professionals have to advise on, and manage these instances, in pragmatic terms.  The solution to many problems among people in a workplace lies in learning and development, but how much time and resource can we legitimately spend guiding emotional fascists from their intolerant views towards a more co-operative working relationship with colleagues? This is the real business issue, obscured by political campaigning against fascists, confusion of fascism with racism (highlighted by the Di Canio case), and reason overcome by emotions.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The State of Learning Evaluation in Scotland


My learning evaluation business, Airthrey Ltd, is conducting research into the State of Learning Evaluation in Scotland.  Our aim is to find out who’s evaluating learning and development in Scotland, who’s doing it well, and what it is that makes them successful.  We believe this will provide a useful benchmark for studies of learning evaluation in other countries.
This takes the form of a Success Case Method investigation, as I blogged in November. We believe this will be the first time such an investigation has been conducted at a national level.
The research is endorsed by Robert Brinkerhoff, Emeritus Professor at the University of Western Michigan, and originator of the Success Case Method:
"This research project, utilising my Success Case Method, is an admirable exercise in taking the temperature of learning evaluation in a discrete territory. Not many organisations conduct learning evaluation effectively, and so it will be good to know what's working well in Scotland, who's having success, and why. The report of this project should provide a landmark exemplar for the UK, Europe and perhaps further afield. I am delighted to endorse it, and look forward with interest to studying the results."
If you have people/operations in Scotland, please take a little time (it should be less than five minutes) to complete the survey.  And please forward it to anyone else you know who may be interested.
The research report will be published this summer (2013), and everyone who completes the survey will get a free copy of the report summary.
Thank you.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Skill development

A few years ago, I wrote about Roberto Moretti's Practice Made Perfect system, as an approach to helping people learn skills. I've recently found a useful follow-up in an unlikely source.

As a football fan, I'm aware of the shortcomings in coaching, training and all-round education for professional players, so it is surprising to find what I would describe as cutting edge thinking in the arena of football coaching. European coaches have introduced a lot of new thinking and techniques to British football, and perhaps none more so than the two great Portuguese coaches Jose Mourinho and Andreas Villas-Boas.

Now I'm reading about how players can be trained to move beyond the tasks they perform automatically to acquire and add new skills. Have a look at this blog and see what you think. I especially like the idea of training players to concentrate better towards the end of games (when they are tired and less focused) and avoid losing late goals. I'm sure there must be similar applications to less glamorous work contexts, including leadership and management.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Shared Academy

When I wrote the corporate universities chapter for CIPD’s Learning and Development subscription manual (published 2007, but no longer available), I wrote: “That is not to say that the corporate university (CU) is the sole preserve of the large corporation.  The larger the organisation, the easier it should be to establish a successful CU, but small-to-medium-sized organisations can also benefit from this sort of approach, and can also aspire to their own CU.  Where potential learner numbers are small, as with organisations employing fewer than 1000 people, then partnership working can help achieve the critical mass needed”.

In the six years since I wrote that, through a global recession, the argument has become more compelling.

In the same piece, I suggested “training vendors, or traditional universities, or economic development bodies, may be able to catalyse collaborations among geographical neighbours, companies in the same sectors, or organisations with similarities but no directly competing interests”.

This ought to be the way ahead, but catalysts are needed.

In a few weeks, I shall be acting as a catalyst and announcing a proof-of-concept project for a new academy based on a collaboration among like-minded organisations.  Among the benefits we anticipate are:
  • Better value support services for people development (directors, employees and volunteers).
  • Lower cost learning and development, through sharing resources with the other partners.
  • A marketplace to sell learning services devised by each partner to the other partners and to wider audiences (charitable, public and private).
  • A branded online learning platform at low cost.
  • A share in income from selling online services and spare places on courses to a wider audience.
I hope this academy will serve as an exemplar of what may be accomplished when organisations set aside their differences in favour of what they have in common, and create something of mutual value and benefit.  I hope to create a prototype of the Shared Academy, and to blog about the experience.

For further reading, see:
and two of the tools in my book 101 Learning & Development Tools

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Growing faster than Facebook

Was 2012 the Year of the MOOC?  That’s the title of an article from the New York Times in November, but if that’s the case, what are we going to call 2013?  And is MOOC pioneer Andrew Ng right that it’s “growing faster than Facebook”?
MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses, which already seem like such an obvious development one wonders why they haven’t been around for much longer.  They open access to learning, by offering free enrolment to unlimited numbers, and they offer scalability by automating the teaching side of the teaching/learning equation.  These were goals of the Open University (OU) in the 1960s, blazing the trail for open learning, and perhaps the technology has only now caught up.  Indeed, the OU announced in December the first UK-based MOOC, Futurelearn, to rival the US initiatives from Coursera, Ng’s initiative on leaving Stanford, edX from Harvard and MIT, Udacity and others.

The numbers are staggering, with hundreds of thousands (actually 2.3 million and counting at Coursera) taking up these free courses, which genuinely deliver everything that open, distance and e-learning ever promised: learn what you want, when you want, where you want, at the pace you want.  They also ask questions of the e-learning industry, and pose challenges to those seeking commercial benefits from learning.  The challenge they pose to traditional universities is not so new, but I wonder if they may be the last straw on that particular camel’s back?

As with the likes of Facebook, questions are being asked about monetising MOOCs, but the exponential growth numbers will take care of that, one way or another.  See, as an aside, Donald Clark’s blog on this the other day.

 This is definitely one to watch. I would go so far as to say that MOOCs are the first new game-changing development to emerge since I wrote Delivering E-Learning four years ago. This was something I did not foresee.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my clients, followers and readers. I hope 2013 brings everything you want and need.
My thanks are due to Bob Little for my inclusion in his list of 2012 "e-learning movers and shakers". I'm not sure what I've done by way of moving and shaking in the past year, but I'm no less grateful for the mention - sometimes recognition lags performance, so maybe this is influenced by past achievements.
My book, Delivering E-Learning is still available!

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