Monday, 8 December 2014

a new chapter

I'm in the process of winding up two of my recent ventures.  I've announced on LinkedIn and Twitter that the Academy for Shared Learning, the social enterprise I have been developing for the past two years and that finally launched earlier this year, has been voluntarily wound up by its members.  Sadly, the Academy proved unable to generate the levels of interest needed to sustain it.  Alasdair Rutherford and I are also about to wind up Airthrey Ltd, our learning evaluation solutions business of the last three-and-a-half years; we're currently running what will probably be the last cohort of Learning Evaluation Action Development, and we're reviewing - and probably closing - the Learning Evaluation Network.

So what's new?  I'm joining Sense Scotland as its new Head of Organisational Development.  Sense is one of Scotland's leading charities and social enterprises, with 1100 employees, 400 volunteers, 20 shops and over £20 million turnover.  My role will be to merge the HR and learning functions, and develop an engaging people strategy, building on the reputation and success of the organisation to date.  It's a big challenge, but one I am really looking forward to meeting.  More to follow, I'm sure.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Signed copy of the Learnforever Book

I'm offering all readers and followers of this blog the chance to buy a copy of the Learnforever Book, direct from the author, at a reduced price and with extra benefits.

For just £12 sterling, you can have a copy of The Learnforever Book, signed by the author, with the personalised inscription of your choice, posted to any address anywhere in the world.

Published in December 2013, The Learnforever Book is a collection of posts and comments from this blog, between 2007 and 2013, edited and with a new introduction and index.  It covers the same range of learning and development and related business strategy topics as this blog, including leadership and management development, e-learning and blended learning, and evaluation of learning and development.

You can simply buy the book from Amazon for £15 (or US $22.49), but to take advantage of this offer, please make a PayPal payment of £12 to or click on the Buy Now link at - and email me to let me know what inscription you would like.

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, 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

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

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.