"We need to all be lifelong learners, taking input and inspiration every day."

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Jamie Lawrence
Managing Editor
TrainingZone
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Stephen Walsh has been involved in the learning and technology industry for 20 years, co-founding global learning company Kineo. Stephen is an investor in BuzzSumo and is particularly passionate about both continuous learning and great information deisgn. He will be speaking at Learning Live on September 6th and 7th on content curation and it's importance to continuous learning.

Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, TrainingZone: What trends in learning do you think aren't receiving enough attention from industry and organisations at the moment?

Stephen Walsh, CEO, Anders Pink: Firstly, continuous learning. This industry has tended to think in fixed, modular units - courses, blended programmes, one-time experiences. They help you get from A to B. But then they’re over. Work (and life) isn’t like that. As Harold Jarche put it, courses are like stock. They become obsolete.

We need to all be lifelong learners, taking input and inspiration every day. This isn’t just a design consideration - this is about survival. The rate of change in all sectors means that our skills can become irrelevant very quickly.

In 1984 the shelf life of a business competency  was 30 years, now it’s less than 5. So my concern is that the vast majority of learning offered in organisations is backward looking and deals with the past.

What you learned last week, last year is largely irrelevant. It’s what you will learn tomorrow and how adaptive and open you are that makes the difference to your relevance.

As Albert Einstein said “once we stop learning, we start dying. And a good 21st century addition might be: “If you stop learning, you’ll stop earning”.

Secondly, content curation, and this one is related to continuous learning. If you accept the point that things change rapidly for all of us, we can’t revert to old modes to keep up.You could try and create a new course every week on the latest developments in say Big Data or AI and the course would be out of date next week.

You’re better off looking outside the organisation and traditional formats to find the most relevant content. Three million blog posts are published every day. 99% may be irrelevant to you. But some aren't. We need to help people to become good curators and learn where and how to seek out, make sense of, and share this information.

Finally, the use of AI in L&D. L&D has tended to be quite artisan. We tend to hand-craft solutions. AI gives us massive potential to automate a lot of what we do, including content curation. This is under-attended to at the moment.

Using shallow and deep AI to automate learning delivery and support, enable truly adaptive experience, and anticipate learner needs is a huge opportunity.

Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, TrainingZone: You've been industry-side in L&D for a long time, having built and sold successful companies. How have you ensured your offering is aligned with the needs of learners at that time?

Stephen Walsh, CEO, Anders Pink: There’s no magic formula to this but some elements:

Look outside your organisation and your industry. Look for trends in experience design, technology, gaming - these are all sectors that have bigger R&D budgets than learning. I’m a big believer (and I’m stealing this from Steve Jobs) of standing at the intersection of multiple disciplines and trying to connect the dots.

At Kineo we led on responsive elearning design - we were influenced by what web designers were doing around responsive design and saw how it could be applied to elearning. Same with rapid elearning before that. If we’d just looked inward we may not have seen the potential.

Listen to your sales team and empower them to be consultants. I’ve been fortunate to work with sales teams who listen to their customers, but also challenge them to consider different ideas. You can’t just be an order taker or your offer won’t evolve. Bring them ideas from communications, advertising, gaming, web design. Get them to think ‘what if” with you. Then you’re partners in innovating.

If you find a maverick, a changemaker in a client organisation, they can work with you to try something different in the form of a pilot - so it’s experimentation but responding to a real client need. That’s the best way to come up with new approaches.

Watch what learners do. It’s amazing how often solutions in this sector get deployed, and then other than some stats in the LMS, the makers of those solutions have no real idea how people are using and experiencing them. You need to observe behaviour. It’s not easy but if you want to understand whether your approach fits with how they learn and work.

Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, TrainingZone: What's next for continuous learning in the workplace - how will this area mature?

Stephen Walsh, CEO, Anders Pink: As mentioned above, I think this is the key area for L&D professionals to focus on. Providing formal courses and solutions is a very small part of the solution, and one that’s increasingly commoditised and standardised. Business leaders can go to the market themselves for this. L&D professionals need to reinvent themselves to be consultants on continuous learning.

That means:

  • Listen to learners and leaders - understand what areas they need continuous support in. Work with pilot groups - sales, research and other outward looking teams are great places to start. The culture has to be right to go beyond formal courses.
  • Use tools and algorithms to bring continuous learning, especially outside content into the organisation. Manually curating content for continuous learning isn’t scalable, but ech can help you.
  • Put it in the right place - embed in courses, or the LMS, or within preferred devices and platforms. It has to be easy to access relevant continuous learning, not an additional barrier.
  • Build a habit and be an example - Continuous learning is like going to the gym - little and often, not bursts of intensity followed by no activity. L&D teams need to be the examples of this and continuously learn and look outside their own teams to stay sharp on trends in areas like marketing, gaming, AI and more. Get into the habit of seek, sense, share - look outside, decide what’s relevant, keep your colleagues informed. You make yourself more valuable as a result.  

Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, TrainingZone: Getting learners to take responsibility for their learning and development is a challenge for many organisations. What tips would you give to help organisations get results in this area?

Stephen Walsh, CEO, Anders Pink: Building on points above I would say:

  • Focus on a subset of the organisation - a group that takes responsibility and will benefit from continuous learning. Sales teams have to stay a step ahead of clients and competitors. They can turn information about a prospect into an opportunity to contact them. So there’s an open door there- they don’t call it learning, it’s intelligence/insights/information they can use right now. That’s more business-focused.
  • Don’t call it learning - that for most people means a course. It’s providing actionable insights every day. Find a vocabulary that sets it apart from your formal offer. Taking responsibility for learning is too broad and vague - be specific about the tools, service and support you’re offering teams. "We will help you do X better by giving you Y and helping you."
  • Run a focused pilot and communicate the results - show what people discovered that they wouldn’t have otherwise. For sales teams in particular, show how tapping into a wider range of content in short bursts made it easier for them to engage with clients and prospects. Market and communicate the results internally and offer a service with tools and support to other teams.

Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, TrainingZone: What excites you at the moment about the learning industry?

Stephen Walsh, CEO, Anders Pink: The tech is better than it's been in the 20+ years I’ve been in the industry. It’s not that long ago that streaming video was out of the question for clients. VR/AR and interactive video can help take things even further, in addition to curation tools and adaptive learning engines.

The wider tech landscape is more exciting too - as I mentioned AI and gaming provide a huge range of opportunities to add different elements to learning solutions.

So the palette has more colours than ever. But to follow through on that analogy, it’s what you paint that matters. The core skills of effective listening, being a consultant, designing for the right need, knowing when to innovate and experiment, and delivering effectively matter as much if not more as ever.

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