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TrainingZone interviews: Nigel Paine

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23rd Sep 2015
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We caught up with world-renowned L&D expert Nigel Paine recently to discuss learning diversity, his new boot camp initiative and more.

To me it seems we’re going through a period of decentralising the learning experience, where the LMS is becoming a less important part of many businesses’ learning strategy in favour of an empowered and informally networked employee learning experience. Would you agree?

The question puts us at the heart of the conundrum: in order to decentralise the learning experience, it is often necessary to centralise the learning operation! This is not about power and control, but an attempt to unify the learning experience across the whole organisation, and put resources where resources are needed to launch new company-wide initiatives. These initiatives may be around new learning models, the development of social learning, or building more orthodox learning journeys.

 So the processes at work are quite complex and this can make the traditional LMS appear clunky. In the face of this change, LMSs are changing too, becoming more responsive and flexible, capable of accepting user-generated materials and are cloud-based for speed and flexibility of operation. I don’t take anything for granted nowadays or believe that one model of learning delivery will suit everybody. 

With that in mind, how do you think think the perception of relatively new concepts in learning such as neuroscience can improve people’s personal L&D experience? 

No learning takes place without an underpinning theory and model of how humans acquire knowledge. This has not really been modified since the mid-20th century and the fact that we now have an explosion of insights around adults' learning ability through empirical data generated by neuroscience research, seems like a golden opportunity to put some tried and tested theories to the test. Many of our assumptions about the need for variety and excitement, around learning have proved to be completely exonerated by the research.

Others around the idea that learning is essentially a cognitive process only, have been fundamentally challenged. Emotional engagement, and inherent motivation are key success factors as well. If you want to make what you offer as effective as possible, then it is essential that you take a sceptical view of the current neuroscience output, and make up your own mind, but definitely incorporate some of its inherent lessons and logic into the design and planning of learning. 

You travel quite a lot for your work - do you see any specific blindspots in the learning experience in certain countries and are there also commonalities that businesses and employees in all countries universally struggle with?

That is a very good question! What I see is less and less about major discrepancies in approach or logic around the world that was based on geography. Once upon a time, you could guarantee that the US would be ahead in certain areas, Europe in others. Now some of the most interesting experiments are emerging from countries like Brazil, or Australia. The world is shrinking, and the uptake of advanced technologies and new theories about learning accelerates at the same time but are universally accessible. 

The gap, is now between organisations and companies that appear to 'get it' and those that don’t. And the main differential is around embedding learning in work and making the fundamental assumption that learning should happen constantly, and the sharing of insight should occur the whole time and not be separated out and set aside for an appropriate moment. This differential could end up being a defining feature of the success or failure of 21st-century organisations. Speed to learn is becoming vitally important. 

Tell us about this new event you are involved with. Why the boot camp format? Are L&D events not serving their purpose properly, do you think?

I don’t think L&D events are failing their audience; far from it. I was presenting at Learning Live recently and I thought it was very successful, very well organised, with a great balance of speakers. The problem is that in the day and a half, I attended six or seven totally separate sessions. They ware all based around the idea of showing me something, or telling me about something.

I think there is definitely room in the market for the kind of day where you learn to do something new. You acquire new, direct skills that you can implement in the workplace, and that will enhance your capability in practical ways. It is good fun, engaging and improves your own capability as a learner.   The boot camp concentrates on developing three critical skills: building confidence and capability as a videographer; helping you become an effective curator and developing your practical communication and leadership skills. There is enough time allocated to each for real skills to emerge.> I want the day to be noisy and really engage everybody present, rather than have a group of people listen to one person.

I also want the skills developed, to be implementable in the workplace the very next morning. It is a simple idea: building a learning community where we all get to practice, make mistakes, and learn new skills. And I hope that some of the spirit of the day will rub off into the programs and projects the participants, themselves, deliver. I have also chosen a really great learning environment for the day: the WallaceSpace in Clerkenwell. It was dreamt up by somebody who was frustrated with the kind of workspaces on offer in London. Many were hotel like, often in basements and very uninspiring. The WallaceSpace, in itself, is a great place to spend some time regardless of what else happens. 

The boot camp reflects everything else that I have argued for in this article. Corporate learning is now about building great learning environments, engaging learners and trying new things. That is almost the task for the immediate future of corporate learning all in one sentence. 

Nigel Paine is a change-focused leader with a worldwide reputation and a unique grasp of media, learning and development in the public, private and academic sectors. You can check out the bootcamp at http://bootcamplearningstrategies.uk and if you type in the code: bootcampfriend when you checkout, there is a discount on the price for all TZ readers. 
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