Archive for category Learning Strategy
There are a range of labels or overarching terms in use in Learning and Development (L&D) to describe different modalities or approaches to learning e.g. eLearning, mobile learning, social learning. My recent search to understand how the L&D profession defines the term ‘blended learning’ led me to think about the pros and cons of the way we use labels in the L&D field.
An Example – Blended Learning
There a range of views on what the term ‘blended learning’ means, exemplified by Taruna Goel’s 2010 post ‘Make It Blended‘ (As an aside, it was prescient of Taruna to product that the specific blend would change over time as more possibilities became available via technology). The situation had not changed In 2015 when Jane Hart ran a poll on what the term means. The poll results show a range of interpretations, with 49% selecting ‘a training programme containing a mix of face-to-face and e-learning.’ This dominant view is reflected in the Wikipedia definition.
Other people have suggested that in addition to using a range of delivery formats and media the range of aspects that can be blended include:
– social contexts* – individual / one-to-one, small group/cohort, community
– learning strategies* – exposition, instruction, guided discovery, exploration
– communications media* – same-time/synchronous, own-time/asynchronous
– learner opportunity to learn, do, share and teach
* source – More Than Blended Learning by Clive Shepherd, 2015
Clearly when discussing blended learning it’s important to explain what you actually mean by the term for people could have different interpretations. I like the approach taken by Chris Coladonato who told me “I don’t call it blended learning, I simply say we are creating a learning experience that is a blend or mixture of a few different media formats and delivery modes to create an experience that will achieve our desired performance outcomes….and meet your needs.” The point of sharing this explanation from Chris is not to propose that this is the correct definition of ‘blended learning’.’ Rather it’s to suggest that a plain language explanation of what you are trying to do and why in a specific context is clearer than using jargon that others might not understand, or may interpret differently to you.
Pros and Cons of Labels
What are the benefits of using labels such as blended learning, mobile learning, working out loud (add your own to this list – there are plenty)? When they first emerge these labels can alert us to emerging trends in our field – be they something that is genuinely new, or something that may have been around for a while but we have moved away from or have the opportunity to use in a new way, usually through technological advances. They can invite us to explore and have conversations. They prompt us to examine our practice both individually and collectively. They are triggers or reminders to consider a range of approaches – to be flexible in our practice, and an invitation to consider a wider range of options in designing learning experiences.
However, if we latch onto labels or get lazy in our use of them or thinking about them they can become unhelpful. It’s easy to throw a term around or focus on one aspect of an approach without taking the time to understand it or critically examine it. This leads to myths (e.g. social learning requires the use of technology) and unrealised potential. A ‘mini-industry’ can arise around an approach with people overcomplicating it and making it seem harder to implement and less accessible. Jane Bozarth’s ongoing reminders to keep ‘showing your work‘ simple and accessible is a plea against this kind of overcomplication. Different interpretations of a label can impede discussion and development of our practice rather than promote it. Confusion and rigidity can result, rather than openness, flexibility and increased effectiveness.
How Should Labels Be Used?
Labels can be useful shorthand to refer to learning approaches, however should be used with care. To help me use them effectively here are some guidelines I’m adopting:
- Take the time to understand a label before you start using it or applying the approach that it refers to.
- Identify the essential characteristics of the approach in order to avoid unnecessary over-complication.
- Consider whether the label is redundant. Does the approach it describes already exist under a different name?
- Consider whether the label is necessary. Use labels sparingly. Could you use a plain language description instead?
- If it’s appropriate to use the label, then clarify what you mean when you use it. Keep it as simple as possible.
What do you think of these guidelines – Agree? Disagree? Got something to add? Post a comment if you’d like to continue the discussion.
PS – My Conclusion on Blended Learning
In the case of ‘blended learning’ my view is that it’s too broad a term and has too many interpretations to be helpful. The important point is to be flexible in learning design.
My thanks to Chris Colandonato and Shannon Tipton for sharing your views on this issue with me.
I recently finished working at Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA). Those of you who have follow me on social media or read my blog know that I really enjoyed my job. So you may be wondering why I have decided to return to working independently.
The Job I Enjoyed
In November 2011 I started a 6-week contract with CCA to design a national approach to capability development in Supply Chain. One thing led to another and I joined CCA in early 2012 as an employee to lead the Supply Chain Technical Academy. At the time a completely decentralised model was in place for technical capability development with an independent, inconsistent approach in different locations. CCA had invested heavily in a range of equipment and platforms, and wanted to ensure that their capability to use these was sustained and improved. The introduced a robust national approach to developing core technical capabilities via blended learning utilising the 70:20:10 framework.
In early 2014 the Supply Chain business strategy changed. We updated our capability strategy to maintain alignment and strengthen governance. We also explicitly added continuous workplace learning to our strategy, which we defined as ongoing learning outside of structured programs. To execute this strategy we set about modernising our Learning & Development approach and capabilities.
My time at CCA was a period of significant professional growth – due both to my work experience and self-directed learning. In 2014 I transformed my professional development, as described in, and symbolised by, this blog. I have developed a strong global Personal Learning Network (PLN), adopted Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) and Working Out Loud (WOL) practices. This enabled me to step-up my strategic leadership and implement modern approaches to workplace learning. One business challenge I became particularly interested in is improving the use of knowledge and expertise to improve business performance.
At CCA I had the opportunity to be innovate. I felt I could make a positive difference to the daily work experience of people across the organisation. My role was a vehicle to impact individual, team and organisational performance. I worked with people I liked who were professional, reliable, and cared about what they did. For the most part I did work I enjoyed that gave me a sense of meaning and contribution. However, over time my strengths and interests shifted – and I wasn’t able to find a way to focus on those within CCA.
Why I am now Working Independently
Having realised that it was time to move on, I could have looked for another corporate role. Instead I have chosen to return to working independently. Here are the reasons for this choice.
1) To focus on work that plays to my strengths and interests – I want to pursue projects that focus on the things I am really good at and that bring me the most satisfaction. In a corporate job I would be in a weaker position to say ‘no’ to elements of the role that don’t meet this criteria. Working for myself increases my position to choose what I work on.
2) To have greater impact. Working independently extends my reach. My personal vision statement includes the aspiration: “I make a positive difference and leave people, places and organisations in a better state than I found them.” Working with more people and organisations increases my opportunity to make an impact.
3) To learn even more. When I last worked independently I found that working with a range of organisations accelerated my learning. I get to see what is working well and what could be improved in every project or task I work on. My capacity to create value constantly increases through exposure to a variety of organisations.
4) To be valued more – As my external profile increased through networking, writing, and speaking, people from other organisations sought me out. They wanted to know more about what I did and how I did it, or to use me as a sounding board for their work challenges and opportunities. This tells me that I have knowledge and experience that I can contribute to others in a range of organisations. As an employee people inside your organisation often value your contributions less because you are one of them and not an external expert.
As an aside, why do people leave it until someone’s farewell to say ‘thank you’ for your contribution and tell you what they appreciated about your work? Tell a colleague today what you value about their work and thank them.
5) To improve my productivity – I don’t need to spell this one out in detail – less corporate administration, less organisational politics, fewer distractions and interruptions, less commuting. I’m very good at organising myself and find it easy to focus when working independently.
6) To improve my lifestyle – I want greater flexibility to work when I want in the way I want. Working independently increases my capacity to create balance across the many roles in my life. Another consideration is that while I am still energetic and passionate about my work, I am closer to semi-retirement than high school graduation. I am in a better position to create ongoing income sources working for myself than for an organisation.
What I Will Miss Most
The thing I will miss most is the daily camaraderie and energy of my Academy colleagues. They are professional, reliable, willing to take a risk and try new things, and have a growth mindset. They supported, encouraged, challenged, guided, inspired and motivated me.
What About You?
What is your current work situation? Do you work for yourself, or are you considering this option? Why? Leave a comment to share your experience and thoughts on working independently versus being an employee.