This time last week, I was taking another trip out of my comfort zone as Alistair Nicholls had very kindly invited me to speak at the North West Business Breakfast organised by Manchester Business School. The title of my talk was Why Corporate L&D Needs to Change and How and it felt a good title to share my own journey thus far and to open up conversation.

Now I can talk fast (due to my alter-ego), but when Alistair asked me to keep to 20 mins I knew I’d have to speak even faster to get everything in – challenge set. It was relieved to see a good turn out and I enjoyed the hospitality of a strong coffee and a sausage butty.

Now it’s probably best to get this out the way….feels a little like a confession. I’m not an academic, I went to university but was one of those that returned after a couple of years empty handed without the piece of paper that’s not worth the paper it’s written on. It wasn’t for me. Wrong degree, maybe, wrong time, maybe, it just didn’t work for me…..

Why should I tell you this? Well this audience was very different to the audiences I have been used to speaking to which, to be fair, have primarily been my fellow L&D/HR  professionals at exhibitions, conferences and other networking events over the last 3-4 years. I’ve been used to evangelising to the converted but speaking to a group of postgraduate MBA degree holders, who knew what lay instore.

20 minutes isn’t long to get stuck in to the detail, I understood that I would need to sacrifice some of detail to get through all the content. I’ve dropped the slides below and hope they tell the story well enough without further explanation as I really want to focus on the conversation that followed after I’d shut up.

After listening to 20 minutes of me talking (quickly), I think I’d be chomping at the bit to get a word in and as the first hand went up on the Community Manager slide it felt like there was something bubbling in the room.

The first point/question/statement was along the lines of “this is all well and good but in the real world people don’t have time

Hang on, I’d heard this one before. In fact this is the biggest challenge I tend to hear no matter what audience – the “we don’t have time” line is a thinly veiled “I’m not going to change” line . I replied in the only way I could, by stating what I believe, “It’s an excuse, a cop out, a way to devolve any sort of responsibility for trying something different and moving our heads out of the way we’ve always done things – it’s an easy way out and a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset.

I can’t remember all the discussions in detail (aging memory) but the conversation then ensued around breaking workflow and busy people don’t have the time to participate in sharing information and we don’t, we can’t, we shouldn’t lined up and flicked off the tongue like they were primed and ready to leap in to action. Then the debate really started heating up as a lady stated that this is exactly the problem that needs to change. Instead of thinking like we always have around the way we work and learn it’s time to open our minds to what is now possible and start to do things differently not just talk about it.

There were extremely good points raised around my own curiosity and it’s all very well that I’m a curious person so this sort of open, informal, discovery sort of learning suits me but what about those who aren’t curious? What about those where this sort of learning and behaviour doesn’t come naturally. Can you develop curiosity as a skill, a behaviour, can it become a way of life or are we naturally gifted with curiousity or not? We briefly touched upon other skills needed to work and learn in the 21st century but this vast topic will have to live to fight another day (or another talk?)

There was another good point raised around curation being just another sort of formal learning as the curator still needs to create a path and a structure, it’s just from other resources rather than content creation. Curation is indeed a skill in it’s own right but is it still part of the formal learning mix just with a fancy name?

Then came the bombshell and I paraphrase so apologies if this isn’t word for word:

“Where’s the research that backs this up?”

“What research backing up what?”

I asked, slightly panicking and starting to sweat…..

“This 70% of learning is this and 20% is that and 10% is this, where is the research that backs this up. I would suggest that if you are going to talk about these things you are able to back it up with research”

I was caught in between a rock and a hard place. Ever since I’ve been in L&D I’ve heard the theories and models but I have never thought to question where this stuff comes from. So I stumbled and faltered and felt pretty stupid as I couldn’t quote where any of this stuff had come from and even mumbled something about Charles Jennings, however I did point out that this is what had worked for me. The framework (emphasis on framework) has helped me look at learning differently since becoming CIPD qualified in 2006 and is exactly how I have developed within my own career and the progress I’ve made in a relatively short period of time. My experience does count for something, research or no research as everything I’ve done in the last few years has been on the premise that learning is social, it happens through connections, through sharing and it happens all around us and I have created environments & systems, conditions and cultures where this can happen and is encouraged, celebrated and rewarded.

I promised I’d go and find the research that supports the 70/20/10 framework and post it in this blog and to my surprise there isn’t a great deal of academic research or things to back up the 70/20/10 framework. Rather than me waffle on about this study or research paper here is a blog post that provides a great insight in to where the model/theory comes from and how it’s become what it is.

Irrelevent of research papers or whether the 70/20/10 framework is another L&D buzz word and way for suppliers to re-package ‘blended learning’ solutions or if it’s an excuse for employers to jump on the band wagon to cut ‘training costs’ in the name of creating a ‘better blend’. I believe that this is where Learning Professionals need to stand up, make their voices heard and make a difference.

For me it’s not about looking at L&D in isolation but at it’s core it’s about re-inventing this thing we call work in a 21st century world. Developing skills and creating roles that have these new technologies, systems and communication channels at their heart and make them as useful, valuable and as powerful as they can be. The point was raised that you’re not going to replace a military person or a doctor needing formal training and yes I agree you wouldn’t want heart surgery from a heart surgeon who’d just watched a YouTube video. I don’t disagree in the slightest and I’m not advocating getting rid of formal training, I would however trust a heart surgeon using Google Glass to support the operation.

My point is we have a wonderful range of options at our disposal now to support training above and beyond the formal environment that can help people do there jobs more effectively. We have technology that enables us to comunicate, share and provide just in time support in such ways that would have been impossible a short time ago. We’re back to the slope of enlightenment in many organisations but in many they are yet to start the journey as technology is just an enabler and our attitudes and behaviours are still lagging behind.

So it’s not just corporate L&D that needs to change, it’s the workplaces in which they operate and that means the people who work within them. You could argue you can’t do one without the other. It’s time to evolve working practices and to enable the flow of conversation throughout an organisation where every employee has a voice and can and wants to share what they know. I want to be in the middle of that, connecting people and shaping communities, encouraging, nurturing, coaching, designing, innovating, sharing and working in new ways. Perhaps this IS a different type of L&D person, perhaps it’s not L&D at all….

Apparently the talk stirred more debate and conversation than any previous breakfast talk and I thoroughly loved the experience. I’ve learned things from it and will certainly be more prepared on the background and origins of the things I talk about. However, I’ve also learned that in a fast paced hyper connected world that is constantly changing and evolving, research that’s here one day will become obselete the next. I trust my gut and my instinct and I will continue to do what I believe is right and what I enjoy. In order for businesses to stay relevant and be successful in my mind there really isn’t a choice.

Get curious, open your mind and get changing, otherwise you’ll never have time.

There were also requests for case studies and examples of where organisations had approached learning differently.

Social Learning examples in the workplace curated by Jane Hart is a good place to start.

Did you attend the talk? What did you take away from the session?

If you did or you didn’t, I’d love to hear your thoughts and keep the conversation going.