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Taking back the power

Podcasts and Audio | 21.03.2018

This month the team discusses 'learner power' - who has control of L&D in your organisation? We talk about identifying where you are now on the 'learner power continuum' and how that can help you make the most of social learning in a way that suits your needs and culture.

Paul Westlake  0:00  

Welcome to Kineo Stream of Thought, a monthly podcast that features informal chat from the Kineo team about all things L&D. I'm Paul Westlake, Solutions Consultant at Kineo. And today we're talking about learner power.

I'm pleased to say on today's show, I'm joined by:

James Cory-Wright  0:21  

James Cory-Wright, Head of Learning Design.

Jenny Lycet  0:24  

Jenny Lycett, Marketing Director.

Jez Anderson  0:26  

Jez Anderson, Head of Consulting.

Paul Westlake  0:28  

Thanks all. Today's all around learner power. So why doesn't someone take me through what that actually means?

Jez Anderson  0:35  

I shall do that, Paul. So learner power is a concept that we've come up with, recently, on the back of some research and work, thinking we've been doing around social learning over the last 12 months. Ultimately, what we mean by learner power is what it actually looks like to develop a social learning culture within an organization. And it's a way of describing that and giving some language to that. So you've got learner, and you've got organisation, and you have the power between the two. And what we're talking about is the dynamic and that power shift between where the learner has all the power, and the organisation has all the power, and the different activities and things that we can do to support that shift as appropriate within an organisation.

Paul Westlake  1:22  

Can I question a little bit as to why, why we're doing this now, because I think companies already have an LMS in place to a certain extent they've got sort of control over the learning that people have. And then I guess the flip side of that would be a lot of learners are probably already using things like Facebook or WhatsApp groups and what have you, and almost putting that in place themselves. So why are we sort of forcing their hand a little bit on that now?

Jez Anderson  1:52  

... I think what we've noticed is a lot of organisations are interested in social learning, and what's actually so the benefits that social learning can bring to their organisations, and hence our interest in it and how we can best support it. And of course, there's lots of tools and other platforms out there that they really are all geared towards social learning and giving people opportunities to, to share and to collaborate and to contribute to different conversations. However, what we found is that lots of organisations were putting these tools in place, but they're not getting picked up. They're not getting adopted and started to wonder why and what was going on behind that. Yeah. So that's where we started to do our little bit of an inquiry into it and looked at, looked at what was going on. And we came up with the concept of learner power on the back of that, which is basically saying that some organisations have all the the conditions, if you like, the factors that they would need to generate a social learning culture, whereas others don't, you know, and that's fine. And that's okay. But what we want to try and do is start to help organisations work towards a social learning culture, which is, which is fit for them, which is fit for their culture, fit for the behaviors they demonstrate, fit for the sorts of roles that they employ, and fits for the tools that they've actually got available to them, 

James Cory-Wright  3:10  

I suppose Jez, what you are saying though, there is an assumption here that learning socially, you know, when learning with other people, is an inherently good and positive experience? 

Jez Anderson  3:23  

Yeah, yeah, I think ultimately, it happens all the time. And it's happening naturally. And that hence, that's why people are interested in it. The reality of it is organisations are trying to own it a little bit and put some, some boundaries around it. And it's about what do those boundaries look like? And how do we help organisations realise and reflect the boundaries that they're working within?

Jenny Lycet  3:45  

... I suppose that's one of the dangers perhaps, is that the more you try and put those boundaries on the, the more you can sort of try and negate really or you know, without meaning to negate what's what's happening naturally. So, you know, there's that sort of top down weird kind of influence coming into a social learning discussion and and trying to sort of move the conversation in a particular direction or trying to steer it, when actually, this is just happening naturally. You just have to be brave enough to let that go.

Paul Westlake  4:16  

But surely there are certain topics that this just does not work for so for example, you know, I'm sure people are screaming at their, their phones now, whatever they are lisetning to the show on, saying, but that's, that's all well and good. But what about for compliance? I don't want them to just generally discuss compliance. They need to do a piece of compliance learning because the company needs to know that someone's done it, and this is what they need to do. So where does that sort of fit in with giving the learner that power? It's not really optional...?

James Cory-Wright  4:44  

But when you say that they've done it, what do you mean by that?

Paul Westlake  4:48  

Well they have completed a certain piece of learning to a certain standard? 

James Cory-Wright  4:51  

Well, they haven't necessarily completed the piece of learning. I mean, that's that's the problem really, isn't it? It's about what are you tracking? You can't track learning, essentially, you can track that somebody has clicked, you can track clicking. And so I would question the entire validity of the compliance, online compliance training in the first place.

Jenny Lycet  5:11  

I suppose one thing there as well as that, you can, you can go through a course and you know, as you say, you could, you can click through and you can gain the information. And what you might need to do then is go and socialise that and, you know, work it out in the workplace. So, put it into practice, chat with your colleagues, and, you know, start to build experiences out of the things that you've learned.

Jez Anderson  5:32  

And so what, in some ways what the model does, the model reflects that and reflects the different needs that organisations will have. So at one end of the model, what we've called is a is a bucket, if you like called embedded. So really, what we're trying to do there is just embed some social techniques into a standard learning design. So it could be a piece of compliance. But rather than just being a click through and you know, people engage or disengage, or whatever it is with it, it's there's a call to action within that which may well be a social call to action, it may be a question to go and go and talk to your colleagues go and talk to your boss, it is just asking them to do something with the information, maybe in a slightly different way to the way that they've done it before.

Paul Westlake  6:11  

So you said that's one of the buckets are how many buckets are there in our model?

Jez Anderson  6:14  

So there's four buckets. So we've got one end of the spectrum, which if you like, if you think about it as a diagonal line, going upwards. The one end of it is where the power lies with the organization and not with the learner. And that is that's the embedded end, so the far end of the spectrum is what we call unfacilitated which is the fourth bucket and which is where the power lies with the learner and not necessarily with the organisation. And then between that, so we've got one end we've got embedded, then it goes to blended, which is a blended solution built around social. And then you've got facilitated, which is starting to look at things like curation, and it's starting to look at how do you engage communities of experience, and practice together, but still in a way, which is slightly managed. And so bandwidth of of information has been controlled to a degree by the organisation. And then ultimately, as I say, unfacilitated, which is pretty much there's the tools crack on and use it as you want to as a community.

Paul Westlake  7:21  

And obviously people may be coming into this at a specific level, depending on you know, how much ... their social learning, approach is in the in the business already. Are we expecting everyone to get to this unfacilitated level then?

James Cory-Wright  7:33  

Not really know, to be honest, I think the value of the model really is just to get people thinking about where they are, where they're at, and where they might want to be, but they might not want to go there. I mean, that's the whole point of the learner power continuum, it might be that it doesn't really suit, the organisation doesn't suit the employees within the organisation, to sort of be at that kind of, unfacilitated level where, which is quite a bit of a free for all, just might not be appropriate. And actually, you touched on compliance, it may be to be on in the real world. Actually, a lot of the training is about compliance, therefore, the organisation doesn't feel relaxed about... losing control over that. And therefore it might not be appropriate to go and facilitate it. The key thing is that gets you thinking, and questioning yourself about what sort of... what you really want and where you're really at. So you don't just go blundering in and get it all wrong.

Paul Westlake  8:29  

...And I think that's quite key that we're not saying everyone needs to get to X point to be, you know, compliant for want of a better word in social. And so I guess we can offer support at each of those bucket levels. And if people wanted to move from, you know, bucket two, bucket three, or from bucket one, bucket four, then, you know, we could support them throughout all of that.

James Cory-Wright  8:47  

I think that's absolutely right. See, that's what, that's what sort of, we would hope to sort of bring to the table.

Jez Anderson  8:53  

I think the key is, is that it's not necessarily about everyone has to be aspiring to be unfacilitated in that way, it's only going to work with certain populations. And we've seen that that it tends to only work when you've got existing communities of practice working together, people who share, the similar sort of job, similar sort of roles have a similar sort of... almost like problem solving culture, that's where it works at its best, you know, the other end of the spectrum in, you know, embedded is fine for a more compliance organisation, or maybe certain roles within an organisation where actually all they're doing is, you know, all they'll ever do is do the compliance stuff. And that and that's fine. You know, it's okay. Ultimately, what we want to try and do is is is steer organisations towards the solution, which is going to best fit them. And we've got some examples of how we've done that already. Which, you know, which have worked which have worked well.

James Cory-Wright  9:54  

You see, I mean, you know, a classic example is that you, you think we're gonna go social. So you Create a site. Yep. And you tell everybody about it. You go there you go there. It's happened before....

Paul Westlake  10:06  

Yes, this whole social thing is an empty bucket, isn't it? And then people say it's failed, because no one's put anything into the bucket, but no one's told them. What sort of what has a bit weird even that, I take back what I've just said there was, no one else has told them what to say. So in some ways that's sort of flies in the face of this whole idea of social anyway, doesn't it?

Jenny Lycet  10:24  

It's interesting to me coming from a, from a marketing perspective, because it's exactly the conversation that we've had over the past, I was gonna say, 10 years, but maybe 15 years. And, you know, we want to encourage our our customers and our community to chat with each other to become advocates to become to be generating user generated content to have chats under our banner about a particular topic. But as soon as you try and encourage that they sort of stopped doing it really, you know, that they're doing it anyway, they're talking about us on Twitter, they're talking about us on Facebook, they're busy having their lives and their community. You know, we sort of weighed in and with our agenda, and it's, you know, it's the worst thing you could do, isn't it really, it's that thing of, well, you know, why build, why build a big empty sort of echo chamber of a community that's got nobody in it? And nobody knows what to say?

Paul Westlake  11:13  

Because everyone else is having those conversations elsewhere already!

James Cory-Wright  11:16  

... It is a bit of an echo chamber in the sense that it's empty. And it relies on people to sort of generate their own content... I think curation, though, is an important thing as particularly looking ahead. Not much of it's actually been done now. But there is a place for it. So you have a community, and it doesn't do any harm necessarily to have a curator, feeding things in spotting what, you know, the trends are picking up on what people are kind of wanting, or picking up also and what people are not interested in, and getting rid of that bring in some fresh stuff.

Jenny Lycet  11:49  

Yeah, I know what you mean, it does... not necessarily a bad thing to have a curator or somebody who's managing or looking after that community. I think, for me, the important thing is that it's somebody who makes sense. So you don't want it to be top down. You don't want it to be awkward or imposed. So somebody within that group already within that social group, who just becomes a champion. And you know, we talk about the 90-9-1 rule, you know, in terms of social media, so the 90 people who just read and just look and participate, the nine who are active members of the community, and the one who creates and seeds, the content, I think that's fine, as long as it's the right people.

Jez Anderson  12:29  

I think it's also interesting Jenny, that there's an overlay in the changing face of L&D within organisations. And moving away from being the owners of content to being the facilitators of content delivery. And I think in reality, what we're seeing is a trend much more towards that. And so part of this is about actually skilling and empowering L&D professionals to act in more, more a way of actually facilitators of content and facilitators of knowledge, versus people who are maybe more parental or more controlling over the knowledge and the information that people access.

James Cory-Wright  13:03  

And I think the other thing is there, of course, we shouldn't forget, there's a huge amount of stuff already that has been created already.

Jez Anderson  13:10  

And I think there lies the problem, the reality of it is is there is too much, there's almost too much now for people to intelligently access and intelligently use with the time that they have available to them. So it requires recommendations, it requires people to do some filtering for them.

James Cory-Wright  13:28  

And you could argue that actually, if you're truly social that you are doing that filtering, because the social community, an organic sort of community, will in fact sort of define for itself, what it needs and what it likes, and what it wants...

Jez Anderson  13:40  

Which takes us back to learner power really, which is ultimately what we're trying to do is we've created some avenues by which we can start to develop not only the tools, but also some of the skills that are associated and the behaviors that are associated with being social because the reality of it is to create social communities is very difficult. And we've seen that time and time again.

Paul Westlake  14:02  

So if I can ask, so we've been talking about this sort of stuff for a while now. And I know we've got some really interesting blog posts around social I know we've had conversations in the past around social as well. So how are people actually using this now? Can you give some examples? Or maybe give us some examples of where,maybe don't name any names, but you know, you got your four buckets there, we've got sort of clear case studies where people fit into those four buckets?.

James Cory-Wright  14:26  

An example of embedded social learning, which is at one end of the continuum, would be a project that we did recently where the content, in fact launches from within a social platform, IE: Yammer, and you're in the Yammer. And then you have a link to some content / some micro learning. You click on it, you go out to the micro learning piece, which is a piece of video and it's got four different options as to what you can do in regard to that video. One of the options is to in fact go back into Yammer and discuss the implications, the issues that arise in the video piece...

Paul Westlake  15:03  

...but the content itself has been put in place by that organisation to say to their people, this is what we need you to do...

James Cory-Wright  15:10  

Absolutely, it's completely designed, it's completely structured. And the social element exists within the formal piece of learning.

Paul Westlake  15:20  

...Which is slightly different to maybe the way, sometimes that's worked in the past where you might do a piece of formal learning and then maybe tag a form on to the end of it. So it's almost done the other way around. They sort of start with the forum, but the, the content is still there. Okay. So that's, that's sort of the left hand bucket if you like. So moving along, the continuum, what comes next?

Jez Anderson  15:38  

So bucket two, if you like, is what we call blended. So we've in some ways, we've stolen the word blend / blends, you know, everyone's familiar with blend or got a definition of what they mean by blend. So but from this, in this context, what we're talking about is a social blend. So the reality is the example that we've got was really, really nice piece of work that lasted for about six months. Ultimately, it was a national organisation. There was lots of good practice going on within it. But there was also some really shocking practices as well. The reality of it is what we did was create, we created a piece of elearning, on the end of that elearning was a social call to action, where I was getting people to come together as communities to share their thinking to share their ideas to share best practice. We built some personas around that. So actually, it was like these little cardboard heads that people wore, and they took photographs of it and did selfies, as part of all this conversation of stuff going on in the teams, it was being facilitated at a local level by L&D and by managers. Ultimately, it was it was about building as a momentum behind the Learning Initiative, which started to create some language and some conversation. So as a program, it was gaining momentum. And over over time, more and more people were taking part, getting engaged, it became bigger became more forceful, and... as a result, it went more popular.

Paul Westlake  16:58  

So what role did the L&D team play in that case, then? So you said I'm sure you said they facilitated stuff. So were they taking part in the forums? Were they anonymous within those, within that chat within, those forums? I mean, I'm thinking about the concerns that people have seen, they've been almost policed or graded based on what they say in the social elements?

Jez Anderson  17:16  

So L&D they owned it, it was their initiative, but rather than doing it as an L&D initiative, they took it on, and they understood what they, they spent time understanding what the business issue was, and looking at what is the best way to address the business issue, which is around a particular aspect of client feedback. They designed more of a campaign approach to it than actually a formal delivery approach. Kineo was, we helped them / facilitated that process with them. They owned it. L&D owned it, and it was an L&D, you know, L&D program. At the end of the day, they were there to steer and guide and help people through the process. But it was much less, it was less about them owning it, and much more about them, actually just being there as the as the people that provided the direction.

Paul Westlake  18:04  

Okay, so what what what comes after blended then?

Jenny Lycet  18:07  

So facilitated is the third bucket. And a good example of that is some work that we've done with a client around sales enablement tool. So they're using their learning management system, but also a tool to curate relevant content. So the team know what it is they need to sell more of. And this is a way of sharing best practice, providing content for them around which they can ask questions. So they can also suggest subject matter for, for extra content and extra social learning conversations.

Jez Anderson  18:37  

I think ultimately, it's owned by the L&D that's particularly responsible for sales. So they do own it. And they, you know, they're, they're the architects of it. Ultimately, they're the people that are posting the initial content onto it. But the reality of it is, is then once it's there, it's starting to be owned by the actual recipients of the learning. So it's much less about the... If you think about the power, it's much less about where the power is. The power is less on the organisation and much more on the learner.

Paul Westlake  19:08  

Okay, so I think we've, we've also got an example, we have a client who's maybe starting in the left hand bucket, it's relatively quickly moved across into the second bucket, and almost approaching the sort of third bucket. ... Shall we have a quick chat about about them and how we think that's worked? And then I guess, adding to that, do we think they'll ever get to the fourth bucket? Or is anyone in the fourth bucket?

James Cory-Wright  19:29  

So how did they start?

Paul Westlake  19:30  

Well they started from a position of compliance learning and everything being pushed to their people, so their LMS was very much a destination that you go to maybe once every six months do that awful bit of compliance stuff and then come back again in six months time. But quite quickly, the company also identified that their people were having probably richer, better conversations away from the LMS if you like, and they were doing that themselves, as we said earlier on WhatsApp or Facebook or or a range different tools, I think they wanted to benefit from that, you know, wanted to speak to each other and and try and make it more formal. So it sort of introduced this sort of social side of things. And I think they've now gone almost past that, where it's now not just content that's been written by the L&D team that the people are discussing and sharing, and also encouraging others to do. So I might do a piece of learning and say, oh, Jenny, Jez, thought this was particularly great, why don't you go and have a look as well. But also, again, to the point where the users are actually curating content to a certain extent they're going out and finding stuff on social, on YouTube, for example, and saying, actually, here's a better example of how to do this topic that we're talking about and sort of sharing that, and the L&D team find themselves becoming more, I guess, see, quality control for that content? Rather than creating stuff themselves.

Jenny Lycet  20:53  

I think one of the things we saw in our learning insights report this year was people talking about their LMS becoming a destination. For me, this is a this is the best example we have of that where there's, you don't have to prod a learner to go there. They want to because they want to find out what's new, and they've got something they want to share and talk about. And you know, whether or not whether or not that's because it's competitive, or whether it's just because it's compelling content.

Paul Westlake  21:15  

Doesn't really matter, does it!?

Jenny Lycet  21:17  

That's right. it's still the same, you know, same outcome, it's somewhere you want to go and spend your time, I think that's really important.

James Cory-Wright  21:22  

I think the other thing is the changing face of learning and what constitutes learning. You know, because we touched on earlier, there's so much content already out there, there's so much information basically available, the less and less, it's about having to actually formally learn something, I memorise it, it's more about being able to sort of find where the information is when you need it. And this is where the social dimension comes in. Because you can quickly ask about something and other people can help you get to the right place, you don't have to learn. It's just more about...

Paul Westlake  21:55  

...Yeah, in this case, what was actually happening is that the learners are actually asking the L&D team for pieces of information that aren't necessarily there yet. And so even if they can't go away and find it themselves, it's like, well actually would be really helpful if I could have a tool that could do X, you know, and I think one of the things that the client has done, is that they've, they've made it very easy and very quick for them to take content to market. So you know, they can have a request for a piece of learning. And they can have that up and running within, you know, four or five days, and it's up there on the site, because someone specifically has asked for it. The old process would have been, you know, okay, let's plan out our training for the year and where are we going to write these pieces of learning, and let's go out to a, you know, a company and get them to build something for us. And in six months time, we may have that, but their learners now are demanding that stuff as and when they need it. And it's fair to say it's pretty quick. And it's not the same quality as they would have got from an external provider. Absolutely it's not, but it's good enough for right now.

James Cory-Wright  22:56  

It's, um, it's perfect. It's a perfect, perfect storm. Also, in a way you can argue that's kind of a kind of personalised learning paths, personalised over groups of people. But it is surely the end...  That's the perfect end game.

Paul Westlake  23:12  

Yeah. I mean, maybe it's trying to stir up a hornet's nest here with the L&D guys, who are listening to the podcast. But one thing I learned very quickly, when in my time with, you know, working in large corporate in L&D is that the L&D team aren't... don't have a monopoly on good ideas. You know, they think they know what the training people need. And in a lot of cases, they're absolutely right, they have got an idea of what those people need, maybe from a compliance point of view, but really, you know, got a huge workforce there that are possibly struggling with a certain procedure that and we haven't even thought about training them on that. So, you know, it's really good for those guys to be able to say, this is exactly what we need. And I guess that is sort of true learner power that we're sort of aiming towards.

Jez Anderson  23:48  

But I think the thing is, is that what we've got to remember is, is that there are certain learning opportunities, requirements, needs, that are always going to be met in the many different ways that we've already been meeting them for the generations, you know, in reality. Classroom based learning, ebased learning, books, all that stuff is still relevant. This is just reflecting what's going on in society, which is a shift toward people much more taking ownership and individual responsibility for their own information and how they get it.

Jenny Lycet  24:22  

... Are we saying really then, then that, you know, when we look at, unfacilitated, when we look at bucket four, that's never going to be the whole picture. Perhaps there's always going to be some element of structured learning. However, what you can think about is what supplements that so you've had your classroom training, what do you do next? Where's the community that helps you carry on that conversation?

James Cory-Wright  24:46  

Absolutely. And that's the whole... Exactly what Westie just referred to I think, it was that if the unfacilitated approach is running free, and people feel free to sort of say, Well, I'd like this and I'd like that. That'd be very useful. Very helpful. Then there's still plenty of scope for providing that. But it's just it's turned the whole thing on its head. So now you're being asked for things instead of telling.

Jez Anderson  25:09  

It's just shifting the nature of how how we learn how we, how organisations feel that they need to own learning, where as actually now it's about trusting that the people that work within their organisations have got the wherewithal to identify what they need to do their jobs well, because they will go and do it anyway. The reality of it is they will, they will go and look at YouTube, they will go and do the Facebook, they will talk to their colleagues and their friends, you know, they'll use their professional networks anyway. It's actually how do you support that in a way which fits so it can be part of the workflow.

Paul Westlake  25:52  

If you'd like to continue the conversation, you can pick up with us as usual on Twitter where we're @Kineo. For more information, search for learner power at or follow the links in the show notes below.

Your speakers are

James has over 25 years' experience of instructional design and video scriptwriting. He previously headed up our team of learning designers and consultants, overseeing learning content design across all client projects.
Jenny was Previously Marketing Director at Kineo,.
Jes was Head of Consulting at Kineo until 2020.
Paul was previously a Solutions Consultant at Kineo.