The emergence of immersive learning

Upon hearing ‘immersive simulation’ you might think about unflattering virtual reality helmets, Sim City or any other gamer role play, but immersive learning is becoming a ‘game changer’ in corporate learning.

Immersive simulation is effective in embedding learning as it allows the learner to act in a real life situation with guidance and without all the consequences.

Employees can practice the newly acquired skills as many times as they’d like until they feel comfortable applying it in a real life situation.

We inherently learn by doing rather than sitting in front of  10 minutes of eLearning and being expected to transfer knowledge into skills so this is the closest you can get to the real thing without the risk.

A corporate immersive simulation typically involves different ‘real-life’ situations in which the learner needs to make decisions based on the learning they’ve received. It involves constructive feedback when they get it wrong and positive reinforcement when they get it right.

It’s great that the evidence demonstrates what a powerful tool immersive simulations can be, but you’re probably asking ‘isn’t implementing something like this expensive’? Investing the money upfront will allow you to reap the benefits long term. Not only does immersive simulation provide a safe environment for employees to learn from their mistakes, but those mistakes are not actually occurring in reality therefore not negatively impacting the bottom line.

As previously mentioned, the rate at which learning is embedded is also higher than traditional methods and thus you’re getting more bang for your buck.

Things to consider when setting up an immersive simulation in your organisation:

  • Make it future proof: If your company is investing a large amount of money, you want to make sure it will have a long shelf life in order to allow employees to reap the benefits for as long as possible, or at least until technology vastly evolves yet again (which is inevitable). When we worked with a client to ensure employees were ready to adopt new systems and working practices of a new company taking over, we used a designated learning space with sandboxes of the systems people would be using with experts from different fields trying out common tasks with people. It was also an occasion where leadership had a voice and additional communications reinforced behaviours to further reassure and prepare people. The tools, templates and supporting technology were reusable.
  • Involve your SMEs from the very beginning: The earlier you involve the experts, the less content reviews you will need to endure. This means a quicker and more accurate delivery of the simulation to the business which, 9 times out of 10, is needed as soon as possible.
  • Get people excited about it!: This is an exciting new tool that employees actually get to play with, so use that to your advantage. It can often be difficult to engage learners, especially with corporate material but the fact that this is gamification at its finest means there’s much to leverage here to gain user buy-in.

Immersive simulations are an up and coming tool in corporate learning and pack a huge punch when it comes to embedding learning. When looking to be innovative and cutting edge, using this tool in your organisation is definitely something to consider.

Can mLearning work for business change?

You have a smart-phone, right?  Maybe more than one.  A tablet?  iPad, Nexus, Galaxy Note, Surface? If so, you’re carrying a potent mLearning tool.

The learning benchmarking organisation, Towards Maturity, has reported that 39% of the organisations they track are using mobile learning in some way, and 76% expect to adopt in the next two years.

Faced with a situation you haven’t experienced before, rather than trying to retrieve a dim memory from a day-long training course last year, how about being able to call up specific modular training? How about being able to see videos, demonstrations, guidance relating to the exact scenario you’re dealing with now?

Learning when and where you want

Outside of work, people are relying more and more on these “as you need it” guides – look at the number of YouTube videos for make-up tips, recipes, or how to tie a bow-tie.

People like being able to call up help as and when it’s most needed.  If that’s how people choose to learn outside the work environment, then it follows that the same approach could work well in professional context.

Making it work for business

We’ve seen it work well on a project to deploy iPhones throughout a large organisation. Device based learning materials can be very interactive and multi-functional, for example, the electronic quick reference guide created to support the deployment, was searchable and structured into task-based topics.

A commonly cited drawback of classroom training is that it often relies on artificial or unrealistic scenarios.  Mobile learning or mLearning allows quick field-based development of learning, based on real situations in the field. This means the learning can be more closely aligned to the practical reality, which lends credibility as well as being more aligned to the learner’s requirement.

Here are some ways it can have an impact:

Maximising mobile devices for learning

Mobile learning or mLearning can empower the user with access to any-time learning they can customise through downloading apps. It can work through:

  • Tailored push notifications
  • Modular content
  • Apps developed with additional video and links to other resources
  • Apps for collaborative tools that can be accessed via mobile devices enabling learners and L&D people to communicate about specific issues.

As with all training solutions, mLearning is not a silver bullet.  Classroom training, self-directed learning and eLearning all have important roles to play.  The trick is to pick the right horse for the right course.

How to use interactive video learning to engage users

Interactive video gives learners an active role in the direction and content of learning material; especially useful if they are using their own device or working remotely.

Working via links placed in a ‘hub’ video, the learner can be given more detailed information about what’s being said or done on screen at that point. There is also branching video which lets the learner make choices and takes them through a scenario.
This makes interactive video or film a powerful corporate learning tool to market for learning and embedding around business change. This example from HuStream shows the basic principles.

So what can it achieve?
You engage learners by giving them active control over decisions. You can include links to other videos; links to other supporting content; multiple choice questions. Each provides their own element of discovery, urging learners to adapt and immersing them in the content.

It’s great for tracking user movements and touch points, helping the development of future content to evolve in a learner-centric fashion.
So some advantages to consider then:
• It’s great for device/web-based distance learning
• The storytelling, connective narrative, works really well for getting the message across, the ‘why’ not just the ‘what’.
• It actively involves people engages them in a way that demands their attention and conscious choice
• It supports scenario based learning – particularly for safety training on oil rigs
• It’s more personalised, learners find out what they need to, when they need to
• Video production is getting a lot easier and cost effective with more production tools appearing all the time
• You can feature the sponsor of your change programme, providing the necessary ‘face to face’ equivalent – a massive bonus when you are dealing with remote learning
• You can measure what content appeals most to people and embed feedback forms

Complex training scenarios that involve a lot of reading could prove unsuitable for interactive video. Despite this, there is great potential for engaging learners with a message and a story behind change. As with all learning methods, what will suit one learning scenario won’t suit another and the initial change readiness discovery and training needs analysis work is particularly important to decide whether interactive video is the right choice.

 

Learning in a world of constant change

People now have to go through constant change in their work environment. How can we make sure learning engages users and meets business needs?

Here at afiniti, we are all about “Making Change Stick” – giving people learning that connects directly to their job roles, gives them ownership of business change and influence over how they learn.

Complex projects mean big changes for the user community so we need to go over and above a normal training course.

Traditional structured learning can fail because it makes assumptions about what delegates need to learn. If this assumption is wrong, then the learner is faced with content that they don’t relate to, and which they know won’t have any relevance for them in their role.

 

Less push, more facilitation

One way of ensuring that the learning is relevant is to allow learners to shape the content themselves, using a less prescriptive, more facilitative approach – think less classroom more workshop.

This may mean that the objectives of the session are not pre-defined, and creates an atmosphere where the “trainer” takes a step back and allows the learners to lead.

The trainer will need to provide structure to the session, and provide subject matter content as required, but should allow the learners to explore unpredicted avenues.

Sometimes the content may be entirely new to the learners, but it still needs to be made relevant and relatable. In this situation, a good approach may be to allow the learners to create their own realistic scenarios to apply the content to.  This will generally involve pre-work with representative users to generate reliable and realistic scenarios which people will encounter in their roles.

In this way, learners feel that they have had the opportunity to apply their own real world applications in a way that makes sense to them, as well as building their confidence that the content (whether system, soft-skills or process) is fit for purpose outside the protected training environment.

 

The challenges

This approach does present challenges to the provider.  Firstly, to allow the “off-piste” exploration of the subject matter, the trainer must know more than the narrow field of content dictated by a pre-structured session. By inviting this discussion, the trainer’s knowledge and credibility are really put to the test.

 

Measuring success

Without pre-defined learning objectives, evaluation of learning becomes harder to measure. User satisfaction as a metric should hopefully increase with this approach, and if done well, the required behavior changes should be embedded more effectively.

With this in mind, it may make more sense to implement post-training evaluation which assesses whether the required behaviour change and business benefits have been achieved, with less focus on meeting potentially irrelevant learning objectives.

To Make Change Stick, those of us actually delivering change to people need to meet the challenge of genuinely involving them in change. We need to facilitate collaboration between colleagues and prompt conversation about real scenarios, whilst all the time providing measurable results that show that people have adopted the new and are confident with it.

Putting your team on the map

Is your team not getting the recognition and place within the business it deserves? Then you could benefit from team branding.

When we think about successful branding, we often focus on how it inspires loyalty from an external customer base.

What we often forget though, is the power of branding to raise the profile of an internal team and to cement its position within a business. The fact is: branding is an essential part of raising a profile and defining an internal team or department.

Do you really know what everyone else in the business thinks about your team? How do they think you’re adding value? Discovery and team branding can help you with this. Here are some pointers:

 

Give them something to talk about: design a great team

Whatever you do, remember that your team brand campaign can only be as great as your team itself. So start by having a workshop and brainstorming about your team’s vision and its long term plan. This includes thinking about what employees require from you: What methodology, framework and tools will give weight to the team?

Once your core business objectives are aligned to your brand as team, you can use your communications to drive your profile forwards.[1]

 

What’s your story?

Once you know your vision and plan, work on how this will transform itself into the story behind your team brand and identity. Designing a communication plan with channels tailored to the needs of your stakeholders will build knowledge and awareness. Consistency is also key, and will ensure your target stakeholders stay engaged and interested in your team.

 

Creating valuable content

There are plenty of ways to create these valuable conversations and let people know what your team is all about. Branding and templates can create a professionalised feel and stir that recognition. Inviting people to interactive hubs or other face to face events can build understanding of what your team is all about.

 

It pays to be social

Connected networks and social media are necessary in branding. Today, employees go beyond traditional means to connect across the business and provide information more freely, across many social media.

Communicating about your business through connected networks has become the norm, rather than the exception. In fact, the “rising influence of social media has altered the way we seek, evaluate and engage in work and the employers that offer it.” [2] And as the way employer brands promote themselves changes, so should your communications strategies and plans.

 

Having an authentic voice

Consider creating real content, by using team members as brand ambassadors, and by letting them talk freely across specific media. In turn, this creates the opportunity for employees to create their own, much more realistic, picture.[3]

 

I hope this is food for thought. What are your ideas on internal branding?

 

Find out more about how we helped to put a competency development team on the map.

[1] http://www.slideshare.net/TBWA_Corporate/tbwa-7-trends-to-disrupt-employer-branding

[2] http://www.slideshare.net/thetalentproject/bpx-round-table-employer-branding

[3] http://www.slideshare.net/thetalentproject/bpx-round-table-employer-branding

How can Kaizen help us deliver better change?

Can Kaizen, the Japanese theory of ‘good change’ bring people together at all levels in a business for faster, continual change?

Kaizen – Japanese translated literally as ‘good change’ – is the practice of continuous improvement.

Under it, all employees are responsible for identifying weaknesses and ideas for improvement and everyone, at every level in the organization, is instrumental in making change happen. Everyone communicates across all levels to share ideas and collaborate.

When applied to business change, this tackles something really important: the disconnect between senior people deciding strategy and the employees carrying out operational work.

When senior people don’t consider what it’s really like on the front line they don’t design a strategy that will deliver the intended benefits from change. And, when front line staff aren’t involved in the big picture, they won’t engage with and see the change through to its full potential. In other words change never really delivers what it was meant to.

Applying Kaizen to Change Management

If you work in change management – delivering change to people, and making sure benefits are delivered to the business,- you’ll know it’s crucial to involve and empower the people who the change affects.

Whilst fully immersed in a client’s organisational change programme over the last 3 months (training on a new IT system and a redefinition of roles within the operational structure – lots of moving parts and pockets of resistance – chaotic to say the least!), the festive period gave me a well-timed opportunity for reflection.

Contemplating the journey so far and doing some root-cause analysis on the barriers we had encountered (and overcame) I kept coming back to the same question: How can we overcome barriers through the principle of Kaizen: driving communication, contribution and continuous learning?

Create Trojan Mice Good change often relies on good conversations. If conversations and consultation can be had with the people that the change is most likely to affect, they can actually act as catalysts for change, accelerating it and providing operational and customer facing insights that keep change on track to deliver more back to the business.

During our client’s project, we had to work hard to make sure senior leaders understood the value of engaging and sustaining these influencers. Where they previously hadn’t, the end user community was hard to win over initially, creating delay and wasting opportunity for people to add value.

Continuous Improvement The idea that big results come from many small changes accumulated over time struck a chord with me. A learning organisation is more than just getting individuals learning (although that is very important); it is ensuring the organisation itself learns and that individuals are part of a culture which conscientiously reflects at every level.

Could we have a pre-made group of change-ready employees? Could we create a learning organisation?

Empower the frontline All sectors are having to reduce their time to market whether they are offering services or products. The quicker we can identify new opportunities and deliver them to customers the better our chances of survival. But if the speed to market has to get quicker then the process of decision-making and delivering change must get shorter. Ultimately people dealing directly with customers, suppliers and other key stakeholders will need to be engaged and have an active voice and input; continually innovating and learning to drive change.

We live and work in a time of extraordinary change. We need to ride that change and make it work for us rather than forever battling to keep up. The idea of a continuous learning organisation is really relevant as organisations struggle to respond to pressures of increased competition, greater demands from customers and a faster pace of change, often with fewer staff.

The ability of a company to learn, adapt and be responsive is now being seen as the only way to sustain competitive advantage. Could the concept of Kaizen then, with its emphasis on active influence and continuous improvement for everyone, accelerate change and make it stick?

Making Change Stick through learning

People now have to go through constant change in their work environment. How can we make sure learning engages users and meets business needs?

Here at afiniti, we are all about Making Change Stick – giving learners inspiration through learning that connects them directly to their job roles, gives them ownership of business change and influence over how they learn.

Complex programmes and projects mean big changes for the user community and we need to go over and above a normal training course.

Traditional structured learning can fail because it makes assumptions about what delegates need to learn. If this assumption is wrong, then the learner is faced with content that they don’t relate to, and which they know won’t have any relevance for them in their role.

 

Less push, more facilitation

One way of ensuring that learning is relevant is to allow learners to shape the content themselves, using a less prescriptive, more facilitative approach – think less classroom more workshop.

This may mean that the objectives of the session are not pre-defined, and creates an atmosphere where the learning consultant takes a step back and allows the learners to lead.

The learning consultant will need to provide structure to the session, and provide subject matter content as required, but should allow the learners to explore unpredicted avenues.

In this way, learners feel that they have had the opportunity to apply their own real world practices to the new in a way that makes sense to them, as well as building their confidence that the content (whether system, soft-skills or process) is fit for purpose outside the protected training environment.

 

The challenges

This approach does present challenges to the provider.  Firstly, to allow the “off-piste” exploration of the subject matter, the learning consultant must know more than the narrow field of content dictated by a pre-structured session. By inviting this discussion, the consultant’s knowledge and credibility are really put to the test.

 

Measuring success

Without pre-defined learning objectives, evaluation of learning becomes harder to measure. User satisfaction as a metric should hopefully increase with this approach, and if done well, the required behaviour changes should be embedded more effectively.

With this in mind, it may make more sense to implement post-training evaluation which assesses whether the required behaviour change and business benefits have been achieved, with less focus on meeting potentially irrelevant learning objectives.

Sometimes the content may be entirely new to the learners, but it still needs to be made relevant and relatable. In this situation, a good approach may be to allow the learners to create their own realistic scenarios to apply the content to.  This will generally involve pre-work with representative users to generate reliable and realistic scenarios which people will encounter in their roles.

 

To Make Change Stick those of us actually delivering change to people need to meet the challenge of genuinely involving them in change. We need to facilitate collaboration between colleagues and prompt conversation about real scenarios, whilst all the time providing measurable results that show that people have adopted the new and are confident with it.

I’d really like to hear about how  you have delivering learning to users during change and how you create long term sustained adoption.

Measuring the right thing in performance management

Ever feel like your performance management is a bit of a box ticking exercise?

You’re not on your own. A Towers Watson survey of 100 UK businesses in December 2013, revealed that 96% believed that Performance Management is important for their organisation, yet only 64% reported having either an effective or very effective approach.

People and their ongoing performance and development are crucial to profit. A growing understanding of this means a tick box approach to people appraisal and management isn’t going to cut it anymore.

What is performance management?

As defined by Michael Armstrong of the CIPD: “Performance management is a process which is defined to improve organisational, team and individual performance and which is owned and driven by line managers”.

Performance Management (PM) practices have been an integral part of most business models for decades and were traditionally a one-dimensional and isolated system managed by Human Resources.

Why is it so important?

CEOs now have a keen eye on how robust our PM systems really are and how closely linked they are to the overall business strategy.

Why is this? In the last 20 years or so, applied psychologists and professionals have been able to prove a direct link between people management and profitability.

Increasingly, many firms are moving toward rewarding development and innovation as there is now a realisation of just how important and influential employees can be to an organisation’s growth and ultimately its bottom line. PM systems are no longer a simple HR activity.

Subsequently millions of pounds have been invested into revamping organisation-wide PM approaches. The idea is if you invest in your people, you will gain a competitive edge, as well as benefit from increased profitability.

Updating your approach

In the past, most companies measured their employee’s performance based on their hard skills such as sales targets, volume of work etc. Generally any type of skill that could be tangibly measured and produced hard data. This was quite easy for line managers to appraise, you either met your targets or you didn’t. But now there is growing appreciation of soft skills and other less quantifiable behaviours and their role in performance.

It’s trickier to assess the more intangible or soft skills such as teamwork, cooperation and generally any trait that can be associated with Emotional Intelligence. How do we ensure that these skills are fairly and objectively appraised?

Although not as exact as the data produced by measuring hard skills, there are ways in which you can provide the most consistent and objective feedback possible as an appraiser:

360 degree feedback

Gaining feedback from the employee’s peers, customers, direct reports and superiors gives a well-rounded view of the individual and may provide valuable information on their competencies and soft skills and how they work.

Goal setting

Creating goals and milestones with the employee not only motivates them throughout the year but it is also a way to obtain data from the development of soft skills. For example, if there is a need to develop teamwork skills, you could create a goal with the employee to get involved with a least two team based projects a year. Linking some of these goals to the overall business strategy ensures that every person is ultimately working towards the same objectives.

Regular meetings throughout the year

Not only does this build a good rapport between you and your appraisee, it also increases their motivation to perform well. It is important to always ask them to send you the topics they would like to discuss in your meeting, as well as sharing yours. Having a combined agenda such as this brings structure and an appropriate level of expectation to the meeting.

Performance Appraisals and Performance Management systems in general are very complex yet desirable subjects to understand, especially by senior executives. As managers and appraisers, it is difficult to master the appraisal process. However, with increased self-awareness and consistency, along with some of the tips mentioned, you’ll not only make the process more efficient for you and your appraisee, but also hopefully more enjoyable!

Social Learning: ‘A Course without an End’

In my previous blog I talked about Social Learning and knowledge-sharing as a facet of an organisations culture and identity; something that needs to be promoted and encouraged throughout the organisational hierarchy.

In the learning industry our role ‘outside the classroom’ is evolving. 

As a learning practitioner, it is easy for me to see the benefits of Social Learning. The majority of learning is done outside of the classroom / the eLearning module / the coaching session when a learner is working problems through on-the-job and practically applying learning (70/20/10).

Social Learning is about learners taking back control: learning is now about interaction and autonomy.

Effective learners are those that feel more empowered to take control of their learning, whether they are looking for skill change or performance support. They are realising they can find answers for themselves rather than waiting for something to happen. It is our job to provide an interactive knowledge-bank for learners to dip into when they need to… so how do we do this?

Make learning memorable: firstly our agenda should be focussed on learning that is short, sharp and relevant to our audience…but also learning needs to be memorable. Utilising different devices of conveying learning such as podcasts, vodcasts, how-to videos (the success of YouTube as a learning platform is remarkable!) and gamified content can all create a buzz in your community and get people talking…which is exactly what social learning is about!

Make learning sustainable (cultivate your social garden): social learning communities need to, especially in their infancy, be cared for; negative or incorrect content needs to be moderated and modified, valuable content needs to be encouraged and rewarded. This task falls at the feet of the learning community within an organisation.

It is our task to curate and administrate our social learning forums, theming content, ensuring content is up-to-date and relevant.

Social learning relies heavily on user-driven content and discussions. Our promotion and encouragement of users, as well as leading our community with examples of the correct types of content and behaviour will be a huge success factor in making a self-sustaining social learning network.

Market your learning: campaigns to remind and endorse learning and change can accelerate adoption within our communities. Combining strong internal communications and learning expertise can bring clarity and consistency in promoting an open, transparent, knowledge-sharing culture within your organisation, which is the bedrock of social learning.

The speed and complexity of the business world means that our employees often face cognitive overload and whilst we don’t want to add to this in any way with clever, memorable (!) campaigns, we can provide motivation to change behaviours and create talking points.

Utilise existing communities: since the boom of social media organisations have been trying to force a crossover into the corporate world. Companies attempting (with varied success) to utilise tools such as Yammer and Basecamp have often hit stumbling blocks with employee-endorsement…I have often heard the exclamation ‘what on earth is Yammer?’ from colleagues and clients alike.

What organisations have often failed to see the benefit of is piggybacking already well-established forums of social media. As learning practitioners we need to think creatively about how we can tap into thriving social communities and shift the mindset (of some of our organisations) away from the ‘dangers’ of YouTube and Twitter etc. and look at some of the opportunities they present – familiar tools for people to find easy ways to engage.

Analytics to prove success: ‘views’, ‘hits’, ‘likes’ and comment threads, are all visual ways of recording successes of social learning but what about the ‘lurkers’… the people within your network who are viewing content but not interacting within the community..? This is the fascinating thing about social media; for all the outwardly confident / outspoken users, there are 10 times (or likely more) that sit in the background watching everything unfold.

Admittedly I have been a lurker. In fact, I would wager that all users of social media have at some point, browsed comments or conversations without putting in their thoughts. So do these users gain the same benefits of the content? Of course they do.

It is in our interest to capture this fact using analytic tools, like market-leader Google Analytics, as proof to our senior leaders of the success of our networks. By extension the challenge for learning practitioners is to bring this ‘read only’, anonymous community into the interactive space and find out their thoughts and feelings… (now there is a thought… anonymous commenting?)

Social learning or learning ‘beyond the formal course’ has always been there but how can we bring it to the forefront of our organisations? Have you thought about a company Wiki? Or utilising Google Analytics? What are your success stories of memorable and effective internal learning campaigns? Have you utilised an internal or external social forum to seed changes in behaviour?

Social World but Unsocial Workplace? Trust in Collective Wisdom

Social Learning has very often been a ‘bolt-on’ to learning. So what’s needed to successfully implement Social Learning?

Forums or chatrooms have commonly created to encourage learner-led discussion post-learning. These have often fallen down through a lack of participation and absence of learner alignment.

So…

How can we encourage higher participation?

How can we build trust in social platforms and learning?

How can we seed quick changes in behaviour?

 

Supportive collaborative culture

We need to start endorsing a knowledge-sharing attitude. This is easier said than done. Many organisations and individuals strive for that competitive-edge: people are more likely to keep a good idea to themselves for fear that sharing information may give a colleague an advantage when it comes to moving-up in the organisation. This certainly drives the wrong behaviours for social learning, and by extension strong collaboration in your organisation.

Learning in a social context should be short, sharp and relevant. The content should be user-driven but needs a degree of cultivation and curation to ensure the content is sustainable. Most important is that you have a sharing culture at your organisation.

 

A way of sharing

I was at a conference recently where a lot of my peers in the learning industry were recommending the ‘top-down / bottom-up’ approach as the best way to facilitate Social Learning.

At one of our clients, the CEO contributes his learnings for the week on their internal social media platform: this is an endorsement of social learning at the highest level. It represents shift in the behaviour of the senior leaders by making themselves more visible in their community and also acts to reassure staff that sharing is advocated. It demonstrates a cultivation culture and encourages participation (even for those competitive people in the organisation!)

The ‘bottom-up’ aspect is all about letting people know what they don’t know – i.e. did you know do that we have a brand new X? Or we have developed a Y way of doing things? This combined approach challenges people to keep up with developments whilst raising awareness that the organisation puts stock in this kind of collaboration…

 

Provide the resources

The curation of a social platform is crucial to its longevity, but this doesn’t have to be onerous or time-consuming. You just need to make sure the right resources are available. Then the results, much like if you planted seeds in your back yard, could result in a flourishing social garden.

So, have you got a thriving Social Learning culture in your organisation? What have you done to cultivate your social garden?

Stayed tuned for the 2nd part of this blog for tips on how to initiate and nurture a Social Learning culture.