Leading the Target: Challenges for 2017

Having grown up in a hunting family, Bill Brandon’s article in Learning Solutions Magazine entitled Leading the Target: Challenges for 2017 caught my attention.  His forecast for 2017 is on the mark.

When you are seeking to hit a moving target with a rifle or bow and arrow, the first thing you are taught is that you must “lead the target.”  If you aim for where the target is when you fire, your shot will be woefully behind the target when it gets there.

If there were ever a moving target in Learning and Development, what we will need to accomplish in 2017 is one.  Brandon points out that while the challenges we face are not new to us, the coming year will be focused on 4 key topics:

  • Learning Analytics
  • Bring Your Own Device and Security
  • Authoring Tools
  • Accessibility

They are being enabled and/or changed by a number of innovations in concepts and technologies:

  • xAPI and cmi5
  • The “realities”: virtual, augmented, mixed
  • Cloud uses for learning
  • Multimodal learning
  • Mobile microlearning
  • Spaced learning
  • Personas

And for good measure, he throws in the fact that the Gig Economy will likely be a disrupting factor in how we go about doing all of this.

I’m in agreement with Brandon in both the fact that none of this is new.  But I also agree that all of this coming together is going to make 2017 a difficult year to hit this moving target.

2017 is going to be all about agility.

Take a look at your personal learning network now.

  •  Are you in touch with the thought leaders in your areas of specialization?
  •  Do you know how the concepts and technologies mentioned above will impact your work?
  • What do you need to learn to be better prepared?

Don’t look at what is being done today.  Lead your target so that you’ll be ready to do what needs to be done tomorrow.

Oh, The Conversations We Will Have

… conversations are where trust is built, networks are formed, innovation is born and nutured.

In a post on LinkedIn called The Year aThat Was, Sandy Mannarswamy skips his normal year end review of technical innovations to focus rather on the impact the death of a colleague had on him.  Specifically the conversations they no longer will have.

While there certainly is the sadness of conversations never to be had and opportunities missed due to death, Mannarswamy’s post got me thinking about conversations, work relationships, and learning; probably because he shared it in a professional  milieu. Or maybe it’s because I’m in my annual year-end reflection about the past year.

Conversations – both live and online – were critical in a year that required massive professional and personal change and adaptation from me.

Before I go on, I’ll clarify what I mean by a conversation.  Wikipedia says it “is a form of interactive, spontaneous communication between two or more people.” They are often serendipitous, unplanned.  Because of this participants are authentic, present, and open. They are there to learn about and from the other participants. The conversation IS the agenda. Conversations ramble, are messy, take time. Conversations slow us down.

They are inefficient. Their ROI is not obvious.  They have often been viewed in the workplace as a waste of time.  But conversations are where trust is built, networks are formed, innovation is born and nutured.

We may connect with someone on LinkedIn or follow them on Twitter to “expand” our network, but they become an active part of our personal learning network once we’ve had a real conversation with them. An open, authentic conversation determines whether we can trust a person. Can I share my unpolished thoughts with this person?  Can I be vulnetable and safe?

We will trust people who, as Julian Stodd writes in The Social Leadership Handbook, 2e, “The starting point is ‘How can I help you to succeed?’, not ‘How can I get you to do…?’.”

About a month ago, the #lrnchat Twitter chat group had a conversation about misinformation and how we determine what information we trust. Over and over the answer was the people in our trusted networks.

We learn from our networks. We add to what we know by strengthening the connections in our networks and expanding our networks through new connections. Conversation is the primary tool for this work.

But if conversations are spontaneous and inefficient, how do we craft a strategy for ourselves and, as learning profesionals, for others that enables them?

  1. Create environments that bring people together with “no agenda” time.
  2. Share your ideas when they are half-baked or at a roadblock seeking solution.
  3. Give a team a stretch project that requires new ideas, creativity, and/or new connections.
  4. If you are a leader, have conversations. In public. With everyone.  It’s called modeling.
  5. Set goals that include conversations.

Help me out here.  How do you increase the number and quality of conversations in your life?  in your work?

xAPI Data Talks! Page Layout May Influence Interaction

In her post, Supporting Social Learning Through Page Design, on HT2Labs’ blog, Janet Laane-Effron talks about analysis she and her colleagues did on two of HT2Labs’ MOOCs.

The question is:

How can page design best support social learning?

The test:

Janet and her colleagues placed the comments section in one of their MOOCs below the content it was related to.  In another, the placed the comments section next to the content.

The result:

The two MOOCs had statistically the same number of total comments once moderators and other HT2Labs folks were removed from the data.  However, when they looked at whether the comments were original comments or replies to comments,  the MOOC with the comments section next to the content came out as the clear winner for interaction.  (The assumption here was that replies to a comment reflected interaction between participants.)

While Janet states in her post that this finding is not conclusive and there are other issues around UI and general layout for responsive design, it definitely suggests that there is more to consider on this question of the positioning of the comments section in relationship.

The xAPI win:

The only reason Janet and her colleagues were able to do this analysis was the MOOCs were created in Curatr, which creates xAPI statements.  In the xAPI standard for comments, original comments and replies to those comments generate statements with different verbs which can be sorted for.  In addition, the MOOC facilitators and other HT2Lab admins can be removed easily by sorting on the actors and the roles they have in the course.

Without xAPI, none of this data would have been created.  Sure, you could manually go in and created a data set my viewing each comment section and notating the comments in a spreadsheet.  But that would take far to long.

With xAPI, it would be very simple to expand this study to 10 or 100 MOOCs – if they are all set up in authoring systems that comply to xAPI.

Usage data on our learning designs can be at our fingertips with xAPI.

2017 Learning Trends: Custom, Adaptive, Anywhere, and Impactful

Jeff Carpenter, CEO of Caveo Learning, emphasizes the move to measuring performance improvement rather than training results in his post 2017 Learning Trends: Custom, Adaptive, Anywhere, and Impactful on Caveo’s blog.  The trends outlined in his post are based on feedback from over 100 CLO’s and other learning leaders.

  1. Deliver Learning on the Learner’s Terms
  2. Create “impact,” Not Merely “Learning”
  3. The Rise of Adaptive Learning
  4. Curation of Customization
  5. Learning Experience Gets Customized
  6. Interactive Video Pushes into the Mainstream
  7. Measure Twice, Train Once

None of the trends, in and of themselves is shocking.  Although the prediction that Gamification has had it’s time in the spotlight and will now become just another tool in the L&D toolkit is sure to stir some controversy.

But the seven predicted trends are what the profession has been working on for some.  We’re on the right path.   Individualized, anytime/anywhere, performance-focused learning has been the brass ring we been reaching for for a long time.  2017 we will have a chance to grab it.

The underlying trend in both Carpenter’s post yesterday and Josh Bersin’s post of Bersin by Deloitte’s predictions last week is urgency.  This may be L&D’s only chance to grab that brass ring.  There may not be another time around the carousel if we miss this opportunity.  Our organizations have been patient as we’ve dealt with massive changes in the workforce and emerging technologies, but it is time for us to step up and delivery.

Fortunately, there are reasons to believe we can succeed in 2017 and radically change how we deliver value to the organization. I was glad to see Caveo mention xAPI.  I believe it is going to have a greater impact in 2017 than most people are aware of today.

The challenges are real and we will have to once again stretch ourselves again.  But grabbing the brass ring is possible.  Get ready……here it comes……

(photo by camknows on Flickr.  Creative Commons — Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic — CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence)

xAPI Approaches ‘The Chasm’

Before Thanksgiving, I attended eLearning Guild’s DevLearn 2016 conference and the xAPI Camp that was held the day before.  One of my primary goals was to add to my knowledge and understanding and to get a feel for the innovative products that are already implementing xAPI.

Three days of great conversations, a dozen presentations, and an equal number of demos with the vendors left me excited about the prospect of xAPI and the impact it should have on Learning and Development over the next 5-10 years. (A special thanks to Watershed for their xAPIGo game that made learning fun and provided a tremendous example of the power of xAPI.)

But in my conversations with the several dozen vendors and other professionals who are part of the xAPI community who were at DevLearn, I began to come to the conclusion that xAPI is fast approaching “The Chasm.”

Diffusion of Innovation Theory

In the 1960’s Everett Rogers developed the Diffusion of Innovations Theory

that describes the different classifications of people when deciding to adopt a new product or idea.  These five groups (innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards) communicate and adopt innovation in a rather rigid sequence, depending on the prior group for the assurances they need to jump on the bandwagon.  Each group has a responsibility to “sell” the following group on the innovation.  Because each group has very different values regarding the technologies they use, the communication between the groups can be challenging.

that describes the different classifications of people when deciding to adopt a new product or idea.  These five groups (innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards) communicate and adopt innovation in a rather rigid sequence, depending on the prior group for the assurances they need to jump on the bandwagon.  Each group has a responsibility to “sell” the following group on the innovation.  Because each group has very different values regarding the technologies they use, the communication between the groups can be challenging.  The most difficult transition is between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority.

Crossing the Chasm

In his 1991 book, Geoffrey Moore defines this transition as “Crossing the Chasm.”  It is chossing-the-chasm-coverthis point when success or failure of an innovation will most likely occur.  To successfully move from an idea adored and championed by the innovators and early adopters to a marketplace leader views as the new status quo, an innovation must meet the following challenges:

A single company launching an innovative product finds crossing the chasm a massive challenge.  In the case of an industry standard like xAPI, there are scores of different companies, organizations, and individuals with varied interests and competing models for success in collaboration and opposition to each other to move the adoption of the specification forward.

The Early Majority doesn’t like ambiguity.  They want things to work the way they are supposed to.  They have very little tolerance for innovation they don’t understand.  The “what’s in it for me” mindset must be heeded.

Is xAPI ready?

Moore points out that early attention to preparing to cross the Chasm during the innovation and early adoption stages eases the crossing.  Here xAPI is in good shape.  The community of individuals and organization that has built up around xAPI is robust, passionate, and open.   Finding the right way to incorporate the Early Majority into the community without alienating them yet remaining a focus of passion for the Innovators and Early Adopters will be the key.

A cautionary message is necessary around the conceptualization of the product positioning, the whole product, and the marketing strategy.  My experience of the overall messaging coming from those who were at DevLearn was too technically focused.  Valid statements that are generated in compliance with xAPI are truly things of beauty if you know anything about coding.  But the continual, “and this is what the statement looks like” will be a barrier to L&D Directors, Line of Business Managers, and the Executive Suite.  We need to create a message of business solutions and better learning outcomes.

Another obvious challenge is going to be not overwhelming Early Majority citizens with more new data then they are ready to receive.  If you think in terms of the 70:20:10 model, we could be expanding learning 9-fold as we implement solutions to reach informal and social learning.  As we build xAPI into our learning designs, the amount of data that can be generated is astronomical.  L&D folks are not currently equipped to absorb all this data effectively.  To help cross the Chasm, we need to:

  • Model implementation strategies that throttle back the amount of data thrown at them for analysis, so they can adapt to the future of big data,
  • Advocate education around big data and learning analytics,
  • Provide analytics tools that not only crunch the data, but also teach the operator about what they are doing.

Overwhelming Early Adopters is a guaranteed way to get them to start shutting down.

Other challenges are easier, but still need to be attended to:

  • Providing tools and guidance in moving SCORM based materials to xAPI will be vital
  • A clear understanding of what tools create xAPI statements, what a Learning Records Store is and is not, and simple, but powerful analytics tools will ease adoption.
  • Proof cases that demonstrate the abilities of xAPI conforming experiences, business results that can be displayed because of xAPI data, and ease of implementation will easy the minds of the Early Majority
  • Pricing models need to be tested and adapted to meet the expectation of L&D, Business Partners, and IT.

All of these are in process already.  Again, successful output of the xAPI community.  The activities that DISC (Data Interoperability Standards Consortium) has on the roadmap for 2017 address many of the challenges that will be faced in crossing the Chasm.  But, there is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to assure a safe crossing.

If successful, xAPI will dramatically change the nature of Learning and Development and it’s role in the organization.  We will be able to measure our work with a rigor and accuracy we’ve only dreamed of to date.

(Photo by Blake Richard Verdoon provided by unsplash.com)

It’s Not the Hammer’s Fault You Smashed Your Thumb!

In a great blog post, Stop Blaming the Tools when Collaboration Fails, Luis Suarez questions why we feel obliged to blame the tools we fail to implement and use properly, rather than looking at how we are using them.

A conversation with Martin White expands on the argument.

It reminds me of times when I was working with my Dad who owned a home improvements business.  As is not uncommon in that line of business, he would occasionally miss the nail that was the target of his hammer and smash his thumb.  Of course, in every instance, it was the hammer’s fault and it was frequently hurled quite some distance as punishment.

Luis and Martin’s conversation is well worth the read to look at who really is to blame for the hammer’s behavior.

(Image by Jesse Orrico vis unsplash.com)


Bersin by Deloitte: 2017 – the Year Everything Goes Digital

Bersin by Deloitte has just released its Predictions for 2017: Everything Is Becoming Digital report.  Amongst the 11 predictions for HR there are specific predictions for Learning and Development.

2017 will be a tipping point for L&D and we will see dozens of world-class “digital learning” solutions all over the world.

Overall, the report says that, due to the rapid and non-stop changes in  technology and expectations from the business, Learn and Development has fallen behind and will continue to struggle in 2017.  The challenges L&D faces will be in a context of Massive HR transformation to a performance oriented, employee responsive digital culture that can address the impact of future work.

They predict that (comments in blue are mine):

  • Real-time feedback and analytics will explode in maturity.  While L&D isn’t mentioned specifically in this prediction, it does discuss HR as a whole.  With the advent of xAPI and cmi5 to better report today’s ongoing and often social learning focused learning experiences, we should be able to make a remarkable move forward in this area.
  • 2017 will see the launch of new and highly restructured LMS’s.  This will be refreshing for the companies in a position to adopt new LMS’s as the current LMS’s aren’t built to deal with the challenges that social and blended learning ecosystems create.  In addition, a myriad of new social tools are being launched and improved as well.  Add xAPI to the mix and L&D technology and its impact will begin a radical change in 2017.
  • Video and self-directed learning will become the dominant factors in organizational learning moving forward.  The shift to a micro-learning, “always-on” model of learning will accelerate in 2017.  Social Learning and learning eco-systems design will also contribute a transformation of the work of Instructional Designers and Facilitators.
  • L&D functions will need to be rethought and restructured.  Bersin by Deloitte points out that while L&D is aware of this change and is driving the discussion, two-thirds of all corporate learning organizations are structured with a centralized training function based upon old models.  L&D personnel and competencies need to be built into the business units to become more responsive.  New competencies, some relatively alien to many L&D professionals, will be incorporated into existing jobs  and new roles will be created.
  • L&D needs to take the lead on driving a culture change in organizations to an always-on learning focus.  They task us with showing managers that they need to drive learning because it is tied to the success of business.  We need to tie learning inextricably to performance , leadership skills, and organizational success and become marketing stars.  
  • “2017 will be a tipping point for L&D and we will see dozens of world-class “digital learning” solutions all over the world.”   2017 will make heroes out of agile learning leaders who can drive innovative and creative solutions that change the  course of organizational learning.

What do you think?  Is Bersin by Deloitte on the mark in their predictions?  is your L&D organization ready to lead this massive change?  Are you ready?

You can download this report on a complementary basis, for a limited time.

The Role of Humans in the Future of Work

This past July, McKinsey published Where machines could replace humans—and where they can’t (yet),an article on its automation study, which examined the technical feasibility of automating 7 different occupational activities. (The results are presented as a percentage of the time spent in these activities that can ben automated by current technologies):

  • Predictable physical work in e.g., manufacturing, packaging, warehousing, food service: 78% automatable;
  • Data Processing, e.g., billing, payroll processing, bookkeeping, insurance underwriting, delivery route optimization  69% automatable;
  • Data collection, e.g., customer and product info, maps and addresses, health insurance claims, 64% automatable;
  • Unpredictable Physical work  e.g., construction, trash collection, agriculture: 25% automatable;
  • Stakeholder interactions, e.g., customer service, personal financial advising. patient care: 20% automatable;
  • Expertise in decision making, planning, creative tasks, e.g., scientific and technical services, goal setting, education leadership,: 18% automatable;
  • Managing others, e.g., management, law enforcement, social services, educational: 9% automatable;

While there are other factors involved in what is automated and how much of a particular job can be, this data, along with a myriad of similar reports on the future of work, clearly demonstrates that there is a large amount of work that humans currently do that will be done by machines in the near future.  Jobs will disappear, others will be radically changed, and there will be new jobs needing new skills.

Last week, Dataconomy.com posted AI is Disrupting Everything and These 3 Industries are Next that discusses how some of these changes are happening already.

So what does this mean for Learning and Development professionals?  How do we prepare individuals and organizations for a world that is changing this radically, this fast?

Ross Dawson, a futurist who writes and speaks on the impact of technology and social networks, has developed a Framework: The role of Humans in the Future of Work in which he differentiates what work will be done by machines in the future and what will remain uniquely human.   Expertise, Relationships, and Creativity are the broad catchalls that define the capabilities that Dawson sees as uniquely human.  The framework also addresses the structure of work.  Many of these concepts are part of every day conversations amongst L&D folks:

    Machine-human complementarity
    Fluid work roles
    Location independence
    Serendipitous connections
    Job sharing
    Emergent collaboration
    Continuous learning
    Analytics feedback loops
    Aligned values
    Diverse perspectives
    Ad-hoc networks
    Internal work markets
    Culture of participation
    Mutual trust development
    External work ecosystems
    Open peer communication

I believe the L&D community is aggressively driving the items I’ve highlighted in blue through various initiatives like communities of practice, social learning, working out loud, personal learning networks, learner-generated content, collaborative learning, 70:20:10, personal knowledge mastery, etc.

While the challenge that we are faced with is daunting and will create a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety in the workforce, I believe that our profession is poised to lead the necessary change to adapt to the future of work.

I’d love to hear your perspective on all of this.  Please comment below.