‘And’ Thinking – Thoughts from Learning Live 2017

Rachel Burnham writes: I had the opportunity to participate in last week’s Learning Live event, held in London and organised by the Learning and Performance Institute (LPI).

This two day conference brought together Heads of Learning from very many different organisations, predominantly in the UK, but with individuals from other countries participating too.   The programme included a wide range of sessions, an opening Question Time session with a panel and a keynote speech from Jeanne Meister, co-author of ‘The FutureWorkplace Experience’.  A feature of this event are the many breaks, which provide great opportunities to extend the conversations begun in sessions and I really enjoyed the conversations I had with participants and exhibitors.

It is always challenging to pick out themes from conferences of this sort – everyone will have their own take on the event, will have participated in a different mix of sessions, had different conversations and have applied their own filters to the event – but here is my take on this year’s Learning Live.

When I stand back from the event and review my Sketchnotes and memories, what stands out for me were all the ‘And’ pairings throughout the event.  What I mean by that was the emphasis on pairings such as ‘Learning and Performance’, ‘Creation and Curation’, and ‘Formal and Informal’,

I like ‘And’ thinking. I like the possibilities in it. The opportunity to value different approaches.  To appreciate what works when and why and in what situation.  I quite like the stretch in it, of holding sometimes seeming opposing views. I much prefer it to ‘Or’ thinking – where often one right way is promoted and the other critiqued or even rubbished.  I find ‘And’ thinking more realistic, more challenging, more fruitful as a broad approach.  (Though I do realise that in writing this, I am setting up ‘And’ thinking in contrast to ‘Or’ thinking, which means I am indulging in some ‘Or’ thinking myself!)

The ‘And’ thinking began early on in the event, when digital transformation was discussed in the Question Time session and one of the panel members talked about how digital learning can now bring both ‘rich’ experiences and also ‘reach’ a wide number of people.

Many sessions discussed ‘content creation & curation’ – in her keynote, Jeanne Meister shared the example of GE’s digital curated platform ‘BrilliantYOU’ – a learning marketplace including all sorts of different kinds of learning support – micro-learning, courses, and also user generated materials ie created materials.  It was interesting to hear that GE offer help to employees on how to contribute your knowledge and create resources to share that knowledge eg how to write for other people. Kelly Palmer, also discussed curating content in her session ‘Learning Disrupted’.  She identified three different approaches to curating content: a) to jobs/roles/projects; b) using AI to aid curation and enable personalisation; and c) by letting Subject Matter Experts curate content.

In the session, ‘The Social Aspects of Learning’ Lucy Standing, from The Association of Business Psychology, began by warning us that she had nothing new to say, as social learning is the oldest kind of learning, though she gave us plenty to think about.  She explored some of the key ways that social learning occurs through observing others and through talking together.   She closed her session by sharing a range of research findings exploring the value of social learning as part of formal learning experiences – social learning – time to question, discuss and explore can add depth of learning.  It was interesting to see her referring to Julian Stodd’s Scaffolded Social Learning Model which brings out the value of combining formal learning with social learning opportunities. Definitely ‘And’ thinking.

In ‘Finding the Right Blend’ from Paul Cooper and Rebecca White, the emphasis was definitely on ‘And’ thinking.   The session explored how Rebecca’s organisation had begun to make use of blended learning, from a position of L&D being very face to face.  This has involved far more than simply introducing elearning. They found that digital enhances face to face, rather than replacing it, but also that there is no one right blend, what works will depend on staff, customers and the broader context.

In Julian Stodd’s own session exploring ‘Social Communities in the Workplace’, he spoke about how communities can filter and help to make sense of the huge amount of information individuals are experiencing, but the value of this will depend upon the diversity of that community.  He talked about the ‘dynamic tension’ that occurs between formal structures and social structures, each bringing value, scaling differently, but both being needed.  ‘And’ thinking.

But the biggest area of ‘And’ thinking for me was around the area of ‘learning and performance’.  Not surprisingly, it being the LPI’s event there was quite an emphasis on the importance of ‘performance’.   Charles Jennings in the opening ‘Question Time’ session said ‘Be passionate about performance’ and went on to share ‘The only metrics that count are business metrics’.   But no one was arguing that this means learning is unimportant, simply that both learning and performance need to be integrated into everything in the organisation.  For Joseph Richardson, from Lego Group, one element of doing this is to move from topic thinking to identifying what behaviours we want to trigger at different points in the process and designing learning to enable this.  Both Jeanne Meister and Kelly Palmer focused on integrating learning into the everyday.   Jeanne Meister quoted Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft about encouraging ‘Learn-it-alls rather than know-it-alls’ and Palmer spoke about how learning every day is needed and about creating a learning culture in our organisations, where for example it is OK for someone to be watching YouTube at work for learning.  Charles Jennings spoke of the relationship between learning and performance, when he shared a colleague’s take on this ‘Learning is the intelligent by-product of continous improvement in an organisation with a learning culture’.  This turns on its head our usual thought that learning leads to improved performance and recognises that sometimes it is reflecting on improved performance that helps us to see what we have learned.

I have come away from the event, with much to think about and much to action.   Which is just as it should be.

If you were part of Learning Live, I would love to hear about your takeways from the event and what you do as a result. Do share – we need these practical stories and experiences to develop our learning further.

Pre register for Learning Live 2018 by clicking here

Check out the Learning Live 2017 Opening Address by CEO Edmund Monk here

About the author – Rachel Burnham:

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  Rachel is particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.

Follow Rachel Twitter @BurnhamLandD

Connect with Rachel on LinkedIn

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1 Comment
  1. EDMUND J MONK 2 months ago

    Thank you for sharing this review of LearningLive, Rachel. You really have captured the essence of the event here. Look forward to seeing you again soon, and most certainly at LearningLive next year. Ed

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