What if we ran weeLearning inside a company

After reading this post by Clark Quinn today something clicked.

In my day job I’ve been working hard on an alternative approach to workplace learning. We call it Love Learning. The aim is to promote and support independent learning throughout the company, instead of just sending people on courses. The first month or so was a great success, but it’s probably fair to say we hit a plateau in February. Don’t get me wrong, number-wise things are great, we’ve continued to get lots more hits on our intranet and Scoop.it posts. But that’s barely scratching the surface of what we really want to do – change the culture and perception of learning at work.

Launch padTo move forwards we need to connect people, provide support where it’s needed and give them confidence that they can do it for themselves. This probably sounds a lot like the scaffolding Jane Hart has been talking so much about lately and it probably is. But I’m not sure I really like the analogy, probably because I don’t want to be a scaffolder. When I think of scaffolders I think of T-shirt tans and tattoos, parking in the middle of the road, shouting down the street etc.

But I digress.

I prefer to think of what we are doing as creating launch pads. I want to ignite fires, point people in the right direction, then thrust them into orbit.

How are we doing this?

We’ve taken an iterative, agile approach to this, otherwise we’d still be talking about it and planning it. Immersing myself in the world of design thinking has had a profound effect on the way I think and work in a very short space of time. I started work on our SharePoint community site last week. I’ve been putting it off for ages because it was frankly a daunting task. The template is “sucky” at best and I’ve never used Sharepoint before. But by taking some ideas from design thinking, agile and UX I’ve got a minimum viable product that I’m happy for people to try out, in less than a week.

So now we can stop cluttering the intranet with all our posts, which was always a workaround for what we wanted to do, and we can grow our online learning hub. But we’re also pursuing Chatter. Just as Twitter offers a different style of communication to Google plus or blogging, Chatter offers something different to SharePoint. I don’t know exactly how that’s going to work, but it feels like the right thing to do, so we’re doing it. Evidence based, it ain’t.

One to One Support

So far we’ve been meeting one to one with anyone who completes a fairly simple learning needs analysis questionnaire and basically coaching them to come up with ways they can develop themselves without going on courses. This is working pretty well, but we are missing the next step. When people leave that meeting with ideas to try out, we don’t have an easy way for them to share how it’s going, what they’ve tried, what worked and what didn’t. That’s where the SharePoint and Chatter sites will come in, but a lot of people are uncomfortable about sharing what can be quite personal stories online at work. It won’t be easy to get this stage of Love Learning going, but it’s fundamental to the direction we’ve taken.

And now at last we come back to the title of this post. Reading Clark’s post this morning I suddenly realised that we could run live informal learning events across the company. Not lunch and learns those are rarely anything but formal. Not webinars, most people get distracted too easily or just find them boring.

What we need is something more like weeLearning.

Something that really supports social learning, something that promotes and helps new people to meet, something that is driven by the participants, not the business or the trainer. I haven’t got much beyond that, but I’m convinced this is a great idea and I wanted to share it..

Let’s take presentation skills for starters. It’s probably the most popular course request we’ve had this year and last. How do you get good at presenting?


A one day presentation skills course won’t make a blind bit of difference to your presentation skills, if you don’t actually deliver a presentation until six months later. And frankly the content they teach in these courses can be found online, in books, or gleaned from watching TED talks. But the space to practise and get feedback in a safe environment is not so easy to replicate.

Or is it?

If you can get three or four people together once a month to deliver an Ignite talk imagine how quickly they would improve. Watch their confidence grow. Watch their slide design improve. Pretty soon they would want to open up the sessions to a general audience. It could become a great business knowledge sharing tool, or it could just be some fun interesting stuff, or a mix of the two. It could potentially change the way people present in your company forever.

If you can establish something like this within a company it’s going to bleed into your online networks as well. So if you’ve built it and nobody came, it could be a really powerful way to change that.

But how does this differ from a lunch and learn which we see all the time? I think it needs an identity of it’s own. It needs branding and it needs to be something people can own, something they can steer and something they can really be a part of. It also needs to happen regularly.

The one nagging doubt I have is, can it work without beer?

Photo Credit: stevendepolo via Compfight cc

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Love Learning – January Report Card

Now we’ve completed our first full month of the campaign I can reflect a little on how Love Learning is going, what we need to do next and how it’s been received.

Let’s start with some stats for the month:

1350 – hits on the four new articles we wrote and published on the Intranet

900 – approximate number of UK employees

390 – hits on our Scoop.it topics

230 – hits on our Scoop.it topics coming from our employees (based on Scoop.it analytics)

40 – new items of curated content added to our Scoop.it topics

33 – attendees on our first lunch and learn webinar

6 – employees who now follow our topics on Scoop.it (this means they’ve created their own user accounts)

3 – employees who have joined our Love Learning Chatter group

What’s gone well?

We’re really happy with the number of hits on the intranet articles. The main introductory article got 650, so over two thirds of the company at least looked at it. Before the campaign the HR section of the intranet would often go months without any new content and it was apparently impossible to change the cheesy handshake feature image, which took up a quarter of the screen. Nothing is impossible, even in corporate comms.

Now we post at least one new article a week with it’s own feature image, each article is carefully curated, rich with links to other relevant content and permanent links to our Scoop.it pages, Chatter group and direct contact with the team.

We ran a very informal webinar session last Friday, publicised it via email and the intranet and got a really good response. Over 30 people attended to find out how they can use tools like Scoop.it, Zite, Flipboard and Google to make learning a part of their daily routine. The session was only scheduled for 30 minutes (it was Friday lunchtime), but half a dozen people stayed on for up to an hour to get support to set up their own Scoop.it accounts and ask questions. Several people came to the webinar because our new approach made them “confused and uncomfortable”. By the end of the session they understood what it is we are trying to achieve and they know they can get help and support whenever they need it. The best part was that this happened as a result of conversations between participants, not because of any big speeches from me.

Here’s my favourite outcome from one of the attendees at the session:


This is a learning resource for her team and it could be a marketing resource for the business. We just showed them what Scoop.it does, they connected the dots.

What’s not gone so well?

If you look at the numbers the one at the bottom sticks out. This is disappointing, but not exactly surprising. I think it’s partly down to culture and partly down to systems.

Chatter is a decent enough enterprise social tool. However, we only use Chatter.com, the free version. This means people have to log on every time they want to use it and it means we have to create an account manually for every user. At the moment we have about 300 people on Chatter, I wouldn’t like to guess how many of them actually remember their passwords. The only active group is HR.

So what can we do to get more people involved? Why haven’t I gone out and invited everyone to join Chatter?

The short answer to those questions is “Sharepoint”.

Didn’t expect that now did you! Aside from Love learning there was another big internal launch in January – Business networking. This is based in Sharepoint 2010. If you compare the usability of Sharepoint with Chatter, there can only be one winner.

And yet Sharepoint does have some significant strengths over Chatter:

1. Single Sign On – It’s seamlessly integrated within our intranet. So you can link anyone to anything you post.

2. You can Blog – Chatter has a 1000 character limit. It’s designed for twitter style conversations, which are obviously useful, but then so are blogs.

3. Video – we have a new integrated video platform which means we can share rich content. Pretty handy when all video sites are blocked.

4. It’s the corporate choice – while I wouldn’t have chosen it myself, we will be expected to make a go of it. We have an opportunity to show the rest of the company exactly what you can do through communities of practice and collaboration and we can help to develop the platform.

We really need a working social community hub to make Love Learning self sustaining. At the moment we’re using work-arounds via the Intranet, but I’ve started work on a community site in Sharepoint to try to solve this.

It won’t be perfect, but it is the best option available at the moment.

So the next steps are to:

  1. get a working version of the community site ready for people to play with
  2. follow up on the webinar and keep momentum going
  3. attend as many manager meetings as we can to spread the word face to face
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Love Learning Lives

A few months ago I tweeted about a new thing I was working on to help support and promote independent learning at work. I was a little premature in announcing it and we ended up pushing it back until January, which is why I’ve been quiet about it. But January is here and Love Learning is live. I’m going to commit to posting about it at least once a month to help me reflect on what is and isn’t working and to invite feedback to challenge my thinking. So feel free to be rude about it.

Last week our CEO announced the launch of Love Learning, our new campaign to promote independent learning, increase internal and external networking and improve collaboration and knowledge sharing habits across the company.

First up it’s a campaign, not a course or a series of  workshops. There is very little going on in terms of learning design, I’ve spent most of the past two months working on collateral instead of courseware. I spend more time editing intranet pages and curating content on scoop.it than I do story-boarding for Captivate.

So what is Love Learning if there’s no designed learning. Is it all hype and hyperbole?

It’s a marketing campaign, we’re selling people content and concepts. Each month has a theme, January is self-improvement, learning to learn more effectively with technology and setting goals you actually care about. Next month we get into the basic business skills that so many people seem to lack or take for granted. We start that part of the campaign with productivity, managing email, meetings, personal productivity techniques etc.

How does it work?

Each month starts with an article on the front page of the intranet news site to introduce the topic. We don’t have any fancy systems to use for this, our LMS is of no use in this respect and our intranet is barely serviceable to be honest. But we have managed to tweak (I would say hack, but that word gives my boss the fear) the news section of the intranet. It’s the one area that lets you add HTML code, so we’ve created a template that let’s us add images, icons to link to other parts of the campaign and a content slider showcasing our Scoop.it content. Everything else on the intranet is text with the odd picture on menu pages, so it stands out in a good way.

We aim to post two articles a week that develop the topic, invite participation and promote other resources for people to try. We can monitor engagement by the rudimentary tracker reports, it ain’t exactly WordPress, but it gives us some data to go on.
Scoop.it is the next important resource. We have a pro account, which so far is our only real outlay. It costs a whopping £8 a month, but we think it’s worth it because we get 10 topics and more detailed user data. This gives us a pretty good idea how many people are accessing scoop.it direct from the intranet and which articles are popular. As the campaign develops we hope to see more people with their own scoop.it accounts, which will also show up on the analytics.

We’re using Chatter to add a social community to the campaign. This is going to be a slow burner because only about 250 people have chatter accounts, we have to persuade the rest to join up and of course participate. So far we have two members of the Love Learning group ( and one of them is me)!

We’ll be running monthly webinars to round-up each topic and get some extra participation going and we are trying to convince marketing/comms to let us use their email marketing platform so we can send everyone a monthly roundup in the format they are most familiar with.

That’s the gist of it really. The hard work, which we’re just starting now, is getting people to try something different. We need managers to support and promote this from the top down. We’ve got support from the top. It was fantastic to get the CEO to launch the campaign in his New Year email. It means that we can name check him every time someone says “what’s Love Learning”. But the reality is we need to win hearts and mind all the way up and down the organisation. So we’re getting into as many manager meetings across the company to explain face to face what we’re doing, answer any questions and get feedback and insight.

It’s already become clear that the biggest barrier we have to overcome is time. One of the strengths of courses is that they give officially sanctioned time to learn. The problem with informal learning is that people can’t find, or aren’t allowed, the time to learn. The issue still afflicts courses, because when you get back to work you’re unlikely to get the time to reflect on how to implement what you learn.
So my no.1 challenge this year is to find a way for people to learn informally at work without feeling like they are doing something wrong.

I’m thinking about trying to get a find 15 or take 10 initiative going, but what other ways have you seen or tried that created space for learning at work?

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L&D need to get on the curation bandwagon. Here’s why..

I’ve been meaning to follow-up on my first post on curation for a while now, but it wasn’t until I read Nigel Paine’s article on Training Zone that I felt compelled to get this post together. The bit I really liked was Nigel’s mantra “curate first, create second” which I could not agree with more.

Embracing curation as a part of your learning strategy makes sense for many reasons. For starters as I said in the previous article it’s a “gateway drug” to becoming what Bob Mosher and Con Gottfredson call “dynamic learners” and we all need more of those.

It can also save you money. If you have a third-party content library you may be better off curating instead. If you don’t have a library of general learning resources, curation means you can create one for free.

  • Curation lets you grab the best content from the best online authors. A lot of content libraries are staid, dull and out of date.
  • With Curation you control the meta data, this means you can give each article the tags that make sense to your employees.
  • You can link articles to your company’s goals and make them relevant for your audience.

Remember good curation is about understanding what your audience needs and cares about.

Most companies spend thousands of pounds each year on basic Microsoft IT skills training. Not only does this cost a lot in cash, it usually means going on a whole day course out of the office, when what you really need is performance support. The right resource for the right person at the right time – at the moment of application.

If you search You Tube for Excel tutorials you will find a plethora of resources. Some will be better than others of course, but that’s where your skills as a learning professional come in to evaluate how effective they are likely to be for your audience. You could quite conceivably use a tool like Pinterest, Scoop.it or Learnfizz to create a collection of tagged resources covering all the main functions of MS Office and it wouldn’t cost you a penny. Yes it will take you time to collect and review and yes you may not have access to YouTube at work, but perhaps this is the clear business case you need to change all that?

I thought twice about calling curation a bandwagon in the title of this post as it’s clearly a pejorative term. However, the rapidly expanding number of tools in this sector means it is a bubble that surely cannot be sustained. This doesn’t mean it’s going to disappear, but it does mean that you need to choose your platform carefully if you want to be sure of using the same one this time next year. And while most options are free to use, it’s worth considering a paid option, as it generally brings security and peace of mind. Developers who get paid tend to provide a better service.

You might not want to limit yourself to just one tool. They all have slightly different strengths, Scoop.it is a great all-rounder with fantastic search engines, Pinterest is visually appealing, Pearl Trees is great for exploring related topics and making serendipitous discoveries and Learnfizz focuses on learning.

If you are going to use a variety of tools you want to be able to pull them together into some sort of portal, perhaps on your intranet or blog, to make it easy for your audience to access. So part of your selection should involve asking ” how can I extract the content?”. Scoop.it has RSS feeds for each of your topics so people can get them straight to their inbox or feed reader. It even gives you the code to export an iframe with a dynamic slider showing your latest topics. Wouldn’t that look good on your intranet?

Once you’ve chosen a tool and topic, you need to figure out how you are going to cultivate the skills and habits of a good curator. It’s really important to figure out how you can integrate curating into your daily routine. If you don’t do this you won’t find the content you need. Curation requires passion and discipline. Here are some tips:

  • Identify the times in your average day that you could spend curating. Perhaps during your commute if you take the bus or train, or maybe during your lunch break.
  • Aim for about 30 minutes a day and put in your calendar.
  • Eat the elephant one bite at a time – you don’t need to create a comprehensive library in the first week.
  • Get your team involved – many hands make light work (just make sure they are as clued up as you)
  • If you get several people involved you can focus on quality – even three or four articles a week each will build into a quality resource quite quickly.

Don’t just focus on the quality of the content, focus on the quality of your own curation. Remember you add value when you add context. Two or three well positioned articles that clearly link to issues your organisation is facing, will resonate more strongly with your audience than hundreds of generic articles. You also add value when you make the user experience simpler so always take time to add metadata to organise the collection.

That’s the difference between aggregation and curation.


I rather like this curation thing.. (part1)

Towards the end of last year I became more interested in curation. I’ve tagged and collected bookmarks on delicious and now diigo for several years, but never bothered to create lists, groups or even added many comments to bookmarks, largely because it was just for me; a personal library. But I now have a growing internal audience of trainers to think about who are increasingly interested in what I’m doing and talking about. I needed to become more organised.

I started to think about how I could improve the user experience for them to make sure they persevered. This led me to research other ways of sharing to make it more appealing to access and consume the content that I was finding. I tried Pearltrees and experimented with running RSS feeds to sites like Symbaloo, Pageflakes and Netvibes, but while these are all good tools Scoop.it was the one that met my needs the best.

Scoop.it is a content curation tool. It lets you organise content that you discover into topics on boards in a simple, yet visually appealing way. You can tag them like in Diigo but it encourages you to add more comment to the posts you select to give more context. It’s also very social you can search other people’s content and re-scoop it back to your boards for your audience. It’s when you start using it as a search tool that you realise the power of human filters over algorithms. Yes the humans are fallible, they won’t always tag everything consistently, but they unearth better content and link it to more relevant content. Some people see this as spoon feeding, they think it’s lazy, personally I think it’s a natural and welcome evolution. Most people just want to find relevant content, most people don’t know how to construct complex search terms on Google, most people don’t realise how the search results are chosen for them. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t encourage people to learn all these skills, we should, but most people won’t, most people simply don’t have the time or the inclination.

Curation can provide a filter, or a series of filters, a mixture of human and machine that ultimately leads you to find more useful stuff.  It’s a gateway drug to using the internet to learn. Hopefully it will lead more people to want to become curators themselves, to give back and contribute. Some, probably a minority will, others will just consume and learn from the work of the minority. Now that’s not unique to curation is it?

Review of Chatter Project


Chatter is a social business communication tool, provided free to Salesforce.com customers. We began using Chatter in January 2011 as a potental tool to improve collaboration. So far Chatter has been piloted accross a broad range of small groups. In total there are 98 registered users and 14 groups. The only group so far to provide structured feedback were those who attended a recent reward and recognition conference. This post focuses on their feedback and what we can learn from it, but will also highlight relevant observations from some of the other groups and suggest future applications of the tool.

Recognition Conference Group Feedback

We set up a group on Chatter for all of the participants of our Recognition Conference (about 60 people in total). The group aimed to:

  • Make all the information available to the attendees without swamping their inboxes
  • Start the networking early and allow the winners to meet each other online before the event
  • To book and arrange activities
  • To post answers to common questions in a central location
  • Provide a unique space for the winners

There were 47 replies to the question below which was asked in the feedback survey for the Conference:

Chatter Satisfaction Survey Results

25 people left comments relating specifically to Chatter:

Chatter survey feedback comments

The most common criticisim was that users found it inconvenient to have to find the link to the site and login. Some suggested that it should link to the company active directory, but this feature is not available on Chatter.com. However, if you use the desktop application it logs you in automatically. It can also be set to start automatically when you start your computer. We did not explore this option prior to the event because IT would have had to install the app individually for everyone.  If we had done this it could have simplified and improved the user experience.

The other negative comments could have been avoided with a more thorough system induction. Although we did schedule some online drop-in sessions, take-up was very low, even though some people were clearly struggling to get to grips with simple functionality. They didn’t tell us about their problems so we couldn’t help them. If we had put more effort into welcoming people onto the system we could have provided more personalised guidance on using it and built relationships with the users so that they would have felt more comfortable asking for help either on or off line.

Communities need active facilitators to welcome engage and support members. This is not optional, it’s essential. The best example of this I’ve seen is on Jane Hart’s Social Learning site; every new member received a personal welcome to the site, this engaged them and made them feel more comfortable about contributing and asking for help. It’s a lot of work and when you’re at work with a million and one other things to do you can easily make excuses for not going to these lengths, but quite simply you must.

Where Next with Chatter?

We need to decide the next steps for our use of Chatter. How else can we use this tool and how can we learn from our experiences?

One of the early worries came when we launched the Recognition Conference Group. We let things go viral and people started inviting their friends to Chatter and began communicating, not always in ways we thought were appropriate. Although this caused a few nervous moments it does not mean we should avoid these tools:

Social media doesn’t “cause” unprofessional or inappropriate behavior. It “catches” it” – Lisa Nielsen

“Social business gets the best out of companies’ values, both the good and the bad; it will expose your corporate culture big time” Luis Suarez via Twitter

It may be tempting to avoid using tools like Chatter because they are so open, because we perceive them to be risky. The main risk is that we will expose negative behaviours and negative aspects of our culture. Are we really afraid of the truth, or should we be bold and brace ourselves to deal with these issues as they come up and use them to improve our business?

There are many different ways in which we could use Chatter both to support learning and internal communications. At the moment it seems sensible to continue using Chatter to pilot new ideas and to start building a more collaborative culture, which is one of the objectives we set out to achieve in January.

Possible future Chatter projects:

Future Chatter Projects


To use Chatter, or any similar tool, successfully you need to..

  • make it as easy as possible for users to gain access
  • welcome them onto the system individually to build rapport
  • provide plenty of online support
  • position the tool as a way to solve problems
  • target small audiences to give provide personalisation and context

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e-Learning Co-op?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an image exchange for e-learning professionals to share quality photos and graphics they’ve created themselves?

Let’s face it most of what’s out there sucks..

the team that play together..

Our boss thought it would be funny to super glue all our hands together - he's such fun

I’m designing a compliance module on Risk identification at the moment.

Last night I took a break from my scenario writing hell and started looking for some images.

If you’ve ever had to source images for anything online, you’ll know this is almost always a frustrating and time-consuming process. Lately I’ve stopped trying to find free pictures and forked out for some istockphoto credits. I’m sure this pays for itself in time saved, compared with trawling the free sites. But as the example above shows it’s not exactly a guarantee of quality or originality.

I thought I’d try to find an even shorter short cut and so I took a look at the elearning art and elearning brothers sites. They offer high quality isolated images of people doing lots of different poses, which is great because even on sites like istockphoto it’s hard to find collections of the same model, in the same clothes etc. doing different facial expressions and poses.

However they are really expensive for what you get. A single collection of one model is $100 on elearning art. I have about 16 scenarios, all of which feature two or three characters, who all need to look different. And while their images are high quality, they all look a bit cheesy from a UK perspective. I want gritty realism, not super shiny teeth and spray-tans. Sorry guys – that just won’t cut it over here.

Of course there is another option – take your own photos. We’ve invested in some nice kit at work; a set of soft box lights and a compact DSLR camera. This is great in theory, but the module I’m working on is going to show people getting a lot of stuff very wrong and even committing fraud, so it’s unfair to ask colleagues at work to pose for the images on this occasion. The only alternative is to hire models, not something I’ve looked into, but I’m having a hard time picturing that purchase order getting approval.

Then I started to wonder if that was the only alternative. Couldn’t we as a community pool our resources somehow? We could use an eLearning network event to get the ball rolling;

  • A day in a photo studio or frankly just someone’s office somewhere with a few white sheets.
  • The attendees could be the models
  • Maybe get a photography pro in for tips etc
  • Then spend the afternoon learning how to edit them professionally on Photoshop
  • At the end of the day upload them to a suitable site for all members to share.

It could be similar to the recent eLearning event – How to Produce Rich Media Material which worked really well and it could create an ongoing resource. The collection can grow over time; no charges, just credits for sharing – you get what you give.

It could save a lot of us a lot of time and cut the number of people using stock images like these. Who’s in?

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