Thursday 1 May 2014

#CipdLDshow Focus on the Learner and Learning

The CIPD's new Learning and Development survey has been launched at its new L&D Show.  There are some interesting findings, including a substantial, and rather surprising, increase in the amount of evaluation going on (particularly when you have a look at the almost complete apathy about the CIPD's Valuing Your Talent initiative  - see my post as to why).

There's also a de rigeur nod to an increase in business knowledge and commercial acumen which personally I think is the wrong focus - particularly when you compare it with having curiosity for how people learn and develop.  And it's particularly worrying when combined with the other results just below this - low knowledge of emerging L&D trends and low understanding of new learning technologies.

The good news is that there is a considerable increase in the awareness and use of various new insights on L&D from other disciplines from the 2012 survey when the CIPD basically lost its rag with the profession:

"A lot of this activity is going to require a step-up in our awareness of a new and emerging evidence base from the sciences about how people think, act and behave. L&D people use familiar models such as Myers Briggs, Kolb, and Honey and Mumford to generate insight on how people learn and develop. Perhaps these are too familiar, for the challenges we face now require different insights and a refreshed evidence base. Our survey also shows there is a low awareness of the emerging evidence base from neuroscience, cognitive research and areas like economics which could transform the way we think and plan L&TD."

The most common developments being applied in 2014 (by a quarter of respondents) include:
"Awareness of how ‘mirror neurons’ help embed learning; the correlation between physical exercise and increased learning performance; how human reasoning and logic affect how we learn; and learning states during game-based learning."

"Overall, more than half of respondents (55%) had integrated one or more of the new insights listed into practice compared with 36% in 2012. The proportion incorporating the concept of learning through deep practice, the implications of generational changes in brain function, cognitive issues around decision-making and how human reasoning and logic affect how we learn has doubled since 2012. Similarly, while small proportions incorporate concepts related to neurochemistry of learning or brain plasticity, the figures have improved since 2012. In addition, more have heard of the methods even if they don’t currently use them in their practice or don’t fully understand them. As we found in 2012, very few report they don’t see the relevance of the developments."

I'm really pleased that more L&D practitioners are developing their interest in these areas although I'm still a bit suspect how far this interest and new learning goes.  For example it's interesting to note the high proportion of evaluation approaches which still depend on the 60 year old Kirkpatrick model.  So it sounds to me as if the need for unlearning which the CIPD referred to in 2012 is still alive and well, in this area at least.
"Organisations are using more methods to assess the impact of L&D activity compared with last year – the most popular methods last year, general HR metrics and business metrics, remain the most commonly used methods of assessing L&D, but the proportion always or frequently using them has increased. The use of other methods, including return on investment and the Kirkpatrick model, has also increased.
"A quarter report they rarely use the evaluation data they collect – in contrast, nearly half use it to forecast future training needs and plan accordingly and a similar proportion to review the L&D evaluation at the end of each training cycle and update it according to the research findings."

I'm also really pleased that the CIPD seems to be recognising that its focus on business acumen can be taken too far:
"Without a good understanding of the business and the environment in which it operates and the ability to work collaboratively and influence others in the organisation, the application of more functional skills, knowledge and expertise may be misdirected or the organisational support required for implementation of new ideas or processes may be lacking. At the same time, L&D professionals must ensure that a focus on integrating with the business does not preclude up-to-date knowledge of new insights, theories and technologies, which can help advance L&D capability and credibility."

But to me, this interest in new L&D insights still isn't quite the right thing.  It's a bit like understanding a whole set of business trends from globalisation and customer focus to lean manufacturing and virtualisation.  But if a practitioner isn't interested in, doesn't understand, their business, these separate bits of knowledge don't add much value at all.

It's the same with people acumen too.  We need to understand the nuggets of insight provided by neuroscience etc but they don't mean much unless we connect them in terms of our focus on the learner.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't pay attention to our businesses, but if we engage people deeply in their learning, then they're going to learn about areas connected with their business objectives as a matter of course.  It's the learning not the business that are the challenges we should be focusing on.  The people are at least as important as the commercial context of the organisation.

So to me the survey suggests that we've still got a long way to go before we get to develop anything like  the potential of learning in our businesses.

Take the other result right at the bottom of the graph of survey findings as an example - the low level of understanding of new learning technologies eg MOOCs.  The tweets from the L&D Show seemed to suggest that MOOCs could work but are only being taken up by people who are already active learners.  To me this suggests that the challenge, once again, isn't alignment with the business, or even a deep understanding of MOOCs.  It's understanding how people learn and getting them interested in learning.  Do that and the rest follows.

It was interesting to see some frustration on the conference Twitter stream that there wasn't more new insight communicated during the conference.  Well the need to focus on the learner isn't new, but I think it's still the priority which needs to come out more strongly from the L&D community.

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