Helping CIPD support their members


For much of the last nine months I’ve been saying to people “I’m working on this amazing project, but I can’t tell you much about it at the moment”. Well, I’m pleased to say that now I can talk about it!

Yesterday the CIPD launched eight FREE online courses – exclusively for their members – based on the eight core behaviours of the new Profession Map!

My colleagues and I at Skills Journey have been working with the amazing team at CIPD to design and develop these courses. We’ve been writing content, creating graphics as well as planning, shooting and editing a lot of videos – with some incredibly talented presenters and subject experts.

Everything has been beautifully assembled by the team at CIPD. Take a look – https://peopleprofession.cipd.org/learning

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Tips for creating learning scenarios

Recently, Bryan Jones from eLearningArt invited me and 59 other eLearning people to share their single best tip for creating effective eLearning scenarios. The post is now live, and you can check it out here: 13 eLearning Scenario Tips that 60 Experts Agree On

He asked everyone this question:

What’s your #1 tip for creating effective eLearning scenarios?

And, here’s how I responded:

Our scenarios must be realistic but focused on the desired learning outcome.

Scenarios need to be challenging. The learner must have the chance to guide the scenario to an appropriate outcome—and to do so by making choices that require thought. It shouldn’t be easy.

In real life, situations are messy, and we juggle lots of things at the same time. Our scenarios must be realistic but focused on the desired learning outcome. Don’t include other things that might be going on if they aren’t critical to that outcome.

It needs to be authentic and believable. We’ll lose our audience if they can’t picture themselves in the situation.

If you want to see a summary of all 60 tips, you can check out the embedded YouTube video below:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuMWeWroKxA]

Or visit the full scenario tips post to see all the detailed responses.

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Who should own your learning platform?

This week I’ve been running a workshop in which we looked at all aspects of digital learning design. Over lunch, one of the delegates asked who I thought was the right person in an organisation to own the LMS (or VLE, or other learning platform).

Various possibilities were suggested by the group, including Learning and Development, IT, producers of learning content or some combination of the three.

Before I suggest an answer, I have to say I would definitely reject any option which involved shared ownership. While I would agree that there are various groups of stakeholders whose views should be considered, that does not merit having a stake in the ownership of the platform. Any effort to split ownership is more likely to stifle progress than encourage it.

It’s very clear to me who should own any learning platform, although I have no strong views about which department that should be.

For me, the ownership of any platform can only lie with whoever has ownership for supporting those people who use that platform. That is whoever provides the first line of support for learners – who is it that answers their calls and emails?

Who should own your learning platform? Read More »

Micro Learning Tools

On 11th May, along with my colleague Clive Shepherd I presented on the subject of microlearning at the CIPD L&D Show. One topic of considerable interest was the tools that you could use to create content. Here, as promised to those who attended is a non-definitive list of tools. If you have any tools you’d like to suggest, please add them in the comments.




Explainer videos

Quizzes and games

Web articles

Any web editor e.g.

Interactive lessons

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Apple – style over substance?

I’ve been a Mac user for close to ten years, but for the past six months I’ve been splitting my time pretty much equally between a Macbook Pro and Surface Book. So as someone with a foot firmly in each camp I was very interested in the Microsoft and Apple events last week. In the few days since those events there has been a lot of comment, much of it highlighting the innovation coming out of Redmond and the perceived lack of it coming out of Cupertino and in particular Apple’s lack of support for the professional market.

I don’t intend to add a huge amount as so much has already been said, but I do have a view.

As a long time user of Apple products I have often rejected accusations that they are all about style over substance, but I no longer think that’s true. I read two posts on Daring Fireball this morning, in which John Gruber summed up Apple’s approach.

In the first he said:

Apple simply places a higher priority on thinness and lightness than performance-hungry pro users do. Apple is more willing to compromise on performance than on thinness and lightness and battery life.

And in the other:

But the price you pay for the MacBook Pro isn’t about the sum of the components. It’s about getting them into that sleek, lightweight form factor, too. In a word, Apple is optimizing the MacBook lineup for niceness.

If that isn’t a description of style over substance I don’t know what is.

I think this is an indication that Apple is completing its transformation from a computer company to a consumer electronics company. That’s fine – it’s been a very successful strategy for them – but it’s time to accept that’s what they are and stop pretending that they’re the natural home of creative pros.

Most of the time I spend in front of my Mac or PC is focussed on creating things (words, images, videos etc.). I’ve been leaning more and more to the Windows machine lately as it seems to be more reliable, it’s noticeably quicker and I find it just plain nicer to use – and I don’t think this is by accident. It really does appear that Microsoft are more interested in the pro market than Apple are, and they’re making the hardware and software to support them.

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Specialization, Polymaths And The Pareto Principle

Reading this article on Techcrunch I was struck by two things:

Deep expertise is less and less useful

If you consider just two things – the pace at which we increase our understanding of how human beings learn and the pace at which the technological environment around us is changing – its seems obvious that L&D should be a fast moving field.

The reality is usually different, with people who work in L&D investing their time and effort in developing deep expertise in very narrow topics. Often tied to qualifications that are rooted in the past.

As an industry we would surely benefit from us all having a more diverse skill set. To use the terminology from the article, we need more Journeyman than Masters.

It isn’t just the tech industry that needs more polymaths

The most exciting and impactful projects that I work on are those driven by cross disciplinary teams that work together throughout the project.

They work because at least some of the people in those teams have knowledge and skills that crosses multiple domains, not just the one attached to their job title. They play a key role in helping people communicate and share ideas.

Being experts in learning is not enough, nor is just ‘talking the language of business’. We need people with diverse skills that are relevant to the organisations in which they work.


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Learn xAPI MOOC – Week 4 Reflections

Here are my thoughts after completing week 4 (the final week) of the Learn xAPI MOOC. This week is titled “Final Challenge and Post Conference Drinks” and it brings together the technical and strategy tracks.

There are three key questions:

Discussion Point: Learning analytics is too important for L&D to own

I was surprised (and chuffed) to see that the first question was inspired by the blog post I wrote on 28th May. This was a response to a post on learning analytics written by Mark Aberdour.

There were great comments from everyone and I’m really pleased to have contributed to the debate.

Due to semantics (or perhaps just me not being clear in the first place) there were some comments around responsibility and accountability. To clarify – I believe 100% that L&D needs to take ownership for results and to some extent that will include learning analytics.

My point was more that if organisations are going invest in employing data scientists (as Mark suggested in the original post to which I was responding) they need to do their work at a level above L&D (and every other department). If the measurement and the analysis of the data remains within L&D there is a very high risk that all we end up measuring is our own performance in the context of our own measures (was it a good piece of learning material?) rather than the impact we are having (did it make any difference to workplace performance?).

L&D certainly needs to be involved involved in learning analytics. The alignment of learning analytics to performance outcomes is something that should begin at the earliest stages of design.

One of the hardest part of analysing any data is working out what it actually means. I’m less sure that L&D should be the ones who decide what the data means – that’s where a data scientist (or whoever) looking at this at an organisational level comes in.

Discussion point: Most L&D teams lack the skills and mindset to make effective use of meaningful data. Do you think L&D teams have the potential to develop the necessary skills and will their organisations give them the opportunity to develop them?

This is the question that I was asking myself at the end of week 2.

First of all, this isn’t a question of capability – I expect any good L&D team would be capable of developing the skills. To what degree they should develop these skills will probably depend largely on the size of the team (in small teams it may be more about mindset and understanding rather than deep skills).

Whether they will have the opportunity is harder to answer and this will probably depend on how they are perceived by the organisation. My thinking has moved on a bit since week 2. Back then I was wondering if L&D will be given the opportunity. Now I think that opportunity isn’t something they should wait for – they should own this and get on with developing those skills.

Discussion point: How do we make sure that we don’t get carried away with what’s possible and instead focus on what is valuable? And lastly who is it valuable to?

I think these are the big questions and the ones that I’ve been thinking about since week one.

Focussing on the valuable rather than the possible must be one of the most common challenges facing anyone who works with technology and learning. The only way we do this is by understanding what is valuable to the organisation.

That means going beyond being order takers who simply satisfy the needs of the immediate stakeholder who comes to us for a solution. We need to be able to consider everything we do in the context of the organisation’s goals and, when necessary, challenge the stakeholder if they demand the wrong solution.

The rest of the week’s content was focussed on practical activity around, visualisations and telling stories with data.

Summary of my thoughts after four weeks

I haven’t reached a definitive conclusion about xAPI, but that wasn’t my expectation, and my ideas will continue to evolve. Here is a snapshot at week 4:

  • I’m interested in xAPI in that it changes the technical tools we have for measuring activity. If we really need to track activity, xAPI goes beyond many of the limitations of SCORM (such as tracking activity on mobiles and in apps).
  • Whether or not we need to measure activity is another thing entirely. I’m not against measurement, but it needs to be the right measurement and it needs to be actionable.
  • I’d be surprised if we really see many organisations tracking anything other than activity.
  • I fear that clumsy attempts to use xAPI too widely will degrade the experience for learners.
  • After four weeks I still can’t see how the learner benefits from xAPI. The benefits are to L&D and maybe to the wider organisation if they get the data analysis side of it right.
  • xAPI tracks activity (albeit a wider range of activity than SCORM) but it does not track learning.
  • The name is terrible. Domain specific acronyms make communication difficult and put people off by making them outsiders. See here.
  • People seem keen to use it outside L&D, but I think that may be difficult given that it is designed by L&D people, for L&D people to solve the problems that L&D people have.

Learn xAPI MOOC – Week 4 Reflections Read More »

Learn xAPI MOOC – Week 3 Reflections

Here are my thoughts after completing week 3 of the Learn xAPI MOOC.

The strategy track for this week is titled “Data and Learning Analytics”. I’d already been giving this some thought (see here) as I have concerns about the real benefits of even the simplest tracking and measurement, let alone ‘learning analytics’…

This week started off by addressing the difficulty that people often have in grasping the difference between correlation and causation. This was done by sharing a page from Explain xkcd (which is just brilliant!). I’ve bookmarked this for future use.

There was only one discussion point that interested me this week:

Discussion point: What sources of data could you be tapping into to build a better picture of the connections between training and performance?

There are, I think, only two possible answers:

  1. If you are considering this at a high level, then the answer is simply “whatever sources of data the organisation uses to measure performance”. So if you want to know if your customer service training programme has made any difference, you have to start by looking at whatever data source the organisation uses to measure customer service. Good luck with finding anything other than a superficial link.
  2. The alternative is to consider this at a much lower level . For every training intervention we should be identifying the intended performance outcome at the very earliest stages of design. At that stage we should also be identifying what data we need to measure that performance and from where to source that data. If that data source doesn’t already exist, there’s a good chance that’s because what you intend to change isn’t important enough to measure.

The rest of the week’s content was focussed on analytics, data, visualisation, privacy and other general data related subjects. All interesting topics, but nothing I hadn’t already given a great deal of thought to.

Summary of my thoughts after three weeks

I’m still trying to make sense of xAPI, and after three weeks here are the main threads I’m considering.

  • Before starting the MOOC I suspected that most of the talk about measuring “learning outcomes” actually referred to measuring “training outcomes”. After three weeks on the MOOC, I’m now sure that’s true.
  • I worry that there is more interest in using xAPI to prove a link between L&D and performance in order to demonstrate the value of L&D rather than to actually improve workplace performance.
  • Just as I did at the start I can see how tracking activity may bring plenty of benefits to L&D and pretty much none to learners.
  • In theory we could use xAPI to track a huge amount of activity, but I haven’t seen any compelling argument as to why we should. There seems to be an underlying assumption that measurement is a good thing (you only have to think about school league tables to know that it isn’t).
  • One of the more pertinent things I’ve read on the subject recently is this post from Henry Mintzberg. I’ve seen a lot of “measuring as a replacement for managing” within L&D.

The biggest worry I have is that in trying to measure too many things we will actually degrade the experience for learners. There are a few ways this could happen.

  1. We identify specific activities or content that we want to track and to make that easier to do we move them somewhere they are easier to track – you know, like an LMS.
  2. We give the learner some kind of tool (like a browser bookmarklet or app) and say “each time you learn/do/experience anything, just click this so we know about it. Oh, and make sure you pick the right verb.”
  3. We find some diabolical way to track everything they do and then analyse it in search of learning activity. Seriously, stop thinking about that right now.

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Learning analytics is too important for L&D to own

I’m clearly not the only one to recognise that L&D lacks the skills needed for the kind of learning analytics enabled by advances such as xAPI.

Mark Aberdour has written a very thoughtful post about the challenges we face and makes this suggestion:

Clearly some of these items require close interaction with the L&D team, but in summary there is a real need to bring experienced data scientists into corporate learning and development, not just to set up analytics programmes but to continually monitor, review and refine the results.

via Building a learning analytics platform | Open Thoughts.

I agree that organisations need people who can interpret this data and make it actionable, but I don’t believe they should sit within L&D. If ownership for learning data remains within L&D we risk continuing the current situation where all we do is measure the most basic elements of our performance (inputs and outputs) rather than the impact of learning on workplace performance.

For learning data to have strategic value it needs to be considered at a higher level, in combination with data from other parts of the organisation. To be objective, ownership for this needs to sit outside any department with a vested interest in the results.

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Learn xAPI MOOC – Week 2 Reflections

Here are my thoughts after completing week 2 of the Learn xAPI MOOC.

The strategy track for this week is titled “Building the Business Case for Data”, which suggested that it might hold the answers to some of my questions from week 1. It didn’t.

This week I’ve included some of the discussion points from the MOOC as well as my reaction to them.

The introduction to this week suggests that we can use data to evaluate not just learning activity but the learning experience. However, I have a couple of big doubts about this:

  • I love the idea of being able to assess the end user’s learning experience, but I don’t think that is what xAPI is going to do (at least not as it’s being described in this MOOC). What it seems to be talking about here is measuring the learner’s experience of a training intervention. I’m not saying that there is no value in this, but it’s not the same thing.
  • Given that the people who complete a learning activity are rarely the people who commission the development of that learning activity I’d be interested to know how successful people have been in getting the go ahead to make changes and further develop the learning activity based on that data. If the need of the person who commissions the activity is to “get something out there that proves we’ve done health and safety training” how much will they care about the learner’s experience?

Which brings us nicely to this question in the MOOC.

Discussion point: Does L&D deserve it’s place as a key influencer in business strategy? Or are we playing second fiddle to other departments and their needs?

In the video for this section Sean Putman suggests we need to think about who are the customers for our learning interventions and who are the customers for your learning data?

This is logical advice, but with very few exceptions the customer for both of these is usually someone other than the learner. Indeed, it’s quite common that the customer is someone far detached from the learner (and thus even further detached from the organisation’s customer’s).

L&D puts itself into the place of playing second fiddle when it sees those other departments as its customers and does nothing more than take and satisfy their orders. If L&D wants to be treated as an equal it needs to behave like one – have an opinion, develop its own plan for supporting the organisation’s strategy. xAPI alone isn’t going to fix this, but it could give L&D more data to work with – if it knows what to do with it.

Discussion point: If you actually wanted to measure the performance impact of your learning solutions, who else would you need to work with? Do you think this would be easy to achieve, or are you likely to face road blocks?

It is scary (although accurate) that this question starts with “if”. The fact there is any doubt that L&D might want to measure the performance impact of learning tells you a lot about the state of L&D today.

However, my own experience is that even when that kind of analysis is offered to stakeholders, they don’t want it. I think that is a result of the order/supply relationship that in many cases exists between other departments and L&D.

Discussion point: How could you use this approach in your organisation? What data would you collect and why?

This question was asked in response to this blog post.

I like this idea of generating xAPI statements from the the software that someone is using. However I think I’d be more interested in how I could use the data to improve the user’s experience of the software rather than to better train the users.


The additional data which xAPI can generate makes it even more important that L&D understands what it is they expect to change through any learning intervention and what actually needs to be measured to see if that change has happened. Defining, collecting and analysing this data is not an easy task – it requires a skillset that few L&D people have and it will be time consuming and costly to do.

As with last week, I’m left with more questions.

  • Will L&D be given the opportunity to develop these skills?
  • Will their customers be prepared for the additional time and effort required to develop solutions?
  • Will an industry pop up around this, with vendors selling promises of systems that do all of the analysis for you?

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