Employee Engagement Summit

As part of the Employee Engagement Summit (http://engageemployee.comsummits/2016-employee-engagement-summit-new/) I was asked to join a panel with Iain Trundle from Barclays Bank and Rory Lawson from City & Guilds Kineo; curated and chaired by Nicola Strong, I was delighted to see learning feature at an engagement event.

I’ll declare my state of play / view on the employee engagement industry: it’s a concept that has a lot of questionable practice, value, deductions but then I’m open minded enough to see that for some organisations, this is a sense-check on how the company treats its people. Or more, how the leaders of the company treats their people. Organisations aren’t sentient things: they are a constructed gathering of people, assets, resources and so on. It’s people who treat people either well or not so well.

And so it is people who again are the stewards, custodians, advocates, activists and collaborators in learning. And by learning, what I mean here is the art and science of skills, behaviours, knowledge and people’s application of those skills, behaviours and knowledge in the work and endeavours in the name of the organisation and its purpose for being.

We (Iain, Rory and I) were chaired by Nicola as a panel and asked to share our thoughts, experiences and hopes on how to engage learners in a digital age.

After introducing ourselves, we were invited to share a few philosophies and the rest of this post is a download of my thoughts on them. Needless to say like all panels, we could have gone on, there was some good questioning from the audience and for an end of day session, some really encouraging engagement (pun intended).

So firstly, which digital trends are driving engagement in workplace learning in your organisations?

My list goes like this:
● Shorter, more socialised threads of content either bespoke designed or learner generated.
● Just in time; not so much boxed up and packaged programmes.
● Video or short form text exchanges.
● Playlist – and even Spotify-like streamed content – rather than have a catalogue of options
● Serendipity and random learning (using social tools and ways of learning that may or may not be digital first)
● Unexpected learning and non-searched for learning: things that find YOU.

I wanted to zoom in on that last point: learning that finds YOU. Such is the power of algorithms and coded machine learning, we are now able to use digital platforms and applications to help our learning pursuits. When we use Zite, or Flipboard, Buffer or Reddit, these platforms become “intelligent” to our needs. There are digital footprints left in the content we search, source and share which become a pattern the code can follow creating its own search and retrieve routines to deliver content to you.

This hasn’t happened before with a virtual personalised learning assistant deployed to locate and present to us things we might find useful, interesting and that become part of our learning playlist.

Don Tapscott – the eloquent commentator on the information age – once said that we no longer find the news it finds us. So without explicitly asking for something our news apps; social feeds and curator tools become our channel to what’s happening in the world. So it is with content that isn’t just news for information but content for learning.

In an era where laser focus and productive application of our time seem ever more crucial, this could be considered an anti-trend. Slightly random content thrusted upon us to consume, swipe, store, ignore. Not so much precision more overarching principles that feed us potentially useful things. Yet this approach grows ever more critical due to the sheer abundance and pace that information is created, available and shared.

Norwegian research institute SINTEF conducted a research study into the world’s information and found that 90% of the information they accessed was created in the preceding 2 years.

So in several thousand years, we created only 10% of what is now available.

Now thats exponential growth.

There’s no research on how useful that is – we could have a lot more Gangam Style and cat videos than before but that doesn’t necessarily make us a more enriched entity – yet something we are now faced with. As Clay Shirky says though, it’s not a problem we should call information overload, it’s a filtering issue.

So learning in the digital age has to be about filtering amongst that abundance. It is also – as I mentioned in the panel – being able to discern popular myths and misinformation. Just because something is popularised, doesn’t necessarily make it right/correct.

Learner engagement impact #1 – content is everywhere, it’s locating, finding, analysing, using, storing and retrieving it that we need to be mindful of.

Second up, In engaging learners, how do we ensure a balance between established learning practices and disruptive forward thinking?

Learning is a domesticated beast in most organisations. Tamed, controlled and let out on permission granting mandates.

Yet learning as we know it can be a wild and somewhat random thing not always the choice of an all-knowing professional and more the advent of curiosity, intrigue and interest.

For a long time the “we know best” has channelled learning to learners and done it to them. Yet we’re seeing experiential, experimental and unpredictable elements forming the learner of the social age’s preferred approach. The balance is in people understanding why they need to learn something, how they apply it for good/better and they are active in the way the learning is delivered to and for them to match their style/preferences.

Learner engagement issue #2 – setting learning free from controlled methods is good for learners and creates space for learning professionals to expand and overhaul the offer they provide.

Thirdly, how do you engage, connect and deliver learning to a global workforce?

I blogged recently how the world is a smaller place because of social technologies and digital connectivity more widely. So whilst I only have UK experience, two floors can often separate an amazing culture and a poor one. So learning IS a thread that connects across boundaries and geographies. Cultural differences are significant and that’s not stereotyping – that’s being sensitive to the way people work, connect, share, learn.

Learning IS a global sport though: People all over the world share the same restlessness that good enough isn’t enough and being concerned about new things; pivots needed to their way of thinking and doing and shifts demanded in new areas creating new skills and attitudes needed to be successful, fulfilled and purposeful.

The language of business is growth yet the language of business ought to be impact. What impact do our products and services create – for when that is at its greatest, surely there’s growth as a natural consequence?

Learning is about growth and impact – what skills you acquire help you grow. Things you learn and apply can have enhanced impact. So engage people in a common good: betterment – of self and the work they do.

Learner engagement impact #3 – boundaries and geographies are transcended by learning as Madiba once said “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”.

On that note, I’ll go and learn something random to apply whenever the moment arises. And perhaps change the world.

Perry Timms
Director: People & Learning – Media Zoo
Founder: PTHR
Advisor to the CIPD – Social Media and HR
15 April 2016