Top Interviews on Training Station from 2013

At the start of 2014, as with any new year, there is a lot of optimism and planning for the year ahead. Yet it also is valuable to look back at the year in review, to return – with a bird’s eye view – to some of the ideas, news and people that shaped and influenced us most during the course of the year that is ending.

With the spirit in mind, here are some of the best interviews on Training Station this year. 

I’m excited to continue with some great new discussions in the year ahead!

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Interview with Vanessa Walsh of Wells Fargo

I recently had the privilege to interview Vanessa Walsh, Head of Leadership and Professional Development at Wells Fargo. Walsh, who has many years of experience in L&D – with a focus on organization development and leadership development – in the banking and financial services industry, was very kind  to share her thoughts and insights into a variety of issues, including leadership qualities, mobile and social learning, and some advice to young professionals just entering the world of employee training.

Training Station: Why don’t we start off with you telling us a bit about how you got into learning development and how you ended up at Wells Fargo?

Vanessa Walsh: My background prior to Wells Fargo was in organization development and leadership development. Then I was head of OD and succession planning for California’s judicial branch of government for a while. I was a terrible government employee, as I like change. I had a friend who was working for Wells Fargo, and said to me that he thought I would really like the culture here. So I joined almost 10 years ago. It’s a fabulous organization and I’ve had the opportunity to move around quite a bit. I actually started as a learning and development consultant, and now I’m running leadership and professional development for the enterprise.

TS: If you would try to define, in the learning development field specifically, but  also in general, what it really takes to be a good leader nowadays in the enterprise, what would you say?

VW: For a leader in general, and this is a lot of what the data is pointing to as well, people want to follow and be led by somebody who is really inspiring and motivating. And the good news is that you don’t have to be a motivational speaker to be inspiring and motivating. There are multiple ways to be inspiring and motivating. What we’re finding more and more though, is that it’s not someone’s technical expertise that makes him or her a great leader. They certainly have to have some intellectual horsepower, but they don’t necessarily have to know all the ins and outs of the technical aspects of someone’s job.

Why I think that’s important is because as people transition from that role of individual contributor to manager, or leader, often times they’re promoted because they’re really good at what they do.  What we’re starting to focus on more is, ‘OK that’s great that you’re good at what you do, but can you actually lead and manage other people?’ That ability to inspire others to high performance, to motivate them and to provide goals where they are growing and learning, is critically important.

Additionally, an important skill is the ability to give feedback in the moment, on a regular basis and really have conversations about career growth and development. I think we’re doing a better job of helping to equip managers with how to have those conversations and making that a more comfortable experience.

TS: In what way is working in learning and development in the banking and financial services industry unique?

VW: I think what is unique about this industry right now, as opposed to ten years ago, is the heavy regulatory environment that we’re in. Our training organizations need to be keenly aware of the regulatory environment, the pressures that are on our team members from a risk management standpoint. So, in some cases, we’re doing training specifically as it relates to risk management, and to specific regulations, compliance training, that sort of thing. But, where that’s really going to stick from a culture standpoint, of course, is to weave that through other courses of training as well. Every industry is going to have its unique factors, but I think that’s a little bit different than, let’s say the food industry. It’s from a banking regulatory stand point.

TS: As someone deeply involved in workplace training, what are some of the technological tools that are exciting you nowadays?

VW: I’m most excited about the opportunities around mobile and social learning for our team members. Mobile learning can be used in a variety of ways. Not only is it a way to push out just-in-time information, but it’s also a way to reinforce concepts learned through other modalities. So in it of itself, it can be a form of learning, and can support learning that occurs in a classroom, or a virtual classroom.

For example, if I’m a leader, I’ve gone through a coaching fundamentals course. It’s been two months and I’m about to go into a difficult coaching conversation. Perhaps it’s a job aid that I have on my desk [to access important information]. Or, if I’m travelling, I can just pick up my mobile device and go to my app, and look up those top five tips around having a difficult coaching conversation, and it’s right there

“Learning at the speed of me,” is what we’re calling it. We have a whole generation of people coming into the workplace who have very different expectations around how they access information. We’re working to meet those needs.

Same thing with social. If someone has a question regarding “How do I do X?” or “Where can I find Y?,” either they’re going out onto our portal and typing that in, just like they would in Google, or they’re going out to the network, just like they’re used to doing on Facebook. We’re trying to create more of those forums within Wells Fargo so that people can do that, so that they can have that information at their fingertips because they have a trusted a group of people, or in some cases people they don’t even know who have some great information for them in a very timely way.

So, I’m pretty excited both about the mobile and social space because I think that we can leverage them in a formal way to support our formal program but also provide some parameters around it where we can create a really rich, informal learning environment.

TS: Speaking to a lot of training professionals, there’s always a dilemma between whether we should place a lot of the weight on the initial training period itself or on learning as a continuous strategy. People are frustrated sometimes because they put in a lot of information into initial training for new employees and only a fraction of the knowledge is actually retained and is easily able to be applied once he or she starts doing their daily work. What do you think the balance should be between training and performance support, or learning as a long term continuous strategy?

VW: We are employing the 70/20/10 model. 10 percent of learning happens in training, 20 percent happens from continued coaching and support feedback, and 70 percent happens from on-the-job learning. If you think about learning to drive a car, it’s one thing to sit in a classroom and study all the laws and rules and how the clutch works with the gas pedal, but until you’re in that car grinding the gears, stalling out in the middle of an intersection, you’re not really learning how to do it. So we’re starting to shift that balance a little bit more to a broader strategy around performance support.

What that looks like varies across the organization, but I think there’s less focus on throwing information at people and hoping something sticks, to whether we can give people information and skill building in manageable chunks and bites, so that they can go and test and learn and come back and get more. Coming back and getting more may be in a classroom but it could also be on a social site. We’re really starting to focus more in the experiential space and allowing people’s different methods to come together to talk about what it is they’re applying in learning. Some parts of the organization are very early in that journey and some are a little farther down the road, but strategically that’s the direction we’re trying to go.

TS: Finally, you spoke earlier about the ability to inspire as a key quality that people are looking for in a really good leader nowadays. As someone with your many years of experience both in Wells Fargo and before, what advice would you give someone who is just starting their career employee training and development?

VW: I think more  than ever, we have a real opportunity in the space of technology and meeting the needs of millennials who are coming into the workplace. The way that we’ve done training in the past is not going to fly for millennials coming into the workplace. Even now, if we have a 2-day training program that’s in person, asking people to put away their smart phones isn’t even culturally acceptable for some generations. Multi-tasking is in some cases how people learn. It’s something very important that new people coming into this industry now be in tune with the team member, and be in tune with the audience as a collective, in understanding how different generations learn, and how we must design learning solutions that are going to meet the needs of multiple generations, rather than a one size fits all.

It probably goes without saying, but there is also the importance of  really strong communication skills.  We have to be very crisp, clear, and concise about the information that is being shared, and really making things learner-driven as well, by pulling out information from the audience. And as we start to go into the virtual learning space, finding new and different ways to keep people engaged is also key. I think all of those are going be important.  From a design stand point, it’s the same thing. It’s doing all that as well, on the back end, and making sure things are designed in a way that is appropriate for each audience.

The other thing I would say is measurement, measurement, measurement. I think we’re all getting better at it, but in many cases we tend to just jump in and design training or learning because a client has asked for it, without really getting to the root of the issue, what is it that we are trying to solve for and how to we plan to measure that?

The final thing that I will say, is being willing to call it out when training is not the right solution.

TS: What do you mean by that?

VW: Well, in some cases, if there’s a particular organizational development need or intervention that needs to occur, training might not be the right answer. If there’s a client that we’re working with and they say, “I think we need some training on collaboration.” It can be easy for the training partner to say “Great, we have a great program over here around collaboration, no problem, let’s go ahead and implement that.” As it turns out, there might be some cultural issues on the team that they need to work through. People aren’t getting along, people aren’t communicating well. And training is not going to solve that. That is more of a customized deeper intervention that needs to occur. So, it’s important to ask those really tough questions on the front and consult well. And if training isn’t the solution, be able to call it out.

TS: Thank you very much.

VW: Thank you.

Interview with Peter Casebow, CEO of GoodPractice

Another week, another great interview I have the privilege to share with you.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Peter Casebow, CEO and Co-Founder of GoodPractice, a provider of online learning materials for leadership and management.  Peter was very gracicious with his time and I’d like to thank him for the interview, which I think is very insightful and contains a lot of valuable information.  Among the topis discussed are performance support, mobile learning, and the shift from looking at learning as a separate event outside of the context of work to one of continuous learning and performance, while employees continue to perform their critical tasks.

The full interview is below.  Please feel free to leave your comments at the end.

Training Station: Please provide us with a brief overview about GoodPractice and also a bit about your professional background as well.

peter casebowPeter Casebow: My professional background really started with about 23 years in the Royal Bank of Scotland up until 2000. I did a bit of everything there, from being a traditional banker for about 10 or 11 years. I ended up spending a bit of time in HR and a bit of time in learning. I also did some strategy work for the bank as well and I ended up serving as Head of Communication Strategy, which included looking at the bank’s Internet, intranet, we created some business television networks and some virtual classrooms.  So it’s quite mixed, but over the last 10 – 15 years in the bank, I was looking at how to help people to perform better through communications and through training.

In 2008, I decided I was going to leave the bank and joined Margaret Ford in co-founding GoodPractice. What GoodPractice does is we specialize in development of online leadership and management learning materials. That market has changed remarkably in the 13 years because when we started out, a lot of the common terminology used these days wasn’t really there – like ‘performance support,’ ‘70/20/10,’ or informal learning.

As a company, we work with large corporations like Rolls Royce, Barclays Bank, government departments and a whole range of universities including the Open University in the UK. So it’s a very mixed bag, but everything we do it’s all delivered online. It could be performance support toolkit, it could be a piece of e-learning, video, audio, it could be mobile, and we’ve got an interesting app that works very well. So our specialist subject focuses on leadership management material, and how you get people to engage and use that.

TS: Very interesting. You mentioned that some of the terms like performance management and informal learning didn’t exist when you first started. It seems like the idea of training as a single event – and then people are released to actually do work – that idea is kind of going away. For some businesses, it has totally gone away. For others, it’s still in the process of transforming into more of continuous learning outlook where the initial training event is just that. It’s only initial and then more of a focus is placed on performance support and informal learning as the employee continues to work. It’s shifted to a more long-term way of looking at learning.

PC: I think people are getting more conscious of that. I think the recession has helped focus minds because budgets haven’t been there, so people had to look at alternatives. Yet I think there’s still a long way to go. There are still some places in the UK where the tendency exists to look at learning inputs rather than what is the business outcome or the organizational outcome we’re trying to achieve. But it’s definitely moving and changing.

TS: Do you think the proper balance is there? Let’s take, for example, the basic case of a new employee coming in and has to go through training to operate let’s say Salesforce or a certain company’s software. Do you think that the organizational focus on average is on the right place? Should there be more focus on the pre-work training stage? Or should there be more of a focus on the post-training, performance support stage?

PC: I think there should be a very clear process when you’re looking at what is the performance gap in the organization that we’re trying to close and what’s needed to close that gap. So much of that would then be situational. When you’re looking at something like a sales team. The performance gap we may be trying to close is to create more sales. That’s a very clear business outcome. Part of the learning professional’s tasks is to help people understand what is the outcome they’re trying to get to.

I love Julie Dirksen’s stuff when you’re looking at performance gaps. What is the performance gap and why does it exist? Is it about knowledge? Is it about skills? Is it about the organization? When you look at it, the reason we’re not making as many sales, when you begin to dig deeper, is partly because the way we’ve incentivized people and where they spend their time. So, it’s not always a training issue. Is it about motivation? Is it about communication in the organization?

So I’d say, break down the problem and thinking about what will help you achieve the business outcomes.  Then think about where you’ll need to spend your energy and your inputs, and how you’re going hold people accountable in using those inputs, but I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. I think what’s clear though is that in the past, what we’ve done in training is we’ve probably spent a lot of time trying to teach people everything. And we’ve tried to cram it all in.

Further, related to that, what’s the minimum, from a subject matter expert point of view, what’s the minimum we need to teach them to do the job? Do we need to teach them to answer that random question that comes out maybe once every three months that now they’re never going to remember? If we take Excel and Pivot Tables, a lot of Excel training spends time teaching people how to do Pivot Tables. I use Pivot Tables maybe once or twice a year. I never quite remember how to do it, but there’s very good stuff online. So teaching me how to do a Pivot Table at the start is a waste of time. Teaching me the way to find the best support so when I need it, I can go and find it, that the most effective way. 

TS: Within the flow of work. That seems to be very important.

PC: Within the flow of work, yes. A lot of what we do is in performance support, and about ten years ago, we launched two performance support tool kits with banks at always the same time. One was getting a much higher usage rate than the other. We did some work there and since we’ve been able to substantiate this with other clients. Essentially, where the performance support tool kit is positioned to help people to do their job as opposed to being part of formal learning, the usage is four- five times higher. So the same tool kit, the same quality of resources, and the same ease of access. The one differentiator is people’s perception of what it is there to do. If it’s there to do help me do my job, I’ll use it much more than if tell me it’s about learning. Learning is something, unfortunately, people still see as something to do outside of work, or outside of the flow of work. 

TS: Let’s talk about online learning. With more of adoption of web-based learning programs, do you think that lends itself to learning being more collaborative or do you think it will go towards a more individual learning path?

PC: It’s an interesting question. I think the tools are there that change the timing of the collaboration. If you think traditionally, you would collaborate in a classroom, you would collaborate perhaps in a learning area outside of an event. And you certainly would collaborate in the bar after the event. But I think with the web and with the social tools built in nowadays that you have the ability to collaborate on a much wider scale with the whole range of experts. Take Jane Hart, for example. I first came across Jane on Twitter. Then, I’ve met with her. I was on a panel with her a couple of weeks ago. But I follow Jane’s blog and tweets as a way of keeping me up-to-date professionally and developing me on professional basis. I follow a whole range of people across the United States and elsewhere and then occasionally we can communicate with each other on Skype. So actually what the web has done is enabled me to reach out and widen my network quite considerably in a way that I just couldn’t have done in the past, or at least as easily.

From that point of view, I think it allows me to reach out and develop. I think that as long as we don’t get too narrow when defining learning, then I think you can say, well actually learning is about work and performing better. So all those things fit into that. And you can create those internal networks for people to find the right subject matter expert. Asking somebody else who you don’t even know or never met about a particular issue — what do you know about this? So I think it can be used in both ways. The web alone can always allow you to draw in and find a lot of stuff and a lot of detail very quickly. Google is probably the biggest learning platform in the world but then you can use that tool individually or collectively. It’s up to you.

TS: Let’s move to mobile technology. There’s been a lot written in the last few years on mobile learning with an explosion over the last five years in general but especially over the last two-three years with tabloid computers and obviously with smartphones. The ability to access learning materials on your phone outside of the workplace, from any device, etc. What do you think is the impact of mobile technology on learning strategy, and how do you think managers can leverage mobile learning most effectively?

PC: I think it’s sort of interesting paradox that’s going on around mobile from a traditional learning department’s point of view. On one level, you’ve got lots of people professionally wandering around with their smartphone, using apps to get all sorts of information when they need it. So it creates an expectation. And of course the quality of an employee’s personal smartphone may well be higher than the quality of whatever device and mobile they’re given by their organization, just as often nowadays, their own computer may have higher functionality than their computer at work. So this expectation being created around people about what’s possible and how you can work is very persuasive.

At the same time, technically, for people to use their own mobile device (BYOD), it’s actually quite hard because of things like the number of people working on difference sorts of Android platforms and Blackberries are just a nightmare when it comes to trying to integrate all that. So ‘Bring Your Own Device’ is actually a harder thing for organizations in terms of managing security than you might initially think.

Where we have had direct experience with mobile technology is that we put an app where about a hundred and fifty top tips for managers and we have a lot of customers using It including people at Barclays. Really, this is a performance support tool. Where we find the highest usage is first thing in the morning when people are commuting to work, and right around 9:00 at night. And we get really heavy traffic there from people who would come back. 60% would come back at least once a month, and they would spend some time at an average twenty odd minutes in the morning. What we find is that people use it on the way to work, when they figure ‘how am I going to deal with some issues?’ and at night, for shorter periods of time but the  volume is higher. People will be thinking, ‘the kids have gone to bed, I’ve had my dinner, sitting down over a cup of tea, and my mind is thinking about tomorrow. What have I got to do tomorrow?’ or ‘Oh, I’ve got that difficult meeting. I just need to remind myself what I’m going to do. I’ve got a budget to create. What are ten things I need to remember?’

So I think mobile is an ideal way and apps and mobile websites are an ideal way of providing some performance support from people.

We did an exit survey at a large UK learning technology show. You could imagine, being a technology show, one of the biggest in Europe, there is a lot of talk about mobile. These are people who are interested in technology attending the conference. We asked them on the way out what their plans were to implement a mobile learning strategy in the next six months, and almost 70% of them said there are no immediate plans. So there’s a real split between where the market says mobile usage is going and what learning professionals are actually planning to do.

TS: OK! final questions for now. Firstly, if somebody is starting out in the L&D profession nowadays, what kind of advice would you give them? What are the most important things to embrace in your career?

PC: If you are starting out, I’d be saying to you, try not to think of yourself as a learning specialist per se. Firstly, learn about the business that you’re in. Learn about how it works. Learn about the financials. If it’s a profit organization, what drives the share price? What makes your organization tick? Because that’s absolutely fundamental to everything else that you’re going to do going through your life if you want to be in that work, in that profession.

Learn a lot about change because actually learning is often about changing people, so learn about why people change and are sometimes resistant to change – that would be the second thing I would look at. And the third thing is to think about outcomes. Always try and work out, not the learning inputs, but what the business outcomes are. What the performance outcomes are. Teach yourself to start with that mindset.

If I was going to point a young L&D professional in the direction of what to read, I would certainly recommend they start with Julie Dirksen’s book Design for How People Learn. I think that’s a fabulous route to get a really good insight into the learning design piece. You might want to look at Cathy Moore’s “Action Mapping” and I would recommend Robert Brinkerhoff as well. Things like ‘5 Moments of Learning Needs’ and Success Case Method for evaluation. If you have that in your tool kit, you’ll be very successful I think as a learning professional. You’ll start to change performance in an organization and that’s what it’s about.

Interview With Amy Rouse, AT&T Learning Services

I recently had the privilege to interview Amy Rouse, a great discussion which examines many of the most important issues in L&D these days.

Amy is Director, Learning Architecture and Design Solutions at AT&T Learning Services.  In her role, she is responsible for standardizing the learning design processes (eLearning and instructor led) for the entire enterprise. Her responsibilities also include partnering with clients and IT on the development and implementation of the enterprise-wide Learning Architecture which includes the identification and establishment of standard approaches, tools, technologies, processes and methods for instructional designers, instructors and performance consultants. She has over 20 years of experience in the field of adult learning, including design, development and delivery of both classroom-based and electronically delivered instruction.


In the interview below Amy shares her thoughts on a wide range of L&D issues, including gamification, MOOCs, learning on demand, performance support, measurement and evaluation, mobile learning and more.  I want to thank her for her insight, and hope you enjoy!

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Training Station: Why don’t we begin by just giving a bit about your background in the learning industry?

Amy Rouse: My career in training started in the United States Air Force, which in the early 80’s had converted to electronic training records and offering a lot of training via video and slides (the old fashioned “online training”!). The really exciting part of my career began in the late 90’s when my company (acquired by what is now AT&T) moved into Computer-based Training (CBT), then rapidly into Web-based Training (WBT). It was then that I stepped into the Learning Architect role and it’s been a fast and exciting ride ever since!

TS: In the year 2013, what in your opinion are some of the most important qualities that it takes to be a great trainer? And beyond training, to be a great team leader getting the most out of your team?

AR: Today, great trainers need to be flexible and creative with design and delivery methods, open to new ideas and technologies, and actively engaged in expanding and enhancing their skills and knowledge on a regular basis.

I think to lead a team of professionals well you need to ensure you have the right people on the team, provide a clear line of sight to both short- and long-term goals, give people the tools and latitude they need to showcase their talents, provide plenty of opportunity for collaboration, and have as much fun as possible.

TS: As someone deeply involved in learning technology, what are some new and developing technological tools that you’re excited about these days?

AR: We’re involved in some very exciting things at AT&T including our second generation of immersive learning (high-end simulation and gaming), designing and delivering MOOCs as employee training, and implementing Experience (TinCan) API. We’re in our second year of delivering learning via mobile devices and also interactive virtual learning (IVL) broadcast studios, and we’re starting to set standards for augmented reality, QR codes, and competitive quizzing. The ability to blend any and all of these things (and more) is extremely exciting for anyone whose objective is to provide engaging, effective learning to such a large and diverse employee population as we have within AT&T.

TS: From my experience speaking to people involved in employee training, there is a gap period between the end of initial training sessions and the time when the worker is actually able to work independently and proficiently at a high level. What are some ways to best connect learning to performance? How do you think learning can and should continue after an initial training course?

AR: Each of our business segments handles this transition a little differently, but we know that most learning takes place outside a formal learning event. One way that my organization is planning to help connect the dots here is researching and prototyping a holistic informal/social learning platform and strategy that would enable each business unit to offer on-demand resources to employees at any stage of their professional development,  as well as a means for employees to connect with each other and with on-demand resources.

TS: A lot of focus among learning officers these days is on performance improvement tools. Specifically, in the moment of actual work, how we can best aid the worker in performing the task in the most successful way possible. What do you feel is the proper balance between training and performance improvement tools? Is the focus in the right place?

AR: Again, learning organizations and leaders need to recognize that most learning takes place outside the formal learning events we are creating. And yet we place nearly all of our effort into these formal experiences. This is backwards. Performance resources—both skill- and knowledge-based—can take the form of traditional job aids, context sensitive system help, forums, tutorials, and many more. Industry-wide we’re seeing a major shift from a narrow focus on formal learning events to curating meaningful, just-in-time learning resources available to learners how and when they need it.

TS: In an age of continuous employee learning and development, how can and should managers measure competency and performance levels? Should analysis and expectations of competency levels evolve to reflect a more long-term approach?

AR: This is a new challenge with emerging solutions. The ADL’s Experience API and Mozilla’s Open Badges can help us with this. Not only can we now capture non-formal learning experiences we can validate the level of competency for those experiences. These technologies are new and evolving but I think we’ll quickly see some standards emerge as well as a greater emphasis on the competency validation.

TS: Informal Learning – Do you think, that online technology and learning will advocate for online collaboration, or for individual research and individual study? What are your thoughts on informal learning via social media, webinars, YouTube videos and more in order to enhance hard skills? Also, even within the more “formal” training environment, what’s your reaction to the increased adoption of gamification techniques?

AR: AT&T Learning Services is very much involved in exploring various gaming technologies from simple WBT games that we’ve been doing for years, to mobile competitive quizzing, to high-end simulation using state-of-the-art gaming engines. We use these both formally and informally. We have been using video in training for many years but are seeing a huge shift to informal video and we’ve added two internal video hosting platforms to accommodate the latter. We also have significant and heavily used social media resources. As I mentioned earlier, our objective is to pull these things together for our employees so they are not wasting time searching in ten different places, or drinking from the proverbial internet fire hose of information. Informal learning is a huge trend and important link in the learning technology framework. Companies that develop a sound, holistic strategy in this area will succeed.

TS: Switching topics a bit, regarding the increased use of mobile devices in and outside of the office, do learning managers have a choice in the matter? How can mobile technology best be leveraged in the employee learning arena?

AR: As I mentioned, we are well into our second year of delivering training via mobile devices. In some business segments employees now have only mobile devices, so everything they consume is via their tablet. One of our biggest challenges in this area is creating and delivering training that is compatible with many different devices. And as AT&T is constantly adding to the mobile device offerings available, this is an ever-moving target. Ideally we hope to use a learning content management system to develop content once and deliver it to multiple devices. Currently, however, we find ourselves with two or three versions of courses for multiple platforms.

TS: What role do you think employee learning can play as part of the larger employee engagement strategy?

AR: It’s huge. Our employee engagement survey results indicate that employees feel training opportunities and professional development are extremely important. The good news is that we do a great job at providing excellent learning opportunities for our employees. AT&T Learning Services and our sister organization, AT&T University (which focuses solely on leadership development) have taken 1st, 2nd, and 1st place for Chief Learning Officer’s Learning Elite the last three years. I think this has to do with both the quality and quantity of our offerings.

TS: Finally, If you would be giving advice to someone just beginning their career in L&D, what would you tell them?

AR: Fasten your seatbelt! I firmly believe we are sitting squarely on a technology megatrend and learning architecture is in center field. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet, but what you learned in school and what works today may not be relevant or appropriate tomorrow. We will soon find ourselves facing five generations of learners in the workplace, constantly emerging and evolving technologies, and a dizzying array of informal and blended learning opportunities. Critically evaluate the needs of your learners and create the best learning approach with the tools available; never settle for “we’ve always done it that way.” And finally, never stop learning! There are amazing resources available at your fingertips: LinkedIn, CLO, eLearning Guild, ASTD, ISPI, Bersin… the list goes on. Webinars, social networking, books, conferences – keep your skills up and your brain sharp!

Interview with Paul Terlemezian

Having a blog allows me the opportunity to periodically interview some learning professionals who can share some real and genuine insight from their years of experience.  It’s an opportunity for me to be able to engage on some of the biggest issues in L&D these days, and to learn from them as well.

With that said, here is a really great new interview that I think you’ll find interesting. I had the privilege of corresponding with Paul Terlemezian, an Atlanta, Georgia-based L&D professional and founder of iFive Alliances, a management consultancy firm which advises organizations on training and performance issues, with a focus on technology and collaboration.

Paul has more than 20 years of experience in the high technology and training industries, including work for IBM, Sterling Software, and more. In October 2011, Paul launched Georgia LEARNS in an effort to increase the implementation of innovative learning methods in the workplace by fostering collaboration amongst entities within the training industry.

MVI_0901In the interview below Paul talks about workplace performance, the gap between training and competency, BYOD, and more.  Please read the full interview, and leave comments in the comments section below.

Training Station: Why don’t we begin by just giving a bit about your background in the learning industry.

Paul Terlemezian: Here are some anecdotes of experiences that have influenced my choices and work in the learning industry.

- My earliest paid working experiences (in the 1960’s) were with NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration.) I had the opportunity to work with visual recognition technologies and artificial intelligence very early in my career. These experiences helped me understand the potential for technology to accomplish complex tasks that were relatively simple for humans (but perhaps dangerous or time consuming.)

- While earning my Master’s Degree in Mathematics (early in the 1970’s) I had the opportunity to teach Differential Equations to Chemical Engineering Majors. One of my students asked me how he would use a differential equation while working as a chemical engineer. I had no idea – so I called a friend who had graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and had been working as a chemical engineer for two years. He had not knowingly used a differential equation – and could not provide an example. I still wonder today about theoretical vs. practical aspects of learning.

- Upon graduation from college – the first 12 years of my career was involved in customer training for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC.) I got exposed to eLearning, simulations and performance support in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I taught, developed, supervised and then managed the P&L of customer training – as a business. I learned that training needed to be relevant enough to compete with “work” and valuable enough to deserve having a fee.

- In 2003 I started iFive Alliances. Its purpose is to accelerate the impact of learning in the workplace by focusing on results, technology and collaboration. Clients of iFive benefit from my experiences with industries that are more effective than the learning industry with these three factors. I adapt and apply what these industries have learned to help accelerate learning impact in the workplace while growing the revenues of my clients.

TS: A lot of focus among learning officers these days is on performance improvement tools. Specifically, in the moment of actual work, how we can best aid the worker in performing the task in the most successful way possible. What do you feel is the proper balance between training and performance improvement tools? Is the focus in the right place?

PT: Focusing on performance improvement in the moment of actual work is definitely the direction of 21st century practitioners. It is Act III of a IV Act Play. Act I is content, Act II is simulation, Act III is performer support. Act IV is described in my answer to the next question.

I’ll use an example – when moving between levels in a large shopping – should I take the escalator (performance improvement) of should I be taught how to apply my walking skills? While one might be better for speed the other might be better for my health – and of course we could blend the two – relying upon human judgment. I believe that the focus needs to be on developing judgment (e.g. “to tweet or not” or when to send an email vs. make a phone call vs. how to send an email or make a phone call.)

TS: What are some new and developing technological tools that you are excited about these days?

PT: Act IV is task automation and this is where I get excited about a new technology. Think about the simple analogy of being able to know what time it is. We used to provide content about the big hand and the little hand (or perhaps how to gauge shadows from the sun) – this was Act 1. With Act II we adjusted the hands on a clock and asked the learner to tell us what time it was. In Act III – we provided digital watches (obsoleting much of the earlier content on the big hand and the little hand.) This also obsoleted simulations and lead to the development of automatic timing devices where we no longer need to tell what time it is in order to initiate an action. Of course we still “tell time” but think of all the tasks that occur automatically without needing our intervention related to time.

So, I am excited about ACT IV technologies. Recently I have spent some time learning about research and application of assistive technologies to help people who have incurred severe brain or spinal injury. My intent is to accelerate performance breakthroughs for everyone in the workplace and thereby bring more investment dollars to the research effort while reducing the cost of the products that result from the research.

Augmented reality, voice analysis, immersive simulation, interactive video and performer support technologies are examples of current projects that my clients are engaged with.

TS: From my experience speaking to people involved in employee training, there is a gap period between the end of training and the time when the worker is actually able to work independently and proficiently at a high level. What are some ways to best connect learning to performance? How do you think learning can and should continue after an initial training course?

PT: Closing the gap between learning and performance has been a “current” topic for as long as I can recall. Father Guido Sarducci has helped us understand this very well – We are in this “rut” because we have focused on content retention. We need to change our thinking and our focus. Technology is mandating a change in our thinking – and while we are not likely to see everything being replaced by Act IV technologies – we can focus on learner readiness, learner ability to manage change and learner support – rather than content retention. So as organizations, managers and for ourselves as performers – we need to ask three questions and invest to help workers answer three questions:

  1. What will it take for me to be ready to change how I work?
  2. Am I confident that I can learn the new way to work and perform as well or better than now?
  3. What support will be there for me as I change the way I work?

TS: Social Learning – we all have heard that studies have shown that, by and large, people learn more effectively in a group setting, or with others. Do you think, that online technology and learning will advocate for online collaboration, or for individual research and individual study? 

PT: One of my favorite authors is Kevin Maney – he does not write about learning – he writes “about the science of how the brains of talented people work, and how that knowledge is being used to create predictive, “talented” computer systems.”

In “Tradeoff” he writes that with everything we do – we make a tradeoff between convenience and passion (and that the evolution of technology will make the convenient even more convenient and will also make us more passionate about our passions.). As I apply Kevin’s thinking to the learning industry – I think of social learning as very real, very important and motivated by convenience. It is more convenient than eLearning. It will be used for learning, research and collaboration. The classroom (i.e. face-to-face real-time interaction) is what we are passionate about. Because of cost (i.e. it is inconvenient to spend money) the “classroom” has lagged with technology adoption.

For several years I have asked the following “research question:” – If you could only use one tool to support the performance of you and your company’s employees for the rest of your career – what would it be? Google? YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, an LMS, other?

No one has ever selected LMS as the answer.

TS: Switching topics a bit, but to one that’s increasingly relevant to L&D professionals these days, how do you think the increasing adoption of BYOD policies are impacting learning programs? And more generally, what is the impact of mobile technology and mobile access on employee training?

PT: One of the industries that I study and then bring what I have learned back to the learning industry is the medical industry. The use of BYOD to learning is analogous to BYOB (bring your own body) to the medical industry. In the US – we complain that the doctor is treating the “population instead of the patient.” While politics, financial matters and lack of knowledge are challenges – the concept of meaningful use is an important outcome. Meaningful use has three phases – 1. Accurate relevant data 2. Improved processes 3. Focus on outcomes.

Our technologies of choice have become an extension of our body. This is true in all parts of the world – where even the poorest people frequently have access to a mobile phone (voice and text only.) As we as learning professionals adapt to BYOD and “meaningful use” we will become more relevant and accessible to the people we are trying to help perform better.

My guess is that our industry will take a while to get the right solutions in place for BYOD.  Our industry has a “blind spot” when it comes to learning – we tend to focus on the distribution of content as opposed to helping the worker perform. Initially this means that we will try to adapt our “one size fits all content” to the run on as many devices as possible. Even if we can get a video or slide presentation to fit on a tiny screen – will it be effective?

When we get it right we will respond to the learner with device appropriate learning. Text and voice (including voice analysis, voice recognition and location recognition) might be very effective for some mobile devices and not for some more functional stationary devices. When we apply meaningful use methods to the learning industry we will know which devices the user has access to and may recommend the best one for them to use. We will also adjust the process that we help them learn based on the devices they use. The end result is that the learner and the “trainer” will evolve to collaborate on outcomes.

TS: Finally, if you would be giving advice to someone just beginning their career in L&D, what would you tell them?

PT: Always be willing to ask “why” – make sure you understand the answer – and do not underestimate the importance of experience and unintended consequences. View your role as a performance guide leading and advising the way as opposed to a historian documenting what happened in the past. Learn from past experiences but do not become prisoner to them.

Interview with Mike Collins, Head of Customer Experience at DPG plc

I had the privilege to interview Mike Collins recently, a great discussion which examines many of the most important issues in L&D these days.

Mike is the Head of Customer Experience at DPG plc, the UK’s leading CIPD Training Provider. Mike has developed the DPG Community, a professional community with over 1300 members focused on raising the standards within Learning & Development and HR. Mike is a huge advocate for social technologies and how they can foster new connections that lead to improved communication, collaboration and innovation.

The full interview is below.  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Training Station: In the year 2013, what are some of the most important qualities that it takes to be a great trainer?

Mike Collins: I think an important quality for any Learning Professional is not to be constrained by the traditional role and think like a trainer. Personally I think we need to be moving away from the trainer role as it only represents a very small element of how the modern Learning Professional can add value. When I started out in L&D as a Delivery Trainer my main focus was the design and delivery of training courses. The main currency of learning was the course and the whole culture of learning within my organization was based around classroom learning.  I have been lucky enough to have a variety of roles since joining L&D and each role has broadened my understanding of the value that Learning Professional can create. The course is still part of the mix but should no longer be the main focus for Learning Professionals or at least it’s not the only area to specialize in. I explored some of the key areas for L&D in my blog The c-word, the most important word in Learning & Development. I also think the LPI’s Capability Map and the ability to self-assess against the capabilities and skills outlined for the modern L&D professional is a great exercise to complete.

TS: What do you think are some new and developing technological tools that you are excited about these days?

MC: I don’t think social technologies can be classed as new now but it’s been interesting seeing consumer social tools like Facebook and Twitter having a big impact on enterprise platforms. There has been a huge rise in social plug-ins and the integration of ‘social tools’ in to existing Learning Management Systems as well as a much greater focus on collaborative technologies. I also like the look of the latest iterations of the social intranet and think these tools will add a lot of value and could be harnessed and shaped by the L&D dept. It’s exciting to see new and different platforms being created that blend formal and social and create rich learning environments. The tools are there but the behaviors and skills needed to make the most of the tools are still lagging behind in the workplace. I’m also excited by the xapi (Tin Can api) and how this can be used in the workplace to better understand what successful employees do. Irrelevant of technology the thing that really excites me is the change in behaviors needed to create value from these tools. The role that L&D can play in demonstrating how these tools can be used to support learning and working more effectively should not be underestimated. We have a wonderful opportunity to lead from the front and become leaders in this new exciting age of work and learning.

TS: You work in and advocate for online learning. In short, why do you think it’s so important? In what way could you convince managers that it would directly benefit their business’s overall learning program?

MC: I hate it when I hear people talk about online learning because it ‘saves costs’. This might be true in some cases however online learning is not just eLearning and, unfortunately, I think a lot of people think of online learning as eLearning (think click next click next). Online learning shouldn’t become part of your mix purely because it will save money, online learning should be used because it will add value and solve business problems and ultimately improve performance. My focus over the last few years has been building online communities within organizations and using live online learning to facilitate and create conversation. As a community manager my role is to connect people with each other and with information at point of need and to support and enable information to flow more freely within the organisation. This might look less costly however the time and resource required to do this effectively is huge and key to its success. Online tools have the ability to unlock knowledge and breakdown traditional silo mentality as well as providing the means for L&D to have a much greater impact across the organization than if we only delivered face to face training. Online tools help organizations collaborate and work more effectively, learning is a bi-product of this. In fact I think it should be for the L&D managers to try and convince me why online learning wouldn’t directly benefit their overall learning program. That would be my challenge to any L&D manager who isn’t using online learning as part of their mix.

TS: Perhaps as a follow-up to the previous question, but maybe in addition to it, how do you think learning can and should continue after an initial training course?

MC: We know that learning is a continuous process whilst training is event driven. I support the idea of creating resources rather than courses and providing support and access to these resources at point of need. We need to learn from marketing and think campaigns and getting inside learners heads to create meaningful experiences to help the learning process and transfer of learning. This shouldn’t start and end with any training event, rather than just focus on what happens after any training we should think about how to start the process and what needs to be included to reach our objective at every stage of the journey. A hugely important part of this is the learner themselves, we need to focus on developing better learners, people who don’t just think they learn in the classroom and in fact see the training as just an ‘escape’ but rather one element of their professional development. L&D should stop taking accountability for all things learning and ensure we are working collaboratively with line managers and the learners themselves. Ultimately learners needs to be held accountable for their own learning paths and making changes in their own behavior to improve what they do and how they do it.

TS: Social Learning – we all have heard that studies have shown that, by and large, people learn more effectively in a group setting, or with others. Do you think, that online technology and learning will advocate for online collaboration, or for individual research and individual study?

MC: Social learning is nothing new – it’s how we’ve been learning since the age of man but it’s the latest in a long line of buzzwords ever present in the L&D community. I’ve stopped using the term as much as possible and instead focus on creating the environments and conditions where people can connect and learn irrelevant if this is face to face or online. The great thing about online tools is that they can create rich learning experiences and by their very nature lend themselves well to collaboration and knowledge sharing; something that takes more than one person to do. I’ve found a lot of resistance to using online tools to support learning and unfortunately this resistance has come predominantly from Learning Professionals because it feels different and takes us out of our comfort zone. There are some great early adopters out there doing great things but it’s the laggards that are still slowing us down. It’s shifting the power from trainer to learner and whilst some see this as an opportunity there are others who see this as a threat. Understanding the tools themselves is important to be able to apply and use them in the right way to create value and to enhance what we do. Technology is just technology it’s how we use the technology that determines its success or failure.

TS: What are your thoughts on the use of gamification in learning?

MC: I love the concept, as a gamer myself I like the idea of using game mechanics and reward schedules and applying them to non-game situations. Ever since watching Tom Chatfield on TED talking about 7 ways games reward the brain, I’ve been aware of the potential for games to be used to support  and encourage learning. Can using games methodology influence decision making and change behavior? I think so but I’ve not seen any great examples of where this has been done in the workplace yet. I’m following the Open Badges from Mozilla closely and like the idea of the virtual backpack to collect the badges but how credible these badges will become will be interesting to see. I’ve heard from many people that using badges isn’t gamification and yes I agree that just giving badges out won’t ultimately change behavior but it’s the method and means that get you the badge that matters. My first attempt at using badges is an initiative called ‘Top Collaborators’ on the DPG Community. In order to encourage community members to share knowledge, resources and to help each other throughout their CIPD or Management programs, I’ve linked a badge to the HR Profession Map. The map has a behavior specific to being ‘Collaborative’ so the top 10 collaborators at the end of each month get a badge and up to a £100 off a future DPG plc event or program. If they are the Top Collaborator each month they could get £1200 off any DPG events or their next CIPD qualification. It’s early days but it’s great to recognize those people who do actively share and help others in the DPG community. I believe it’s these behaviors that will ensure community members role model being open and collaborative and they are also building CPD evidence for their qualification. I can see us developing other badges around the HR Profession Map behaviors in the future. Whether or not good gaming mechanics will be applied to eLearning or other learning initiatives remains to be seen but as this post shows you don’t have to use technology to bring games in to learning.

TS: Finally, if you would be giving advice to someone just beginning their career in L&D, what would you tell them?

MC: Anything is possible; the only thing that can hold you back is your imagination. I love L&D, it has provided me with so many opportunities and a great understanding of how organizations work and how people interact and learn. Be open-minded and embrace technology as a friend not a foe, get to know tools in-depth so you can see how they can be applied. Don’t be afraid to fail and I encourage you to make mistakes – lots of them as you’ll learn from them and be stronger as a result of them. Be curious, ask questions and be brave. Don’t think training think performance, don’t think classroom think experience. I would encourage you to connect with others and learn from them, the world is connected and there is nothing to stop you from connecting with the community in our industry quickly and easily and fast-track your development. Start a blog to share your journey, read other blogs, join communities and seek knowledge from others as there are a great many people out there who are willing to share what they know. In my opinion there are those Learning professionals out there who will heed this advice and bring it to life and there are those who will ignore it. I know which Learning Professionals I’ll be talking with soon and working with in the future. Finally, be creative and have fun!!

Interview with Clara Lippert Glenn, of the Oxford Princeton Programme

I recently mentioned that the blog will begin focusing periodically on the role of training and development in various industries.  We previously looked at the role of L&D in banking and financial services, and I plan on returning to it soon.  Today we’ll get a unique look into training’s role in the energy sector.

I recently had a chance to interview Clara Lippert Glenn, President and CEO of the Oxford Princeton Programme, which provides an effective and flexible approach to educating professionals worldwide on the business and trading of energy (oil, gas, power, etc.).  The organization offers customizable programs for on-site team training, more than 200 public courses in 23 energy hubs globally, and the most extensive library of web-based courses available 24/7 on

Clara was nice enough to answer some questions below.  Take a look, and I invite you to leave your feedback in the comments section below.

Training Station: What are some of the biggest challenges that energy companies face these days with regards to training their employees?  Are they unique to the energy industry particularly?

Clara Lippert Glenn : The biggest challenge facing companies in every industry, including energy, stems from the balancing act required in maintaining a properly trained post-recession workforce.  The recession forced companies to streamline their workforce and do more with less.  Now, post-recession, companies are rebounding but are still hesitant to fully restore their workforce to pre-recession capacity.  Therefore, the challenge lies in finding the time and resources to adequately train a workforce while still meeting demands of the business.

TS: As with many industries, as people are living longer, they tend to be working into later in life, and it seems perhaps that fewer positions are available for workers just getting out of college.  Particularly with more veteran workers, how are energy companies reacting to the need for updated training?    

CLG: The trend of people working later into life may also be a result of the recession.  Forced to delay retirement due to 401k losses and house value depreciation, people have been extending their careers to stabilize their retirement funds.  This causes concern for energy companies because folks can decide to retire at any time and it will create a substantial knowledge gap.  Energy companies must have processes in place to quickly and effectively train replacements in order to close that knowledge gap.

TS: The energy industry is also changing rapidly, with an increasing focus on natural gas and renewable energy.  It’s not that risky to predict further major changes within the next 15-20 years.  So even an engineer who just graduated from university will likely have to be able to adapt to new responsibilities and tasks not that far into his/her career.  How can energy companies keep younger employees updated in terms of the skills they need to perform at a high level?  And at a philosophical level – how can we stress that value of continuous learning? 

CLG: The key to keeping employees updated with competitive skills is continuous training.  Too often companies will undertake a huge training initiative one year and then do not train for the next several years.  Much like training your body at the gym, it requires a steady and consistent approach in order to develop a rhythm and achieve optimal results.  Working out extremely hard one day a month is far less effective than developing a consistent and reasonable daily workout regimen.  The same principles apply to the training of the mind.

TS: Some of your courses are taught in traditional classroom settings by The Oxford Princeton Programme’s experts, while some are taught online.  How do you go about trying to convince managers that it would directly benefit their business’s overall training program, to have a combination?  And in general, do you support the blended learning approach? 

CLG: Here at The Oxford Princeton Programme we have developed both instructor-led and web-based training.  We hold a firm belief that each individual learns best differently.  We encourage our clients to take the learning approach that best suits their team’s needs but for the most part we find the blended learning approach to be most effective.  A blended learning approach allows individuals to gain access to our experts and then have what they’ve learned reinforced by our web-based training on  It can also work the other way around with the web-based training being the appetizer to the instructor-led training.

TS: Perhaps as a follow-up to the previous question, but maybe in addition to it, how do you think learning can and should continue after an initial training course? 

CLG: In our case, we encourage past delegates to continue taking web-based training courses.  We also offer intermediate and advanced courses to optimize one’s skills and competency.  Finally, we encourage them to stay engaged with the topics and news of the industry by reading and staying active in industry forums.  This will help put their learning’s to use on a frequent basis which is key to maintaining the information.

TS: A recurring issue in that many training managers face – especially in a struggling economy – is the need to achieve compliance & top performance, whilst working with decreasing budgets and shorter time-frames. How can we be creative in our approach to deliver outcomes within these constraints? Your thoughts? 

CLG: Working against budget constraints, compliance requirements and shorter time frames requires blended training solutions that are flexible and focused.  The best solution would be a mix between on-site courses and web-based courses.  This can satisfy an organization’s exact training needs all while keeping the budget and time commitment down by eliminating travel.  Also, encouraging folks to read and be active in industry forums is a key ancillary solution. Combining formalized training with internal initiatives to promote industry awareness will help keep workforce’s skills sharp.

TS: If you would be giving advice to someone just beginning their career in L&D, what would you tell them? 

CLG: My best piece of advice to an individual beginning a career in Learning and Development would be to spend a significant amount of time in other areas of the industry and company.  See what their everyday challenges and struggles are.  Until you fully appreciate the daily issues they face you can’t begin to assist them.  Once you fully understand those challenges, you are then in a position to fulfill their training needs.

Interview with Scott Date, Senior Product Manager of Adobe

Back in March, I had the opportunity to participate in a “Tweet Jam” surrounding the issue of employee engagement, organized by, the influential customer experience management online magazine (you can find a recap of the event here).  Another panelist in the event was Scott Date, a Senior Product Manager at Adobe Systems.  In the days following the event, I had the opportunity to correspond with Scott, and he was gracious to respond positively to my request to interview him for this blog.

In the interview below Scott shares the details behind Adobe’s Social Communities software, as well as his thoughts on issues ranging from training new users of a software, ease of use, consistency, Adobe’s range of offerings for the social internet and more.

Training Station: Please tell us a bit about your background. 

Scott Date: I am a graduate of the University of Notre Dame where I studied Management Information Systems.  My first job out of college was as a management consultant with Price Waterhouse Coopers in the US, Australia, and England.  It was at PWC that I learned the importance of software usability and how training can both educate the end user and the teacher.  I worked on a lot of projects that centered on activity-based management.  This is where you analyze the activities that people do to determine the cost of those activities, so I spent a lot of time observing people.  We would use these studies to help suggest ways to be more efficient – we even built software to help calculate everything.  It was here that I was able to see how a piece of software could succeed at meeting a client’s requirement but raise issues at being truly usable.  Later, I did quite a lot of internal teaching on various software solutions and on software development.  This proved invaluable as I was able to observe how people interacted with software: both from the development side and the user side.

After PWC I worked at Oracle Corporation developing ERP software with a slant towards analytics, integration, and mobile.  Once again, I had the opportunity to work closely with engineering and clients, both as a product manager and a trainer.  I continued to help guide software development and user education while working alongside some really smart engineers and usability experts.  Once again, just observing how people use software helped me make my products better.

Now, I am at Adobe as the Senior Product Manager for Adobe Experience Manager Social Communities.  Where before, the software I worked on was being used by accountants across various industries, the software I work on now is used by brands large and small to enable their customers to manage blogs, product reviews,  and forums, etc. Adobe presents me with a wonderful challenge of working on a product that far more people will use to create their own content.  I get to apply the skills I developed and honed in previous roles to work alongside some world-class people to develop solutions that small, medium, and large businesses can implement to allow individuals into their sites to form communities and create content.

TS: Can you give us a brief overview of the Social Communities product of the Adobe Experience Manager offering in Adobe Marketing Cloud?

SD: Sure, Social Communities is part of Adobe Experience Manager, – which is designed to help make the lives of digital marketers easier.  Experience Manager includes capabilities for web content management, digital asset management, marketing campaign management, and importantly, community management.  I often start my elevator pitch with: what is your social strategy?  People initially answer with: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. which is part of a social strategy, your external social strategy. Social Communities focuses on a brand’s internal social strategy.  How do you, as a company, want to cultivate a community of user advocates?  If you provide them with tools to write blogs, review products, help support each other through forums on your own sites, and offer the means for like-minded people to get together and share their experiences with your products and/or services, you can drive conversations and build brand advocates.

I like to ask people to think about the last time they planned a trip and the process they followed: decided where they wanted to go, researched what to do and where to stay, read reviews from experts and from regular people, and ultimately provided feedback on where they stayed or what they did.  We all do that, so we are all members of some sort of digital community.  Adobe Experience Manager Social Communities  just provides the ability to manage everything on one site instead of hopping around all over the place.

TS: I’m interested in your experience, as part of the software implementation process, of training new users. How many hours (on average) does it take you to bring a user to an understanding and familiarity of the software? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve seen? Has training new users changed at all in recent years?

SD: I love training.  I enjoy attending training and I really enjoy instructing new users.  One thing I have learned over all my years of training is that people learn at different speeds, so you really cannot say: ‘it will take x hours to understand this concept.’  Most people can understand the ‘how’ of something far easier than the ‘why’ of something.  I like to start my training with ‘why do you want to do xx?’  As soon as you get people to understand the problem, the learning of how to go about solving the problem sort of just falls into place.  For example, the software that my accountants used was quite complex and oftentimes the end users I was teaching were not true accountants so I had to approach things from a use case position, for example, tell them an outrageous story of how the software was actually used.  The story needed to be interesting – the more unusual the outcome the better.  This got people thinking of real-world examples and had them thinking of different solutions even before they touched the software.  Using my ‘activity analysis’ background, I would group the learning not only by what needed to be done first, second, third, etc., but by how it logically fit together.

Software over the years has gone from something that was more top-down and mechanical, to something more free-form and sometimes logically illogical.  Usability has become more of a factor.  People expect a certain amount of ease and familiarity, the File menu will always be where I go to create a new document or save that document.  It is because of this software savviness that it is easier to focus on the ‘why’ and how to make the software do what you want it to do.

TS: Perhaps as a follow-up to the previous question, but maybe in addition to it, after the initial onboarding period, how often are you turned to for questions of operating the software? How many support calls would say you receive in an average week? How do you think software training can and should continue after an initial training period?

SD: This is an interesting question.  Interesting because it is a reflection on how well an end-user understood the topic you tried to instruct them on.  Back when I was a consultant, I would sometimes get asked the same set of questions over and over again.  This made me realize that a) I didn’t do a very good job of getting the concept across and b) perhaps the concept was a little more difficult than I had imagined (sometimes you just don’t see the forest for the trees).  This was when I learned to change my training style from, “To create a file, go to File | Create…” to one of more “let’s think of the big picture, we have this problem that we want to solve…” I needed to provide a context for what they were doing so that it stuck in their heads.

Once I moved from mechanical to philosophical, people were able to learn more easily.  Sure you still need to know where to go to create something, but once it gets placed into context it becomes less of a challenge to try and remember.

I think software education is an evolution.  First, you learn the basic foundation and then you take further classes to peel back the true power of the software to solve complex problems, but always with some sort of context to ground you!  It is far easier to tell someone what to do, but it is far more useful to tell them why they need to do.  So I would say to approach training from a conceptual use case that fits the target audience.

TS: When designing the software itself, how much does ease of use and the time needed for learning how to use it come into play? 

SD: Ease of use should always be first and foremost.  Telling yourself that it should never take more than 2-3 clicks to accomplish a task is a good start.  Trying to divorce yourself from creating a work of art is more difficult.  Sometimes the truly elegant is the most plain and simple.  I’ve seen designs that are far too cluttered and complex to be ‘usable’, so just keep it simple.  I like to apply Leonardo da Vinci’s idea of: simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.

Another thing to think about is consistency.  I’ve managed several products that were part of an enterprise suite.  Multiple products may share similar or the same components, and one of the more difficult things to do is to make sure that shared components are consistent when you have different teams working on them.  I had a situation early on in my career where usability designers came up with multiple ways to accomplish the same task.  Each way was an approved method, but they were different thus making the suite look fragmented and cobbled together.  We had to step back and develop UI standards and a review process for the entire suite.  So I guess what I am saying is that when you are designing the software that you also need to think about the bigger picture as well.  Things have really improved in that area, but it is something that you need to be aware of to ensure that the end product is useable and easier to understand.

TS: What about from a larger picture here – I wouldn’t say Adobe previously had a reputation for creating software for the social internet. Was this a new venture for the company? Will we see more such products and features in the future?

SD: I’m still relatively new at Adobe, but just a few years ago, Adobe “doubled-down” on two areas: Digital Media and Digital Marketing and is aligned along the two clouds: Adobe Creative Cloud, which includes products such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and other tools used by creatives; and Adobe Marketing Cloud that includes solutions for web content management, personalization, analytics, media optimization, and importantly social management and measurement.  What’s really unique is that Adobe has integrated both clouds, bridging content creation and delivery.

When you look at our ‘social’ offerings you will see that one focuses on your external sphere of influence (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and one that focuses on your internal sphere of influence (social communities, blogs, forums, ratings, etc. on your owned properties).  Both deal with content.  Adobe saw the value in having the ability to manage both of those internal and external spheres of influence in one platform.  When you start to peel back all of the layers of both of those spheres you gain an appreciation for the complexity involved in trying to manage things separately.

I’m excited about the social space – especially my corner of Adobe Experience Manager Social Communities.  Like I mentioned earlier, we are all a part of some digital community and the social space is constantly evolving.  Remember when it was just static pages of content?  Maybe it was a product spec sheet or an address or phone number.  We were all spectators.  Then came blogs and forums where we became creators and participants.  Ratings and reviews have turned us into brand advocates. Companies have taken notice of this and the importance of fostering their own communities to manage their brand equity.  The social space will continue to evolve as you and I find new ways to connect and share ideas or help each other out through digital channels. And, I have little doubt the software capabilities will continue growing and adapting to meet the demands of businesses and consumers in this rapidly evolving channel.

TS: Finally, any advice for young software developers (and even other managers) these days? What have you learned would you say from your recent experience at Adobe? 

SD: I’ve worn many hats: engineer, implementation consultant, instructor, product manager… and the single most important thing I can say is: ask ‘why’. Why would someone want this feature?  Why do you want to do this?  Why…  The ‘what’ and ‘how’ are normally given to you, but the lesser-understood ‘why’ is often left out.  I’ve worked with some really smart people over my career and when you ask them ‘why?’, it normally makes them pause and then start to explain. That is where you start to really understand, to grok the concept, if you will.  Trust in the abilities of the people you work with, but always ask them ‘why?’ that way you can both learn from each other.

What Really Gets to Learning Officers These Days? Professionals Chime in with Their Biggest Pain Points

I initiated an interesting discussion on LinkedIn earlier this week, not with the intended purpose of a blog post, but rather I was just curious – why not turn to experienced people involved in training/learning within organizations and ask them, what their 3 biggest pain points are rights now = what really bothers them?  Not necessarily just a list of known challenges and barriers to successful employee learning and knowledge transfer, but what really gets to them, what makes their blood boil.  I got so many interest responses, that in I changed my mind and decided to share some of their thoughts on this blog (all with their permission).

Our weekly contributor Kevin Goldberg has covered previously the question of potential barriers and common training issues facing training from a variety of angles.  I myself also wrote earlier this year n about 7 potential barriers to organization learning.   But I wanted to hear from those in the field right now.

Karen Rae, of Aspire Performance Training:

  • The lack of understanding about how people learn amongst training “professionals” 
  • Dodgy operators who detract from the importance of quality education in the pursuit of dollars 
  • People who think they can train/teach a subject because they are subject matter experts.
  • Learners distracted by the day to day activities of their roles because they can’t disconnect from their technology.

Karoliina Valkamo, Senior Learning and Development Manager:

  • A lack of agreed purpose why to deploy a program, resulting poor results and sour relations between units.
  • For some, training and learning are seen as a short term cost vs. long term investment. Intervention projects need to presented on what business value they bring.

Jim Heffernan, Founder of Insights53:

  • Not differentiating between the need to inform and the need to change behaviors. Product, marketing and sales stakeholders need guidance in selecting the best forum for achieving their goals. If training for understanding and behavioral change is the answer, then those same stakeholders must allow SME content to be translated by educators into teaching and learning practices. And, the stakeholders must commit to managing to the desired behavior for ROI to be recognized.

Colleen Morris, Corporate University Training & Integration Manager at Brown-Forman Corporation:

  • Learners are ready to embrace new ways to learn. If we want our learners to be engaged and our training to have greater impact, we need to find new ways to deliver our training and leverage the technology around us. If we can do this, learners can always go back and review and reinforce what they learn, at any time and place where the technology exists.

Thomas Belanger, Author of Teamwork in Ten Days:

  • How to blend a variety of learning activities which are focused on particular skills. 
  • People being “sent” to training that they do not want, presumably to be “fixed”. 
  • Poor, or so-so training, or facilitation.

Deb Lawley, Finance Officer at Fontana Regional Library:

  • I don’t think you can separate institutional barriers from the training itself. Training can’t start and stop at the doors of the classroom, and if the institution is creating barriers then staff are just jumping through hoops when they are in class. If staff are their because they were sent they may have no buy-in. If they know this isn’t going to change their job, they have no buy-in. If they don’t perceive management cares about this, then they have no buy-in. And if the training itself was micromanaged by an outside manager who doesn’t understand training, then the trainer will have no buy-in and the staff will not take anything away. Besides, basic training theory teaches us that staff will only remember about 3 pieces of information from an hour training. So no trainer expects a class to remember most of what we teach. The problem is that managers do expect them to remember and retain it – as if they are some kind of recording machines – not people. So the biggest pain to training is dealing with the institutional barriers that prevent students from having an actual learning experience in the class.

Deepika Kumar, Assistant Vice President ( K-12) at Educomp Solutions Ltd:

  • Its tough if you have these people as your trainees – those with a “know it all attitude”, those who think to themselves “I am past the learning age” or those who think the training is “all theoretical/bookish. 
  • Deepika also wrote that in order best engage employees, “answering the “What’s in it for me?” question is very important. Linking applications of the training to any job aspect with professional growth can be another motivating factor.”

MB (who asked not to mention full name):

  • We are suddenly seeing a downside to having won over management to the idea of training. They are going overboard and employees are having to sit through class schedules that would overwhelm anyone. A new hire comes in on day one and two weeks later has completed 80 hours in the classroom covering extremely detailed computer systems and processes. Suddenly burnout is hitting before the person ever spends a day at their own desk. Be careful what you ask for. We are having to go back and try to reign in our supporters. 
  • The other “pain” I am seeing even more directly is the ever-present last minute demands because people refuse to factor in other people’s schedules and admit the world does not revolve around them. I still get looks of amazed irritation when I explain that I need more then 30 minutes to edit, proof and print a 400 page manual for 10 people. Somehow I don’t see this issue ever being resolved though.

 Ana T. Gomez, Strategic Global Human Resources Manager and Development Coach:

  • It’s key that managers set expectations to their employees before they attend a development program, the program should not be “an event”, it should be structured so there is accountability on the part of the manager and the participant, on what is required before, during and after the program.

The discussion is continuing, so I may write back with more.  But for now, what are YOUR biggest pain points in training?


Paul Hill of SystemExperts on BYOD’s Impact on Workplace Training

Paul-HillAs part of a series of articles on this blog we started last month on the impact of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy is having on workplace learning and development, I spoke recently with Paul Hill, Senior Consultant for SystemExperts, an important network security consulting firm.

Paul Hill has worked with SystemExperts as a principal project consultant for more than twelve years assisting on a wide range of challenging projects across a variety of industries including higher education, legal, and financial services.  Previously, he was a member of the IT Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is recognized as one of the industry’s foremost experts in Microsoft technology.  Paul was responsible for the evolution of MIT’s identity services. He led the project to design, deploy, maintain, and support MIT’s Shibboleth infrastructure and MIT’s central authorization management system, known as Roles. The support included consulting with business teams on campus, working with multiple teams to improve and enhance MIT’s LDAP system, and to improve and streamline the provisioning of new hires and new students.

Paul was kind of enough to let me know his thoughts on the increasing adoption of BYOD policy in businesses of varying sizes and fields, and the impact that is having on employee training.  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

For earlier Training Station posts on this topic, please click here.