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

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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!!
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog