Training Station Interview with Nigel Paine on Learning Technologies, Gamification and More

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I recently had the privilege of interviewing Nigel Paine, a major thought leader in the world of learning and development.  It was an honor for me, and I think you’ll agree that he gave incredibly valuable insight on a range of issues during the interview.  See the full transcript below. First, a bit about him.  Nigel has been involved in learning technologies for over twenty years. He has run organizations producing software, CD Roms and multimedia materials,one of which won an EMMA (European Multi-Media Award).  His company was the first in the UK to have educational software bundled by Apple for the US market. He was appointed in April 2002 to head up the BBC’s Learning and Development operation where he built one of the most successful learning and development operations in the UK.  This included an award winning Leadership program, state of the art informal learning and knowledge sharing and one of the most successful and well-used intranets in the corporate sector.  All this while managing the largest broadcast training operation in the world. He left the BBC in September 2006 to start his own company that is focusing on promoting creativity, innovation and learning and the link between them. He speaks at conferences around the world and writes for a range of international publications. He is also coaching senior executives in companies in Europe, Australia and the USA. He writes for a range of international publications. He has recently completed a global survey of talent management for ARK UK and his writing a book on 21st learning leadership. He is a Fellow of the Learning and Performance Institute, Chartered Institute of Personnel Development and the Royal Society of Arts and has been a visiting Professor at Napier University since 1998. In 2006 he was given the Masie Learning Thought Leader Award, and has been a Masie Fellow ever since.   Training Station: In the year 2013, what are some of the most important qualities that it takes to be a great trainer? Nigel Paine: Well, to start off I don’t really like the term trainer. It seems very limiting. Indeed one of the qualities needed to be a great developer or learning leader in 2013 is to get away from being seen only as a trainer! To be great in 2013, you need to be able to design, build and deliver learning systems. You need to be able to work out what someone needs to learn, how they need to learn it, and the time for successful implementation. This goes way beyond simply training! The main quality needed to be great at learning in 2013 is to be able to engage with the business. That means working with those who are managing the business, and helping them decide what interventions are necessary and which of those interventions require training and development. The successful learning leader needs to be in the business flow not outside it.

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

NP: Unquestionably, this boils down to three developments. Related but separate. First are social networking tools. Used properly they have the power to move knowledge around an organization, regardless of how large that organization is, at spectacular speed. And knowledge exchange is increasingly important for success in today’s business environment. These tools have the power to create communities of practice, a sense of shared purpose and culture, but above all to be the building blocks for continuous learning. Second is gamification. This is using the logic and approach of games towards learning and development. Creating challenge and engagement in learning massively improves uptake, retention and behavior change. We are just at the beginning of this development, but it is significantly transformative. The third is mobile. Everything, eventually will be platform agnostic. You will be able to learn where you want on whatever device you want to use. The increase in flexibility, the opportunities for continuous learning and access to just in time knowledge, cannot be underestimated. TS: Do you think that new technologies will make internal L &D people redundant? NP: Most technologies when introduced into the workplace are massively disruptive. However, we still have people at work. They may be doing different jobs but they are still working. Exactly the same process of disruption and consolidation will take place in L & D. Some roles will disappear, all  roles will change. I am convinced that L & D will be around for the foreseeable future. Learning, innovation and change are not going away anytime soon.

TS: How do you think learning can and should continue after that initial training course?

NP: An initial training course is simply that: initial. It should take you to competency, it does not make you excellent or expert at your job. From that point on the real learning should start. Some of that learning will be formal, but most of it will be informal and conversational. What you need is a framework to encourage, stimulate, and build upon that initial training. And, as you become more expert, there should be the means to share your expertise easily with colleagues coming behind you. This can be informally using social networking, or more formally in a coaching or mentor relationship. All experts should be expected to share their knowledge and expertise.

TS: Regarding the increased use of mobile devices in and outside of the office, do learning managers have a choice in the matter?

NP: The short answer is an emphatic no! Some L & D professionals are resistant but they are increasingly in a small minority. Mobile is here to stay. Neither IT departments nor L & D  professionals can do anything to change that. And increasingly, if the organization fails to provide the devices, staff will simply bring their own.

TS: You mentioned gamification earlier.  What your thoughts on using gamification in learning?

NP: The question is about gamification not gaming. I’m not convinced that games work, but the logic of challenge, clue finding and fun that comes from games logic will definitely find its way into learning. Ben Betts from Ht2 has shown in his research that a gamification element increases retention, participation and enjoyment in the learning process. We just need the right tools to make this a straightforward process. Here are some gamification examples for further guidance.

TS: Regarding a central challenge for learning officers, does working with decreasing budgets and shorter time frames detract from creativity?

Everybody is working with decreasing budgets increased  time frames. That is the reality of working life, not a restriction applied only to L&D today. The ways around this dilemma are to use innovation and creativity. Everything we know about learning in organizations will need to change in the next five years.  That is a challenge,  but it is also a fantastic opportunity.

TS: What advice would you give to someone just beginning their career in L&D?

NP: This follows on from the previous question. I can think of few more exciting places to work than in L&D in an enlightened organization at this time. Over the course of your career, you will reestablish the primacy of learning in  organizations. And you will do this by creating continuous learning and the continuous sharing of knowledge. You will embrace technology, you will curate as well as create resources and you will be working inside not outside the organizational flow. You will not be developing curriculum, you will be solving business problems; working on organizational development; and creating a culture of success. Who would not want to be rising to those challenges!
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog