Chief Learning Officers Ask Amazing Questions?

Chief Learning Officers often have favorite statements, expressions, and points of view. These can be key as they help shape the learning culture and knowledge ecosystem of the enterprise. 

But, the most powerful words from a CLO can be in the form of QUESTIONS! Asking a provocative question – at the appropriate moment, of key people or groups – can be the ultimate power tool for the CLO. Statements may or may not be heard, understood, responded to, or remembered. Targeted questions can be multiplied and amplified.

Here are three general examples, before I share my own CLO Question List:

  • To a Departing Employee: What did you learn while you were in our organization, and how did you learn it?
  • To a Business Leader: What skills do employees in your group need to build and maintain in terms of changing roles, technologies, and/or marketplace shifts?
  • To a CEO: What are buzz words or terminologies that you hear but don’t fully understand (e.g. Blockchain Layered Servers)?

My ideal CLO is like the Rabbi that I had in my synagogue as a teenager. Rabbi Chaven said that his role was to ask a provocative question and then step aside to let the community members have rich dialogue and disagreement on the topic. He said the good question never has an easy or “right” answer. Instead, it provokes the listener to engage and learn!

So, here is the start of my own CLO Question List:

  • To Learners at the End of a Program: What content did we cover that you already knew at the start of the program?
  • To Learning Designers: As designers, what are your default habits or rituals? What do you think would happen if you purposely did not perform those habits and rituals when designing your next program?
  • To a Business Group Requesting a New Course: If we could not give you a class on this topic, how would your workers learn or cope?
  • To a Chief Financial Officer: What percentage of an employee’s compensation should the shareholders invest each year to maximize return on employment (ROE?)
  • To an External Vendor: How many and which features of the system that you are selling are rarely or never used by other customers?
  • To a New Employee: What information do you really want in the first two days on the job?
  • To a Compliance Regulator: How can we demonstrate that we are compliant in ways other than providing classes? Would you accept other predictive indicators?
  • To a Global Division Business Leader: How would you teach a skill to your employees – mapping it to your marketplace, culture, and educational traditions?
  • To a Bored-Looking Colleague in the Lunch Room: What is something you would love to learn – on any topic – if you could?
  • To Another CLO: How many months/years do you think you have left in your current organization? Could you double that or leave sooner?
  • To Your Family Members: What mood(s) does my work cause me to have? What projects impact my happiness or joy the most?
  • To Your Customers: If you could send our organization to “Doing Better University”, what courses should we take?
  • To Your Online Instructors: How “present” do you appear on camera? What is your default facial expression?
  • To a Subject Matter Expert: How can you explain a topic in 5 sentences rather than 5 pages? What do people misunderstand the most about your area of expertise?
  • To a PowerPoint Slide Stack: If you had to be just one slide, what would you be?
  • To a Book Author: What opinion or perspective do you want your readers to consider or change? What would you remove from the book – months/years after you wrote it?
  • To a Home-Based Worker: What time of the day do you feel the most alert or smart? Could we schedule our calls at that time?
  • To a Participants in a Staff Meeting: What two words would you use to describe this quarter in the business?
  • To Yourself: Do I have people around me that are challenging and teaching me as a CLO?

This is just the start of my list. I would love someone to create a card deck of CLO questions (and I will help fund it). Perhaps in the future, CLOs will ask Alexa or Siri to track how many questions they asked each day.

Questions Rock Learning! Have the courage to ask questions. Become the CLO with amazing and endless questions. They are your greatest multiplier of impact!

Published in CLO Magazine, November 2018


Justify the Learning Ritual, Please!

Chief Learning Officers Be Prepared! You and your team may have to justify some of your most familiar rituals with evidence and business data.

Business leaders and even Boards of Directors are looking for RADICAL shifts in approaches and processes – and learning and training are ripe targets to be examined.

Here are some learning ritual challenges that I have heard in my conversations with senior executives in the past year:

Does Leadership Training Actually Create and Keep Better Leaders – with Better Business Results?  

  • Be prepared to examine the concrete skills, competencies, and readiness levels that your leadership programs yield.
  • Examine the 6-month, 1-year, and 3-year patterns of graduates of your leadership academies.
  • Imagine running a 3-level experiment with the next set of leadership candidates: 1/3 go through your current program, 1/3 are given a grant to buy their own leadership programs externally, and 1/3 are not given any program. What are the differences in their performance?
  • Consider the TIMING of when a leader is trained (e.g. on promotion, early in their career as a “hi po”, or perhaps 1 year into a leadership role) around their biggest challenges and gaps.
  • Ask if you should separate the “induction” dimensions of welcoming people into the leadership ranks from hard core skill development aimed at observable shifts in competencies and readiness.

Does Tracking Learning Help Learner Engagement and Do We Use the Data to Improve Business Results?

  • Our learning management systems collect a massive amount of data about what every learner selects from our formal learning offerings.
  • BUT, we are not tracking most of the content, context, collaboration, and resources that workers access from other sources.
  • AND, most organizations are not using the data from the LMS to radically improve learning options, personalize learning for a specific employee, or compare the impact of one program vs. another. We track consumption but rarely use learning systems to monitor impact.
  • PLUS, does tracking the micro learning choices that an employee makes help or hinder their natural curiosity? What if an employee was aware that their bosses were looking at the web searches they did throughout each day? I would imagine that more searches would be made from personal telephones or that workers would download apps to automatically add searches on their desktops that would show engagement or learning focus.
  • Be prepared to defend or reframe the role that your learning management systems have in driving business results!

Do Live Webinars Accomplish Higher Engagement and Bigger Business Results?

  • Most organizations have a default duration for live webinars, regardless of content or complexity. Most webinars are one hour and have only a few activities that take advantage of the actual live presence of employees.
  • What if we substituted asynchronous segments for live webinars? Durations could be stacked for overviews, basics, or deeper content, allowing the learner to select their optimal timing and depth of material.
  • If everyone had to answer a few predictive, quick questions to show understanding, how many hundreds of thousands of wage hours would a large enterprise save?
  • Once again, imagine a split test project with 3 different versions of content: live webinar, asynchronous only, and a blended model. Compare the participation, retention, and actual business applications/results that each version yields.

Let’s add some more questions that CLOs will be asked to respond to in the near future:

  • To what extent are our learning programs used by workers who are not meeting work expectations? Or, are many of our programs attended by motivated and already-engaged workers? What are the demographics of those that participate vs. those that don’t?
  • How do we test for potential hires’ willingness to learn?
  • What are our metrics for tracking the success (or failure) of line managers in supporting transfer of new skills to actual business practice?
  • Who in the learning organization has the analytical data skills to drive shifts in assessment and follow-up strategy?
  • How do we actually leverage the knowledge of retiring employees to impact business results?
  • What are some non-learning activities that the learning group could facilitate that would drive increased business results in the workplace?

Let’s be ready and open to these questions. They are coming!!!

Published in CLO Magazine, September 2018


Try a Learn-A-Thon: Crowdsourced UserExperience

While there is widespread interest, dialogue, and experimentation in new forms of learning technologies (e.g. Chatbots, Smart Speakers, Wearables, Immersive Reality) and new formats of learning content (e.g. Curated Segments, Agile Module Lengths, Shoulder-to-Shoulder OJT), where are the innovations in new models of Learning Design?

We can’t create a radically new learning ecosystem if we are simply going to rely on a dusted-off version of ADDIE, a more video-rich webinar construction, or a more compressed use of a Subject Matter Expert distilled by an Instructional Designer!

Let’s instead apply a “deep disruption sauce” to the learning design recipe!

I advocate that our colleagues experiment with a Learn-A-Thon, a crowdsourced way to create a different approach to teaching, training, and supporting skill, competency, or compliance in a workforce setting.

The Learn-A-Thon combines two forces that are highly impactful in the world of invention, innovation, and product development:

  • UserExperience: Radically aligning a new design to how the learner actually experiences the activity – and how rapidly or deeply they get to a state of readiness. UserExperience is NOT about testing if the module “works”; rather, it forces us as designers to intensively map each action to a behavior that a learner will want to do/can do successfully and leads to a measurable, positive learning moment.
  • Hack-A-Thon: Imagine a room filled with workers from the business who have mastered a desired skill and are fully experienced with the context of the targeted learning goal. Lock them up together for a day, or even a few days, and have them build – from scratch, with no barriers, assumptions, or rituals – SEVERAL totally different ways in which a worker could learn this skill. The Hack-A-Thon is a safe and brave place where ideas can soar, stretch, break, or be transformed.

Our Learn-A-Thon model requires some courage, pizza for a crew of 5 to 20 colleagues, and a willingness to take a totally fresh look at learning design and format rituals that are not easy to break.

You might start with a large challenge (e.g. New Hire Orientation) or a more focused task (e.g. Procurement Process for Purchasing Materials). A facilitator who truly is open to the idea of “hacking” or even failing our way to success would ask the Learn-A-Thon participants to explore with encouragement like this:

  • Our goal is to come up with 2, 4, or even 10 new ways in which one of our employees could go about learning the target skill, competency, or information set.
  • You are going to blow up our traditional model as you explore new approaches. You can change the style, length, intensity, media structure, branding, and/or testing elements.
  • You don’t need to be a learning designer to succeed. Think about yourself or a new learner: what do you/they actually want, need, or desire? It might not be the 24-slide PowerPoint deck. So, create an alternative!
  • The Hack-A-Thon model helped create innovations like Yelp, Uber, Airbnb, and more. It has been used by medical corporations to imagine and create totally new approaches to solving health challenges. And, the White House even hosted a “Game Jam Hack-A-Thon” several years ago to develop brand new learning games for high school students. Learn-A-Thons play off the successful Hack-A-Thon model!
  • Build multiple and different possible solutions – without grading or evaluating their probable success. Later, we will have fun with a UserExperience LAB process to see if elements of each solution will work with actual learners.

The Learn-A-Thon model will fail if you let your instructional design protectiveness sabotage the process. Remember, each and every design model starts with assessing and aligning the needs of the organization and learner. But, we often jump into highly traditional models as we flow into the design and rarely test against a diverse set of learner expectations.

Before you reject this model, go talk to a few of your work colleagues and ask them “How did you actually learn to do this task?” Be prepared that few, if any, will refer to the great classroom offering, or the well-developed eLearning module, or the pretty Job Aid that is on the wall. Listen to their UserExperience and you will discover that they did their own Learn-A-Thon, optimizing formal, external, social, and non-traditional approaches to get to their own readiness on the topic.

Design is art and science. The Learn-A-Thon will creatively optimize our workers’ pathways to Learning in the Age of Now!

Published in CLO Magazine, July/August 2018


“Alexa, How Did I Do Today on Sales Calls?”

Our workplaces will soon have a range of smart speakers, responsive mobile devices, and chatbots – all geared to provide the employee with a rapid answer to a question or performance support element. Employees will be able to vocally ask or type a query or curiosity and get an immediate response.

This “pull” level of response from speakers, cell phones, computer devices, and even corporate phone systems will mirror the rising nature of smart speakers in our homes. 

But, are workers and employers truly ready for the next chapter of responsive technology? They must consider that these speakers and systems can:

  • Listen and watch a full day’s interactions of an employee, analyzing language and interactions for coaching feedback.
  • Provide historical analysis of how the sales calls that land contracts differ from unsuccessful calls.
  • Monitor performance data from corporate systems and provide real-time prompting and feedback as work results change.
  • Insert short teaching or coaching moments into a day, focused on a behavior or outcome pattern.

While these may seem “only in the future”, my recent visit to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas highlighted how Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and others will take the same speaker from the home and adapt it for “Alexa” or “Google Assistant” at work.

And, the natural evolution is to integrate these functions, capabilities, and extensions into workplace responsive technologies:

  • Voice and Facial Recognition (utilizing the camera elements in the smart speaker) that can identify the worker and their potential change in emotion, confusion, or hesitation. A request that has a panicked quality will be different than a gentle query about a topic of interest.
  • Continual Observation and Recording, which will raise many questions about privacy and intrusion. Imagine if a new manager were able to get an analysis of their language throughout the day, including conversations and messages with constant feedback about how they are engaging, delegating, negating, or supporting collaboration.
  • Curation in Real Time – integrating recommendation and content curation segments to optimize the worker’s access to knowledge - including mixing and balancing perspectives - shaped by their previous reactions to advice.
  • Coaching and Continual Assessment – ramping up the performance support elements to deliver personalized levels of coaching, feedback, supervisory engagement, social network support, and instant and immediate assessment scoreboards.
  • Big Learning Data models that would allow for experimentation in the optimized mix of content, context, advice, support, and feedback by person, by role, by location, or even by worker preference and profiles.
  • Code of Conduct Feedback – providing instant feedback when an employee “crosses a line” in either business interactions or expressing bias in their dealings with colleagues or customers (e.g. a beep prompting a need to correct or stop a behavior).

Some of the readers of my column are going to be quite rattled and upset by these potential futures. Others can’t wait to have this level of support and feedback. HR, IT, and Legal Departments will have a range of reactions to adding these systems and devices to our regulated workplaces.

But, it is coming! I use my Siri function on the iPhone, Alexa on my desk, and Google Assistant in my office to provide a continual set of input, knowledge, and data. With a simple command, I can request that the video lights and camera functions in my office turn on for a video conference. So, how long until that command is linked directly into my Outlook calendar?

And, the smart speaker and chatbot technologies that are coming to the market in 2018 are adding an increasing level of “personality” and “emotional programming.” My Jibo device has the cutest eyes and rotating face with a screen that has me thanking it for its responses and laughing at many of its outputs (that just come across as factoids from more traditional speaker devices).

Are enterprises, managers, and employees ready to have a continual presence of responsive technologies in the workplace? Will they have an “off” switch for interactions that they don’t want captured or analyzed? Will employees start to “game” the system by intentionally underperforming a behavior and then radically improving it right before performance review and bonus time? And, what are the roles for Learning and Development in this space? Get ready!

Published in CLO Magazine, May 2018


“Layers” of Content and Tech Innovation

Imagine adding “layers” of new learning content, context, and/or interaction to your Learning Management System – without a major upgrade or expensive integration.

Imagine being able to offer the Machine Learning expertise of IBM’s Watson or Amazon’s Alexa to your learners by adding a “layer” of technology that would seamlessly weave through the existing workplace technology.

Imagine if your employees who graduated from business programs at institutions like Wharton, Harvard, or UCLA could add a personalized “layer” of content, curation, and collaboration to their technology workspaces that would enhance their learning experiences.

Imagine if a business unit could offer a “gamification layer” that would provide enterprise-wide content for a cluster of employees, adding a powerful engagement strategy for a targeted cluster of the workforce.

And, imagine if you could inject a “layer” of content in the native language of some of your employees. That layer could live alongside or even replace English content for specific learners who want a deeper, native-language exploration of a topic.

Layers are coming!

Sure, we have always had the ability to ask the IT Department or an external vendor to design, test, and implement an integration of a second program or application into a learning or talent system. But, that would often become a deeply complicated process, with uncertain expenses and “hard-coded” solutions that might require re-integration after an update to the LMS.

The layer looks and feels more like an app on our phones. Layers will leverage the equivalent of an “Open API – Application Program Interface” to allow a business unit or learning department to add/inject/weave/enhance a worker’s learning space with new capabilities, in a safe and secure fashion.

Let’s explore this more by imagining a layer that would provide Apple’s Siri at the workplace:

  • Let’s say that Apple would offer the power of Siri, a voice- or text-based search and assistance tool, to businesses.
  • The entire enterprise, a specific line of business, or even a group of employees would choose to add the “Siri Business Layer” into their computing world.
  • Siri would have been approved as a safe, secure, and appropriate layer by a software association or “layer registry”.
  • The enterprise, business, or learners themselves would select the layer and how it would be seen and used.
  • Siri would then become active and could work on top, alongside, or with content from learning systems.
  • Siri could be replaced with a different layer or even offer the employee multi-layers of search and “TalkTech” tools.

What makes the layer model so attractive is the ability for an organization to take an approach that is centered on innovation and user experiences. As technology evolves in the marketplace, layers would enable an organization to experiment with and compare diverse tools.

Personalization by business units or specialized roles could be enhanced through a robust set of layers that were available and easily added. 

Remember, you may have a dozen or more mobile apps on your phone that you have tried but haven’t used in months – or even years. The app model has allowed you to be more agile and experimental in how to leverage your phone or tablet.

Layers would also provide a new incentive to the venture and development world as it could more easily provide demonstration or beta versions of innovations to a global marketplace.

What is needed to make layers a reality? 

  • Learning Management Systems and Talent Systems that create a dynamic integration tool for layers: a new API to allow for enterprise security, safety, and data sharing that protects the corporate data warehouse while adding new functionality for the worker.
  • A business model for how layers will be priced and marketed: some may be free, some will be directly charged, and others may have a sponsored or premium layer pricing model.
  • Layer Marketplaces, which may live off the supplier sites of the LMS and Talent Systems, where layers could be viewed, reviewed, and selected.
  • A Mentality Shift: excitement about our ability to be agile, experimental, and dynamic in adding new technology to our core systems without hassles or major expenses.

Yes, layers are coming. Get ready!

Published in CLO Magazine, March 2018


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