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What’s Next? Shall we find out together?

11 Sep

Friends and Colleagues,

As many of you are aware, I’ve been consulting as the principal of In The Learning Age Consulting for two full years now. It has been a rewarding, busy and learning-rich adventure. For the first time, I find myself without my “next project” after I get back from my trip to southern Africa (S. Africa, Botswana, Namibia. Yes, I am very lucky!).

I have purposefully and steadily relied on my network of friends and peers to help find meaningful, interesting projects. Now, I am reaching out to you again to rely on your collective eyes and ears. Looking forward to what’s next with great anticipation!

I’ll be back at my desk in Portland on October 3, looking to jump into my next project, program or event. I am happy to work on engagements large or small, full- or part-time. My work includes:

  • Learning Design/Instructional Design

  • Training Program Development

  • Needs Analysis & Discovery

  • Social/Informal Learning Frameworks

  • Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) and Practices

  • Continuous Improvement and Performance Support

  • Change Frameworks & Implementation

  • Workshops, Speaking and Keynote Events

Wishing you the best for the autumn (or spring for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere),


Lead with Training? Look beyond the recipe

15 May

I’ve seen it time and time again. An organization has a new technology, often joined with a new process and vision for processing, customer service, data alignment, sales, etc. The knock comes on L & D’s door, and we are thrilled to be able to get in on a new initiative without the baggage of poor performance leading the request.

But just as we should pause and assess if training is the part of the solution to substandard performance or a new change initiative, we need to also pause to think about the appropriate timing and type of training that will advance the strategy initiative. While it might seem counter-intuitive to those of us in the instructional design and training game, we need to think about training as an essential element in the organizational kitchen remodel — a part of a well-designed program, but not the driver.

OK, I’m not entirely sure a kitchen is the best analogy, but let that marinate with me for a moment. A kitchen needs a workflow plan, a place to store fresh and nonperishable items, ample space to store tools and cooking utensils, and a set of good cook books (explicit knowledge), at least until the cook moves through competence and proficiency to become an expert intuitive gastro-artist (implicit knowledge).

So, training can carry the novice cook along the path to competence, and even proficiency. However, if the goal is to build expertise, training can’t carry the load the full distance. Similarly, the training program, no matter how well designed and implemented, can’t deliver the tools, materials and setup necessary to get the anticipated results.

Cathy Moore has done some excellent work on how to evaluate the need for training to address performance issues. But what I’m suggesting here is to take that to another elevation: Even when training is part of the issue, are the conditions for applicable success present? Seen this way, each training design should be a mini (or full-blown) change management program. Per standard practice of change management, skills are an essential ingredient. But so too are organizational support, vision and incentives to follow through.

complex change matrix

Complex Change Management Matrix

So, if you are already in the discussion that Moore (and I) suggests, take it to the next logical step: How does training fit into the change the organization wishes to see?

We don’t spend the money to build a beautiful kitchen without the hope that we’ll become better cooks. But design and appliances don’t get us there. Neither will skills alone without the proper tools and support for experimentation, failure and improvement.

The Minor Miracle of the Backchannel

18 Sep

Two things happened over the last several weeks that have completely energized my professional engagement via social media, and reconfirmed my strong belief that the digital transformation of our work is just as important – perhaps more important – through in-person work as through distance communication.

In other words, it’s the digitization, not the environment or geography that’s truly transformational.

The first event was my ability to watch a great live talk by Nigel Paine, a renowned business consultant on leadership, learning and innovation. I was lucky to hear it, but there’s nothing particularly remarkable about hearing a respected industry leader speak live. What was remarkable was that I did so while sitting at my desk in Portland, Oregon, USA, while the Englishman spoke at a conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Another Twitter colleague, Nigel Young had the forethought and courtesy to stream the talk live via Periscope. I wrote about that singular event back in July. It was terrific.

Second, I have been following the backchannel of BIF2015 (The Business Innovation Factory Summit) in Providence, Rhode Island. I was unable to watch the broadcast live, though that ability was provided (thank you, BIF!). But, thanks to my professional Twitter community, I am able to read the backchannel of the event.

Through their tweets and retweets (aka the backchannel, where each tweet uses the specified hashtag, in this case #BIF2015), I heard the message of the speakers loud and clear. And so can you, here/hear from the last speaker of the day, Jaime Casap:

The power of our digital trails are so powerful. The more we can make them open, visible, retrievable and connective the better off we are. Twitter is a great vehicle for that, but it’s not the only one. This is exactly why I recommend, however, that organizations work on the practice of digital trail-making and digital storytelling before investing in the platform (ESN). Practice first, and you may find that the transparency and engagement it provides makes a proprietary, closed ESN unneeded and unwanted.

That really would be a minor miracle indeed.

Watch Jaime Casap’s talk (2:50:00 – 3:06:45) (It seems the recording of the conference is no longer online, at least at that URL. I’ll watch for a post of the talk in the coming days and update it here if it appears.)


An Open Letter to My Readers

31 Aug

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Starting in September of this year, I will be free to engage across a variety of learning and organizational development projects through my own business, In the Learning Age Consulting.

The time is right for me to set my own course, pursuing my own professional goals by assisting those who want to lead in the way people work, learn, engage, change, and continuously improve both their own skills and organizational capacities.

I have a loose but active affiliation of experienced L&D professionals, instructional designers, graphic designers, trainers, writers, project managers and editors/QA professionals who I can call upon as the demands of particular engagements dictate, so no endeavor is potentially too big or too small.

I encourage you to review my website (very much a work in progress), follow my blog, and engage with me on Twitter and Scoop.It page. And, when the time is right, contact me directly to see how I can help you create and implement learning designs, scaffold change efforts, plan professional development programs and attract/retain the best talent.

Without my community of support from folks like you, I’d be adrift. I hope that this new venture will allow us to work together.

Thanks for all your encouragement,


Quality, efficiency or efficacy? Hmmm … I’ll take all three!

22 Sep

Triangle of compromises, from 11 Bridges.

You’re likely familiar with triangular development tradeoffs: good, fast or cheap—pick two.

However, I suggest that when people are empowered to control their own learning, at their own chosen times, and within a framework that supports personal exploration and mastery, it is the epitome of learning efficiency. That is, better, faster and cheaper!

What does that look like?

Let’s take a look at a common professional services business topic: managing client expectations. It could have been any number of hard or (especially) soft workplace skills, but for our purpose here, let’s go with managing clients.

Traditional training and L & D approaches call for a comprehensive set of learning and mentoring activities. These may include classroom time with role-plays, eLearning courses sequentially laid out in an LMS, conference attendance, webinar sessions, readings, etc. There is nothing wrong with these approaches, but they don’t sit comfortably on two points of the tradeoff triangle, and certainly not all three. If done well, and tracked to metrics to demonstrate efficacy, the traditional treatment is a large, expensive endeavor. It may be worth it in the long run, but it is hard to get support for such rich projects.

Imagine an alternative program, one in which individuals are able to control their own professional development with thoughtful guidance. The added element is that the learners have to demonstrate their work—that is, work out loud as they collect information, connect ideas and form practices that fit into the working culture.

Perhaps you begin by providing a curated, annotated list of articles, videos and websites. Ask the learner to review and reflect on those items. Then, assemble additional resources into a collection (social bookmarked via Diigo,, Delicious, etc.) The collections are open to others, so that they share as they save (share is the new save!) via the enterprise social network (if one exists) or Twitter, Facebook or any other available platform. Every week or so, learners come together to present, discuss, compare and practice together for a short time (say, a working lunch hour, in-person or via web-based meeting platform), under the direction of a mentor and/or learning professional.

What have you gained? A cohort that is mostly self-directed, taking responsibility for their own development, creating a learning and collaborative culture, and normalizing how to manage client expectations (see how the topic almost becomes secondary—in a good way!) together with the manager’s direction.

If you have one or two great ideas for good interactive modules or focused, purposeful webinar topics, great. This framework allows targeted, well-designed instruction to take root in the larger learning culture.

What you end up with is an effective learning program, potentially bringing higher and more diverse quality than is possible from even the best L & D team on its own, while saving the cost of numerous eLearning courses or formal learning events. It drops the assumption that the established practices for client management already in place are better or preordained, welcoming ideas from across the networked world.

It covers all three corners, enabling a full 180° horizon, overcoming false choices that stand in the way of organizational agility and vision.

Open the triangle and see the horizon of learning (and perhaps, the reading rainbow).

Open the triangle and see the horizon of learning (and perhaps, the reading rainbow).

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