2015 in Review: Workplace Learning – Trends, Disruption & Change

Here is my review of 2015 – in both my own blog posts as well as those that I’ve included in my monthly reviews throughout the year. I’ve given each month a theme (sometimes one which extended into later months of the year!)


In What does the term blended learning mean I revealed the results of a short poll I had run on what the term “blended learning” means to people. The options I provided were

A: A training programme containing a mix of face-to-face-and e-learning
B: A training activity containing a range of formats and media
C: A strategic L&D approach to supporting a wide range of learning initiatives
D: Other

The results were probably unsurprising ….

“Although just under 1/2 of the respondents opted for the more traditional definition of the term, it was clear that “blended learning” means different things to different people. So just like many other terms used in the field of learning, we need to be quite sure we explain what we mean by them to avoid any confusion.”

In, 7 tests that expose Blended Learning as actually Blended ‘Teaching’, Donald Clark made a significant point …

‘Blended Learning’ is so often just ‘Blended Teaching’, a half-hearted attempt to retain a mixture of classroom and online. It’s Velcro learning, slamming just a few of things together to satisfy a need to hold on to some of the old and look as though you’ve embraced some of the new. A poor singer doesn’t sound any better when in a duet.”

But blending the old with the new is no longer enough, as Charles Jennings points out in 70-20-10 .. Beyond the Blend.

“Blended learning is still on the wrong side of the chasm between learning and the learning/work continuum – and it needs to jump. A lot more work is required beyond ‘blending’ to truly embed learning into work. It is important to remember that blended learning is a sub-set of 70:20:10, and one way to support a 70:20:10 approach, but it is not a replacement for it. If you’ve implemented blending, you’re on the road but not at the end of the journey yet.”


lopIn Solving performance problems in meaningful and relevant ways, I wrote that

“Every day I read a post or article that talks about how to make e-learning compelling or engaging. Advice ranges from using different typefaces, sizes or colours to the use of gamification or the latest training trend or technology.  But as I’ve mentioned before, in most cases I believe this is simply putting lipstick on the pig.  Because despite all the cosmetics, underneath there’s still a pig – that is, a “solution” that has been imposed upon a group of individuals.”

In a similar vein, in 70:20:10 – Above All Else It’s a Change AgentCharles Jennings explains that the the new work of L&D is more than … putting “lipstick on the pig”.

“Although many L&D departments are reaching out to new media and new approaches to support daily development activities – with incorporating social learning into courses, launching MOOCs, adding gamification, using mobile and other communication and delivery channels in the vanguard – many of these are still being implemented within the traditional L&D structured learning framework. That framework and mindset is essentially about command and control – ‘we design and deliver the packages, the ‘learners’ learn, we metricise and report’.

This traditional approach lacks flexibility and is based on assumptions that may have been valid in 18th century Prussia when the concept of a curriculum arose, but is not fit-for-purpose in our fast-evolving 21st century world. 70:20:10 thinking and action helps overcome this ‘course and curriculum mindset’. A 70:20:10 L&D strategy is a good starting point for this change process.”

But, moving away from the “lipstick on the pig” approach requires a new mindset as explained in CLOs: Agents Of Change, which looked at the transformation of the role of the Chief Learning Officer

“Rob Lauber, CLO at McDonald’s Corp., has held CLO roles in major global organizations for the past 15 years, and he’s experienced this transformation firsthand. “The role has shifted over the years, from leader of a portfolio of training elements to enabler of learning,” he said. “More than anything else, it’s a shift in mindset.” He said today’s CLO has to give up control of the learning process, and focus more on creating opportunities for learners to get the information they need when they need it, even if that means shutting the door on classrooms. “It’s less about owning the learning process, and more about making things possible.””


In Learners are learning differently; are you changing the way you train and support them?, I provided an analysis of the Top 100 Tools for Learning surveys over the last 8 years and how they show that people are using the Internet to learn in many ways that differ substantially from traditional training approaches -continuously, on demand, in short bursts, socially, in the flow of work or on the go, serendipitously and autonomously

Annemarie Neal, in Challenge your assumptions about learners, also wrote about this topic too.

“Our current learning approach is outdated. Now is the time to reinvent it. The global business environment is changing rapidly. Access to sophisti­cated, social, digital technologies is increasing, and the digital generation’s expectations of how, when, where, and why work gets done are shifting. The learner needs to be at the center of our reinvention.”


In From “knowledge worker” to “learning worker”: what this means for an organisation I talked about Jacob Morgan’s concept of the “learning worker” and the importance of continuous learning – both for the individual and the organisation:

  • It means that it is no longer about knowing stuff; but continuously learning stuff
  • It means that continuous learning no longer comes from taking a series of (e-)training courses
  • It means that continuous learning is a key ingredient of daily work, not separate from it
  • It means that workplace learning is no longer the sole responsibility of the L&D department
  • It means that workplace learning is no longer just about providing designed learning initiatives but promoting self-organised learning
  • It means individuals learning and teaching at will
  • It means a fundamental shift in the way organisations interpret the concept of “workplace learning”.

And in s subsequent post, Continuous learning : it’s a mindset not a technology or product, I explained that supporting continuous learning in the workplace involves working with managers, individuals and teams in new ways.

I also talked about my own approach to continuous learning in The Web is my Workplace (and Learnplace)

“I am continuously learning as I work. Although I do have a curiosity to find out new stuff, it is largely focused around my professional interests and work goals – the projects I am working on, the books I am writing and the workshops I am running. (This is how learning is an integral part of my work)”

and I expanded on this further in What it is to be a “learning worker” (an interview). Here’s an answer to one of the questions I was asked

Q5: You are a LEARNING WORKER. How have you seen this transform your career?

Being a learning worker hasn’t transformed my career; it has defined my career!  

  • I’m always trying to improve what I do.
  • I’m always looking for what’s next.
  • I’m always trying out new things – and learning from doing them: finding what worked, what might work better if …
  • and then sharing what I learn/find out – on my C4LPT website, here in my blog posts, in my presentations, in my books, and in my workshops

BTW I haven’t been on a course in years – I prefer to learn by “connecting the dots” myself – from stuff I’ve read, videos I’ve watched, conversations I have had or overheard both face-to-face and in social spaces – and so on.

In  When It Comes To Ongoing HR Development, It’s Really Up To You, Ron Thomas made it very clear how important it is to keep learning because no career is safe …

“So many of our HR professionals look forward to attending conferences and training throughout the year, but for the most part, we can’t sit back and wait for two or three events to take care of our development needs throughout the year. We have to self-educate. That means reading everything that we can get our hands on.”


In July, Inge De Ward (@Ignatia) asked me if I was up for the #blimage challenge! This involved sending an image or photograph to a colleague with the challenge that they have to write a learning related blog post based on it. Inge chose the picture on the right for me – a drawing from the Belgian artist Yslaire, so in The Joy of Learning #blimage, I responded

“Looking at this picture – these were the random thoughts that went through my head!

  • how easy it is to become so absorbed in discovering something new on the computer – and how you can almost glow with pleasure from learning – the angel could quite easily be watching a YouTube video or TED Talk!
  • how important it is to be connected with others, and how valuable computers have become to help us do so  – our angel could well be on a Skype call, or taking part in a Google Hangout with other angels!
  • but more significantly, that even in the most difficult of situations, where there’s a will there’s a way.  It looks here, that our angel has had to go to quite a bit of trouble to rig up her computer to the Internet!!

The “learning” message for me, in this image, is that rather than put up obstacles to learning in organisations – unwieldy technology platforms, unnecessary logins, restrictive social media policies, etc, – we need to make it as easy as possible for people to learn whenever they want to – so that they can experience the joy of learning!

For Vivek Wadhwa, Love of learning is the key to success in the jobless future

“A question that parents often ask me is, given that these predictions are even remotely accurate, what careers their children should pursue … I tell them not to do what our parents did, telling us what to study and causing us to treat education as a chore; that instead, they should encourage their children to pursue their passions and to love learning. It doesn’t matter whether they want to be artists, musicians, or plumbers; the key is for children to understand that education is a lifelong endeavor and to be ready to constantly reinvent themselves.”


in My A to Z of Learning I provided a list of the words, tools, devices and people that summarise the way I learn.  This was my entry for A:

“A is for AUTONOMY – the ability to choose what, how, when and with whom I learn is essential for me. I learn best when I am in control of what I do.”

Self-directed, or self-organised learning is essential nowadays. Why? Because, as Jacob Morgan explains in a Forbes article, we can no longer rely only on schools & companies for professional & personal development

“The world has changed and it’s up to us as individuals (and as companies) to make sure that we can change too. Organizations must enable employees by deploying the right technologies to connect people and by supporting employees and allowing them learn outside of the company. Individuals must get rid of all excuses and understand that they can learn anything they want anytime they want to learn it.”


Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 22.45.03In September I released my 9th annual Top 100 Tools for Learning list compiled from the votes of over 2,000 learning professionals from around the world.  I later categorised the tools in a Best of breed tools list, and also produced the 2015 Guidebook to the Top 100 Tools. I saw some interesting trends in the tools that are being used for both personal learning and for creating learning content and experiences for others, which I described in 10 Trends for Workplace Learning

  1. E-Learning content is becoming more appealing
  2. 2015 is the year of video
  3. There is an emerging shift from course management to course networking
  4. Classroom interaction tools are on the rise
  5. MOOC platforms now being used as a part of a corporate training offering
  6. Professional networking still leads the way
  7. Ad hoc problem solving remains vital
  8. Sharing is the new saving!
  9. Connecting and collaborating are king!
  10. The iPad is the device of the year

So what does this all mean for workplace learning? Well, I believe it means that we need to have a much broader understanding of what workplace learning means, and how people learn at work. Modern Workplace Learning, as I call it, means recognising the fact that we learn in many different ways at work.

The need to change current training (and teaching) practices was clear from a number of other posts in September, for instance the Secret Teacher (in the Guardian) wrote in Don’t waste my time with torturous training days …

“These days, I see far more best practice being shared on social media than I do in dedicated professional development time. This is a sorry indicator that many inset agendas are woefully outdated and lacking the excitement that is created when teachers have the opportunity to discuss teaching.”

And Dean Shareski, writing in the Huffington Post, Make it stop made the following point strongly (my emboldening) …

“.. we have to understand that technology changes the way we learn. Going back to Seymour Papert, smart people have seen how computers afford new learning opportunities. In the past decade, most everyone with access has experienced what it’s like to learn from anyone, anywhere at any time. In everyday life, this is no longer an event to behold but the way we learn. Any policy maker or leader who doesn’t understand and live this needs to find other employment.”


mwl-coverOn 1 October I released my Modern Workplace Learning book which brought together all my thinking and writing over the last few years around the need to broaden the role of L&D to meet the diverse learning needs of today’s workforce.

  • In Part A: Introduction, I discuss the factors influencing a need for change in workplace learning as well as what Modern Workplace Learning (MWL) means
  • In Part B I talk about the need to provide modern training – relevant and appropriate for today’s workforce
  • In Part C I discuss how to promote everyday workplace learning

Because promoting everyday workplace learning is very new work for L&D, I blogged about it in further posts.  I introduced the concept in Everyday Workplace Learning: A Quick Primer, and I shared a slideset I had used in an online presentation, Everyday Workplace Learning: A Quick Guide (Slideset)

“Everyday learning is the learning that takes place everyday as individuals do their jobs – individually or working with their internal colleagues, as well as connecting with others in (online) professional networks and channels. It’s about continuously acquiring small pieces of information or skills (often unconsciously) that over time build up into a large body of knowledge or experience, which means an individual becomes proficient in their job and knowledgeable about their industry or profession.”

Kenneth Mikkelson and Harold Jarche, in their article in Harvard Business Review, The best leaders are constant learners, recognise the importance of continuous, everyday learning too ..

“As we attempt to transition into a networked creative economy, we need leaders who promote learning and who master fast, relevant, and autonomous learning themselves. There is no other way to address the wicked problems facing us. If work is learning and learning is the work, then leadership should be all about enabling learning.”

But this all requires significant change, and Clark Quinn, in Ch-ch-ch-changes, asked ..

“Is there an appetite for change in L&D? That was the conversation I’ve had with colleagues lately. And I have to say that that the answer is mixed, at best. The consensus is that most of L&D is comfortably numb. That L&D folks are barely coping with getting courses out on a rapid schedule and running training events because that’s what’s expected and known. There really isn’t any burning desire for change, or willingness to move even if there is.”

Indeed, when it comes to change, the image above is perceptively true!


jay_aboutIn early November, the L&D world lost one of its biggest disrupters, Jay Cross. I paid my own small tribute to my friend and colleague in RIP Jay Cross and collated Twitter Tributes to Jay Cross in another post.  Jay wrote and talked a lot about the overlooked importance of informal learning within organisation and how this is the natural way we all learn. Many understand this quite instinctively; whilst others seem to have trouble coming to terms with the concept.

In 2015 I have had the pleasure of working with a number of organisations around the world who recognise the importance of his words, how the world of work and learning are changing, and how they need to making radical changes to their own L&D approaches. In fact, one learning leader explained his rationale for moving forward …

“I want us to change before we are changed!”

However, I’ve also heard a lot of talk from others about change but seen very little activity; it’s mostly been about tweaking the same old, and applying new ideas to old approaches.  In fact, in the days following Jay’s death I read a number of articles about how to “informalise training” – which I know was NOT what he was thinking about when he wrote his book.

All this led me to write my post, The L&D world is splitting in two, where I talked how I was now seeing two types of L&D professionals: the traditionalists, who are clinging onto 20th century views of Training & Development, and a new group of modern L&D professionals who understand the realities of the new world of work, and that their own activities need to change to reflect this.  I think Bob Mosher summed up what I was trying to say in his tweet

“Are you TRULY innovating OR rearranging the chairs on the deck of the titanic?”

This post divided opinion (very much along the lines I described in the post itself), so I wrote a couple of subsequent posts to put some flesh on the bones of that post.

  • In Crossing the mindset chasm, I explained that it does require a big mindset shift (see posts from others above about this) to make the leap from traditionalism to modernism; it’s not about moving along a continuum simply adding new elements to old practices; it’s about adopting a completely different approach
  • In Learning in the modern workplace is more than (e-)training, I explained that workplace learning is more than just designing, delivering and managing classroom training or e-learning; it means supporting all the ways we learn at work.
  • In The Uberfication of L&D I explained how criticism of my post was to be expected when an industry is being disrupted ..

“After all taxi drivers around the world didn’t remain quiet when Uber arrived in their towns! But just as Uber recognised the realities of the modern world, and offered a radical new model fit for the on-demand economy, modern L&D departments are also beginning to think in the same terms, and are adopting new models/frameworks/principles like MWL, 70-20-10, PKM, etc, in order to offer new services to their organisations (rather than just do “better (e-)training”). However, just as traditional taxis haven’t disappeared entirely, traditional L&D (read Training Departments) will undoubtedly persist for some time to come too. But one thing is clear, the Uberfication of workplace learning is underway.”

explosion-600477_640But, there must have been something in the air in November, because in my review of the month I shared lots of other posts from people who were disrupting the status quo.  This GigaOm article, for example, explained how the traditional approach to training needs to change – radically…

“Employee training is usually a profoundly unhelpful whirlwind. It’s a day or two stuffed full of information, most of which gets partially (if not completely) forgotten by the second or third week of the #grind. It’s not that employers don’t try. I’m sure they do their level-best to make training helpful. After all, training and on-boarding employees is expensive, and high turnover rates and under-utilized employees are bad for business. But employee training is still begging for disruption. That’s exactly what Axonify aims to do.”

New frameworks and models, like MWL and 70-20-10, are available to help organisations make significant changes to their approaches to workplace learning, so why is there reluctance on the part of some to use these to move forward? In 70:20:10 – A useful model, Harold Jarche made a key point  …

.. the 70:20:10 model challenges the traditional domain of the Learning & Development (L&D) discipline. Many people in this field only work in formal education & training, most particularly designing courses. The reference model implicitly says, you are only being 10% effective in supporting learning at work. Of course many would react strongly against such a model.”

Whilst Arun Pradhan drew the image on the right …


challenge2015 has been chock-full of articles and posts about the new emerging workplace. Most recently Liz Ryan wrote in Stop measuring and start leading

“We are living in the Knowledge Economy now, and Machine Age thinking doesn’t work anymore …  For starters, we have to overcome our addiction to measurement — particularly the measurement and rating of individual employees – to tap the power that a Human Workplace culture can give us.”

A changing workplace requires a changing approach to workplace learning. Clark Quinn in his article in CLO Magazine, Looking at the bigger picture, went as far as to say ..

“Most of what learning and development leaders are doing, they are doing badly.”

… whilst, Roger Shank wrote in Corporate training needs to re-think its model; no to courses and assessment, yes to experiences

“Corporate Training has to stop doing what school does, namely looking to provide numbers so that some other part of the business can say that someone learned something. Give your employees opportunities to really learn to do things and then you can report on actual accomplishments”

But there’s more to it than just re-thinking training. Back in February I wrote a post “Is L&D out of touch with reality?”  This was one of the questions that I was asked by a group of people when I showed them the results of my Learning in the Workplace survey. They also asked other questions like this …

“Do L&D focus on creating courses/training/e-learning because they themselves prefer the traditional schooling approach and assume that others do too?”

“Is this due to the fact that many in L&D have yet to experience new ways of learning, and therefore don’t understand the value others find in them?”

Helping answer these questions has been the focus of my recent work –  in my book, in my online workshops and in my consultancy,  I was recently  asked to put together something that would help people experience new approaches to learning in order to help them think about what they might change in their own organisations.  This has now become my 2016 L&D Challenge.


I want to give the last word to Jane Bozarth, because this is the post that I enjoyed most this year: Everything I Know About HR I Learned From My Corgi. It says it all!

“When we’re out at the farm other people stop to watch my dog. To see a good performer at work, clearly finding joy in a task (even a hard physical one) is a delight. We need to do better at targeted hiring, and at creating realistic work samples in the interview phase.  We need to bring people in who are more in need of fine-tuning than complete revamping. We need to find the tasks workers want to perform for their own sake – and give them more opportunities for that.  We need to give people access to mentors and communities with good workers to emulate.  Many L&D practitioners are connected to organizational HR offices. Take a lesson from the corgi in helping to inform your work.”