Getting a Grip on Learning Portfolios

Revising and improving learning portfolios is a complex and often challenging task. Some of these L&D challenges are:

  • Tight budgets, 
  • Shifting business priorities, 
  • Fragmented IT landscapes, 
  • Improving reporting capabilities, 
  • Demonstrating effectiveness and bottom-line impact of learning activities, 
  • Updating content, 
  • Changing professions and new skills, 
  • Small and decentralized teams,
  • Multiple stakeholders with unclear decision making processes.

To help tackle these challenges we developed "Learning Landscape Mapping". This effective tool is about visualizing learning portfolios, identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and enabling guided discussions about their potential for optimization. The Excel-based “Learning Landscape Maps" facilitate strategic alignment along various dimensions and cluster.

"Learning Landscape Mapping” does not only support one-off analysis but is intended as a tool accompanying and providing evidence of making progress while keeping defined objectives in sight such as developing learning analytics and diagnostics. With the potential to identify cost savings it helps to shift budget, make strategic reinvestments possible and get learning portfolios optimized for the future.

Die digitale Transformation der Hochschulbildung: Ein pragmatischer Vorschlag für Hochschulleitungen

Jenseits aller Hysterie und Übertreibungen, die das Thema in den letzten Jahren erfahren hat, bleibt die Frage der Digitalisierung der Hochschulbildung eine der drängendsten Herausforderungen für Hochschulen. Warum? Im Kern sind es fünf Faktoren:

  • Die schiere Nachfrage nach Hochschulbildung weltweit wächst derzeit so rasant, dass nicht in Sicht ist, wie der Bedarf über das Wachstum bestehender oder die Gründung neuer, konventionellen Modellen folgender Hochschulen gedeckt werden kann.

  • Gesellschaftliche Veränderungen unterschiedlichster Art führen zu einer immer heterogeneren Zusammensetzung der Studierendenschaft; überdies verschwimmen die bislang so klaren Grenzen zwischen hochschulischer und beruflicher Bildung, Ausbildung, Weiterbildung und Fortbildung.

  • Der Arbeitsmarkt verlangt, getrieben von technischer und wirtschaftlicher Dynamik, nach ebenso dynamischen, deutlich flexibleren Bildungsangeboten, um lebenslanges Lernen Wirklichkeit werden zu lassen.

  • Die technologischen Voraussetzungen für neue Modelle der Hochschulbildung sind gegeben; die Verfügbarkeit von Bandbreite und Endgeräten limitiert nicht mehr eine Innovation, deren Fälligkeit auf der Hand liegt.

  • Schließlich bauen sich innerhalb des Hochschulsystems selbst zunehmend Wettbewerbsdruck und Kostendruck auf - in allen Märkten die wesentlichen Treiber für Veränderungen; hinzu kommt die Tatsache, dass sich die Hochschulen nicht mehr ihren selbst hervorgebrachten Erkenntnissen zur Ineffizienz tradierter Lernformate entziehen können.

Zugleich wurde die Debatte über die Digitalisierung der Hochschulbildung in den letzten Jahren auf die Frage verkürzt, ob Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) in der Lage sind, den Zugang zur hochschulischen Bildung zu “demokratisieren” und gleichsam “Harvard für alle” zu verheißen. Eine teilweise blauäugige Euphorie ist zunächst der Enttäuschung gewichen, nicht zuletzt aufgrund der frappant hohen Abbruchzahlen und der - aller propagierten Offenheit zum Trotz - starken Korrelation zwischen der erfolgreichen Nutzung von MOOCs einerseits und bereits absolvierter formaler Hochschulbildung andererseits. Nun setzt sich zunehmend eine pragmatische Betrachtung durch, die MOOCs als ein Element unter mehreren in die Entwicklung von Hochschulstrategien einbezieht und damit übergeordnete strategische Fragen der Ausrichtung der jeweiligen Hochschule voranstellt. Interessanterweise gewinnen MOOCs so in dem Maße wieder an Bedeutung, in dem sie nicht als Selbstzweck von den Hochschulen produziert werden, sondern ein Baustein sind, um eine jeweils eigene Strategie zu verfolgen. So konstatiert der “Economist” jüngst (14.01.2017) den “Return of the MOOC”.

Vorgehensweise

Um als Hochschule eine digitale Strategie zu entwickeln, habe ich ein Framework entworfen und für eine der führenden Business Schools in Deutschland erfolgreich angewendet, das von drei Fragen ausgeht:

  1. Warum wird eine digitale Transformation angestrebt? - Welche Ziele sollen für die Hochschule erreicht werden?

  2. Was soll digital transformiert werden? - In welchem Bereich sollte, abgeleitet aus der strategischen Zielsetzung, angesetzt werden?

  3. Wie soll die digitale Transformation erfolgen? - Welches Vorgehen erscheint daher sinnvoll? 

1. Warum wird eine digitale Transformation angestrebt?

Die Frage nach dem Warum kann anhand von acht unterschiedlichen Motivationen strukturiert werden, die sich aus dem Handeln von Hochschulen deduzieren lassen. Hochschulleitungen können diese Motivationen für sich gewichten und Klarheit über die vielfach sonst nicht explizierten Absichten gewinnen.

2. Was soll digital transformiert werden?

Aus der auf diese Weise identifizierten Motivation wird abgeleitet, wo innerhalb des (stark vereinfachten) Handlungsmodells angesetzt werden sollte. Die unterschiedlichen Felder der Matrix können ihrerseits im Lichte der Motivationen priorisiert werden, so dass eine Art “Heat Map” entsteht.

3. Wie soll die digitale Transformation erfolgen?

Ein Katalog vielfältiger Fallbeispiele erleichtert es, im dritten Schritt - aus der Motivation abgeleitet und bezogen auf den priorisierten Bereich - Orientierungspunkte für konkrete Maßnahmen zu gewinnen oder weitere Vorhaben zu skizzieren.

Project Canvas

In einem Workshop mit der Hochschulleitung können vor diesem Hintergrund erste Ideen für entsprechende Vorhaben entwickelt und im Format des “Project Canvas” umrissen werden.

Die weitere Arbeit an diesen Projektideen sollte agilen Prinzipien folgen und insbesondere:

  • Die Führungsebene der Hochschule eng einbeziehen,

  • Die Arbeit an der Digitalisierung selbst als Lernprozess verstehen,

  • Methoden wie “Rapid Prototyping” aufgreifen, um schnell erste Erfahrungen sammeln und für den weiteren Prozess fruchtbar machen zu können,

  • Lehrende und Studierende einbinden,

  • Zunächst weitestgehend mit frei verfügbaren technischen Lösungen arbeiten und kostenintensive Investitionen auf einen Zeitpunkt verschieben, zu dem die genauen Anforderungen/Spezifikationen klarer benannt werden können.

10 Theses on Digitization of Corporate Learning - the full version

These theses summarize the experience from supporting a number of larger companies on their way towards a more digital corporate learning culture.

1. Learning digitally is a facet of working digitally.

It might sound obvious and from an employee perspective it certainly is: As work becomes knowledge work, the boundaries of working, knowledge management and learning become blurred. Nonetheless, the organizational set-up of larger companies still detaches “learning”, usually part of HR departments, from “working”. Thus, many aspects of digital learning are not even on the radar screen of learning departments. Learning and working need to be understood as indivisible processes with a large overlap. Consequently, most principles of digital working also apply in digital learning, such as collaboration, rich direct interaction amongst staff, the value of being agile and accepting beta-culture.

2. Digitization is not about substituting classroom trainings by converting them into e-learnings.

When advocating digital learning, we almost immediately face the challenge to prove the effectiveness of digital learning and end in a debate whether digital can substitute classroom training, given the obvious deficiencies of digital learning, e.g. often low completion rates, lack of haptic experience and the possible distraction of learners. First of all, it should not be assumed that classroom training has ever worked well - research rejects this based on strong evidence. Secondly, the paradigm of substitution needs to be overcome: E-mail is not a 100% substitution for physical mail, phone conferencing does not allow the same interaction as regular meetings - but we all use these techniques because they are simply the right thing to use in many occasions. The same applies to digital learning: It is an entirely new way of teaching and learning with its own strengths and weaknesses. Overcoming the substitution paradigm implies that great digital learning content is never a digitized classroom training which follows a linear pattern and limits personalization due to its synchronous nature. Although it is understandable that the transformation of proven classroom concepts into digital learning media is often the first step towards digitization, this approach at the same time is the reason for first- and second-generation e-learnings never gaining acceptance, neither by staff nor management. 

3. There is incredibly great stuff out there. Use it.

Following the patterns of classroom training, most companies think of digital learning products as media to be created and purchased or licensed from third party suppliers. Astonishingly, most larger companies do not make systematic use of the abundance of excellent learning offerings, which are freely available on the Internet, although of course all of us individually use for example Youtube as the largest single source of learning content. With institutions like Harvard University or MIT being committed to share as much learning content as possible, the potential of Open Educational Resources (OER) and other freely available web sources will continue to grow, both in quantity and quality. An innovative corporate learning strategy leverages this potential and establishes ways to systematically collect, recommend, and comment on these sources internally. Specifically, for very technical or generic learning objectives as well as for very fast evolving topics, existing web content can be an important pillar of a digital portfolio strategy, if embedded into an learning ecosystem that “curates" these sources.

4. You can create the best learning content internally.

Besides purchased third-party content and freely available web nuggets companies should build upon user-generated learning content as a powerful third pillar in their digital portfolio strategy. As learning objectives constantly become more specific and closer to strategy, companies will rely more and more on producing learning content - even with simple means - internally. Research supports that the learning effect of for example a less professionally produced three minute learning video will exceed the effect of “professional” high-end content, if driven by the unique passion, expertise and personality of its creator. Thus, it will become crucial to encourage, enable and incentivize employees to contribute to a self-supporting learning culture by sharing their individual expertise. Quality management of user-generated learning content needs to be in place but should be limited to avoid clearly misleading or even legally problematic content, bearing in mind that such a quality assurance instance never existed for similar non-formal learning events in the offline world, e.g. staff informally exchanging experiences.

5. Make it crisp. Smart microlearning does not mean oversimplification.

Effective digital learning products follow a microlearning methodology and divide learning content into very small chunks, some of them with a learning time of less than a minute. Being accustomed to the structures of classroom trainings, these microlearning nuggets might first appear as infantile media bites for a distracted generation with a short attention span. Quite contrary, if done well, microlearning does not lead to oversimplification; it is the pre-condition to allow an individualized, adaptive learning experience. Based upon the relevant meta-data, microlearning nuggets can be arranged in an individual way in order to meet the personal preferences, learning objectives and pre-knowledge/-skills of individual learners. Additionally, micro nuggets allow learners to use the learning content to repeat and immerse even deeper on demand. The immediate personal relevance that results in the on demand usage goes along with very lasting learning effects: Instead of accumulating knowledge for hypothetical future needs, on demand learning fosters learning due to the immediate need to apply skills in the real world. By supporting repetition and deeper immersion on demand, learning offerings develop from linear courses to comprehensive learning environments for ongoing, self-directed and personalized learning.   

6. Mobile first in digital learning.

On demand learning is mobile by nature and can’t be bound to certain work places or devices. In private contexts, digital learning turns out to be primarily mobile and we need to adapt to this intuitive behavioral pattern with cloud-based, cross-device learning solutions that include BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

Especially when understanding learning not simply as consuming learning media, but as active engagement, collaboration, sharing, and production of learning content, mobile devices are indispensable, e.g. for the production of user-generated videos. With features like push notifications, reminders and their 24/7 availability, mobile devices can additionally play an important role to change behavioral patterns (e.g. of leadership) and thus support direct application.

7. Employees will embrace digital learning – if done well.

In the past, the vast majority of employees have embraced all technological changes that led to more effective and efficient work. As digital learning is just a facet of working digitally, the same will apply to the shift towards digital learning. The fact that the first and second generation of e-learnings never gained acceptance, neither by staff nor management, is due to the lack of a convincing learning experience. Learning being an intuitive process, natural to all of us, we have a good sense of whether a learning experience is worth its time, money and effort. Compared to other services, creators of learning products tend to neglect the user/learner perspective in the development process and blindly follow a teacher perspective that is based on what they consider proven instructional design. In this sense, learning too often is patronizing and not really understood as a service to learners. Therefore, new creative methodologies, such as Design Thinking, with their empathy for and active involvement of users have a great disruptive potential in the development of learning ecosystems, both in terms of content, platforms, and user experience. Thus, the degree of active pull by staff to more digital learning is a measure for the quality of a learning ecosystem.

8. It is primarily a shift in learning culture and only secondly a technical challenge.

To the degree that learning becomes digital, employees need to overcome a traditional mind-set that has been taught to most of us in educational institutions as well as in the majority of vocational trainings: The rather passive attitude of being taught (by others) needs to evolve into learning actively (myself). An innovative learning ecosystem provides a broad variety of resources and orientation to users, but it always depends on the motivation, responsibility and ability of staff to steer their individual learning. Thus, beyond the shift in technology and content, the real challenge is to develop a culture of self-directed learning. This implies a shift towards a more active and autonomous attitude as well as fostering the competences to develop, follow, and reflect individual learning plans.

9. Leadership and HR have to obtain new roles in learning.

Leadership often followed an “outsourcing” pattern with regards to learning in the past: Learning needs were delegated to HR and HR delegated them to external suppliers. With the digitization of learning, leadership will have to engage much more in the learning of teams, e.g. by creating learning-rich settings, suggesting or even creating learning nuggets and encouraging team members to engage in learning continuously. But most importantly, by being learners themselves and reflecting and sharing their learning experiences – both subject matter-wise and methodology-wise. Walk the talk!

Learning departments tend to follow an operating model that is close to a procurement department: Identifying needs, searching and selecting providers, purchasing trainings, and managing quality. This operating model might work well for classroom trainings, but it needs to change as learning becomes digital. Training departments will work less as purchasers and much more as curators of learning environments and as enablers of learning and peer-to-peer teaching. This will require new roles, skills and mind-sets in training and HR departments.

10. You can start today.

Digital learning can use very simple, off-the-shelf technology (e.g. a simple WordPress-based intranet or any internal social media platform will do for a while). In fact, there are few obvious hurdles. Start simple, but start! 

10 Theses on Digitization of Corporate Learning

I am currently summing up my experiences from a number of corporate learning projects for DAX-listed companies in Germany. My "10 Theses on Digitization of Corporate Learning" want to trigger strategy discussions around innovation in corporate education and indicate the direction into which things are moving with increasing pace:

  1. Learning digitally is a facet of working digitally.
  2. Digitization is not about substituting classroom trainings by converting them into learnings.
  3. There is incredibly great stuff out there. Use it.
  4. You can create the best learning content internally.
  5. Make it crisp. Smart microlearning does not mean oversimplification.
  6. Mobile first in digital Learning.
  7. Employees will embrace digital learning - if done well.
  8. It is primarily a shift in learning culture and only secondly a technical challenge.
  9. Leadership and HR have to obtain new roles in learning.
  10. You can start today.

Over the next weeks, I will detail the theses and prepare a consistent discussion paper which will be shared here as well.