Physician – Heal thyself! Dealing with our own learning needs.

I have often been asked the question “what training did you go on to do the job you have”?. And the simple answer is, there is no “course” for my role which I can best describe as “Leaning Technologist”. Much of what i have learned, I have gained from networking with the right people and in particular, attending the right conferences where such people are to be found. And hopefully, some of them have learned something from me too!

This blog was prompted by Craig Weiss’s recent blog on the World of Learning Conference – and as a review of the Exhibition from the vendor perspective, it’s good stuff! (check it out here).

But for me, the real value of attending a conference lies in the main conference sessions themselves – in the case of Learning Technologies, these take place outside of the Exhibition area and are not to be confused with the free sessions which to be frank, are more often than not a vendor pitch. And I am fine with that as vendors pay a lot of money to attend these events! Of course, you do also get to see one of their customers who has deployed their technology successfully so for those looking to reassure themselves about the vendor, that has value too.

However, I digress!

Long before the advent of Twitter, conference sessions introduced me to some great people with ideas that helped me to formulate my own thinking. And I am not just talking about the speakers either! In particular, those that moved to a more “roundtable” approach where the speaker became more of a facilitator have been of immense value. Examples of those include elearnity’s Corporate Roundtable events and anything run by Elliott Masie.

“Death by Powerpoint” has been a problem for many conferences over the years – one event that never seems to suffer from this is the Learning Technologies Conference in London which a testament to the quality of speakers that Donald Taylor puts together. It was my pleasure last year to chair the session led by Nigel Paine who spent most of the time among the audience! If you only have budget to attend one conference next year, this is the one for the networking opportunities alone! And of course, it has an exhibition attached for those that are still in the early days of adopting learning technology.

Here’s Nigel introducing Donald Clark at the conference last year:

(Sadly this video is no longer available)

Donald is another great thinker who I first met at a conference where we were both speaking. Following him on stage is always something I dread! ūüėČ

Whilst Twitter has extended my PLN (Personal learning Network) considerably, meeting most of them at various events such as conferences has been the real benefit. A great example of this is Neil Lasher whom I first met at Learning Technologies many years ago. Since then, he has become a friend and I am looking forward to our next meeting in early November when we bring our combined teams together for a collaborative learning event that will bring real benefit to both of our organisations.

Vendor conferences are also good for networking – of course, you get the vendor viewpoint but it’s the people you meet there that will be of real benefit for years to come. In the UK, we have extended this to an “unofficial” user group for fellow LMS users which has proved even more valuable!

So, if you are like me, in a role where training courses are hard to find, go where the people who can help you will be – in the conference sessions and not on the exhibition floor. Unless of course you actually want to purchase something!

Making sense of your data – the results!

I did promise to share some outputs from my 2 recent sessions on data and xAPI at the eLearning Network, London and Saba’s @WORK2014 Summit in Orlando and what better place to sit and reflect than a beach in Bermuda!

Firstly, I requested that attendees viewed a HDS video on Big Data – not because this was a Big Data session but rather to widen their thinking beyond L&D data for the art of the possible! If you missed it, here it is:

Next, my slide deck from the London event is available on slideshare:

Firstly, I wanted to understand where we are today in terms of what data we capture and where we store it. The data was consistent across both events:

  • 1/3rd of orgs have a data warehouse for learning data.
  • Some of those are part of a shared repository with HR.
  • The bulk of the data stored (apart from HR data) is SCORM or AICC based.

We then went on to think about what other data may be useful to us and this is where it started to get interesting!:

  • Internal forum posts (already being collected by at least one organisation).
  • Internal SoMe activity streams (already being collected by at least one organisation).
  • Continuous Professional Development (already being collected by at least one organisation).
  • What people are reading (books, blogs, websites).
  • What people are watching.
  • What apps people are downloading.
  • Sales data.
  • What happened next in your career to correlate to your¬†training history.
  • Where people go when they leave your organisation.
  • What are they talking about in your internal and customer communities.
  • What they are searching for in those communities.
  • Customer satisfaction.
  • Which untracked elements of a blended solution did learners consume.

As you can see, we have gone way beyond the boundaries of traditional learning data already! Which brings me nicely to the question: What does this all mean for L&D? The big question for me is around the skills required moving forwards to make sense of this abundance of data and I was reminded of this by something shared by Paul Simbeck-Hampson in Google+:

Beware of correlation!

Much of this data will not only be new to us, much of it will also be unstructured and possibly machine generated too.

So, before you all go out and shave your heads, here are some of the new skills delegates believe we will need in L&D moving forwards:

  • xAPI – I believe that xAPI (or Tin Can) will be a game changer in proving valuable data.
  • Understanding basic statistics.
  • The ability to use basic statistics.
  • Understand how marketing people analyse what works – this could be helpful.
  • Hypothesis analysis
  • Recognising¬†BS when you see it!

The first bullet here is, I believe, very important. xAPI is an opportunity for us to bring in data we have never had before and also, to move away from the concept of a course as being an event and moving to the holy grail of¬†continuous learning. If a course has no ending, how can SCORM possibly be of any use? SCORM is about completion and has little or no role to play in a world of the “never-ending course”.

However: only approx. 1 in 40 confirmed they have a “Learning Record Store” (LRS), which is a vital part of the xAPI standard and something that is sadly missing from many LMS’s today. Of course, that may well be a reflection of the current position where most are still trying to understand what all the fuss is about. There are though some very simple applications of xAPI which could be useful right now. In my sessions, I referred to the basic concept that xAPI is as much about¬†taking data OUT of the LRS as it is about getting it in. My good friends at Transition Associates have done some great work in utilising xAPI statements within a standard Lectora Publisher SCORM based course. Their scenario is simple: Lectora includes a game based on the “Who wants to be a millionaire” TV game show. What they do with xAPI is to send back your score on the game and bring back the current leaderboard which adds to the gamification possibilities within a standard SCORM course. Smart! Check it out here:!

There are some options for experimenting with

Finally, I gave out some homework for after the event! During both sessions, I referred to a new book compiled by Elliott Masie which is full of great articles by leading learning luminaries such as Donald Taylor, Tom King and Nigel Paine.

My thanks to Mark Berthelemy at the eLearning Network and Jan Sysmans at Saba for their support on these presentations. This is a topic you will be hearing a lot more about at learning events and I hope that this blog will at least encourage you to keep a close eye on data and xAPI in particular!


Innovation Lessons from the World of Music – part 5

This post has been inspired by a brief discussion with my good friend Peter Cook at The Academy of Rock¬†who is a huge Prince fan! Peter saw Prince in Camden recently and he said something like “above all, be yourself”. This reminded me of a similar sentiment that can be heard from Maestro Leonard Bernstein in this clip of him rehearsing “Nimrod” from Elgar’s “Enigma Variations”.

The instruction he gives to the Orchestra is simply “let it happen by itself” – and whilst many hate his incredibly slow reading of Nimrod, it is arguably one of the most sublime versions you will ever hear. (The complete concert and extracts from the rehearsal were recently released on DVD.)

But what if you “just let it happen” at work? Sounds likes a recipe for chaos doesn’t it! But not necessarily so! How do you think this company might have been performing?

  • No mission statement
  • You chose your own manager
  • 2 seats at board meetings are taken by the first 2 employees who turn up

Here’s what Simon Caulkin of The Observer said of this company in 2003:¬†

“ ‘rambles’ into new areas by trial, error and argument. Its current portfolio is an odd mixture of machinery, property, professional services and fledgling hi-tech spin-offs.”

The Company is Semco and it’s remarkable growth started when Ricardo Semler joined the family business. With growth at that time (2003) being quoted at 30-40% pa against a backdrop of the economy in Brazil at the time, it seems “just letting it happen” can be profitable after all. His biography “Maverick” is worth a read to learn more about Ricardo Semler.

What we learn about Semco though is more than “just let it happen” – it’s a totally different kind of organisation. And they are not alone in this – check out Premium-Cola in Germany who do things very differently.Here’s¬†Uwe L√ľbbermann, the “non-boss”!:

And an interesting interview with him :which tells you a little more,!AG2L2

To finish on a musical note, the ultimate in “let it just happen” has to be the drum solo! I was once on a gig where the band walked off during the drum solo and left him to it – no problem for him, he could have been there all night!

Making sense of your data

If you are attending my session at the eLearning Network London on 4th April or the Saba @Work 2014 Summit in Orlando on 9th April, I have some homework for you!

Whilst my sessions are not specifically about Big Data, I would like everyone to think about data as being more than just the data you have in your LMS and to consider other sources of information that could be useful in the learning space.


Both conference sessions do have round-table discussions where we will be exploring what other data might be useful – here’s a few examples:

  • Is there useful data in your¬†community¬†tools?
  • What business data might also be useful? e.g. CRM data?
  • What can you learn about the habits of your top performers? Do they read and watch the same things?
The eLearning event has some great speakers including Ben Betts & Dave Tosh from the open source Learning Locker initiative which I am following with great interest especially since my old boss,Sven Laux, joined the project as a Board member. Sven brings a wealth of open source experience to this project.
For those of you heading for Orlando, Mike Rustici from the Tin Can project will be speaking on 9th April so you will have an opportunity to get the latest scoop on xAPI and some sunshine!
Hope to see you at one of these 2 events!

Merry Christmas from “Bring on the Trumpet!”

At this time of year, retailers are trying their hardest to get some decent sales figures in – especially in the current financial climate. But one organisation in particular seems to have got it right with what appears to be very little effort and a lot of outsource arrangements:

  • They have a CEO who you never see but there are lots of people who aspire to be him
  • These “wannabes” pay for their own work clothing and transportation costs
  • They buy the inventory themselves at no cost to the organisation
  • They act as a fulfilment centre for incoming requests from the end user and distribute once again at no cost to the organisation.
  • They have no premises yet the Royal Mail and USPS manage to get post to them without any problem
  • What little work they do themselves is restricted to a few weeks only each year and they take extended vacations
  • No matter how disappointed you are with the product you receive, you never complain directly to them
  • They manage to do all of this with no apparent IT infrastructure

Is this your company that is being described here? Not unless you work for Santa Claus Inc!

A very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!

Click here to “Bring on the trumpet!”¬†or for a real trumpet legend, the brilliant Wayne Bergeron with the Tom Kubis Big Band


Innovation lessons from the world of music – part 4

I write this having just returned from the English National Opera production of Mozart’s Magic Flute. As this run ends shortly, here’s a taste of what you missed:

It’s an interesting take which included modern day language, excellent use of Audio Visual effects, Papageno trying to kiss audience members and even a hash tag on stage! Whilst this will not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is still the great music and a quality cast.

Despite some poor reviews, like this one in The Guardian, I enjoyed this approach and if you want to make Opera a more inclusive experience for new audiences then this is a good way to do it.

This got me thinking: when you consider this work was first seen in 1791, how many other products out there have been around for as long without being adapted to modern surroundings? And what about those that failed to change? Now, I am not suggesting for one minute that all Opera should be staged in modern settings with the language of the day but that sometimes, we do need to inject some freshness into our product lines to make them appeal to new buyers or audiences.

A visit to will suggest a few companies who may now wish they had refreshed their product lines before their customers disappeared.

Sometimes, it may be necessary to completely re-invent yourself too – and this can be very successful! Take my former employers at RSA (Royal & SunAlliance) as an example. I spent some time prior to the merger of the old Sun Alliance and Royal Insurance working in a team that were exploring new products and channels to market with a new brand and new fulfillment approaches. I believe that from these seeds, the concept of a new brand emerging from the old one led to the creation of the now highly successful “More Th>n” brand we know today.

And there are parallels in music here too: Who remembers Shane Fenton and The Fentones? No? Here’s a little reminder:

A few years later, a new style and a new name: Welcome Alvin Stardust!

Of course, you don’t have to change your name – simply taking a new direction can work wonders too as rocker Linda Ronstadt proved when she turned her attention to the arranging skills of the legendary Nelson Riddle for a series of 3 albums of Jazz and Pop standards that bought her to the attention of a whole new audience. I leave you with this brilliant version of a 1939 song, “What’s New”.

Some thoughts on Don Taylor’s 2014 Learning Trends Poll

If you haven’t already seen Don’s blog on 2014 Learning Trends, then check it out here:

At this time of year, we are often asked what we think the next “big thing” will be and this year is no exception! A great thing about any poll that Don Taylor puts out there is that it will be seen and responded to by a lot of people across the broad spectrum of learning – not just a subsection of those specifically interested from a technology angle.Make sure you check out the results too!

However, the reason I felt the need to blog on this topic was the reference to Open Badges. I have to say that I like the concept and my present employers have a good use case for them. Indeed, we are already using badges in both our Internal and Customer communities, both of which are on the Jive platform. And this is where it gets interesting! I recently attended the Jiveworld conference in Las Vegas which by coincidence, was across the street from DevLearn. Thanks to the backchannel, I was able to pick up that there was keen interest over the road in open badges which wasn’t matched at Jiveworld. Even spending time in a session with one of the gamification partners in my conference didn’t seem to be able to drum up any interest at all in linking the community tool to Open Badges.

One could draw the conclusion from this that the elearning development people get this but the community folks don’t. And that worries me! I am very fortunate to work in an enlightened organisation where our customer & staff community efforts are run out of our Academy and collaborative learning is already here.

I have believed for many years that the worlds of Learning and Knowledge Management are a little like twins that were separated at birth but are now coming back together. (see this earlier post: For this to be a reality, Community & Learning professionals could do with being more closely aligned – it would be a tragedy to be once again sat in a Collaboration conference feeling that maybe, the guys across the road get some of this better than we do!

As a final comment on the poll, Mobile Learning has been the next big thing for so long now one has to ask why it hasn’t actually taken off yet for many of us!

Innovation Lessons from the world of music – part 3

I never in a million years thought that I would find myself writing about a DJ as a musician! But my mind has been changed to a degree by coming across DJ Ravi, a Las Vegas based performer – and I mean, performer!

If we take the base idea from my previous post ( that innovation is about taking something that already exists and adding other ideas & influences to make something new, then this guy does just that with dance music.

The starting point is take 2 tunes and mix them – but all DJ’s do that, right? Right! But not all DJ’s have a drum kit and play along with their mix! And that is what made this guy different. Here’s his promotional video:

Soundcloud doesn’t really do this guy justice as you need to imagine you are on a packed dance floor and the volume is up!

[iframe src=”″ frameborder=”no” scrolling=”no” width=”100%” height=”166″]

I remember the discussions in the UK’s Musician’s Union magazine on the topic of allowing DJ’s to become members – I didn’t agree back then but DJ Ravi may have just changed my mind on that!

Bringing us back to the real world of business, we see this mix of ideas from different places around us all the time – a great example is the “Swatch” watch company. The Swiss watch market was in serious decline in the early 80’s until a consultant,¬†Nicholas G Hayek, decided to add Italian Fashion thinking to the mix along with a touch of Lego plastic engineering skills. The result was the iconic Swatch range you have today. Or how about Phillips, the electronics giant, working with Italian furniture maker¬†Giulio Cappellini to put televisions and DVD’s into furniture items?¬†(from¬†¬†

And if you don’t innovate, you may just find your business sliding towards closure. Only today, we read about the closure in the US of Blockbuster – could they have innovated their way out of trouble? We shall never know now.There is of course, the other Blockbuster which will remain with us forever!








Product Review

A product review I hear you say? Andy hasn’t done one of those before! But in this occasion, I have seen something that I believe could have some great use in the L&D world.

Back in the 80’s, we all experimented in the delivery of Interactive Video or Laser Disks – you remember those? About the size of an LP (or vinyl as it’s now known!). The modern day CD is on the right:

Laser disk vs DVD disk

The difference between a laser disk and a DVD









Now we have moved on to the “YouTube” era where video on demand is the norm, we have often lost the ability to be as interactive as we were back then. The tool I have recently seen changes all that and introduced an ability to create hot spots on moving video – unlike the interactivity of the past, this technique allows a moving object to have clickable hotspots.

The tool is called DAz and it’s not something you can buy but the service is available from the joint developers at Here’s an example they have developed for London Underground. You will need to be using Chrome, Safari or IE9 & above for this one. The hotspots you are looking for in this clip are health and safety related – if, like me, you have no idea of the hazards of working on the Underground, simply click the “Visibility” button and they will appear to help you!

[iframe src=”” width=”1000″ height=”600″]

At the moment, this tool doesn’t have SCORM or xAPI support – but having spent some time with Outtakes, they are now talking to their development partners about adding this.

Once we are able to access the status of the interactivity in these films, then we will have something I think is quite exciting for the world of online learning. In addition to developing new learning content, this technique can also be applied to existing film assets we may have giving us an opportunity to extend their shelf life! Here’s another example, this time inside a warehouse:

[iframe src=”” width=”1000″ height=”600″]

One of the people involved in the development of this tool, Professor Martin Wright had this to add:
” I am excited about how Outtakes plan to use the DAz interactivity for video in learning and have been delighted to be involved in its development as the interactive use of video has been a career long interest of mine.”¬†

Outtakes has a highly skilled and experienced in-house production team who make great quality, innovative films for training, promotion and advertsing. They have produced safety films covering everything from hearing loss in the music industry, to safe driving, accident investigation to manual handling. Take a look at their showreel and contact them via

UPDATE: Since writing this blog post, I have been able to introduce Outtakes to my good friends at Transition Associates and the end result is that DAz is also now SCORM compliant so these interactions can be scored (or not if the student doesn’t spot them!).

Check out their new promotional video:

Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in any company mentioned in this blog – I just think this is a superb product!

Learning lessons from the world of music

In previous posts, I have look at how organisations can learn from the world of music. But what about L&D? One of the great things about the world of music is that it is no stranger to technology!

I’ll start with a relative newcomer to the scene: “Playground Sessions” is a new web based music service co-created by music legend Quincy Jones – if you think don’t know who he is, you will have heard his work at least as a producer of the best selling Michael Jackson album “Thriller”.
In their own words, what this new site does is allow learners to:

  • Play popular songs you know and love
  • Play right away
  • Real-time feedback
  • Rookie, Intermediate and Advanced levels
  • Developed by top musicians including Quincy Jones

One of the challenges in the past of web based musical instrument tuition has been the lack of instant feedback which we as L&D folk know is so important! Here’s a taste of what they are doing:


I like the approach of using collaboration with peers in this – sharing your work with fellow pupils and of course, the adoption of badges.

An older tool I came across recently is an online “ear training” tool. It’s flash based so sadly you won’t be using this on a mobile device. Once again, you are getting instant feedback from this simple tool.¬†

Of course, one of my music posts won’t be complete without a “Yes” reference! And this time, it’s their amazing guitarist, Steve Howe – Steve has recorded a series of YouTube videos showing you both hands so that you can watch his¬†technique¬†and also see the chords he is using with the inset of the fretboard.


My next site gets included for it’s mobile support – is a great¬†on-line¬†resource that provides the key things you need to learn: opportunity to put the theory into practice, exercises with instant feedback and lots of performance support via a set of handy tools. And is there an app for this? You bet! There are 2 apps on iTunes to enable you to learn on the move.

iphone app screenshot

My final example stays is back to the guitar – and I like this one for a number of reasons:

  • He shows you how to play it, and does so slowly as well!
  • Finger technique and tabs
  • Downloadable backing tracks to enable you to practice this with a real band!

If only our in-house compliance training could be this engaging! 

So, next time you get to one of Peter Cook’s “The Academy of Rock” events, you will be able to take your guitar and join in!

These examples work because they allow the student unlimited practice with repeatable demonstration of the “how” and for most of them, instant feedback. All things we should see in a good learning programme in our own organisations.