Personal Development in a Technology Restricted Workplace

Over the last couple of years, one of my own personal development goals was to explore and use a blend of technologies that could be implemented into learning programs that I design and develop for my corporate clients.  I’ve been lucky to be one of these people who have been in the learning and development field for over 20 years and seen the evolution of learning methods and media and I’m now looking forward to what the next few years hold as we move into social media for learning.

Many years ago I completed my instructional design training through the Royal Australian Navy and I recalled how I loved the subject and the topics.  While we sat there in the classroom being taught about Gagne principles (the guru of our Defence Force education corps of all Services), it made sense to me.  Then, after training, I recall the excitement of planning and preparing the instructional design and then the facilitation of some classes using the one or two computers set aside for us to use (remember Word Perfect?) and creating the perspex slides and putting cardboard frames around them to create our instructional pack for the overhead projector.  What we had as our ‘kitbag’ as learning and development professionals in 1991 was completely different to what we have in 2012.

Fast forward some years and I found myself in the corporate environment and on the bleeding edge of a new technology called a Learning Management System.  I recall the heady days where we would attend meetings with vendors and get excited that there was a system that could track learning, that could automate training and generate reports.  Thinking back, maybe we spent too much time getting swayed by the technology and less on the content but it was only a matter of time before we focussed again on content when the e-learning courses generated somehow fell short on our initial expectations.  In a way, I think that e-learning took a step backwards when companies decided to create lacklustre, boring page turners of compliance learning and in one foul swoop, managed to put all learners off side when it came to learning.  In some cases, when I still hear people of having to complete their mandatory online compliance training, it’s accompanied by eye rolling and lots of whinging.

But throughout the evolution of learning and development methods and media in my years, I have seen that we need to keep up with the new tools that are available to us because more and more, facilitator-led training is not the only solution for training people in the workplace.

It’s an interesting position to be in and already from my observations, there’s a dichotomy of thought even in our industry.  I know learning and development professionals who refuse to learn about and use these new media and instead, ‘specialise’ in facilitator-led instructional design and development.  I’m not saying that this is wrong, in fact, there will always be a demand for some facilitator-led training anyway but as people who are experts in adult learning, I believe that we need to be open and learn how to use these new tools in our training design.

It also sets up new challenges because it necessitates the requirement to develop and learn about these new tools – and this costs.  In this day and age, as companies slash their training budgets, money for personal and career development of learning and development professionals is left in their own hands.  If you want to do a course or learn a new skill that will help you in your own job, then you pay for it out of your own pocket.

As a result, there’s a comfort level to accept what it is we know and to do it well.  The downside is though that in our workplace, the technology is becoming more sophisticated, learners have a greater expectation of training and learning and we still deliver the way we have always been delivering – and missing the mark.  It’s no wonder that Learning and Development sometimes gets a bad name with the business.

Some time ago, when Twitter first started, I created a profile name and mindlessly started tweeting without really exploring the potential of this tool for learning.  One day while lying on my sofa one weekend, I stumbled upon a #knitchat and it piqued my curiosity. I saw that there were people who were answering knitting questions and I wanted to get involved.  Pretty soon, I was answering the questions and there were some people who were directly replying to me.  All of a sudden, these Twitter profiles came to life for me – there was a human on the other end of my tweet, in another part of the world that had the same interests as me.  I found the experience enlightening and started to think more about how I could use this tool in learning (for others) but also for my own development.

Over time, my Twitter use has increased dramatically especially through ActivateLearn because I’m slowly increasing my networks globally and talk about topics in our field that is of interest to me.  The unfortunate thing is that I can only do this in my own time – or using my own device at work – simply because using Twitter is not allowed in our workplace.  Despite trying to explain that the tool can be used for personal development and learning networks, it is still a relatively new concept to many people.

At a time when companies cut costs, to even mention attending a conference or a course will get you dirty looks from your manager.  Instead, using tools like Twitter and Slideshare, you can feel as if you’re still part of the proceedings and participate in the conversation.  My colleagues are always surprised when I come back to them with new tidbits of information and links that we could use immediately in our instructional design work but none are on these sites themselves – simply because they can’t be accessed during work hours.

So in conclusion, Learning and Development are on the cusp of a new learning evolution where even our own people do not know or understand what’s coming with regards to these new technologies and new tools.  To keep looking back to what we have always done is not going to be the answer going forward because the business is moving at a cracking pace and we need to keep up with them.  In order to do so, businesses need to rethink their social media policies and to look at their Learning and Development teams to analyse their own skill gaps and seek out ways to make them open to use these tools more in their instructional design for their company courses – but also to empower their people to be open to learning more about (and using) them without fear or retribution.

About Helen Blunden

My unique super power is that I see learning experiences in everything I do. #alwayslearning
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