Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Talent Management

Ooh, there's a new buzz word out there in learning technologies. We're no longer content with an LMS (Learning Management System; I know you knew that right?) that does all that usual learning and development thingy and allows you to track courses and manage all your training? No, now it's all about 'talent'. Or is it? Is this a new dressing on an old idea? Is this like calling me follically challenged rather than the more abrupt and yet slightly more accurate 'bald'?
Partially yes, talent management for existing employees in layman's terms is about matching existing skills, qualifications etc to the needs of the organisation, working out where the gaps are and arranging your training to fill those gaps. Think back two years and we'd have been talking about competency based training and becoming a competency based organisation. The good news is if you're using an LMS with the ability to link to your HR system and that supports a competency framework that you've implemented to automate your training you're probably well on the way to 'talent management' already. If your LMS doesn't do this you're probably using an older more rigid LMS or Moodle. Either way you should consider an upgrade to Totara LMS which is Open Source and great if you ask me (yes, I have a slight lean in this direction and often implement Totara installations for organisations). If you have this and don't know how to approach talent management then drop me a note and I'll try and help!

Of course having the capability to manage your internal talent is not the same as actually doing it. Many organisations have competencies in place but are still more task-based than competency based truth be known and only work with competencies at the current level rather than aspirational positions. If you really want to maximise your talent this will come less from your LMS and more from your internal processes and procedures; this is more about management which has always been more about knowing your people and the organisation, than the system you use to record and manipulate this.

The other part of talent management is about attracting new talent in to your organisation. This is where we start to get muddy in the LMS world. What are you now asking of your previously called LMS? We want a recruiting system to form a major part of the software?! Of course, because it's not good enough to have an LMS that does what it should do about learning, we want it to do wider functions. This is where I think we're starting to go a little awry. I know the wheel needs re-inventing every so often, but this is like trying to put four newly invented wheels on the same car! I thought we'd got past this mega-systems approach to software? No, don't be daft Nigel, everyone likes a good mega approach don't they? Surely your LMS ought to be able to make you as good a Latte as the barrista down the street?
So here's our new 'car'. It's got more wheels than an articulated (no relation) lorry and they are all doing different things. Seems to me that if you had this kind of office vehicle that getting on and off it maybe a bit of a labour of love. I mean, if it's going to do everything and go everywhere maybe I'll just take the bike as I only want to go two blocks? I guess this takes us around to the argument of whether or not we want our software to be able to do everything for us or not.. in fact, that's not really it is it? Because yes it would be great if it did everything, but the question is whether it does everything as well as a dedicated piece of software. So if a system is designed to look after my Human Resources stuff or payroll - I want it to do that really well. If it is designed for learning than I want it to be really good at learning.. you get the theme here..

The problem is that there isn't a single system that delivers the best of everything; that's true of even the core functions of an LMS, let alone managing wider things like your recruitment and HR systems.

I've got a better solution. What about a modular type approach to your systems. This way you pick your HR system, pick your LMS, pick your reporting systems, financial systems, whatever you want to do system. Then they talk. Lets look at an analogy that might work better than my vehicular one above. A small business can work well with a few staff who can do a large number of different types of task; it makes sense for them, but as you get bigger and expand you need specialists to do specific tasks; do you want your billing and accounts staff being the ones designing your graphics and delivering your training? The only issue is getting individuals/departments/software packages to talk to each other.

My advice on talent management is this; you definitely should do it, this mostly comes from knowing your staff and business and being committed to improvement. The system you should choose to do it should be the one that's best for your organisation; if that's an LMS then great, but more importantly make sure whatever you choose does have the capability to link in to your HR, LMS and other systems you run. In good business, talent management, learning and life; communication is the key.

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Friday, 17 February 2012

Going Mobile

So here's the thing; I travel a bit sometimes like many others (I'd say like all of you but that's a bit pretentious as I probably get less hits than Villi Manilli these days - but at least I perform my own work). I've switched down in size from my 19 inch mega-powerful (yet still incredibly slow to start up of course) laptop PC to smaller screens until finally giving in and going for the smooth little iPad 2. Despite being a huge fan of the open source world and working in Microsoft dominated environments most of my life, here I am now with iPhone and iPad. Have I sold out or just moved from one corporate giant to another? My take is neither, I prefer a certain ideology, but ultimately I choose my tools based upon usability with a pinch of style and cost effectiveness thrown in.

The point is I can do so much between my pad and phone that travelling with a laptop is no longer necessary.. or is it? You can probably see where this is heading right? It's going to end up about Flash. I use iOS devices and they can't run Flash which leaves me 99% happy most of the time. I can even run mine and client versions of Totara LMS or Moodle quite happily on the pad and have used it to demonstrate on several occasions. Anything that relies heavily on Flash video files usually has an app that I can download for free or close to it and I'm away. But there's one area that leaves me cold. E-learning. My chosen profession and area of expertise (okay, maybe strong, but at least the area I know more about in relation to the rest of things). The real issue isn't the Flash (well.. it is.. but.. ) it's the SCORM. Share Content thingeys that we often care so much about. The things that let us track and report back to Totara or whatever your LMS is. This is the core of the e-learning problem we're faced with.

Again I can hear the Newtonian's among you (that's a stretch even for my rambling metaphors) coming up with the simple solution of simply changing my platform to Android. But that's not the answer (you have to compare Apples with apples?) as regardless of what I use, my clients have users and we can't control what they use. And these aren't French Golden Delicious; they're popular Apples and sell by the kilo (even in America). Fortunately we are saved by the Apps aren't we? Don't both Apple and Android have lots of Apps? Yes and No, or technically No and Yes; they have plenty of Apps, they're different for each platform and they don't solve the SCORM issue.

I'm sure someone is clever enough to find a way around this with Apps but currently our tracking would be no more than saying an object has been launched and there's no great advantage in that. Yes, cool content no doubt but a lot of effort (and cost if you're going through Apple) for essentially a step backwards in e-learning. So the answer must by HTML 5 right? I'm not sure. As I understand it even Articulate Storyline that publishes in 5 will be limited by requiring an App to play the formerly Flash content. If that's the case we still won't be able to track unless the App has perhaps a plug-in for your LMS? That would be ironic though, creating as close to a universal standard for e-learning and then finding we had to go back to plug-ins for each LMS to make it work!

Realising I'm not really solving much in the m-learning space today a quick change of tack is necessary. What if we didn't do it? Or what if we did it but we approached the whole thing differently? Firstly, how much m-learning is actually going on? It does, we do a very limited amount, but there are a number of questions, particularly when targeting a phone as the platform. For formal learning for organisations should the phone even be considered? Perhaps it should be a tool to assist or support e-learning rather than an alternate platform? Remember when originally m-learning meant a text from your tutor? What if m-learning meant avoiding the Flash thing by not using flash things? Would this mean bucking the trend of recent e-learning into more engaging visual experiences for learners or would it mean actually returning e-learning to focus on the learning rather than the visual impact? I'm not sure, but what I do know is that these challenges are often in place to test our creativity and sometimes, though not intentionally, to steer us into solutions that will benefit us all in the long run.

We do have to accept that these mobile devices have replaced a lot of laptops and that's a key area to address. Tablets (Apple or otherwise) have taken hold because the market for them is big. They're not in direct competition with your computer or even your laptop, they're a complimentary piece of kit (just go to any airport and watch) and we need to be aware that people want to use their tablet like we used to use our laptops on the go.

For now I'm glad Totara and Moodle play nicely with Apples and that any content I write in them can be used on the devices (and yes, thanks Dave for the new steer on themes that can even detect and run your Totara specifically for mobile devices). If you're using another cloud-based LMS I'm sure you're fine too (Flash dependent of course) but if not, let me know how you get around this.

It's a mobile world and I don't want this to happen..

Friday, 3 February 2012

Choosing your partner wisely

There's one thing that's as true in an e-learning journey as it is life; it's a lot more productive with a good partner. Someone to share the ups and downs with, lean on in difficult times and get advice and support.

The difficulty of course is the same in both life and e-learning; finding the right partner. Picking the wrong one is usually costly, difficult and ultimately unrewarding at best. So great, here I am as a love consultant? Not quite but here's 5 quick tips I can give to help you pick a better partner in the e-learning world:

1) If they don't think of themselves as a partner.. run!

This is a sure sign that you are being operated along a true sales only mode. This is for dump and run type options - your basic equivalent of a one-night-stand in e-learning. This type of 'transaction' is absolutely fine if you know what you're getting yourself in for and your both consenting 'adults', but if it's long term satisfaction this will just leave you feeling hurt. Even if you're buying off the shelf e-learning I would want to find some commitment to updates or future releases; and watch for those extra costs!

2) I seem to get passed around a lot

This is the equivalent of dating a group of friends rather than a caring individual. A good organisation will have multiple people to be able to help you and you may get put in contact with the right person for the right service, but the easy way to tell if you're being given the run around is if you have to tell your story from the start each time. We've all had these poor customer service experiences (especially telecommunication and internet providers for me!!) that leave us feeling that instead of a partner we're just a number and our supposed partner is cheating on us with too many people to name. Hey I can't meet you tonight, but try Bob, he's free.. err.. no.

3) First time you, first time me

So here's a challenging one, in life it would be nice to meet our partner fresh and new out of the box; never been touched before.. of course this does happen and work.. just not that often and life is a true learning experience start to finish. Does that mean that we pick an older and more established partner? One who's been around the block a few times? Yes and no. We want to find someone who has enough experience to know how to treat you right, to know when you need hands on and hands off, someone who at least gives you confidence that they know what they're doing. That doesn't mean selecting the person who has 'done' everything and everybody, it means balancing experience and care. Unfortunately a lot of us in life jump in with both feet first time out and have the scars to prove it; if it's your first time picking an e-learning partner, take your time. That doesn't mean giving them the run around either, it just means starting with relatively light options. A good partner will be happy to do this knowing it takes time to build trust in any relationship.

4) Personality matters; yes it really matters

By this point in life we probably are all well aware of the dangers of picking a partner purely on looks. That big glossy organisation or the funky boutique outfit can both be full of pitfalls as outlined above. The real deal is the way you can connect with a few individuals in the organisation. I'd say the one special person, but in business we have to accept that people do move on, so be a little wary of betting on an organisation because of one person alone (particularly if they're not happy!). Actually that's it, find someone who is genuinely enthused and happy in what they do and you can really connect with. You do this in life and generally things work out well too!

5) Take your time and don't come across as desperate

So the world is a cruel place at times (remember school?!). If you come across as desperate for attention quickly with money to spend the sharks will come and quickly. You have every right to look around and talk to different organisations and not flash the cash from the start. Big budgets attract all-sorts from the good to the bad and the ugly, start out looking for something small, before leaping into bed with your new partner and only then finding out what a mistake you've made. If they won't spend the time and energy on you before a lucrative contract is in place they probably won't be after more than just a big pay-day. On the flip side of things, if all you want is free drinks without any commitment then perhaps you're not in the market for a partner at all - this is why the sharks exist.

In summary this e-learning business can be a little dangerous at times but as in life it's a learning experience and you need to learn something from any partner you have or are going to have. If you do find your life-long partner, then hang on to them, treat them right and never forget to tell them what they mean to you.

Fortunately I've decided not to quit my job as a learning solutions consultant and embark upon a career as a relationship advice columnist for well-known magazines!