Michelle Parry-Slater, L&D Director for Kairos Modern Learning and author of The Learning and Development Handbook, joins Blake Proberts on the Strategic L&D Podcast to discuss building a productive learning culture, how to play into an engaged audience before intervention, and the power of trust and vulnerability in L&D to deliver business impact. Listen to the full episode above or watch below.
Michelle, I’d love to learn a little bit more about you and what’s led you to where you are today.
Well, I’ll give you the potted history, not the long version. But essentially from teaching English in Japan. And coming back to the UK, I ended up working in a niche area of HR, global mobility, so moving people around the world. And because I’d lived overseas, I then started to be the person that when new people came, they said, oh, sit with Michelle, she’ll teach you what to do. And so I ended up in this kind of hybrid role where I was doing the work, but also teaching others how to do the work. So I formalised that eventually, and became European and then Global Head of Learning within the relocation sector.
The difference or the trigger for me was that we, we had one of me, and we had 3000 people around the world. And that wasn’t a good match. You know, I was on a plane every week for forever, it felt like, you know, never saw my kids, never walked my own dogs. And so essentially, it was like, how can you look at things differently in learning? And so I started to build up that muscle of always looking for what does the learner need? What is it that they are really going to to have, which helps them with their job? And that’s why I led to digital and social learning. Because, you know, that’s the best options. And this was 10, 12 years ago, now. And so I set up my consultancy off the back of those experiences, really focusing in on how do we take somebody from face-to-face learning into social and digital, but really linked into business strategy, understanding the audience, understanding your business needs, and then proving value.
“When you’re not proving your value in L&D, you’re very easily dispensable.”
I have, unfortunately, in economic downturns of the past, like 2007 and after 9/11 being made redundant, because when you’re not proving your value in L&D, you’re very easily dispensable. And people don’t really—oh yeah, those those learning people, those training people, they can, they can be cut first out of the budget.
So those are the drivers for me, you know, what’s the strategy of the organisation? What are you trying to make here? You know, what is the benefits of being involved in people development? And then how is that actually making an impact to the bottom line?
When taking business strategy and using that to align some of your goals, what advice would you have on how to go about that process?
So I think it starts with the language of the business. So what I mean by that is, when you walk around, if we walk around an office, or when you hear people speaking, when your CEO or any of your C-suite or any of your leaders, line managers, you know, what are they talking about? What is the focus for them? Is it EBITDA? You know, is it all about the profits and stuff like that, or is it customer focus that they’re constantly talking about Net Promoter Scores and, and that kind of lens? Or are they talking about cost savings or cost cuttings?
So thinking and listening carefully to the language will help give you a really appropriate way of speaking to people about what learning needs are. So, at the end of the day, no one really cares about learning and development, except the learning and development team. And I don’t mean that in a facetious way. People are coming to work to do their job, they’re paid to do a job, they have a job description, which may loosely align to the things that they do and the tasks that they undertake. They’re not really thinking, you know, what can I learn today? What have I learned today? How did that near-miss or near-failure or actual failure teach me something? It’s not necessarily how people in the general populace think.
So we are there to help them to think that way. And it starts with having really, really strong and good relationships. And, and the way in for me, I guess, because I’d done relocation work, I’d been involved in the actual tasks, I knew the job, I could speak to them in a way that was useful, and that they could align with. You know, nobody from from the general world wants to sort of have an L&D person coming along and start talking about blending learning or, you know, compliance eLearning. It’s like, what is that stuff? I have no interest in it whatsoever. But if you come along, and you start talking about, you know, how can I help you with your Net Promoter Score? You know, what is it that there’s the barrier for you improving that—that score, people can articulate that? Whereas if we say, what are your learning needs? I don’t, I have no idea. I like, I don’t need to learn anything, you know. And fear creeps in, of course, I know my job. You know, why wouldn’t I know my job? Are you trying to get rid of me, and all that sort of stuff, it’s a totally different conversation, then I’m here to help you, I understand your world.
“A lot of L&Ders… they don’t even know what their strategy is. They don’t know what their business is here to achieve. Understanding the language of your business is a good first step, understanding who the people are that you’re working for and with.”
And that means we can route that right back into the strategic intent of the organisation. So a lot of L&Ders, I’m always surprised, they don’t even know what their strategy is. They don’t know what their business is here to achieve. They don’t read the strategy, they may not even have a strategy written down, and then it becomes slightly more problematic. You know, you can then sort of drive the conversation around, what are we trying to make? What is the intent here? What is the biggest focus for us in the next 12 months, you know, in the next 24 months, over the next five years? And say it’s growth, we want to grow in six more countries. Well, that’s really good lens for you to understand, in L&D—six more countries, right, what languages do I need to provide learning in? You know, what cultures are, are we going to provide learning? And what is the learning culture of those countries? You know, what timezone does that impact?
When I was global head of learning, we rolled out a new system, and I was really keen, everyone got the same message on the same day. So I delivered a webinar, training webinar at 5am, at 11am, at 3pm. And at 10pm, all on the same day, over a succession of weeks, we did this series of webinar trainings. And, you know, by 10 o’clock, I’m not gonna lie to you as a little bit like, did I say that already? Have we done that bit? Because, you know, you’re delivering it four times. But the importance of doing that is everyone felt that they were connected to each other, and they all received the message within their working day, that was appropriate for them. So that’s why I really think understanding the language of your business is a good first step, you know, understanding who the people are that you’re working for and with.
Do you have any advice on how to design a program around showing impact and, in turn, ROI, once you’ve started to nail that strategy?
So if you’re having a conversation, that is really rooted at the heart of what the individual is trying to achieve, then actually, I think that this evaluation piece, this, this proving value piece becomes much easier. So take that example I just made up there about, you know, moving into six different countries. If that’s the focus, then you’ve already got a sense of some of what that success needs to look like—I mentioned, for example, that you would have different languages to contend with. The conversation that you’re having with your with your line leaders, and preferably with your actual learners around, you know, what are the barriers to success for them? What does success look like for them? You know, what would—I often like to ask the question, what would it look like in two years if this was going well? And then they can start to describe that future view. We can then talk about, well, what does it look like now? What’s what’s preventing you from getting there? And this is where you start to open up the gap between the future view and the reality.
So this is all really rooted in Nigel Harrison’s performance consulting. And Nigel really looks at that gap. And he talks about the cost of the gap. And you know, potentially doing nothing is an option, doing nothing is always an option. But if you did nothing, how would you reach a successful goal? And when you have conversations around that middle area, you know that, those barriers, that the future view, it helps to open up some really hard measures.
So, let’s say we’re going to grow sales team in these six countries, let’s focus on our first country. So what are our sales team doing in that country? Now? Are they selling anything? So maybe they’re selling two or three units a month? Okay, well, in two years time, success might look like 20 units a month. There’s a hard measure right there. So how can L&D help them to sell 20 units a month? So you have a really defined design goal as well. You’re not just saying, well, I’m gonna give you some compliance in this country, some learning, you know, about, I don’t know, manual handling. Well, that’s not related to sales, you know, how is that—this is what tends to happen, you know, we churn out there’s stuff that people just can’t relate to their real life. And of course, if they can relate it directly, specially because you’ve spoken to them, and you’ve not said, you know, what’s your learning need? Because they can’t articulate that. But you’ve said, what are you trying to do? What’s the goal that you’re trying to get to? And how can I help you get there?
Then you can really play back into, well, remember when we had that chat, do you remember when you said you want to sell 20 a month, and now you’re doing 25? Look at the value add, you know, I’m even over-exceeding! Now, let’s be honest, this is not solely to do with L&D. So, you know, we opened in the new country, they start selling 25 units a month. That’s not solely because of the learning. But you can play into what did you do? What steps did you take in order to support them getting there. And that team work environment actually is more valuable in my opinion, than if you are, as an L&Der, are trying to prove your own singular worth. Because you don’t work individually, you work in a system, you’re part of a cog in a machine. And in that system, you know, your cog, needs to be oiled and working well.
“[The] team work environment actually is more valuable… than if you are, as an L&Der, trying to prove your own singular worth. Because you don’t work individually, you work in a system, you’re part of a cog in a machine. And in that system, your cog, needs to be oiled and working well.”
And so I think we get a little bit too hung up on trying to prove ROI, of you know, I spent $10,000 on training, and you know, it’s given me $20,000 in return. That’s not quite the right measure for me. I think, for me, it’s more around how to, how do you ease the system? How do people feel about their work? How do people, you know, encouraged and enjoy learning and coming to work? If you can do those kinds of conversations, what you’re more likely to get is moving towards a productive learning culture. And when you’ve got a productive learning culture, where people are constantly thinking, well, yeah, what did I learn this week? You know, oh, that was a really tough customer call. How would I do that differently next time? Then people are starting to do that learning for themselves. That is a really powerful place that you’re putting your organisation into, because then everyone’s reflecting, everyone’s helping each other. Everyone’s talking about the fact that we want to get better, we’re moving together towards the goal. Now, is that because of what you did in L&D? Is that a direct ROI for you personally? Probably not. But actually, what you’re bringing is, is richer, it’s more important than singularly offering a transactional course. You know, those are the things that will easily get cut in an economic downturn, because people can’t relate that to their work. So for me, it’s about the learning culture, it’s about the system, it’s about more than just a singular activity. Does that makes sense?
Because what you’re really playing into is, is an engaged audience before you’ve even started any intervention started any design. And, and for me, it’s, it’s all part of the same pot, you know, we need to create efficient, we need to create engaging, we need to create enjoyable learning experiences that are really effective. And to do that, you need this whole, more holistic approach.
“The process of an early OD intervention is really to understand the system that you work in, the people that are in that system, the goals of that system. I always see L&D in those lenses.“
You know, when I wrote my book, The Learning and Development Handbook, I wrote it for me, as a global head of learning, a single player in a global company. And the reason I mention it is because when it’s been out, it’s been out for two years now in the world. And organisation development practitioners have said to me, wow, Michelle, this is like an entry level into OD. And I’m like, mm, that’s that’s a big set of shoes to fill, you know, I don’t, I don’t do a lot of OD work, but am I an OD practitioner?
The reason I mention it again, is that actually, the process is the same. The process of an, an early OD intervention is really to understand the system that you work in the people that are in that system, the goals of that system. And I see L&D, and I always have done—I didn’t know that this was OD—I always see L&D in those lenses. You know, so the first few chapters of my book are nothing to do with learning design. They’re nothing to do with how do you come up with an intervention or learning offer? They are all to do with stakeholder engagement, strategic intent, consultative learning, and development, data and evaluation, because I believe those are the steps that you need to go through in order to get to a stage where you go, I know everything there is to know about this need, from all the different angles. I know how it fits in with strategy, I know how the learners—you know, why they need it, how they need to receive it. I understand the data and what the data is telling me and how this will be impacting the business and how I can put something in play that will work. You know, I understand the stakeholders, I understand the consultation questions I’ve asked and received answers for. Now I’m ready.
“You’re not embedded enough in the strategic content of the organisation in order for [any learning solution] to be proven to be of value.”
Now I’m ready to put together a package of learning. You know, whether that’s digital, social, face to face, online, whatever that might look like, or a blend of all of those. And I’m pretty confident at this point that whatever I put together will actually work. Because we’ve done that groundwork. Whereas what tends to happen with a lot of L&D is, you know, Johnny needs a sales course, boom, here’s the six courses, please choose from one of those. Or, you know, if we’re not that quite, quite that transactional, Johnny needs to sales course. Well, why? Okay, well, he wants to sell more stuff. Okay, so I’m just gonna give you a mentor, you know, not a course. You don’t know enough, you haven’t got the groundwork enough to know that that mentor will work to know that that course will work. You’re not embedded enough in the strategic content of the organisation in order for it to be proven to be of value.
There are more parallels than I think people probably would realise to effective learning, than there might be on the surface.
Yeah, I think in the early stages of gathering the evidence of understanding the organisation, I personally see those as very similar activities. I think where it differs is what the output is beyond that. So for L&D that output is learning activities, and for OD, it’s much more systemic, it’s much more holistic, it’s much more bigger picture. But I think without understanding that bigger picture, then, you know, if you’re just hanging around in the minutiae, you’re not, you’re not doing something that will potentially impact well, or potentially will land well.
“For L&D [the] output is learning activities, and for OD, it’s much more systemic, it’s much more holistic. But I think without understanding that bigger picture… you’re not doing something that will potentially impact well, or potentially will land well.”
And this is why—it’s been interesting, the journey beyond the book. So came out in 2021. And it’s now kind of two years old. And I think of it as a bit of a terrible two’s toddler, I don’t know if you’ve got any children have grown, but you know, how they’re, they’re kind of—they’ve got a lot to say for themselves. They’re pretty independent, you know, and they, they want to push to new places in the world. And it feels like now as I’m thinking about, you know, maybe second edition or what comes beyond the book, what’s next? And I’m embarking on a series, a research project, a series of conversations, to really investigate these differences, these edges, so you’ve mentioned OD and L&D. Now, there’s a distinct discipline difference, but it’s easy to see how they kind of overlap and even could get confused. And so why would your average, you know, professional know, like, do I need to call in OD for this? Is this bigger than L&D? You know, or am I just moving naturally as an L&Der into this OD space?
You know, similarly with—go back to my old profession of relocation—global mobility and HR, they sit together, they work together, but they’re very different disciplines, but a lot of overlap. And so I’m starting this research project called Learning from the Edges, because it’s where the edges of things come together, that there’s great energy, but there’s also friction. And so a lot of people have come back to me and said, you know, the book’s has been great, Michelle, really helped me. It feels like it was written just for me personally. And that was, that was some of the best feedback I could get. Because, of course, I wrote it for sole practitioners. I wrote it for L&Ders in practice.
It’s called The Learning and Development Handbook. And it is that kind of, you know, guide on the side, it’s on my desk, I can open it and have a flick through, there’s a lot of lists and tops, tips and things like that in it. But now, I’ve also had some feedback that says, look, Michelle, I spoke to my stakeholders, I understood my strategy, I went through the process that you’ve suggested. I got to your frameworks, I built something great. Nobody came. Why did nobody come? And so I’ve had a huge curiosity into that. Why can we create the best learning in the world, you know, how can we do all of the fantastic research that I believe that we need to do to get there, and still, it doesn’t land?
And I keep coming back in all of the research I’ve done so far. And this is why I’m embarking on the conversations beyond my desk-based research, is what is the problem there? And it comes down to friction. There’s politics at play, there’s budgets at play, there’s lip service at play. You know, all of these things where people are so focused on their own personal mission within that organisation, you know, they’re so focused on their departments, outputs and outcomes, that you’re just in the way. You know, I’ve got to say, yeah, I’m gonna do learning because we’ve got to be compliant, we’ve got to be, you know, within the law, tick, tick, tick box. But we so need to push the conversation beyond a tick-box exercise, we really need to understand our organisations and have great relationships with our organisations, in order for this great learning program to actually have some traction and to land.
And so I’m—this my next project, really investigating how do we do that more effectively? Because it’s great to hear you know that the frameworks in the book are useful. I call them frameworks, not models. That’s deliberate, because frameworks tend to be something you can, you know, I’m going to hang my hat here, I’m going to hang my coat over there. I’m going to mismatch these together to make it right for my context. Whereas a model feels slavishly committed to: I have to follow the steps. And that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m always saying, you know, what’s your context telling you? And here’s some suggestions of what you could try within that context. But now we’re saying a little bit more around, well, if it’s if it’s not working, what did we learn there? You know, because learning from failure, hey, what a great opportunity that is.
You mentioned earlier that you can get siloed in L&D. So through that research that you’re currently doing, have you found any any ways to avoid the silo?
Ask me in a year, Blake. We’ve done the desk-based stuff, we’re now heading into conversations with as many people as we possibly can. So if any of your listeners want to get in touch and have a conversation, if they’ve got stories to tell about friction, let’s see if we can’t solve it together.
Because there’s themes that are emerging. And I’ve mentioned a few of them. Politics is one. Internal politics, I’m just like, why? You know, if you’re all behind the strategy, why? Why is this an issue? And I don’t have the answers yet. But I do have a lot of questions. And I’m just blown away by the challenges that people put themselves in work. You know, surely, surely, we just want to have an easy life. We want to have a good life. We want to do good stuff. We want to have fun times. But people are weird, hey, people are not logical sometimes.
And so, you know, politics is definitely a big one. You know, this comes from structure. So hierarchical organisations have the most politics, because essentially what a triangular organisation says is, there is scarcity as you rise. So there’s only one top job, so you have to climb on top of people, you have to push past people in order to rise. That is not a nice way to be. That is not, you know, I’m not a big fan of hierarchical triangles. I’m a much bigger fan of circles, where we look inward to each other, where we work as a team by pulling on each other’s strengths. And I don’t know if it’s because my son plays rugby league, and he’s doing pretty well here over in the UK, he’s in an academy program. And I love the way the team always pulled together at the end. They always get in a circle, and they all look at each other. And I just think that that’s what we need to do more of him work. We need to be able to kind of go, well, I’m not so good at that, that’s fine. Because you know, you—you’re brilliant at it. So we can work together and pull on our strengths. Whereas in a hierarchical situation, I’m not so good at that, but I’m going to keep quiet, because otherwise I might not get the next step up, you know.
And so when L&D can really play into those fears, when L&D can really sort of say, well, it’s okay to voice that you’re not so good at it, I’m here to help you get better at it. You know, let’s work with the guy over there that is good at it, and we’ll improve you, because when you rise, everyone rises. You know, when you get better, we hit those company goals, we hit that strategic target. And it’s, it’s overcoming the fear. It’s overcoming that politics. It’s, it’s—those are the things that I’m now kind of playing around with; how do we get those conversations in hierarchical organisations? How do we get those conversations going with younger people who might not want to voice their fear or voice their, their capability challenges? But of course, they don’t know everything there is to know. They just started in work, but you know, how can we give them a hand up? Because we all are better, we—the company will be better. And when you look at really successful companies, the things that they’ve levelled out are things like hierarchy, they’ve levelled out fear. They’re working in fear-free environments. You know, they’ve, they’ve voiced the small voices, instead of amplifying the bigger voices. And these are the areas that I think, you know, absolute overlap with OD. But a role for L&D within that. How does L&D navigate these spaces? You know, how can you have a conversation with a really junior person to make them feel super safe?
And somebody recently said to me, don’t use the phrase psychological safety. Because you’re implying that people must feel safe, they psychologically must feel safe in their environment. They were suggesting that instead of psychological safety, you use psychologically healthy organisations instead. And this guy was a psychologist, so I believe what he’s saying. I think the reframe is a really interesting reframe. Because the expectation that someone will feel safe at work to voice whatever might be happening, maybe that’s, you know, I’m going through menopause, or I’m trying to have a baby—you know, things that are outside of the true work remit—how can they feel that it’s okay to say that stuff and still be within that work environment? So I love this, this reframe of psychologically healthy organisations, as opposed to kind of coerced vulnerability of a psychological safe environment.
But the reason that I mentioned that kind of stuff is because in L&D, you can—you’re almost a little bit, or can potentially be, a little bit outside of the norm, outside of the group, if you like, looking in. And you can bring those external lenses. Somebody might tell you something that they wouldn’t tell their boss. Particularly, around their capability, you know, if they’re really struggling. So I’m really a big advocate of getting out amongst the teams, you know, being present, having a voice for those small voices. And that way, you can really demonstrate how you’re playing into, you know, heading towards that strategic goal of the organisation. Now, I know I keep coming back to that, but I just don’t see any other driver. Why is anyone in business? You know, there’s just, that’s the answer. That’s where you need to really understand and hang out and play.
We need to have a little bit of a debate with leadership, and having L&D facilitate might be a really good spot for them to find themselves in sometimes.
I do agree, I see a lot more L&Ders coming from psychology, psychology backgrounds, than any other background at the moment and they’ve got a really good look at how do I facilitate those difficult conversations? Yeah, and how do I get out of people what it is that they really need to be saying in order to move forward? This is a difference between, you know, transactional course-bookers, and people who really want to play into an organisational goal and be the best practitioner really that they can be.
I’m curious to get your take on the massive content library trend that’s been emerging. Have you seen any good methodologies or ways to leverage these libraries?
So Andy Lancaster, who is Head of Learning at CIPD, he talks about the move from creator to curator. And I think it’s a really interesting lens that he brings to the discussion, because when you think about the role of a curator, you know, where do you see them? Museums, libraries, that kind of thing.
A museum has 1000s of artifacts, but they only display some of those, and they curate the story through those. And I think if we, in L&D, can learn from our colleagues over there in the museums, we can start to curate stories through these content libraries. They’re vast and huge and overwhelming. And we need to be able to help people cut through the noise. It’s one of the reasons why people say, well, I can learn that on, you know, I can Google it, or I can look on YouTube. Well, yeah, you can, but you can also lose three hours of your life down a rabbit hole trying to find the right thing. So if L&D can curate a journey, you know—maybe an individual pathway based on role, for example—then, you know, you’re giving a blended selection of, of artifacts to somebody, and it will feel personal because it’s relevant to their role. That’s one way.
“If we, in L&D, can learn from our colleagues over there in the museums, we can start to curate stories through these content libraries. If L&D can curate a journey… then you’re giving a blended selection of artifacts to somebody, and it will feel personal because it’s relevant to their role. “
But I think the other challenge that we have is—one of the frameworks I talk about in in my book is the EPC. The environment, the permission and the culture. And interestingly, this is the one that probably comes up the most in discussions, because what I mean by that—very potted history of it—is that we can put together, you know, 21,000 pieces of contents on a fantastic LXP—and nobody comes. Have you thought about how they’re accessing it? What environment are they, are they accessing that learning in? Are they going to be looking at it on their own phones, on their own data? That’s not right. You know, should L&D be budgeting to pay them, you know, a fiver or a tenner every month, in order for them to access that learning content? Or have they got laptops, you know, and they’re all working from home or in offices, and they can access it on there. But culturally, that would be a really bad thing. If they’re looking at an animated video about you know, how not to fall off a ladder, and somebody senior walks behind them—you know, what are you looking at? You’re watching TV at work, what have you got cartoons on? Or what are you looking at? Tell me what you’re learning, teach me.
So, we’ve got this kind of this dichotomy between, here’s all the stuff, but I haven’t set up the right environment, the right permissions in place to, to enable a learning culture within my organisation. So as an L&Der, you need to be having conversations with your seniors to say, I want you to be demonstrating this, I want people to see your learning. I want you to be talking about learning at the next town hall meeting. You know, because that way, you’re setting the permission, you’re setting the explicit—it sounds ridiculous that you need to do that. But we work in hierarchies and hierarchies are by default, you know, I look up to know what to do, to say, to think, and then you’re asking me to access 21,000 pieces of content at my leisure. That’s that’s not right. That’s not going to work. So we definitely need to look at the EPC.
What advice would you give to people trying to create that structure in their culture?
Lots, lots of my clients. Unsurprisingly, they’re the frameworks that I bring to the work. So to give you, to give you an example—I was talking about this just the other day, actually—a long time ago, actually, somebody bought Software-as-a-Service, and they put me in place to help them to really embed it. And how do we use this? How do we’ve never done digital before? So you know, went along day one, and I’m looking around and going, okay, well, how are people—It’s a retailer—how are people going to access the contents? And they said, oh, it’s fine. You know, they’re going to use their tills. Our tills are really sophisticated. And they’re going to use the tillls I’m like, on the shop floor? Okay. And, and I was like, okay, well show me the tills, like, show me the software on there. And we went over to the tills, and this is Software-as-a-Service, Windows-based. They got DOS-based tills. Why have never had this conversation before, this is crazy! How can this not be a thing? You’ve totally got the wrong environment. Yeah, you’re putting learning out on the shop floor, which is great if it’s experiential, but if I’m a customer, and I’m like, can you help me? No, I’m doing my learning, that’s not going to work. And you’re also, you know, you’re not even, you’re not got the hardware in place for that learning activity. So that’s a real challenge.
But I mean, even if it’s not digital, I’ve seen it really well in another retailer, who have a training home, training house. And they’ve thought really carefully about the colours that are in there, that they’ve painted the walls, and I notice you’ve got lovely plants behind you and things like that, you know, how you physically are, it makes a difference. So we saw this in lockdown, where we were expecting people to learn from home, whilst they’ve got, you know, their kids homeschooling and you know, their partners working next to them on phone calls and stuff like that. So you do need to think about this stuff quite carefully. You know, another third example for you, is a UK airport built, purpose-built—fantastic building, really thought carefully about what went in there. It was a training, building, and it opened 9-5, in a 24/7, you know, environment. It’s like, well, half of your workforce can’t come here. You’re going to make them come to a day shift when they work nights? Like how’s that going to work?
And so, unless you’re going to open your training house 24/7, nothing’s happening for those people outside of those hours. So you really need to think carefully about how it works well. So what we did in that environment was we said, well, let’s distribute the learning. Let’s put the learning out. And we gave people a little passport and they had to go to different stations and do different activities. So it was a bit of fun and it felt like, like it would—I don’t know, keep them awake on a night shift, was one thing—but it would it felt like they were involved. They were part of the learning activities even though they weren’t coming to the physical building.
Have you seen technology used really well, and how important do you see it within a learning strategy and environment?
It’s absolutely imperative that we, in L&D, are really familiar with and comfortable with technology because it’s part of the blend. And I’ve seen this play out over the course of my career. So I’m old enough to remember when you know, we had fixed desk computers, a Blackberry, remember those? Probably not, you look too young, Blake.
In my office, I was on a Blackberry and a fixed desk computer. In my house, I had a smartphone and a laptop. And this difference between consumer-grade tech and work tech took some some years to catch up. And you only got a laptop, you know, if you were travelling, or if you were really important, you know, you didn’t get a laptop if you’re the average person. But actually, you know, thank goodness, the times have moved on. But sometimes our mindsets haven’t moved on.
For me, technology is simply a tool, it’s a tool set, you know, it’s in our in our bag of tools that we can use. And if we go right back to what we started talking about, the strategic intent, the language of the business, the needs of the people within the business, and you get really clear on what those are, technology just becomes a tool. So take, for example, I mentioned earlier, you know, we might have a sales guy who wants some training, we put him with a mentor. You need to think about the environment that that’s going to happen in is this going to be an online situation? Are they going to be physically together having conversations? Are they going to be having conversations in a coffee shop, on a walk, in an office? All of those three environments will put a different lens on that conversation. You know, technology is, is potentially a barrier to conversation. I’m now here on a Zoom with you looking at you directly. If we were in person, would we be looking at each other directly? You know, so if you’re having a difficult conversation, this environment, and this technology is not necessarily the best. But take your Zoom on your mobile phone, go for a walk together, you know you’re in one location, I’m in another location, you can have that difficult conversation without that eye contact, you know. Or old school phone, do that—remember those?
So it’s about using the technology that you have available in the most appropriate way for the learning activity that you want to undertake, for the conversation that you want to undertake. So I do a lot of work with third-sector organisations, and they’re always worried, you know, we don’t have loads of technology, or we don’t have the budget to buy loads of things. Like let’s use what you have to the best advantage. You know, you can do amazing things simply with PowerPoint. You can voiceover, you can animate, you know, you can create video, through PowerPoint, for example, you know, you don’t need to use sophisticated technology. But your question about where is it going? It is only going to get more embedded and only going to get more sophisticated.
“It’s about using the technology that you have available in the most appropriate way for the learning activity that you want to undertake. Not going to get on a motorbike to ride down the river.”
So in L&D, we must keep on top, you know, we must keep going with what’s the next best thing. And you know, shows like Learning Technologies in the UK or Germany, and France, really help us to do that. What we need to get really good at though, is cutting through the sales guys’ rubbish. Because they’ll tell you it can do everything. And they’ll tell you it’ll solve all your problems. And I’m telling you now, it won’t. It’s just a tool. It’s simply a tool, the same way as a pen and a paper or a book is a tool. How do we use the tool?
So you know, back in the 1800s, when we moved from field to factory, a book was technology, a book was a tool, you know, the printing press revolutionised things, even before that. But we only had one book, books were scarce. So one book, one teacher. We invented classroom. Classroom was a technology that was invented to solve a need. And when we think about classroom in that way, why are we using 200-year-old technology? In fact, if you think about it from a university setting, it’s 1000s-of-years-old technology, and we’re using that today. And it works. It’s brilliant. I love classroom, I love getting people together, but it’s what you do in that space now, which I think needs to shift. That technology’s moved on. We need, in those in those social spaces, to allow sense-making, to allow questions. You know, we’re not doing knowledge transfer. Knowledge transfer needs to happen in the flow, needs to happen when people need it. You know, it is through books or checklists or videos or transcripts. You know, there’s loads of different options.
So just think really carefully. What am I trying to make here? Where’s my goal? What am I getting to? What is the best way to get there? Not going to get on a motorbike to ride down the river.
You mentioned that if anyone’s got any stories of conflict and resolving them, to get in touch. Where can people do that, and also learn more about you and what you do?
So my website is the probably the first place, kairosmodernlearning.co.uk. And but I’m always on Twitter. So I’m @mips1608, mips-1608. That’s my birthday. I look forward to the card, Blake! I’m also on Twitter. But to be honest, I’m quite lucky. I’ve got a unique name. So you can find me on LinkedIn very easily. Just search for Michelle Parry-Slater, which is P-A-R-R-Y. I know sometimes my accent means that people think it’s P-E, but it’s not.
This is a transcript from the Strategic L&D Podcast, where we venture through what key L&D opinion leaders are doing today to ensure they’re delivering a strategically impactful L&D function. If you want to stay up to date with our latest releases, subscribe to our learning and development podcast. We’re on most common podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple. You’ll also find us in video form on our YouTube channel.
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