If you’re wondering why I’ve slowed down my posting, I haven’t. I’m posting here

I recently joined Brandon Hall Group, the best global research and analysis firm looking at the current and future state of L&D and Learning technology. In addition I’m working with some of the smartest and most talented folks in the areas of Leadership Development, Human Resources, Talent Management, and Learning Strategy.

You’ll find my most recent blogs on Brandon Hall Group website where you can also read what the rest of the team has to say about their area of expertise.

For background on Brandon Hall ….

Brandon Hall Group is a preeminent research based advisory and analyst firm. Covering topic areas that provide strategic insights for executives and practitioners that are responsible for learning and development, talent, human resources, and business results within their organizations. The focus is on ensuring continuous business performance.

  • Established in 1992
  • Nearly 200,000 subscribers
  • Over 10,000 clients globally
  • Memberships and Research

We look at 5 main areas of research. In addition we analyze and explore the connections between them, and try to discover what’s in the spaces between them.


“Keep learning about learning.”


The Endless Immensity of the Sea

 Once we get past the outmoded ideas of school – there’s only one answer, in the back of the book, take the test, and don’t look that’s cheating – we begin to see that learning and collaboration is an art and a science. We know more today about the science than ever before. We still tend to overlook the art.

A few weeks ago, my nephew asked me what the words “Subject Matter Expert” means. I told him it was all about learning. The expert was a team of people who each learned a lot about something, and learned more every day, until people agreed that team was The Subject Matter Expert. He listened carefully, then nodded and asked, “So, are Tommy and I the Subject Matter Experts about superheroes yet?” It made me pause and think about how that question would translate in the companies I consult with and what it meant for building successful collaborative teams who learn as they go.

Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, writes about “neoteny,” the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood. This ability to learn is like the compounding interest on an investment; after two or three years, a relentless learner stands head and shoulders above his peers. It stands to reason that a team of relentless learners is optimized for successful collaboration.

So, why then are so many teams of smart people so stupid?

The answer has nothing to do with their collective IQ. I think the answer can be found in an obscure quote I pinned years ago on my actual pre-Pinterest cork board. It was written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, best known for his work The Little Prince. Here is the quote:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

The quote focuses on the art of collaboration. And it has a direct bearing on learning, lighting a fire instead of filling a bucket.

Amazing how some people knew so much about learning and collaboration before it became the business word du jour. The key to a great collaborative team is their ability to look outward in the same direction, to share a deeply felt goal or, as Saint-Exupéry wrote, “[…] to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Seems almost too simple to repeat. Yet I cannot tell you the number of times I listened to team members who had no idea what it felt like to long for the “endless immensity of the sea.” When we build teams to collaborate, we need to make sure that the first item on the punch list is to build a deeply felt desire, a “longing” if you will.

The next time you bring a team together, ask yourself a question: What is the longing — the deeply felt longing — which will drive the team to learn and perform, even if they do not have all the tools and knowledge to “build a ship”? What will wake them up every day and make them want to go wherever they dream of going? When you can articulate that longing, then you are on your way to a great collaboration and learning that will just happen.

Here are some examples that punctuate this idea:

We want to be the ones to really feel what it is like to step onto the surface of the moon.

The team will take the very first pictures of life on the bottom of the ocean.

We will actually see the proof of the ‘god particle’ that started all creation.

In the beginning, it is not all about the wood and the work. It’s about the art of collaboration, describing that longing that drives learning and collaboration forward. I spend a lot of time researching and studying, thinking and writing about the science of collaboration as a crucial part of learning. I just want to make sure I never lose sight of the art, of that longing for “the endless immensity of the sea.”


Forget About Level 4? Never!

Not too many years ago I remember the words of an L&D VP to whom I reported. We were talking about measuring the effectiveness of a very expensive training program we just delivered.

“Just focus on the first three. Forget about this Kirkpatrick level four,” he said. “It’s too hard and too expensive to figure out.”

As a refresher, here are the four levels of Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model (I’m avoiding the argument about Level 5 on purpose):

  1. Reaction – what the learners thought about the course
  2. Learning – what the learners remember as well as any new skills and attitudes.
  3. Behavior – How much the learners transfer knowledge, skills, and attitudes from the schoolplace to the workplace
  4. Results – the final outcome, months down the road from the event, which was initiated by the course.

The first 3 levels are relatively easy to measure. They include the smile sheets (Level 1), demonstrations of what was learned (Level 2) and improvements in performance back at work (Level 3). The first two can happen during the training event; the third can be reviewed and assessed by a learner’s manager.

It’s Level 4 that’s more difficult, even though it’s the level that measures real learning. Let me back up a bit. Rote learning is what ‘skill and drill’ teaching gets you. It’s perfect for a Level 1 and 2 evaluations. You can even get by if the Level 3 evaluation is done soon enough after the course is finished.

If no one checks in after that you will probably not get a “Pass” on Level 4, unless you have adopted what you do every day and adapt it under a constantly changing set of circumstances. Level 4 is gated by the idea that “Practice Makes Perfect”. So it’s the down the road assessment that really tells you if the learning has become a new part of the learner’s way of doing their job.

Level 4 is a longitudinal study or assessment. It can be done at intervals that range up to one year from the learning event. It’s usually not done at all because it is the most costly and time consuming of the four. What’s changed is that new technology can make it easy.

LCMS Learning Objects to the Rescue.

The LCMS is usually thought of in terms of their ability to author learning objects. These objects can be stored in a repository and used to deliver a custom learning program. The learning objects are assembled by an individual learner who can tailor them into a personal learning path. On the other hand, a course that is SCORMed and developed as one-size-fits-many can be seen as one big learning object fixed in space.

When people are done with either a course or their personal learning path, it looks like the pellets flying out of a shotgun. All the learners go off in their own direction, and have separate and individual experiences. In short, they learn to adapt the knowledge and know-how they acquire in a multitude of different ways.

The course object can only measure the mean or average since it was designed for many people. Most Level 4 measures I’ve seen look at corporate data as if it was functionally related to what the learner knows or has learned to do. For example, an increase in employee retention can be the result of wage increases or an improved management style. Reduced waste is an old manufacturing metric that has little validity in today’s manufacturing processes. Increased customer satisfaction results from a constellation of factors. Fewer staff complaints in a tough economy are to be expected (add in increased retention as well). So the standard measures used at Level 4 are virtually useless in today’s workplace and economic environment.

Learning objects on the other hand can be turned around as a one-to-one assessment down the road because they were assembled by each learner who proscribed their own learning path. Learning objects that state “What I need to learn” can be flipped to ask “Did you learn what you needed?” Turn a learning object around, add a question mark, and you have a Level 4 assessment. If the learner six months later has really learned a new skill or behavior, you can easily find out by assessing them on what they decided to learn. If the learner is struggling with what they tried to learn, you can determine that as well and provide whatever support is required.

Learning technology changes the equation. In the same way that elearning removed the barriers of time, space and the four walls of the traditional classroom, LCMS can provide an assessment of a learning event ‘down the road’, and really start get to that formerly unobtainable Level 4. It can measure the degree to which the learning has been adopted and is being adapted.




They get lost too easily as the New Year rapidly progresses. The forests we each inhabit. We quickly find ourselves racing through the trees like Luke Skywalker on a speeder bike. This is a good time of the year to step back and reflect.

So before I plunge headfirst back into my forest, I want to remember to remember “Why” I do what I do, and what the Big Problem is that needs to be solved.

I started thinking about the “Why” a few weeks ago after watching a great TED presentation by Simon Sinek on “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”.

Then I happened to read a blog post by Kaihan Krippendorff about how “Great Companies Solve Problems That Matter” by focusing on the Big Problems. The two put my brain into overdrive. As I stepped further back from the trees, the forest I inhabit became even more distinct, and the “Why” of things and the Big Problem came into greater focus.

No one disagrees that we are all in an increasingly competitive global race. It’s an odd race in the sense that the finish lines keeps moving off into the future. I try and discover ways my clients can use learning and development to help their companies catch up, keep up and then lead the way. Find the best practices in learning from around the world, and then teach what I discover. Learning and Development in corporations is an ongoing and continuously changing process. Not the learning part, which happens in the brain and is unchanged for millions of years. But the most current methods of learning, new techniques, updated technology and continually improving best practices. Part of solving the Big Problem these days is keeping up with all that is changing and get out in front of the curve.

I used to hear Learning and Development referred to as the “800 pound Gorilla in the room.” These days it’s more like 1,000 nattering and chattering monkeys.

So “Why” and the Big Problem are connected: To make companies smarter and improve their performance. That’s the “Why” and the Big Problem all rolled up into one.

I just hope someone reminds me to read this next June while I’m thrashing about in the forest again.


dilbert on training

I have been researching the difference in approaches to learning between Boomers and Millennials. I recently started reading and hearing about a new approach to hiring and learning called a “high innovation system”.

There seems to be a change in the way companies view employees. We originally had a “high commitment system,” which valued long-term employment and on-the-job training. This is the primary focus behind the research and analysis we do at Brandon Hall Group. There seems to be a new approach called high-innovation:  “Engineers are typically hired because their skills and knowledge are required for a specific technology or product being developed. This system is seen as cost effective, since the company can hire required skills and does not have to retrain experienced workers, who usually command higher wages than new graduates. Of course, this puts engineers, who are no longer retrained by their companies, at a disadvantage as they age.”

I had an epiphany about why older workers over 40 are becoming an endangered species, not only in the high tech industry but in companies worldwide.

I come from a generation of continuing education – workers tagged to go from event to event to learn new skills and improve or update old ones. I wondered why we consider so many older (read post-40) workers as part of the ‘long-term unemployed’. The answer is that “knowing” has replaced “learning”. According to the article, if a company can find a worker with a specific skill to fill a job that requires that skill, then there is no need to spend the time and money training someone to learn it. In today’s flat and hypercompetitve world, it’s the equivalent to trying to teach a square peg ‘roundness’ when simply finding a round peg will do.

It is the difference between the “high-commitment system” in which employees expect to be taught and learn and improve skills while they are working in order to perform, and the “high innovation system” in which people only become employees when they can already perform the skills that are required. How they learned them is not important. Being able to prove they can do them is all that counts.

In the industrial economy, where change happened more slowly, there was time and money to train someone in a new skill. In today’s Digital economy, where there is more talent out there than time or money for training, the trend among some companies is that learning and development is irrelevant. The digital revolution happened so fast that an entire segment of the workforce now has an ‘use by’ date stamped on their foreheads.  It appears that what a Digital Native has already learned will always be in higher demand than what a Digital Immigrant can learn.

To quote Mark Zuckerberg: “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical,” Facebook’s CEO told a Y Combinator Startup event at Stanford University. “Young people are just smarter. Why are most chess masters under 30? I don’t know. Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family. Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.”

The problem with this approach to hiring and learning is that learning never stops. You may temporarily find the round peg for the round job but wait a few months and the shape of things will change. The Digital Immigrants and Digital Native must both be continuous learners. And the experience of the older workers – especially in the area of soft skills – will always be an important part of the younger workers learning. Mentors are not born, but only made by adopting and adapting to success, failure, more success over lots of time.

How would you define your company, as high-innovation or high-commitment? And as time marches on is this just a temporal blip on the hiring radar of the Millennial generation?

I originally posted this as a Brandon Hall Group blog and kept thinking about it. If you have ever had an idea that seems to take seed in your synapses, and then germinate and sprouts, you’ll know what I mean. I came to a conclusion that startled me.  Here it is …

The Speed Limit of Now


I used this graphic recently in a Brandon Hall Group webinar. The idea was to show the underlying drivers of learning in organizations. It pointed out that in the 20th century there was time to learn. We measured the shelf life of knowledge in years. We had time to go to a course to learn something that you might need someday.

In Digital Economy of the 21st century, we quickly realized that everything was changing more rapidly, even the pace of change. The idea of learning something someday no longer worked. We based the new model on the idea of now, as in “I need to learn it now”, “Tell me how to do it now” and “I want that information now”. Now was also part of the learning DNA of the Millennials, raised with digital technology from the time they could walk, Googling replacing dictionaries, Facebook and Twitter replacing … well there was nothing to replace, it was all new.

The question that came up during the webinar was what is next, what does “???” mean for L&D professionals? How do we increase the speed of now? I thought about it and here is the answer to my answer.

Learning faster and faster has a top speed limit of now. Even ‘jacking in’ to their headjack for Neo and the others in The Matrix was all about now, only as direct and fast as you could imagine. So if now is the redline on the learning speedometer, what’s next?

The Slow Now and the Fast Now

The only thing gating the speed is connecting the person who needs to know with the person who has the answer. Taking the time to find the person who knows slows down the transfer. We already have the ability to jack in, only we rarely use it.

It’s called a Community of Practice (CoP). First, let me start with a new idea called the Community of Learners  (CoL). You can connect every class, or any learning event, where there are more than two people, into a  Community of Learners. That community enables the learners to network, start working together, get used to  the idea of a technology-mediated community in which learning something is the focus. They learn to learn as  a community.

When that Community of Learners graduates, they become part of a growing, active, worldwide, and always-  on Community of Practice. Learning continues. Continuously. Get enough people connected in that CoP, and  you will find that the community has encountered almost every problem, resolved almost any imaginable  issue, asked all the questions and most likely answered them. It not exactly the headjack but it’s as close as today’s technology enables.

I can connect to the CoP with any device, anytime and anywhere. I can read the answer in an email, listen to the answer on the smartphone, watch a video of the answer someone recently shot, or share a schematic as I get my answer. I can follow an answer step-by-step if I have a process or procedure question. I can even snap a pic and show the work I did to the person who is telling me what to do, so they can look at my work in real time and make sure that the red wire goes where the red wire needs to go. Learning, getting the answer now, is an extension of the experience of learning taken away from the Community of Learners. You want to learn about something. You learn how to ask the right question, you learn where to find the right person, and you learn to use the right community.

Some companies are getting it right. It was apparent in the winners of the Brandon Hall Group “The Award Winning Collection:  Best Use of Blended Learning”. These companies are finding out how to extend learning past an event, make it continuous and move the needle past the top speed of ‘now’, into the even faster speed of ‘community’. As I was thinking more about this answer, I wondered why an EPS (electronic performance system) is not faster than a CoP. The answer was, it may be faster, but it’s canned, formal. It cannot answer my now questions in the moment unless they are pre-programmed into the support system. You really need people to make now go faster. That was the startling revelation, especially since I tend to focus on educational technology. There is nothing faster than quickly being able to formulate the right question and find the right person who has the right answer. It no longer needs to be face-to-face, just brain-to-brain.

The blended programs I reviewed shortened the distance and increased the speed between the person with the right question and the person or persons with the right answer. Not all of the programs use the Community of Learners that graduate into the all-knowing, all-powerful Community of Practice. They will, because the faster now will always try to push past the speed limit of a slower now. Connecting the right question to the right person equals the fastest way to learn. And in a hyper-competitive world marketplace, to the fastest go the sales, services, innovations, collaborations and everything else.

Wendy Roshan: With Flipped Classroom, ‘Old School’ No More

By taking advantage of technology, math teacher Wendy Roshan details how she has evolved her teaching using the ‘flipped classroom’ model.

by Wendy Roshan

I started teaching in the early 1970’s, when one of the most important resources teachers had was the mimeo machine.  All worksheets and tests had to be handwritten and run through a hand cranked copier, which would turn your hands blue from the ink. There weren’t computers in every classroom, we didn’t use SMART Boards (just chalk) and students came to class carrying pencils and notebooks, not smartphones and tablets.

Wendy Roshan

Yet, 40 years later, my computer, iPad, and trusty iPhone has revolutionized my life as a teacher. Today, there’s more information at my fingertips than ever before, literally. I can type up an assignment and email it to the whole class, or even have tests taken (and instantaneously graded) online.  Students can stay in touch with me, and I can communicate with parents 24/7 by email.  It’s a major change from the past, and has a lot of benefits for my students.

However, the biggest change for me occurred a few years ago when my daughter, Stacey Roshan, decided to follow in my footsteps and become a math teacher too. However, having grown up in a different generation, she became a different kind of teacher. While I continued to resist new technologies that were starting to be used in the classroom, these tools came easily and naturally to her. In 2009, Stacey attended the Building Learning Communities Conference and learned about Camtasia Studio, software that would allow her to literally flip her classroom. She began video recording her lectures, which students watched for homework, and during class she walked around the classroom and worked with students 1-on-1 when they needed help solving problems.

After much coercion, Stacey finally convinced me to give the flipped classroom a try, and just one year later my entire teaching life has been turned upside down. I began flipping my AP Calculus class last year, and as a result, 80% of my students scored a “4” or “5” on the AP exam, with half of the class earning a perfect score! Not only were my students thrilled at how high their scores were, I had one of the most enjoyable and rewarding years of my teaching career, as I was able to spend significantly more time working with students individually and in small groups, helping them solve problems, rather than lecturing – and that’s really my favorite part of teaching.

I had no idea how much technology could change the learning experience for me and my students, and I’m not sure I ever would have given into change if Stacey hadn’t practically forced me too. After such an exhilarating year, Stacey and I have been spending the summer preparing for the challenge of flipping our Algebra II classes, which we will both be teaching this coming school year.  We have been making videos together and are really excited to provide a new group of students with an entirely new learning experience then they’re used to.

While at one time, I was only looking forward to my retirement, I now am looking forward to the new and exciting year ahead.  Technology has made me feel young again, as the boredom and tedium of the mimeo machine is gone, and in its place is a whole new world!

Wendy Roshan started her career in Montgomery County public schools teaching Math.  She taught in Tehran, Iran at the Tehran American School for 3 years, was an Adjunct Professor at Montgomery College, and taught at the Langley School in McLean, Virginia. She is currently in a math teacher at the Madeira School in McLean, Virginia, where she serves as department chair.

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