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performance – Design4Performance

Category - performance

Design Thinking for Learning Innovation – A Practical Guide


About a year ago, one of the big four Australian banks approached DeakinPrime with a challenge. We were asked to pitch for a compliance training job targeting the bank’s thousands of independent insurance brokers. The initial request was very specific, calling for quotes to build 9 elearning compliance modules.

We’d been exploring design thinking for some time and Simon Hann, DeakinPrime’s CEO, was inspired coming fresh off the plane from Stanford’s dschool, so we decided to go in a different direction.

Our pitch tentatively suggested a few elearning modules combined with some on the job tools however, we proposed to develop a more considered solution via a deeper design process which would examine learner needs and workflows, with the call out that we might end up redefining the problem altogether.

To our delight, our key stakeholders at the bank loved this idea and gave us the go-ahead to embark on a design thinking journey. The resulting co-design approach led us to ditch all 9 elearning modules. Instead, we developed a sales portal that provided just-in-time resources, guided customer interviews, and quick search options to access tools and support.

This solution is now live to over 5,000 people and the best part is that, rather than being trained in compliance, brokers who use the platform to increase their sales are inherently compliant. (Watch this space for a more in-depth case study).

In this instance, design thinking supported us to kill training and build an innovative performance tool directly linked to learner needs. In other jobs, it’s helped co-design learning and change campaigns that span tens of thousands of people.

Using design thinking hasn’t always led to paradigm-shifting solutions though. I’ve previously written about the potential fail points of creating 70:20:10 solutions and, in that context, a design thinking process can be crucial in establishing what not to build, instead revealing simple and realistic elements that can be embedded in the workflow of our audience.


For me, design thinking is about starting with empathy, designing collaboratively, and failing faster, to create innovative end to end experiences.

I explored the above summary in more detail during a recent presentation to the LearnX Conference. Click on the presentation below for more and for a sneak peak of the three workshop process that we’ve developed at DeakinPrime.

While we use a design thinking mindset & tools in all our jobs, we use this three workshop process for significant learning & performance projects that lend themselves to complex blends, campaigns, or ecosystems.

If the embedded link below doesn’t work try viewing the presentation here.

Please note, it might not make that much sense without my explanation to support it but hopefully, it gives you an idea.


Beyond the model I’ve previewed in the presentation above, there are a number of tips to keep in mind:

1. Involve your audience early and often

Don’t work off assumptions or second-hand information. Instead, go to your target audience to observe, interview, and empathise with them. The best technique I’ve found for this is to include them in a co-design workshop and charge that group to interview their peers for further qualitative data.

2. Dig deeper with ‘whys’

The interview process, of asking why multiple times, has been a simple yet powerful change to gaining understanding. For both peer interviews and ones that our team conducts, it’s allowed us to go beyond the obvious pain point and uncover underlying needs

3. Collaborate by being visual

The cliche design thinking workshops involve countless sticky notes and cards up on walls. This is more than a gimmick; it’s an efficient way to sort, theme, and share information collectively. Done correctly, using tools such as card sorts or analysis grids, involves and empowers a group to quickly cut through data and make decisions.

4. Use personas

Even if I only have 2 hours instead of three workshops to design a solution, I still tend to use personas. These simple characters support deeper empathy by getting personal and specific. Each job varies but some key elements tend to include how the person thinks, feels, and does around a particular issue. Their key needs, pain points, elements of their workflow and day, and how they access learning, communication and information. For some reason, I’ve found 3 to be the magic number of personas.

5. Incorporate Action Mapping.

While I use many traditional design thinking techniques, I do incorporate a version of Cathy Moore’s action mapping to further understand personas and the gaps between them and the required actions they must take to reach success. Identifying performance gaps in terms of Knowledge, Skills, Motivation/Mindset or Environment can help inform the latter stages of ideation.

6. ‘Orphan your ideas’

I coined this phrase in one of my first workshops and it’s one that continually resonates with participants. It stems from when I was an elearning designer and had a sign over my desk reminding me that ‘I am not my module‘. Similarly, people need to separate themselves from their ideas. Some ideas will get shot down in an instant, others will evolve and end up being stars, but they are not us, and the quicker we orphan them, and allow  them to go their own way, the faster we can create better ones.

7. Everyone can prototype

Low fidelity prototyping can be extremely simple. At DeakinPrime we often include illustrators into the workshop process to bring ideas to life but, for often it’s enough to have participants drawing a concept model of key content, or a stick figure storyboard of a coaching experience, or a wireframe sketch of a portal including moveable sticky notes. It’s inherently rough and quick, but can provide a preview of an experience to allow us to fail faster.

8. Field testing should focus on empathy, not validation

This was a tweak I’ve only learnt recently. Initially we would engage participants to test low fidelity prototypes with their peers, charging them ’to test ideas we’re working on’. Recently, I experimented with charging them to ‘find out more about our audience group,’ using the prototypes as a conversation starter. This shifted people from defending a solution to asking more probing questions, empathising, and revealing needs.

9. The final journey map should include fail points and dependables

The culmination for the more complex jobs we work on has been a wall to wall journey map. A key swim lane in such a journey map is to consider other touch points and people. While we begin the process unashamedly empathising with our target learners, at this point we really want to empathise with the managers, delivery team, IT or others who will be called upon to play a role in the solution.

10. Draw on resources & tools

It’s great you’ve gotten this far as you’re obviously willing to learn from my mistakes and experiences, and there are countless others out there doing great work for you to continue that process. Sites like Stanford’s dschool and Ideo, while not learning specific, are incredibly generous, with fantastic tools and resources you can download right now.

11. Start small, iterate, and learn

It can be intimidating to get started, so be sure to take things a step at a time. You can begin by making sure you talk directly to learners, involve them in the process, and have the means to quickly test half-baked ideas before investing much into them. Be compassionate with yourself as you make mistakes, learn, and improve.


Feel free to check out some of my other work on design thinking and related topics:

Video: Learning Innovation: A Design Thinking Primer for L&D , a presentation I delivered earlier this year. Less nuts & bolts compared to the slides above, but a good starter with some background on the why & how of design thinking in learning.

Infographic: Design Thinking in Learning, now a year old this infographic still captures some key points & my key references.

Article: eLearning Modules will Die and 70:20:10 will hold the Smoking Gun, the premise behind that first case study I cited in the article of shifting from elearning modules to performance solutions.

Cartoon: The Training Project


Not an argument against all training, but a reminder to design with performance in mind because, sometimes, there are easier ways to overcome that challenge :)

Quick addition to my original post: I’ve had several requests from people wanting to reprint this cartoon in newsletters/ publications. Im happy for you to do so but please take the following three steps:

  1. . just drop me a quick PM/email to let me know where it’s being used
  2.  where possible please include a live link to my blog www.design4performance.com
  3. if we ever meet in person, drinks are on you 😉





INFOGRAPHIC: Heroic Journeys to High Performance


Yes, they’re fictional characters but their journeys of struggle, set backs, and ultimate victory resonate deeply. Consider this snapshot of how some of our heroes achieved high performance and mastery in the hope that it might inspire some real heroic journeys for us all.



If you like this be sure to connect up with me via social media to stay in touch with future posts. Also be sure to have a look around at my other infographics and content.

5 Reasons Why 70:20:10 Solutions Fail (and what we can do about it)


I’ll come clean from the start, I’m an enthusiastic practitioner and advocate of 70:20:10. I’ve found it to be a liberating framework that delivers performance based solutions and helps to break L&D out of the confines of
 well, L&D.

In addition to the underlying mindset shift, it’s opened a treasure trove of techniques, tools and possibilities to support lasting positive change in organisations and people. But before we pop the champagne and enjoy life with crowds of continuous learners joyfully working in performance boosting ecosystems, I’ve got to admit there have been challenges.

So, in the spirit of #WorkOutLoud, here are my top 5 reasons why 70:20:10 solutions can fail (and what can be done about it):

1. Organisations have a training culture 


A training culture might be seen as a positive, but it pales in comparison to a learning culture. Pete Senge popularised the idea of learning organisations, which he defined as places “where people continually expand the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” (Senge, The Fifth Discipline, 2006)

With greater demand for innovation, customer centricity and agility the need for organisations, and therefore people, to grow and transform has become more relevant than ever.


Too many organisations have been struck by the blight of a ‘training culture’. L&D must take some responsibility for our role in fostering a sense of passivity, where people, hungry for development, believe that they are dependent on courses and events, but the problem runs much deeper. From our youth, schools told us that we learn about the world in a classroom, rather than presenting the world as our classroom. It’s no wonder that a culture of continuous learning can sometimes feel elusive as a result.


Companies wanting to overcome the training blight and become learning organisations have an urgent need for a more holistic (read 70:20:10) approach, of which formal training plays an important role to help introduce ideas, prime mindset, and develop conceptual frameworks, but it’s just one element of a broader on the job and social experience.

We can begin to moving to a holistic approach by:

  • Developing an empowered culture. This is a huge topic in itself but includes leaders demonstrating openness to new ideas including willingness to fail fast, and develop a culture of reflection.
  • Supporting Knowledge sharing. Leader led initiatives supporting #WorkingOutLoud can make a huge step in this direction and can be extended to support user generated micro content to develop a library of just in time resources.
  • ‘Detraining’ and reframing learning. I usually recommend a formal ‘Learn to Learn’ element as part of our 70:20:10 solutions. This might consist of a 3 minute video, or incorporated into a 20 minute intro webinar. The aim of this reframe is to introduce the principles of 70:20:10 (without using the name) and encourage people to embrace what they inherently know, that learning is something that happens by them not to them.

2. Managers aren’t up for the challenge


The oft quoted Learning & Development 2003 Employee Development Survey identified that direct reports of managers who are most effective at development out perform others by 25 to 27%. The same report noted similar benefits to retention, satisfaction, commitment and adaptability.

Fully engaged managers can:

  • Lead by example through demonstrating curiousity, a growth mindset and continuous learning approach
  • Coach reports to bring a conscious approach to work place development
  • Oversee stretch assignments and action learning projects
  • Help deepen reflection by fostering a habit of reflective questions
  • Champion performance tools, social enterprise networks and other social and on the job infrastructure


One of the earliest 70:20:10 solutions I helped design required Managers to play a proactive role in an onboarding process. Despite assurances that these Managers were primed and able to provide support, in practice a significant minority didn’t engage. The lack of executive support saw this problem grow to the point where the program was a shadow of what it could have been. This experience left me with a simple takeaway:

Build it and they will come (but only if they’ve got a switched on Manager who actively supports them).


Having managers who are unable or unwilling to support engagement in 70:20:10 solutions represents a fundamental problem, yet it’s an all too common scenario. These days, we consider a range of options to address possible gaps in motivation and ability of Managers, including:

  • Leadership support. Ensuring there are vocal and proactive executives backing the solution
  • Marketing approach. Investing in a marketing campaign style communication plan that targets Managers as well as participants, focusing on WIIFM and key benefits
  • Leveraging champions. Identifying key Managers who are influencers to champion the roles we need them to play
  • Support Managers to support each other. Establishing group coaching for Managers with the view to seed ongoing communities of practice
  • Support Managers with on the job toolkits. Providing toolkits and micro-learning to provide just in time support for coaching conversations, mentoring and embedding a culture of reflection

3. People don’t access micro-learning or performance tools


Einstein once said, “The only thing you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” Similarly, as we break from our L&D ‘knowledge obsession’ we can move to focus on performance support.

This might involve new tools, checklists, quick reference guides and micro-learning that can be accessed just in time and just enough to allow someone to efficiently complete a task or project, while minimising cognitive load and unnecessary memory requirements.


People might not engage with relevant micro-learning or performance tools for a number of reasons:

  • Lack of pay off. People mightn’t see a clear return on investment for their time and effort in using the new resources
  • Hassle. People might be used to a particular workflow and not motivated to change it to incorporate other tools or support
  • Time. The process of finding and accessing a ‘just in time’ tool might take too long. How long is too long? Think how long you’re prepared to spend googling an answer when you’re trying to get something done. This shortfall is usually caused by the lack of platform or technological infrastructure to simply and efficiently search, recommend, rate, and disseminate content


There are a few ways we’ve tried to address this challenge:

  • Empathise with the target audience. Using Design Thinking and Action Mapping to more deeply understand peoples perspectives, underlying needs and workflow. With these insights we’re more able to include just in time resources and tools when people most need support and in ways they would most like to access them. We can even identify common triggers or anchors that can form the basis of new habits. Where possible, such approaches are prototyped and tested before a full roll out.
  • Profile champions. We highlight champions and influencers who use the system and achieve strong results.
  • Hack infrastructure as required. We’ve found that LMSs manage training content, but rarely support just in time or performance solutions. As a result we’re currently working on two projects to deliver custom WordPress builds that incorporate a CMS style and deliver content that is just in time and just enough. We’re also looking at using xAPI to generate meaningful data and feedback from this process (call out to my talented colleague Cameron Hodgkinson, who’s spearheading this work)

4. Operations can’t handle it


Currently, many 70:20:10 solutions take the form of blended learning solutions, but as Charles Jennings pointed out, while this is on the right road, it isn’t the end of the journey. Blended learning is a great start but, in many ways, it’s more useful to create solutions as campaigns or ecosystems.


Many organisations aren’t ready to logistically rollout innovative blends let alone supporting ongoing campaigns or ecosystems.

We learnt this when a blended learning solution I helped design for a large Australian company gained positive learner reviews but drew the ire of the company’s operations team. They were concerned with handling the complexity of multiple short webinars, the ‘bitsy’ nature of on the job toolkits, and struggled with hosting the suite of micro videos we’d produced (it sounded like putting them on the LMS was as effective as putting them on a USB and flushing it down the toilet).


There are a number of things we do to handle such challenges:

  • Consider infrastructure early. See the earlier point about ‘hacking infrastructure as required’. Sometimes this might be simple and low tech. For example, in the case I mentioned where the operations team struggled to rollout a blend, part of the solution involved creating a simple portal to house the videos and sending email reminders for various events from a new email address (because apparently most people ignored the ones sent via the LMS email!).
  • Empathise with operations. As mentioned, we use a design thinking approach mixed with lashings of action mapping, which focuses squarely on the learner experience. This is still where we begin but, at a early stage of the process, we now introduce operations. We reach out to the team who will be delivering and overseeing BAU of the solution and more actively explore how we can best work with them to deliver the engaged learner experience we are all seeking.

5. They won’t invest in something they can’t see


“Organisations with strong informal learning capabilities, including social learning, are 300% more likely to excel at global talent development than organisations without those competencies.” (Bersin by Deloitte, March 2012)

Embracing the power of informal learning is a requirement for a culture of continuous learning and sustained high performance.


Learning is too often considered a commoditised product that must be defined, packaged and managed. Simultaneously, organisations and L&D departments often use success metrics such as knowledge-based assessments, attendance to learning events, and traffic on an LMS.

While many people implicitly understand the power of informal learning, the above factors make it challenging to fully embrace. As a result many 70:20:10 blends are pressured to bend the stick towards formal, to satisfy key stakeholder expectations about ‘what a program should be’ and to ‘deliver something tangible’.


The obvious answer here is to focus on performance rather than learning outcomes but that is unsatisfying for many, because we don’t live in a lab and the causes for increased performance are often interlinked, complex and slightly intangible.

Ironically, that’s the point.

Informal learning supports performance because at its best it’s interlinked, complex and slightly intangible. It involves people pulling learning as they need, learning through collaboration, and reflecting on experience.

On one level this should align with a ‘bottom line’ approach of many executives because the focus is on business metrics. As the late great Jay Cross put it: “Executives don’t want learning; they want execution. They want performance. Informal does not mean unintentional. Those who leave informal learning to chance leave money on the table. Informal learning is a profit strategy.”

Still, in my experience, this is one of the hardest challenges to overcome and does tend to require an initial leap of faith to get started.


Perhaps you’re a seasoned 70:20:10 practitioner who found this all pretty basic. I’ve got one thing to say to you, if you told me about this years ago I could’ve picked this up from the 20 instead of the 70. I forgive you, but start working out loud already!

Maybe you’re someone who’s begun to play with 70:20:10 and have experienced some of these challenges. I hope this, and the comments it might spark, contribute to you having a smoother ride.

Or maybe you’re still focused on traditional courses and aren’t sure whether 70:20:10 is worth the effort. To you I’d say beware, as the road ahead will be bumpy, and there’ll be unexpected turns and challenges. And, despite all of that, the journey is definitely worthwhile.


Like it? Then feel free to share it. Use the options (left).



‘Dear Training’… A Breakup Letter from L&D Professionals


Dear Training,

We’re sorry, but it’s over.

It’s not you, it’s us. We’ve changed, but we’ll always value what we had together.

Do you remember how we first met? That summer day when we gently crafted our first elearning module? Or how we stood, full of trepidation, as we prepared to deliver that face to face workshop? We were so young.

There were times when something seemed amiss, but you always knew how to reassure us. You were so confident, with your Flashy smile and concise learning objectives. You promised so much. We were going to change the world together, one course at a time…

Listen, there’s no easy way to say this. We’ve met someone else. Let’s just call them ‘P’.

P doesn’t make empty promises, they just deliver. You can’t believe what a relief that is after decades of being with you.

And don’t get us started on how rigid and formal you are in comparison. It’s like you have two gears: ‘on’ and ‘off’. The worst part is when you’re ‘off’ you expect us to wait, frozen in time.

P isn’t like that. For a start, P fits in with our work and life rather than insisting we spend dedicated time away from the rest of the world. P is always there, encouraging us in ways we never even considered.

Sure we can’t control everything, but we’re not trying to anymore. P doesn’t care how long we spend together, or about ticking meaningless check boxes
 P just cares about making a difference.

So yes, this is the end of our
 what did we have exactly? A long term affair? A marriage of convenience? Whatever it was, it’s over.

Please don’t be angry, and don’t go posting those embarrassing photos of us
 you know the ones when we were dressed up and did those role plays? You don’t want to burn any bridges. Besides, we still want to be friends. There’s a place for you in our life, only a much smaller place than before.

How much smaller? If you had to push us for a number, we’d say you can have 10%… that’s all you ever needed anyway!

We’d better go, P’s calling.

P’s full name? You really want to know who stole our hearts? Well, we probably owe you that much.

It’s Performance. We know, probably French or something.

Goodbye Training. We’d say ‘thanks for the memories’  but frankly, even they tend to fade away when once you’re out of sight.

Broken Hearted L&D Professionals

P.S. We’re keeping the dog.

This post was first published on my LinkedIn site in September 2015.

6 Steps to Creating Learning Ecosystems (and Why You Should Bother)


Here’s a quick recap for those just tuning in…

70:20:10 has shone a spotlight on the limits of formal learning. In contrast, social and experiential learning continue to be veritable goldmines of productivity, placing learners at the centre of their story and demanding a major shift from Learning & Development professionals.

Skip ahead and we find ourselves faced with an amazing opportunity. We can shed our obsession with isolated formal learning and embrace the real question: how can we best support organisations and individuals to develop a culture of continuous learning and high performance. 

Central to this cultural shift is the understanding that learning happens bylearners, not to them. When we really let that sink in, rather than just forcing attendance at a workshop or completion of an elearning module, the focus becomes creating a context that will encourage and support learning and high performance.

That’s where learning ecosystems come in. More than a fixed environment, the word ‘ecosystem’ implies complex interactions and continued growth which might include:

  • a range of people (managers, peers, mentors, coaches)
  • just-in-time performance tools (checklists, quick reference guides)
  • social networks (yammer, chatter)
  • processes (six sigma, kaizen)
  • formal learning elements (micro videos, webinars, workshops)
  • technology platforms (LMS, wikis, intranets)
  • work based learning mechanisms (action learning projects) and much, much more.

Such ecosystems represent rich, fluid environments that continue to develop and evolve based on peoples requirements and the needs of the organisation. The underlying aim is to help people develop in ways they need, when they need to, in the ways that are most effective to them.

Sounds idyllic, but even if it seems a distant dream we can begin to move in this direction with a few relatively simple steps.


“Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested, it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.” 
– Katrina Gutleben

To embrace informal learning we must empower learners to play a central and proactive part in the process. Particularly because this runs counter to our previous approach, we need to actively encourage intrinsic motivation via a ‘positive marketing’ approach that establishes clear benefits and WIIFM (I like John Keller’s ARCS model for formal aspects of this).

Beyond engagement, we can support a growth mindset (as per Carol Dweck’s work) via a range of techniques including ‘learn to learn’ tips or by incorporating a sense of possibility and progress into the reflection and coaching process.


“By putting a measurable business goal — a high-level evaluation — first and making it the center of everything we do, we publicly commit to improving our organization’s performance and demonstrate our value.”
 – Cathy Moore

I still find myself using variations of Cathy Moore’s classic Action Mapping approach to identify which key levers (knowledge, skills, motivation or the environment) will impact on performance and therefore broader change. Her system walks you through how to target real outcomes rather than transferring knowledge for knowledge sake. As a result, it will often lead to creating performance tools rather than courses.


“We don’t learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
 – John Dewey.

Reflection is an easy yet all too ignored tool that must be integral to any learning culture and ecosystem. It can be supported via journals, group/individual coaching, mentors, ‘win/learn/change’ processes or elements of social learning.

Charles Jennings recently identified three simple, powerful questions for reflection which were (paraphrasing) ‘what have I done?’, ‘what would I do differently next time?’ and ‘what is the key lesson from this?’


Scaffolding consists of less than 10% of a building but take it away too early and you’re more likely to be left with a rock pile than a building. Similarly, formal learning can help shape and direct informal learning.

Properly integrated into a broader journey, formal learning can prime learners by providing a WIIFM or context; focus attention on key aspects before and during an experience; flip content to efficiently deliver knowledge requirements; frame a learning experience; and provide micro learning just-in-time resources that can be accessed at the point of need.

Like scaffolding, the aim should be to use formal learning to encourage and support a culture of learning so when the formal elements are removed, learners still thrive through experiential and social learning.


If we accept that much of our learning happens on the ground and with people then it’s obvious that managers play a crucial role. In fact a much quoted figure is that effective managers can have a 25% impact on staff performance improvement.

An effective learning ecosystem must engage managers and arm them with toolkits and support structures. This might include just-in-time video guides, elearning simulations, communities of practice, group coaching, observation grids, checklists or debriefing sessions. Any investment here has a massive cascading effect to the rest of the organisation.


If you throw people into a social environment it’s unlikely they’ll click into a thriving and supportive community of practice of their own accord. Similarly, it’s not enough just to provide a social platform and sit back waiting for magic to happen.

We can’t structure or even schedule social learning, but we can seed it by providing real value on social learning platforms. This might include linking it to projects that participants care about; leading discussions that actually help address issues of concern; and using the platform to distribute key resources and information. Similarly, other events or tools can promote a social aspect (e.g. a just in time video explaining a communication technique can encourage learners to view and contribute to the discussion forum on the same topic).


I hope these steps help you move your organisation away from a passive culture and towards one that empowers learners to embark on their own learning journey.

Which ones resonate for you? What other steps would you recommend or have you had success with?

Please add them to the comments.


This post was first published on my LinkedIn site in August 2015.