Archive by Author | abipearsunicorn

ATD – The Seven Principles of Learning Reinforcement

We’re a little slower off the mark with this blog (you can blame the subsequent trip to New York for that – next blog imminent!), but here we take a look at a particularly relevant closing session from ATD…

Day three arrives and from the morning’s extensive list of closing conference slots, it has to be, “The seven principles of learning reinforcement.”

I’d decided to go before I realised this was a session to be delivered by Anthonie Worth of Mindmarker. It’s a company we’ve been familiar with for some time, and of course against the backdrop of launching our own learning reinforcement App, Minds-i, it makes sense to ‘know your enemy’ (so to speak!)

Anthonie is from Holland. As it turns out, he’s a formidable sportsman – and a near Olympic-champion in Judo, which to a fellow martial artist is ridiculously impressive. His slot begins in the same anecdotal way as many of these sessions, and he tells us about the beginnings of his Judo career when his coach introduced him to a number of core training principles.

“The same principles that apply to Judo or any kind of sports training apply to business”, he tells us. Apparently Worth came fourth in the 2002 Barcelona Olympics. “I’ll tell you why I lost,” says, “but first let me share what that Olympic training schedule was like.” The list went like this:

  1. 10,000 hours rule
  2. Results above repetition
  3. Goal orientated
  4. Measurements
  5. Behaviour change

At its core, ten thousand hours means training four hours a day, fifty weeks a year for ten years. That’s one hell of a lot of training. “We’re talking ten years of solid, daily commitment – and as with all sports, everything here is goal-oriented,” he says. “You’re striving for something, and once you achieve that it’s on to the next goal. In a landscape like this, measurement is a key part of ensuring we’re on track: we measure height, weight, speed, endurance – and then we tweak, and perfect, and practice until we get those things right to carry us to our goal.”

“In fact, it’s quite the opposite of what we see in business’ training efforts.” He’s right, of course. And not just looking at the frequency or consistency of our training programmes, but down to what we measure too. “If you imagine that you could train for years and years for the Olympics, yet when you get to weigh-in you could be a few pounds over and be disqualified”, he says, “you can see why having a real handle on every little measurement is so important.”

He tells us that now he’s been a business trainer for ten years. He talks about the way we measure our training programmes – “We’re often happy to get to the end of training days and ask ‘how was the coffee’? ‘How was the parking’? and so on, but what about impact?”

Anthonie tells us he wants to talk about changing behaviour. He says he’s going to tell us at the end why he didn’t win the gold medal, but how we can.

This is the next slide he puts up on screen:

“Don’t laugh”, he says, chuckling. “This is my first ever drawing of my reinforcement plan.” It looks a little confusing, but the peaks and troughs look familiar. Anthonie makes a nod to Ebbinghaus and the Forgetting Curve (all of which we’re familiar with), and affirms that, “just doing training and then topping it up is not enough.”

He starts chuckling again.

“In Holland, maybe the only reason training companies make money is because people forget – so businesses have to pay to constantly re-train their people. But can you imagine if we accepted this at Olympic level? If my coach wanted me to lose a match simply so he can keep being needed?! I don’t think so.”

The affirmation that reinforcement is not a replacement of your current training, nor is it re-training, rings true with the thought process that has prompted us to venture into the learning reinforcement space ourselves. We know that – much like Anthonie’s scrawled drawing – there’s a need for a second timeline running in parallel with training delivery, that’s designed to hold the interventions necessary for this newly acquired knowledge to be tested, applied and absorbed.

“The introduction of smart phones into our daily lives and indeed our pockets gives us the perfect opportunity to start utilising a ‘push’ methodology”, he says. “Not to mention that people get bored if they’re doing or reading the same thing over and over again. So variety in the reinforcement nuggets or activities is key.”

Are you able to calculate ROI?

I’ve sectioned this part off because I think it’s critical to hear this from someone else. At Unicorn we’ve talked about ROI, demonstrating impact and the two-sides-of-the-coin approach advocated by the Learning Ecosphere. We’re constantly talking to customers about the wider landscape of training that sits beyond the regimented world of the LMS – a place where the involvement of apps and less closely tracked and monitored environments is an essential part of a well-rounded and effective learning strategy. Not every bit of your training programme looks the same – some parts require an audit trail, some don’t. ROI in one part of the business might look different to ROI in another.

“Clients ask about measurement”, Anthonie says, “so, we need to measure behaviour change. But that’s tough. And it tough for two reasons – firstly, we didn’t build an assessment tool (he’s talking about Mindmarker), and secondly, who are we to say what constitutes behaviour change in a business? We’re trying to help people with this – give them the tools, and show them the way, but a lot is up to them.”

“Allegedly, 38 percent of people using some kind of learning reinforcement are able to demonstrate the impact of behaviour change within their businesses. I think that figure is high.”

I agree with the statement above. We come back to the question of ROI a lot, and mostly an organisation can’t pinpoint ROI, because they don’t really know what ROI looks like. We’re talking about behaviour change here, and too often (it’s the same with Marketing – keep an eye out for our upcoming ‘Learning Lessons From Marketers’ blog series), the part that hasn’t been scrutinised and set up properly is what factors we consider conducive to, or indicative of, success. It might well be about money – let’s be honest, it usually is – but at a more granular level we need to interrogate specifically what we want to change. The big picture might be, we want people to be better at their jobs, or be more efficient – but those are large and potentially wooly goals when it comes to calculating success and ROI. Being ‘better’ might actually mean, ‘processing 6 orders per hour instead of 5’, or, delegating more might be better imagined as ‘leaders using steps 1, 2 and 3 to do X’ to ensure maximum efficiency.

Not only are the latter objectives more tangible, they’re also far more helpful when we’re designing interventions for reinforcement. The verb here (‘using’, ‘processing’, ‘identifying’, for example) determines the series of activities within the reinforcement portion of the learning, so any ambiguity ultimately detracts from having a concrete (and therefore more measurable) purpose in place. Choose your outcome carefully.

The Seven Reinforcement Principles  

Tangent over, here’s the list Anthonie gives us – a seven point checklist for watertight learning reinforcement:

  1. Close the 5 reinforcement gaps
  2. Master the 3 phases for results
  3. Provide a perfect push and pull
  4. Create friction and direction
  5. Follow the reinforcement flow
  6. Create measurable behaviour changes
  7. Place the participant at the centre

The five gaps are as follows:

  1. Knowledge gap – fairly straightforward, we need to make sure we’re giving people the right knowledge to achieve the desired outcomes
  2. Skills gap – people need to right skills at their disposal to be able to action what they’ve learnt
  3. Motivation gap – People must remain motivated; and importantly avoid becoming demotovatied. (What demotivates people? Too many messages, not enough variety, etc.)
  4. Environment gap – people need the right setting in which to absorb and learn to apply new knowledge
  5. Communication gap– we need to be communicating new knowledge in a way that is understood

“Reinforcement is all about brains”, says Anthonie. “We need to understand how we learn best, so as to be able to provide friction and direction in the right balance and achieve that space where we’re in the zone and achieving without really thinking about it.”

At this stage of the presentation, things start to get a little weird. Anthonie gets someone out of the audience up to the front and starts talking about Judo again. He’s demonstrating what in Taekwondo we used to call a ‘swan neck’ control of someone’s arm. The visibly nervous volunteer obeys when asked to grab Anthonie’s collar, and we’re then walked through the subtle difference between being ineffective, and gaining complete (and seemingly paralysing) control of the poor guy’s arm – all with the positioning of his little finger. “Pinky up! Pinky down!”, Anthonie keeps shouting. Here’s a photo to prove it:

Based on what comes next I’d make a sensible guess that what he’s trying to demonstrate is that an absolute mastery of a theory, but a failure of the ability to put it into practice (or, ‘apply’ it) at the right moment renders the exercise almost obsolete. Knowing something isn’t enough, it has to be second nature if it’s to be used. Perhaps this harked back to the loss-of-Olympic-medal story…

The three-part flow diagram he shows next is pretty self-explanatory. Awareness is why. Knowledge and skills is how. Behaviour change is apply.

“The biggest mistake we see here is learning programmes neglecting the ‘apply’ stage. It seems that whilst this final stage accounts for the most ‘important’ part of the programme – i.e. really getting that new knowledge to sink it – there’s also a need to ensure that the right level of learning or knowledge sharing has taken place prior to it. We have found that 72 is the magic number; a person needs to get 72% of the knowledge questions correct in order for the reinforcement to work. If in assessment people are scoring 40% there’s no point in moving on to reinforcement. You don’t want to reinforce the wrong thing.”

“We also need to be adaptive,” he says. “In 1988 my Judo coach had an ideal path to that Olympic medal. And did we follow if? No, because there are lots of factors along the way that impact that path, and you have to adapt.”

He talks a little about some stats around businesses still using computer training for reinforcement (as opposed to mobile), and then about the need for a little – but crucially not too much direction – when it comes to reinforcement. “We’re looking to create friction and direction”, he says, “often when we have ‘reinforcement specialists’, they try to over-guide people through these programmes. We need a little direction, but not too much, otherwise it’s not challenging: The reinforcement flow is that sweet spot between anxiety and boredom.”

He also tells the audience that we should be striving to, “place participants centrally. Our entire reinforcement programmes need to think about how can we help the participant, how can we make it better for them. It’s less about the enterprise than the individual.”

It’s a convoluted way of getting here, but Anthonie finally shares the end of the Olympic Judo story. It seems he reached the rounds before the final in the company of three people he had previously fought and beaten. There followed a number of details about who fought who and with what outcomes, but at the end of the day Anthonie was ruled out of the competition on a points-based decision by the judges. “There was a lot of emotion in losing my first match”, he tells us, “and my next fight was with someone I was a little scared of, before I had really had time to gather my thoughts. So I lose and my Olympic dreams fade – after all of that training! And what did my coach say? Well, my coach told me I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do anything! I just waited and hoped that it was going to go my way, without applying what I knew.”

It seems to me that there are a few ways this anecdotal lesson could have gone, but Anthonie’s summary went like this: “Above all else, we need not to be passive. Make sure your employees do something. Help them win. Take action.”

If for any reason you haven’t already, grab your free copy of our ‘Learning Ecosphere’ whitepaper here. It explains the dichotomy of learning methods, and covers the paradigm shift needed in your attitude to learning to take your programmes to the next level.

Anything and everything else you’d like to discuss – you know where we are! / @unicorntraining on Twitter.

ATD Day 2 – Europe, Unicorns, and the Great Millennials Debate

Day two at the Georgia World Congress Centre and we’re back bright and early – despite the rain – for another day of exhibiting.

Having enthusiastically embraced the European networking event laid on by ATD on Monday night, we were perhaps surprisingly bright-eyed and bushy tailed. The same can’t be said for our expo neighbours, but we get the sense it’s as much about the social side of things here as anything else.

Interestingly, the European night had also furnished us with the early announcement that the ATD show will be coming to Amsterdam this December – something that certainly bucks the trend as until now ATD has never taken place in Europe.

We started the day with a steady stream of conversations, demos and general talk with visitors about Minds-i, as well as making one very excited woman’s day by presenting her with her unicorn prize from the day before.

At 1pm, I made my way up to one of the smaller theatres for a session I had circled in the event programme earlier that day. It was boldly entitled: ‘Motivating Millennials’: New Research into Unlocking their passions.

As sessions titles go, this one is a little like a red rag to a bull.

It’s immediately obvious that the speaker (Christopher Kendrick) is not a Millennial. The first thing he does is ask us how many of us consider ourselves to be Millennials. There are a lot of people who raise their hands. “You can fact check me as we go along as much as you like”, he laughs – but it’s not clear whether this is something he anticipates is actually going to happen.

I have to be honest; I’ve arrived here ready to hate this session. The pervading irony of older people evangelising about the needs and wants of the so-called Millennial generation seems to escape the majority of folks who typically attend talks like these. I’ve said it before – I have no desire to be ageist. Being a woman, I know only too well what it feels like to be on the receiving end of inherent prejudices or to be inadvertently side-lined in the bigger picture of a wider debate; so it should be said that in this case, a rejection of generationally-imposed ideas does not also mean a rejection of the older generations full stop.

Christopher is charismatic, loud, and obviously at home in front of a crowd. He’s from a company called The Culture Works – a conservatively sized provider of engagement, talent development and leadership training. He later jokes to me that despite the inclusive nature of their mantras, the business is currently exclusively made up of a male workforce.

It seems the organisation is behind a number of extremely successful publications that centre around the findings of extensive surveys into people’s habits – specifically their motivations, prejudices and wider behaviours. Having achieved New York Times Top 100 Bestseller status with a string of previous books, their latest piece lends its title to the name of this very session.

“We started to notice that some people were more engaged than others”, he says of the basis of this latest book, “and at the bottom of it, what set those people apart from their colleagues was that they were doing something at work that they really enjoyed.” As it happens, this observation forms the basis of much of what is to come in this session – which is important because despite the jokey start to it all, Christopher’s unique flavour of inter-generational bridge-building is significantly more palatable to a cynical twenty-something than (in my view) the majority of his contemporaries.

“I actually want to show you something”, he continues, “I’m gonna show you three videos in this session, and the first is from a YouTuber called Micah Taylor.”

I’m going to share this here, because a description – however comprehensive – probably won’t do it justice:

Whether or not you fall into the bracket of those of us born between 1982 and 2000, the clip is undeniably quite funny. Chuckles of appreciation ripple through the room as this plays out, and Christopher follows this with what feel like a sensitive nod to why if you do fit into the ‘Millennial’ bracket, it could be a little insulting.

“We’re laughing because we maybe recognise some of those things as being true,” he says – (let’s just say the bit about selfies and yoga pants rings a bell) – “but actually Micah is one of those people who is sending up these generalisations and stereotypes that have cropped up around the ‘Millennial’ label in recent years. The backlash against Millennials is starting to get a backlash, if you will – and you can laugh about it, but I think we’re genuinely starting to realise that we’re in danger of tarring an entire generation of young people with the same brush when we seek to understand them in these basic, one-dimensional terms”.

“Let’s look at the facts, we know from all the research we’ve done – (it transpires this is a study of 25,000 young people in the past year) – that things are changing, just as they have done in every generation previously. We know that compared to our Gen X-ers or Baby Boomers that this generation are set to have something like 17 different jobs in their lifetimes. That means job-hopping every two to three years, and its markedly different to the pattern of what we’ve seen in generations before.”

“I was looking for something relevant and snappy in the news lately that I could bring to this session to tell you all about”, he says, “and you know what I found? Literally the perfect quote in Forbes – it said, ‘at the base of it all, your criticism of Millennials just make you look old’. And it’s so right. We can’t ignore that in the US alone, this Millennial generation is the biggest ever – accounting for 92 million people, and over 25% of the total US population. The challenge of adapting our workplaces to suit and accommodate and include these people is not going away. We have a choice – we can change or we can extinct.”

What are Millennials? The definitive list, according to The Culture Works:

  1. They don’t believe in being shackled to tradition or location
  2. They don’t believe in the inherent value of face time
  3. They believe in learning, not pieces of paper
  4. They believe in learning from someone else’s experience
  5. They believe in life, not work-life balance

“What we’re seeing here is essentially a set of values,” says Christopher of his list, “we’re looking at motivators – things that underpin and explain the more superficial observations about this set of people. In truth,” he continues, “we can take some of the pervading stereotypes of young people being selfish, or tech-obsessed, and interrogate these back to a root in a specific value set that actually says, a person displays a certain set of behaviours because their unique blend of motivators looks a certain way.”

As the session progresses, Christopher is no longer talking about young people. “In talent development of any kind, what we’re really interested in is understanding what motivates people”, he says. “It’s an absolutely critical part in any manager or leader successfully and strategically planning for the future of an organisation with his or her people. If we understand what motivates people to do what they do, then what we’ve got is a golden ticket when it comes to getting the best out of those people; knowing how to develop them, and being able to support those people to be better not only for their organisation, but also for themselves.”

Christopher tells us that from The Culture Works’ extensive assessment and survey-based research over ten years – and an impressive 850,000 people – they have distilled these motivators into a set of 25 distinct factors:

You’ll notice the list is colour coded. He goes on to explain that these factors fit into related groups, which when consolidated account for 5 common groupings of traits in people. These groups are as follows:

  • Builders
  • Challengers
  • Caregivers
  • Reward Driven
  • Thinkers

There follows an explanation of what each of these labels represents: aggregations of traits such as autonomy, recognition, praise, money and so on – each carefully mapped out to explain the visible nature of any given person. Apparently, though, there’s yet another level to this – as we can be more than one thing. Christopher talks about the unique combinations of motivators that give rise to exceptional talent – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and other tech moguls all referenced as examples of people with perhaps seemingly incongruous traits and motivators who given the right environment have leveraged this to produce something truly astonishing. The lesson here is not to fall into the trap that just because someone is primarily a ‘Caregiver’, for example, that they’re necessarily overly sensitive or emotional. Or that just because someone is Reward Driven that they are shallow and money driven above all else.

“Knowing your people is key”, Christopher asserts. “It’s true that when we look at these groups of motivators, we can identify certain trends that crop up more commonly within specific demographics – but as you might imagine, these too can change over time. We might start as being driven by social factors, recognition and reward, but over time these give way to purpose, ownership and the desire to develop others.”

The crux of these observations is that Christopher is advocating a training model that requires any and everybody within an organisation to be afforded the courtesy of being understood. And he means deeply. If we’re to effectively communicate with, or seek to develop, retain and motivate our people, we need to understand what makes them tick.

To gather his session towards a conclusion, Christopher then shows us a clip from the 2009 movie, The Blind Side. It’s the scene where the coach is shouting at protagonist Michael about his football technique. The coach continues to shout, but Michael doesn’t seem to be responding to what’s being said. So, having watched from the sidelines, his adoptive mother played by Sandra Bullock – dressed in her little miniskirt and ‘mom-shades’ for maximum effect – marches over to him on the field and starts to take coaching into her own hands. Rather than shouting anything, she takes him back to a past experience where he showed passion, emotion and drive, and proceeds to relate that experience to the situation he’s currently in. She appeals to his emotional side, and sensitively yet humorously guides him into a place of action. Needless to say when she returns to the sidelines, Michael flattens the opposition.

I get what Christopher is trying to show us. Coaching, training – and indeed connection – are only possible from a place of understanding. In this case, the session has moved away from talking exclusively about young people, and instead strives to illustrate that whatever labels we might assign to groups of people within our organisations, we must seek to understand what makes them tick.

Whilst some of things that Christopher said in this session might raise an eyebrow amongst those of us feeling a little testy (are man buns really synonymous with Millennials? Or have we strayed into ‘hipster’ territory here?), his point is well-intentioned. Whether everyone in the room gets it or not, what Christopher has done here is begin to subvert and challenge the ways in which speakers, managers and the general populous alike have started to ringfence and label a core group of people. “At the end of the day,” he says, “as long as we think of Millennials as ‘Millennials’, we will lose.”

“Not all our Millennials are about man buns and artisan coffee. We cannot simply be content with categorising our Millennials anymore. The fact is that until we start talking to them and getting to know them in our own organisations, we don’t know what they are.”

For my part I really hope to catch up with Chris again (his business card says Chris, so I’m going to drop the formalities.) He tells me after the session that their work in the UK is for the moment limited, although as he’s heard it, the UK’s specific breed of Millennials is really “something else”. I wrote my name and details on the back of a card he gave me, and told him I’d send him this blog. So Chris, if you’re reading this, thanks for not just being like every other L&D professional who thinks they get the younger generation.

ATD 2017 – Day 1: Minds-i, Elliott Masie and Learning Changes

It’s day one in Atlanta. As a business we’ve been coming to ATD for a number of years (you might have seen Peter’s blogs from last year’s Denver date), but this is our first time as exhibitors. It doesn’t matter how many times people tell you that everything in the US is just on another scale when it comes to the size of these shows – you really have to see it to believe it.

This year is no exception. The conference is set to welcome between ten and twelve thousand visitors, many of whom will be here for the entire event – which in itself makes this particular meeting of the learning and talent development world quite different to its European cousins.

The Georgia World Congress centre is a veritable maze of session rooms, corridors and conference auditoriums, and with an event guide comprising a solid 270 ring-bound pages of breakouts, key note sessions and workshops, there really is something for everyone.

Having spent the weeks running up to the show perusing the floor plan, we know we’re amongst a host of familiar faces (9 hours from Heathrow to Atlanta has also brought several of us closer!) and it’s great to be amongst the buzz of what is undoubtedly one of the major dates in the international L&D calendar.

We’re here first and foremost to launch our brand new App offering – a sophisticated learning reinforcement tool offering a plethora of neat features and functions to help turn knowledge into behavioural change. The App – as you may well have seen if you’ve been following our marketing pieces recently – is called Minds-i.

As it transpired, the topic of learning reinforcement was high on the agenda for everyone at ATD. The level of interest and precise questioning from expo delegates affirmed that the industry as a whole has moved beyond the initial ‘rabbit-in-the-headlights’ response to mobile-based learning – and into a more mature and informed understanding of what opportunities new tech offers to their specific business needs.

The morning left us little time to explore – with a constant stream of visitors keen to unpick the potential benefits of Minds-i for their various organisations.

Having enjoyed such success (and borderline hysteria) at the Learning Technologies show back in February, we thought it only fitting to bring along some of our furry friends to offer as raffle prizes for the best QuizCom score…

Conference Session Highlights: ‘Learning Trends, Hype, Disruptors and Shifts in 2017’

At 3pm there was a mass exodus from the expo hall, as everyone headed upstairs seemingly all to join Elliot Masie’s session on learning trends for 2017.

I’m aware of Elliott Masie. Not that I’ve particularly made a point of delving in to what he does, but his name has cropped up here and there. He’s tall, apparently Jewish, and wearing the oddest combination of chinos, blue blazer, orange shirt and lime trainers – which I’m told is his thing.

“Wikipedia will tell you I helped invent eLearning”, he jokes, “but I don’t really think I did.”

He’s charismatic, but rehearsed. Undeniably he has a way with the audience that means his compulsion to overshare about his involvement with ‘Spongebob Squarepants the musical’ (amongst others) seems not to be news to anyone.

“I’m here to be a bit provocative”, he announces – telling us that besides learning, his two major passions are stage musicals, and breeding racehorses.

Soon enough the bravado gives way to what I assume has compelled an auditorium full of people to traipse up several floors from their already packed schedules to listen to a veteran of the industry expound yet more neatly packaged views on trends, disruption, and – of course – Millennials.

“The biggest mistake you can make in relation to learning changes, is to think that it’s just the technology that’s changing”, says Masie – “in the simplest terms, it not the tech that’s different, but the learners. And yet, ‘learners’ continue to be an elusive breed – a ‘them’, as opposed to an ‘us’, which when you think about it is crazy because we’re all leaners in one way or another.”

He makes a good point. Arguably, it’s an obvious one – you only have to be a marginally cynical citizen of the world these days to see that a lot of what is vehemently argued by these established figureheads of the industry is artfully packaged common sense.

His next trick is to make everyone get up and spend a precise 2 mins and 30 seconds discussing the way that learning has changed specifically for them in the last five years. All around me I can hear the buzzwords we’ve been volleying about all day – microlearning, bite-sized learning, video content. “Two minutes and thirty seconds is the average time an employee spends actually watching what you send them”, he tells us. “In fact, you decide within 18 seconds whether you’re in or out.”

Essentially, he’s talking about the growing demand for shorter video. And short, effective video content that is delivered in a mobile-native environment. True enough, we’ve spent a large portion of this year talking about microlearning; but arguably what Masie says goes beyond that. What he’s really talking about it the entitlement of interconnectivity and interoperability: our expectation that our various devices and operating systems ought to be able to work together seamlessly to deliver end-to-end learning experiences that tally with our ever-shrinking attention spans.

Elliott’s presenting style is charming but tangential – before you know it we’re on a rollercoaster ride through the deepest recesses of his professional (and personal) back-catalogue – sharing experiences of dinners held with the Gates’, and his views about the relative merits of established training tools.

“Today one thing is for sure – our learners want to be in an environments of curation, recommendation, optimisation”, he asserts. “The learning experience isn’t changing because of a new LMS, or any equivalent piece of revolutionary tech. The major disruption is people. Us.”

Elliott’s Top Takeaways

1. We must challenge our rituals. The age old adage of ‘we’ve always done it this way, we don’t need to change’ has to change, he says – and fast. This includes the way that businesses seek to calculate, express and measure ‘ROI’ from their training programmes.

“The worst people to give money to and expect it back from are those in the learning world”, he says. “Forget what you think you know; we’re not interested in ROI, we’re interested in impact.”

2. There are going to be more and different formats for learning

As Masie’s passion for all things production shines through, he tells us that as learning managers, we should be comfortable with taking lessons from TV shows. “You’ve got to produce a season,” he says. “Whether I did or did not start the ‘eLearning brand’, it sucks. eLearning has and always will seemingly stand for ‘electronic learning’ – a term we came up with in back the 1900s (he’s joking, of course, but you get the point.) But we need to start moving away from this. It’s no longer about a singular format – rather we need to start being able to adapt and embrace new learning formats and new technologies.

“For me personally,” he continues, “I’d put my money on the fact that the next big thing is the recommendation engine. Something with the power to tell you who your learners are, where they’ve been, what they respond to. And it’s more than likely that this kind of tech will come in through a talent system, rather than a traditional LMS or LCMS.

3. Prevalent Learning Technologies will soon be ‘Mixed’ and ‘Adaptive’
Following on from the point about tool diversity, Maisie tell us that the learning tools of the future will not be built by learning technologies companies, but rather by consumer companies (like Amazon). “Something’s gotta give”, he says; “Your employees have better tech at home than you do at work.”

He’s talking about industry cross-pollination again. It’s not surprising because it’s a factor we’ve long recognised as being a pivotal turning point in the identity and future success of eLearning: When are we (and our consumers) going to realise that the bar has already been set for us in terms of UX, video quality and calibre of content we’ve come to expect in our day to day lives? If I can watch my home cinema in 4K, or take photos on my ultra-high spec camera, why would I forgive anything less in my video experience at work?

4. We need to accept that a permanent state of Beta and minimum viable product model are not necessarily bad things

Elliott talks for a time about apps – and the point here is pretty simple: we often get wrapped up in the development, or delivery of a product, but is this really necessary? His argument is one for replacing the compulsion to perfect these new products with an acceptance that the product will always be evolving – hence a permanent kind of beta state. “Is it such a bad thing?”, he asks. “we need to get better at buying the things that will actually solve the problems we’re setting out to address – but we also need to accept that these things are constantly evolving”. Perhaps the minimum viable product model needn’t be seen as such a bad thing.

5. In the near future, most personalisation won’t be done by the system, but by the learner

Masie’s final point was pretty self-explanatory. He spent a lot of time talking about the user experience and intuitive nature of true ‘lifestyle apps’, such as those powering Alexa (Amazon), OK Google and others – and the way that the novelty and fast adoption here are often down to the ways in which data is cleverly used to personalise your experience. “What we need to ensure, is that when it comes to learning, the system doesn’t fight the learner”, he says. “A learning management system in future ought to manage the learning, not just report.”

His session concluded with a series of impassioned soundbites about the future: “What do I think is the future?” he asked. “We’ve never lived at a better moment; learning is really exciting – every day you are curiosity driven – curiosity driven to the point that on average we’re doing between one and 25 Google searches everyday looking for answers. I am spiritually and professionally and personally excited by this time we find ourselves in. Our role in learning is to live in that moment of curiosity.”

“We’re in the business of tapping in to people’s curiosity,” he says, “let’s not for a moment forget that because it’s a beautiful place to be.”


Check back tomorrow for more from ATD. Follow us at @unicorntraining of use the Twitter hashtag #ATD2017 for more live content straight from the show.


SkillsServe is evolving into Unicorn LMS

As our loyal customers and partners will know, the Unicorn Learning Management System – SkillsServe – has been an integral part of our offering for many years. Built on nearly thirty years of experience supporting organisations’ often complex learning needs, SkillsServe has continually evolved to support the changing regulatory requirements that have characterised the Financial Services and related industries in recent years.

SkillsServe becomes the Unicorn LMS

When we launched our first LMS (“StudyServe”) back in 2005, little did we know that a decade later, its successor SkillsServe would be ranked number one in the world for the financial sector. Two years on, the platform has continued to evolve and we still hold that #1 position, and are ranked #3 globally among all LMS platforms.

But guess what? Things are changing – from this month, SkillsServe is officially being renamed as Unicorn LMS.

Woman sat at a desk using her laptop with Unicorn LMS visible on the screen

Why are things changing?

With a complete overhaul of the corporate website, brand new mobile products set for launch, and a serious drive to build our custom content services all in the pipeline in 2017, we’re making a concerted effort to bring clarity across the Unicorn portfolio.

Renaming SkillsServe as Unicorn LMS forges a tighter link between our award-winning learning management system and the Unicorn brand – as well as reflecting our commitment to quality and simplicity across all our products and services (doing what it says on the tin, some might say!)

Two screens side by side showing different screen grabs from the newest version of Unicorn LMS

What is changing?

Starting with the rollout of the new website in the next few weeks, all Unicorn sales and marketing materials will refer to ‘Unicorn LMS’ instead of SkillsServe – including support documents, the blog, and the help forum.

We will be upgrading the SkillsServe app to offer more features and functions, as well as a slick new look and feel. From this point on, the SkillsServe App will be renamed as ‘Learning Path’.

Finally, as well as our Helpdesk and Relationship Management teams adopting the name ‘Unicorn LMS’ in communications and general conversation, all new single tenancy client sites from this point forward will be implemented on the domain name.

Log in screen showing the old welcome message for SkillsServe LMS

SkillsServe has had various incarnations over the years – this pre-login page was replaced with the new design (below) with the arrival of version 6.0.

Screen showing the most recent pre login page for the Unicorn LMS

The most up to date version of Unicorn LMS gives customers the option to further customise their unique learning portal to suit them.

What is not changing?

Existing customers using a domain name will continue to use this. We have made this decision because many clients have integrations that depend on this and we don’t want to cause unnecessary problems for them.

ComplianceServe and ContentServe will remain as they are and there are no plans to rebrand these products.

What should you do?

If you are an existing customer and you’d like more information about the rebranding of SkillsServe to Unicorn LMS, please don’t hesitate to contact the Helpdesk or speak to your Relationship Manager.

Otherwise, simply keep using your LMS as you were, and be sure to keep your eyes peeled as we get closer to the launch of our new public website! Want to always be in the loop? Make sure you’re subscribed to this blog (all subscriptions will be carried across to our new Unicorn blog when the new site arrives.)

Unicorn Summer Client Forum Announced

Although it still feels like 2017 has only just arrived, we’re very nearly into May, which means it’s time for our next Client Forum!

Thanks to a brand new structure (and a little help from a beautiful City venue) our Autumn Forum in October last year was by far our best to date, and we can’t wait to share what we’ve been up to since then.

Image showing visitors at the Autumn Unicorn Client Forum at 40 Bank Street Canary Wharf

As part of our commitment to great customer support, we believe it’s important to keep running these forums in order to give you the chance to hear about new products and services, industry trends and future developments first hand. With this in mind, the next Unicorn Client Forum will be held on Thursday 8th June, at the O2 Intercontinental Hotel, 1 Waterview Drive, London.

London the O2 showing the dome, thames, city and intercontinental hotel which is where we will hold the next client forum

The Summer Forum will offer a range of sessions from our Senior Relationship Management Team, Product Managers, Executive Team, Clients and Special Guests (keynote). Following the launch of our Learning Ecosphere whitepaper at Learning Technologies back in February, we will continue to address themes of new technology, engagement and changing behaviours in corporate learning.

Unicorn Marketing Manager Abi introduces guests to the day's itinerary at the Autumn Client Forum

Throughout the day we will also be offering sessions on Cyber Awareness, GRC (including T&C, GDPR and MiFID II) and showcasing our brand new reinforcement app, Minds-i, following its official launch at ATD in Atlanta.

A full session breakdown and registration portal will be available this week and can be found by contacting your Unicorn Relationship Manager, or the Marketing Team.

Unicorn Summer Forum June 2017 at the O2 Intercontinental Hotel
**Please note that we will be starting this event late morning to allow you time to vote in the UK General Election. We will have a live feed throughout the day, and anyone concerned about timings can still register for a postal vote by following this link.**

Highlights from today’s Cyber Awareness webinar

Your people are the most effective line of defence when it comes to Cyber Security. It’s a message that has been passionately expounded by cyber security experts for many years, but it has taken the recent hike in the profile of cybercrime for people start to really start listening.

Today’s webinar was a chance to gain a little insight into the topics of cybercrime and cyber awareness from two seasoned professionals with a wealth of first-hand experience. Nick Wilding leads the Cyber Resilience Best Practice division of AXELOS GBP – a joint venture between the UK Cabinet Office and Capita; and Vicki Gavin is Compliance Director and Head of Business Continuity, Information Security and Data Privacy at The Economist Group.

At Unicorn we are fortunate to count AXELOS among our strategic partners, and have worked closely with them to develop and continually improve RESILIA – an integrated best practice portfolio designed to put people at the centre of an organisation’s cyber resilience strategy. Ahead of the imminent relaunch of this suite, Nick and Vicki took some time to lend context to the need for cyber awareness training.

This morning’s webinar kicked off with a roundup of the latest statistics relating to cyber attacks:

Screen grab from AXELOS cyber awareness webinar showing recent hack statistics

“One thing’s for sure”, said Nick Wilding, “looking at the stats, it’s clear that at some point you will be breached.” The frequency and nature of these attacks are such that it’s easy to see where he’s coming from: over the past year alone we’ve seen everything from repeated attacks on the SWIFT network, to the sustained efforts of Russian hacking group Fancy Bear in their attempts to upset the US electoral process.

“To be honest, it’s easy to see why people end up with ‘security fatigue’, said Vicki Gavin. “We’re incessantly bombarded with frightening statistics to the point that sometimes these headlines end up just having the opposite effect. For me personally, I’ve found a way to leverage this kind of information, and the key is making it specific and relevant to the activities of your own organisation.”

Screen grab from AXELOS cyber awareness webinar showing a statistics board

“If we accept that people are our best line of defence”, continued Nick, “it’s shocking to think that in a recent study, we found that as many as 45% of organisations don’t do any kind of cyber security training, and of those that do, 81% are relying on mandatory training that is completed once a year or less.”

It’s about technology and people, not just bits and bytes.
– Vicki Gavin, The Economist

One of the anecdotes that AXELOS have come back to time and again is that of Jim Baines – a personal friend of Nick Wilding, and a CEO who has spoken at length about his traumatic experience at the hands of cybercriminals. Nick relayed this story today, and followed it with an extract from one of Baines’ letters that poignantly reminded others that none of us are invulnerable when it comes to falling foul of cybercrime. “Interestingly,” said Vicki, “what we seem to see time and again is the prevalence of this culture of blame. Whenever something happens, businesses are quick to want to assign blame – who’s fault was it? Who clicked on a malicious link? Who opened a phishing email? But when we’ve talked about organisations only offering cyber awareness training once a year, how are people supposed to learn?”

“They say it takes a minimum of three weeks to start developing a new habit,” she continued, “so what we really need is to start embracing this idea of continuous learning.”

When you consider AXELOS’ stats that of the firms supposedly running ‘effective cyber awareness training programmes’, no more than 50% of them had full completion rates, it’s little wonder that learning continues to be a barrier to resilience.

Screen grab from AXELOS cyber awareness webinar showing coloured panels about training

“In the simplest of terms, where it comes to awareness there’s too much stick and not enough carrot,” says Nick. “At the heart of it, people sometimes forget that cyber is an interesting topic – so engagement ought not to be something that’s seen as tedious.”

“The problem is often that people think just because someone is a cyber expert, that that automatically means they will be a good trainer”, asserted Vicki – followed by another acknowledgement that in order to achieve real engagement, it’s critical to make learning relevant to your target audience. Sharing her experiences of responding to attempted cyber-attacks mounted on The Economist in the past twelve months, Vicki pointed out that this is now becoming the norm for businesses operating in the digital age.

At the source of every error which is blamed on the computer, you will find at least two human errors, one of which is the error of blaming it on the computer. – Tom Gilb, US Systems Engineer

“I can tell you we’ve had 360 cyber events in the last year, of which 60 we might categorise as ‘incidents’, and 3 that were escalated to crises,” she said. “In the latter part of last year, we had a breach when an individual unwittingly gave away their user credentials by clicking on a link in a phishing email. Although the hackers then used this breach to send a further email to everyone in the business, of the 1400 people we have working for The Economist Group globally, only 50 people actually opened this email, and no one else clicked on anything. In summary, we had the whole thing contained in under 3 minutes. This is exactly the kind of compelling event that shows the true value of cyber awareness training to our board.”

Speaking about the need to promote awareness learning that really works to change behaviours across businesses, Nick said: “What we come back to time and again is this theme of storytelling –  making training relevant and relatable. Don’t just tell people what the policy is, help them to make that relevant, and to interpret and understand what you want them to do in order to support it. What we see instead is lots of ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’ – but what about the why?”

Screen grab from AXELOS cyber awareness webinar showing new RESILIA content

“Through our partnership with Unicorn, we have moved beyond the model of once a year training,” he continued. “We have built creative, innovative, engaging learning to help businesses design and implement effective training programmes for their organisations. The RESILIA suite gives you the power to build an adaptive, efficient programme of learning, utilising diagnostic tools to test current knowledge and then deliver only relevant content to address areas of weakness. The content is a mixture of online videos; refresher snippets and tests; games and animations – and in its variety is sympathetic to the notion that people learn in different ways.”

RESILIA is designed for businesses of all sizes to help them on the journey of developing a culture that recognises the need to keep abreast of the threats posed by cybercrime. As both Nick and Vicki explained today, a business is only as resilient as its people – something that unavoidably echoes the old adage about a chain being only as strong as its weakest link. “Critically, we want to get people talking about this stuff,” said Nick. “The more that people talk about it, the more resistant they become.”

If you want to find out more about RESILIA Cyber Awareness Learning – or book a demo – you can do so here.

Cyber Security: ‘A Tale of Two Banks’

This week, Emma Dunkley of the Financial Times published an amusingly titled yet insightful piece on the recent cyberattacks levelled at two major high street banks. Not to be misled by the lighthearted headline of the article, her account provided another chilling glimpse into the reality of what major banks and consumer organisations now face on almost a daily basis when it comes to protecting their data.

People working at computers in a bank

“The recent attacks on Lloyd’s Banking Group and Tesco Bank revealed the evolving techniques used by cybercriminals to expose financial institutions’ vulnerabilities”, she wrote, as she sought to explain the wider implications of what had happened. “The threat of cyber assaults is increasing. As banks roll out more digital services, and as more customers use technology to handle their money, cyber criminals have a greater number of entry points through which to access systems and customer data.”

What happened?

On January 11th, Lloyds was hit by what is commonly known as a ‘denial of service’ attack, where hackers hijacked several of the bank’s servers and flooded their website with large amounts of traffic designed to cripple online services. Upon discovering that they could not gain access to online banking, many customers took to social media to vent their frustration, as Lloyds deployed a series of counter-measures designed to isolate the attacks and limit the damage caused.

Although large banks are typically targeted by denial of service attacks around once a month, the Lloyds incident was particularly severe – with this attack lasting far longer than the usual few hours.

“Denial of service attacks are happening 24/7 globally,” says Philip Halford, a senior adviser at financial services consultancy Bovill. “There are multiple perpetrators, often targeting the same trophy targets. They share the common objective to breach a control system sufficiently to allow or deny legitimate users access to it. The motivation can vary from criminal intent to mere bragging rights. The effect, however, can be crippling for organisations.”

Compared to the Tesco Bank fraud that took place in November last year, the Lloyds attack was relatively mild, with no customer data or money having been stolen. It is reported that the hackers behind the attack demanded a £75,000 bitcoin ransom, although it is unclear whether Lloyds bowed to this request.

Stressed businesswoman sitting at desk in office

Tesco Bank was not so lucky. Last year’s assault led to nearly £2.5m worth of payouts to 9000 customers who had money stolen by cyber criminals. This time, the data breach was facilitated by a weakness in one of Tesco’s mobile banking apps, which was exploited to access personal information connected to thousands of current and savings accounts. Thankfully Tesco Bank acted quickly to reimburse customers, but the incident still represents a significant and worrying reality of the risks posed by hackers.

What the attacks on Lloyds & Tesco Bank tell us about how online crime is evolving

Over the past twelve months, news of major cyberattacks has become increasingly commonplace –  with 2016 seeing more sophisticated assaults than ever before.

Cyber crime is on the rise, with attackers developing increasingly sophisticated hacking techniques to break through organisations’ defences. It is one of the biggest risks to global banking, threatening to cripple lenders and defraud customers.

As the Financial Times rightfully put it, “the stakes are high”. When we consider the reputation of the UK banking sector amongst its customers, trust is a critical factor, and information security plays a huge role in this. Not only must banks consider their reputation in this matter, but also the potentially significant fines and sanctions imposed by financial regulators where institutions are seen to have failed in their obligation to protect customer information and assets.

Under the UK Data Protection Act, banks can currently be hit with a penalty of up to £500,000, but an EU directive that comes into force in May 2018 will mean companies can be fined up to 4 per cent of their global revenues for serious data breaches.

As we move into an increasingly tech-dependent world, banks and other organisations alike have an ongoing responsibility to stay ahead of the threats posed by cybercriminals – and as we so often hear, this isn’t just down to software.

Hexagon grid with social engineering keywords like phishing and tailgating with a elite hacker in suit background

Education also plays a huge part in cyber resilience, and equipping staff with the right knowledge can mitigate risk on a truly massive scale. We know that as much as 90% of all cyberattacks are mounted as a direct result of the unwitting action of a member of staff – whether that’s clicking on a phishing email, or falling foul of social engineering. Never before has it been so important to place cyber resilience at the top of your business agenda.


Interested in better understanding the implications of increased cybercrime for your business? Join our free webinar in partnership with AXELOS GBP and featuring Vicki Gavin of the Economist Group, as we explore the most effective ways to safeguard against cyberattacks. Join the webinar and explore more here.

For the full original FT article, click here

The Learning Ecosphere Explained

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, it’s likely that you’ll have come across the ‘Learning Ecosphere’ in some capacity. Launched at last month’s Learning Technologies show, this brand new concept seeks to reimagine the relationship between traditional and new learning methods – and offers businesses the chance to better understand how they can embrace both in order to strengthen their overall learning strategies.

Here, Mark Jones – Commercial Director of Unicorn – gives a brief overview of the Learning Ecosphere concept:

Don’t forget, you can still get your free copy of the Learning Ecosphere Whitepaper here.

Unicorn LMS is #1 for Financial Services, and #3 globally!

After what can only be described as a fantastic Learning Technologies show this month, we’re also delighted to announce that Unicorn LMS has been ranked third in the world – and top overall for financial services for the third successive year. The news comes as Craig Weiss releases his latest Top 50 LMS Report for 2017.

Bronze LMS 2017 from Craig Weiss for Unicorn LMSThe much-anticipated annual report analyses more than 1,000 LMSs from across world and looks at each system’s niche assets to rank the best of the best.

It’s been a big 12 months for Unicorn LMS, which has not only undergone a name change from SkillsServe but has also again upped the ante, particularly in terms of usability and mobile integration, as acknowledged by Weiss in unveiling his report.

“The name is changing from SkillsServe and the product stayed the same. Wait, scratch that, it has gotten way better,” he said.

“A new UI/UX makes a huge difference for this very strong system for compliance / regulatory (regardless of your vertical). If you are in financial services mind you, this is a system you should be looking at.”

The report also singles out the newest addition to Unicorn LMS’ compatible app suite, Minds-I, for special attention, with Weiss describing it as “by far the coolest thing I’ve seen this year”.

Minds-i learning reinforcement app from Unicorn

Minds-i harnesses the power of informal learning by enabling firms to take the best of the web and expertly curate content on topics of their choice to encourage the learner to explore. Learning becomes self-directed, user driven and personal while its just-in-time micro-bite content makes learning relevant in a real world context.

Unicorn LMS, which is set to get its official re-launch this April, first featured in the Top 50 LMSs Report top five in 2015 and has moved up a place each year since while holding on to the best financial services LMS throughout that time too.

Peter Phillips, Unicorn CEO, said: We are honoured to have been ranked number one in the world for our sector for the third year in succession.

The improvement in our overall global ranking to a new high of #3 in 2017 reflects Unicorn’s commitment to continued investment in improving our LMS, to anticipate and meet the developing needs of our customers.

I would also like to congratulate the other LMS products in Craig’s top 3, Growth Engineering and eLogic, both of which are outstanding solutions in their chosen markets. It is particularly pleasing to see two UK companies in the top three!”

Trends from LT17 – Part 2

We pick up with part two of our blog looking back at the overarching trends and themes from last week’s Learning Technologies show… 

The changing role of L&D

Dr Tobias Kiefer, Global Learning Leader Advisory at Ernst & Young Munich, described the role of L&D departments as becoming ‘conductors of the orchestra’.

No longer will L&D teams set the whole training agenda, rather the concept of OYOL (Own Your Own Learning) will grow, with learners becoming consumers who create their own curriculum to reach the level they want in the areas they choose.

Picture of a speaker on stage at the Learning Technologies conference

This idea that employees choose from a menu of learning relevant to them was also advocated by Rachel Kay, Managing Director, Thales Learning and Development.

She identified two types of learners – those who are hungry and self-motivated and those comfortable with the ‘feed me’ culture, who like taking part in scheduled events and training. The aim is to create environments where ‘feed mes’ become ‘hungrys’ with Amazon-style learning menus reflecting the key skills and behaviours the business wants an employee to have. ‘Feed me’ words such as training, trainers and courses have been replaced by talent, performance and coaches to help this.

Both speakers reinforced the point that social learning is everything, and how solutions are generated by talking. This mindset is akin to making the tearoom globally available to let conversations happen organically and for ideas to ‘marinate’.

L&D diagram on a screen at the LT conference

Dr Kiefer believes a target of 70% OYOL is achievable, even in regulated businesses, with L&D providing professional development guidance and acting as curators, challengers, storytellers, economists and data analysts. The role of L&D becomes about moderating, engaging, helping and stimulating new thinking until the critical point where an individual finds the ‘hunger’ and takes ownership of it themselves.

Where does technology fit in?

In the most basic form technology is the great enabler to all this.

What was really interesting was that all the most popular themes of personalisation, social, informal, self-directed learning, collaboration etc, which prevailed at Learning Technologies feature in the Unicorn Learning Ecosphere, launched at the event (you can download the whitepaper here.)

The Unicorn Learning Ecosphere

The Learning Ecosphere looks how the learner-focused world holds great potential to augment and enhance the personal learning experience, but balanced with the fundamental underlying need for an enterprise to define, manage and report on the inevitable core competencies that remain in every business.

Mobile, just-in-time microlearning, mobile delivery, Bring Your Own Device, gamified learning and social media all present a wealth of opportunities through which to really nurture the ‘hunger’ for OYOL in staff, but in complementing, not replacing, the enterprise-focused concerns of governance, risk and compliance, secure platforms, tracking and reporting and mandatory formal assessed learning.

Although the idea of giving staff the choice to do learning where and when they want is high on the list of demands to suppliers now, Rachel Kay raised an interesting point on the moral position of asking employees to engage in learning outside of office hours. She concluded that in reality no one can be forced to work outside their contracted hours, all you can do is provide such diverse, appetizing learning menu to try to create the hunger in people to start picking at it themselves.

When it comes to fostering social learning she also identified the power of WhatsApp in creating informal discussion groups where some of the best learning and knowledge sharing takes place.

Last year games were the Learning Technologies hot topic. This year it felt like people had moved from not quite being sure where games could fit into a learning programme but being mildly intrigued, to now seeing their value and looking at whether actually introducing elements of gamified learning might be right for them.

Could the same level of recognition towards personalisation and learner-led learning be evident by Learning Technologies 2018? Time will tell…