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Martin Baker

Clear Lessons & The Charity Learning Consortium


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Creating a learning culture on a shoestring


Charities have always had to be creative and efficient in their approach to L&D says Martin Baker, but never more so than in these cash strapped times.
Creative efficiency sounds like the ultimate paradox: can any organisation be both? I believe they can – in fact, I would go further, and say that the current global economic situation demands more creative and efficient thinking and working practices, within learning and development across all sectors.
Love it or loathe it, Twitter is a great example of something which forces you to think both creatively and efficiently because of the restriction on the number of characters you can type. Similarly, young people effectively invented a language with which to text, and went on to create a texting culture. If 'necessity is the mother of invention', then in a society which is cash-poor and time-poor, are we not being forced to think 'outside of the box'?
"The challenge now is for L&D to catch up, for organisations across all sectors to embrace new ways of learning and embed them into their learning cultures."
Learning and development departments have been hard hit by subsequent recessions, and I truly empathise with the move towards proving a return on investment, but equally fear that perhaps that path has lead us too far down the road towards number crunching, and a tick box mentality. Meanwhile, society has moved on a pace. The challenge now is for L&D to catch up, for organisations across all sectors to embrace new ways of learning – through informal learning and social learning, for example – and embed them into their learning cultures.
Clive Shepherd, chair of the elearning network, put this very succinctly in a recent blog post: "Whatever the obstacles, social media tools will become ubiquitous because our use of these tools outside the workplace is becoming so pervasive that it will be unimaginable that we will not try to realise the same benefits at work. All that's necessary is for the key decision-makers in organisations to become avid social media users themselves – and that is only a question of time – and the doors will fly open....The stark truth is that, even if they don't, it will happen anyway."
In the corporate sector, creative, effective organisations like Google famously give their personnel the gift of time – so staff can choose what they spend some of their time on. In another paradox, Google has created an informal, relaxed environment where personal development is taken seriously. Other organisations who have tried these kind of experiments (one day a month to choose what to work on, for example) may report unexpected benefits, perhaps increasing overall profitability. I believe that's because these organisations recognise the value and importance of creating and nurturing a learning culture – which international research by Bersin confirms is so critical to overall business success. Charities can learn much from these examples.
How you build a learning culture varies enormously, but the key, of course, is to discover which methods of learning your workforce will embrace. In the 21st Century, these will surely include some aspect of online learning, and video in particular. This can be a challenge. For example, in many charities, particularly in the health and care fields, staff may be working 'on the move' and not necessarily even have a desk. It is just this type of circumstance which is helping to fuel the increasing demand for ever more mobile, accessible, bite-sized learning. 
It is, of course, possible to build a learning culture without a huge financial investment – but the attitude towards L&D initiatives from the management team is critical. One of the best examples that I have come across in the private sector of a cost-effective, innovative initiative is called Dare to Share, where staff at BT were given flip cameras and shown how to make videos, which they then posted onto a BT platform. One department filmed instructions for using a new piece of kit - instead of spending weeks writing a manual for it, which would ultimately have been destined to gather dust on a bookshelf. I'm sure that the whole scheme was such a great success because the focus wasn’t on using actors and slick marketing messages, but real staff demonstrating how they tackle real issues.
BT effectively took the VideoJug and YouTube models, and adapted them for its own use. These kind of creative, efficient initiatives are incredibly exciting and a great example for charities to emulate.
Charities have always looked to the corporate sector for ideas like these which they can emulate. Because of the recession, the great challenge now facing the entire learning and development industry is that everyone is trying to do 'more for less' – corporates and charities alike.
"One thing that is really striking about the charity sector, which the corporate world could learn much from, is their refreshing openness and willingness to share information"
One thing that is really striking about the charity sector, which the corporate world could learn much from, is their refreshing openness and willingness to share information – about both their failures and successes – and, in this way, learn from one another. What price can you put on this shared knowledge? I'm also seeing charity members of the consortium increasingly share their resources: as we now have more than 85 members, if one charity is developing a piece of elearning, then another charity in the group is probably interested in partnering with them. It’s probably a pipedream to expect corporate organisations to ever do the same – but I can dream!

Martin Baker is the founder and managing director of the UK based Charity Learning Consortium (CLC), which enables cost effective eLearning within the charity sector. The CLC makes eLearning available to countless volunteers and around 100,000 staff at more than 85 member charities. Martin is also the MD of leadership and management online learning specialists LMMatters, the UK partner to Harvard Business Publishing. He was recently named one of the top 10 most influential people in eLearning in the UK.

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