How we really learn

March 11, 2009

cookiesI met a very nice man recently at an eLearning Network event called ‘Making the case for eLearning.’ 

Charles Jennings spent many years working for Reuters where he was in charge of developing the knowledge, skills and capabilities of over 16,00 staff worldwide.  Quite a remit. 

It was very interesting to hear Charles talk about his experiences of developing knowledge at this global organisation who’s business is trading in knowledge. 

I enjoyed hearing about the 8 principles that underpinned the learning strategy in the organisation, the first of which is that VUCA impacts everything we do (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity).  A principle that is definately not unique to a successful multi-national corporation, in this day and age, that’s for sure. 

Charles spoke a lot of common sense, weaving in research and theories from academia in an interesting and relevant way.   And, like the best truisms we know, when he explained his thinking there were a few “Of course!” moments for me. 

But the bit I liked best about Charles’ spot, apart from the references to his native Australia, was the 70:20:10 rule that Reuters practice. 

This rule states that 70% of all learning is achieved through experience; 20% through others; and the remaining 10% is achieved through structured off the job training, like e-learning.

I was struck by the relative unimportance of e-learning in the mix which, at the time, was like a bucket of cold water after having spent a full day talking about How To Make The Case For eLearning In Your Organsiation. 

But how utterly true, I mused, thinking about the current learning experiences of my 4 year old and how he is learning to bake biscuits and have a temper tantrum (the latter = his father, the former = his mother, of course).  Formal learning really does play a minority role for him.

And I wondered how the 70:20:10 theory is being practiced in other organisations.  For example, is this how today’s social workers are trained?



The scores on the doors

March 5, 2009

number-4So the last ever CPA scores have been released today for the 150 single-tier English authorities.  Councils up and down the country will either be giving themselves a well-deserved pat on the back or kicking themselves for having lost ground.

We’ve been studying the form and, I must admit, some CPA-speak seems a bit crazy to innocent bystanders like ourselves.

For example, how can an organisation lose a star but be described as ‘improving strongly’?

But rather than try and figure out how the minds of the Audit Commission statisticians work, let’s just park that to come back to another day.  One when we all have enough time in our lives to read the Audit Commission’s somewhat indecipherable website.

Three councils are so aggrieved with their CPA scores that they’ve taken the decision to go to judicial review – and we’ll all be watching over the next while to see how that pans out.  Check out our quick poll to give your opinion on whether this is the right approach, and see if others agree with you.

We know it’s selfish but to be honest, our interest is focused mainly around our own dear customers and how they have fared.   And the answer is rather well, it would seem.

Nearly half (62 to be exact) of the 150 councils scored are members of the Learning Pool ‘club’ and over 85% of those authorities have been described as ‘improving well’ or ‘improving strongly’ – the highest categories awarded on the direction of travel scores.

Four of our customers have been 4* authorities since the start of CPA seven years ago and they are City of London, LB Bexley, Sunderland council and City of Westminster.  Well done to you for providing consistently excellent services.  They say there’s only one way to go when you’ve reached the top but you are all the exception that proves the rule.

Eight of our customers have moved up a star and one, Bury council, has moved up two stars.  Only one other council in England has achieved that level of improvement.  Overall, 35 councils have achieved a direction of travel described as “improving strongly” and we are delighted that almost 45% of those are Learning Pool customers.

So what’s our take on the numbers?

We would never claim to be behind any successes achieved by our customers, the credit is all yours.  However, we like to think that there is some correlation between councils that are part of Learning Pool and achieving good CPA scores because it’s all about having a certain mindset, driving culture change and creating improvement.

And as an aside, we are pleased (relieved?) to see that the councils our three Account Managers left to join Learning Pool from have all managed to hang onto their 4* ratings.

We at Learning Pool are planning how we can help our councils continue to do so well in the move to the new Comprehensive Area Assessment regime which starts 1st April.

We firmly believe that our customers are strategic thinkers and planners and many of them are already considering how they can provide wider reaching learning environments to their partners and beyond.  We’re here if any of you need any help.


George Bernard Shaw explains Learning Pool

March 3, 2009

girl-and-apple-bought“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple.

But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

George Bernard Shaw

And that, my friends, is the Learning Pool philosophy in a nutshell!


Hands off my Kebab

March 1, 2009

kebabSome of you will no doubt have seen the report recently which seems to imply that my favourite fast food is just not good.
What’s a thousand calories between friends and where is the problem in not knowing exactly what meat is in there?  That’s half the fun.
I loved the bit in the report that said “35 per cent of the kebabs tested by the experts contained a different meat from what was claimed”.  Where have they ever said what meat it’s supposed to be?  I have only ever seen signs that say it’s Donner meat.

Young people could be forgiven for thinking that a Donner is a wild, yet boneless, animal that lives in the hills of Turkey rather like the wild haggis that roam free in Scottish glens.
I don’t mind that the same slab of mysterious meat may have been rotating on the skewer for days in a shop that is almost always done out in a garish colour scheme with stools that are bolted down (possibly to avoid slippage).
Don’t get me wrong.  I am not a completely unhealthy slob.  I always have salad and sauce too. I’m sure that that portion of salad goes a long way to satisfying my 5 a day.
You may wonder where all this is going.  How does it relate to blended learning?  Well, iIt doesn’t.  It’s just me having a rant and standing up for a food I like when I know I shouldn’t.

You know what they say: “A little of what you fancy”.  I don’t know who “they” are but after reading the news report I think “they” may have got it wrong this time.

But “they” also said “Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse.”  Do I still qualify?


With a little help from my new friends

February 24, 2009

lady-runner-leapingThe thought of coming last takes me back to the fear of being picked for team games at school. 

It used to be such a humiliating experience waiting for the ‘super cool’ team leader to call out your name.  But luckily for me I survived, netball always required tall goal keepers.

However last week I experienced the ultimate coming last experience, which took me back to my team selection fears from secondary school.  I joined the local running club and was put through a full hour of torture.

The club consists of thirty local elite athletes all dressed in fluorescent yellow winter gear and skinny running tights. I’m sure they won’t mind me telling you, but you can’t tell the difference between the men or the women, as everyone of them has strong willowy stick insect legs which put my pair of sturdy oak pins to shame.

I had joined the sprint training session which, for a regular jogger like me, can only be described as pure hell.  After five miles of moderate paced runs and sprints around the town centre, we went onto the busy bypass where, in full view of the general public and horn happy boyracers, were made to repeatedly sprint between lampposts on a steep hill.

Coming last at not one but every interval session can only be described as totally degrading for a previously confident ‘nearly’ 30 year old women.  What made it even worse, was that by the end of the session the entire club knew that I was called Emily, as they all gave me encouragement while I puffed in last.

Comfort zones play an important part in learning and development and on this occasion I certainly was pushed out of mine.  With some extra weight to shift and a marathon on the horizon, I need to find the courage to go back next week.

But with the encouragement from my new fluorescent friends, the prospect of going back is actually not too daunting.  It’s just like the Learning Pool club, where people help and encourage each other to achieve their e-learning goals.

Now all I have to do is persuade my slow friend to join, that would help my confidence out no end!


The Woolly Hat of the Law

February 18, 2009

wooly-hatI was reminded recently of the time I had to attend a police line-up and it made me smile thinking about it so I thought I would share my story with you.

About 5 years ago, late one night, I saw a woman crouched by a neighbours car, scratching a rude word down the side with a knife. I called out and she did a runner.

I left a note for my neighbour and this lead to a visit from the police the next day. A couple of weeks later I got a call asking if I could attend a line-up to identify the vandal.

I was kept waiting an age when I got to Bradford’s central police station but the reason became clear when the officer in charge came and apologised for the delay. 

The woman in question had been detained in the cells for another offence.  Turns out, whilst locked up, she had got into a fight with another inmate who had headbutted her and cut her nose.  Not only that, but to avoid identification she had shaved off her hair.

This gave the police a problem because, I believe, all the people in the line-up have to have a similar appearance and she wouldn’t stand much of a chance if she was the only person there with a sticking plaster across her nose and a bald head.

The officer in charge explained that the delay had been unfortunate but necessary and that I would understand when I entered the room to see the line-up.  He was smiling to the point of laughter as he opened the door and advised me to walk slowly passed the glass, behind which were about 10 women.

To the left of me was a large glass partition and standing about 3 feet apart were a row of women, all of whom had a plaster on their nose and a black woolly hat pulled down on their head to hide their hair.

This is one of the most bizarre sights I have ever seen.  The great British coppers had sent someone out to buy a box of plasters and dozen woolly hats to maintain a sence of justice.

And just for the record, I did pick her out (and could have done so even if she wasn’t the only one with 2 black eyes).


Sharing is caring

February 16, 2009

sharing-is-caringMaybe it’s a sign of the time where rules previously unchallenged are now changing almost overnight, like bonuses in the banking sector.  Or maybe it really is the start of a brave new world.

Whatever the case three cheers to GlaxoSmithKline boss, Andrew Witty, for the new strategic direction he’s announced this weekend.  Witty has spearheaded a revolution in the global pharmaceutical industry by challenging the fundamentals on how GSK will operate.

One of the changes being talked about is the establishment of a patent pool where drug companies, starting with GSK, will freely share the patented knowledge about common diseases with members of the pool so that they can be explored by other scientists looking for cures. You share yours and I’ll share mine.

It is interesting to see how the principals of doing business normally associated with open source software have transferred to such a tightly competitive field as the global pharmaceutical industry. What goes around, comes around.

Of course, nearly 90% of local authorities in England already know how great it is to share and work collaboratively for the common good, and it is interesting to see how this is fast becoming the new way of doing business.

And, going one step further, what a great idea it is to create something yourself and then share it with others so that they can benefit too. Efficient, practical and progressive. Sounds like the ethos of a small e-learning company I know…


I always knew Learning Pool was …

February 14, 2009

adams-family… a great place to work and it’s been confirmed to me loads of times this week when I’ve been doing reviews with some of our own team.

The Learning Pool team is wide, diverse and ever growing but I’ve learned that the reasons that people love the place include:

1. We get to wear our own clothes (seriously!)
2. The customers are great and really appreciate what you do for them
3. We can work from home when you need to
4. We get to work with exciting technology and see the fruits of our labour every day
5. The people in the team are dynamic, fun and hard working
6. Our customers tell us when we’ve done a great job
7. We’re a company on the way up… unusual at the moment but for real
8. Management listen to you when you have an idea (again, I’m not making it up!)
9.  We enjoy what we do
10. We get to see lots of nice places (OK, I made that one up!)

Not wishing to blow our own trumpet too much, but we’ve also had a few customers in this week and their feedback has been equally effusive. 

One of them called the Learning Pool team a ‘big family’ which was a really nice compliment… unless he meant the Adams family of course.


Dry hands at last

February 13, 2009

sky-diversI just want to take a moment to say thank you.

I want to say thank you to a company whose previous products have sucked.  Their latest product doesn’t suck, it blows, big time.

No, I am not using irreverent Americanisms, just stating a fact.  The company in question is Dyson and the product is the Airblade hand dryer.

I love the Airblade. Every loo should have one. If you have used one you will understand why; it does what it says it does, it dries your hands.

Every since I can remember a visit to a public toilet had always ended with a pile of paper towels, a fight with a wall mounted towel dispenser or worst of all a sad old fashioned hand dryer bellowing loudly but doing little in the way of drying. Most visits would end with hands being given a final wipe on the back of my trousers to get rid of the drops.

Those days are gone. The Airblade uses jets of air to scrape the water from your hands in just 10 seconds (the old style took around 35 seconds). Not only that but the motors it uses to this are much more effective than the old fashioned blowers so they are better for the environment too.

Where other dryers use 5 watts of energy in standby mode the Airblade only use 1 watt. Over all it is 80% more efficient than the old blowers. 

So, not only does it do what it says on the tin, it does a better job more efficiently (and we all know that efficiency is good).

As well as that it looks good and when you use it it blows so hard it dimples the skin of your hands giving an effect similar to that on a sky divers cheeks.

If you want to see one in action check out the video or better still go spend a penny. It’s worth it.


Giving good face

February 6, 2009

boy-blue-face-world-painted-on-boughtSo Facebook or Facepaint (as my Mum commonly refers to it) is five years old this week. And what a success story it is.

It has grown from a dorm room in Harvard to the biggest social network in the world to date with 150 million active users.  Its original aim was to help students keep in touch over the internet and get to know each other better.

Within 24 hours of launch, over 1, 200 Harvard students had signed up and soon after that the network was quickly extended to other colleges and universities in America.

Nowadays more than 15 million users a day update their friends with embarrassing updates.  They also upload videos, photographs, chat, make friends, meet old ones, join causes, groups, have fun (by throwing sheep at each other) and poke people.

Facebook has created a safe and trusted environment for people to interact online and is the second most popular website in the UK, behind Google.

The culture of the internet has changed dramatically over the past five years since Facebook was launched.  Before then, people were hesitant to share their real identities online but with the advent of Facebook people have been comfortable expressing more about themselves.

Personally I wasn’t one of the trend setters and have only had a Facebook account for a few years.  I check it now and again (not quite the average 2 hours a day of some users though) and it’s a great way to see what my friends are up to.

The snowfall has yet to properly hit Northern Ireland where I am, so this week I have been jealous of snow scene photos taken by those with a snow day off. 

Plus I’ve been sneaking a quick look at the photographic evidence from my cousin’s 21st birthday party (if my Aunt only knew!).  There are reasons why celebs ban cameras from their weddings, you know…

Many challenges lie ahead for Facebook, not least how will they actually make money from the world’s favourite social networking site.  And then there are the newcomers to the social networking scene, such as Twitter, the microblogging service loved by celebrities such as Chris Moyles, Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry.

Twitter was also used by Barack Obama throughout his recent presidential campaign and has increased more than one thousand percent during the last year.  In fact, Facebook was so nervous about the growing power of Twitter that it tried to buy the company for $500 million in stock late last year.

We’ve created our very own online networking site currently called ‘My profile’ on, for members of our Learning Pool club to share their e-learning experiences and ideas.

Not only can you tell others about yourself, but you can also search for other people who share your interests and who are interested in collaborating on the certain topic areas.  And there’s loads more – check it out.


Isn’t it ironic…

February 3, 2009

bride-raining-wedding-day“It’s like rain on your wedding day!” so said Alanis Morrisette but, no Alanis, that is not ironic.  I think that you will find that that is just bad luck.

I can tell you about ironic.

Ironic is going to an Emergency Planning Conference and Exhibition only to find that due to a bad (in both senses of the word) weather forecast half the delegates and many of the speakers couldn’t make it.

In my local area we were told to expect up to half a metre of snow overnight.  What did we get?  Just the opposite.  The snow that was already down had begun to thaw but the fierce warnings had already been heeded.

Delegates trickled in between 9.30 and 10.30am, presumably after having had a lie in because the weathermen had told them to.  Half the delegates (and several of the speakers) apparently stayed in bed for the rest of the day.

I guess that some people had to stay away as England’s schools shut their doors against the forecasted 2nd ice age and someone had to look after the kids whilst the teachers went sledging. 

My son’s school had closed the day before the exhibition due to snow.  The school’s website announced its unavailability before 8.00am on Monday morning which is a very early assumption that the teachers couldn’t get in. The local council announced on Monday evening that all schools would be closed on Tuesday.  The teachers get a paid couple of days in the snow but just you try taking a child out of school for a skiing holiday…

Why is it that when it snows this country is just pants?  I have no idea but I do know that a badly attended Emergency Planning Event due to an incorrect weather forecast is ironic.


Lessons for grown ups from Sesame Street

January 30, 2009

I love this video.  I’ve watched it hundreds of times trying to work out what makes it special, even if only in that Sesame Street/supplementary education way. 

But whatever the secret ingredient is I’m sure there are all sorts of keys to good learning here.  Take a simple idea, use a familiar song, change the words and you end up with a fun piece of learning.  

So I looked for more examples and found how the same idea, similarly executed, can go so wrong.  Take a look.  Sorry James.

I suppose we need Paul Weller to do ‘That’s Edutainment’ to make it right.


Until then, and purely as part of my research, I came across this piece featuring Elmo and Andrea Bocelli. No real learning – just indulgence.  Enjoy.

Andy H

Americans…doncha just love ‘em!

January 28, 2009


Sam and I have been out on the road for the last couple of days in the freezing cold North East, experiencing legendary Geordie hospitality, doing a lot of listening and just a tiny smidgeon of talking (!). 

We’ve been visiting organisations that aren’t yet members of the Learning Pool Club.  Yes, dear reader, believe it or not there are some people out there that haven’t yet folded to peer pressure and signed up for the many benefits  that a Learning Pool subscription brings.  I can almost hear you gasp in disbelief.

It’s always great to get out and chat to people, listen to their challenges and issues and be inspired by their innovation, motivation, enthusiasm and achievements.

 This week has been particularly interesting for me as I’ve had a rare chance to watch our very own Sam Barbee operating on the closest possible parallel to his home turf.  Yes, rather unbelievably, two of our meetings this week have been with ex-pat American citizens who are now lucky enough to be living and working in north eastern England.

For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Sam, he is our very own piece of genuine southern Californian real estate, the surfer dude boy from the O.C. uprooted and miraculously transplanted to sunny Derry.  Their loss, our gain.

This week has given me the opportunity to watch him up close interacting with people from “back home” – Antoinette who left New York 30 years ago (but from her accent it could have been last week – truly lovely!) and Lola who told us that Sam is only the second American she has met since moving to South Tyneside five years ago and how mesmerising she was finding his accent. 

It got me thinking about what a rich and diverse place UK local government is to work in and what a mix of cultures it’s possible to experience without travelling very far at all – and how lucky we all are as a result.


You can take the boy out of Wales …

January 23, 2009

welsh-flagMaeve:  Hey Ben, I like the new tattoos on the inside of your wrists.  What do they say?

Ben:  On this wrist it says “Cymru” and on this one is says “Am byth”

Maeve:  What does that mean?

Ben:  Wales forever

Maeve:  What, as opposed to for 20 minutes?

Ben:  sigh

The History of Learning Pool by Donald Clark

January 21, 2009

learningpool-bubbleRead this blog by Donald Clark which talks about where he got the idea for Learning Pool from.

Interesting stuff to hear about our humble beginnings on the back of an airplane sick bag.

Read how Donald made the case for the IDeA to create Learning Pool and why the reasons for Learning Pool’s existence are just as important today, if not more so, as they were back in 2000.