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Is Starbucks Diversity Training a waste of time?

Starbucks are closing 8000 stores in the USA today to give all their employees 4 hours in unconscious bias training. This was a reaction to an incident in one of their stores where two black entrepreneurs who had setup a business meeting in Starbucks had first been refused entry to the toilet and then had police called to remove them after they didn’t order a drink immediately (they were waiting for the people they’d invited to the meeting to arrive).

Aside from the incident from a Learning and Training point of view there is an interesting discussion to be had on whether this is an effective response to the incident and also what relevance this has to us in our companies?

On one hand I would normally say organising a one off workshop is not an effective way to solve a problem or to change a culture, it’s very easy for everyone to attend their 4 hours training, go back to work the next day and forget about everything. Sitting for 4 hours is certainly not always an effective use of time and the only proven ways of learning and changing how people work are a combination repetition, reflection and actually trying things out in your day to day life.

On the other hand another key factor in bringing about change to company values and work practices is leadership and a strong clear message coming from leaders. This is an undeniably strong reaction by Starbucks and an immense commitment to close down 8000 stores. It makes a physical statement and sometimes that statement is more valuable than anything else.

I hope and assume that Starbucks are not limiting their response to 4 hours training. 4 hours training by itself is not enough, but if it’s part of a larger program to promote this agenda then they will probably go a long way to changing how their employees think and work.

How does this reflect to us in our workplaces? Rather than tell you what to think here are some questions on various themes for you to think about!

  • How open are we to different cultures, languages, religions and backgrounds?
  • How welcoming are we to all of the above groups?
  • What biases do we have when we work with our colleagues, external companies, colleagues from other office locations, colleagues from other countries or backgrounds?
  • How often do we try and solve a problem with our culture or way of working with a meeting or a task force rather than trying to change our culture?
  • How often do we pass on problems down in the organisation rather than take a leadership decision and make our values clear?

Learning, Champions League and a trip to Monaco

What is a great learning experience you have had? An aha moment where you remembered something you learnt a long time before. Write yours below! Here’s mine, and it’s a little related to the Champions League game between Chelsea and Barcelona tonight!

Back in 2001 I was a student at Birmingham University in my final year studying Computer Science and Software Engineering. I lived in a house in the student area with 4 other guys. One had a nice TV and a Playstation 2. I’ve never been a big computer games player but we had a copy of Grand Turismo 3. If you don’t know it it’s a car racing simulation. You choose a car, and race it around different circuits. It was supposed to be a realistic simulator and in order to do well you had to learn the race tracks. We played it a lot and did pretty well on it.

Fast forward a few years to 2004. Chelsea were playing Arsenal away in the quarter finals of the Champions League. It was 1-1 after the first leg and many Arsenal fans had already bought their flights to Madrid expecting to see Arsenal play in the Semis. Chelsea won 2-1 (thanks Wayne Bridge) and progressed to the semis, unexpectedly meeting Monaco who had surprisingly beaten Real Madrid. After the match I hurried online and bought flight tickets, they were still cheap. I then booked a rental car and a few weeks later, along with my brother, was on the plane to Nice, return flight in 12 hours.

We drove straight to Monaco, paid a fortune for underground parking in a city where everything is expensive, and headed to the stadium to try and get tickets. I managed to bargain a teenager down from €100 to €50 per ticket for tickets that had a face value of €20. Fast forward a few hours and we left the stadium disappointed after Chelsea managed to lose 3-1. While the principality of Monaco partied and celebrated the victory we decided to take a drive round the city before eating dinner and seeing a few of the sights. I drove through a tunnel, around a bend up a hill, with a feeling that things seemed very familiar. It was when I saw the red and white race markings around one of the bends that I said to my brother, “I know this corner, I’ve driven it before”. The weeks of playing Grand Turismo 3 had embedded the Monaco race track in my head to the point that I knew what was coming up next, it was a strange and unexpected feeling.

Sadly the football didn’t go my way but I learnt that day the power of computer games for learning!

Two learning inspirations I want to try in 2018

The year is now 2018, the fireworks are long gone but as it’s still January there is still time for anyone and everyone to make their recommendations for the year. Be it a fashion trend, a stock pick, a cryptocurrency (that’ll get me a few extra hits on this article), a business trend or how to transform your diet and lifestyle.

I’m not going to write about trends for learning but rather tell you about two recent inspirations that I would love to try in my daily work.

  1. Nas Daily – Nuseir Yassin also known as Nas Daily has, in the last year, become an internet celebrity. His Facebook page has over 4 million followers, and he’s done it by creating 1 minute videos, mostly about his travels and people he meets along the way. His personality, positivity and likeability are no doubt a big factor in his success but his 1 minute videos are (as I’d say if I was American) little packets of awesomeness. I’ve picked one out below as a demonstration. Microlearning or nanolearning is a trend in corporate learning right now, it has its fans and its detractors. It’s no golden bullet for sure. 1 minute videos could be a great form of microlearning but also a great form of corporate communication. It beats an email, it beats a slideshow, it’s more personal. I’m going to try it out somehow. Remember depending on how polished you want them videos can take a lot of time to make but I’m hoping by using mobile phones and by keeping it simple this will be doable quickly.

2. Smartly – Smartly are a company that seem to do both recruitment and training. They’ve developed an online MBA course which they say is the first free MBA (alongside a paid for “executive” version) and they make money from it by recruiting people for other companies. If you log into their website or download their app you get access to their business essentials course covering things like basic accounting and marketing. These mini courses are delivered online through an interface that is very familiar but also much more engaging than other online clickety click courses. The courses work well on mobile phones and make you read and engage with the content, are written in an informal way with silly but entertaining case studies, include repetition and are very accessible. Again this is no golden bullet and part of the reason they are good is that the content has been well thought through. This isn’t something I can duplicate like for like but gives a lot of inspiration of how a good online course can look. Take a peek yourself. This video shows an example of their app but you need to strain your neck a little!

Now it’s over to you. Have you any super apps, webtools, case studies or examples that have inspired you recently? Please do share them with me, in the comments below, in a message, over a videoconference or even a coffee! Wishing you a wonderful and inspirational 2018.

Examples of using IT tools in ways not intended (for learning)

In my previous post I rambled on a bit too much about the Wombles before making the point that even if you don’t have the fanciest, latest software there is still a lot you can do. I promised some examples. I should have maybe given this article a cooler heading like “Hack your IT systems” but it didn’t quite seem right. Anyway here are the examples, not revolutionary, probably, but maybe they’ll give you some ideas and maybe you can share your ideas in the comments! I’m not sharing this as “best practice”. This is “real world practice”. What to do when you don’t have time or resources to do things the best way. When you have to do them good enough with what you have available.

The Wiki

Although very much yesterday’s technology our work Wiki is pretty new (and even a bit exciting sometimes). I’ve read lots of stories about how they can quickly get filled up with junk that nobody takes responsibility to maintain… we’ll see what happens here. But here are some ways I’ve used it for learning

Onboarding: Not a fancy personalised tool, not a solution in itself, but great to have a place to collect lots of getting started information, links to documents to read and useful courses. We have a lot of people and consultants coming in and out of projects so it’s a good helping hand to get them started.

Publishing courses and resources: Okay the courses are published elsewhere but with links to them included on the wiki as well as embedded training videos it’s easier to find and locate what they need for a particular project, without having to search through 100 e-learning courses on our LMS

Running courses: I don’t do much teaching anymore, but last time I did I put group assignments for my groups up on the wiki. They followed the resources and completed the tasks. They also had a reference to come back to after the course.

The LMS (Learning Management System)

The newest flashiest all integrated LMS systems seem to do everything. Ours doesn’t but can still do a lot more than just deliver classroom and e-learning courses.

Reading lists checkoff: We sometimes have to send out large technical reading lists to personnel. Using a quiz feature in the LMS and self assessment we can track who has and hasn’t completed it.

Using a course cover page to give ad-hoc updates: Our e-learning courses are gradually getting older and in need of updating. This costs a lot and sometimes isn’t worth the money when the errors are fairly superficial… by updating the course cover page in the LMS (it’ll depend on the system) we don’t need to update the e-learning and we can warn people what is out of date, what has changed and what to ignore. Not ideal but does the job.


Nanolearning seems to still be a bit of a buzzword. I’m lucky enough to have access to a commercial system for creating and publishing nanolearning (Junglemap). But I use it for way more than sending out little blocks of information.

Publishing software help & Intro guides: A nanolesson can give me a framework to wrap up and publish an intro along with getting started guides and embedded videos in a nice little package. It’s a great way to introduce a new piece of software and also becomes a reference manual that can be used when needed. (I also add links to them on the wiki – see above)


Everybody loves Powerpoint, lots of people hate it too because it’s often used to create monsters. But it has a lot of potential as a great learning tool.

Create and record short presentations: I’ve used it to create and record short presentations (using Office Mix). The presentations are then embedded into a nanolesson, wiki or email. They have to be good presentations! Generally short introductions to a topic or definitions are good uses of this. You can read my previous intro to Office Mix here.

Part 3

That was a little taster of how I use some of our software in slightly different ways than intented. In part 3 I will write about how you can combine free tools along with the recycling to open up even more horizons…


(Original background Banner Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash)

(Womble photo by Natalie Ingram)

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Making good use of the things that we find

Title picture, wombles and circles
If the wombles had IT tools for learning

Readers who were children in the 70s or 80s, (or frequenters of Wimbledon Common) may have heard of the Wombles. They were a fictional group of furry rodent like creatures who collected old rubbish and recycled and reused it in creative ways. In many ways ahead of their times before recycling was trendy, but still a group of fictional rodents.

Then there is me at work. Fortunately my office is a bit of an upgrade to the Wombles’ clutter filled burrow; I have a fancy chair, a desk that goes up and down, a laptop with a docking station, two big LCD monitors, not to mention lots of lovely colleagues. Certainly nothing to complain about, but when it comes to IT systems and systems for delivering learning, well that’s when the clutter of the Wombles becomes more of a comparison.

Like many companies we have a hotchpotch of systems available to us, they’ve evolved over time as strategies have changed, budgets have expanded and contracted (and contracted and contracted). Some have become foundation stones of our daily work, others float around behind the scenes doing things few understand but that everyone else is scared to mess with! I don’t think we’re unusual, I don’t think we’re deprived either, but in the world of learning that I work with, technology can be a great enabler. I’m trying to change the way our people and managers see learning, away from classes and courses to support processes and reference resources. There are many great pieces of software to support and enable this shift, but for those of you who, like me, haven’t got the budgets right now, for the shiniest new kit, it’s important to remember that while we dream, there is still plenty we can do. Like the wombles we can achieve a lot by recycling and reusing our existing software in different ways, often in ways it wasn’t built for. Some of these things are dead easy to do and there is no better place than building a revolution than from the bottom up, show the people what they can do and let them fly.

In part two (coming soon and hyperlink will be added) I’ll give some examples of some of the recycling I’ve done to create great learning and how I hope to use it as a springboard for something bigger…

(Original background Banner Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash)

(Womble photo by Natalie Ingram)

Sometimes the simplest problems are the hardest to solve

Have you ever tried to show someone how to do something easy? Of course you have, you do it all the time without even thinking about it especially if you have kids. But what happens if you have 1000 people you need to show, who all have a different starting point, who all demand something slightly different, and there’s just one of you and not many other resources available to help.

That’s one of the challenges I had at work last Summer. My employer changed their email system. After many many years of the company using Lotus Notes for email we moved to Microsoft Outlook.

Illustration - thking about outlook

I wasn’t involved in the upgrade project, I had plenty of other work commitments, and therefore didn’t know all the details and thought processes, but they did have someone advising on a training plan, though in the times and the business we are in (providing services to the oil and gas industry) resources are very tight and regrettably training is one of the areas that often takes the hit. They had to therefore provide something without much budget. The end result was a training resource, published on the company intranet, consisting of tips and links to selected Microsoft training videos on their website. For comparison previous similar projects (Microsoft Office upgrade for example) included external training presentations with all employees given the opportunity to attend but this wasn’t an option this time.

Roll out day arrived and we all got down to using our new system. Of course after years of people complaining “why don’t we have Outlook like everyone else” the voices suddenly turned to “it was fine before”… but that’s a given!

Very quickly more and more people started asking me for help. I have responsibility for learning and training in a particular business unit (over 3 locations) and particular business projects (that may span locations). Having 100’s of employees wasting time not using a system efficiently is not cost effective so I started looking at what I could offer to those I am responsible for. I also secretly relished the opportunity to brush off my long rested IT teacher skills to make a difference. I organise a lot of training at work, most of the topics and software is very complex Engineering software that I am not an expert in. I try and understand but I develop training and learning opportunities in conjunction with experts who really know their stuff. Outlook seemed like a doddle in comparison. I can use it, I can learn what I need to fast, I can run some nice training to help other people use it, it’ll be easy I thought.

Then as you say in US English, I started doing the math. There was no way I had time to hold classes for 1000 students and I couldn’t provide customised learning to help different people with varying degrees of competence. I turned to a couple of Linkedin groups for help. One group “Organization Development & Training Forum (Sponsored by Degreed) gave some really good feedback with 17 replies to my post. The replies both suggested solutions and questioned my assumption.

Inspired by the input I received from many experts around the world I went for a 4 part solution.

  1. Superuser training – I trained up a group of expert users who could support those working around them. I setup 1 hour classes for these volunteers, each class was split into groups and each group had to become an expert in a particular feature or area. They then had to share their learning with the rest of the group. The classes went pretty well and everyone learnt something new as well as where to find out more in future.
  2. Superuser e-mail group – I setup an email group for superusers to help each other out in cases where they didn’t know the answer.
  3. Drop in mini training – I offered 15 minute beginners classes in various basic topics, tips and tricks. These were not so well attended but it gave all who wanted more help the opportunity to attend.
  4. Dripping of information – We had some ready made nanolessons (short series of learning presentations) available for Outlook which were made available for anyone who wanted. I also sent out a few emails with tips and tricks, links to training videos (that had always been available) and reminders of who to contact for help.

Did I solve the problem?

Honestly the answer is yes and no. The complaints about “why doesn’t Outlook do this?” have stopped. This is partly because people now know how to do what they need to do to some extent due to the training that was offered. It’s also partly down to Outlook being pretty easy to use and people supporting themselves and their peers to learn. So knowledge has certainly improved and part of that is due to the initiatives taken. But I still regularly come across people who aren’t aware of certain productivity features, so although the urgent need might have been resolved the problem is not completely solved. Of the four solutions above the email group remains almost not used, partly because it took so long to get going and I guess it was an initiative too far. In my experience not everyone is happy asking questions to a group, while most are happy asking one to one. The drop in mini training was not popular but did a job in that people had the opportunity to attend. The nanolearning also offered some support but like the drop in training I think the result is also partly psychological, as long as people know support is available they feel a bit more secure! The dripping of the information I think was the icing on the cake, the original Microsoft help videos published by the rollout project were good, but having them published on the Intranet is not good enough, they needed pushing out better and giving people that push and the affirmation that it was okay to take 10-20 minutes of the day learning to use the software, made the difference.

Is the job done? Yes for now but of course I’d like to do it even better . It was a fun problem to look into now but unfortunately now my time is better used on the other hundred problems and issues that are calling.

Not convinced that sometime the easiest problems are the hardest to solve? Try and teach my parents to use their mobile phones and come back to me.

Office Mix – a potential gamechanger

I recently discovered Office Mix or as I keep incorrectly calling it Powerpoint Mix (as it’s really a Powerpoint addon). Okay I’m a little late to the party, Office Mix was first released in May 2014, but my Office PC has only recently upgraded to Office 2013 where the plugin is available. In a nuthsell it’s a tool that allows you to record presentations complete with narration, webcams, screenshots and even quizzes. For me it’s given me the possibility of easy and rapid e-learning development, the potential is pretty endless. For my company I can see it as a tool people could use for knowledge sharing and recording simple training presentations. For school and other learning environments it could be used by students to create their own learning materials and stories.

The simplest feature in mix is the ability to play through and narrate a set of powerpoint slides and display this as a video or an interactive presentation via Office 365. This narration can include video from your webcam and screencasting. If you have a tablet you can also annotate and draw on slides as you present (you can do without a tablet but it’s obviously messier). Functionality like quizzes are also available though I’ve not tried this yet. Obviously there is a risk of death by Powerpoint. I’ve seen and been a part of too many e-learning projects that just present lots of reading material in the forms of an online presentation. That of course ticks a box but is often neither pedagogical nor effective.

I’ve successfully used Mix at work to create a presentation to explain a new IT solution, in both English and Thai. I can’t share it all for security and commercial reasons but I include a couple of slides from it below in my Mix demo! I’ve made a short unpolished Mix to demonstrate what a Mix is and some of the functionality available. I estimate it took 20-30 minutes from start to finish to make this short presentation. To make a more polished version I would double that time but one of the beauties of this tool is you can do things “good enough” with minimal effort.