This blog first appeared on the Kogan Page website – April 2014.

My daughter called the other day.  Her smartphone was broken and she was in the supermarket on her old, basic handset – you know, the ones you can use to call people.  She was in a minor turmoil.  Planning a recipe she needed to know how to convert millilitres into grams. “I haven’t got google on this!” she said, plaintively.

I understood her plight.  We have become so used to accessing instant facts on our smartphones, tablets and PCs that we are unable to recall basic information from schooldays – or at least unwilling to trust our memories.  Looking things up has never been easier.

The 25 years of the World Wide Web and its sites, apps and platforms has been, on balance, positive.  There is nothing wrong with having an unimaginably thorough encyclopaedia at our fingertips (or eye lashes or wherever the next generation of devices will be located).   Giving each and every one of us the capability to publish our thoughts, opinions and theories and to share what we find with friends and family is great. The whole idea of a web which no longer restricts our roles to those of consumer but enables each of us to be writer, photographer, journalist or film maker seems generally positive. That said; I could live without the cute videos of kittens in boxes. Every advance has its price.

The platforms which open up the world of publishing, sharing and collaboration increasingly are described as learning tools.  Social media are regarded as enabling a seamless integration with the workplace, bringing previously unachievable lifelong learning within grasp.  But can we really reach out and touch this brave new world?  I’m not so sure.

Last December, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) published a survey of 2000 employees about social media use at work[i].  It found that over 76% use social media in their personal lives.  Despite almost two-thirds having a laptop, smartphone or tablet which they used at work, only 26% of respondents use social media in their job. Only 18% felt that social media was ‘important’ for their work.

No one would call this an overwhelming level of social media use. Yet in a survey of the top learning tools carried out by the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, top spot in 2012 and 2013 was held by Twitter.

Why the disconnect?  The CIPD report has a view: “The relative lack of interest in using social media for work can be taken in two ways: employees have yet to understand its value, or the advocates have overestimated its value.”  They go on: “claims made by social media advocates who predicted widespread transformation appear exaggerated”.

Two groups do use social media disproportionately – freelancers and senior managers.  Given that the training industry has more than its fair share of freelancers, perhaps this explains Twitter’s importance as a ‘learning technology’.  Freelancers using Twitter to reduce their isolation is hardly surprising.  The use of social media by senior managers may be more unexpected until you think about it.  The junior employee may feel less free to ask questions, make comments or publish their views than people further up the hierarchy.  The same CIPD survey found that 29% of employers have dismissed or disciplined an employee as a result of their social media indiscretions in the past year.

The collaboration which is at the heart of the so-called social learning revolution is also pretty limited.  Of those using social media at work only 38% were collaborating externally and only 29% internally.  Remember, these are percentages of the quarter of workers using social media at work.  Of the total workforce this represents only 9% and 7% respectively.  Online collaboration has some way to go.

In 2014, a further study[ii] tested how well those connected to social networks performed in cognitive reasoning tests. One group answered the questions alone, unconnected to anyone else.  They became the baseline.  Thereafter, groups were asked questions individually and then given access to the answers of others in an online network.

On the second attempt, after seeing the answers of others, people were more likely to get the answer right.  Social learning appears to work.

But on subsequent, similar questions, the answers given in advance of checking across the network were no better than those of the baseline group.  While performance had improved, through copying the answer, the ability to think independently and to avoid previous mistakes remained unchanged.  As the authors of the study noted:  “the unreflective copying bias can alone explain why increased connectivity may eventually make us stupid by making us smarter first.”

I am not without hope for the use of social media and user generated content as a route to learning.  There are opportunities to harness individuals’ engagement with web 2.0 technologies to accelerate learning. But it will need more than those who used to contribute to well-structured eLearning programmes – the freelance trainers and managers – self-publishing on the cheap.  This improves nothing.

It will require learners to think independently, however well and frequently they are connected. By using these new tools to articulate what they have discovered their learning will be strengthened.

Increased peer-to-peer collaboration as an adjunct to learning will require a range of joined up activities.  I believe these activities will be led by first class trainers and educators who recognise that their role extends beyond the classroom and involves every aspect of modern employment.

We will need to trust our memories.  The conversion rate for millilitres to grams is one to one, a relationship taught in primary school.  Breaking free from the safety net of google and liberating ourselves from a reliance on copying the answers of others will ensure that the World Wide Web and social media doesn’t make us more stupid.

© Robin Hoyle, March 2014

Do you agree?  Is social media and the use of social media in learning more widespread than these studies suggest and does it do more than simply encourage copying? Join the debate by adding a comment.

Robin is a trainer, learning designer and the author of Complete Training published by Kogan Page.

Complete Training is a practical, comprehensive guide to implementing effective learning throughout an organization catering to the needs of every employee from recruitment to retirement.

To claim your 20% discount simply click here and enter the code M4W2 when prompted at the checkout. Offer includes free P&P within the UK.

[i] Gifford, J; Social technology, social business? 2013, CIPD

[ii] Rahwan I, Krasnoshtan D, Shariff A, Bonnefon J-F. 2014 Analytical reasoning task reveals limits of social learning in networks. J. R. Soc. Interface 11: 20131211.

An interesting video appeared from the Deloitte Center for the Edge recently.  It suggests that learning and development should be much higher up the agenda of senior leaders and – apparently controversially – that Chief Learning Officers should or could become organisation CEOs.  This was a red rag to various folks who think that formal L&D should be consigned to the history books. The blogosphere responded.

Never one who is shy of adding my two-penn’orth you can see my comments on the original video and some of the responses to it here.

I know you should never reference yourself, but I’m quite pleased that the basic premise of the Deloitte researchers comments supports my call for Performance Directors whch I made in last year’s book, Complete Training.

Please join the debate – either here or on the TrainingZone website.

CIPD survey warns businesses that they must do more to meet the needs of an ageing workforce. Learnworks can help HR teams take a more strategic approach to getting the best from their older workers.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development has launched Managing an age-diverse workforce – the result of extensive surveys of attitudes and practices for a workforce which is growing older.  The backdrop to the survey – and its timeliness – is explicitly summed up as follows: While the number of young people in employment might well decline in the coming two decades, the principal change will be a much larger number of older workers seeking to extend their working lives – by choice or necessity – into older age than recent generations.”

From a skills updating and capability development perspective, the challenge is well articulated in the CIPD’s report.  Businesses – especially in the private sector – are doing too little, too late to ensure that this ageing workforce can continue to be productive and contribute into their later years.  Although the most important benefit of having a mix of ages across the workforce was described as Knowledge Sharing, few employers have strategies to maximise this benefit or deal with some of the challenges of the changing workforce demographic.  One fifth of organisations feel that their managers are ineffective or very ineffective at promoting team working amongst team members of different ages.  With 56% of respondents saying that line managers are not currently trained in this area, the surprise is that the levels of effectiveness are as high as they seem to be!

When it comes to training for older workers specifically, the reactive nature of HR responses to these issues continues.  The positive practice – such as regular reviews of training needs; line managers being required to encourage employees to take training programmes and encouragement for mentoring activities are somewhat undermined by the finding that 88% of respondents do not monitor participation in training on the basis of age.  This is hugely problematic.  As the CIPD noted in an earlier report in June 2011: ““..too many older workers are currently neglected in the workplace when it comes to training and performance management, with some employers perhaps assuming older staff are nearing the end of their working lives and need less attention.”

This perception was also described by a report by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST): “There is a sharp decrease in training once workers reach their mid-50s. Employers commonly believe that they will not get a good return on their investment in training for older workers”.

Despite these reports being almost three years old, HR functions are rarely collecting data on training participation by older staff.  The anecdotal evidence is certainly strong – older workers are not being trained and yet are an increasing – and increasingly important – segment of the UK workforce.

A mixed picture of good points and less good points emerges from Managing an age-diverse workforce. Although few specific recommendations are made in the report, it is clear that the CIPD is concerned that 86% of businesses currently do not have a strategy for how they will respond to the opportunities and challenges which an age diverse workforce brings.  It seems clear that HR teams should adopt a strategy which includes training and capability development activities targeted at older workers.

Learnworks Can Help

Help is at hand.  Complete Training: from recruitment to retirement published by Kogan Page specifically provides advice and guidance for creating training interventions for those at any stage of their career.  Based on some of the idea in the book, you can also access a free online mini- module which in just four minutes includes a review of the issue and seven handy hints to engage more experienced workers in their own training and in developing the capability of others.  This subject was further outlined in the Grey Talent webinar I delivered for the Corporate eLearning Consortium and you can see a recording of that presentation here.

If you have a need for some assistance in developing a strategy for addressing the performance needs and capability requirements of your Grey Talent, Learnworks Ltd will discuss your needs in a free, no obligation initial consultation.  Simply email to find out more.

Games and Older Workers

by Robin on March 17, 2014

Not two subjects you’ll often see in the same headline, but such is the richness of my world that in recent weeks I’ve been considering both these topics.


If you use games and the inelegantly named ‘gamification’ to enhance your learning offerings, you might find my recent blog over on training zone of interest. It concerns my own gaming experience – admittedly not extensive – and my musings on how games teach us things.  Especially I’m interested in how game mechanics changes our behaviour and may impact what and how we learn.

Training the Over 50s

Many of you will know from previous my previous contributions here and elsewhere how concerned I am that organisations are overlooking older workers when they are planning their L&D activities.  The simple fact is that we have a higher proportion of over 50s in the work force than ever before and they are likely to stay with us longer than ever before.  It seems to me to be really daft not to plan for their capability development alongside addressing the skills needs of their younger colleagues.  I was recently invited to deliver a webinar for the Corporate eLearning Consortium on this subject.  You can access the recording of it here.

If there is anything here which sparks an idea, please get in touch.

Grey talent: The untapped resource

by Robin on February 11, 2014

The over 50’s make up a third of the UK’s workforce, but are the least likely to be offered training. Yet research shows that you can indeed ‘teach an old dog new tricks’. Is it time for organisations to rethink their L&D policies for older workers, asks Robin Hoyle?

Robin Hoyle believes that it’s time to challenge some long-held beliefs about older workers. He’ll be giving practical hints and tips on how to support ‘grey talent’ in a free, knowledge sharing webinar for the Corporate eLearning Consortium at: 11am on 28th February.

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology reported in October 2011: “There is a sharp decrease in training once workers reach their mid-50s. Employers commonly believe that they will not get a good return on their investment in training for older workers.”

In another study [i], older workers themselves were reluctant to undertake further learning activities – believing that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ and besides, having been in work for so long what else is there for them to learn? This is echoed amongst employers. There may be a belief that older workers have lower cognitive faculties and are simply unable to learn. In fact, this is a tragic myth…

A 2011 report by the Health & Safety Executive found that cognitive and physical performance varies hugely and although it does change with age, advanced age is a poor predictor of either physical or cognitive performance. In other words, the over 50s are no less likely to be effective learners and capable performers than their younger colleagues.

Yet in an academic survey reported by the CIPD, fewer than 3% of over 50s without qualifications had been involved in job related training in the previous month, compared with more than 10% of their younger colleagues. “This is a shocking scenario,” says Robin Hoyle, Senior Consultant with Learnworks Ltd and the author of Complete Training: from recruitment to retirement.

“As retirement is postponed and those over 50 make up a greater proportion of the workforce than ever before, it really is time that learning and development departments started to recognise the needs and aspirations of older workers. It’s an enormous waste that this group is so often overlooked by those organising training initiatives” said Robin.

[i] Labour Market and Training Experiences of Older Workers in the West Midlands – Jenkinson,K; Clayton-Hathway, K; Fairbrother, L and Lambley, C. VT Research for West Midlands LSC – 2008

You can read a full version of his article Too Old to Train? on the Corporate eLearning website.

About Robin Hoyle

Robin Hoyle has worked in training and development for 27 years, designing courses and delivering sessions across the public, private and voluntary sectors. He has trained school leavers and senior executives, sole traders and multi-national corporations. His company, Learnworks Ltd, works with global organisations designing blended learning programmes, particularly in the area of sustainability, commercial governance and marketing. He’s also the author of Complete Training: from recruitment to retirement published by Kogan Page. Connect with him on twitter @RHoyle

About The Corporate eLearning Consortium

The Corporate eLearning Consortium specialises in providing the latest technology-led lmanagement resources for maximum performance support. We’re passionate about delivering workplace learning to the corporate sector that really works – by putting the needs of leaders and managers first.

Together the Consortium team has vast experience in understanding what works for managers at all levels – recommending relevant resources that have the greatest impact.

If desktop, mobile or blended learning are on the top of your L&D wish list for 2014, we can help you deliver an effective solution.

We’re good at listening and pride ourselves on our high customer satisfaction, supporting them to achieve their goals.

Find out more at or connect on Twitter @corporateelearn and Linked In

Cuddly, lovable and clubbable Boris Johnson showed a slightly darker political side at the Centre for Policy Studies last week.  His Margaret Thatcher lecture included musings on the benefits of greed, envy and inequality.  Perhaps most damning, he cited IQ tests scores as a predictor of future success.

Should we be worried that a prominent politician gives credibility to such a blunt and discredited measure of capability?  What does his ‘capitalism red in tooth and claw’ speech mean for those of us engaging in building the capability of people of all backgrounds and previous levels of educational achievement?

My take on it can be found in a new blog, here.

Please join the debate.  Am I over-reacting?  Am I just an old leftie with a chip on my shoulder? Or is Boris really quite a dangerous man to have in the upper echelons of political power?

Lessons from Martin Luther King Jr

by Robin on August 30, 2013

On the 50th anniversary of the ‘I have a dream’ speech, it seems fitting to think about oratory and speaking in public in order to build support, to enable and drive change, to persuade and challenge.  It would seem to be a skill which has gone out of fashion.  Recent news events suggest we could certainly do with some oratorical skills, along with the associated passion without which florid speech seems fake.

We are, however, bedevilled with clichés and jargon.  The apparent inability of politicians and experts to speak without relying on these meaningless verbal tics is a cause for despair in my latest blog on Trainingzone.  Read it here

When Complete Training was published I promised to create some resources to support readers who wanted to implement the concepts contained within the book as part of their practice.  The first of these – an online module outlining the guiding principles – is now live and can be accessed here.

As well as the multi-media module there’s also a tool which will help you assess the level to which your different training interventions – from courses to resources – are working together in a joined up and coherent way (point 7 of the Manifesto for people who have already got a copy of the book).  You can access this tool from within the online module .

There’s a myriad of ways to give feedback at the end of the module.  I hope to hear from you soon.

Do we know what leadership is any more?

by Robin on May 15, 2013

There was a poll carried out by this month about whether or not people were managed by someone who was a good leader.  As with any referendum, the terms used in the question really matter.  I was interested whether ‘Leadership’ had a commonly understood definition and whether, therefore, any such poll could tell us anything.

If, as I woud contend, that leadership = good and manager = bad; then what 48% of those who responded were really saying was “My Manager is rubbish”.  Now that may be true, but perhaps others had a more developed idea of leadership and were actually saying – I don’t need to follow someone, but I do need to be managed?

Who knows, but you can read my musings on the subject here.

Article needs no nudging

by Robin on May 14, 2013 editor Jon Kennard has decided to make the nudge blog written a couple of weeks ago a feature in The Training Cycle area of Trainingzone – the website which aims to deliver topical, practical content to corporate training professionals and providers of training services.  You can read the article here.

Since being posted as a featured article yesterday morning (13th May) it’s already topped 600 views – thats almost one per minute.

It would be great if you added your views in the comments box at the foot of the piece.