Learning from the L&D Thinkers in Nairobi


April 09, 2018

Learning from the L&D Thinkers in Nairobi

By Ross Coxon

Director, Learning Collaborative

I have a privileged role at Humentum that gives me a great deal of connection with people in the learning and development functions across the sector globally. There seems to me to be three global centres for this community: USA (Washington DC), Europe (London), and Kenya (Nairobi).

Recently I was lucky enough to spend the day with the learning and development (L&D) community in Nairobi. These professionals are leading the way and pushing well past the barriers of the traditional models of learning/training.

I was in Nairobi for Humentum’s Nairobi week (#nairobiweek) and as part of that, I convened many of the Nairobi L&D thinkers for a hackathon hosted at the incredible headquarters of World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) which must be one of the most beautiful offices in Nairobi (at right).

Before we dig into what happened, I am sure there is some confusion around the word hackathon. The term hackathon comes from the computer programming community, and refers to when a gathering of programmers would collaboratively code over a short period. The term has now expanded to encompass collective problem-solving. My first experience of taking part in one was when the Puget Sound chapter of ATD had helped us hack some ideas at our LINGOs conference a few years ago.

As I prepared the session, I discovered there were very few tools and formats that fell outside of the tech world. So, I set about creating something that might help. The document is really a sticking together of some principles of the ‘lean canvas’, Erik op ten Berg’s ‘Now, Wow and How’ principals, and a nice format the software improvement group put together. I have attached the document here for you—if you are looking to develop your own creative problem-solving workshop or hackathon feel free to use, change, and adapt it (if you come up with anything truly brilliant let me know, it would be great to see this tool evolve).

So in Nairobi, 26 hardcore learning professionals broke into smaller groups and put their heads together to define a problem they wanted to tackle. The topics the teams took on were:

  1. Increased ownership within an organisation to eliminate knowledge gap and improve team capacity
  2. How to make learners responsible for their own learning
  3. Measuring impact of learning initiatives and demonstrating a positive return on learning and investment (ROLI)
  4. Developing a culture of learning through knowledge sharing
  5. Lack of accreditation of humanitarian actors

What struck me as a facilitator and self-confessed learning geek was just how groundbreaking, and on point, these discussions and solutions were. I was desperate to get involved with all the groups and made so many notes on the ideas coming out of the discussions. Some key thoughts for me are (and these are a little jumbled, but—if you know me—so is my mind):

  1. Learners must be involved in the design of learning measures and success indicators. In the endless debate surrounding return on investment, return on expectation, and the pros and cons of things like Kirkpatrick’s model of learning evaluation, this feels like it could be a very refreshing approach.
  2. We must flip the model of how we, as learning professionals, harness the subject matter experts (SMEs) and learning designers that are based in the south, so that relevance/context is not an afterthought but a design mindset. Why is our paradigm stuck in the north to south learning/knowledge conduit? And even if it is not stuck—what are we really doing to change this paradigm more quickly?
  3. Why do so many leaders, managers, organisations, and learning professionals see courses/formal learning as the go-to solution? We should think about job/performance support aids, assessing the working environment/process, developing communities of practice, and providing better access to knowledge first, before we jump into to formal courses.
  4. Mentoring is increasingly seen as a significant organisational solution, but it’s so hard to do well a scale. How do we crack that nut?

This group in Nairobi have been so thoughtful and innovative that it has really energised me and reminded me of two very important things:

  1. To really change the way the sector works and operates, we need to change the way we think and learn as a sector. The first move we need to make is to recognise our collective knowledge and power and break down the mindset and systems of delivering knowledge and learning through old traditional colonial lines and instead, amplify the knowledge, learning, and innovations of those closest to the work and communities.
  2. L&D units and professionals are no longer the keepers, holders, and disseminators of knowledge and learning. Learning and knowledge are everywhere. As learning professionals, we must get better at providing insight on adult learning, developing skills of others, curating, questioning, and partnering to improve individual, group, and organisational performance, so that we can enhance learning and get out of the way.

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Thanks Ross - it was such a great experience to be there! So much great thought leadership in the global south to be shared.