Posted in Blog News

It’s Learning, but not as we know it

I’m learning. Today I am on the train to London learning how difficult it is to fit my laptop, a cup of tea and my phone onto one of those flap down tables. Do the tables get smaller or the teas get larger? OK, this maybe a trivial example, but we are all learning all of the time and this applies to work as well as life. You may be learning something new from reading this blog, because the way we learn is changing.

Classroom based training is brilliant, there are some topics and concepts for which this is the ideal training medium, but there are also some where it absolutely isn’t – something learners and even the trainers would agree about.

Infrastructure Organisations are facing up to having their resources stretched and budgets squeezed at the moment. Unfortunately in the round of savings this can lead to some staff receiving no training at all. Recent research for the new UK Voluntary Sector Workforce Almanac by NCVO shows that 18% of organisations provide no training at all for staff and of these 20% said that that training was too expensive or they had not money for training. Skills 3rd Sector research has found that 78% of the organisations they surveyed stated cost was a barrier to provision of training and 82% that time away from the office prevented more staff from taking part in it.


Clearly this is not ideal for any organisation, however it is something that local infrastructure bodies can potentially address through an increased use of digital tools. Not in isolation, but as part of a blend with more traditional styles of learning.

So I’m suggesting a few ideas and innovations in learning that are worth considering.

Some of them are available right now, some are emerging ideas and others, some say, are merely science fiction! Not all of these will sit comfortably with the traditional view of an infrastructure organisation and may involve a shift in culture of income generation. See what you think and if you are attending #vcsscamp on 25th June I’d really like to hear you thoughts on them.

  • Social Media websites are where many of your members and supporters already are. They use them to raise awareness, take donations and have conversations. So why not use them for learning – a 360° approach to learning. For example by using blogs and Twitter before a classroom session to prepare learners and then Facebook Groups, Podcasts or You Tube videos afterwards to offer speaker talks. An online peer support community for training can even be used to inform the next round of that course.
  • Research using the simple ‘hashtag’ (#) on Twitter has enormous power to bring together people who may not know each other but are interested in the same subject. ‘Tweet chats’ gather people around a shared interest. Groups of people talking about the same subject may highlight a gap in the training market.
  • Investing in e-learning brings big cost savings in the long term. It has a ‘bite-size’ format which means people can learn any time and anywhere. This is ideal if you have a large number of volunteers or remotely based staff to equip with skills for their job but the cost of releasing them from the office or paying for travel to a training venue is prohibitive. A system with learner management can even reduce the administrative time and effort of the learning provider.
  • Course content creation also doesn’t have to be the responsibility of a single person. Many e-learning systems allow for multiple course authors and the chance for people to collaborate on content development and to share the finished product with others. Training providers could also look at working together on systems that share unfilled training places for classroom based courses.
  • Give learners the ability to own their learning by creating a personal portfolio of transferable Open Badges to recognise learners formal and informal skills.
  • Acknowledge that learners have Talent and learning isn’t just for compliance purposes. Capture informal learning and build an internal Knowledgebank or public facing repository from experiences, actions and insight originating from an organisations’ most precious asset. It’s staff.
  • Spaced Practice is not a not a new term and some organisations may already offer it informally. Many learners adopt a ‘forgetting curve’ rather than a ‘learning curve’, so this concept built into some Learning Management Systems is used to reinforce knowledge retention. After a course has ended, learning can continue via a smartphone app, by SMS texts or through podcasts & video. Reminders and course snippets are sent at regular intervals when the learner is back at work or when they need them.
  • Augmented Reality software and devices such as Google Glass within 3 years will enable us to gather information and learn just by looking at objects or situations. The Internet of Things is where objects learn from their environment, e.g. a Refrigerator automatically ordering food or Driver-less Cars learning from their surroundings.

Whatever learning styles Infrastructure Organisations can offer, one thing is certain, the way we learn and the way we offer learning is fundamentally changing.

Learning should be something that is Social & Fun. Maybe we’ll see a shift in the function of our training teams from being providers and tutors to become Digital Learning Encouragers, sifting out the ‘Good from the Googled’ and helping learners build their own Personal Learning Networks. Setting out resources to just let people learn, whenever & however suits them.

That’s probably enough on your tray to think about for now … you’ll be pleased to know that wisely I didn’t buy a cake too as there just isn’t enough room on my tray either!

Leave your comments here, or i’ll see you on the 25th for #vcsscamp.

Posted in Blog News, This is VCSSCamp

From Novice to Navigator of the Volunteer Centre ship ‘Social Media’!

Eileen Fielding
Eileen Fielding

While the VCSS Camp team were promoting the event on 25 June we got in to a lovely twitter discussion with Eileen at Dudley Volunteer Centre. She has so much enthusiasm and so much to share, that as well as encouraging her to book her place, we invited her to write a guest blog post for us. And here it is!

Hellooooo! My name’s Eileen Fielding and I have been the Development Officer for Dudley CVS Volunteer Centre for 8 years. Time flies and when I came into post was the way to promote your opportunities to the world, but since then social media has really developed and is very much the way to go.

I have to confess that I loathed social media to start with after a brief fracas with Facebook. It was great to keep in touch with friends and colleagues, but then I had to ‘friend’ a selection of in-laws, whose parents used to berate me by text if I didn’t respond to being ‘poked’ or ‘unfriended’ them.  Some of the photos they posted were unbelievable and I didn’t want to know what they were up to!  So we parted company.

My colleagues at work started tweeting and at the time I thought it was some sort of bizarre new dance craze. [I am so old that I remember Chirpy Chirpy Tweet Tweet!]. When we had events they were ‘tweeting’ and suddenly social media surgeries started popping up. Again, I kept my head down and avoided it, hadn’t got time for all that social media malarkey.  It just wasn’t relevant for me.

Then Operation Santa hit me like a small cyclone in September 2011.  I had to find some way of sending out updates to organisations and businesses who were supporting our annual toy appeal.  I had found a volunteer named Dan, who was helping me update my website and suggested setting up a blog, assuring me it would be free and painless!!!  He set it up for me and used to come in weekly to update it. I also emailed him photos and stories, which he added from home.  It worked amazingly well and we actually had 50 hits in one day, once I suggested via email that people signed up for it.  By January 2012, I was convinced this had helped us reach our amazing total of 3882 children and young people across the borough.

Everything went quietly over the summer and then September came around and cyclone Operation Santa loomed again.  I had a couple of lessons in how to blog and started blogging furiously as the appeal progressed. Daily posts were appearing and more people were supporting us and signing up for the blog.  We had an amazing 1026 hits in the period October to January and I was hooked. It’s official I had embraced social media and was blogging away.  We reached an incredible total of 6082 children this year and I’m convinced the blogging helped.

After discussions with Dan, I gave my website a complete face lift and it’s now blog-based, which means that every time someone visits the home page they get something different, as it updates each time I blog.  The site was completed by February and I started regular blogs about volunteering issues, training, events and new volunteering opportunities.  My colleague Melissa helped me link it to the existing Volunteer Centre Facebook page and showed me how to set up a Twitter account. Initially I set one up in my own name @Eileenfielding2, then we set up one for the Volunteer Centre @Dudleyvols.  This was a much smarter way of working and sharing things, as a single blog post would also send out a Tweet and a post on Facebook.  I was suddenly a navigator of social media, although I have to confess I am still not keen on Facebook.

Credit: cristina012.deviantart.comNow I’m a regular blogger, fairly regular Tweeter and very occasional Facebook user. I am gathering followers to the blog, many of whom go there via a Twitter or Facebook link and had 301 hits this week*, when I launched my ‘Wall of Thanks for Volunteers’.  I have had over 3600 hits and the average hits per day has grown from 9 per day in February to 60 a day in May, and I haven’t even promoted it yet.

I have learnt how to do galleries on my pages by reading the help section and am really impressed with WordPress. It’s so easy to use, would recommend it to anyone who wants to blog.

The Followers on both my Twitter accounts are growing too and the highlight of my day is a Retweet or better still a Favourite.

I would recommend it to anyone who wants to try it, but have to say I would recommend a friendly, social media literate volunteer to show you the basics, as they’re more interactive than a book and can help if you accidentally delete the whole thing!

* Eileen wrote this post for us on 31 May – she had a lot more visits to her site in Volunteers Week in June

Posted in Blog News

Learning in networks

Credit: cambodia4kidsorg on Flickr
Credit: cambodia4kidsorg on Flickr

This is the first of a few posts which the VCSS Camp team and our colleagues will be posting to get the conversation started before the 25 June. Below Lorna Prescott shares her thoughts on social media use by staff and volunteers in an infrastructure organisation.

I’m a senior officer in an infrastructure organisation (Dudley CVS) who forced myself on to twitter about 3 years ago because of a trustee role I had for a national charity. At that time Dudley CVS weren’t doing much with social media, and for some time I was definitely the odd one out – turning up to meetings with my iPad, tweeting from our events and running around asking people what they were doing at 3.15pm so that I could share it in the #1515vcs stream. I don’t know what changed, and I’m fairly certain it was nothing that I did, but in the last 12 months or so there seems to have been a bit of shift internally, with more and more of my colleagues dipping their toe in to online social networks or – in the case of Eileen in our Volunteer Centre – diving in (I love her blog and DudleyVols tweets).

My thinking a couple of years ago was that it might be worth finding out what staff in the organisations felt about social media, what popular platforms the knew about, used and/or wanted to learn more about. (I never got around to doing this.) Then about 6 months ago I was thinking that a way for Dudley CVS to be firing on at least a few online cylinders would be to nominate people to lead on content generation and conversations for specific platforms that they liked using and then support others to start using it. So I guess I started out thinking about training needs, and then shifted to thinking about a communications need.

Then last weekend I was reading a blog post by David Wilcox which linked to this post by Steve Dale which (some way down) explains Personal Knowledge Management – or learning in networks in less fancy words. The description of it being a continuous process of seeking, sensing, and sharing made a lot of sense to me. I thought the concept of a Community Manager was helpful, and the diagram below got me thinking about what I and others could to together in our organisation to fulfill aspects of the role. Something which feels really important in working with my colleagues in relation to social media is the part of the role about signposting useful content; developing and sharing resources and best practices. This shifted my thinking from skills gaps and communication channels to thinking about how to get the great, useful stuff online in front of people and demonstrate the value in sharing.

From Steve Dale's Communities and Collaboration bog
From Steve Dale’s Communities and Collaboration bog

I also thought that this short questionnaire (also from Steve Dale) might be useful for people to get a feel for whether they are more of a collector than a connector, or perhaps a creator, a critic, a communicator or a consumer. I reckon if within a team we each knew each others strengths and preferences in this way we could work quite effectively together online.

I hope to unpack this a bit and get other ideas and inspiration at VCSS Camp. In the meantime I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences of thinking about and/or using social media across your organisation, and whether Personal Knowledge Management feels like a skill that staff and volunteers in infrastructure organisations should be developing.