The Human Capital Manifesto

Intellectual Capitalm ModelOrganisations often say that ‘people are their most important asset’ but most don’t behave as if this really is the case. This manifesto explores why human capital really needs to be taken more seriously. It’s meant as a focus for discussion and debate – please comment, share and adapt as appropriate.

We believe that employees should no longer be considered as resources but as value contributor’s in their own right. Human Resources (HR) should accordingly be re-named Human Capital (HC) and like other forms of capital should be monitored and valued as part of the organisation’s total value.

“Human capital is the stock of competencies, knowledge, social and personality attributes, including creativity, embodied in the ability to perform labour so as to produce economic value.” Wikipedia


We believe HC should sit at the board table and help set strategy. HC believe that people are the key drivers of value in any organisation. Developing people and developing the organisation go hand in hand. You can’t do one without the other.


We believe HC have to be commercial. This means understanding how the organisation makes money and spends its money. It means understanding the key metrics that the organisation uses to measure financial success. And it means being able to recognise how HC strategies and tactics impact on those financial metrics. HC is a key element of an organisation’s intangible assets and is therefore a key determinant of an organisation’s market value.


All organisations must ultimately be accountable to their customers. We believe that HC should understand the nature of the customer experience and work to improve it through the organisation’s people whether they work in a direct customer facing role or in a back office function. Customer experience is about customer centricity and this is key to every service or product that we deliver to our customers.

Systems Thinking

HC must be connected, joined up and integrated. It must work across silos and see the organisation as a living interconnected system. Working with other functions (e.g. operations, marketing etc.) to improve the overall system is the ultimate goal of HC.

“Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization “healthy” or “unhealthy”.” Wikipedia


The modern workplace has flatter structures resulting in more autonomous workers and these smart workers need smarter support from HC. People now want to take control of their own development. HC must switch from organising and delivering training courses to scaffolding a broad range of learning interventions that are open and accessible in the workflow. HC need to move from directing to orchestrating.


HC believe that the time has finally come for the learning organisation. We believe that learning in all its myriad forms (formal, informal and social) should be in the DNA of our organisations. Only by being a true learning organisation can we succeed in today’s global knowledge economy.

“Organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to learn.” Peter Senge


We believe social media is a catalyst for change, changes to the ways we work and the ways we engage with our colleagues and customers. We believe that our organisations must have social in their DNA.


We believe that we should be true to our values and adopt an open and transparent approach to our interactions with colleagues, partners and customers.


We believe that HC must look for creative and innovative solutions to business performance problems. HC must inspire and innovate and lead by example.


HC need to embrace technology and use it appropriately. We must be comfortable and adept at procuring and using technology to aid human performance improvements. We believe HC will have increasing ownership of technology and not defer all technology decisions to IT.


We believe that evaluation and analytics are the best way to guide our development efforts. If it makes a difference we can measure it, evaluate it and review future strategy and tactics based on our measurements. What gets measured gets done.

FLAT: to be on a level surface, not in a hierarchy ARMY: a large group of people who share similar aims or beliefs FLAT ARMY: an unobstructed flow of corporate commonality.

Dan Pontefract’s Flat Army

Download a PDF version of The Human Capital Manifesto

The e-Learning Revolution

I contributed a video on ‘The e-Learning Revolution’ to Bitpod’s ‘In a Nutshell’ series. The script is shown below (it started out at 700 words but was trimmed to 300 to create just two minutes of video).

To be successful in today’s knowledge economy we need new ways to learn, ways that don’t rely on us turning up in a classroom with the teacher.

E-Learning has been around for a while but is often seen as the poor relation to learning delivered in the classroom. This view is rooted in the idea that ‘teacher knows best’ and without a teacher a class is incapable of learning. This position is misguided in two ways.

Firstly the quality of the classroom experience depends almost entirely on the effectiveness of the teacher. If you have a great teacher the learning is effective. If you don’t it isn’t.

Secondly it assumes that learners aren’t self motivated; that without a guide the learning won’t get done. In practice today’s learners are much more self-directed and they need a guide only occasionally.

E-Learning, if it is well designed, can be just as effective as classroom learning but it does have different strengths.

Undoubtedly the single biggest advantage of e-learning over the classroom is efficiency. If you need one thousand people in your organisation to learn something quickly, then e-learning is the only realistic solution. That’s why pretty much all basic compliance training is done online.

E-Learning is also tremendously flexible – its available 24/7 and accessible pretty much anywhere – in the office, at home, or on the train to work. This always-on capability has fuelled the growth of e-learning and the demand for what is called just-in-time learning – learning that’s available at the moment of need.

E-Learning is also cheap – an e-course is typically a quarter of the cost of a day in the classroom. That’s Buy One Get Three Free in the language of Tesco or Walmart.

That’s a powerful driver for the e-approach.

E-learning and Sex

the essential difference

I’m guessing that I’m probably the first person to connect these two terms in a single blog post (but hey I may be wrong). I’m not doing it for effect, aware as I am of the concept that sex sells. I’m doing it because I’ve just finished reading ‘The Essential Difference‘ by Simon Baron-Cohen which describes the two fundamentally different ways in which male and female brains operate.  Simon Baron-Cohen is a Professor at Cambridge University in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. His book is based on based on years of research and specifically research into Autism, and as one of the quotes says:

This no Mars/Venus whimsy, but the conclusion from twenty years of experiment.

The tenet of the book is that men have brains that are wired for systemizing while women have brains that are wired for empathising.

Empathizing is the drive to identify another persons emotions and thoughts, and to respond to them with an appropriate emotion. Empathizing occurs when we feel an appropriate emotional reaction, an emotion triggered by the other person’s emotion, and is done in order to understand another person, to predict their behaviour, and to connect and resonate with them emotionally.

Systemizing is the drive to analyse, explore and construct a system. The systemizer intuitively figures out how things work, or extracts the underlying rules that govern the behaviour of a system. This is done in order to understand and predict the system, or to invent a new one.

To illustrate this imagine you are in a bookshop in the business section and are looking for a book on starting up a new business. Which of these two titles would you choose?

‘Start-up on a Shoestring’
Learn how to get your idea off the ground by hearing the stories of 10 successful entrepreneurs. See what worked for them and learn from their (frequent) mistakes.

‘The Superfast Start-up Model’
Avoid the classic mistakes and take your start-up from creation to sale in just three years using our tried and tested system.

Prefer option A; then you are an empathiser. Prefer Option B; then you are a systemizer. If you chose the wrong one for your sex then don’t worry. Men can be good empathisers and women can be good systemizers too!

I think it’s clear that men and women do think differently in some fundamental ways. 200,000 years of evolution hints at why this is the case and relatively recent cultural advances can’t change that behaviour easily. Of course the differences aren’t black and white but an infinite variety of shades of grey. Simon Baron-Cohen is clear about the fact that not all men tend towards systemization or that all women tend toward empathy – it’s just that in general men are more tuned to systems (things) while women are more tuned to empathy (people). In practice we probably all lie along a continuum and the distribution along that continuum follows a normal curve.

the essential difference

So if men and women’s brains are wired slightly different how might this shape how they learn?

In developing hundreds of e-learning programmes no client has ever asked me to design differently for a male or female audience. If we go along with the empathiser/systemizer concept, and the idea that there is an essential difference how might this affect our learning design?

Learning for Systemizers
The focus would be on underlying patterns and abstract concepts. Systemizers love models, graphics, charts and mind maps. They want to see the big picture and how each piece fits into the overall whole. For a systemizer learning is about solving the puzzle and putting all the component pieces in their appropriate places.

Learning for Empathisers
The focus is on outcomes and emotions. Stories and case studies are key to relate the learning to the real world. Empathizers prefer scenarios and dialogue type interactions. They like to identify with others and see the situation from their perspective.

In practice our audience is likely to have elements of both depending upon where they lie on the continuum so we probably need to balance the two types of learning activities to engage as wide an audience as possible. This is largely how we cater for different learning styles in e-learning.

Since I’ve finished the book I’ve enjoyed applying an essential difference lens to various aspects of everyday life. From interacting with the satnav to catching up on the news or simply giving advice to your partner it’s amazing how we oscillate between systems and empathy in the course of our everyday lives.

I’m wired as a systemizer – I instinctively knew that as I read the book but afterwards I took the SQ and EQ tests and came out with the following results:

Systemizing Quotient – 52 (way above average for a man, very high ability for analysing and exploring a system)
Empathy Quotient – 40 (about average for a man)

I came out as a strong systemizer but over the years I’ve recognised the value of empathy and have learned to be more people-centric in my work. It takes a bit of practice to re-wire our evolutionary brains but the result is a much more rounded view of the world.

More stuff here:

Guardian Article on ‘The Essential Difference

Take the Systemizer Test (SQ)

Take the Empathy Test (EQ)

Simon Baron-Cohen’s ‘The Essential Difference’ book on Amazon

Video of the Week: The Learning Designer Project

Designing for Learning

A social learning guru once suggested that my company name was misleading since it was impossible to design learning. Her  argument was that learning is something that happens instinctively and that you can’t design it or force it in any way.

Was she right? Is it not possible to design learning? Maybe not but we can design for learning.

Designed for Learning

We may not be able to design the actual learning that people do but what we can do is design a resource, an experience or an intervention that encourages, stimulates or facilitates learning – and this applies equally to the classroom and the online environment.

When clients buy e-learning they often start by giving us a list of learning objectives. Our task as learning designers is then to design a resource that will result in learning by those who go through it. Ultimately clients want their learners to have all learnt the same thing, but in practice what they learn will depend to a large extent on what they already know. Learners will have different ‘aha!’ moments as they work their way through the learning material.

As learning designers our key role is to design scaffolds for learning. We take information and knowledge and present it in ways that help learners make sense of it all and which help map the new knowledge to their existing knowledge. To do this we use a wide range of devices, tactics, and strategies.

Sometimes these devices, tactics and strategies are embedded in learning design methodologies. Sometimes they are just intuitive approaches honed over years of experience in helping people understand stuff.

Learning design isn’t rocket science – every day teachers design learning experiences within a classroom environment. They aren’t designing the learning but they are designing the activities and interventions that will encourage and stimulate learning.

And this takes us back to social learning. Social learning is clearly not designed learning. Social learning does happen naturally. However left to its own devices it’s very inefficient and virtually impossible to manage or monitor.  For social learning to be truly effective the environment (technical and cultural) needs to be right and this will need the hand of a designer in its widest sense.


New Model Learning

A radically new approach to learning but would it work outside of education?

…new visions of learning better suited to the increasing complexity, connectivity, and velocity of our new knowledge society. We now have the capability to reimagine where, when, and how learning takes place.

Connected Learning


The Richness of the Classroom

The Richness of the Classroom


Online learning has always been positioned as the poor relation to classroom or face-to-face learning. The challenge has always been:

 ’How can you possibly re-create the richness of the classroom online?’.

My standard response was that not all classrooms have richness – it depends upon the ability of the trainer. Some trainers are truly exceptional, relying on well designed exercises and activities to really help people learn. I characterise these trainers as ‘The Star on the Stage‘. However some trainers are far less capable, relying on stacks of PowerPoint slides packed with hundreds of bullet points. Others really know their stuff but are unable to bring the deep knowledge they have to life for learners. These trainers are often characterised as ‘The Sage on the Stage‘ (you will recognise them from your college or university days).

Mr Clugston and Dr Jennens

At school these two teachers made a big impression on me. Mr Clugston introduced me to the joy of mathematics. His passion for the subject combined with his insight into what makes the subject difficult for learners meant that he was able to design maths lessons that kept us awake and fully engaged. He also loved technology and brought along one of the very first programmable calculators (a Sinclair with an LED display) to a lesson one day to show us how maths was changing the world. Dr Jennens however made physics boring to the extreme. His detachment from learners and from the problems learner’s faced in understanding abstract concepts meant that many of us lost interest completely and had to pass our exams using our text books alone.   

In the early days I accepted that an online course was probably less rich than a good (Star on the Stage) face-to-face workshop but its advantage was that it was more efficient and flexible and accessible by anyone 24/7. Not many classrooms can do that!

Recently though I have come to realise that online learning can be just as rich as classroom learning. It’s just that the richness is evident in different ways. Here are some of them:

  • In a well designed e-learning module you can explore things and repeat things to your heart’s content and you can fail without embarrassment. It’s just you and your learning.
  • In a virtual classroom you can make contributions, take part in polls and follow live weblinks all from the comfort of your laptop or tablet computer.
  • In a webinar you can surf the backchannel chatting with other learners and sharing stuff that the trainer has missed.
  • In a virtual learning environment you can take part in discussions with other learners and get help from your e-tutor when you need it.
  • In a learning management system you can take online assessments or diagnostics to test your own understanding.
  • In a social learning platform you can contribute your own content and resources and these can be rated and commented on by other learners. You can be the trainer as well as the learner.
  • You can access learning at the point of need via a mobile device such as a smarphone or tablet.
  • You can extend your learning beyond the single classroom event so that not only do you learn stuff but you also have the ability to reflect on and show evidence of how that learning is applied back in the workplace.
  • You can connect your learning with colleagues and others via social media tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube.

I still come across trainers and L&D people who will defend the classroom until the lights go out. Partly this is because they see online learning as a threat to their business model but it’s also because they genuinely haven’t opened their minds to the possibilities of online learning.

This isn’t meant as a polemic against the classroom just a recognition that online learning has some great things going for it and any trainer not using it to improve the learning experience for their learners is in danger of becoming extinct.

Can you learn from reading?

learning from reading

If you are reading something are you learning? I guess most university students would respond with a resounding ‘yes’ but in the closeted world of L&D we don’t really classify reading as a proper learning intervention. True we can all learn something by reading – we probably do this every day when we research stuff on the internet. In this respect reading is probably one of the most common ways that we access informal learning. But it doesn’t deliver when it comes to formal learning and development. Why is this?

One reason I guess is that we are all wired differently and not everyone can be relied upon to learn simply by reading. I don’t want to get into learning styles here but it’s pretty clear that some people will learn better by doing rather than reading about doing.

I learn pretty well from reading, or at least my reading sows the seeds of learning. To really learn something properly I also need to apply it in the context of my own experience. Two people can read a book on time management but each will learn something different and apply that learning to their own situation in quite different ways. The new information or knowledge that is presented to us via the text can create those ‘aha’ moments that lead to real learning.

Donald Clark wrote an interesting post back in 2009 reviewing a book by Professor Pierre Bayard called ‘How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read’. Here’s a quote from Bayard:

Books have a special status as ‘almost objects of worship’ and non-readers are stigmatised. Yet reading is often non-reading, as we forget most of what we read almost as quickly as it is read. As we forge forward, content is forgotten in the wake of memory that disappears behind. Most reading is forgetting.

I sort of know what Bayard is getting at here. Sometimes I can read a book, get enormous enjoyment from it, but then forget a lot of the detail very quickly. I read lots of stuff on Stalin last year (I am insanely curious about the whole communist experiment) but I can remember almost none of it now. I also read lots of business books – some I want to quickly forget but others do fire off an ‘aha’ moment or two – and sometimes just one really valuable ‘aha’ moment can make the £9.99 a really good investment. If I really want to learn from a book I make notes and draw a mind map. You should see the stuff I have on ‘The E-Myth Revisited‘.

Reading is also very efficient. The human brain has adapted over the last few thousand years to be very effective at translating the visual symbols of writing into meaning. For a really interesting read on the science behind the ‘reading brain’ I recommend ‘Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain‘ by Maryanne Wolf. OK I admit I have forgotten most of it already but it did create some ‘aha’ moments.

At the Like Minds Conference in Exeter last year Molly Flat talked about ‘the innovation that  is the book’. Her point was that the book is still the best value knowledge sharing device (even if it is delivered via a Kindle) and I think I agree.

As a learning designer who is trying to write a book there are many parallels between the creative process for a book and for an e-learning course. Maybe in the end I will end up with a hybrid of both. But the road is certainly a challenging one.

Note Taking in e-Learning

I’m a serial note taker. Put me in a training event or a conference session and I’ll be scribbling away on my freeform unlined paper making notes – all sorts of notes. I write down key points, web links, book references, even make small diagrams.

Sometimes I even mind map. I also run two ‘notebooks’ (well sheets if I’m honest) one that relates to the material being delivered and one to capture wider thoughts that may have been sparked off by that material. These notes are usually down to connections that pop-up in my big picture brain – so for example I might have a business development idea, a blog post idea or simply a useful concept that I will follow-up at some future time.


You may have realised by now that I still prefer pen and paper for note taking. Others are happier tapping away on their laptops or more recently on their tablets (sometimes to the annoyance of others).

What role does note taking play in learning?

Now I’m not the only one who takes notes at ‘learning’ events so clearly note taking has a role to play in our processing and understanding of the material being presented. Even when the presenter/trainer tells us that the ‘slides’ will be available ‘at the end’ I still take notes – though I notice some people breathe a deep sigh of relief , put down their pen and relax a little in their seats. Sometimes a presenter will even handout slides at the start ready for us to make notes in the little lined area next to each slide. I hate this – that little lined area is way too constraining for my free range approach.

For me taking notes is a key part of the learning process – the material is presented, some things seem particularly relevant or interesting so I write them down, other things cause some synapses in my brain to fire and a few new connections are made and these new insights are noted down too. At the end my notes are not always completely coherent but there is usually enough for me to take my learning further later even if it’s only looking up the web links and buying yet another book on Amazon. Of course sometimes I never look at my notes again but the act of making those notes in the first place signifies a deeper connection with the material than if I just sit there watching and listening. I guess that, in some small way, the act of note taking turns me from a passive learner into an active learner.

So, if we find notes useful in a face-to-face environment why not also use them in e-learning? Most people don’t seem to. Maybe the fact that they have control over the speed of the delivery and because they can repeat bits notes are less relevant. Links and book references are even handled automatically – generally they are just one click away. A few years ago I worked on an e-learning programme for an NHS Trust and we discovered that nurses were much more likely to make notes compared to doctors.

When I was working on e-learning projects back in 2001 one of the popular innovations was a live notepad which was built into the e-learning programme. The idea was that it would be pretty useful if the learner could make notes in the e-learning as they went along. In practice of course pretty much no one used the built-in notepad and it gradually became extinct – though you do occasionally still see it around. I note (sic) for example that iTunesU supports notes (it even has a special notes tab – see below).


So is note taking in e-learning relevant or useful? Are we missing a trick by not considering how this relatively simple activity contributes to the overall learning experience?

Is there any research on the benefits of note taking?

A quick search on the web reveals lots of research on note taking and also on note taking systems (such as the Cornell System Research, of university level students in particular identifies two key purposes of note taking. Encoding and external storage.

With regards to learning, note-taking benefits have been placed in two categories: Encoding and External Storage (Carter & Van Matre, 1975). Encoding benefits are accrued through the act of note-taking. The act of recording an idea in notes facilitates learning, regardless of whether the notes are later reviewed. External Storage benefits are derived from students reviewing their notes. In this case, notes are useful as documents that can be reviewed prior to tests.

For me the concept of encoding is the one that drives my note taking. The writing down and/or visualisation of ideas and concepts helps me to ‘see’ the material from my own experiential viewpoint. For me it’s about being able to connect the new material satisfactorily with the stuff I already know.

So should note taking be encouraged in e-learning?

So two questions to finish and hopefully to encourage some debate. Firstly, should we bother about whether our e-learners make notes or not? Secondly, if we do see the value in encouraging note taking what devices can we employ from a learning design perspective?

This post originally appeared on the E-Learning Network’s Advent Blog series for Christmas 2011. See previous comments and notes.

Do we need L&D?

performance support consultants

Image from:

Towards the close of a recent E-learning Network (ELN) event the discussion got around to whether organisations need learning in the shape and form in which it is currently supplied by the L&D department. The point is that learning feels like an activity that is disconnected from the business. Very few organisations would place L&D in the mission critical category. Often it’s seen as a cost which should be minimised wherever possible. The question was asked – ‘Would the organisation survive if L&D was axed?’ And the answer is probably a resounding yes! Learning would still go on of course but it would be self directed, informal (even social). This disconnect from the business is a big problem for L&D and it always has been.

Would the organisation survive if L&D were axed?

The name learning and development is in itself an issue because when we use the term development we are referring to the individual. We put people through learning interventions to develop them but we struggle to check whether this ‘development’ provides value to the business as well as to the learner’s themselves. If I send an employee on a management development course they may learn a lot but does what they learn make a difference to the business or are we just using L&D opportunities simply as an employee benefit.

During the discussion we suggested that a name change might be appropriate. What about going back to ‘training’ which somehow seems closer to the coal face. More popular was the idea to use the word ‘performance’ to make the link between learning and performance. Most organisations will happily allocate resources to activities that improve performance – especially if those improvements can be measured in some way. There is increasing pressure on people these days to do more and to perform better but L&D seems increasingly disconnected from this competitive imperative.

New approaches are being explored with the emphasis on the learning that really goes on in an organisation – the 70:20:10 framework and the focus on informal learning and social learning. It’s not really possible to manage social/informal learning – only support or encourage it and provide tools that improve it’s effectiveness. Maybe this is where L&D needs to go? Trainers should become ‘Performance Support Consultants’ and instead of delivering programmes to those who happen to turn up they should be facilitating performance improvements in specific areas of the business. This would place learning at the heart of the business and turn L&D from a cost centre into a profit centre – a potentially powerful one if we could get the metrics right. But it also needs L&D to be closer to the operational coal face and to really engage with the DNA of the business. In an increasingly competitive global knowledge economy learning (in all its guises) is way too important for it to fall between the organisational silos.

A case in point…
I have been involved in a number of sales training e-learning programmes over the last couple of years. In all cases the learning need came from the recognition by management that sales people were ‘resting on their laurels’ and that now the marketplace was much tougher they would need to ‘up their game’. The solution – some extra training. Now I wasn’t involved in any of the post learning evaluation (if it happened) but I’m sure that although the training would have been ‘useful’ it wouldn’t have solved the underlying problem (not enough sales). The reason is that training is a top down solution that is very rarely targeted effectively. Think  ’Bomber Harris’ not ‘Stealth Bomber’. What would have worked better would have been localised performance support initiatives. What might these have looked like? Well that’s a question for another post!

Coming Soon
Learning Metrics – Kirkpatrick in 2012
The ROI of Learning
What we can learn from KM?
Performance Support and the Five Moments of Need

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