With over 25 years of experience in corporate learning, London-based Nigel Paine has spent the entirety of his career intersecting with the third sector of education, becoming an internationally recognized expert and speaker on the topics of leadership, development, and technology.
He’s written three books in the last five years, including Workplace Learning: How to Build a Culture of Continuous Employee Development, and teaches in the Penn Chief Learning Officer program at the University of Pennsylvania. He also co-hosts the From Scratch podcast, which features short episodes on workplace issues, and he’s a presenter for Learning Now TV, a live-streamed Internet TV channel focused on corporate learning and performance.
In this fifth installment in our seven-part series on the surge of the third sector of education, Celisa gets Nigel’s global perspective about the sector, including what he sees as its major opportunities and threats. They also discuss how learning technologies are shaping the third sector and the crucial role of data in demonstrating impact and increasing the effectiveness of learning experiences.
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[00:18] – Intro and background info about Nigel.
Developing a Broader Culture of Learning
[03:21] – Tell us a little bit more about the type of work that you do. You’re a presenter for Learning Now TV. You work with organizations. You have the From Scratch podcast. Talk a little bit more about what the focus of all of that is.
Nigel shares that his work is shifting to include broader activity around whole organization change and less to do with narrow L&D issues.
Specifically, he’s helping organizations manage technology and encourage and develop more of a culture of learning, rather than specific learning programs and courses.
So helping them become more agile and adept at managing their own change. And helping them reassert direction, purpose, and their role in the world.
Nigel says that shift has applied to his books as well.
The first book he wrote, The Learning Challenge: Dealing with Technology, Innovation, and Change in Learning and Development, is very much about how you can optimize the opportunities for L&D.
His second book, Building Leadership Development Programmes: Zero-Cost to High-Investment Programmes that Work, tried to pinpoint what makes some L&D transformative—and some not at all.
Then in his most recent book, Workplace Learning: How to Build a Culture of Continuous Employee Development, Nigel says he realized that you can’t have a learning culture unless you actually start fixing things in the cultural environment. And he’s spent a lot of time with L&D leaders over the past five years trying to help them realize this.
So getting them to take more of a holistic view to see what’s going on inside their organization and how to help and be a true partner, rather than simply shoving courses down people’s throats.
Nigel also shares that one of the joys of his life is teaching at the University of Pennsylvania in a doctoral program—the Penn Chief Learning Officer program—that he helped create more than 15 years ago.
And it’s a unique doctoral program because it engages with that diversity of need for human development.
One of the things I’ve learned from that is that if you think you’ve got it and understand this sector and the issues, then you’re being naïve. Because every time you think you’ve got it nailed down, some other dimension appears.
Luckily, the program has been innovative enough to reflect those needs and to keep evolving.
He’s learned to approach the world with humility, with a readiness to learn, and with a belief that if you listen, understand, and act, you will deliver something better than if you just simply assume, act without thinking, and insist that everyone comes along with you.
Interactions with the Third Sector
[08:57] – You and I are talking as part of a podcast series that we’re doing on the third sector of education, that sector that’s made up of the providers who serve adult lifelong learners after they finish their formal degree-granting education. And so, I’d be curious to know, where do you interact or have you interacted with that third sector of education professionally and personally, if you’d like as well?
Nigel discusses how he grew up in the third sector.
I not only know that sector; I actually believe in it passionately. And it tends to be the unloved child of education, formal and informal education. It hasn’t gotten the clout, it doesn’t have the profile, but it’s quietly gone on and done amazing things and transformed people’s lives. And I think that its time is coming. I think we’re moving into an age where the only acceptable way forward for anyone who wants to stay employed is lifelong learning.
Nigel points out that lifelong learning is an interaction between formal and informal education.
But he says it’s also about those providers who can offer something outside the workflow that will help individuals engage more accurately and give them the tools and the mindsets to build their own careers inside organizations.
Without those organizations, individuals, small companies, voluntary organizations, charities, etc., being very active, Nigel says we will never acheive the goal of building universal lifelong education.
That’s because most people don’t work in large companies that have huge learning infrastructures.
He says the truth is that most people work in very small organizations who don’t have those resources, so they turn to the third sector, which makes it very important.
Awareness of Other Providers in the Third Sector
[11:29] – The third sector of education is made up of many different types of providers—trade and professional associations, corporate learning and development, academic continuing education, training companies, solo eduprenuers. Imagine a continuum labeled hodgepodge at one end and partnership at the other. What’s the level of awareness providers have of the other types of providers in the third sector? Where on the hodgepodge-to-partnership spectrum is the third sector as a whole? And where should it be?
Nigel likens it to a highway and says we’re driving from hodgepodge to partnership.
He thinks there’s massive incentive now. Organizations that didn’t see the sector as having anything to offer are trying to build relationships, and individuals who didn’t see the sector as being helpful to them are starting to engage.
One of the problems with this sector is that, for many people, it looks totally confusing. ‘Where do I start? Who do I trust?’ Everyone wants your money, but what are you going to get for your money? That’s where we need to put some effort. It’s not to create lots of new providers but to organize and build partnerships and build standards and build acceptability in terms of how you approach the role, the terms and conditions that you offer learners, and all of those things.
Nigel says providing this type of clarity and helping learners navigate the sector is a very important trajectory.
Sponsor: Blue Sky eLearn
[13:49] – If you’re looking for a partner to help you help learners navigate the sometimes confusing lifelong learning landscape, check out our sponsor for this series.
For nearly 20 years, Blue Sky eLearn has been transforming the way organizations deliver virtual events and educational content. Blue Sky’s customized cutting-edge solutions connect hundreds of organizations to millions of learners worldwide.
These include their award-winning learning management system, Path LMS, Webinar and live streaming services for short events to multi-day virtual conferences, and learning strategy and development solutions. These robust, easy-to-manage solutions allow organizations to easily organize, track, and monetize educational content.
The Growth of the Third Sector
[14:52] – Our view at Leading Learning is that this third sector has been growing in size and importance in the relatively recent past. If you agree with that assessment, what do you think is contributing to the growth of the third sector?
Nigel explains that there is an enormous pressure now on people who left school without qualifications or who are in a workplace where it looks like their job is going to come to an end soon.
There is a thirst and a craving to acquire new skills that will keep them employable. And there are lots of opportunities for people who are post-workforce to keep their brains active and to learn new things.
Then there are also people who are in mixed mode, those who may have children at home or a part-time job but who are also acquiring new knowledge, skills, and competence to get them back into the workforce.
Finally, Nigel thinks that we must discard of the crazy idea that we stopped learning at 18, 21, or whatever.
We can learn, we can change, and we can acquire new skills and knowledge.
He explains that there are social, economic, and technological pressures to keep learning. And there’s also a realization through the work of neuroscientists and through people like Robert Kegan that adults continue to develop.
You don’t stop developing at 18. Adults continue to develop. And if they want to really fulfill their potential, their potential is always, always tied up with learning, and learning more, and learning different, sometimes discarding old assumptions and old ideas in order to embrace what’s new and exciting and what points them in the right direction.
Major Opportunities for the Third Sector
[17:13] – You were just speaking to the fact that there’s a great need for this third sector that’s really driving its growth. What do you see as the major opportunities for those working in the third sector?
Nigel says it depends what the needs are. Wherever there’s need, there’s an opportunity somewhere. But one of the problems is trying to find that opportunity.
He talks about the various new kinds of work-learn spaces emerging that allow people to come together in different kinds of community and the flexibility to combine what time you have with the opportunity that is open to you.
He can see a world where people do learn online on their own. They read, they engage in discussions and forums, and they partner in small teams. And then he can imagine them going to a center and reinforcing that learning.
So he thinks the future is a very mixed mode. He worries when providers lust after single-mode learning. He thinks you’ve got to get into multi-mode learning—whatever you do and however you do it—because that is the nature of the world.
Also, everybody is better equipped. There isn’t anyone with a smartphone who hasn’t seen it change their life and put them in touch with opportunities, ideas, and ways of doing things that they couldn’t have done before. Nigel says we need to galvanize that for learning.
And there are fabulous opportunities for stimulating and satisfying curiosity.
I think if we can create a world of curious people, our problems are over because they will work out their own way to meet their curious needs to satisfy that curiosity. The problem is we’ve got far too many people who see curiosity as something dangerous or something that is scary and something that isn’t really for them. I think we will have to encourage people to be more curious and begin to meet their own learning needs because…no provider can come up with all the answers. It’s got to be individuals saying to providers, ‘This is what I want. This is what I need.’ They will take what they need, not have stuff pushed to them that they may or may not need.
See our related episodes about the importance of curiosity and learning:
Getting Curious About Curiosity with Francesca Gino and Curiosity and Curation with Rohit Bhargava.
Nigel admits it’s a much more exciting environment now than when he started working, when he was delivering face-to-face classes. If people missed the class, then there were no other options—they missed it all.
He was one of the early pioneers in “open learning” in the UK. He saw then how important that was going to be once the machines were fast enough, capable enough, and ubiquitous enough to allow them to offer real choices to people.
He had to wait about 15 years for that to happen, but it’s certainly happened now. So he’s very optimistic about the possibilities going forward.
Threats Facing the Third Sector
[21:51] – In the third sector, what do you see as the major challenges or threats that exist?
Nigel thinks there are big players who would like to gobble it all up. There are private universities and large companies that don’t want small organizations nibbling away at their business.
Although he thinks we do need big players, he believes in the importance of an ecosystem where there are small providers too because they’re the ones who can see opportunities and respond quickly.
But if an organization rushes in and fulfills a need only to be eaten up by one of the big organizations shortly after, that’s not particularly healthy.
Although you could argue that the market is growing at a pace beyond the capabilities of any handful of organizations to manage, Nigel warns there are dangers of the big players taking over the third sector.
And he doesn’t want that to happen. He wants plurality and choice, which he believes are very important.
The Future of the Third Sector
[23:50] – What do you see as the future for the third sector? Do you think it’s going to be continued growth, disruption, waning importance, something else? How would you characterize it?
Nigel sees continuing growth and massive disruption, accelerated as AI comes into the workforce, and we find new ways of working and new products.
Whole new sectors will emerge, and we will need people who can do the jobs of the future. Not necessarily the jobs of the past. They will need new skills, new attitudes. They will need to enable themselves and feel confident in their ability as learners.
For him, the heart of a growth mindset is the belief that you can learn. Once you’ve got that belief, then your needs are insatiable. There will always be things to learn and always be providers.
But he does think that as disruption occurs, we will need standards and more ordered, clear opportunities laid down, so learners know where to go and how to stay away from the people who just want their money and offer nothing for it.
So we have to clean up the environment so that it is ordered but still full of opportunity and still available for entrepreneurs and first movers.
Although we don’t know what the world will be like in ten years, Nigel says if we have that growth mindset and the providers who can help people make the leaps going forward, then we’ll have a healthy world, healthy society, and a healthy amount of learning.
So the third sector is absolutely critical for all our futures.
To learn more about the importance of a growth mindset, see our related episode Maximizing Learning with Mindset.
Thriving in the Third Sector
[26:41] – What do you think those in the third sector should be doing to thrive?
Nigel shares three things he thinks are absolutely fundamental:
- Acknowledge we’re in an ecosystem. Our lives are increasingly based in ecosystems, and therefore we don’t want just one product that tries to do everything for us. Think of how you can build together components (realizing some of those will be new) that will meet the needs of your learners.
- Enable a growth mindset. Help people believe in themselves as learners and spend a little time enabling people to learn, as well as giving them things to do. Nigel calls that the balance of productive skills and generative skills. Generative skills are the core skills that help people learn other skills that are crucial to them and give them the confidence to move forward. Curiosity sits in the generative skills category. So recognize that generative skills are just as important as productive skills.
- Listen, understand, act.Get out there, listen to what people are saying, try to understand where the needs are emerging, and then act on that intelligence.
The third sector will have to evolve, change, rethink, and be disrupted. And be able to deal with that disruption, just like everyone else. You are not somehow exempt from all the flows in the rest of the world. So jump into the flow and embrace that. It will carry you forward, and it will help you stay successful, maybe doing some things that are quite different to what you would have done before, but nevertheless will help you be more successful, bigger, more enduring, and it will help you stay relevant going forward.
How Learning Technologies Are Shaping the Third Sector
[30:00] – Learning technologies and technology’s role in supporting learning is an area of expertise for you. How do you see learning technologies shaping the third sector now, and how might future technological advances shape it in the future?
Nigel says technologies are absolutely shaping the third sector from every dimension.
From reaching out to your customers, meeting their needs, assessing their competence, certifying or credentialing those individuals, continuing to develop learning products, working on the curriculum, working on instructional design—every single one of those areas is completely disrupted by new technologies.
He suggests looking at the main trends and at how you can adapt what you’re doing to take advantage of some of those main trends.
For example, people live in an app world now. People do not want to spend their time on a desktop when they’ve got a phone and a tablet and everything else. They want to be able to work seamlessly between all three. If you can’t do that, he says you should be worried.
Embrace technological changes, and use them to your full advantage.
You might feel that you’re much more comfortable sitting in a room with a group of people. There’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t see that as the beginning, the middle, and the end of what you do. The more you can extend that, the more you can create learning opportunities going forward, the more effective your output will be and the more engaged your learners will be with you.
Demonstrating Impact in the Third Sector
[32:27] – I’d like to ask data and data analytics for organizations in the third sector that are really serious about showing the value of their offerings. What would you recommend? What are some of the key activities in evaluation to help demonstrate that impact?
Nigel recognizes that data analytics are really important, but the problem is that most people don’t really know what to do with that data. Maybe they collect number of hours, who completed what, but those things are irrelevant.
What you need, he says, is to use data to focus on levels of engagement and impact going forward. Work out the actual difference you make in the world, and that is easily doable now.
There’s also a huge amount of opportunity. For example, Google Analytics is free but only about 9 percent of sites use it.
Nigel notes there are some dangers, which he completely accepts, but monitors. He says we need to work out how to help learners be more effective, and often, in advance of them even realizing it, you can deal with and obliterate any problems.
Before someone gets in difficulty, we need to step in and correct. Not after they’ve had a miserable time or, even worse, after they’ve failed. Because that will seriously damage them psychologically…. The real test and the real cutting-edge stuff is looking at the data as it’s coming out in the middle of everything and being able to make those small corrections. And often it’s only small corrections that will help people come through seamlessly—almost without them realizing that there’s been a little bit of manipulation in the background somewhere.
And he says that’s how it should be. Just as when we use products, we have no idea what’s going on in the background to seamlessly make them work for us. We just accept that they work. Yet with learning we accept colossal things going wrong, as if that doesn’t matter.
But Nigel stresses that it does matter. Learning has to be a seamless, high-quality experience, just like every other experience in our lives. Look at the big players and their obsession with getting it right for the customer. Learning has to be obsessed with getting it right for the customer too.
A Global Perspective on The Third Sector
[37:51] – I’m based in the US, as are most of the organizations that I interface and work with. You’re familiar with the US, but you’re based in London, and I’m particularly interested in your non-US perspective. Are there any footnotes or nuances you might add to earlier comments about how the third sector looks different outside of the US?
Nigel notes that each country has differences, but outside the US you tend to see much more government intervention and regulation. You see much more of an attempt to ensure standards, clarify, set competence frameworks and skill profiles that are universally accepted and are the currency for moving forward for individuals and organizations.
That’s not so evident in the US, where standards vary from state by state and company to company. Companies drive standards often in the US.
And he’s not saying that one approach is good, and one is bad. It’s just different. And he doesn’t really see them coming together.
But he thinks that in the face of the disruption—which is on its way—those countries where there is a large government sector intervening will intervene more to make it work.
In the US, where there is less government intervention, the emphasis will be on companies to getting their act together to meet the supply and demand needs.
There are very few global players, but there are a lot of local players. Nigel talks about how organizations in the US don’t tend to work outside the country and sometimes may even only work within their particular state (which in other parts of the world could be a own country).
So maybe there’s a difference in scale, but everyone faces the same problems. The waves of change and disruption are global waves.
The truth is that the vast majority of countries rely incredibly, profoundly on everything working together. We’re enmeshed in this network of technology, skills, and production, and we can’t manage without each other. I think that most countries, most organizations, and most people in the third sector will see that need—that what they’re actually doing in their different ways are preparing people for the global competition, global movements, and global trends. I think that’s inevitable…. You can either pull up the shutters or embrace the world.
[42:22] – Wrap-Up
With over 25 years of experience in corporate learning, Nigel Paine is a regular speaker, writer, and broadcaster on the topics of development, technology, and leadership. His company focuses on building great workplaces. You can learn more about Nigel, his work, and his company at nigelpaine.com, and he welcomes connecting with Leading Learning Podcast listeners through e-mail, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
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[44:16] – Sign off
Other Episodes in This Series:
- The Third Sector of Education
- Long Life Learning with Michelle Weise
- Accrediting Lifelong Learning with Casandra Blassingame
- Reflecting with Anthony Carnevale
- Uncovering Opportunity in Challenges with LaTrease Garrison
- The Third Sector of Education: Sustaining and Shaping Society
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