Category Archives: Teaching and Learning Techniques

Learning Is the Master Skill

I remember the last time our company was on the hunt to hire a new employee. Our list of attributes was lengthy – ‘You must be kind, you must be witty, very sweet and fairly pretty…’ oh wait, wrong list… or was it? Regardless, our desire to hire our very own Mary Poppins was no different than most employers desire to find a person who is practically perfect in every way for a position they need to fill. No training required; just find the right person. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of “The Truth about Leadership”, say “good luck with that.”

I was introduced to the philosophy of Kouzes and Posner by chance, happening upon a link to an excerpt from their book in a recent Dale Carnegie newsletter. The excerpt, titled “Learning Is the Master Skill”, essentially laid claim to the idea that admirable skills and talents, such as leadership, are far from preordained. In their words, the concept of raw talent is a myth.

To strengthen their position, they called upon 25 years of research conducted by K. Anders Ericsson, a noted authority on expertise. Ericsson’s research states that excellence is not rooted in talent, or reserved for the lucky few. The truth is surprisingly cliché: ‘practice makes perfect.’  As a young child who was aggressively encouraged to learn the piano when she’d rather be outside playing in her tree fort, I heard this phrase repeated to the point that it practically lost all meaning.

Yet, according to Ericsson, it is the key to success. “Until most individuals recognize that sustained training and effort is a prerequisite for reaching expert levels of performance, they will continue to misattribute lesser achievement to the lack of natural gifts, and will thus fail to reach their own potential.”

To achieve the highest level of expertise, Ericsson asserts one needs to perform about 10,000 hours of practice over a period of ten years. Kouzes and Posner point out that how you choose to learn is not relevant – be it reading instructions, hands-on experimenting, watching others, thinking critically on the subject or being coached – but the desire to learn and engagement in the process.

During our hiring process, none of the candidates we interviewed possessed all the skills we desired, because like Kouzes and Posner state, this is next to impossible. How can anyone know our systems and processes without already having worked for us? When we finally did hire a new employee, we selected the successful candidate based on their cheerful, positive disposition and their obvious desire and ability to learn. A well formulated plan on how to impart the knowledge gaps was our key to success.

When you’re looking to hire a new employee, or improve your own skill set, what systems will you have in place to ensure that the time and resources are available to ensure they, or you, have the room to succeed?

We want to hear from you! Does your workplace have training programs set in place to help prepare new recruits or improve present employees’ skill sets?

-Kelly Marshall,
Director of Communications,
Sector Learning Solutions

Orientating New Employees

Did you know that a business can lose 50 to 200% of an employee’s annual salary due to employee turnover?

Employee retention can be encouraged by taking simple steps such as having new recruits participate in an employee orientation program.

Custom Guide, one of Sector Learning Solutions’ courseware providers, has created a laugh out loud video about the benefits of an effective employee orientation program.

We want to hear from you!

Does your company have an employee orientation program? If you do, when was the last time it was updated?

-Kelly Marshall,
Director of Communications,
Sector Learning Solutions

Barriers to Presenting Online Effectively

Think back to the last presentation you attended. Was it engaging? Did it captivate your attention and imagination?

Presentations require careful content and agenda planning to be successful; yet, there are some serious communication barriers that can arise when using an online digital tool – such as a webinar – to engage with a large audience.

Delivering presentations via webinar is no longer a trend. It is a reality that is here to stay as budgets shrink and organizations look for ways to cut travel costs when holding meetings, delivering presentations or training staff. Your employer may not be asking you to present online today or tomorrow, but will you be prepared when the time does eventually arrive?

To me, preparedness hinges on being aware of all the challenges you face and having game plans ready to overcome them. Here are some factors to consider when planning your next online presentation:

The Inability to “Read” Your Audience

Webinars do not allow you to read the body language of your audience. The option to allow participants to communicate verbally with you and other attendees is available, but is often not the most effective option.  Time constraints often result in presenters muting their attendees’ microphones to keep the presentation flowing as well as to reduce background noise.

This option allows presenters to be “in control” of the situation by keeping the presentation safe from interruptions and inappropriately timed questions that can result straying from the agenda. Yet how can you expect an attendee to pay attention to your material if you’re not paying attention to their need to voice their questions or have their concern acknowledged?

If you’re going to limit or eliminate your participants’ ability to add their input, then why bother to present it live? Why not record a video that attendees can view on their own time?

The one-way model doesn’t lend itself to engaging your audience or evaluating if they understand your material. When your audience is under the impression that their role is to listen and scan the screen when you switch between slides, is it really that shocking when they pop open their internet browser or smartphone for a little “multi-tasking”?

In-person presentations allow the watchful eye of the presenter to curb the desire to engage in distractions. Online presentations, however, often delivered to the attendee in the comfort of their office workspace, often equipped with dual-monitors elevates the temptation for webinar attendees to use their second monitor to browse Google News articles or scan Twitter feeds by the second.

How can presenters address this issue? I will present some solutions in my next blog post.

Technology Troubles

A second hurdle to overcome with online delivery is the technology itself. If the presenter is not comfortable with using the webinar software, it shows like unsightly sweat stains on a collared shirt.

Being comfortable with navigating the software’s interface does not prepare a presenter for technical issues faced by attendees who may not be able to login, hear audio, use their microphone or see your presentation on their screen. These issues must be addressed and resolved by the presenter or an assistant in a timely manner or their credibility will start to drop faster than Facebook’s stock value.

Let’s say you’ve prepared for these potential concerns. You’ve educated yourself by practicing the presentation in the webinar platform to familiarize yourself with the interface as well as prepared an assistant to be on hand to assist with attendees in distress.

Another snafu to avoid is assuming your
audience is technically literate. If you think you’ve got it covered because you asked them if they are technically literate, think again. Asking a vague question with ambiguous wording is never an accurate indicator of skill level. Plus, people rarely want to admit that they don’t know something. Most importantly, people don’t know what they don’t know.

Technically savvy individuals who may intuitively know how to program a TV without reading the manual are not immune to the first-time software use jitters. This fact compounded with the fact that you’re adding an additional layer to the mix – your presentation’s content- can lead to stress. When your audience is uncomfortable with the medium, their tension and negativity can easily rub off on your presentation.
How much, if any time, have you allotted time into your presentation agenda to educate your attendees on how to use the webinar tools available to them? Is it enough? Are you prepared to discover the five minutes you set aside was not enough when you’re half way through your allotted 60 minutes of presentation time?

How can presenters address these issues? I will present some solutions in my next blog post.

Webinar Etiquette for Attendees 101

Educating attendees on the technology itself should not be the end of their education. It is important to impart a set of agreed upon rules around appropriate behaviour before, during and after the presentation. For example, if you arrived 10 minutes late for a meeting in the company boardroom, would you walk in and interrupt? If the CEO was delivering a speech, would you cut him off to add your two cents or ask a question? Without all eyes on you, it’s surprising how easily social morays can disappear.

Nothing eats into precious presentation time faster than an interruption. How does a presenter start on time then stay high energy and focused on their agenda’s  flow with people arriving late, missing introductory instructions, interrupting with questions that have already been answered, and more?
These are just a small number of the risk factors present when delivering online. In my next post, I’m going to address each of these issues and provide an ample list of suggestions and solutions that we employ here at Sector Learning to ensure our online presentations run smoothly.

Are you a veteran webinar presenter with lots of experience under your belt?  We’d love to have you share other challenges you’ve run into during delivering webinar presentation.

Have you attended dozens of online presentations?
We’d love to hear any stories you have about frustrating webinar presentations experiences.

-Kelly Marshall,
Director of Communications,
Sector Learning Solutions

David Salaguinto

Chris Stone introduced us to David Salaguinto in his June 26th blog post, Choosing a Top Banner.

David Salaguinto, a writer on the Office User Assistance team at Microsoft, gained internet fame through his Office Online Web Comic blog.

His witty cartoons are made using Microsoft Visio, a 2D-object drawing application used to create diagrams (most notably org charts). Although David has not posted a new comic in quite some time, his blog is a goldmine of chuckles.

Here’s a link to a free 30 day trial download of Visio 2010 – if you want to try your hand at making diagrams or even your own comic.

Indezine writer Geetesh’s blog post Office Online Web Comics: Conversation with David Salaguinto (February 8, 2008) offers insight into the genesis of David’s Microsoft Office comics as a learning tool for sharing Office Online information with customers.

I personally love the idea of infusing a banal topic such as Microsoft with humour – especially by using one of its own applications to do it!

What’s the most interesting learning tool you’ve seen an instructor use in class?

-Kelly Marshall,
Director of Communication,
Sector Learning Solutions

Ways To Encourage Adult Learning

Melissa Peterson posted an article “Ways to Encourage Adult Learning” on Custom Guide’s website on June 5, 2012 that outlines the ways that adult learning differs from our experiences in primary and secondary school.

“For children, education is a “have to”. They have to take certain classes, learn certain subjects, and get passing grades. They have to listen to their teachers who give assignments and projects. They don’t necessarily know what they’re going to get from attending school; they just know they have to go.”

As Melissa explains, when we enter adulthood, the choice to continue our education becomes our responsibility. As we take ownership of our learning, we become more critical of our training options. If training is not perceived as relevant to helping us meet our goals or solving our problems, we will often opt out – by zoning out in class or by deciding to not signing up for training at all.

“Unfortunately, lots of times we still try to implement adult learning as we would for children. We try to make courses mandatory, and we try to give tests and get results. Then we wonder why it fails.”

This presents a unique challenge for instructors working in adult training centers. We at Sector Learning Solutions have addressed these concerns by offering our learners the opportunity to receive the knowledge they want on their terms.

We’ve shifted from a purely open enrolment classroom model to focusing on offering training can be tailored to the individual or the dedicated group’s needs. Every course’s content is also highly customizable – with the option to include an adapted curriculum that focuses on the exact topics they want to cover. We also offer the option to have the instructor use custom course materials – where tutorials are designed to be applied to a learner’s work documents instead of generic practice files.

We feel these options focus the scope of training to be results-orientated – where our instructors can provide solutions to specific problems – instead of covering information that may be redundant or not relevant.

Do you feel our new approach fits with your needs as an adult learner? Do you have other suggestions for how we can improve the way we deliver training?

We’d love to hear what you have to say.
Please share your suggestions or experiences with us today!

-Kelly Marshall,
Director of Communications,
Custom Software Training @
Sector Learning Solutions

The Way of the Peaceful Warrior

CEO Gerry Brimacombe shares a quote from the book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman then reflects on how relevant the story is to what we do at Sector Learning Solutions.

… “There is one quote in there that I really liked and I thought it was relevant to what we do here at Sector.

That was the story about a woman who takes her son to Mahatma Gandhi (which I’m watching that movie with my kids interestingly enough) and she says, “Mahatma, please tell my child to stop eating sugar.” …

-Gerry Brimacombe,
Sector Learning Solutions

12 Steps to a Life of Extraordinary Collaboration

Ben Ziegler, a mediator, collaboration consultant and owner of Collaborative Journeys shares an excerpt with us from his blog post “12 Steps to a Life of Extraordinary Collaboration,” posted on March 21, 2012:

“There is no shortage of big problems facing us today; in our communities, cities, globally! These problems are complex. There are many parts to the problem, and how all the parts connect together can be a mystery. What the solution is, another mystery.

What to do?

Collaborate. (You knew I’d say that, right?) And, the bigger the problem, the bigger the collaboration effort needed. It takes a system to change a system. Forget the KISS principle.

And, as the scale of collaboration ramps up, we need to involve people with collaboration skills that match the context. Massive collaboration calls for people with massive collaboration skills; extraordinary skills that go way beyond the ordinary.

I got to thinking about extraordinary collaboration, on reading Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken, in which she explores the positive potential of games and virtual collaboration. I tip my hat to my creative conflict resolution colleague, Stephanie West Allen (@idealawg on Twitter, blogs at Brains on Purpose), for pointing me to Jane’s work.

12 Steps

What are the personal skills associated with extraordinary collaboration? How about these:

  1. Believe in collaboration; in creating something new, that would be impossible to create alone. Collaboration is a “generative act”.
  2. Learn collaboration; think and act collaboratively. (Collaborative Maxims can be your guide)
  3. Get social, in a networked environment; we are all connected, “be an extrovert in the virtual world”, it’s a godsend of opportunity. It doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert in face-to-face settings.
  4. Make connections, of all sorts; making connections is at the heart of bridging differences, creating the new, innovation…
  5. Develop your internal “collaboration radar”; ask yourself – who will make “the best collaborators on this particular task or mission”?”

Click here to read the seven other steps…

-Guest Blogger: Ben Ziegler,
Mediator and Collaboration Consultant,
Collaborative Journeys

No person is an Island – The Importance of Collaboration in the Office

John Donne, the 16th century English poet wrote “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated….No man is an island, entire of itself...”

I think this can be translated into the modern business view by adjusting the words as follows:

“A business is developed and sustained by all its staff, as one person works, or if they leave, if their knowledge is captured and shared, then the business can continue to prosper and grow from that person’s knowledge and skill…..No one can operate independently in a business, even if they wanted to, but must work together to maximize results...”

We call this collaboration. You are not an island. You are a node on a network. Your knowledge, skills, and hard work can get the job done today, and then, if captured properly, searchable and shareable, can help other staff save time and make better decisions down the road.

The challenging part, I believe, is the “capturing, searchable, and shareable”. There is a whole field of Knowledge Management to address the “capture, storage, and dissemination of information”. For a small company like mine, SharePoint accomplishes most of what I need, very, very simply.

First of all, at Sector we do everything on SharePoint (2010). We do not have file servers. We do have Exchange serving our email, but it is underworked as rather than attachments, we send links to SharePoint documents, wiki pages, and list items.

My motto lately has been “email sucks”. Even more so today since my Outlook has been acting up…but even in general. I shudder when I hear “I have it in my email”. Sure, email has lots of great organization and searching tools, but it is still a PERSONAL storage system. (Yes, system administrators and the like can read your email, but that is only if necessary.) It fails to make the information you gather every day accessible to others in the organization.

What we are doing at Sector, and it is working well, is to keep as much corporate knowledge as possible in a central location, that is searchable and accessible by everyone. SharePoint is our tool of choice for this not just because it is free to install, but also because we think it does a very good job!

Think about it. If one of your staff leaves suddenly (the lottery syndrome), how much of that person’s day-to-day is gone with them? Lots. What if they have organically, without any real extra work, been storing their work products, to-do lists, and job skill knowledge on a central server (SharePoint) where everyone can look? With SharePoint 2010’s Fast™ Search, in seconds everyone in the organization (given appropriate permission levels – easily settable in SharePoint) can reads that person’s documents and pick up where they left off with a lot less fuss. By the same token, my interim work products are available to all my staff so they can use what I have developed, without actually having to be aware of it or ask me for it. One tool I really like, that Sean Wallbridge of itgroove showed me, is to use a simple view on our document libraries to show “15 most recent modified files” – this keeps my finger on the pulse of what everybody is doing, without them having to tell me.

In today’s business and government environments, “no man (or woman) is an island”. We don’t have time to tell everybody all the time what we are up to, nor is everybody able to remember what everybody else has done last week or last year. But when you store as much as possible in a central location, and provide powerful search mechanisms, each person becomes an information hub, sharing with everyone else on an as and when needed basis.

Gerry Brimacombe
CEO, Sector Learning Solutions


For many people, training conjures up memories of high school or university classes, where the majority of courses were delivered via lectures. Although captivating public speakers do exist, the lecture remains a passive learning tool with a focus on one-way communcation.

At Sector Learning Solutions, we recognize that the most successful learning environments involve instructors acting as facilitators to work together with learners to achieve their goals.

With that in mind, we’d like to introduce our guest blogger Shawn Steele, who has joined us to say a few words on collaboration and and present an engaging opportunity for you to learn more.

-Kelly Marshall,
Sales and Marketing Coordinator,
Sector Learning Solutions

Collaboration is defined as the action of working together in order to achieve a common goal.  Collaboration can be used to improve communication amongst team members, for managing projects, for future planning, for work with other organizations, and for many other important purposes.  Collaboration can greatly enhance an organization’s performance and requires experienced leaders equipped with the related skills in order to introduce a culture of collaboration effectively.  Collaboration is applicable in any work environment and with teams of any size; regardless if the organization is in the corporate, non-profit, or public sector.

The Leadership Victoria collaboration workshop will describe the considerations needed to initiate collaboration, will introduce key skills needed to facilitate collaboration, and will show you the elements required to sustain a collaborative work environment.

Leadership Victoria is pleased to present collaboration workshops facilitated by Beth Page of Dream Catcher Consulting in conjunction with partners the United Way of Greater Victoria, RBC, and RBC Foundation.

Join us for the “Introduction to Leading Collaborative Initiatives” half day session on Tuesday, November 8, from 5:00pm until 9:00pm at the Victoria Executive Centre at 915 Fort Street.  The cost is $30 per person, or $50 for two or more participants, and space is limited to the first 25 participants.  To register please contact Layla at Leadership Victoria by email at or by phone at 250-386-2269.

For more information about Leadership Victoria initiatives, please visit our website

-Shawn Steele,
Leadership Victoria Board Member,
Guest Blogger for Sector Learning Solutions

Image Source:
Image: David Castillo Dominici /
Image: Rawich /

Which is Better: Instructor-Led Training or eLearning?

“I want to talk to you briefly about learning modalities- different ways we can deliver learning. The three things I’m going to touch on are instructor led training, self directed eLearning and eClasses.”

Gerry Brimacombe,
Chief Executive Officer,
Sector Learning Solutions