Street smarts or book smarts? Why can’t we have both!

Street smarts or book smarts? Why can’t we have both!

I didn’t finish high school with a mark that allowed me to go to TAFE, let alone go to university. I have no piece of paper that says I have attained a certain level of education. Some people get quite hung up on this because society, for the most part, dictates that in order to succeed we must stay in school to Year 12, go on to higher education maybe even do post-graduate study.

I’ve met a lot of well-educated people who are captains of industry and doyens of society but I’ve known other extremely intelligent people with more initials after their name than the number of pubs in the Sydney CBD (it’s 164 by the way but I’ll come back to that!) but who are in low paying, uninspiring jobs and struggle to engage with colleagues and clients.

In turn, some of the most inspiring and clever people I’ve ever worked with or worked for have been self-starters with little or no formal qualifications. They often had an excellent mentor and also benefited from being “in the right place at the right time” but their common sense, good judgement and positive outlook was critical to ensuring their success.

I’m a firm believer that a wide (and preferably deep) general knowledge is just as crucial to an individual’s ability to interact and to contribute in the workplace. It’s also said that nothing beats experience so it can often be an advantage if someone has been exposed to numerous industries, business models and systems as opposed to spending time in a lecture theatre. It never ceases to amaze me how a solution to one problem can be found by drawing on experience gained in a previous role.

Regardless of the project or the industry, passion, creativity and gumption are always at the core of good results.

I’m not advocating for more lovable rogues and high school drop-outs in business (Richard Branson has cornered that market!) but I am saying that a person’s CV often does not give a true indication of their potential worth to your business. Their resume may appear light on but their life experience and knowledge base is extremely rich.

The manner in which we access and process learning material these days is completely different to even 20 years ago. Youtube and Wikipedia have changed everything! We source, share and retain information more readily. Younger people especially appreciate bite-sized learning. They thrive on gamification and choose-your-own options.

And, in the main, on the job learning is also more detailed and more disciplined. Those who join the workforce at a younger age and in a more junior role are often much more ‘street smart’ than someone who joins from university.

So, when it comes to mapping out the number of pubs within the Sydney City Council boundary, two individuals working in the same industry may come at it from completely different angle.

While learning their entry level role of warehouse assistant at a brewery, a willing subject will be exposed to all aspects of the logistics and business operations including spending some time on the brewery floor and significant time in the delivery truck.

Using techniques and tools identified while studying, a recent university graduate working as a Project Manager specialising in the hospitality sector will certainly have the skill-set to find documentation that confirms the number of hotels in the city.

The university graduate uses research techniques and collaborative skills whilst the warehouse assistant has personally visited almost every single one of them. Same result, different path.

Those with an MBA or a degree from a ‘Group of 8’ University (look it up, it’s a thing) might consider a start in the ‘mail room’ as wasted time, but I’ve always believed there is as much merit in both.

Further, I think the way we record and assess this type of non-linear learning is extremely important. Unfortunately, it’s something that the business world has typically taken a very lax approach to and one which I’m actively working to change!

How vision impairment helped validate our company vision

How vision impairment helped validate our company vision

Peopleplan is the second e-learning business I’ve established since leaving my role of training manager with a major retail chain almost 18 years ago. When we launched the new brand in 2010 it was important to me that we continued to keep highlighting the benefits of on-line learning above ‘old school’ methods of delivering information. It was also very important to the new team, almost all of whom are still with us to this day, to be nimble, fluid and innovative with our approach to eLearning.

Last year we were presented with a unique challenge which tested this vision.

We were approached by the Australian Network on Disability (AND), a member base organisation established to champion the inclusion of people with a disability in the workplace. When AND contacted Peopleplan about building e-learning content suitable for people with disability we realised there was a bigger gap in our offer than we had known. Although we had through the years developed eLearning within the guidelines for disability we had not really approached this with full development.

We also quickly recognised the value of doing such interesting and exciting work.

We quiet decisively over invested time and effort into understanding the protocols around Inclusive Learning and then building the modules. We were pretty pleased with ourselves but, most importantly, AND were delighted with the result.

Inclusive Learning is based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which are published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organisation for the Internet. The WCAG specify how to make online content accessible for people with disabilities. These standards flow through to eLearning and incorporate all devices including tablets and mobile phones.

The WCAG has 12 guidelines that are organised under four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. For each guideline there are testable success criteria which are at three levels/standards: A, AA, and AAA. These three levels were developed in order to accommodate different situations that require or allow greater levels of accessibility than others. Web Sites and digital learning modules that are developed to the AA level of the WCAG are capable of including more people than those developed to the A level.

Ways in which this increased inclusiveness can be demonstrated revolve around access for people with hearing or vision impairments. For people with hearing impairments, level A level means that captions are provided for pre-recorded audio content. AA level means that captions are provided for all live audio content and that there’s an audio description available for all prerecorded video content. For people with visual impairments, level A means that colour is not used as the sole method of conveying content or distinguishing visual elements. AA level requires text and images of text have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1. AA level also means that the page is readable and functional when the text size is doubled.

Peopleplan uses the following four-step process to ensure that inclusive design is incorporated into digital learning at the AA level: 1. Understand your users; 2. Ensure that there is a balance between inclusiveness and interactivity in e-learning module design; 3. Ensure that text, graphics, video and audio incorporate inclusive design; and 4. Undertake User Testing to ensure that the digital learning works as expected for all. This process enables Peopleplan to provide eLearning modules that satisfy the WCAG for AA level inclusivity in a rigorous and cost effective manner.

We are set for some interesting times ahead when it comes to delivering content. Rather than building specific solutions for people with disability or for our ageing population, we feel content development is moving towards increasing accessibility and inclusivity in mainstream eLearning design and delivery. After all, as our population ages, people with hearing, sight, cognitive impairment or mobility impairments won’t be in the minority.

If you’re interested to know more about the background of inclusive Learning, the WCAG and supporting documentation are available on the Web Site of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at

We’ve also recently completed a credentials document on the topic which you can read here:

Photo credit to

Paying it forward … Peopleplan CEO joins innovative mentor program

Paying it forward … Peopleplan CEO joins innovative mentor program

Peopleplan CEO, Gerard Manion, has been announced as the latest Edugrowth mentor.

Edugrowth is an Australian not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting and promoting Education Technology (edtech). The six founding members -Navitas, Deakin University, La Trobe University, Monash University, Charles Sturt University and Griffith University – along with those who have joined since (both individuals, private sector businesses and government) believe Australia has the expertise and ambition to become a world leader in the business of education.

Edugrowth serves as the focal point for the Australia edtech community and is the centre-piece of what everyone in the sector hopes will become a national network for advocating edtech.

The organisation has been up and running for a year and has already highlighted a number of future stars in the Aussie edtech sector via its accelerator program. The full-time accelerator is the only one of its kind in Australia dedicated to developing start-ups in the education sector. It’s a six month program offering unique access to mentors and investors and includes an investment of $50,000 for a minority Edugrowth shareholding (6 per cent).

“With Gerard’s background he will be an invaluable resource for our start-up businesses, especially those involved in our accelerator program. He will be heavily involved in assisting with business strategy and business development,” explains Ben Cochrane, Edugrowth Startup Program Manager.

“Gerard has already proven to be a valuable member of the start-up mentors group at EduGrowth.”

Manion is a pioneer of on-line learning in Australia, introducing e-learning to the retail sector in the late 90’s when businesses were still just learning about the power of the internet. Since then he has built a number of successful HR consulting and training businesses boasting clients such as McDonalds, Toyota and Super Retail Group.

Since he joined the mentor group he has attended a number of events with the accelerator businesses including two pitch sessions which included a Q&A component to help them cement their functionality and fine-tune their key messaging. Later this month, he will host a sales & marketing masterclass with these businesses to help them prepare to ‘go to market’ with their offer.

“I’m very pleased to have been asked to serve as a mentor,” says Manion.

“These are very exciting times for our industry in what has quickly become a borderless world for education based applications and content.

“The growth in the market is quiet phenomenal and now, with the innovation across the start-ups I am seeing, it’s evident there’s no limit to how this industry will exponentially flourish.

“The learning and development industry has been very good to me and its energising to see such innovation happening here in Australia.

“I’m very pleased to be able to help other entrepreneurs get their foothold in the sector and provide them with as much understanding of what it takes to be highly successful and avoid the pitfalls.”

Peopleplan welcomes a stack of new clients

Peopleplan welcomes a stack of new clients

Over the last few months we have been very pleased to welcome a significant number of new clients. These dynamic businesses and NFP’s will be using the Peopleplan learning and communications platform to engage their staff (and other key stakeholders) to ensure their ‘messaging’ is bang on target. In these challenging times it’s never been more important to ensure your workforce and supporters are educated and empowered. Welcome to Fitbit, General Pants, McGrath Foundation, Hireup, Woven Image, Classic Holidays and AND from everyone at Peopleplan!

Free CPD credits for Registered Nurses

Free CPD credits for Registered Nurses

Via our specialised ‘Youni’ platforms (Care + Retail + Volunteering + SME + Real Estate) which host and manage industry specific learning materials, we are pleased to offer FREE content to Registered Nurses to they can attain their annual CPD accreditation.

If you are a registered nurse you should check this out! If you know an RN, please share this information with them.

Annual CPD requirements for RN’s must be completed by May 31. If you haven’t finlaised your 20 CPD requirements for this year, visit Care Youni and get your required credits for free. We have over 20 modules written by industry experts available for you to complete on-line, at your convenience 24/7.

And did we mention it’s completely FREE. Sign up now at

What I learned about binge learning while binge watching Suits

What I learned about binge learning while binge watching Suits

If you haven’t watched the US TV series, Suits please do yourself a favour. If you are a fan, you know how addictive it is. I don’t watch much TV but in only 10 days over Christmas and New Year I managed to watch the first four series of the show. I maintained a solid pace, watching numerous hours each day. I was completely taken in.

My binge viewing offered a brief escape from the busy year that was coming to an end and the one about to commence. The weather was near 40 degrees some days so air conditioning and a comfortable couch was a very appealing combination. Besides, everyone else in the family was busy doing their own thing so I didn’t feel in any way guilty about my indulgence. In fact, I celebrated it.

The show revolves around a talented university drop out, Mike Ross who works as an junior lawyer at a well-known New York law firm despite never attending law school. Every other employee in the firm graduated from the Law School at Harvard University and all wear it like a badge of honour. Mike and his boss, Harvey Specter manage to win almost every case while maintaining Mike’s secret. Because Mike knows nothing about legal framework and precedents, he devours volumes of case history and whole reference books in a single sitting. Mike Ross is a Zen Master of binge learning!

When it comes to ‘real world’ learning & development we see that some people tend to binge as well.

Often it’s a new staffer completing an on-line induction that gets through their allotted modules in quick time or the store manager who churns through 10 product knowledge modules in one sitting.

It also happens with continued professional development. It’s human nature to leave things to the last minute and a large percentage of people wait until a few weeks (or even just days) until their deadline to start accumulating their CPD points.

We’ve recently started offering CPD accreditation for Registered Nurses through our Care Youni website ( and knew a large number of nurses would wait until the last six week window of a 12 month qualification period to start earning their credits, which is exactly what’s happening.

Does binge learning have a place? Does the quantity and speed at which someone learns have an impact or effect on what they retain or how engaged they are?

There’s certainly evidence to suggest it does no harm.

One of the most prestigious universities in the world, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says allowing students to learn online at their own pace has resulted in significant improvements in student engagement.

MIT Chancellor for Academic Advancement, Eric Grimson says around 90 per cent of MIT students took at least one class through the university’s online platform, Open edX in 2016.

He highlighted a 500 student chemistry class that used blended learning (online courses replaced lectures but compulsory face-to-face tutorials were retained) coupled with an online assessment that had nearly eliminated poorly performing students.

“Normally, in a conventionally taught class, 50 to 70 students would be ‘fifth week flagged’, that is, identified in the fifth week of term as being in danger of failing,” he explained.

“When the course was delivered online that number dropped to just three. It’s only one data point but it’s an impressive one,” he said.

Allowing students to determine their own pace of learning and the time they learn is a no-brainer really.

To me, it comes down to three things: availability, flexibility and great content.

Sure, deadlines are a great incentive to achieve milestones but, assuming there is a fluid deadline or none at all, it boils down to how compelling and relevant the courseware is.

Would you binge watch a show that had weak story lines, bad editing and poor acting?

The reason why complete series of programs such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones are watched over a few days is because of the wonderful character development, great cinematography and the fact that each episode ends with a twist.

And most importantly … it’s readily accessible and available 24/7/365 across multiple platforms.

Leonardo DiCaprio rejected for role at Peopleplan

Leonardo DiCaprio rejected for role at Peopleplan

Last week I re-watched the hit movie Catch Me If You Can which has recently been added to Netflix.

It’s a cracking yarn where a youthful looking Leo plays the role of Frank Abagnale who was such a great conman in 1960’s America, the FBI turned to him for expert advice during his time in jail and actually employed him upon his release.

His reproduction of fake ID’s, pay cheques and phoney credentials is much harder to repeat in today’s digital age and increasingly paperless economy but it got me thinking about the way people represent themselves and the way the truth can be manipulated.

Untruths, falsehoods and rubbery figures are still a fact of life in the 21st Century. Donald Trump’s election has resulted in a continuing worldwide discussion about fake news.

It appears that if something is repeated enough times, especially by an ‘expert’ or an influential group, it is accepted as truthful and accurate.

This process is spurred on by Tweetbots that spew out millions of messages from computer generated Twitter accounts and fictitious Facebook users (called sock puppets, it’s a thing I looked it up) who stir up trouble, offer biased commentary and write false reviews.

If it wasn’t so annoying it would be laughable however, baseless claims and untruths paraded as facts are actually a threat to many aspects of our business lives.

Inaccuracy and embellishment can undermine company culture, consumer confidence and staff engagement.

So what’s all this got to do with human capital management and learning & development I hear you ask?

The Edutech industry is essentially unregulated and there are no barriers to entry. In theory anyone build an LMS and generate content if you have a big enough team. And there’s certainly no easy way to measure claims about who’s the most nimble, most creative, fastest growing or most awarded.

While no-one is going to admit their solution or their content is mediocre, none of us is served well when the truth is bent.

The ‘holy grail’ of training (where 100% of the target market absorbs 100% of the content and 100% penetration leads to 100% compliance) will likely never be achieved and, like most providers, Peopleplan is still perfecting our own formula that gets us closer to this goal.

We are always looking to create the most engaging content and a revolutionary method to deliver it. In our endeavours we have always tried to remain authentic.

We’ve always believed that engagement and targeted content should be focussed on generating organisational efficiency and success – be it driving incremental sales, engaging stakeholders more effectively, increasing productivity, reducing risk, minimising down-time or a host of other challenges that confront owners, managers and shareholders.

All we can do is continue to set real targets, monitor activity closely and measures outcomes more effectively so that our clients receive a return on their investment … not just fake news.

Real disruption in the education space is just around the corner!

Real disruption in the education space is just around the corner!

Peopleplan is in the news! Here’s a feature article that appeared in the Saturday edition of the Australian Financial Review recently. It quotes none other than Peopleplan founder, Gerard Manion who agrees the traditional way of delivering and tracking ‘knowledge’ is set to undergo massive change over the next few years. Here’s an excerpt …

Wikipedia, the most extraordinary fount of organised knowledge which has ever existed, created itself on the internet with the power of crowdsourcing. What if this principle could be applied not only to assembling knowledge, but also credentialing it?

At the moment we can’t do that. But it could soon change. Gerard Manion, owner of Sydney-based online learning company PeoplePlan, is developing a platform which will put a value on the learning which people obtain from any online source. Manion’s product, which is operating in beta, has the potential to accredit the learning which people take from informal sources such as YouTube videos or newspaper articles.

“Individuals can collect everything they are doing and put a value to it and effectively credential it,” Manion says.

Unlike Google, which just tells you what’s popular on the internet, Manion’s application will tell you its educational value. If he succeeds, we are in a new world.

Read the full article here:–tertiary-education-faces-another-shakeup-from-digital-disruption-20161221-gtfuu

I’m sure trigonometry will come in handy one day … said no student … ever!

I’m sure trigonometry will come in handy one day … said no student … ever!

If you had to sit your final HSC exams today, would you pass?  I wouldn’t. Then again, it’s a matter of public record that I was a poor student. But you get my point – how much ‘stuff’ do we actually retain? Further, how much stuff actually worth knowing remains in the active part of our brain?

Even though, since you left high school or graduated university, you’ve probably written countless important business documents, devised critical strategies and been involved in numerous key business decisions that have positively shaped your career and those around you,  you probably couldn’t complete a Year 8 maths test!

So, what’s the point of learning about Pythagoras Theory or Oxford Comma’s?

Well, some far brighter than me say that it’s not actually about the content, it’s about the process. In very simple terms, learning ‘classic’ math theory such as algebra builds a better brain (as do other disciplines such as learning to play music or learn a new language) because when the brain is stimulated it creates more connections.

When we are young, it’s all about ‘putting in the work’ to ensure you have good neural pathways when you are older. The content is almost a secondary concern.

As young adults, the ‘useless’ stuff we learned at school actually serves us well because it has laid the foundations for us to start using more of our brain.

A good example I read recently is that an 11 year old can likely list far more trivial details about what happened in Harry Potter book, such as the colour of a broom or the name of a specific creature, over an adult who reads the same book. Yet the adult will be far better at explaining abstract concepts about the relationships and metaphors in Harry Potter’s world which an 11 year old simply cannot grasp. It’s because abstract theories connect different sides of the brain. They combine emotion, order and logic (frontal lobe) with processing and environment (parietal). As adults, we almost trade one form of learning for another.

So, in our working lives, how do we ensure our staff are equipped to absorb key facts as well as use emotion and common sense when dealing with customers and colleagues.

To me, teens and adults learn best when we have context – this applies to learning a new skills as much as it does to learning about Keats or Coleridge or some other long dead poet at school.

As a trainer and someone who has spent years in the learning sector, ‘context’ involves two things – hands-on experience combined with real life experiences. It’s about forming connections in your brain that you can relate to.

Whenever we develop a training strategy for a business, design training modules or write content for any platform, we pay specific attention to the context. What are the key attributes of the target audience, what are typical life experiences they’ve had that have moulded their attitudes, opinions and reactions?  These ‘adult’ influences are equally important as how many equal sides there are on an isosceles triangle .

We’ve been doing it successfully for over 20 years so we must be doing something right!

The good, bad and ugly of volunteering

The good, bad and ugly of volunteering

I have had a few goes at volunteering over the years. Mostly good experiences, however I remember one particularly bad one. I was living in the UK and turned up to volunteer at the local youth centre. I had no prior information given to me and no induction. There I was with a bunch of teens and no clue as to what my role was. Some were wanting to discuss (or perhaps shock me with) very adult experiences they had been through. With a valid fear of causing more harm than good, I walked out that day and never went back.

Move ahead 10 years and I was in Colombia as a volunteer but also managing volunteers from all over the globe. I saw every part of the good, bad and ugly of volunteering. From volunteers who went above and beyond everyday for months to volunteers that would break every safety rule we gave them and kept us awake at night. The truth is though, that social programs often are heavily reliant on volunteers and therefore NFP’s must find ways to engage and manage them and find a balance between meeting volunteer expectations alongside meeting their organisational objectives.

The good, the bad and the ugly_with arrow-FINAL

Last month as part of a partnership between online learning & development company Peopleplan (where I head up NFP solutions) and Spark Strategy, we held an event with leading NFP’s and Corporates where we started the session with a, “The good, bad and ugly of volunteering” brainstorm. (see header image) A couple of things stood out to me especially in the “Ugly” section – “slow onboarding” and the “complexity of compliance”. These are an ugly side for both the organisation and the volunteer. Without training, volunteers can cause a lot of headaches for volunteer managers. Conversely, without training volunteers feel under-utilised and unprepared. It’s a lose-lose situation.

In my social enterprise, Young Change Agents we have developed an online learning induction program in association with Peopleplan which we will now use to develop the knowledge of our corporate skilled volunteering prior to our programs. This means they can hit-the-ground-running with confidence. Something I didn’t have all those years ago in the youth centre! Our first lot of mentors through the program gave great feedback about how easy and “even fun” the learning module was.

Now, the Peopleplan team is creating customisable versions for NFP’s who are looking to do a similar induction. You can add your own videos and written content to make it your own. The key benefit aside from volunteers being ready and engaged is that you can track the completion of the course for compliance via our online platform. You will have piece-of-mind that volunteers have understood important principals like privacy or the rules around working with children, for example.

With 1:4 Australian’s volunteering their time each year, technology solutions like online learning can go a long way to cross some of the concerns off the “ugly” list!

For more information including a full set of insights from the volunteering workshop – get in touch:

Hireup launches “Hireup Academy” a digital Learning & Communications program to empower support workers and reduce risk

Hireup launches “Hireup Academy” a digital Learning & Communications program to empower support workers and reduce risk

Hireup – the easy alternative for Australians with disability to find, hire and manage their own support workers – is driven by its purpose of improving the lives of people with disability. In line with the NDIS principles of choice and control, Hireup believe that people with disability should be able to find a match with a support worker who shares similar interests rather than being sent support workers randomly through an agency. It’s a model that not only benefits the person in terms of match, but also saves them money through reduced agency costs. In August 2016 alone, Hireup saved people seeking support over $79,000, savings that they can use for other products and services they need like equipment or additional support services.


It is of no surprise that Hireup has been popular. Hireup now have 5,000 people signed up to the platform, almost 3,000 of which are support workers. In terms of targets, they are aiming for over 14,000 people on the platform by end of 2017.

Earlier this year, Hireup made the decision to take full employment responsibility for the support workers who are successfully matched with people seeking support. To date they are the only service of its kind to do so. This is really beneficial to the support worker as it takes away the burden of paperwork and other costs like insurance. However, taking employment responsibility also raises other responsibilities for Hireup, namely compliance and training.

Peopleplan ( have worked with Hireup to develop the Hireup Academy – an online training hub for support workers that provides three levels of training; induction, compliance and Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

The first learning cycle includes:

  • Hireup induction
  • Infection control
  • Manual handling
  • Medication – best practice and assistance
  • Fire safety – in home
  • Abuse and neglect
  • CPR update
  • Worker health and wellbeing
  • Person-centred practice (building service user independence)

Each of these modules includes learner scenarios specific to disability and interactions and review questions to check understanding.

The CEO of Hireup Jordan O’Reilly has a great ability to make the difficult possible. He started the charity Fighting Chance in 2011 with his sister Laura, inspired by their brother who had cerebral palsy. Laura is now CEO of Fighting Chance and their two social enterprises: Avenue and Jigsaw, while Jordan has gone on to run Hireup. If you ask Jordan about why he is investing in people, he talks candidly about how keeping support workers as contractors is more attractive to Hireup’s community and supporters as it maintains arms-length liability. However, in Jordan’s words, “this is a false economy as you are handing the responsibility on to the support workers”. Jordan wants to add value to both people seeking support through Hireup and their support workers and is willing to take on the additional risk and responsibility so that support workers can get on with doing their important role.

Jordan is always trying to find new ways to help people with disability. You can see his eyes light up with the possibilities of online learning and development, not only for the support workers, but for also for people seeking support. The potential for the Hireup Academy is huge, with people with disability and support workers living in every corner of Australia, online learning is a cost effective way to empower people and drive real social impact.