4 Things I Learned at LearnX

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This year has been a massive personal learning journey for me.  I have decided that my ‘old world’ thinking in learning and development is not serving its purpose anymore and I need to step out of my comfort zone of the learning and development field I know so well, start asking hard questions and be open to anything and everything.  I need to reflect more and narrate my work through various means – blog, Twitter, curation sites and others (you can read about work narration in this post by Harold Jarche on his website, Life in Perpetual Beta).

Every year I budget $1000 for my own professional development and claim it on my annual taxes as ‘self-education’.  I have not relied on my employers to be responsible for this as I found out many years ago that not do I want to argue all the time I ask to attend a conference or course; but the money simply isn’t there anymore for organisations to develop their own staff for differing needs and requirements.  Of course, it’s not like that everywhere but in my experience, I’ve had to put in business cases for the value of my attendance to a conference or a course back to the business.

In some cases, vendors and organisers of the events provide free tickets or registrations and this changes matters as we scramble to get one of those.  Regardless, the responsibility of our continuing professional development must lay with us.  We cannot rely on our employers – and certainly not vendors –  to do this for us anymore.

This year I attended the 2012 LearnX Learning Innovation Conference & Expo at the Melbourne Convention Centre and I learned 4 things:

  • 1.  Question Everything
  • 2. L&D Focuses on the Wrong Things
  • 3.  I Have Nothing More to Learn from the Majority of My L&D Collegues (“at this point in time”)
  • 4. The World is a Small Place: Relationships are Key

Question Everything

Dawid Falck, CEO of the CyberInstitute opened the conference and asked us to ‘question everything’ and challenge our thinking.  In conferences like these, it’s easy to sit in the audience and be lectured to and like sponges take in what is being said and have no time to question or reflect.  So I did that.  I made a mental note that I was not to wear my “Learning Professional Hat” (closed off, tight, black, heavy worsted itchy wool that creates awful red ring marks around my forehead) and wear my “Open Thinking Hat” (open, colourful transparent visor that glints in the sun and allows air circulation around my head keeping my mind open to new possibilities).

One shining example where this occured is when Mantas Ratomskis, CEO of Eruditus presented on “Harnessing the Power of LMS in Facebook”.  He founded ‘MyEverClass’ the first LMS online learning platform on Facebook.  My first reaction was aghast.  I have a Facebook account but I’d be mortified to have my employer access this space – or even undertake my courses online through this medium.  I’m so close to closing my Facebook account down (and only use it to connect with family and friends overseas) but this would surely be the reason I’d need to instantly delete the account.

So I was wearing my itchy horrible black hat of negativity when he was talking and so were many others going by the twitter stream:

And then I decided to remove my black hat and replace with a visor.  I wrote that I need more time to think and reflect about this as I didn’t see the application of LMS in Facebook and how many companies block this site anyway.  Mantas had seen the twitter thread and responded by inviting me back to their booth so that he could explain the concept to which I agreed.

At afternoon tea, true to my word, I went to their booth and asked questions.  What I found out was interesting.  Sure, they aren’t learning and development professionals but I could see how their product would be instantly attractive to business.  Think about it.  Where are the bulk of your customers?  On Facebook.  If you wanted to have a connection with your customers through time and to provide them with gamified content of courseware, you have a constant pool of customers.  For example, a financial services institution could buy this product, create a game of ‘Money Saving 101’ and then sell their products and services through advertising on the site.  All of a sudden this was a “game changer:” for me and I’m willing to bet that they not speaking to any Learning and Development people – but people out in the business whose focus is on external customers – not internal.  It then got me thinking about L&D’s role in a tool like this and how we are now responsible for wider customer education where that customer can be anywhere around the world and not just an employee (or have some direct connection with our company).

I don’t know the ins and outs of this product but the lesson here was to ‘question everything’ and be open to new ideas – whether you deem them important to your business or not.

The World Is Small: Relationships are Key

By far, the greatest benefit of attending this conference was meeting my Twitter buddies in person.

I have had a Twitter account for many years (I have a personal one and a professional one) but it’s only been fairly recently that I focused more on the latter to build up a Personal Learning Network.  I was excited to meet Costa (@LearnKotch) and Ryan (@RyanTracey), Ruth (@ruthmcelhone) who was my virtual facilitator when I completed B Online Learning’s Master eLearning Course some years ago.  I also recognised the faces of the people I followed who were the key note speakers.

During afternoon tea on the second day I got to talking with someone who turned out to be the father of a young lady who I know so well.  He noticed that I was holding my Rotary bag and he opened a conversation about it saying that his daughter is going overseas on an exchange thanks to Rotary. I asked a few more questions and was dumbfounded to find out that he was her father.

She was an inspiration to me when I met her, exceptionally gifted, intelligent and articulate with compassion to others.  I supported her application through our Rotary Club to get on a representational vocational exchange to Malaysia and felt her to be a worthy candidate to represent Australia as she spoke fluent Malay and Indonesian; had set up her own English speaking school in Indonesia and would be someone that we would see more of in the future.  Sometimes people like this come into your life and you know they have something special – something that stands out from the rest and she exuded it.

Our Focus is Wrong

On the evening  of Day 1 of the event, I get a phone call from the head of our department and the conversation goes something like this.

“Helen, are you aware that your compliance training for Health and Safety must be completed by COB tomorrow?” he asks.

“Yes, I recall getting the email notification but in all honesty, after being away for two weeks on sick leave, I had over 300 emails to go through yesterday and then the systems froze for a few hours and I decided to just focus on the critical work for the clients and then get to it.  Is there any way I can delay it until I get back to the office after this conference?” I asked.

“Can you do it tonight?” he asked.

“No sorry, I don’t have my work laptop here with me and tonight I won’t have time to come back to the office to pick up the laptop; nor will I have time to do this. Out of interest, what happens if I’m late for this?”

“Well your manager and I get ‘compliance gated’. What this means is that it affects our performance bonus”.

A ton of bricks hit my head.  If I didn’t do my compliance training, my managers wear the consequences and it hits their hip pocket. Wow, what an incentive for me to do my training (cynical comment).

“Okay, I’ll come in tomorrow morning nice and early and do the course.”

Sure enough at 6am the next day I was in the office scrolling through web pages of Health and Safety.  The pass mark was 100% and my first thought was, “fantastic – 100% – I love 100% pass marks because you can be guaranteed that the assessment will be SO EASY because they don’t want learners hassling them to reconfigure my attempts to pass the course – and they want people to pass – so the assessment will be super easy.  So with that, I went straight to the assessment, answered the multichoice and got 100% – all within 5 minutes of the course.

I’m not going to justify this action but this whole process itself demonstrates the flawed nature of mandatory compliance training in organisations -everything from how the course is designed right through to how the courses are implemented and promoted through fear and consequence of inaction that affects people up the chain.  I don’t even think it’s worthy of more comment in this post.

The second example was on Day 2 there was a panel of key presenters and the floor was opened to questions from the audience.  Someone mentioned that there has been an increase in educators entering the corporate world so the discussion came to whether we must use the words, “education” or “training” in business.  Unbelievably, some people found that the loss of these words in business would result in the reduction of our significance.  For me,  I think we should move on from this argument. Why aren’t we talking about capability and performance? Why aren’t we talking the language of the business?

This brings me to my last point, “I have nothing further to learn from the majority of my L&D colleagues, at this point in time”.

The focus of the conference was on learning technologies in particularly around mobile and social learning but the emphasis was mainly on the tools and product pitches as opposed to the theory and context of why these are effective.  Also in the Australian marketplace, we have no ‘shining star’ at the moment that has effectively melded all these things as they are relatively new concepts.  People know that something is coming up but they don’t know how to put all the pieces together.  Many of the attendees hadn’t heard of the work by Jane Hart, Harold Jarche or Jay Cross in this space nor had ever used the social media tools to read, promote or curate content.

So at this point in time, I have nothing further to learn from my colleagues in this space but it is up to me to help them through this and share my knowledge.  Knowing what I know now (despite how small it is and barely skims the surface), through my own research, work narration, course work through the Social Learning Centre and exploring the gamification course on Coursera, it is my responsibility to inspire others to join me on this journey.

I have been saying to many people that I feel at times I’m the first at a party, the awkward moments before everyone arrives so that you can join in and have fun.  The trouble is, I hope I’m not left waiting too long.

And Now for Something Completely Different…

During the conference Gavin Blake from Fever Picture was illustrating the key note presentations on whiteboards in the room.  I loved these illustrations because they simply and easily presented information in such a way that are memorable and would be ingrained in our memory.

I’m always in awe of talented creative people. My father is an exceptional artist and illustrator and at times, I wish I had his talent – not only his artwork but how he looks at the world. Artists have a different way of looking at things and over the years, I have come to appreciate this difference with an awed respect.

Here is an example of Gavin’s wonderful illustration when Tansel Ali, Memory Coach spoke of Making Learning Memorable…

As an example of my BORING text based note taking, you can see the difference.  It’s a no brainer to see that the most interesting one is the illustrative one!

My boring notes

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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