Thursday, 14 December 2017

Full Circle

As Xmas approaches and I have reached the end of my first term teaching part-time at our local college, I am reflecting on circularity. 

41 years ago, in the summer of 1976, I graduated from Drama School in Edinburgh and immediately started a post-graduate Teacher Training Diploma at Moray House School of Education. I lasted the first term. I dropped out.

Not yet 21, and within the first two weeks of that first term, I had found myself out in a school on teaching practice - a mere three years older than my oldest pupils. I quickly realised that I'd had very little life experience, hadn't travelled, had never performed professionally in theatre or television and now stood at the threshold of the rest of my life as a Drama Teacher - potentially spending from age 5 to age 65 in some kind of educational or school-related activity - and with no sense of myself as a rounded, experienced and credible performer or teacher.

So I stepped away, the first time in my life that I followed my gut (my heart?) and instead, I found a job with a lighting supplier, working in their retail lighting shop, delivering and installing theatrical lighting, and occasionally operating the follow-spots at the Usher Hall or the Lyceum Theatre. Within a year, I and several other ex-drama school colleagues started a touring community theatre company in rural Dumfrieshire, thereby earning my Equity (Actors' Union) Card and so becoming a professional actor for another 12 years.

The story of that 12 years is perhaps for another time, as, unsurprisingly, acting proved to be too precarious and unreliable a profession to guarantee a regular income. A move into IT Training, own business, followed by Training Management, then HR & Learning Technologies management in both public and private sectors, illness and redundancy, brings us up to date and to my current part time role our local college, assessing and tutoring Digital Marketing Apprentices.

And so, I'm teaching again.

Proper teaching, but this time as the rounded, experienced and credible professional that I knew I wasn't back then. It's been - and continues to be - a journey, where every day is, and has been, a school day. As I say in my social media profiles, I know a little about a lot and a lot about very little. What I don't know, I either learn by making my own mistakes, or I rely on others to teach me - from their experience and from the multitude of different sources we all have available to us via digital channels.

The experience of visiting my Apprentices in their different workplaces, assessing their Diploma work in the context of their employer organisations, has been fascinating and enlightening. By getting them to research and share their findings in the classroom and in our Google+ Education Community, we all learn from each other. Just this week, I brought social learning into the mix, when I co-hosted a Twitter tweetchat about social media for business and marketing, with Mike Osborne (@MikeOzzy), others from my online personal learning network and my classroomful of young digital marketing apprentices.  Learning by doing, by participating, by sharing.
It's a richer and more rewarding kind of teaching than I ever envisaged when I set out into the world of work 41 years ago. What goes around comes around. Circle closed.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Labels and Learning

Friday 24/11/17. This morning's #LDinsight tweetchat hosted by @LnDConnect started by posing the question "How can we use game mechanics in the design of learning solutions?". The resulting conversation was a delight, exemplifying for me the value of participating in such online discussions. 

Much of the conversation revolved around the terminology used in the initial question and the subsequent explanations and expansion of meaning and context from some of the more knowledgeable practitioners, matched equally by initial professions of ignorance and/or confusion about the terminology and language used, by many other participants.

I fell between the two, as usual. I am naturally curious about a lot of developments, techniques and tools in learning & development and learning technologies. But, as I say in my social media profiles, I know a little about a lot and a lot about very little. I have an awareness and a basic understanding about much of this stuff and good, practical, experiential knowledge and understanding of others. With 30 years' experience in training, L&D, Learning Technologies and HR, I am also able to reflect on that past experience, to look for relevance, context and examples and to share that information in the forum, hopefully in a relevant and helpful way.

Frequently, my examples will come from the days before the term was ever used in training. They were just things that I or others did as part of our practice, as indeed, is still the case nowadays. We didn't have a name for them then. What we have now are labels. And how we love our labels.

Labels have their uses. They help to encapsulate or headline detailed concepts, processes or procedures. They tend to be well understood by those who work in that particular field but are equally open to misinterpretation or regarded as excluding by those not in that particular cognoscenti.

But, as I said at the start of this piece, this morning's tweetchat was a delight. The game mechanic 'experts' were generous in sharing their knowledge, in breaking down the underpinning facts, in providing sources and links to further information and in acknowledging and honouring the queries, challenges, suggestions and examples from the 'non-experts' in the chat. The cross-sectoral and cross-functional perspectives brought into the conversation from all sides just added to to and enriched the conversation. 

Learning happened. 

This is the stuff you miss if you don't participate in professional tweetchats!

Thanks to @LnDconnect, who organise these weekly #LDinsight tweetchats, and to all the participants and contributors who make my Friday mornings sizzle.

PS: You'll get the full content of the discussion and the detailed learning points in the follow-up curated Storify, or go to Twitter now and search for the hashtag #LDinsight.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Why I didn't attend 'The Modern Learner' Fishbowl

Inspired by @ lightbulbJo's earlier blog (here), summarising this morning's #PSKevents #fishbowl session on 'the modern learner', here are my very quick reflections, starting with why I wasn't in the room in the first place.

I had booked and paid for this session several weeks ago, on the basis of the quality of the 'panel', each one being an L&D/OD/HR thinker and practitioner who I respect and with whom I often interact. Having only participated in conversations using the fishbowl format a couple of times before, I was keen to see how the 'big beasts' would use the format to engage and interact with an audience who had made the effort to be there for 08:00 on a work day in London.

So, why didn't I attend in person?

Regular readers will be aware of my heart surgery, recovery & redundancy a couple of years ago. Until that point, I was a London commuter from the Sussex coast, something I had been doing for ten years. One of the legacies of those times and my surgery/recovery is that I have become anxious when I have to travel during rush hour. I won't go into the symptoms but suffice to say it's not something I enjoy, and when I do have to to be in London or non-local environments nowadays, I try to structure my time such that I can avoid 'peak time'.

Last night, I started planning my travel to the West End of London for an 08:00 start, and my heart (literally) sank! I'd have needed to get up at 04:45  change trains twice and arrive at Victoria earlier than I needed to, to then get the tube (two more changes) to get me to the venue. In the old days, I would not have given this a second thought. Indeed, I might even have relished the challenge and been looking forward to a well-earned survivor's coffee before the event.

But I've learned to listen to my body and my feelings now in a way I never used to. I started to get anxious and uncomfortable about the travelling  and that began to outweigh the benefits of being present in the room. So I decided not to attend.

But I did! After a good night's sleep, untroubled by commuter worry, I was up at 07:30 and online on Twitter at 08:00, tea in hand,  following the #hashtag for the event. Jo's summary neatly encapsulates the richness of the conversation, both within the venue and from the speakers, but also on the backchannel with those who, like me, weren't able to attend but who wanted to listen, comment, engage and generally be part of the discussion. We had a grand time, and I avoided the stress of getting there in the first place - almost like 'a modern learner', you might say...!

So, with some sterling tweet work and a couple of #Pericopes from Ger Driesen (@GerDriesen), Kim Edwards (@ KimSEdwards_) and Christine Locher (@ ChristineLocher) and indeed, Jo herself, stuck on a train and unable to get to the event as a result (@ LightbulbJob), I was fully engaged and able to participate in what proved to be a rich conversational and learning seam. Thanks to all.

A final point. The organisers and participants seemed to forget about the backchannel after a while and as the event came to a conclusion, which I assume it did, with (hopefully) some wise words summarising the conversation in the room, some takeaways and some thanks, it was left to us 'onliners' to draw our own conclusions.
This was a missed opportunity by the organisers, I'd suggest, and maybe something to think about when arranging future such events. For an event which was tackling 'the modern learner', better backchannel facilitation and inclusion would have been really 'walking the talk'.

Monday, 7 August 2017


I just came across this in my Evernote unpublished 'blog ideas' page. Seems I was in a bit of a tizz and inadvertently did some #wildwriting. Excuse the implied language, won't you?

Maybe we should all just stop theorising, justifying, analysing & talking about it & just ******* get on with it. It's stuff. Just do the stuff! If it works, great! If it doesn't, learn from it, try it again differently and move on. Tell or show others. Ask them what they do/have done. Learn from that if it's useful or relevant and then do it yourself, or not, if it wasn't. Or look it up and then do it. #RTFM. And do that every time you need to remind yourself how to do it. Make stuff happen. #JFDI.

Nothing to add really.


Friday, 14 July 2017

Coming Up For Air

Quick one...
Sometimes we're so busy, our heads down, focused solely on the task or tasks in hand, that we forget to look up. Like people learning to snorkle dive in the sea, paddling furiously, breathing heavily as we try to balance ourselves between the world above water and the world below, whilst trying to keep ourselves afloat.  Exhausting ourselves; wearing ourselves out.

So, when we do finally lift our heads, we are surprised at how far we've come, how far away from the the safety of the shore we have taken ourselves. And what little time we have allowed ourselves to recover, just float and then gently paddle back - before we need to set off once again, heads down, vision blurred and sucking precious air down the snorkle tube for dear life. 
Each time taking ourselves that little bit further out, and further away from the beach.

Sound familiar?

#LookUp before it's too late.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Dance Steps

Mandy and I have just returned from a two week cruise visiting (some of) the Baltic ports. This was a long-overdue and much needed break for both of us.

As always, we found ourselves challenged in several ways. It always takes us a few days to settle into a holiday; it's such a contrast to and difference from our normal home/work/life routines, but we have grown to recognise the signs, cut each other some slack and be kind to ourselves and each other. Our dining arrangement turned out not to be to our liking and it took us a few days to recognise that and to adjust our routines accordingly.

And then there was the theme of the cruise - "Strictly Come Dancing"! Yes, we chose this cruise not only for the destinations (only one of which we had not visited before) but also for the SCD experience and the opportunity for us to get some refreshed/better ballroom and Latin skills under our belts (feet?).

Several professional dance couples from the show were on the ship and ran some open 'Masterclass' workshops, and there were also other professional dancers offering open and private lessons. We were very excited.

Another part of the experience is to participate in the 'Passenger Edition' Competition, in front of the full theatre (nearly 1,000 seats!), and judged by the celebrity panel headed up by arch-villain, Craig Revel-Horwood, on the penultimate night of the cruise!

Mandy was initially keen that we take part, whilst I had some (several) reservations. But it  wasn't until the process, procedure - and commitment required - was explained by the Entertainment Manager and SCD Producer at the first of the 'couple heats', that the reality kicked in. Did we really want to spend half our leisure time on board creating, choreographing and endlessly practicing a 90 second routine, to face a huge audience and acerbic comments at the end of it all? We were also under some pressure from friends before we left, and from people we met on the ship who had seen some of classes, to enter the competition. Which was very flattering and which our egos could very well have walked us into participating. Don't we all love to be thought of as good at stuff? But again, should we - literally  - be dancing to other people's tune, to their wants and expectations? Did we need that kind of additional obligational element? Did we want to risk getting stressed, frustrated and potentially falling out when we were supposed to be on holiday and achieving exactly the opposite?

Well, actually, no, we didn't. So we chose not to compete. We mutually - and very quickly - agreed that it was in our own and mutual best interest not to put ourselves into that kind of situation, but instead, to enjoy some open and private lessons just to improve our own skill levels a bit, do some social dancing in the evenings and generally have a much more relaxed 'Strictly' experience. So that's exactly what we did, whilst also enjoying all the different ports of call, excursions and self-managed wanderings, and as a result, we had a lovely holiday.

But we did go along to watch and support those brave couples who did reach the 'Passenger Finals', many of whom we had got to know over the two weeks at the other classes, but who always seemed to be just that little bit more stressed and focussed than us when we did. And funnily enough, the winners were a couple a young men on their honeymoon, who danced the most fun and enjoyable salsa, to the delight and approbation of both the audience and the judges. Craig R-H even got his '10 Paddle' out for them! We enjoyed being part of their experience from a different perspective than if we had been competing with them to lift the Glitter Ball Trophy.

Just because you think you should do something, and may very well be fully capable of doing it by putting in the commitment, energy and time required, doesn't mean that you have to. Sometimes you need to listen to your own inner, physical and emotional voices, and to what others are thinking, feeling and saying about it too. Exercise some self care. Try to 'break the busy'. Spend some quality time with those you love and who love you. Particularly now.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017


Tomorrow (Wednesday 10th May 2017) is Day #1 of the CIPD Learning and Development Show at Olympia in London, one of the premier L&D events in my annual calendar, alongside the LPI's LearningLive in September and the L&SG's Learning Technologies Conference in February and June. These are my three 'go-to' events, sometimes as a speaker or session chair, and sometimes just as an attendee.

Each show has its different high points and at this year's CIPD L&D Show, mine is going to be being one of the speakers in the Ignite Lab at 16:45 in the Digital Learning area of the Exhibition. In numerical terms, there are 9 speakers, each with 5 minutes to talk, supported by 20 slides, auto-timed for 15 seconds each. As if that is not a challenge in itself, to make things just a little more challenging, I'm first up!

This will be only my third ever Ignite presentation, having delivered my first at the CIPD Annual Conference in Manchester some three years ago. I was on stage with some big hitters - Andy Lancaster, Perry Timms and Paul Taylor - and anyone who was there may remember my 'paper blizzard' as I referred to my prompt notes and discarded them willy-nilly on the floor after each slide. In truth, that represented my under-rehearsed approach and an element of panic on my part. But at least it gave my fellow presenters and others in the room a good laugh. I think the topic was well received as well, if slightly overshadowed by flying postcards.

I recently delivered another ignite session at the Sussex CIPD Branch meeting in March, and had taken the time to rehearse and tweak (and repeat several times) beforehand. I blogged about that, and what I learned, here.

Yesterday, there was a flurry of tweets and conversation on Twitter amongst some of my fellow Ignite Presenters for tomorrow's session, when the list - and running order - was shared with us. The main theme was nervousness about the format and our individual concerns around being able to keep up with the auto-timed slides (there is no 'Pause' button once you've started!). The fear of it not quite working out in front of an audience. I share that nervousness, and it got me thinking about the pressure that we put ourselves under when we accept and undertake things like this.

Public speaking remains one of the biggest fears for many people, irrespective of their professional domain. We beat ourselves up thinking such thoughts as "Who wants to listen to what I've got to say anyway?", "The others will be so much better than me", "What if I dry up?", and, especially in the case of doing an Ignite session, "What do I do if I can't fit it all in and I run out of time?". I suspect there may be a restless night ahead for some of my colleagues, and indeed, myself.

However, in this Mental Health Awareness Week, it strikes me that this is as nothing to what many with mental health problems must experience daily, as 'panic attacks' or self-loathing 'voices' which disturb or disable their everyday functioning.

We will deliver our sessions and feel great that we've done it. We will (hopefully) receive some positive feedback and we will no doubt indulge in some self-congratulation and mutual back-slapping. But then, we are a little community, we have shared our anxieties, our fears, our feelings in advance, during and after our sessions. We will have been witnessed. No-one will die and we will all get on with our lives.

Those with Mental Health issues may not have those luxuries, that community, those shared discussions, that recognition. They may well not be presenting any outward signs of distress, may even be seen as high-functioning, particularly in a professional or work-related context. Remember that everyone is fighting their own battles that you know nothing about. Be kind.

And that applies to yourself as much as you should apply it to others. And not just tomorrow either.

Enjoy the show!