Category Archives: conference summary
I recently had the chance to attend EduTECH in Brisbane as a panelist and speaker on their Workplace Learning track. For those not familiar with this event, it is the largest learning congress in Australia and draws 5000-8000 delegates annually. While most of the participants are in the K-12 and Higher Ed sectors, there is a modest-but-dedicated segment from Workplace Learning and Vocational Training providers and practitioners.
From a professional point of view it was a wonderful experience to be part of, and I was truly humbled to have been invited to share some stories with the delegates and to make connections with genuinely inspired practitioners in another part of the world.
After 2 days of talks and workshops and conversations I have reached a few conclusions about the state of the discipline of L&D, as well as the nature of conferences.
Most notably, the problems we talk about in the North American sphere are present here in Australasia and also in some parts of Europe. These problems include getting support from orgs, trying new ideas, and strategic engagement. I find the implications of these common problems a little alarming. In that respect, at least, I suppose we are in good company. There is a part of me that wonders whether the global reach of some organizations or their management cultures are the root cause of these shared challenges.
Even more alarming is the fact that these problems (breaking down/working across silos, sharing, collaboration, L&D’s role in the business, subvert hierarchies) are ones we see frequently in conferences and even across our social/learning networks. We have also been seeing these problems and the proposed solutions for years. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this conclusion. On one hand, shared problems should lead to shared solutions. On the other hand, the fact that so many of us continue to experience these issues is rather unsettling.
For example, the conversation about ensuring L&D is aligned with the business isn’t a new one. Not by any stretch. Misalignment is arguably the most worrisome of the problems/challenges listed above and likely contributes to business’ perceptions of the relative value of L&D to the organization. Also consider that we still have to make the argument to support and sustain social learning practices within organizations. Sure, there’s agreement among our peers acknowledging the need, but what are we actually doing about it?
Harold Jarche – in his keynote – continues to share the message about the changing nature of work, how automation of tasks will eliminate roles familiar to us today, and he warns of the increasingly complex environments in which we will find ourselves. I remain unconvinced that we have collectively prepared ourselves for this “brave new world” when we are continually trying to satisfy performance needs with knowledge-based solutions. (Okay, I know, that’s a bit of a blanket indictment but until we can get past living in an IMI 1/IMI 2 world and get past a love of tools that lock us into these kinds of solutions we are going to have a hell of a time moving forward).
Conference meets TEDx
I appreciate the nature of this event for the way in which they approached the sessions. Unlike most conferences I have attended, there were very few workshops or concurrent sessions. Our stream, at least, was in the same room for the duration of the conference (with the exception of the final plenary keynote). They assign a “chair” to each stream ours was Simon Terry) who handles speaker introductions. More than that, they take the time to weave together some of the stories and themes emerging from the talks. That stands in contrast to the usual scene at conferences with attendees scurrying from room to room where there is little time to weave things together. I like to think that the shared space for the duration of the conference helped to create some connections among the delegates because the attendance was less transient.
The speakers abided by the widely-circulated TED principles for their talks. This approach pushes speakers into relating their experience in a story fashion and to think differently than the usual canned presentation. It was also nice that the vendor influence on the talks was very, very minimal. There is nothing more frustrating than to give up your time at a PD event only to have concurrent sessions filled with vendor case studies and talks that are little removed from sales pitches. For me, that kind of thing should reside on the expo floor. There were only 2 sponsor/vendor talks that happened in our stream, but they were mercifully confined to 5 minutes. For what it’s worth, the first of the two was so skilfully done that it did not come across as a vendor talk.
While the format may be somewhat passive consumption, I think the format change for the talks and the approach to the event itself more than compensate for any lack of activity. Personally, I would like to see conference organizers take a very hard look at breaking with the status quo.
Familiar friends in Strange Lands
The best part of any conference is the people. I always appreciate the opportunity to meet new colleagues and other people in my Personal Learning Network (PLN). I got to reconnect with Harold as well as with Shannon Tipton in her new guise as a Learning Rebel. The global nature of networks also means that you will wind up meeting local people in far-off places, like fellow Canadians George & Alec Couros. At long last, I met Steve Wheeler from the UK and the influential K-12 blogger and tweeter, Shelly Sanchez Tyrell. Also great to meet Amy Rouse from AT&T U, who isn’t terribly active on Twitter but does some amazing stuff with in-house MOOCs. Of course our hosts were a fantastic crew of Australians. I appreciated the opportunity to meet Ryan Tracey, Joyce Seitzinger, Michelle Ockers, Con Ongarezos, and many, many others.
There is a lot of talk about breaking with the status quo and working to improve our influence and reaching within our organizations. The best way those things will happen is from within. Organizations like mine are rare where empowerment and autonomy are core principles. Not everyone is lucky enough to work for a Zappos, or a Virgin Group, or a Northern Lights where these principles are on display. To that end, our own professional development and critical thinking should take on greater importance. It doesn’t matter if it’s a chat, or a MOOC or forming an alliance with trusted practitioners. If you’re talking, you’re sharing. If your listening, you’re learning.
…and if you’re learning, you’re on your way to keeping us all relevant and cementing your own role in a new world for L&D.
I got a chuckle out of the reaction from some of my valued PLN members when I shared a photo of a (nerf) Crossbow training aid from today’s “Leaving ADDIE for SAM” workshop. *
I was laughing at myself because, in hindsight, I probably should have added a little context to the image. Read the rest of this entry
(Tom Gram is a Sr. Consultant with Global Knowledge Canada)
Tom’s session was designed to shed some new light on the concept of “practice makes perfect” and bringing along the concept of the “expert” and what role that individual can play in supporting increased proficiency. The root research into expertise was conducted by Anders Ericsson (The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance).
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I didn’t take a lot of notes for this talk because it was a little more of a history lesson on the nature of innovation and how it has evolved over the last few centuries. Content was drawn largely from his book “Where Good Ideas Come From: The natural history of Innovation”.
One of the early threads of his discussion was the evolution of one entity into another wholly unexpected one because of a user-driven innovation (e.g. Lloyd’s of London evolving from coffee house popular with 18th century ship captains to Insurance conglomerate).
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I tweeted a lot from this session so I’ll have to do some digging to sort out some of the finer details after the fact, but I’ll add these thoughts in long form here. For context purposes, Gary Woodill is a veteran of the industry, and an author, speaker, researcher, and blogger.
Gary opened his talk by touching on some key points with respect to our access to information and how we deal with the sheer volume. I see this topic as being closely tied to what Harold Jarche talked about in his PKM workshop so I was keen to hear what Gary had to say.
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Etienne Wenger-Trainer literally wrote the book on Communities of Practice. He describes himself as a marriage counselor for CoP.
These communities exist across sectors even though we may not be aware of them. Knowledge is social and it represents a fundamental human property. In an ideal world, knowledge is the property of a community because knowledge is rarely created in a vacuum.
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>If anyone asks me what one thing I took away from this session, I’m almost embarassed to admit that I’d say, “Damn, it was hot in that room.”
Fortunately, that wasn’t the only thing I took away, but it wasn’t the most comfortable setting, nor was it really conducive to the kinds of learning that Ann Naymie & Maureen Hannah were trying to get across. (According to them, Peter Block was in the room before them and wreaked a little havoc on the dreadful theatre style seating that the MTCC seems to think is a good idea for conferences.
(Sidebar: Is there not anyone willing to stand up to MTCC and tell them that this sort of thing is just not acceptable? At over a grand a head for admission, you’d think the organizers would have a little pull. But, I digress)
The focus of this session was on mentoring/coaching and the concept of appreciative inquiry. One of my immediate thoughts (echoed by my exercise partner Jackie) was that mentoring and coaching are two separate disciplines and one should not try to confuse or blend the one with the other. If you take this site as an example, that belief seems to stand up.
During the opening few minutes of the session as I began to schvitz from the press of bodies, I was a little non-plussed by the positioning of the session and I thought it might turn out to be a little too superficial. But once we got past the few slides, we had the chance to do some role-play and inquiry practice with a partner or two. As we got through the exercises, I began to see more uses for this kind of inquiry and I was also seeing more reinforcements of the mentoring/coaching differences. It was also good – albeit in a personal/practical kind of way – to practice active listening along with the inquiry and questions. I also tried to take a small page from Peter Block’s book and change the nature and shape of the questions I was asking, so that was a small benefit in and of itself.
So, the session had some interesting possibilities for me, even though it started a little weakly, and I’m glad I stayed. I can see ways in which I can change the nature of my inquiries when making those initial contacts with potential clients. I can also see how I’d like to be able to build on my coaching strengths to help (PB) “share my gift” with other people. But I honestly don’t know that I’d want to be a mentor for someone. I’d significantly critical of my own shortcomings and painfully aware that my career path that I wouldn’t want someone to try to emulate me along either path. Besides, I wouldn’t want to take away from someone experiencing the joys of forging their own path.
Lesson learned; stick around…things might just get better.
>One of my laments about things like CSTD is that when you get a speaker whose content hits you right *there* you’re so engrossed that you find yourself not taking notes and having to reflect on the experience from memory. That’s not to imply that if you’re taking notes then the speaker must be bad. I enjoyed other sessions and still managed to take notes. For whatever reason, I was listening to Saul Carliner and didn’t want to divide my attention/distribute my intelligence.
His talk was about how we go about remaining relevant as Training & Development professionals. iThere’s a certain degree of showmanship and panache in his presentations that I appreciate. He opened with one of those Paul Harvey-type stories about how the biggest challenge for him as a T&D professional was not about education, or technology, or changing philosophies, but it was about finding the right luggage when he travelled. I won’t try to replicate the whole tale here because I don’t want to diminish the magic of that particular metaphor, but I want to jot down the things that I were most profound for me.
He spoke of 10 key things we can do to stay relevant (and I’m really hoping to get access to his deck so I can remember them all) but there were a few tidbits that caught my attention along the way.
First, he echoed some of my suspicions about the decrease of instructor-led training and spoke of the increase in SME-developed content and SME-delivered training. I think both of those things are critical, particulary because of the nature of what I’m doing day-to-day. SMEs have lots and lots knowledge that just doesn’t always make it to a new hire or a someone in a new role, or even to other colleagues in the same department. So the question(s) for me become(s): how do we create a culture of SME knowledge sharing, how do we equip them with the right “tools” to share that knowledge, and how can we measure the effectiveness of that knowledge transfer? I definitely think there are opportunities for us to start looking at our SMEs and ask: if they all retired tomorrow, would we still have enough corporate “intelligence” to be able to function?
Second, he spoke about informal learning. I was sad to have missed Bob Mosher’s session on Informal Learning, although one kind soul (thank you @mellissalast for the RT and @cammybean for the liveblog on Performance) kindly sent me notes from a different session of Bob’s. But Saul said that informal learning shouldn’t have to be teaching the things that should have taken place during formal learning. So, loosely translated, informal learning is (to me) more about knowledge transfer while you’re on the job, learner support, and some of the self-directed learning efforts that (should) take place on the job.
Marcia Conner’s graphic simplifies things, somewhat. 😉
So I think there’s a huge opportunity for us – as Learning & Development or Training or Education professionals to be doing a couple of things that will contribute to relevance.
First, I think we need to find ways to educate SMEs on things like storytelling, sharing, guiding and coaching. We also need to spend some time with these SMEs doing some targeted ‘downloads’ of their expertise. I think we also need to develop the right kinds of processes and systems to regulary gather this expertise and identify new SMEs. Of course, part of this challenge will be identifying the owners of this new process and discipline. The first instinct is OD, but what about organizations with a distributed HR function? Is this now part of the skill set of a line manager? (assuming, of course, that we’re not all immediately jumping on the Peter Block bandwagon and taking the sovereignty/patriarchy out of our organizations…)
Second, organizations need to develop the strategies and expertise necessary to influence organizations to put more emphasis on (and resources toward supporting) informal learning. I really think this is a hugely untapped market for consulting organizations, but only those that can see beyond just pumping out questionable and mind-numblingly expensive and inflexible e-learning content. In a lot of cases, informal learning represents as much of a state of mind as it does a strategic imperative for organizational effectiveness.
Okay, I’d better tone it down a bit.
The other thing that Saul mentioned had to do with how we manage our careers. It paralleled some of Peter Block’s comments about not necessarily worrying too much about climbing any corporate ladder, but he said that someone told him years ago that nobody will care as much about his career as he does; and he’s right. He also said some really interesting things about how sometimes people can outgrow a “job” without necessarily outgrowing a “role”. I really felt a kinship with that comment because I’ve been in that situation before and I remember the conflict I felt in those moments…even thought I didn’t really have a way to decribe it until I hear how Saul phrased it. To quote him, “…and maybe that’s OK.”
Anyway, Saul’s relevance story about Luggage, Hong Kong Airport shopping and Samsonite reinventing itself was a very effective wrapper for his story. It tells me that it’s always worth reflecting upon and regularly examining your career directions and choices, rather than waiting to be considered passé by the industry and the consumers you’re trying to reach.
Kind of a nice way to head to the end keynote on Day 2, knowing that the world can still be your oyster if you’re willing to work at it.
I’ll beg your indulgence now because I’m doing this largely from memory. Fortunately, this is a good thing because I was pretty well engaged in my sessions and only had time for quick tweets and not for a lot of reflective note-taking.
Opening Keynote – Peter Block
Wow. Wow. Wow.
Peter gets some pretty significant kudos, but not necessarily for the reasons people might think. First, no PowerPoint. That’s right, the man just got up and talked. HE was the presentation. (And he didn’t have to go all Carrot Top to do it.) He also had the seating arrangements changed so we could sit in groups and he spoke eloquently but simply about the power and meaning of the circle. I love guys like Peter who really enjoy challenging the norms and – in essence – asking us to throw conventional hierarchical thinking out the window and do something different. Like, instead of answering the WIIFM, maybe challenge people about their willingness to commit even if they got nothing for it.
He said that the circles we say in are symbols of community… and that conferences like these should really be “meaningful discussions interrupted by lectures and small group exercises”. Oh, how I wish that were more the rule than the exception.
As educators, we are in the business of the restoration of humanity. (Nice!) He also speaks of the dangers of automating our relationships. While we can speak to people more easily, do we really have anything to say? He wants to use our expertise and practices to help restore our humanity and to re-establish concepts of connectedness, because “humanity matters”. He’s so right. We’ve lost so much of that in our workplaces and we desparately need to bring it back. For whatever it’s worth, I think that step would do more to make our workplaces healthy long before we headed into Graham Lowe’s territory.
Peter went on to speak about training & education as a profession and calmly said that we’ll likely not get rich, “if you joined this profession for power and wealth, you screwed up big-time.” (much laughter)
I liked his points he was making about the business case for our function, even though I really resent the fact that we have to continually justify “the second-most natural human function” (let me know if you think you know what the first one is.)
Any transformation that we are trying to effect should represent a shift in thinking but also a shift in narrative, e.g. change the conversation.
As a prime example, he says that the Annual Performance review is all about sovereignty and has nothing to do with training, aright. He absolutely brought the house down by applying this conversation to an annual spousal performance review. To me, it was shades of Festivus (Seinfeld) and how George’s father behaved; “let us know how you have disappointed the family over the past year.” Ultimately, this kind of behaviour and its traction in the workplace is a product of colonial, hierarchical thinking. (So that begs the question of whether no performance review is better than an annual one, if given the choice?)
Organizational hierarchies are Patriarchy covered in a patina of “love”, sadly HR is the vehicle for this behaviour. (Me: because they help prop-up the hierarchy? because their job is not about the people, but it’s about keeping is all in our places?)
I liked his assertion (paraphrased) that change happening from the top is basically a crock. We need to let go of the concept that leaders are the important piece. For one exercise, try pretending that employees create the bosses. What would that look like? (There was a sidebar funny about the relative effectiveness of government, but they really don’t have a deliverable or a bottom line, right?)
Before I forget, let’s not forget Time. I love the concept of “not having time” represents a lack of commitment. I admit I’m as guilty of that as the next person, but I’d love to really engage in some self-examinations on levels of commitment and what I might need to do to improve them.
I realize as I go through my notes that I could probably write a small book about this one keynote, but the upshot is that I think there’s a huge value in asking questions instead of telling stories, and avoiding likemindedness. My program head at RRU said that I needed to develop a tolerance for ambiguity and I didn’t appreciate that she wasn’t just referring to what I could find or not find in my research, but also as a good guidepost for future situations (must email her a thank you…again).
We need the humanity, we need the inversion in the conversation. Yeah. Wow.
The thing that still rings in my head was a small comment he made about moving up and getting promoted and that it’s really okay if you’re able to “share your gifts” and keep contributing. I think that’s a conversation I need to have with myself sooner rather than later.
I know you were trying to keep yourself more like Stephen Wright than Steve Jobs, Peter, but you were definitely the hit of the Show so far. Thanks for energizing my morning.