Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Er... I've spoken!

Well, 'tis done.  Yesterday, at the World of Learning Conference (#WoL11), I had the great pleasure of sharing the stage in Conference Room 1 with Clive Shepherd and Nicholas Owen (BBC News Journalist and Conference Chair). 

I blogged previously on my thoughts and feelings as I prepared for what would be my first conference speaking engagement in several years. Yesterday was the day when I had to step up and deliver my presentation.  Clive and I had met over lunch in Brighton a couple of months ago, to agree and scope out what we would each cover in our respective parts of the session and, apart from a couple of email exchanges since then, we had not managed to confer again.  So I was delighted when we sat down on the sofas for a chat during our technical set-up to discover how closely aligned we were.

Under the collective banner of "Integrating the Formal, Informal and Social in Learning", Clive was speaking on the new Learning Architect, and how learning professionals now have to consider all aspects of blended learning when in consultation with their customers, internal or external.  I had elected to take the audience on a learning journey, analogous with a train journey, discussing examples of how we have developed and delivered learning solutions more creatively, by leveraging existing tools and resources, whilst developing our skills and toolsets 'under the radar' of our current corporate technical and other constraints.  I included points for the audience to vote as to how closely aligned each particular approach had been in relation to Clive's LA model.

We both recognised that our respective inputs would probably be longer than our originally planned 15 minutes each, but we expected to be able to flex around that and still have time for a Q&A session at the end.

So, how did it go?  What would I do again and what would I do differently? What did I learn from the experience?  

I was very pleased with my slides!  Very subtle corporate branding, no bullet points - indeed, no text - and relevant graphics only (some photos and some screen grabs from our learning solutions).  

No chance of reading off the screen, so I had my notes on the podium.  Next time, I'll have my notes better written and be more familiar with them (see "Practice" below)..  Clive did his presentation without notes, as did several speakers at the Learning and Performance Institute Conference I attended a couple of weeks ago. I should have taken the hint then!  That said, I didn't get lost and the presentation flowed as I hoped.

I had a couple of radio microphone issues, with the clip slipping back inside my shirt, which necessitated the tech guy coming up onto stage during the session to re-clip it.  Of course it would have helped if I hadn't kept hitting it with my hand every time I thumped myself on the chest (not something I was hitherto aware I did!)

And the biggest lesson - practice!  We started the session late and both Clive and I over-ran in our respective slots, meaning, as 'tail-end-Charlie', I was the one who kept people late for their break and didn't allow time for the Q&A session.  If I had practised my session more, I would have been well aware of the timings and trimmed accordingly.  I hope that everyone who wanted to comment or converse with us afterwards will find us online and continue the discussion.  

I'm collating the audience voting results, so that I will have an overview of their opinions as to how well the various learning interventions we have developed/are developing and have delivered/are delivering map against Clive's Learning Architect model.  This will help to inform our strategy planning for L&D, IT Training and Learning Technologies, and I'm more than happy to share those results.

Some thanks: to all my colleagues at work and on Twitter, for their encouragement and support (great to meet so many of you at the event too); to Clive Shepherd, for the pleasure of working together, for the opportunity to dig deep into his Learning Architect model and co-present our session; to Nicholas Owen for excellent, non-starry Chairmanship and interesting 'train' chats (he's a bit of a railways anorak, like me - who'd have thought?); to the guys at TurningTechUK for their help in enabling the TurningPoint voting handsets and results onto my voting slides before and during the presentation; to Laura Overton at Towards Maturity, for suggesting I speak in the first place; to Tracy Shah at Venture for excellent organisation of the event; and finally to Mandy, for her patience and support in the midst of her own challenges.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

On taking my Daughter to University

Having received some valuable feedback recently about my blogs, including the suggestion that perhaps I tend to over-think things and could say 'more with less', I am going to try a different approach with this blog and just try to riff with the thoughts and see how it comes out. I'd be very interested in your feedback about this approach.

So, yesterday, I took our first child, my daughter Natasha, to Nottingham, to move into her Halls of Residence as she starts her first year at University next week.  A significant moment in any child's - and parents' - life.  She's 19, having done a Foundation Diploma between her A Levels and starting University; and, whilst we are used to her being away for several days, indeed weeks sometimes, at a time, this is that big moment when she really starts to separate from us and starts her independent adult life.

Mandy and I are not the first parents to experience this separation anxiety, nor will we be the last.  Indeed, judging by the faces of many of the parents I saw leaving the complex yesterday, it's yet another heart-tugging part of the ever-developing role of parents everywhere.  So, here's what I want to reflect on in this blog - what I consder to have been, and continues to be, my greatest learning journey, being a Dad.

Like many parents nowadays, we were late starters, having our first child, Natasha when we were in our late thirties and our son Samuel (henceforth Tash and Sam) on Mandy's 40th Birthday!  I still treasure the obstetrician's description of Mandy as an "elederly prem", tho' I'm not sure she does.  We have been blessed with two beautiful children who are growing up, or in Tash's case, have grown up, into personable, articulate, emotionally intelligent and creative adults.  How did that happen?

Niall's first rule of parenthood - there are no rules!  It's the ultimate seat-of-your-pants, non-formal, on-demand, experiential learning opportunity.  Just as you've managed to reflect and re-apply what you've just learned, the goalposts move and off you go again.  What works for child 1 does not necessarily work for or apply to Child 2.  They are their own people, from day 1, and I learned that I had to go with the flow, adapt and flex, whilst we tried to maintain a safe, loving and nurturing environment (OK, Home) for them - and us - in which to grow.

So, one down, and one to go.  Sam has just started 6th Form College, as did Tash three years before him.  And guess what - it's a completely different experience for and with him than it was for Tash!  Good, but different.  So, we're flexing here!  Again!  Sam's still living with us while Tash is now living away, and we all have much to learn from each other before he sets off on his adult journey - I'm relishing the thought.

Many different books have been written about parenting.  There's probably a book just in Mandy's and my experience of being and learning to be parents.  But it's our story - a never-ending story - and we're too busy and engaged in living it to write it down and share it.  Except this blog, of course.

To conclude, I'll just quote you from the text message I sent Mandy as I left Tash to drive back to Brighton yesterday evening - "7:20 Just leaving now. Choked. Nx"

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Er... I'm speaking!

It's just over two weeks to go until Clive Shepherd and I deliver our session at the World of Learning Conference in Birmingham on the 27th of September.  We're discussing Integrating the formal, informal and social in learning, using Clive's book, "The New Learning Architect" as the yardstick against which I'll be sharing our experiences at FirstGroup, and then inviting thoughts, comments and questions from the audience.
It's been a few years since I last spoke at a large learning conference and a lot has changed in those years.  The focus has changed, the terminology has changed, the tools have changed and the discussion has changed. Just in the last week or so, the Institute of IT Training, of which I have been a member (and long-time Fellow) since its inception, has changed its focus and name to that of the Learning and Performance Institute.  And I've had a role/name change too!  When I was invited to speak at WOLCE and all the marketing materials went to press, I was the Group IT Training Manager.  I will stand up in front of the audience in our session and introduce myself as the Head of HR & Learning Technologies!  That's how quickly the learning agenda is changing.
As I write this blog, I am in the process of finalising the content and format of my short presentation for the session, the draft of which I have to hand over to the organisers on Monday. And here's where all those changes have come home to roost! In the last five years we have seen an explosion in the availability and use of Social Media site, tools and devices such as Prezi, Twitter, Facebook, Wordle, Smartphones, iPads, QR codes and the like.  Back then, I thought I was racy using MindManager 6 to capture feedback in a seminar session, and I'd never, ever, considered writing a 'blog', whatever that was...
Recently I've been to less conferences in person than I have virtually via the Twitter backchannel and I fully expect a high proportion of the audience who will be attending my WOLCE session to be the same.  But not all.
So, even 'tho I'm going to be talking about some SoMe tools at the Conference, I'm going back to basics and concentrating instead on the story - our challenges, our successes, our high and lows - and where we still want to go. I'm stepping back from worrying about which whizzy social media and presentation tools to use; indeed, as I write, it's entirely likely that the finished product will be on PowerPoint 2003, using our corporate slide template! (It will however, be 'graphic-heavy and text light'.) We will probably use Twitter to bring in the outside learning community involvement and we might even use the audience polling system.
What I do know is that I have a professional and organisational story to share, which is not yet finished.  I hope that the participants on the day - and afterwards - will empathise with my story, will learn something from it in and will want to contribute to it.  I don't have all the answers, and I want to learn from the collective wisdom in the room and in the wider L&D community, just like everyone else.
So what do you think? Am I taking the right approach? Are you put off by the thought of PowerPoint and corporate templates? Any hints and tips for me?  Any burning questions that you'd like Clive and I to deal with on the day?  All comments and questions welcome. See you in Birmingham.