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'.


  1. Thanks for the post Niall. Like you, I rely on the back channel of events to understand what key themes are emerging in the conference when I'm unable to attend. It's also a great way to connect with attendees and organisers and ask questions when needed. In my experience, I've noticed that many people prefer not to tweet or use their phones during events to share key learnings - or they need time to reflect then blog later about it. Certainly there's a conference I go to regularly in L&D that NO ONE tweets and there's an awkwardness about it when you're the only one taking photos, sharing tweets and the like. The fishbowl environment is an intimate and small gathering too so there may be issue with people feeling that their attention to be at the panel and discussions? (Although in hindsight I don't prescribe to this because you can use Twitter as a note taking tool while the phone is in your hand). I think sometimes that people like us (maybe more inclined to use social media and share openly and regularly) consider it odd that others don't. I know I do. I'd be inclined to say that organisers welcome people to share tweets and blog posts or other social media posts or even, ask people who do this regularly, to do it on their behalf so they can focus on the people in the room. I don't have an answer for this but I've started being surprised by people who DON'T use social media. There's simply too many of them - less of us.

    1. Thanks Helen. I have to say that at events I attend either in person or virtually, there are usually one or two people that you can rely on to tweet or blog and, indeed, some organisers go to great lengths to coordinate this. @kategraham23 does an excellent job in marshalling the 'blog squads' for conferences such as the CIPD and Learning Technologies events. I try to tweet out when I can, whether I'm in the room or on the backchannel itself. My gripe in today's instance was that, having created a hashtag for the event, the organisers didn't 'manage' it effectively and didn't support the backchannel, but relied on the usual suspects to keep it going - and they did a great job until about half way through when the input from the room went quiet and the tweetstream was left to talk to itself. No concluding remarks, no summaries, no requests for our learning points and takeaways, which may well have taken place in the room, but from the outside, it just seemed to fizzle out. Oh, and just telling us that someone is speaking is not value-add tweeting (not that anyone did that on this occasion, I hasten to add; just another thought). Onwards...!