I’ve just returned from LearnTech Asia, the inaugural learning technology conference and expo in Singapore and decided to write some personal reflections.
Let me tell you that my mind was a muddle so this is my attempt at getting things in some order.
Before the Conference
Initially, when I was asked by Conference Chair, Donald Taylor @DonaldHTaylor https://twitter.com/DonaldHTaylor to speak at this conference, I deliberated long and hard about it. Although I was honoured and privileged to be asked to speak at my first ever international conference, I did have some anxieties about speaking in front of an audience. However, when I thought about it further, I realised that it was going to be a professional and personal development opportunity that was too good to miss.
You see, I don’t have any experience with living or working in Asia so I surmised that much of what I knew for social and personalised learning was with a western context in mind.
Truth be told, one of the thoughts I had floating in my mind was, “who’d want to hear a privileged white western Australian female on stage with zero business background and experience, no cultural understanding of the subtleties of Asian contexts, values and traditions, tell people what and how they should be thinking and working at their workplace?”
So you can see I put considerable pressure on myself.
Having also recently completed two FutureLearn MOOCS called Why We Post: An Anthropological Study into Why We Post on Social Media and Modern Working Practices that talked about Empowerment and Engagement in a Modern Workplace, got me thinking a lot about how blinkered (and westernised) my view was on many things related to social and personalised learning in modern workplaces.
Also how culture, power and trust are elements that serve to break down and destroy working relationships and collaborative learning. (I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’ve struggled to get any traction with Learning and Development teams to consider personalised or social learning that I’m beginning to think that I’m dealing with organisational cultural issues, mindset and behaviour changes with a workforce that is tired of change, issues that are much bigger than just simply rolling out another “social learning system” or running training programs on “how our people can use our new social learning system”)….
Most of all, how different rules for some and different rules of others, the lack of role modelling by business managers and leaders, employee disengagement, lack of risk taking, fear of failure and lack or removal of decision making and influence, as well as the following of unspoken and unwritten rules in organisational politics go against the open nature of working and learning together.
It’s true to say that I’ve been having my own watershed moments about this topic in recent times which has thrown me into mental turmoil questioning my own value and what I do – and exactly how much (or even IF) I can influence L&D teams to make any substantial changes in their organisation.
So the big glaring gap there was my own lack of understanding of Asian culture, values and context.
If I was feeling this for Australian organisations, imagine how difficult this would be for an Asian audience!
So I customised my presentation “Curation for Learning” to be less about the ORGANISATION (realising that it’s difficult to inspire change inside an organisation – probably even more difficult inside an Asian organisation) and more about the INDIVIDUAL. That is, what can the individual do to curate their own personalised learning experiences.
My first lesson: Move the focus away from US to ME. In a world of constant change, people are in self-protective mode and if I can provide some tips, tools and strategies to help them manage this, that’s where I’ll start. In my experience, very rarely are they looking at the collective – at the organisation. Not when there is little trust in their managers, organisations, or worried about losing their job.
My second lesson: Read more of Julian Stodd’s (@JulianStodd) thoughts and reflections on Trust and civil society because I think we need to see a deeper change in our organisations to instil the change we are looking for.
— Julian Stodd (@julianstodd) November 8, 2017
My second and a half lesson: This lesson is I think, somehow, someway tied into the above lesson but unsure how. I had a deep and meaningful conversation with my long time PLN friend Sahana Chattopadhyay (@Sahana2802) who was interested in the behaviours and levels of consciousness of people within organisations to make effective change. Although I read the work of Laloux, I was unaware of the model of Spiral Dynamics so we talked about how there is something bigger at play here that we aren’t addressing in our organisations. We are certainly feeling it but we can’t place our finger on what it is. All we do know is that addressing things the way we’ve always done is only making people frustrated, exhausted or disengaged.
Which nicely led me to the third lesson…
My third lesson: Professor Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) who keynoted on the second day mentioned a new Change Model that he is currently researching and writing a book. He explained that people are experiencing so much change and disruption but at a certain time there is an ‘event horizon’ – a point in which something gets triggered that takes the person back to inertia. That is, they’ve reached saturation point. This resonated with me because it was what I was experiencing in my own work and seeing with clients. The question I had in my mind was “are employees in organisations in a state of current inertia?” (I recently wrote an article called When Your Employees Just Don’t Care about this state). I’m looking forward to this book which will be “crowd written” (I made up that word). Steve says that they encourage people to contribute by writing blog posts about this topic and the authors will then pull together the chapters from various blog posts to create the book. If you’re interested to learn more, contact Steve directly.
— Donald H Taylor (@DonaldHTaylor) November 8, 2017
My fourth lesson: As I grappled to try and make sense of it all and seeing my own experience of how difficult it is to work for yourself and help your clients tackle the big questions in their organisation, it became apparently clear that I too, was becoming overwhelmed. I have my down days too. What may look like on the outside as me being someone who experiments with tools and technology, shares reflections on video and has a laugh at herself, in all honesty, there are many times I want to take a deep breath, escape the noise and immerse myself into my own silent world surrounded by a blanket of what I know and trust to keep me safe.
_ Sharing what I’m learning and thinking takes time.
_ Creating video to share is exhausting.
_Learning new things take you out of your comfort zone every day.
_Constant and continual learning requires commitment and motivation.
_Doing it openly and publicly puts you in a vulnerable position and under scrutiny of others
However, at the same time, the entire experience is wonderful and weirdly addictive, as you overcome your initial hesitations and see that it wasn’t as bad as you thought. The only thing you can do is to keep on going but in the process, look after yourself too.
Tony Buzan (@Tony_Buzan) may have an answer for me here to simplify things. His message of use of colour, and organising the mess in my head by use of mind maps may be just what I need (no digital tools) to organise the mess in my head. As soon as I came back home, I cracked open my coloured texta markers committed to try mindmapping from now on.
Travel as an Immersive Learning Experience
I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t know much about Asian culture.
When I travel, I prefer to travel to places that are in the US, UK or Europe. Maybe it’s because there’s a similarity there with my own background? Or, that it is perceived as safer? Whatever it is, it may stem from fear of the unknown because it’s different.
So that’s when I decided that now was the time to let go of this fear by immersing myself into a learning experience. Here was an opportunity to jump in and learn as much as I could and in the process, open up a whole new world of travel opportunities that would see me explore more of Asia.
Four days prior to the conference, I did the tourist thing.
I bought myself a City Pass that gained me entry into their top attractions as well as walked the city streets from morning to night experiencing the various sights and sounds. I took public transport everywhere. I immersed myself it to learn about their language, history and culture, started conversations with people at bus stops, restaurants, the staff at my hotel and museums.
My most favourite activity was to learn more about military history and the fall of Singapore so I made sure to catch the excellent exhibition of the World At War 1942 at the National Museum, the Battlebox (underground bunkers) tour at Fort Canning and an hour-long bus trip out to the Changi Museum and Chapel that commemorates the POWs there who died there.
Part of me felt that I needed to have those extra days before the conference and I’m glad I did because I came away with a deeper appreciation of the history of Singapore and now a new thirst for travelling to more Asian countries. In some small way, it was a way I could return the favour of being asked to present at their event in their country, by taking more time to learn and immerse myself to understand their language, culture and history.
It was the least I could do and I came out a better person for it.
Here’s one of the videos I did on Snapchat to capture the day where I spent learning about Singapore’s military history.
Reflections on LearnTech Asia
“We need to formalise the informal”.
This was a quote I heard a few times at LearnTech Asia and I kept mulling that about in my head. In some strange way, it seemed to personify my own stereotypical view of Asian contexts and I had to find out why.
My assumption was that in Asian cultures, formal education is critical – a form of not only a status symbol but also of great importance to your own family.
— Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) November 7, 2017
My western view was adamantly fighting this, “why on earth would you want to do that?!” while the eastern perspective made me realise that there were greater forces at play here that I may not have known or experienced.
I grew up in a Greek family where getting a degree represented freedom and opportunities to find a well-paid job. Years down the track, you see that your formal education is not enough for you to keep your job and in many cases, provides you with more insecurity and uncertainty as you pay massive student debt with no guarantee of work or income.
— Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) November 7, 2017
I wondered if this was the case for people here in Singapore too so I decided to attend all the presentations that had a local or regional perspective to them. It meant that I had to miss out on presentations by my PLN I wanted to attend however, I figured I would never have otherwise got this very localised presentation and understanding of our differences.
What I leared is that it’s true that there is a focus on education and qualifications but that there is also lots of government funding and support of educational institutions to customise their programs to make them more blended (but still have a qualification attached to it).
— Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) November 7, 2017
I also noticed that the presentations also lacked talk about improving business strategy or outcomes. There was little to no mention of business performance. The people who did talk about this were the western presenters only.
So the focus for all the local and regional presentations was all around the learner and learner support to be able to deal with learning in a different manner that was not through face-to-face or traditional lecture style approach. Also how to access the government funding that was available to educational institutions to support the redesign of their programs.
I wondered if Asian companies are more concerned with enabling their Learning and Development teams look after the welfare through education of their employees – as opposed to showing results that directly impact business? That question remained unanswered for me.
Part of me would have loved to have heard from senior Asian Learning and Development, Organisation Development or HR Managers or Leaders.
Some of My Firsts
Many people have contacted me to express thanks to Michelle Ockers (@MichelleOckers) and I sharing tweets over the two days of the conference.
I decided to use Twitter video for the first time to share 30 second snippets of key learning as well as creating the daily stories on Snapchat (which were then downloaded as MP4 files and uploaded into YouTube) so that people could see behind the scenes.
If you take footage in Snapchat, you can edit and annotate photo and video files and you have more time (up to one minute) which bypasses the limit placed by Twitter as you can see in the example below. You can also add geofilters (filters that are location specific that tell you where that video has been taken).
— Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) November 8, 2017
One of the other things I experimented with Twitter was replying to my own tweets. This way I could create a chronological timeline of the presentation and include links, photos, videos and my own thoughts to them. That way, when anyone clicks on the tweet, they see the entire thread.
I do realise that many of the tweets coming out of the conference were from visitors or vendors but a quick question on who was on Twitter showed a significant number of the audience was not using this tool. Instead, LinkedIn seemed to be the social tool (but very little if any interaction or engagement) of choice here as you can see from the threads in LinkedIn about LearnTech.
One of my greatest lessons is that for this audience – LinkedIn seems to be the tool of choice so if there’s some way to capture these and allow people to connect via this tool then our focus should have been on LinkedIn and not Twitter. Maybe I should have stuck to my original plan to do more LinkedIn videos than Twitter videos?? Oh well…
Meeting my PLN
One of the best things about attending an international conference is meeting members of your personal learning network. I got to meet David Kelly, Julian Stodd, Steve Wheeler, Emma Weber, Laura Overton, Ger Driersen, Sahana Chattopadhyay,Don Taylor, Marco Faccini and so many more!
A BIG Thank You!
I have to say a very big thank you to the organisers and hosts of LearnTech Asia. You have put on a wonderful event and inspired me to think broadly about the opportunities and challenges in our region. Thank you for inviting me along to present and share my reflections and learning as well as meet my peers from all around the world!
Daily Snap Stories
Friday 3 November 2017
I arrive to Singapore and show you around my tiny hotel room. Then I hit the streets to visit the Singapore Flyer, Merlion, Fullerton Hotel, Clarke Quay and the Botanic Gardens.
Saturday 4 November 2017
On Saturday I explore the Gardens By the Bay, National Museum of Singapore and a Singapore Sling at Raffles! I lament that the brasswork wasn’t polished.
Sunday 5 November 2017
A full day spent travelling to Changi to see the moving memorial and exhibition at the Museum and Chapel and then a trip back into town for Fort Canning tour of the underground bunkers (and walking around this beautiful historic park).
Tuesday 7 November 2017
First day of the conference!
Wednesday 8 November 2017
I say goodbye to Singapore, my nice hotel room and of course, the last day of the conference….sad….