Last week I travelled north up to Sydney to attend the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) National Conference at the Australian Technology Park.
I hadn’t planned to attend the conference but when an invitation from eLearning Provocateur Ryan Tracey landed in my inbox asking me to be a member of one of the panel sessions, I couldn’t say no to Ryan (he’s too nice). Besides, any opportunity to meet my personal learning network face to face is a welcome one.
The key themes of the conference was Innovate, Learn and Connect and these themes actually resonated with people at the conference but also with my host who I was staying with.
Usually when I travel, I like to stay at AirBnB places. Not only can they be cheaper than hotels but for me, I find them homely and personable. Despite the initial awkwardness of sharing another’s home and belongings, out of it comes a new connection and story. (If you haven’t gathered by now, I love listening to stories).
This time, I stayed near the conference centre and shared the apartment with someone who had experienced a major life change and his exuberance and passion for taking charge of his life inspired me. After a hectic high powered role in advertising for many years and disengaged from his work, he decided to ‘pull the pin’ and research for new business ideas that melded his love for people and coffee. He bought a coffee van, set up some a partnership with a nearby bakery (I had the BEST breakfasts) to sell their baked goodies and travelled to various sites around town and beaches to sell coffee and have a chin wag with his customers. His dog also came along for the ride. What a great life!
“I’m alive again,” he said to me. “I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. I love what I do. I love listening to people’s stories, I love meeting them, sharing a joke, making them a coffee. Despite the long hours, I come home energised and ready to face the new day tomorrow.”
I have heard these stories so often lately. Many people disengaged from their work leaving in droves to seek out a new meaning in their life.
So What’s That Mean for Learning and Development? We Too Need to Take Risks and Find New Ways to Get the Meaning Back into our Work
In some way, the conference themes focused on Learning and Development making a new meaning for their work too and challenging them to think differently, act differently, experiment more and just ‘make learning happen’.
All the key note speakers but in particularly, Harold Jarche, Nigel Paine and Marigo Raftopoulos key messages related to ‘thinking differently’ as our current thinking will not support us in a volatile, uncertain and complex world. My observation from the audience and by speaking to many people during the breaks was that there was a general consensus, an agreement and a quiet excitement for these ideas but sprinkled with a dose of reality of how we could influence our managers, clients and stakeholders back in our workplace.
The Younger Folk
One of the main benefits of going to conferences are to meet other like-minded individuals who are there to learn and network. Many times I seek out younger people to speak to during the breaks. I’m like a parasite trying to feed off their enthusiasm, spontaneity and optimism. I can’t help but feel excited when I speak to those who are starting out in our learning field, eagerly looking for new networks, new ideas and ready and open to learn anything and everything. They have a passion that is addictive. Just like when you show tourists around your city, you get to see your city in a whole new light – the same goes for when you speak to these young people, you get to appreciate the possibilities in your field.
I had some great conversations with the “younger folk” and was surprised that the ones I spoke to came from business roles and had chosen to move into learning because they had some a desire to coach, support and develop others.
I recall my younger years and valued having conversations with people who had more knowledge and experience with me so now I believe that we need to support those coming into our field. I feel they have less preconceived notions of what learning and development must and mustn’t do.
Besides I think we need their creative enthusiasm and spontaneity in our workplaces as they’re a blast of fresh air.
What Stood Out for Me?
A couple of the session workshops were a standout for me surprisingly. Upon reflection it was because they used real life situations around learning contexts and working with the business to close a particular performance gap.
The first one was with Paul Lawrence who stepped us through a situation he had with Jurlique to implement a coaching culture. He talked about the company, the client, the performance gaps, the workplace situations and the tensions between the key players. He slowly unfolded the story, teasing out bits and pieces but then stopped with questions to the audience, “So what would you do here?” and the audience would respond like a textbook case study scenario. You could hear the collective groans when everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. But again, he’d stop and ask us, “so what would you do here?” and so on it went. Over time, he had collected data about the actions he took with that business and we got to see the results of our thoughts and the impact they made on the business.
This was an excellent way to present a real life situation and get audience involvement.
The second presentation was by Denise Stevens who talked about Social Media: Not for the Faint Hearted. This presentation piqued my curiosity because initially I thought, “here we go, is someone going to say that social media is a waste of time?”.
Instead, Denise presented how her organisation provided professional development opportunities and workshops to vocational educators who were cynical and skeptical towards using emerging technologies for their course ware design. What struck me the most with her presentation was that the assumption she made that the “corporates had the better solutions” or that “these issues may not be evident in corporates”. Oh how wrong she was.
Isn’t it strange that different sectors make assumptions about each other? I spoke to Denise after her presentation and dispelled that myth. I explained that the focus is simply on different aspects. For the education sectors it’s about the pedagogy; for us corporates, it’s about performance and the bottom line.
(One of the key ways I learn is to attend conferences from different sectors. If I hadn’t gone to an academic conference back in 2012 where Professor Alec Couros was keynoting, I wouldn’t have heard of Personal Learning Environments and Networks and MOOCs. If I hadn’t gone to ConVerge, a conference for the vocational education sector, I wouldn’t know about the various constraints, pressures and issues affecting this sector).
The Key Note Speakers
Certainly the highlight of the conference for me was an opportunity to meet and talk with Harold Jarche.
As an avid reader of his blog, I respect the work he has done over the years in personal knowledge management and networked organisations. Sometimes, I read his blog posts two or three times over just to let the concepts sink in but what his work has done for me is that it has shifted my perception of learning and development to a much more broader focus: the organisation, culture, change, networks and… power. This might explain why your Twitter feed has tweets from me that are just not about instructional design or performance improvement. (Besides, after subscribing to Celine Schillingers Change Agents World Wide Twitter List – well, let me say, it’s been my downfall. I get lost in the sea of wonderful and thought provoking blog posts about organisational change and culture).
This may be a good or a bad thing for me.
Good in that it allows me to sit back, observe and question why certain situations happen in the workplace and what motivates people to change or not to change, but bad in that it confuses exactly what my role in that change to be.
Where once my learning role was neatly packaged up within a clear job description doing what I’ve always done – and what my managers have always wanted me to do – now, I feel constrained by it but also driven by a need to continually learn, apply, role model, test boundaries, test my manager, test my team members…I’ve got more questions now than I ever have because I’m interested to see how all this will pan out.
During his keynote presentation, Harold explained it as, “you have to put your trust in the network and the network will give back”.
Yes, I was one of those annoying kids who skipped the chapters of the book and went to the end. I guess I’m looking for the answers now too.
I found Nigel Paine’s talk on Learning also thought provoking in particularly around the ageing brain. It made me reflect on my own lifestyle and what I’m doing to keep my own mind active and alert (maybe Celine’s CAWW Twitter List will save me? Maybe my knitting?). It’s certainly the case of “Use It or Lose It”. My husband once gave me a Nintendo game with Brain Games for a Christmas present but Nigel said to steer clear of this.***
“That will only teach you to be better at the Brain Games – the software,” he said. Crap.
That explains why my Nintendo is gathering dust in some desk drawer somewhere…
Although he didn’t cover it in too much detail at the conference, Nigel had more of an opportunity on the the ABC radio a few days later interviewed by Libby Gore. He talked about the plasticity of the brain and how we must keep it active. Usually this involves something as simple as exercise, going for a walk and learning something new to stimulate the neurones.
Mental note: go for more walks.
Third Place Meetup
At one stage I looked around the table and was amazed that we had both Nigel and Harold and others well known in the learning field to join us for stimulating conversation and laughter.
I also got to meet Matthew Guyan (@MattGuyan) for the first time. He co-ordinates Newcastle Third Place meetup events and I have collaborated with him on the #OzLearn tweet chats every second Tuesday of the month. So this just goes to show that you can collaborate with people you’ve never met simply because they share interests and passions the same as you.
Want to See More?
I have created an amusing Storify of the AITD Conference if you’re interested to learn more.
*** For those wondering why my husband gave me the Nintendo Brain Games. No, it was not some joke or question about my cognitive ability. I wanted it. I dropped hints to get it as a Christmas present. When I did get it, I played it, I got bored and forgot about it.