Reinvigoration

Last week saw me publish the first blog I’ve written in nearly three years and I thought I would continue with the momentum and get another out asap. So, what to write about? The obvious choice seemed to be looking at what caused me to stop in the first place and what was the catalyst for my return.

First a bit of scene setting. I set this page up several years ago, when I had this wonderful idea about being able to post up my meandering thoughts on learning and development at least once per month. All the cool kids were doing it, and being a bit of a sheep at the time I decided it was my turn to have a go. In total, I ended up publishing three (less than impressive) blogs with little in the way of a coherent pattern and a penchant for contrived comical asides (some things don’t change).

2011 was a cornerstone year for me; many changes took place and as a result blogging fell to the very bottom of my priority list. The disruption in my personal life continued until very recently, resulting in my disappearance from Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn and several other social media tools/discussion forums that I had been regularly contributing to[1]. There was an attempt to return to blogging when I published a short piece about my tweet break, but basically I retreated from my wider social presence.

Throughout the last three years I started new blogs, but they never made it past the draft stage (several being deleted entirely – wish I could remember what they were about). Therefore, as at today I have four published blogs and several in draft format (started at different points over the three years). Not an impressive back catalogue, by anyone’s measure.

However, here I am at 7.55am on a Wednesday morning and already I’ve thought of another two subjects to write about whilst making changes to this post and have tweeted and re-tweeted several times. But why now? What drove this sudden desire to share? Why do little things I see and hear now trigger blog titles to form?

There are numerous differences between my life in 2011 and now: new partner, new employer, new location, new friend group, new smartphone and new personal/professional priorities. And I’m sure that these have all played their small part in reinvigorating my passion for learning and development, and desire to share that with others. But, the majority of these have been in place for at least twelve months, so why has my muse only just decided to return?

I believe that whilst the above changes set the ground work for my new output, it was something else that acted as the catalyst.

My new employer not only talks about development, they put their money where their mouth is and actively encourage employees to seek out learning and development opportunities, providing time/financial support if they feel it is going to be of benefit to them (now or in the future). As a result of this attitude to development I was able to attend the 2015 #CIPDLDShow at the Olympia in London.

My first new blog spoke a little about some of my experience at the show, and I intend writing another couple soon, but the thing that really drove me to return to posting my thoughts on social media was being re-enveloped in a community of supportive professionals. I talked with old contacts and made new ones; held interesting conversations and played silly games; shared information and saw mine shared. The majority of these interactions took place via the twitterverse, which reminded me that one of the reasons I used to tweet so much in the past, was as much for the community as for the learning.

Whilst taking part in a twitter exchange with several people, something I posted garnered a lot of responses, retweets, favouriting and questioning. Despite my best efforts there was no way I could respond to all the questions in the short amount of time I had available and realised that if I just collated all my thoughts in a blog, people could see everything I had to say in one go and post questions/comments that I could respond to at my leisure. This realisation, along with kind words from someone whose opinion I respect (themselves, a prolific blogger and tweeter) seemed to set a fire, and here we are.

So there you have it. Not exactly an earth shattering insight. But what I think it may show, is that engagement can be fleeting and we have to be quick to seize it, both from our personal perspective and as professionals trying to bring learners along with us. Also, we have to remember that sometimes a supportive community of learning can encourage (and hopefully maintain) that engagement.

This is me making the most of my returning interest in all things social. I feel engaged and reinvigorated. What engages you?

[1] It is worth noting that I continued to use Facebook during this period however, that had more to do with maintaining family/friend contacts as I dealt with change and relocation.

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Of bingo and bandwagons!

Whilst at the recent CIPD Learning and Development Show [1] (13th & 14 May 2015), I fell into a game of Bulls**t Bingo.

For those unfamiliar with this favourite past-time of regular meeting/conference attendees everywhere, it involves identifying when the speakers use the currently popular buzzwords/phrases/acronyms during their session and highlighting these by quietly saying/tweeting “Bulls**t”. The winner being the person who manages to highlight the most used in a session.

In the past, favourite overused items included: Outside the Box, Unconference, Blue Sky Thinking, Empowerment, Adaptive Technology, etc (You will most likely have your own list).

The overused ones prevalent at this year’s show were: V.U.C.A. [2]; Narrative; Mindfullness; and that old(?) favourite GenY [3].

I imagine that I don’t need to explain any of the above to you, as they are so widespread throughout the learning and development/business world and as with most of their type, tend to be used as a shorthand to describe far larger subjects. In the context of having a quick conversation we rely on shorthand for many concepts and who am I to dismiss this nifty way of shortening the time you have to spend speaking to some people. However, it seems that every time a new one comes along, people rush to hang their hat on it and find (admittedly inventive) ways of taking a talk on one subject and wrapping it around the new ‘buzzword’ (or at the very least they insert it into the title).

Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not challenging the validity of these terms and their use (well, maybe some of them…see below), but the inclusion of them in every presentation/paper begins to smack of opportunism rather than trying to progress the world of LnD.

For example: several of the sessions at this year’s show included ‘Neuroscience’ in their title and purported to provide ways in which we can exploit this area of scientific endeavour to improve student/delegate/employee/[insert your term here] engagement and retention of learning. I sat in on one of these sessions and a contact visited another and we both came away with the same opinion: each session was written around one subject and then shoe-horned into Neuroscience, because that’s the current hot subject for LnD.

Whilst that type of bandwagon jumping is usually harmless in itself, there are some areas that we should probably be a bit more cautious in presenting as the ‘new and improved’ process for helping people learn. A prime example of this is Mindfullness which is being touted as an almost Barnumesque cure-all for a broad selection of issues (e.g. Depression, Anxiety, Obesity, etc) and now presented as the next thing in increasing engagement. The idea is simple, Mindfullness techniques are shown to help people focus better and boost their working memory, so why not use this principle to improve the concentration and retention of learners.

Who can argue with the logic of using this ’empirically evidenced’ technique to support learning? Well, now you mention it….

The problem with anything that receives 100% positive support and promotion is that eventually they are found to be either a little less than the claims or in some cases downright dangerous (e.g. take your pick from a myriad of diets, drugs, exercise regimes and financial schemes). And already the latter is potentially starting to happen with Mindfullness.

This is not an attack on Mindfullness; it is a proven supportive practice, used by professionals to help people with a broad selection of mental health issues. However, the key word here is ‘Professionals’. The people who developed and use this technique are schooled in not only applying supportive programmes, but also in recognising signs that the process being used may be having unwanted side effects.

A quick search on-line starts throwing up article after article talking about the potential dangers of using this method, which I as a mere Learning and Development professional feel fall outside of my scope of expertise. I have colleagues who are trained psychologists and even they feel uncomfortable about using this technique with groups of people and suggest that it should only be practiced by appropriately qualified individuals on a one-to-one basis.

Therefore, I do find it a little disconcerting when people who in the most part only have qualifications that say they can stand-up and present information, are being encouraged to use this potentially life-changing method with large groups of unsuspecting guinea pigs.

Maybe we should be allowing the bandwagon to go by and start following it at a safe distance? Then again, if we do that, I’m not sure what we would put on our bingo cards.

[1] Charted Institute of Personnel and Development – Learning and Development Show

[2] Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity

[3] Generation Y (otherwise known as Millennials)