Please, tell me a story!

I am a voracious reader of fiction, capable of ploughing through a 400 page book in a day (if on my own and not doing anything else) and have a tendency to remember the content for a very long time. Research and academic texts* on the other hand have always been a struggle, the words running together as I try to transfer the knowledge from the densely filled page to my struggling-to-stay-awake brain.

This difficulty with factual works has had a detrimental effect on my ability to pursue academic recognition, making the writing of a simple assignment into a mountain of Snowdonian proportions.

Everyone I spoke to about the best way to approach research and academic text would recommend the well practiced dip-in method of searching the contents list to find what you wanted and briefly reading that part in isolation. And whilst I eventually taught myself to do this, it was never satisfying to my curiosity and failed to get information to stay in my head for longer than the time taken to finish the assignment.

However, this month brought a breakthrough. Last weekend I finished reading Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance by Matthew Syed which I managed to read cover-to-cover (ok, e-reader page to e-reader page) in a surprisingly short amount of time….for me! Not only did I read it with relative ease but also found it possible to quickly quote and paraphrase it to others in support of my viewpoint.

Which begs the question, why was this text different?

Was it because I find the subject interesting?

Maybe, but I am hugely passionate about Coaching and its benefits yet find it difficult to crack the sheen on many of the accusing spines looking down on me from the bookshelf.

Is it due to the fact that the findings support my own experience (talk about cognitive dissonance)?

Another good reason for sure, but I have at least four publications on leadership in my current line of sight that provide lots of support to my views on that subject and only one of them has been used extensively.

Wait! Of course! It’s the ‘density’ issue, after all it isn’t exactly a massive tome is it?

Possibly, but on my desk is a paperback with no more than 150 pages about another passion of mine (non-work) but I’m struggling to get past page 23.

Do you think it could be because it’s easy to see the real world application?

Interesting idea but, to be fair, most of the good books have case studies and anecdotes that enable us to visualise them in practice so I doubt it’s that.

The question of why this book was really troubling me so revisiting its pages the answer became clear and was something much more revealing about me and how I absorb information.

It’s a story!

The author managed to structure the content so that there is a clear progressive exploration of his findings. Whether by design or happy accident is unclear (I would like to believe it was a deliberate action) but he has managed to hit on the basic premise of a story; take the reader on a journey with a satisfying denouement.

Of course his writing style and use of language, carried over from the day job I’m sure, smooth the passage but in general it is the overall structure that seemed to engage and motivate me. Which in conjunction with the other reasons shown above made this a very accessible read for me.

In Learning and Development circles we talk about the importance of using stories to help people learn and I have read some works where individual sections follow this idea, but it seems to be rare for a whole publication to have an almost narrative flow.

Obviously, each to their own and I’m sure there will be some who find the work fails to engage them, or can not see the route I followed. But for me it worked and has managed to reignite my desire to read more factual texts and that can be no bad thing.

Also, it has reminded me to stop and think about the way we support people through learning and that embracing curation should not preclude us from considering the story we create.

So, this brings me back to my request: when you want me to learn.

Please, tell me a story!

* after a lengthy discussion with my academic and researcher colleagues we were still undecided as to whether Matthew’s book falls easily into either of these categories, but they will suffice for making my point……..maybe!

Image: Once upon a time – Steve Czajka

Creative Commons License
Please, tell me a story by David Wallace was written in London, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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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.

#LP2011 – The Learning Experience

As with most ‘conferences’ there is always a mild expectation of being spoken at for several hours, by someone with the personality and emotional range of a Dalek.

One of the things Learning Pool have always seemed to be able to do is inject a bit of life into their events, and #LP2011 was no exception.

A networking goldmine

Taking the concept that these events are more important for their delegate interaction aspect (networking goldmines), #LP2011 was billed as a ‘Community Day’ and organised to reflect this.

Apart from two initial presentations (Dr Andrew Larner talking on Sector Self Help and Kim Brown discussing the Role of HR and Training in Smart Councils), the event was workshop based.

Delegates could choose their ‘favourite’ topics and take part in that session (with enough flexibility, to allow delegates to change the session they attended).

Sessions on the day included subjects such as:

  • Rollout and Delivery
  • Engaging your Learners
  • Proving E-learning Payback
  • Training 3rd Sector Partners
  • E-learning for Councillors and Governors

Hero story happiness

The joy of these sessions was that several of them were billed as Hero Stories and delivered by community members who have negotiated many of the challenges faced by other members.

For example, the session on Engaging your Learners was co-presented by Sue Wright, from Wolverhampton City Council, who was able to give her experiences of engaging the Council’s employees to access their e-Learning provision.

These insights, from those in other public sector organisations, helped the delegates to see how they can achieve the same results (or even better).

An insightful lunchtime

To ensure the learning and networking continued throughout the day, hosted lunch tables were available, at lunchtime (strangely enough) covering topics such as:

  • Rollout and Delivery
  • Big Society Learning
  • Make Your DLE Friendly
  • E-learning for Leader

These lunchtime sessions, though short (10mins each) were extremely useful and encouraged many a long discussion afterwards.

The sessions on Make you DLE Friendly and E-learning for Leaders (presented by Ben Jones and Wendy Kay, respectively) were very useful; Ben’s session made delegates re-evaluate the style of their DLE, whilst Wendy provided food-for-thought on how you can use E-learning to influence the development of your senior officers/leaders.

Free one-to-one sessions

Delegates were also afforded the opportunity to have one-to-one sessions with Learning Pool’s experts, providing support clinics for any issues they may have with using the Authoring Tool and DLE, or with Learner Engagement.

I was lucky enough to work with Wendy Kay from Learning Pool on my particular concerns around Learner Engagement; the session left me with ideas tumbling over each other, begging to be used.

Prestigious awards bestowed

For the last few years Learning Pool have presented Customer of the Year Awards and this year was no exception.

Wrexham CBC was fortunate enough to be nominated in one of the categories this year (Best Community Contributor 2011) and although we weren’t successful this year, the whole presentation process gave community members the drive to want to be on the stage next year.

Connected and enthused

In all, the event was one of the most useful ‘conferences’ I have ever attended; I made more connections from this one day than the last six official events I have attended and I have never come away from an event with as much enthusiasm as I did from this.

Roll-on #LP2012