Category Archives: learning

Can you build a learning community or must it grow?

Last weekend, I found myself at the Entertainment Quarter in Sydney. This area was built in the early 2000s on the site of the old Sydney Showground. It was designed to be a new recreation and entertainment hub for eastern Sydney but last Saturday, when I saw the empty shops and not that many people, I was reminded of an invited presentation I gave at a professional conference many years ago about whether you can artificially create communities of practice or whether they need to grow organically. My presentation argued that, although you can create a learning and networking community, it needs a lot of guidance and facilitation to be kept up and running. In contrast, in my experience, a community which has grown organically through a particular project, learning need,m or professional affiliation tends to be more self-sufficient.

Using the title “community of practice” is somewhat problematic since it has multiple meanings in current work and learning practice. On the one hand there is the original meaning proposed in the theory of peripheral participation by Lave and Wenger (1991). The original learning theory argues that a community of practice is a group of people who share a common interest and learn through regular interaction. Lave and Wenger (1991) go on to say that the way in which people learn is through participation in multiple communities where they are at first “peripheral” in that they are on the margins of the group, learning how it works, learning basic skills and so on. As people learn they become more and more part of the group. The community is just as much about how the community interacts and the norms of the group as it is about the learning aspect. Communities of practice have also been widely adopted in corporate learning and development as a less formal learning approach which is more social and better aligned with how learning really occurs at work (i.e. through participation). Such groups are often (though not always) started by the learning and development or HR team as part of the broader organisational learning strategy (often 70:20:10 but more on that in a later post). This means that the groups are not necessarily “owned” by the participants but by L&D. This is not necessarily a problem unless the participants are not seeing value in it or the original convener leaves the organisation at which point it generally fizzles out.

So back to my original question, can you build communities of practice or do they need to grow organically? My own research offers a potential answer to this. In my PhD research, I found that social networks were a key part of working and learning in contemporary organisations. These networks were both within and outside of organisations and tended to follow professional groups (e.g. HR, finance, IT, engineering). Basically, people form their own communities of practice as they move through their careers, and technology, specifically social media, has enabled this to an even greater extent. I think that an issue emerges when organisations attempt to co-opt networks or manipulate networks to meet organisational ends. This is not necessarily conducive to learning and may very well be completely counter-productive. In an excellent study examining exactly that, Boud, Rooney & Solomon (2009) investigated how a local council in Sydney, Australia had attempted to “formalise” everyday learning practices of council workers. One example from the study is “toolbox talks” between field workers at the council. Workers would often meet informally to chat about their work, swap stories – effectively, to network. This might be a chat when they ran into each other or an arrangement for a few workers to meet for lunch in a local park. The compliance unit (does anyone else hear alarm bells when you read that phrase?) then decided to formalise these chats and call them “toolbox talks” which the workers did not discuss in the same way and noted how the experience went from something that was informal and part of their everyday practices to something formal that “needed to be diarised”. Although management had the best intentions, their intervention did not engender the same benefits as the social and informal learning behaviours that they had wanted to foster. This is an excellent example of something I see often, the desire to formalise practices either to measure them more effectively or try to somehow capture their benefits. In contemporary organisations which are widely accepted to be in a state of flux and change, I would question the efficacy of such interventions into everyday practices when we have little idea of the outcome. As learning practitioners, we need to be very careful about co-opting everyday practices and become more adept at getting out of the way to allow organic networking and social learning to occur. We need to question our motives for intervening and be certain that there is benefit to be found in formalising something which may be working perfectly well already.

References

Boud, D., Rooney, D., & Solomon, N. (2009). Talking up learning at work: Cautionary tales in co-opting everyday learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 28(3), 323-334. doi:10.1080/02601370902799077

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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What has Adriano Zumbo got to do with workplace learning?

I am the first to admit that I’m a bit of a “procrasti-baker” – I will happily bake while everything else goes to rack and ruin. As part of my obsession I’ve been watching a new TV show recently called Zumbo’s Just Desserts which pits amateur dessert makers against one another in a competition which also asks them to face regular challenges of making the devilishly difficult desserts of pastry chef extraordinaire, Adriano Zumbo.

As some might have noticed, one of my other obsessions is learning.  Specifically, how people learn at work. While I was watching the show the other night I started thinking about learning through work which I’ve been writing and talking about a lot lately in my PhD dissertation (nearly there!) and in the Designing Innovative Learning course I teach at UTS. The vast majority of research in the field of workplace learning tends to agree that learning at work tends to happen through the practice of work rather than separate from it in educational institutions or other “formal” courses. Experience, our own or vicariously from the experiences of others, is the single biggest way that most of us learn anything.

Obviously the contestants on the Zumbo TV show have learned through experience, through the trial and error of enthusiasts who are entirely self motivated. At one point, as they worked on replicating a challenging recipe of Zumbo’s I thought about his training.  The hard yards that he spent as an apprentice from his teens, all of the years gaining work experience around the world, and starting his own business. The winner of this contest, like the similar show Masterchef, seems to somehow circumvent this.  They win money, an entrée into work experience with famous chefs in the field, and so on. A short-cut if you will.  I started to wonder, is this fair?  Pastry chefs, along with many other professions, work hard to gain their qualifications and often at unsociable hours.  Is it fair that some hobbyist who was pottering about their kitchen gets all the glory?

More thinking ensued.  Bet you didn’t think that watching a cooking show, ostensibly to relax, could get so deep!

I needed to take a deep breath and remind myself that there is no “right” way to learn something and chastised myself for falling into the trap of creeping credentialism – the idea that learning hasn’t happened unless you have some sort of piece of paper or have done the “hard yards” to “deserve it”.  Nonsense!  This is exactly the sort of thinking that has got organisations into trouble for years.  Thinking that the only learning worth mentioning  must be trackable and measurable – generally a good, old-fashioned course.  How many managers or learning practitioners would (or should) welcome enthusiastic, self-directed, motivated learners who direct their own learning out of interest?  But is this what we reward?  Is this what we foster in making sure that everyone does the same sheep dip training sessions?  Organisations could learn a lot from the enthusiastic self starters on Zumbo’s Just Desserts.  How many of these motivated learners lurk within our organisations now but we’re not enabling them?

So, good luck to the contestants on reality cooking shows. Your learning is just as valid as the world’s top pastry chefs.  As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating!

 

What’s the value of workplace learning?

I managed to find a few minutes to read the newspaper on the weekend and came across an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that really got me thinking. The article, entitled Public Service spendathon is designed to increase emotional intelligence, was interesting for a number of reasons.

Expenditure on workplace learning

The article talks about the amounts spent on workplace learning in outraged tones. To those who work within the private sector, particularly in larger organisations, these amounts are pretty standard. Indeed they are often considered par for the course and a part of keeping employees engaged, skilled and motivated. It’s interesting to see that these amounts are somehow a waste when they are tax payer funds. I tend to wonder if the writer has ever attended a course like that in the course of their career? Why is it unacceptable for public servants to recieve this kind of development opportunity but fine as long as it’s not from the public purse?

Perception of the value of “soft-skills” training

This was a real eye-opener for me as a learning practitioner. I realise that a lot of people make fun of workplace learning, especially courses such as emotional intelligence (which is particularly targeted in the article), but this was the first time that I have ever read someone actually articulating their contempt of  so called “soft skills” courses. Sure, some of them are a bit…well…dodgy, but there are a lot that do a lot of good. I fail to see how management and leadership training aligned to business and individual needs can be a bad thing no matter who is paying. This brings me to my next point…

Why don’t public servants deserve the same development and engagement perks that private sector employees enjoy?

This seems an important question for me. The article focuses on public servants and hinges on the argument that this sort of workplace learning is not an appropriate use of tax payer funds. I agree with this in principle. The current government is asking a lot of people in their budget and it must seem that they need to get their own house in order so to speak if only from a perception point of view. My issue, which obviously we can’t tell from this article, is whether these learning initiaives were targeted and well planned and executed or whether they were just there to keep people happy and use up training budgets (not that anyone would every do that – guffaw). In the private sector there may not be tax payers but there are often shareholders – they seem to have cottoned on to the fact that nothing gets done without the staff but not so the public service. I wonder what would happen if shareholders suddenly started to take more of an interest in the learning and development? Would there be a knee-jerk reaction about waste and no development would occur or would they realise that it’s an important cost of doing business that could perhaps be better targeted in many cases?

Basically I think that this article has led me to the conclusion that we need to ask more questions about what we offer as practitioners, and as managers. No surprises there! Are we getting the best “bang for our buck”? Are we offering targeted development solutions that actually offer a need or are we just trying to look good or spend the budget? It’s interesting to get an outsider’s view on this as presented in the SMH article. It might do us all good to take this sort of view when we’re asked for a development imtervention or we want to organise something for our staff.

Back when I was an internal learning specialist (i.e. before I was a manager and had people to do this for me 😉 ), I developed a brief template to help me determine what the manager was actually after when they requested something nebulous like a “team building day” or some “communication skills training”. Here are the questions in summary  (based loosely on the GROW model from my last post) that should help learning practitioners to work out what’s needed and also help managers better brief learning practitioners and consultants.

  • What are the session objectives? What skills/knowledge/attitudes do you want participants to have at the end of the session?
  • What do you want the team/group/individuals to be able to do or think differently afterwards? Are you open to follow-up activities?
  • Is the session part of an overall conference/course/offsite? If so, how does it fit into the overall event?
  • What’s the budget and any time constraints? (I once was asked to run a half-day session on the Friday afternoon of a long weekend when many participants had early flights home which puts rather a dent in your time allocation!)
  • Where is the venue? What resources are available at the venue (including space as well as AV, etc)?

The brave new world of MOOC design

I’ve been reflecting on MOOCs for a few weeks now ever since the first ever MOOC that I enrolled for imploded after only a couple of days (see it here). Ironically, the course was entitled “Fundamentals of Online Learning” (FOL) – an irony not lost on the hundred or so thousand people who were left without a course when the course co-ordinators were forced to take the course down to look at the design and administration of it. There have been a lot of things written critiquing the handling of the course and how the technology was actually used for it. You can read a very good summary here. What I want to do here is look at what I personally learned about online design from the experience and how pedagogy needs to change to fully utilise the exciting new technologies for collaboration that we now have at our disposal. To do this I’m going to compare the ill-fated Fundamentals course from Coursera to the Santa Fe Institute’s “Introduction to Complexity” (IC) which I started a couple of weeks ago. The experiences have so far been night and day so I’ve tried to categorise some of my comments on the experiences. What I would like to say from the outset is that I harbour no ill-will whatsoever towards the course co-ordinators for FOL. They are, like the rest of us, still learning how to work within this new teaching format. I think that, fundamentally, this is a question of pedagogy and the choices made by the designers.

I’ve grouped my musings into the following areas:

  • Administration and organisation
  • Instructions
  • Technology
  • Pedagogy

Administration and Organisation

From experience with organising large face-to-face events such as lecture programs and conferences, I can say with some authority that the administration and overall level of organisation is critical to a successful event. They same is true, if not moreso, in the online environment. The Coursera FOL offering was organised in that it got off the ground but there were many glitches that should have been ironed out in advance. These will be dealt with in more detail under the headings Instructions and Technology. What I will say is that, as a participant, I found myself wondering many things about the course and having few answers. In contrast to this the SFE IC course was very well organised and clearly articulated. The launch of the course was even delayed by one week to iron out some technical details and was tested before launch (I know some of the testers personally). While I have no idea if the Coursera FOL was tested in this way my experience suggests that it wasn’t and that a lot of trust was placed in the Coursera platform to deliver (an altogether different issue!).

Instructions

Sigh, ah, sweet clarity. I am not perfect in this regard myself. I often assume that my instructions to participants are self-evident when perhaps they are not. Having said that there was a lot of confusion in the FOL course around what exactly you were meant to do and when. Instructions on how to sign up for a group were unclear and there was no real mention of why we were even meant to sign up for a group. People were deleting other people’s names by accident and generally creating havoc in there. While this would be manageable in a smaller course, when you multiply the participant numbers a few thousand times over you have some grasp of the true chaos that emerged. In contrast the SFI IC course was incredibly clear. While there was no attempt to corral people into small groups for discussions (and it must be said there is a significantly smaller number of participants involved) the course structure was clear and you knew what you needed to do to complete the course. This was facilitated by a couple of introductory videos that set out the course and how it would work – fantastic.

Use of Technology

The Coursera FOL course started to fall apart at the outset by using technology that could not handle the sheer volume of people who needed to access it. The organisers tried to get everyone to access a Google Spreadsheet in order to join these small groups and the spreadsheets crashed almost immediately. Data was getting lost and tempers got frayed. An increasing number of emails came out from the organisers explaining what was going on and what they were doing about it. In the end it was a bit of a free-for-all and the actual course content for week 1 was lost in the middle. There seemed to be a built in assumption that participants could self-organise into groups and that it would all be obvious – it wasn’t. In contrast the SFE IC (which is still running by the way) sits on a purpose built website and used tried and tested technologies. There are short video lectures to watch and some software to download for the assignments but that’s about it. A perfect illustration of the KISS principle.

The first few areas of critique are fairly high level, more annoying than anything and more easily fixed. The area in which I think the FOL MOOC, and indeed MOOCs more generally, fall down is in the area of pedagogy.

Pedagogy

The FOL designers made classic pedagogic choices in terms of people working collaboratively in small groups but the problem was that  platform could not cope. I can see where they were coming from. Anyone who works in adult education would tell you that you need to create sharing opportunities between participants to allow for rich discussions to occur. The issue with the MOOC format is the “M” – Massive. I can say from the experience of working for a large retailer that scale adds a new dimension to a learning experience and that compromises must be made. For the learning practitioner there is a choice at this point – embrace the scale and sacrifice some dearly held beliefs about the best pedagogy and look at what works with the scale to get your message across. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen, this is a compromise that MOOC designers are not keen to make. Interestingly, the Santa Fe Institute IC course is not put together by people who claim to be “professional” learning practitioners in the sense that it is their day job. They are first and foremost scientists who educate. I think this makes for a different learning design which suits the MOOC format. MOOCs are best suited when using a traditional lecture format as universities have done for years.

It’s also always important to consider one’s audience when designing a course. Who is likely to enrol in a MOOC and why? Do these people expect to be engaging in collaborative learning or are they happy with a video lecture and self-paced format? This research still needs to be done but I think it might be safe to say that people who sign up for MOOCs are intrinsically motivated and interested in the content. As such, I believe that they are more likely to engage with a lecture format as they want the content itself. Perhaps I’m generalising but it’s worth thinking about in the context of MOOCs.

At the end of the day I’m not sure about the MOOC format overall. Will it replace us all? I doubt it. There are still issues with assessment and quality that are yet to be resolved. It might encourage more people to continue learning after their time in “formal” learning institutions has ended and I think that can only be a good thing. There are some who take a very pessimistic view and say that MOOCs are already on the way out. I don’t take quite so strong a view. I think that they will evolve and gradually find their place within the broader practice of learning. Just as e-learning programs were touted as replacing the Learning and Development Department before everyone worked out that they were just another tool to be deployed as needed, I think that we will gradually find this for MOOCs. I can see them as being very useful for lifelong learning, for introductory university courses or to supplement a face-to-face tutorial. However they’re used, we need to develop a pedagogy that suits this new format.

What’s the main thing I learned from my experience? There are two things. As a learner I found that I am still as strapped for time as ever and motivation is an eternal struggle (more on this later) and as an educator I learned to keep it simple and think about the needs of the audience and the best way to deliver this within the constraints of the technology and the teaching format.

When you just don’t hit the nail on the head

Last week marked my return to face-to-face facilitation. It’s been a few years for me since my last role didn’t need me to take to the front of the room very often as I managed the people who did  and then I was living overseas. I was understandably nervous about it. Did I still have “it”? Could I engage with the audience, get the point across and create a valuable experience? To add to the pressure this is a major initiative for the organisation and we don’t want to poison the well with sub-standard learning experiences. It’s also a sort of justification for my very existence at this organisation. No pressure then.

It went OK. I was hoping for fantastic – as we all do, naturally – but it was just fair to good. It was the first run for this program that I designed myself. I think I knew it when I left the room actually. I just didn’t get the vibe that the workshop had hit the mark. I was disappointed, searching for answers to improve the situation and wondering if I’d lost my facilitation mojo. The feedback from participants helped. Luckily many people were willing to offer feedback about what would improve the workshop for them. I am always grateful to those people. There were a few passionate haters. About 3 out of 22 based on the feedback I saw. Not a significant sample but still made me wonder. Was it me? Was it the content or activities? Were their expectations different to what was delivered? I may never know but I certainly gave me food for thought.

I next run this workshop in 2 weeks interstate. I’ve made some changes based on my own observations and the participant feedback but I’m still nervous. I’ve had my confidence dented a little but as they say, you need to get back on the horse.

Like any good learning geek I’ve reflected on this experience to see what I can learn from it. Here it is:

  • You just don’t always hit the nail on the head. That’s OK but you need to make sure you learn something from the experience
  • Be open to feedback, even if you’re not sure you want to hear it
  • Be open to changing the way you do things
  • Ask for feedback to see where you can improve
  • Be really clear about expectations. Talk about it, then talk about it again. Sometimes no matter how much you state what the workshop covers some people still don’t feel like they got what they wanted/were promised

I’m not perfect, I don’t know it all, and I’m thankful in a way to have this sort of experience to remind  me. We all have average days sometimes and that’s OK. Wish me luck next time!

What is Personal Knowledge Management?

I’ve always banged on about the fact that we all need to be effective learners in the modern world but I never really had one good framework to help contextualise this discussion. There were all the learning in the workplace reports from various consulting companies and research institutes, there is the metacognition literature, systems thinking, complexity…all of it relevant but segmented. I think I may have found something that will help me out of my bind. It’s early days yet since I just stumbled across Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) but I really like it. I came across it on the blog of Harold Jarche from the Internet Time Alliance. I’ve been interested in the informal learning work from Jay Cross for a while now as well as Jane Hart’s social learning work and I came across Harold’s work recently.

PKM is basically a framework that helps us take control of our professional development and make sense of information and experience. It offers a nice way to better incorporate reflection-on-action in to our day-to-day without it feeling like we’re writing a journal that no-one will read and that we lose interest in after a few entries (mia culpa). Harold Jarche defines PKM as:

‘A set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world, work more effectively, and contribute to society’

You can read more about Harold’s views on PKM here.  Harold is starting to move away from the term PKM and use Networked Learning more. While I like the idea of networks in learning I think I really like the actual term PKM as a descriptive term that is easy for the non-initiated to get their heads around.

The things that I really like about PKM are:

  • I already do a lot of these practices and feel very clever and smug about that (just being honest)
  • PKM is about personalising experiences and information in a world where we are bombarded with information 24/7. PKM is about sense-making not collating
  • PKM builds reflection into our learning and working thereby helping us to change and adapt more effectively as well as develop critical thinking skills (things very close to my heart)
  • “Knowledge” is an emergent property of the process
  • PKM is about people taking control of theirlearning, something that we do not often consciously do unless you’re a learning geek like me. It’s the development of conscious, regular activities from which can emerge new knowledge and insights

I love finding new things that inspire me and help explain the world.

Webinars, the way of the future?

I just had the misfortune to take part in a webinar. I say that with great sadness as I usually like webinars. I love the flexibility they offer and the fact that I can extract the learning I need and not feeling “spoon-fed” on someone else’s agenda. Sadly the webinar I just sat through did not fulfill my expectations (or anyone else’s in the room for that matter). There was a group of us listening and we only lasted 20 minutes into a 1 hour session. Why?

Ironically, this webinar was about giving webinars! The organisation and presenter shall remain nameless but the presenter positioned himself as something of an expert in the area and then bored everyone stiff. Why was it so though? He (pronouns only please) was energetic and tried to be as engaging as possible. He actually sounded like a radio presenter. Very polished, making jokes, talking about the weather where he was, etc, etc, etc. During what little I saw of the presentation I took notes in two colours – one colour for notes from the session (black) and the other colour for notes of what I was learning from the example being set (green). In this case the page looked like a Greenpeace promo.

Given all the effort that clearly went in, what went wrong? I’ve compiled my humble list of a few “don’ts” that I was reflecting on.

  1. Don’t just take your face-to-face materials and persona and graft them online
  2. Don’t use pointless pictures and slides.  Make sure they contribute to your message.
  3. Don’t have all talk and nothing to look at on-screen; it just inspires people to wander off and multi-task.
  4. Don’t try to stop people multi-tasking, it’s not your job!
  5. Reading out comments from people is boring. Have it visible so we can read it as we like (amazingly this webinar locked down comments “for privacy”).
  6. Get to the point! Don’t leave everyone hanging around while you try to build rapport with anecdotes and chatting. That’s not a luxury we can afford online and is it really necessary?

I don’t mean to be completely negative about this but I was honestly astounded by what I saw. The first point above is the most important for me. the presenter frankly seemed to have just taken a face-to-face presentation and tried to shoehorn it into a webinar platform and was encouraging us to do the same. I think that you need to respect each medium for delivery for what it is. Webinar is a flexible learning tool that people are going to use as they see fit…and that’s OK. You no longer need to control the room because there is no room. What I’ve learned from this is that it’s important for virtual presenters to let go and realise that you won’t necessarily have the participant’s attention all the time. People will multi-task. We live in that kind of world now. That doesn’t mean that they won’t still learn something from you it just means that you can’t control what that something is.

See, I have learned from the experience after all – just not what the presenter intended. Maybe that’s the beauty of webinar afterall? I can learn what I want, when I want.

Workplace learning versus learning

As usual, it’s been a while between posts. The main reason for this is a major relocation on my part. I’ve moved to Germany for my husband’s work. In theory it should also allow me more time to work on my PhD…in practice so far it’s given me the chance to catch up on my reading and DVD watching while sitting inside avoiding the snow. Now that 2011 is upon us I feel ready to resume my work and that has led me down some interesting paths.

I was reading an excellent article by Tara Fenwick entitled Rethinking the “thing” (2010, Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol.22, Issue 1/2). Among a number of good points made in the article one really stood out for me. Is it possible to separate “workplace learning” from learning more generally in an individual’s life? I find this an interesting question in the course of my professional practice as well as my research as my focus has always been on workplace and organisational learning. The point here is a good one, even at work we are still dealing with whole people who have lives and interests outside of work. The emotional intelligence movement o er the past 10-15 years has been very good at pointing out that people do not become mindless automatons when they enter the workplace and adult learning theories have always talked about the fact that adults bring their own experiences and values with them to the learning context. Why then do we try to only look at learning at work?

I think one of the main reasons is that it is far easier to compartmentalise this way, also, is it really the role of the organisational learning team to help people learn or to learn what they need for work? This is a complicated question and one that I can’t possibly answer here but an interesting question nonetheless. Given that my research uses complexity theory as a framework I obviously have a bias here which I am happy to declare. In a complex system there is no way to separate out the different “parts” – that’s the point. I have always argued that the role of organisational learning should be to shift from “traditional” content-based training approaches towards more of an informal learning approach that actually helps develop people as learners rather than trying to impart knowledge. Perhaps in trying to label learning as “for work” and “not for work” we are missing out on an opportunity to really make a difference to learners, not just at work, but in all aspects of their lives.

Social technology: useful or time wasters?

I finally got around to joining Twitter today. I had resisted thus far as I really couldn’t see the  benefit for anyone over 17 years of age and it just felt like a fad. We’re looking at using it as a communication tool within our HR team so I needed to get on to try it out. Not as bad as I thought but definitely addictive. I was surprised to see a number of friends on there actually. I had thought that Twitter had escaped my demographic cohort. We were all still wasting our time on Facebook, or so I thought.

All of this use of social networking technology has got me thinking though. There are two parts to my musings. One is the creation of an on line identity and how we choose to do that. The other is the learning implications of all this.

First to the learning. There have been many articles, blog posts, etc of late selling the benefits of using on line media for learning. The informal learning community are the most vocal here (try Jay Cross’ blog which is quite good). They argue that we can, and should, embrace this technology in order to better facilitate learning. I heartily agreed with them…until I actually got on line to all this stuff myself to test it out. Firstly just let me say that there is definitely an element of time wasting there. The scary thing is that you actually feel productive while doing it. I think it’s the fact that you’re sitting at a computer so you feel like you’re working and accomplishing something. I’ve come to the conclusion that social networking technology is exactly that, social. It’s great for maintaining and expanding networks, which is critically important in this day and age, but I’m not convinced about the learning. I think that there may be a time and a place but it needs to be facilitated or moderated by someone who can ensure that some sharing and learning actually takes place. Pity I’ve already chosen my PhD topic! Some research definitely needs to be done here.

My other musings are a little more philosophical, they are on the creation of identity. It’s not often we get the opportunity to actively construct our identity. Usually there are elements of choice supplemented by social expectations, peer pressure, family, fashion, the times we live in, Oprah’s latest fad, etc. Our identities are a work in progress, constantly evolving as we learn and grow through life. The on line world presents a unique opportunity to sit down and decide what version of our self we want to project to the world. Is it a professional identity, a social identity for friends, a completely new identity to try things you’ve always been too scared to? What if the different on line versions of you intersect? There was the recent case of the new head of MI6 having personal information put online by his wife who didn’t really think about putting holiday photos on to Facebook. Normally not a problem, unless you’re married to a spy who may like to maintain some anonymity.

I think it’s important to have some sort of strategy for how you will use social networking technology. This is your “personal brand” to steal a phrase. You need to consciously manage how you will use this technology and how much information you want made available. This also goes for your organisation and staff. What work information is appropriate to have on line? How will these technologies affect productivity?

Given that I’ve already wasted at least an hour today in the name of “research” that last question may be the most important one. Just what we need! One more thing to keep us thinking that we’re busy!

To study or not to study?

I’ve bitten the bullet and decided to go back to uni – again. Since I’ve started telling people about my choice I’ve got a lot of questions about what I plan to do with it. This has got me thinking about why we study and whether, as L&D professionals, we need to. We learn a lot day-to-day and there are always a lot of training accreditations and short courses available, why would we need qualifications beyond the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (or the Certificate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment for those of us who haven’t bothered with the upgrade yet!)?

In my experience a qualification definitely helps as a L&D professional but probably not in the way you think. Firstly I think it helps for the theoretical base it gives your work. I’m sure that there are many fine L&D professionals out there with no qualifications but I find that I often need to call on a reason for doing something or try to think of a new way of designing a program – for this I draw on the theory I gained during my studies. If you can get the information another way fantastic but I got it through a university. The second reason to gain a university level qualification is the research and learning skills that I have gained through my studies. I have found that these skills have put me in good stead on nearly every project I’ve ever worked on and ensured that I can keep abreast of developments in the field.

What’s most interesting to me about my person return to uni is the fact that people feel the need to enquire about what I plan to do with my qualification once it’s completed. The idea of learning as a journey seems an increasingly foreign concept in a rationalist world where everything must have an economic basis. This is the sort of world that the L&D professional now inhabits. We are working to convince people that learning can be a journey as well as a destination – it’s getting to be an uphill battle these days.

So why did I decide to go back for another round? Well I don’t need another qualification to advance my career, that seems to be rare in this profession. As crazy as this sounds this one really is about the journey. Most of my previous qualifications have been partly about interest (you need to have some interest in the topic afterall) and partly about career. This one is just for me, it’s been something of a lifelong goal to complete a doctorate. It is the start of a very big and very steep (and at times scary) learning journey but I can’t wait to get started!