Action For Digital Literacy : Part One

The Observation

‘How Do We Become Digital?’ ~ Question to the panel at Learning Live 2017

‘I feel like I’ve been sent back in time 20 years, because this is the same question that’s been asked in every conference for years; how are we going to move from traditional classroom to digital learning?” ~ Julian Wragg : Pluralsight

Does this sound familiar to you? Whether you were at the event or not, we (that is myself and Martin Couzins) think Julian’s right. His comment, and versions of it, have been circulating for years. Yet we have the right strategies, we have the right people (don’t we?), and increasingly, we have the right tools. Why is change not happening?

We think that one of the reasons is deceptively simple. There’s too much focus on the big picture, the grand plan, and insufficient investment in the small daily steps which progress you to your goal. Secondary to that we also get a sense that people are reluctant to experiment. We hear a lot of talk around creativity and innovation – much less obvious is the practice required to turn talk into action.

The Conversation

Martin and I sought agreement from The LPI to surface this challenge at their recent Chief Learning Officer / Learning Provider Connect network event. We chose to do this by briefly presenting the above challenge, before inviting a conversation to identify perceived barriers. We separated these blockers into three sets; Business, Technology, Human and Behavioural. People talked and scribbled. Then Martin and I gave some instant curated feedback to the group (you can see the full set of slides and conversation notes here Action for Digital Literacy Nov 2017). Then, because we want to turn talking into doing, we invited everyone to an experiment. A two week digital sprint.

The Experiment

We are currently running a two week digital sprint on Slack. We are experimenting with two main threads. The first focuses on accountability and responsibility. People are encouraged to list daily actions, which may or may not feed into goals running across the sprint. At the end of each day, a check back on those actions is carried out to note progress and sticking points. This process carries on through the sprint, with an overarching weekly review and preview. The second thread is about tools and techniques. People are encouraged to explore tools and techniques of their choosing – with the aim of getting something done. It could be a specific digital challenge, and it doesn’t have to be. That’s up to you, the participant. Our intention is simply to create the space to play, and some very light guidance. Above all, the process is invitational and experimental. No one is holding you to account, except yourself…if you want to!

The Start

At the event approximately 30 people indicated they would take part by way of a show of hands. 9 people who were at the event subsequently accepted the invitation, and we had a further 3 enquiries via Twitter and another random enquiry as the news began to leak out. Currently, including Martin and me there are 11 people in the experiment, most of whom have progressed beyond signing up, though simply watching is fine too.

In a way – this initial narrowing of numbers supports our notion that there’s plenty of talk, much less desire to take action.

What Next?

We will run the experiment for two weeks as planned, then we’ll pause for review. I expect we’ll keep the channel open during the review but we’re not sure yet. We’ll report back and offer up suggestions around what we might do next. Other blog posts may follow along the way, and in the meantime, if you’ve any questions – please drop us a line in the comments. Thank you!

Artist’s Footnote

The accompanying artwork to this post was painted live at a recent Workplace Trends conference. It was made using acrylic paint, a palette knife and brushes, onto a 75cm x 50cm linen canvas. The image was painted spontaneously in response to a speaker talking about the tension between the fast pace of technological change, and the glacial rate at which people seem able to adapt and change, a very similar theme to the LPI discussion.


Talking About Loneliness

Last week I facilitated some learning and conversation at the 2016 LPI Fellows Symposium under the heading of ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Learning Leader’. I promised to write up something about the experience, this is that reflection and review.

The first things we spoke about and shared together, were our desired mood and tone for the session, and our expectations. These things were scribbled onto Post It notes and made available for people to read in the room, and I offered to write them up afterwards (Pro tip: If you want a Post It to stick well, peel it off side to side, not top to bottom. Thank you Tom). The mood conversation works well as a word cloud.

LPI Mood and Tone Conversation

The expectations are much more nuanced and having tried to word cloud them – all I got was confusion. The full list of what people shared is available here, in essence I see it as boldness, sharing, connecting, challenge, reflection, and something about the yin of discomfort meshed with the yang of ease.

The overarching themes for the session were loneliness, and how to make work better. Prior to the session I published a few notes and suggested topics of conversation. Here is a reminder of the conversation topics on offer:

Loneliness – recognising it, working with it, overcoming it
Trust – giving, earning, breaking, rebuilding. If we go down this route, I am mindful that though important, trust is not enough. So what else do we need in order to cocreate a ‘Proceed Until Apprehended’ mindset?
Responsibility – owning, taking and sharing
Creativity – we need it, yet behaviourally we’re often way off – how do we get better?
Networks – communities of practice, and more
Technology – by itself is not the answer – and a poor tech experience can severely limit opportunity

In addition, the group asked to add Resilience and How to Deal With a Bad Hair Day into the mix.

With all the basics covered, the conversation began – with groups at tables choosing to let the conversation flow in the directions they wanted. The invitation was to talk for a period of time, reconvene and see where we should go next. The initial period of conversation seemed to focus on challenges, and after a short break – we agreed to let the conversation flow, and then to share any thoughts, ideas, questions. I’m conscious that when sharing brief snippets and outputs of a much richer picture, gaps often appear:

The impulse is pure
Sometimes our circuits get shorted
By external interference
Signals get crossed
And the balance distorted
By internal incoherence – N.Peart

Notwithstanding these gaps and possible shortcomings, here is a summary of what people shared.

Loneliness: Have confidence. Do business leaders really know what L&D delivers? Does L&D? Does the way we describe ourselves create an impression we didn’t intend to create?

Trust: Shifting from trust neutral – choosing to give first. Using purpose and connection to underpin trust. Brand : Why, not what?

Responsibility: This grid was offered as a way of helping to analyse stakeholders.

Stakeholder Analysis Grid

Networks: Are useful and they are not a community, self policing. How would you introduce yourself?

Resilience: Have a passion for your goal, or walk. Support, for your plan. Where do you get support – family? Ask for help. What is your verb?

Any Other Business

My intention was for this session to have a very light structure, and to be something cocreated. I wrote some notes to help introduce the session and I shared these notes on my blog, on the day of the event. Next time I will share stuff like this with a bit more notice.

There was some uncertainty at the beginning of the session. I wondered if I offered too many options for people to consider, and something similar was subsequently fed back to me. I can see how, in a short space of time, too many choices can create uncertainty. The following day I worked with another large group and I incorporated this feedback in to the new session. Still giving choices, fewer this time, plus an ‘anything you like’ option in case the choices on offer weren’t useful for everyone. This subsequent session seemed to flow more readily. Putting learning into practice.

Someone fed back to me that in my position as facilitator, I should never show uncertainty. I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I don’t agree. I am/we are uncertain at times, and I believe that uncertainty is an inherent part of my/our improvisational style. There’s a balance, as there is with most things, and I’m OK with people knowing that we are working on something about which I may be uncertain. The work is unfolding, and therefore not yet fully visible.

People really appreciate time with each other, several people expressed a wish for the conversation to continue for longer. I expect this is partly due to that fact that they were in control of the conversation, rather than being directed. I hear this sort of thing frequently, which prompts thoughts that more widely, we need to work harder on making the most of these experiences, perhaps through greater levels of cocreation?

Thank you to The LPI for the opportunity. Lots of people were kind to me after the session finished. They appreciated me for my use of humour, and willingness to try something different and go with the flow. Thank you for all the lovely feedback, I’m pleased our time together went well.

Further reading:

Loneliness. Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection

6 Ways To Improve Learning – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;

The Loneliness of The Long Distance Learning Leader

I’m heading to the LPI Fellow’s Symposium today, and before departing I looked up the definition for the word ‘symposium’. I was given two options:

  1. A conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject.
  2. A drinking party or convivial discussion, especially as held in ancient Greece after a banquet.

I expect the intention leans towards option 1. We’ll see. I’ve kindly been invited to facilitate some conversation at the event, on the theme of loneliness. Putting to one side your thoughts about why such a subject is attracted to me, I thought it would be useful to share my current thinking. I’m doing this primarily as part of working out loud in general, and also, for anyone else heading to the event who might want a preview, or an excuse to turn and head back home 😉 I hope this is useful for you, here goes…

The Loneliness of The Long Distance Learning Leader

With apologues to Alan Sillitoe

The film, The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner, opens with Colin Smith (played by Tom Courtenay) running, alone, along a bleak country road somewhere in rural England. In a brief voiceover, Colin tells us that running is the way his family has always coped with the world’s troubles, but that in the end, the runner is always alone and cut off from spectators, left to deal with life on his own.

We’ve all experienced loneliness at times in our work…or is it just me? Cue: awkward silence. Whether as a full time learning professional, an interim or freelancer, the task of nurturing, facilitating and encouraging learning can put us seemingly at odds with the organisations and the structure we are asked to work with. Collaboration, creativity, curiosity and communication are cited as desirable, often essential ingredients to support meaningful enjoyable work, yet organisations somehow mitigate against these things taking root and flourishing. I have scribbled, and rescribbled this short passage many times over the years:

Most work is coercive, it is done to you. The best work is coactive and cocreative, it is done with, for and by you. It is totally human to want, need and expect that our views be taken into consideration and yet we defy these wants, needs and expectations at almost every step in our working lives. Never do anything about me, without me.

This session today is an invitation to discuss and explore some of what is needed to make our work great, so that we can in turn, be of most use to those we are here to support.

Suggested topics of conversation:

Loneliness – recognising it, working with it, overcoming it
Trust – giving, earning, breaking, rebuilding. If we go down this route, I am mindful that though important, trust is not enough. So what else do we need in order to cocreate a ‘Proceed Until Apprehended’ mindset?
Responsibility – owning, taking and sharing
Creativity – we need it, yet behaviourally we’re often way off – how do we get better?
Networks – communities of practice, and more
Technology – by itself is not the answer – and a poor tech experience can severely limit opportunity

You may well have better suggestions than these – so we will start with time to reflect on how you’d like to be while we are together, and what you’d like to get from our time together. Then you are invited to talk, listen, share stories and ideas, and cocreate ways to make work…less lonely, and more effective and enjoyable.

With the permission of the group, I will follow this post up with another, setting out what we share and learn. Have an excellent day.