Wednesday, 11 April 2012


LearningLive (#LearningLive), DevLearn (#DevLearn), BusinessEduca (, Learning Technologies (#LT12UK) and now Learning Solutions (#lscon), my conference immersion over the last few months has given me food for thought. 

In that time I have been fascinated by Lord Robert Winston describing the physiological changes to the brain that are happening as a result of peoples extensive use of the internet and the social media which have speeded up and expanded the scope of our communications. Steve Rosenbaum looked beyond Michio Kaku and Tom Koulopoulos at the increasingly pervasive nature of technology as the cost of a chip reduces exponentially (all at DevLearn). 

Ray Kurzweil was convincing and at the same time scary at Learning Technologies12 (lt12uk) projecting the essential skill of curation and the applying of our judgement to it. Edward de Bono (Learning Technologies12), with a brilliantly retro presentation, challenged our minds to think beyond the world of logic, to use our brains in lateral ways. 

That was almost eclipsed by Erik Wahl's astonishing use of painting as a presentation aid at Learning Solutions. It included three canvasses created live on stage, that culminated in a portrait of Steve Jobs painted upside down and then righted to illustrate that distorting logic can lead to creativity. That was a truly emotional moment!  Jaron Lanier at Learning Technologies argued compellingly for us to reassert our humanity in the face of the ever increasing and often overwhelming tsunami of information that is not going to go away soon. 

So what was the link? For me, it is about the fact that, as humans, we have immeasurably more in our make-up than a computer will ever be capable of providing. In the end it is the quality of our judgement of information that we collect, collate, curate and collaborate to understand that will determine our ability to thrive.  That fact was expressed in a logical and simple, yet deep offering from Sheena Iyengar (Learning Solutions) about the art of choice, and through another brilliant illustration from an artist - this time John Maeda (Learning Solutions) with his Sandpit Experiment piece that gave a new perspective on leadership, or CEO-ness, as he called it.

Lanier essentially said that computers are machines fed with information by human beings.  They are clever at doing certain things with that information and will become increasingly so in ways that Kurzweil, Kaku and Koulopoulos told us we have not yet imagined. But in the end the computer in all its forms, the chip and all the clever science that goes with it are tools to help us with our purpose and our objectives as we go through life.  De Bono so simply put the need for us to develop our minds to become the ultimate innovation and curation tools. Winston gave me hope in demonstrating that the brain is able to adapt to its environment and to enable coping mechanisms to be developed. 

Then there was BusinessEduca, where even just a mornings scenario planning ( yielded perspectives on the kind of future world into which we may move that challenge our understanding of the future of learning as a professional function.  Macro changes of a political, economic and social nature, in part driven for better or for worse by the very tools whose power we seek to harness, will inevitably shape the environment in which peoples ability for lifelong learning will determine their ability to exploit and fulfil their potential. The ability to conceive of scenarios, evaluate trends, cope with being in perpetual meta seem to me to be core to our future. 

#chat2lrn ( a few weeks ago explored the interface between the colliding worlds of education and the workplace.  The conclusion was simple from both sides of the divide that the critical imperative is to understand the lifeskills that will be needed for whatever scenario emerges but whichever it is will be dominated by increasing information, faster communication and an ever sharper but easier to cross line between survival and failure in organisations and careers.

That between the two worlds we are failing to provide support to children and young adults as they grow through the education process and enter the world of work is a tragedy.  It is a failure that is capable of correction at a point in time where the importance of communities of practice, of parallel working and of open resource sharing is beginning to be realised.  But that will only happen if, to steal from De Bono, we are prepared to move away from traditional thinking, boundaries and entrenched positions and to look with fresh and open eyes (like Wahl and Maeda) at how we can together find ways to support the people and organisations we seek to serve in an increasingly unknown world.

It may be the preservation of the innovative capability of an innocent child, as emphasised by Wahl. It could be the sensitive encouragement and support of an older worker entrenched in a working methodology over perhaps 30 years. Whatever it is those of us engaged in trying to understand how learning happens and helping people engage with that most fundamental of human characteristics, are faced with huge changes ourselves.  We too are affected by the very same technology and environmental issues. 

Perhaps it is the knowledge worker trying to make sense of the bewildering changes of almost annual job moves. Maybe it is the corporate executive desperately seeking ways to preserve their organisations knowledge base and ability to achieve in the face of disintegrating organisational loyalty and the growth of individualism.  Those are us as well. Yes, we have a particular expertise, insight and passion, but that only becomes useful if we are prepared to break our own moulds, become lateral and find new ways of supporting the performance of others. If we are not prepared to look at the scary, the threatening, but the realities of the world as it changes, we will not be able to use our incredible brains effectively.

So the challenge is for us to adapt. At all the Conferences there was an emphasis on learning as Performance Support. One prominent speaker was heard saying privately "L&D is dead". Maybe, in the ways we have known it, but aligned to business as a potent lever for change........ It is up to us to take the risk - the rewards may be great and unexpected (Wahl)

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