Letter from the Editor: “Nothing’s changed, apart from everything…”

So I’m back in the office following an exciting day at the Learning Technologies Summer Forum. A day packed full of interesting seminars and things to think about and take back to the office. Within Donald Taylor’s closing seminar he asked the audience to suggest the biggest change they thought had happened to L&D in the past 20 years.

This reminded me of a conversation I’d been having recently as I marked my 21st year with the company I work for – BT – thinking back to my early days with the company as ‘Martyn the billing advisor’ – turning up to work with my ‘curtain’ haircut and ‘Common People’ playing through my earphones (that were connected to the portable CD player in my anorak pocket).

In so many ways the world is unrecognisable from April 1995 but there are some things haven’t changed and probably never will.

Here are a couple of days from my life to explain what I mean:

1995 A day in the life of Martyn the billing advisor

  • 11.30am Sat at my desk. I think I’m annoying the guy who sits next to me. I keep asking him questions about how to do stuff they didn’t show me in training. He’s just advised me that I’m now limited to 1 question a day! So I’d better make it a good one.
  • 2pm It’s time to stop working and start learning as there’s an hour of training for the team in the training room.
  • 2.30pm Still in training. Just seen a seagull fly past the window with a bag of crisps in its mouth. The trainer’s on slide 127. I wish I could have designed this training session.
  • 3.30pm Back at my desk. Had a great call. Really put the customer at ease and used a really nifty process I’ve worked out to help me more quickly navigate bill details. Must remember to tell the others in the office.
  • 5.15pm Popped into the library. I want to get into training design. Tried to find a book but the librarian was busy and by time I found the right shelf it looked like the books were all gone – and they were closing so I couldn’t ask for help.
  • 6pm Back home. The boiler’s on the blink! It’s freezing and nobody in the phone book is answering. Trying to think who would have the skills to help me. Time to put an extra jumper on I think.
  • 7.30pm Popped down the pub to keep warm with a cold beer. Saw some folks from work. Found out loads about what’s going on in the office.

2016 A day in the life of Martyn the digital learning and media manager

  • 9am Caught up with what’s going on in the world via the usual social networks – including the BT Academy. Got some great tips and found out about some events that are coming up that I’m interested in. So I booked up to attend them.
  • 11.30am I just needed to find out how to unhide text in Word. Googled it. Found it. Done!
  • 2pm I’ve taken a half hour out to continue my Lynda.com course on good design principles. I ran out of time but it’s no problem – there’s nothing that good on TV tonight so I’ll continue the course on the iPad.
  • 2.30pm Just reviewed one of my team’s eLearning designs, or should I say game! So much fun, didn’t feel like a course at all.
  • 3.30pm So I’ve written an article on the changing face of learning over the years and posted it on the eLearning Network Insights blog. Getting a great response. It’s stimulating conversation and some folks are saying it’s really helped them. Happy to share!
  • 5.15pm Downloading a copy of Creative Writing for Dummies onto my Kindle. I want to improve my writing skills for blogging and this book had lots of good reviews. I still find it amazing how you can find a book online and have it in your hands within a matter of seconds.
  • 6pm Back home. The boiler’s on the blink! It’s freezing!! Luckily there’s a video on YouTube on how to reignite the pilot on my boiler. Saved myself some time and money getting an engineer out.
  • 7.30pm Facebook check. Twitter check. Instagram check. LinkedIn check. My blog’s comments check. Right then, let’s continue that design course done on Lynda.

Martyn ’16 still has some of the same habits and needs of Martyn ’95.

He still:

• has questions he needs urgent answers to
• wants to learn about things he’s interested in
• needs to be engaged with the material and interactions he has
• wants to share his expertise
• wants to feel part of things.

None of that has changed. What has changed is my ability to do those things more easily and to a larger scale and so more effectively. I really find it hard to imagine a world now where I have to wait for things, where I have to physically travel to access what I want, where I have to rely on the contents of my own brain or of those that I can get hold of (by hopefully being able to get in touch with them either by meeting up with them or by them picking up the landline telephone). But that’s the world we inhabited only two decades ago!

So what’s enabled that change?

Answer: Technology!

Technology today is the stuff of the science fiction movies of a quarter century ago. Yet we take it for granted as much as water running from the tap or the sun rising in the morning. I’m of a generation – possibly the last generation – that can remember life before the change. And that makes me equally fascinated, excited and forever grateful for the amazing things we have today like the Internet, smartphones and online social networking. These things make science fiction superheroes out of all of us.

As part of my job I read lots about learning technologies and watch conference speakers talk about a bunch of people called ‘modern learners’. These modern learners are me, you, all of us. They’re no different to the learners of 20 years ago in that they have the same needs. But their expectations have changed. They want what they want now – that’s RIGHT NOW – and they don’t want to have to spend barely any time finding it.

Some other traits of Modern People (AKA Learners):

• They don’t want to be bothered with things that aren’t relevant to them and they want to ‘playlist’ what’s important to them for a personalised and easy access later on
• They’re used to high production values in everything they see from adverts to TV to literature – and can quickly dismiss boring and clumsy looking content
• They don’t need to guess any more they just Google
• And they are just as easily going to attract a following like a celebrity (as much as be a follower) through the messages and recommendations they can share with a simple click of a ‘Share’ button – to communities based on shared interests or mutual friendships.

That’s how they behave at home, that’s how I behave at home – and I don’t want to have to change my behaviours and step into a time machine when I go to work.

All this tells me that if I want my team’s learning designs and solutions to be as effective as possible then they’ll need to continue to look at ways to organise, design and deliver solutions that fall in line with the ways and approaches that we’ve all become so used to in our home lives.

This change of approach for L&D might not be easy, comfortable, or comparable with what we’re used to. But if we want L&D to progress then we need to give up the old ways of design and delivery that we’ve become accustomed to.

Or as Donald Taylor put it (in 7 simple words at the end of his seminar) “We must abandon the things we love”.