Is the future of L&D already here?

Three days isn’t really long enough to reflect on everything that I saw and heard at Learning Technologies 2017 last week, but whilst things are fresh in my mind I wanted to capture some immediate takeaways.

The stand out session for me was from the keynote speaker on day one, Thimon de Jong. You can hear my immediate thoughts in this interview with Martin Couzins straight afterwards. Even though the talk was not about L&D specifically there was so much that resonated with me, especially with reference to the Digital Learning Realities research that Fosway has been conducting in partnership with Learning Technologies. This isn’t a plug – it genuinely gave me lots of reasons to be cheerful. I often leave keynote talks from futurist type speakers, or look at the gap between what’s being talked about on the conference floor versus the exhibition, and feel a bit depressed. But this talk combined with the initial results from the research indicates, to me at least, that L&D knows where it needs to go.

‘You know me’

Thimon talked about a ‘you know me’ culture. One where we want companies to respect our privacy, but conversely to exploit the data they have on us to create tailored experiences based on our preferences that speak to us in a more personalised way. That might be as a customer of Vodafone, or it might be as a learner within your own organisation. Consumer-facing organisations are improving at this all the time and it’s a trend that needs to happen internally as well as externally. The digital realities research bears out an understanding from L&D professionals (1,060 at the time these particular numbers were crunched) that they key drivers for digital learning are increasing availability (87%), speed of learning (84%) and learner engagement (83%). All of which point to a need for creating ‘better’ learning experiences.

The numbers also demonstrate an increasing focus on the importance of analytics. And it is the artificial intelligence and algorithms which drive analytics that give us a realistic hope of being able to deliver personalised learning experiences en masse. Netflix is so often cited as an example of an experience that learning should aspire to that I now eye-roll whenever I hear it. But interestingly, Thimon told us that there are over 300 people working in the in AI department at Netflix….that’s a serious amount of human intervention in what’s purportedly ‘artificial’ intelligence right there! The average L&D team clearly can’t compete with that! However, if we continue this emerging trend of treating learners like consumers – much as Thimon referenced – then getting a grip of analytics, and learning how to apply the insights it provides us with, is a key step in getting the right content to the right people at the right time.

And the reason this made me cheerful (or at least not depressed) is that L&D seems to recognise this – and there is lots of decent technology out there that can help us act on it. This isn’t about looking ahead at how virtual reality might one day land in the average organisation. This is about something we can start doing now to improve what L&D does.

In L&D we trust

The second part of Thimon’s talk which also resonated, was a discussion on trust. The internet is so full of information, but he questions how we determine what’s fact and what’s opinion. In the current climate of ‘fake news’ this could hardly be more timely. But focusing back in on L&D again, we know that learners don’t just get their information from the learning department these days. Everyone has access to Google (even if it’s via their personal phones rather than company systems) but sifting through what’s fact and what’s opinion, which videos are worth watching and which sources are worth reading can be hard work. This is where the evolution of L&D’s role kicks in.

The excellent Lloyds TSB case study session from Richard Clayton and Angela Sweeney talked about how they successfully began surfacing relevant content to the right people at the right time based on internal ‘demand plans’ carefully crafted with each business department. They worked out what was needed and by whom, and how best to filter that content through to their learners (whilst making some incredible cost savings). Later on, Tobias Kiefer of EY went one step further and explored the concept of ‘Own Your Own Learning’. My tweet on where this leaves the L&D department seemed to strike a chord, because where does this leave L&D?

Kiefer believes L&D needs to become ‘challengers, storytellers, curators, eonomists and data analysts – a list to which Andrew Jacobs (quite rightly in my opinion) added engineers (there still needs to be some infrastructure). ‘By thinking of how we can make ourselves obsolete, we can generate the value the business has always been expecting from us’ Kiefer said. I’m not sure I agree with this 100% but changing the focus from trying to be the last word in where/how learn in an organisation, to one of providing access, filtering, tailoring and nudging is one I can get on board with.

Coming back to Thimon’s point, L&D has to establish itself as a trustworthy source. And coming back to the research, it’s not only about providing content and resources that are accurate and useful – but providing them in ways that are easily available, contextual and engaging are all part of building that trust with learners.

This all makes me feel optimistic because my sense is L&D has grasped that this is the direction of travel. And the technology needed to support it is already out there. It’s not about stuff that’s super expensive or out of reach (although I’m sure you could spend a lot if you have the budget). And that makes me think it’s eminently achievable in the not too far distant future.

More on Learning Technologies 2017 to follow…


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The who, what, where and when of Learning Technologies 2017

Following my previous post on the Learning Technologies 2017 social team, here are the details on who’s covering what, where and when. Our contributors will be working hard to share insights and key takeaways from every single session of the conference. Remember, we use individual session hashtags so you can hone in on the specifics of certain topics or presentations. So, if you particularly want to know what John Stepper has to say (and from the pre-event buzz, many of you do!) then you can just search #T1S5. All session tags are detailed below (we don’t have specific tags for the keynotes because SO many people share from these that you can just follow the overall #LT17UK hashtag and keep up). Contributors’ Twitter handles are shown below – check the previous post for details if you don’t already follow them.

Note, for the first time this year there will be lunchtime sessions running during the conference. These have their own hashtags and will be worth following although, as with the keynotes, we don’t have designated coverage for these sessions.

Day one: Keynote: 09.30 – 10.40: Future change – living and learning in the connected society, Thimon de Jong

Thimon de Jong runs a think tank specialising in future human behaviour, societal change and business strategy. He is an experienced keynote presenter and leadership trainer and has worked for clients like Morgan Stanley and Vodafone. In this year’s opening keynote, he will share an inspiring blend of research eye opening business cases from around the world that will help you reframe and possibly reinvent your work in learning.

Day one: 11.10 – 12.20

Day one: 12.20 – 13.50 – Lunchtime

Day one: 13.50 – 15.00

Day one: 15.30 – 16.40

Day two: Keynote: 09.30 – 10.40: Story for learning and learning from story, Deborah Frances-White

Deborah Frances-White is a comedian, screenwriter and executive coach. Her corporate clients include Facebook, PWC and JP Morgan. Her keynote will explore why too much training is simply dispensing information – often in fun and palatable ways – but when information isn’t ordered in narrative it is easier to disengage and far more difficult to retain. Discover how the most sophisticated content or dry facts can be presented as a compelling and gripping story.

Day two: 11.10 – 12.20

Day two: 12.20 – 13.50 – Lunchtime

Day two: 13.50 – 15.00

Day two: 15.30 – 16.40

Excitingly this year, we’ll be interviewing speakers on video and capturing the reflections of the social media team on their key takeaways. I’m excited about getting into the detail and helping share new ideas and insights in more different ways. For the full conference programme and to pick which sessions you’d like to tune into, click here. There is also a programme of seminars in the exhibition which is full to bursting. So place your bets, choose your sessions and I look forward to seeing you there or online – learning Glastonbury awaits!

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14 key people and four useful things you need to know about Learning Technologies 2017

The build up to Learning Technologies 2017 is now well underway. As social chair of the event, I’m pleased to bring you everything you need to know to make the most of the event whether you are attending in person or following from afar.

The backchannel
As ever, the place to have eyes on is the main conference hashtag #LT17UK. This is used on all conference tweets and is used by exhibitors and attendees of the Learning Technologies part of the exhibition. It’s a great way of tapping into people to meet, things to read and what to see before the event, not just during. There is also the Learning and Skills hashtag #LAS17UK but if you’re following the conference, then tune in via #LT17UK. In order to help cut through the sheer volume of tweets, we use individual session hashtags as well as the one for the overall event e.g. Welcome to this session on the future of technology #LT17UK #T1S1. The details of the hashtags for each session will be published in a follow-up post. In addition to tweets, there will be blog posts, LinkedIn updates, graphic summaries and videos.

The 2017 team
Here are the people that will be capturing the action and reflecting on what they’ve heard at the conference. If you’re not already connected with these experienced L&D folk, this is a unique opportunity to make some new connections and expand your network as well as the chance to tune into all the action.

Susie Finch – @susiefinch
Sam Taylor – @samt_el
Alistair Cockroft – @acockroft
Kim Edwards – @kimsedwards
Michelle Parry-Slater – @MiPS1608
Ollie Gardener – @olliegardener
Joan Keevill – @Designs_JoanK
Krystyna Gadd – @krystynagadd
Sam Burrough – @samburrough
Stephen Walsh – @stephentwalsh
Steve Rayson – @steverayson
Julie Drybrough – @fuchsia_blue

(And me – @kategraham23)

Also, don’t forget to follow:

Don Taylor (Conference Chairman) – @DonaldHTaylor
Learning Technologies official feed – @LT17UK
Learning and Skills official feed – @LAS17UK

My next post will detail who is covering which sessions.

Captured for posterity

In addition to the tweets which are somewhat transient, we’re capturing many of the conference speakers on video this year. Barbara Thompson will be finding out more about their thinking delving into some of the detail from their sessions. Be sure to follow Barbara via @CaribThompson and look out for the opportunity to ask the experts your questions via Twitter. All videos will be shared online after the event.

What else is going on?




towards-maturity-exchangesMore to come on the session details soon and as always, if you have any feedback or thoughts on how we can make the most of this learning opportunity, let me know.


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Recognising the brave and the bold of learning technology


Tonight, myself, my colleagues and 800 close friends (ahem) will descend on London for the annual Learning Technologies Awards. They started life more than 10 years ago as the E-learning Awards and I have been involved with these awards as an entrant, a collaborator, ghost writer and for the last five years, a judge.

For 2016, I judged two categories, chairing one and a panel member on another. Having sifted through an impressive number of entries in the summer, the shortlisted entrants all presented during an informative, exhilarating and exhausting two days at The Oval in September. I meant to write this post back then but it feels appropriate on the day of the award ceremony to share it now. Because my over-riding reflection from those two days was how inspiring the dedicated learning professionals are that I saw passionately present their work.

I saw L&D people who are fighting the good fight, trying to evolve what their people do and how they learn – often without much support or buy-in from the broader organisation (at least initially), frequently without much budget and sometimes pitched against much greater forces than themselves – the economy, mergers and acquisitions, the law, the list goes on. One presentation even showed a video interview with a rather grumpy colleague in another department talking about how he didn’t like e-learning and thought the whole project was a terrible idea….then a later interview in which he’d completely changed his mind! What all those shortlisted have in common is such enthusiasm for what they do, motivated (in my opinion) by a desire to help others learn, develop and hopefully, progress.

I also witnessed some fantastic partnerships between suppliers of learning technology and their customers. Almost all the suppliers stood back and let their customers tell their story, often watching with real pride on their faces. Sounds cheesy but it’s clear that these good relationships are at least partially responsible for their success.

There’s also resourcefulness, innovation, technical know-how and brains in abundance. On occasions during the judging process I felt really quite humbled by people’s commitment and vision around what they’re trying to achieve. And that’s really important. The best practice examples we’ll see on the back of these awards are almost all focused on an organisational goal that’s far bigger than just completion rates.

I obviously can’t talk about specifics before the results are announced. But the decisions in both my categories were pretty agonising.  Whether or not those shortlisted win a gong tonight (cliche alert) they’re all winners really. And when their stories are shared far and wide, the lessons are about more than just fancy technology. They’re about solving business challenges within a specific context in a way that works for them. And they’re about being brave and about being bold. I applaud you all from behind my desk and look forward to being able to do so in person this evening.

If you’d like to keep up to date with the winners, I’ll be live tweeting the ceremony and the hashtag is #LT16Awards. See you there or online.

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The evolution of organisations and HR at #HRTechWorld

hr-tech-world-congress-2016That’s HR Tech World done for another year. It’s been busy, buzzy, loud (I’m looking at you Gary Hamel) fun and insightful. In a change of pace for me I decided not to do back to back conference sessions. Instead I cherry picked the talks I attended and spent more time in the expo and in meetings. I’ve met some incredibly passionate and dedicated HR profesionals all trying to make sense of their existing technology, new technology and their organisational context. The audience was made up of folk in pretty senior HR roles across medium-large organisations from right the way across Europe. There’s a lot to reflect on but here are some of the highlights.

Organisational structure is up for grabs

This year the millenial klaxon was replaced (for me at least) by the start-up klaxon. I’m not talking about actual start-ups (more on them below) but the number of times large enterprises seem to be encouraged to act ‘more like a start-up organisation’. I’m over simplifying of course but I heard this a lot and I’m not sure how helpful that advice is for a company with say 17,000 employees across 23 territories. I don’t disagree that the traditional hierarchy and org chart need to change, but trying to change a large organisation is going to be like turning the QE2. It’s not an easy or straightforward task. What’s more, I’m not convinced some of these unicorn start-ups a) have got it perfect anyway and b) won’t end up evolving to become more like the large enterprises they were originally disrupting. There was some useful advice from Gary Hamel about starting to eliminate bureaucracy including a nice case study about the NHS cutting through its usual layers of hierarchy as to get staff input on improving patient care as part of a massive change project. A crowd sourced change model which shows how even in the most complex organisations, innovation in how things are done and how things are structured is possible.

It’s a complicated area but remains a hot topic and I’m increasingly interested in how organisations start to shift their structures and strategies. Hamel referenced some resources that might be of interest at the end of his keynote. And Dr. Daniel Thorniley (who was brilliantly honest, dour and funny all at the same time – all with no slides whatsoever) promised some resources that I haven’t yet got my mitts on, but will share as soon as I do. This isn’t a subject that’s going away any time soon.

Positive disruption

I love the disruptHR zone that HR Tech World hosts. Every year a raft of new and enthusiastic new solution providers show off their wares in an area of small, simple booths dedicated to the power of positive disruption. There’s everything from recruitment apps to wellness solutions, engagement software and new concepts around payroll. This year’s winners Tandem HR Solutions received great validation from the judges – oh and a cheque for 15,000 Euros – so should be one to watch. Read more on them here and on the other new providers via Faye Holland’s excellent blog posts.


Women in tech

It was great to attend the women in tech panel on the second day. Chaired by Kim Wylie of Google, the speakers included the legendary analyst Naomi Bloom, Workday’s Leighanne Levensaler and Dell’s Pascale Van Damme. I’m planning a separate post just on this session as it’s a subject pretty close to my heart. But it was engaging and lively and actually in a room that was way too small for the level of interest it generated. It was also good to see some men in the room too! More on this one soon.


Photo credit: HR Tech World app via Dorothy Dalton

The reality of HR in Europe

Full disclosure. This research was conducted by the company I work for, Fosway Group, and the organisers, HRN. But this research paints such a useful picture of HR in Europe. So much data that is available is US-centric but this takes into account the particular challenges of HR in organisations that are inherently multi-cultural, multi-lingual and widely dispersed. Obviously I’m bound to think this is interesting but the results from over 500 HR professionals are hard to ignore. The full slides from the presentation are online and make interesting reading.


The power of people

One of the over-arching messages from the keynotes in particular was that if people are allowed to flourish at work, organisations will perform better as a result – and HR can unlock this potential. It’s one of the reasons employee engagement remains such a hot topic. Times are tough for many organisations at the moment but making short-term cuts that damage your long-term relationships with your people can undermine your future success. Dr. Thorniley focused on the need to foster a long-term view that nurtures trusting relationships with your people. Because they provide the talent that will ultimately see you through the bad times. ‘Not enough organisations have HR in a strategic position’ posited Thorniley. Maybe if they did, an organisation’s people would be treated with this longer term view. It backs up the Fosway research that places the desire for HR becoming a strategic business partner at the top of its priorities.

It is also reflective of the many conversations I had with HR professionals who are automating ‘transactional’ processes and focusing much more on ‘transforming’ their function to become more strategic.

It’s potentially an exciting time to be involved in HR and to have a role in the impact of what HR can help organisations achieve. Having the right technology should play a key part in that and my next post will focus more on the different solutions I saw at the event. In the meantime, thanks to Marc, Peter and the indefatiguable HRN team. It was great to see them come together at the end of the event, demonstrating an organisational culture that many should be inspired by and could perhaps learn from.



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Good event curation doesn’t happen by accident

I got tagged in a conversation on Twitter yesterday regarding the hashtag for an event that was taking place. Seemingly there was a volume of tweets and activity surrounding the event but not enough of any real value. More ‘I’m here watching so and so speak’ rather than specific insights on what was being shared at the conference.

hr-tech-world-congress-2016Next week, I’m attending HR Tech World Congress for the third year running as a member of their blog squad. The organisers, HRN, take a lot of time and effort to create a team of people with diverse interests and specialities to share what’s happening at their event. It’s a broad church so there are people with different backgrounds in recruitment, analytics, learning etc. They provide resources, make introductions and outline the sort of content they hope the blog squad will share. It’s not dictated and we’re free to write about our highlights and reflections how we choose. There’s no stated expectation to tweet although unsurprisingly, many of us do. And what you’ll see from next week’s event isn’t just a flurry of tweets across the two days (although I’m fairly sure there will be a storm of these via #HRTechWorld). There will be links to books, videos, research, presentations and more. There will be tips on the latest technology. There will be shiny new tech to go and look at courtesy of inside opinions on the disruptHR zone. By filtering other people’s tweets and blogs, I even managed to curate a ton of useful resources from HR Tech World Spring in London back in March, and I was at home with tonsilitis at the time! But none of this happens by accident.

Sure, some attendees will tweet. And some of them might even blog. But the organisers aren’t leaving that to chance. They understand that by assembling a team (bloggers assemble!) there will be a volume of decent content that shares a slice of the event they have painstakingly put together.

Regular readers will know I am involved in lots of backchannel type activity and I take my role at these events seriously. Live tweeting and blogging isn’t for everyone. As agreed with a couple of my PLN yesterday, using tweets as a form of note taking then reflecting and potentially blogging afterwards in a more considered way is what works for me. It doesn’t – and frankly, shouldn’t – work for everyone. If some attendees want to sit and listen or write notes in a notebook, that absolutely has to be OK. You need to pick people who this type of activity does work for, who enjoy it, and who are ideally passionate about the topics being covered at your event. Give them some guidance, give them some support and great sharing should follow. But it takes time and effort to make that happen.

See you in Paris (or online) next week!



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Day two at Learning Live 2016

I’m exhausted (in a good way) after what was to my mind, the strongest Learning Live event yet in terms of content and take aways. There were several clashes of sessions that meant I couldn’t get to see everyone I wanted to which is a good problem to have. My head is bursting and there is much to ponder from what I’ve heard today, but I wanted to get some immediate reflections down.

Elliot Masie keynote

I enjoyed Elliot’s session, he is a such an engaging character. And it was good to have a keynote who actually knows L&D rather than someone from outside our world applying something that they do to L&D (not that that’s bad – see Richard Wiseman below – but it made a nice change). He didn’t push too many boundaries but equally he didn’t espouse theories either, his pretty practical musings went down well with the audience. He talked about ritual being the biggest obstacle for L&D and how we need to start thinking about things differently. If L&D was rewarded for performance of new starters for example, how long they stayed, how long they took to get to a decent competency level – Masie posits that the induction training process would change pretty quickly! Out would go the introductory videos from the CEO and the learning would be far more focused on their actual job. But instead he said: masie-tweet

I can’t argue with that! I think we know we need to move beyond this type of evaluation to actually measuring the impact and performance results of what learning does. But it never hurts to be reminded of it!

Joe Tidman – Delivering an agile global learning strategy

Joe works for GlaxoSmithKline and the scale of his task in learning is just mind blowing. 100,000 people across 150 countries in an organisation that turns over more than £20 billion. A couple of years ago, there were hundreds of staff not really knowing what they were doing, millions of pounds being spent on nobody really knew what – an incredibly fragmented learning landscape. Not uncommon in this type of organisation, but what Joe and his team have done is wrestle back control of that. They started by focusing on three core pillars. Joe believes that real change wouldn’t have happened if they had just focused on one element – all the change needed to happen simultaneously and work together. They focused on organisational alignment, creating a global curriculum and a global capability model (there were previously over 40 models company wide – argh!) Having these pillars in place is enabling them to streamline and become more agile in implementing learning initiatives.

They did shed some L&D staff along the way, but now their global learning organisation is split across learning operations (the biggest pool), embedded business partners and a small centre of excellence. They’ve also gone through tech changes (interestingly Joe imposed a blackout of old systems and content so when he introduced new ones, people couldn’t revert back to the old stuff), introduced a new approach to learning that doesn’t always involve a F2F course (80:10:10 as opposed to 70:20:10) and have had to deal with handling huge cultural shifts:

They’ve achieved an awful lot but there is more to do. The bugbear Joe still hears is that there’s so much content, people can’t easily find what they need when they need it. So they’re working on surfacing resources and creating more personalised journeys for people. This was a really honest and informative session. For me, the key takeaways are: there are numerous benefits in unifying fragmented learning operations across an organisation, that a tech blackout is a useful tool when introducing new systems (I hadn’t heard of this before and thought it sounded like a great idea to support a new system launch) and that to personalise we must first standardise. Joe had to make sense of what they had, streamline it and apply it in a standard way to sort learning out *before* he could start looking at personalising people’s learning journeys. And I think that’s potentially valuable advice for anyone in a similar situation.

Professor Richard Wiseman

Wow. This guy blew Learning Live away this afternoon. From the moment he came on stage doing a magic trick, the audience were in the palm of his hand. Engaged and often crying with laughter, Wiseman applied humour to relax us and put us into an open mindset. So when he later talked about the nature of good luck and bad luck (more on his work here) we were all very open to what he was talking about. Much like Dweck’s work on mindset, his psychological studies have revealed that much of what makes us lucky is down to our approach to life. And if you have a growth mindset you are probably likely to be ‘lucky’ as you will see opportunities as they arise. It’s basically impossible to do the session justice but the takeaways relate to my own views on being open and aware so that you can spot and make the most of new opportunities. Wiseman encouraged us to try doing things differently, echoing Masie’s earlier sentiment that ritual can be a bit of a killer. Which was summed up by this fantastic clip of an American Football play that goes a little ouside the box…there’s something for us all to learn from this in expanding our horizons and doing things a little differently.

Julian Stodd – The socially dynamic organisation

I’ve said before that I can barely keep up with Julian – his brain just operates on another level! So this session was challenging to tweet and is proving challenging to summarise. He introduced it as a working out loud session where he is applying some of his new research and thinking.

I’m familiar with Julian’s view that organisational structures and cultures need to move beyond their Victorian origins of command and control (couldn’t agree more). But this can’t happen without a huge impact on the social contract between an organisation and its people. No longer should people be viewed as merely assets or resources. And Julian’s new research is exploring the dynamics that exist around issues like people’s trust in an organisation or how they feel valued. This links back to employee engagement for me. And it is going to be a huge problem for organisations if their people don’t trust them and don’t feel valued (which is about more than just money by the way, although financial rewards top the list) they won’t be able to retain or develop talent. And they will fail. The social age is one of flux it seems and I am intrigued to see how much the organisational model can really evolve. It is going to be slow with many falling by the wayside I fear. Whatever we do in L&D will happen against this backdrop and I really think learning is well placed to be a driver in all this change rather than a laggard responding to these changes after the fact.All very high level but fascinating nonetheless. I am looking forward to getting my head more around Julian’s thinking with the second edition of his book which I gladly picked up after the session.

Sarah Lindsell – Getting practical

The last session of the day can sometimes feel like a chore at events. But getting insights from PwC’s Global Director of Digital Learning and Transformation was a privilege. Sarah talked about how she runs her (huge) L&D remit across 142 territories as a business within the business. And this puts her in a mindset that is all about being proactive and performance oriented. She is ‘not about bums on seats or completion rates’ and to demonstrate this, she produces a value report at the end of every financial year. This details the global L&D spend and the impact it’s had. A great tip to highlight to the rest of the organisation where you’ve added value over the past year. This mindset also means Sarah leads from the front by representing her ‘business’ and that means being able to sell and market what L&D is doing. And building key relationships to help it function effectively e.g. making friends with the people you need like IT and procurement (echoing Joe Tidman’s advice earlier in the day).

Sarah also shared her model for innovation: watch, play, jump, fly. I like the honesty that sometimes trying new things is a bit of a leap of faith. And to help her innovate she schedules a ‘getting lost day’ once a month where she catches up on new research or plays with new tech. Setting aside time to do this is such a good idea as it’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work that it’s easy to lose that opportunity to see what’s going on elsewhere. The other catchphrase Sarah has is ‘know enough to be dangerous’. So if you’re implementing a new platform, take the training and know how it works – that way you’re eating your own food before serving it someone else, but you also have enough understanding of your new tech to question it (or what people are doing with it). And I think once you get to the top of any profession, that level of detailed insight can get lost. You don’t need to know it inside out but being able to interrogate what’s going on is excellent advice.

This is a long post and it wasn’t intended to be, so apologies if it’s a little rambling. But there was a lot to cover and you can see more of what happened via #LearningLive. I’d just like to extend my thanks again to Colin Steed, Ed Monk and the rest of the LPI team for having me along.

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