The learning asylum

Time to escape the mad house

October 12, 2014
by Mike Collins
1 Comment

Rage Against The Machine

I’ve been watching the Collaborate Live sessions unfold with interest over the last few months. A great idea for a series of Google Hangouts organised & hosted by Bev Holden and Kate Hargreaves aka @Stickythinker and @k8clearthinker from Clear Thinking.

The Collaborate Live sessions, also affectionately known as #LiveClive over on Twitter are short conversations with people who share their own experiences of collaboration. The sessions are based around three questions although the conversations are fluid and can duck, weave and traverse in any direction possible as Bev does a great job in diving deeper in to what is said, skilfully exploring the themes raised around collaboration.

You can watch all episodes to date (and I highly recommend you do) over on Bev’s YouTube channel here 

I was really excited to get asked by Bev to be a guest on Collaborate Live a few weeks ago. Collaboration is somewhat part of my DNA and is as an important ingredient to creating online communities as Mary Berry is to the Great British Bake Off. I was keen to tell my story of how collaborating with others has helped shaped the DPG Community. To create something from nothing and play a big part in that something is incredible but it doesn’t happen in isolation. There are many factors involved but I believe collaboration sits at its heart and it was going to be fun exploring the role that collaboration had played and continues to play in this journey. I hoped anyone who would listen live or listen to the recording would enjoy hearing what I had to say. Not from an ego perspective, but because this is something I’m fiercely passionate about and I REALLY wanted it to go well.

The virtual stage was set.

I’d used Google Hangouts before as a participant, I’ve hosted a number of them and used the Google Hangout Live feature as well. I’d go so far to say I was an early adopter and used Hangouts when they were first made available and whilst they aren’t the easiest of things to organise and set up correctly they are relatively pain free when you know what you’re doing. Like so many things there is a bit of trial and error involved but the technology works well so I wasn’t worried before the session, I was more worried about what I was going to say as it was live. Nose picking aside I felt I had it covered and logged in 15 minutes early to check the settings and that everything was working.

  • Quiet place – check
  • Decent webcam – check
  • Blue Yeti Microphone – check
  • Fast as the speed of light internet wired connection – check
  • Dodgy haircut – check

Bev and I chatted though the running order and as we started to chat we both noticed the screen freezing and a lag in what we were saying. Um….this wasn’t the way it should be working and after messing around with the settings for a few minutes we continued nervously hoping the problem would disappear. 5,4,3,2,1……..

All of a sudden we were live being uploaded and streamed over the web faster than a celebrity sex tape and the PROBLEM HAD NOT DISAPPEARED


Bev’s introduction had cut out and I didn’t hear her first question as she froze but I knew the first question so took a punt and started to talk about my positive experiences of collaboration and using technology. Oh the irony.

I was talking….”as collaboration”…….”community”……..”big part”……….”7 years ago”

Bit words, incoherently strung together like a drunk poet at an open mic night and it quickly became clear this wasn’t working. Something fundamental had gone wrong and the internet gremlins were having a jolly good laugh at my expense. Being the true professional, Bev did the only thing that was left to do and wrapped up the session as quickly as possible sending her apologies for the technical issues and the Hangout got Hungup.



I was left in my quiet place with feelings I’d not felt for a long time…..

  • Disappointment. I was so disappointed that technology had let me down in my half an hour of need.
  • Embarrassment. I was so embarrassed that this had happened in ‘public’.
  • Frustration. I was so frustrated as I’d done everything I’d done before in previous Hangouts and never had any problems.
  • Anger. I was so angry at myself and the stupid internet.
  • Helplessness. Perhaps the most interesting of feelings. Total helplessness. I didn’t know what the problem was and I couldn’t fix it.
  • Failure. Irrelevant of everything and anything I’d failed. The session was a failure and I’d let down Bev. This was the first Collaborate Live to end in this way. Oh the shame!

Bev and I briefly chatted afterwards and we made arrangements to reschedule the session and to try again. I’d send her some dates and times and we’d give it another go. Cool that made sense and felt OK……..but what if it happened again? The last emotion I felt before I got on with my day was a raw and powerful emotion.


This is the purpose of me writing this. I’ve become complacent, I’ve forgotten the emotions that people go through when dealing with technology and things don’t go to plan. Whether it’s the first time using a new piece of tech kit, social media, an app, a discussion forum, a new smart phone or using trusted technology that has worked each and every time and all of a sudden stops working. I’m lucky that I’ve had plenty of good experiences using Google Hangouts and know how good they are when they work.

Had this been the first time I’d used Hangouts and I’d had this sort of experience how would this have influenced my thinking about the tool? Would I want to use it again? Not on your nelly.

So I’ve been thinking about this since the session and whilst I’m a big advocate for using technology and feel quite at home use technology each and every day. There are lots of people who don’t feel the same, who’s first experience of using technology or social media isn’t positive either because it doesn’t work and can’t be explained or it’s not understood and doesn’t create immediate value. Because it feels uncomfortable and different, it can undermine what confidence people have in themselves let alone the technology. The fear of the unknown is powerful, a feeling of helplessness can be even more powerful and whilst I hate the expression “I’m a technophobe’, I have a deeper understanding of why this might be the case and new found empathy for those who are finding their way through the 21st century and ever changing technological landscape.

What I’ve taken from this? As a learning professional I need to work harder at helping people have positive experiences with technology, building confidence and capability and offering support and guidance where I can.

We all do.

July 10, 2014
by Mike Collins

Changing times and opening minds

This time last week, I was taking another trip out of my comfort zone as Alistair Nicholls had very kindly invited me to speak at the North West Business Breakfast organised by Manchester Business School. The title of my talk was Why Corporate L&D Needs to Change and How and it felt a good title to share my own journey thus far and to open up conversation.

Now I can talk fast (due to my alter-ego), but when Alistair asked me to keep to 20 mins I knew I’d have to speak even faster to get everything in – challenge set. It was relieved to see a good turn out and I enjoyed the hospitality of a strong coffee and a sausage butty.

Now it’s probably best to get this out the way….feels a little like a confession. I’m not an academic, I went to university but was one of those that returned after a couple of years empty handed without the piece of paper that’s not worth the paper it’s written on. It wasn’t for me. Wrong degree, maybe, wrong time, maybe, it just didn’t work for me…..

Why should I tell you this? Well this audience was very different to the audiences I have been used to speaking to which, to be fair, have primarily been my fellow L&D/HR  professionals at exhibitions, conferences and other networking events over the last 3-4 years. I’ve been used to evangelising to the converted but speaking to a group of postgraduate MBA degree holders, who knew what lay instore.

20 minutes isn’t long to get stuck in to the detail, I understood that I would need to sacrifice some of detail to get through all the content. I’ve dropped the slides below and hope they tell the story well enough without further explanation as I really want to focus on the conversation that followed after I’d shut up.

After listening to 20 minutes of me talking (quickly), I think I’d be chomping at the bit to get a word in and as the first hand went up on the Community Manager slide it felt like there was something bubbling in the room.

The first point/question/statement was along the lines of “this is all well and good but in the real world people don’t have time

Hang on, I’d heard this one before. In fact this is the biggest challenge I tend to hear no matter what audience – the “we don’t have time” line is a thinly veiled “I’m not going to change” line . I replied in the only way I could, by stating what I believe, “It’s an excuse, a cop out, a way to devolve any sort of responsibility for trying something different and moving our heads out of the way we’ve always done things – it’s an easy way out and a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset.

I can’t remember all the discussions in detail (aging memory) but the conversation then ensued around breaking workflow and busy people don’t have the time to participate in sharing information and we don’t, we can’t, we shouldn’t lined up and flicked off the tongue like they were primed and ready to leap in to action. Then the debate really started heating up as a lady stated that this is exactly the problem that needs to change. Instead of thinking like we always have around the way we work and learn it’s time to open our minds to what is now possible and start to do things differently not just talk about it.

There were extremely good points raised around my own curiosity and it’s all very well that I’m a curious person so this sort of open, informal, discovery sort of learning suits me but what about those who aren’t curious? What about those where this sort of learning and behaviour doesn’t come naturally. Can you develop curiosity as a skill, a behaviour, can it become a way of life or are we naturally gifted with curiousity or not? We briefly touched upon other skills needed to work and learn in the 21st century but this vast topic will have to live to fight another day (or another talk?)

There was another good point raised around curation being just another sort of formal learning as the curator still needs to create a path and a structure, it’s just from other resources rather than content creation. Curation is indeed a skill in it’s own right but is it still part of the formal learning mix just with a fancy name?

Then came the bombshell and I paraphrase so apologies if this isn’t word for word:

“Where’s the research that backs this up?”

“What research backing up what?”

I asked, slightly panicking and starting to sweat…..

“This 70% of learning is this and 20% is that and 10% is this, where is the research that backs this up. I would suggest that if you are going to talk about these things you are able to back it up with research”

I was caught in between a rock and a hard place. Ever since I’ve been in L&D I’ve heard the theories and models but I have never thought to question where this stuff comes from. So I stumbled and faltered and felt pretty stupid as I couldn’t quote where any of this stuff had come from and even mumbled something about Charles Jennings, however I did point out that this is what had worked for me. The framework (emphasis on framework) has helped me look at learning differently since becoming CIPD qualified in 2006 and is exactly how I have developed within my own career and the progress I’ve made in a relatively short period of time. My experience does count for something, research or no research as everything I’ve done in the last few years has been on the premise that learning is social, it happens through connections, through sharing and it happens all around us and I have created environments & systems, conditions and cultures where this can happen and is encouraged, celebrated and rewarded.

I promised I’d go and find the research that supports the 70/20/10 framework and post it in this blog and to my surprise there isn’t a great deal of academic research or things to back up the 70/20/10 framework. Rather than me waffle on about this study or research paper here is a blog post that provides a great insight in to where the model/theory comes from and how it’s become what it is.

Irrelevent of research papers or whether the 70/20/10 framework is another L&D buzz word and way for suppliers to re-package ‘blended learning’ solutions or if it’s an excuse for employers to jump on the band wagon to cut ‘training costs’ in the name of creating a ‘better blend’. I believe that this is where Learning Professionals need to stand up, make their voices heard and make a difference.

For me it’s not about looking at L&D in isolation but at it’s core it’s about re-inventing this thing we call work in a 21st century world. Developing skills and creating roles that have these new technologies, systems and communication channels at their heart and make them as useful, valuable and as powerful as they can be. The point was raised that you’re not going to replace a military person or a doctor needing formal training and yes I agree you wouldn’t want heart surgery from a heart surgeon who’d just watched a YouTube video. I don’t disagree in the slightest and I’m not advocating getting rid of formal training, I would however trust a heart surgeon using Google Glass to support the operation.

My point is we have a wonderful range of options at our disposal now to support training above and beyond the formal environment that can help people do there jobs more effectively. We have technology that enables us to comunicate, share and provide just in time support in such ways that would have been impossible a short time ago. We’re back to the slope of enlightenment in many organisations but in many they are yet to start the journey as technology is just an enabler and our attitudes and behaviours are still lagging behind.

So it’s not just corporate L&D that needs to change, it’s the workplaces in which they operate and that means the people who work within them. You could argue you can’t do one without the other. It’s time to evolve working practices and to enable the flow of conversation throughout an organisation where every employee has a voice and can and wants to share what they know. I want to be in the middle of that, connecting people and shaping communities, encouraging, nurturing, coaching, designing, innovating, sharing and working in new ways. Perhaps this IS a different type of L&D person, perhaps it’s not L&D at all….

Apparently the talk stirred more debate and conversation than any previous breakfast talk and I thoroughly loved the experience. I’ve learned things from it and will certainly be more prepared on the background and origins of the things I talk about. However, I’ve also learned that in a fast paced hyper connected world that is constantly changing and evolving, research that’s here one day will become obselete the next. I trust my gut and my instinct and I will continue to do what I believe is right and what I enjoy. In order for businesses to stay relevant and be successful in my mind there really isn’t a choice.

Get curious, open your mind and get changing, otherwise you’ll never have time.

There were also requests for case studies and examples of where organisations had approached learning differently.

Social Learning examples in the workplace curated by Jane Hart is a good place to start.

Did you attend the talk? What did you take away from the session?

If you did or you didn’t, I’d love to hear your thoughts and keep the conversation going.

July 1, 2014
by Mike Collins

Working quietly

Hello blog, I’ve missed you.

I’m not going to get all soppy but it’s been a while, 7 months to be exact. It’s nothing to do with you, don’t take it personally. It’s me, all my fault, it was nothing you said or did but I hope you’re as pleased to see me as I am to see you.

To celebrate I’ve given you a little make over, a lick of paint so to speak. If you look good you feel good so it’s time I paid you some attention and put a smile on your digital face.

Where have I been you ask? Well that’s a story for another time. All you need to know is that I’m back.

I’m back writing again after a spell in the blogging wilderness. It feels good, like I’m being re-acquainted with an old friend. After all you and I have got history….31 little pieces of history in fact. Lots to catch up on and lots more to add. If you’ll have me back……..?!?

You will? That’s great to hear.  You’ll be pleased to know I have been doing stuff and I’ve got stories to tell. I haven’t been sat in a padded cell for the last 7 months twiddling by thumbs, rocking back and forth locked up in my very own self-created learning asylum. Nope not me.

I’ve just been working quietly.

Lurking, learning, consuming, thinking, playing, making mistakes, trying to learn from them, reading, building, coaching, developing, collaborating, piloting, trialling, speaking, presenting, podcasting, filming, worrying, stressing, making life changing decisions, challenging and being challenged, meeting new people, catching up with old friends, changing, evolving, enjoying what I do.

I had my 2 year anniversary at DPG this month……2 years…  Yes I know we’ve been together for longer……it’s not a competition.

Where has the time gone?

A lot has happened both professionally and personally but it all adds up to who you are, what you do and how you do it. That’s life, deal with it Mike and get over yourself and get on with it.

So I’ve got over myself and I’m getting on with it but in doing so I have come to the conclusion that I’ve become a hypocrite.

a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.

Up until 7 months ago I used you to share what I was doing, how I approached it, what worked, what didn’t and the thinking behind it. Being a champion for collaborative working, building learning communities and attempting to evolve the role of L&D within organisations, why wouldn’t I share the things I’m working on that could help others and help me reflect on my work.

Role-modelling working out loud is something that I encourage others to do but I’ve stopped doing it myself. Working quietly isn’t what I believe or what I expect and encourage from others. No. It. Is. Not.

So, I know what I need to do. I need to stop being a lurker and purely a consumer and start contributing a bit more. I won’t be shouting from the rooftops but I hope I’ll be working a little louder and making a bit more noise in the coming weeks and months.

After all blog, I’ve missed you xx

November 9, 2013
by Mike Collins

Bringing the Disney experience to Conferences

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to go to America for three weeks. A fantastic holiday of a life-time where I visited my sister Lucy in Minnesota for a week before heading down to the sunshine state of Florida for some Disney mayhem.

There was a strange Déjà vu about the whole thing as it was the exact trip I completed in 1994 when I played school football in Minnesota before meeting up with my folks down in Florida for…yes you’ve guessed it,  some Disney mayhem.

This time was very different as I had my two boys with me and I was the chap in charge of the mayhem.

Continue Reading →

November 8, 2013
by Mike Collins

Talk is cheap with empty rhetoric

As I sit here after 11pm after two days on the @DPGplc stand at a buzzing #CIPD13, I can’t get away from a few thoughts and feelings. It’s niggled me all day so I’m just going to put it down and see what happens.

This morning I attended HR Unscrambled hosted by @Dougshaw1 and @OD_Optimist. A fantastic thought-provoking start to the day.

I thoroughly enjoyed talking to people who viewed bacon butties with an assortment of sauces, caffeine and meaningful conversation as a viable alternative to a lie-in.

Continue Reading →

August 9, 2013
by Mike Collins

Leadership Qualities in a Changing World

By Mike Collins on the 9th August 2013

I recently attended a workshop entitled “Getting the most from your Apprentice” hosted by the Apprentice Academy. It was an interesting session that I wanted to play back, as it looked at starting work through the eyes of 16-18 yr old. Without showing my age too much we started the day with a music quiz and the first 8 songs (I knew) were made and released before our Apprentice @Little_Figs was even born! A point well made as what ever you make of the Generation X, Y & Z debate there are differences in attitude, behaviour and expectations of a 16 yr old starting work than anyone else already in the workplace.

Continue Reading →

August 1, 2013
by Mike Collins

Will the real apprentice please stand up

By Mike Collins on the 1st August 2013

I’ve not watched any episodes of this year’s Apprentice. It just hasn’t appealed to me, I set the sky box up and did a series link but I’ve never found the time or had the inclination to sit down and watch the programme. I’ve heard bits and bobs about it from various sources and heard the odd conversation but I’ve not taking much notice of it. I’ve not wanted to. Continue Reading →

April 19, 2013
by Mike Collins

Rebel with a cause

By Mike Collins on the 19th April 2013

Another new experience under the belt. This time a short talk at the PPMA conference (not the Processing and Packaging Machinery Association) rather the Public Sector People Manager’s conference – you can check the #ppmahr13 hashtag for tweets from the day.

This is a quick summary of my session as my wifi is running out but I want to thank Perry Timms for getting me involved and Peter Cook for delivering an inspiring session that I was able to play a part in. Although how you follow someone who plays a guitar round the back of his head beats me.

Continue Reading →

March 23, 2013
by Mike Collins

The slope of enlightenment

By Mike Collins on the 22nd March 2013

In my last blog alter egos I started to share some personal traits and experiences that led me in to the world of developing communities to support learning. It wasn’t an overnight thing and it’s still very much work in  progress and I’m learning each day. I remember joining my first online community The Learning and Skills Group and being excited about what was happening in front of my eyes and like any newbie I lurked.  I lurked……and I lurked. Continue Reading →

March 5, 2013
by Mike Collins

Alter egos

By Mike Collins on the 5th March 2013

Since my last blog I’ve been reflecting on the latest and greatest #LDconnect unconference, spending a lot of time thinking about one of the topics we discussed Get inside learners headsHow do we get inside the learners heads!“. It was a very interesting discussion that we only really scratched the surface of and I’ve been deep in thought ever since. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever thought about things as deeply in my professional career. They might not be particularly interesting thoughts for some or they may be thoughts that you’ve already had but they are my thoughts all the same and I’ve a few blog posts (this is the first) that have formed in my head that I wanted to capture to help with this thinking. I’d love to get your thoughts on this as well. Continue Reading →