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.

It’s probably worth me pointing out that the main focus of these thoughts have been prompted around the use of online learning and social tools. Primarily because of the work I’m doing with the DPG Community; I’ve had lots to think about as we blend online learning with traditional face to face methods and my role is to encourage and nurture people in participating and contributing in an online forum. Some people have taken to this like a duck to water and others just haven’t engaged at all and others are some where in between. The reasons why this happens genuinely fascinate me and is something I am trying to better understand.

So where to start?

Well I’m going to start by sharing a little bit about me and something that most people will not know. In 2005 I did my last freestyle rap battle. I was 26 at the time and I’d been rapping and battling with some degree of success for about 6 years. The fact that this battle was with Professor Green isn’t that important but it gives you an idea that I was moderately good at what I did. I started off as a drum & MC LayZbass (D&B) emcee before moving in to hip hop and starting a crew called Miniature Heroes based in Leeds. We did some tracks and did live shows up and down the country and got to a stage where we were quite well known in the UK hip hop scene. There was DJ Baboon, my rap partner aRRo, myself MC Lay-Z (pronounced like Jay-Z) and for a time we also shared the stage with a young beatboxer called Shlomo who has gone on to become a world renown talent. We also went to shows with a young magician called Dynamo – you might have heard of him?

Name dropping aside they were good times and I’ve got great memories and miss the live performances and creativity that was involved in performing. I got in to battling because I was good at making stuff up or as my friends would describe it ‘lyrical bullshit’ but I loved the creativity and the fun you could have standing toe to toe with some one making them look bad or sound silly just making stuff up on the spot. I had my first battle against Jack Flash at the 8-mile regional competition in Leeds, which I ws lucky enough to have won. I then went down to the national final at the Coronet in Elephant & Castle, I didn’t win but it was in front of a lot of people and I loved it. I’ve performed at Earl’s Court in front of 15,000 (against Pro Green again) but never could turn my style on when it mattered most and as a result I’m doing what I’m doing now and he’s doing what he’s doing. I’m not bitter.

lazy 4So why is this important or have any relevance to getting inside learners heads? Well MC Lay-Z was my alter ego for many years and it may surprise those who know me to find out that I am an introvert.  Being an introvert I find meeting groups of people for the first time difficult and feel uncomfortable speaking up in groups of people and standing out from the crowd.

“Hang on, (I can hear you now)……you used to be a battle rapper and have performed in front of X number of people and you’re an introvert? How does that work”?

MC Lay-Z was my way of disconnecting from Mike Collins and becoming someone else whilst I was stage. My persona on stage was very important as standing toe to toe with someone trying to think of things on the spot and getting inside their heads was critical to being a successful battler. You can’t do this by being an introvert or being quiet you need to be confident and to some degree intimidating. If you look at some of the photos I don’t look like I do now and to those that didn’t know me when I was on stage I was tall, had a skinned head and was pretty angry looking. That was the image I wanted to portray and as people were waiting to battle if I looked quite menacing then all the better.

Mike looking scruffy with shirt outMike Collins by comparison was completely different off stage and the Mike Collins you may have met or connected with via social networks I’m hoping has not seemed too menacing or intimidating. MC Lay-Z is no more (apart from a freestyle party trick every now and again) but I’m still creative, I still like words and writing and I’m still an introvert. I think this is why back in 2008 at the Learning Technologies conference the whole concept of social networking and the power of a networked organisation appealed to me so much. The fact that my roles over the last few years have involved a lot of online communication and using social tools to help people to connect, share and learn must be down to who I am and my personality and preferences than anything else. Last year I did my first talk at Learning Live and I wrote a post about being Back on Stage, as I approached it as Mike Collins the Community Manager I wondered how much of my alter ego MC Lay-Z would I need to call upon to deliver my talk.  My experiences on stage must have some bearing on the talks and presentations I do, in fact who I am has a big bearing on everything I do!

And that’s it, that’s what I’ve been deep in thought about. It’s not getting inside learners heads that we need to do it is understand ourselves and the people we work with better. Understanding who we are working with and what their strengths are, finding out about the experiences they’ve had and what they do outside of work and if they have any alter egos. What skills do people have and what they do outside of the workplace that can help us engage with them more effectively in work and in any learning environment.

If we want to truly get inside learners heads then we need to see them as people like you and me and appeal to what makes them tick whether this is face to face or online. It’s understanding human behaviour that will help us provide value for people around learning at a much deeper level.

Help people find opportunities to learn in a way that plays to their strengths and attributes and our role as learning professionals should be to help uncover and encourage this. Once people have connected with an idea, found value and answered the WIIFM from something then we don’t need to push learning to them – they will want to learn themselves.

I’d be interesting in hearing about what alter ego you might have and if this alter ego has helped you do what your doing today?

Any thoughts on the wider subject would be most appreciated

MC Lay-Z 🙂