Earthquake warnings for L&D at OEB2015

By Garry Hearn December 11, 2015

The Learning Blog welcomes guest blogger Garry Hearn, Divisional Director at Defence Academy of the UK. Garry visited the conference and exhibition formerly known as Online Educa recently, and sends us this report about the seismic changes he saw evidence of there that are shaking L&D.

OEB2015 event, photographed with a fish-eye lensMany readers will recall the last phase of the Cold War in Berlin – when the days of two German states, and a city bisected by a wall, were coming to a close. At that period in the late 1980s the old DDR was experiencing tensions resulting from at least three socio-political movements, analogous to tectonic plates on the move. These moving plates were the masses, the State, and a popular movement for change. Something similar (though on a less momentous historical scale, perhaps) could be sensed at OEB20015 this year; tectonic plates on the move, territorial maps about to be redrawn.

And I was also reminded of the film Good Bye Lenin, about the coming down of the wall and its aftermath … but more of that later.

OEB2015 was a great opportunity not only to sense the distant rumblings of an earthquake, but also to listen to, learn from, and connect with those who are ‘pushing the boundaries’ of L&D and redrawing the map of this changed landscape.

The mainstream L&D population attending the event (tectonic plate Number One) displayed a passionate interest in learning about new trends in training, learning, and education. They avidly sought out exhibitors of technology and methodology in an attempt to take away something that could increase individual and organisational knowledge. Novice and ‘expert’ rubbed shoulders in an egalitarian manner worthy of any equal society.

Within the confines of the conference the plethora of exhibitors continued to show their wares; focused on servicing and incrementally developing the existing L&D regime. Video techniques, plagiarism checkers, online testing tools, authoring tools, cloud-based services, and badges (of the digital variety) abounded. It was a cornucopia of gifts perfect for filling the soon-to-be-hung-up L&D Christmas stocking (or using up any leftover budget, for those with December year ends!). Concurrently, within the breakout rooms a multitude of presenters offered insights, tips, diagrams galore, concepts, tools, and case studies from all sectors and from many countries.

Well-dressed attendees happily strode around the event grabbing coffees, exchanging views and appreciation before rushing onward to seek out another exhibitor, or experience another soaking with valuable insights from the next keynote speaker.

It was in the breakout rooms that the visitor could find the second L&D tectonic plate, one that was moving slowly if at all – today’s business leaders. The ‘C Suite’ movement, it was explained, is able to control the power and influence of L&D, often viewing L&D as an annoying noise that can be tolerated, ignored, or swatted away. Thankfully, unlike the old DDR, this particular ‘plate’ is not completely averse to moving, but struggles to understand (we were told) exactly why it should move.

The third plate, the movement for change, took to the streets at the start of each of the two days. David Price, innovator, writer, and musician, led off on Day 1. He provided fascinating insight into the power of openness, trust, sharing, and the opportunities and benefits they afforded for achieving self-motivated learning shaped by the learner. Day 2 commenced with another set of well researched earthquake warnings, particularly from futurologist Cornelia Daheim. She informed the masses that portfolio careers and the demise of the job for life were already here – and L&D needed to respond. Both sessions focused on the world beyond the current practices of L&D, heavily hinting that the learning community is continually less inclined to embrace the current practices on offer, and L&D needs to react.

Fortunately, approaches to connect these three masses (the L&D community, the C Suite and the movement for change) were on offer. They could be found in a few enlightened or ‘regime changing’ areas of the conference. Charles Jennings and his team offered insights into work they have done on linking the 70:20:10 framework to business benefits; moving the ‘C Suite’ to a new and supportive space. Plymouth University with their ENACT project, and their psychometric approach, and Noddlepod with peer-to-peer social learning, all provided the ‘movement for change’ with supporting tools. The movement for change is scaling the wall and they are doing so not just through using tools but through truly thinking about the strategy.

So what was my over all impression of OEB2015? Firstly, that it is well worth attending, with some fantastically positive people, ideas, and products. Secondly, that it stimulates thinking about what is next for L&D. And thirdly … well here’s where the film reference from my opening paragraphs comes in.

Poster for the film Good Bye Lenin

The 2003 film Good Bye Lenin is set in Berlin and tells the story of an East Berlin mother who falls into a coma and wakes up after the wall has fallen. Her family tries humanely to prevent her from being exposed to the new world of unified East and West, lest it prove too great a shock for her fragile health to take, and much comedy and pathos flow from their efforts to pretend that life is going on in the same old way.

For me, this is very similar to the situation L&D is facing, if what I experienced at OEB is to be believed. The Mother is the learner, the family represents existing L&D practices, and the new open, sharing, self-motivated and thinking L&D movement represents the brave new world this fragile learner must be protected from. Trouble is, it’s a reality that sooner or later has to be faced. Was it just me, or did you feel the ground shake there a little bit?

Hopefully, reality will have a similar outcome to that in the film; the Mother will come to live peacefully and comfortably in the new unified world, where the good bits of the old world are aligned with the innovative, beneficial parts of the new. And the tectonic plates (to return to my earlier metaphor) will gently slide past each other into a new configuration – without any need for collapsing buildings and pyroclastic flow.

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