Who am I? Where am I? – Is social media confusing?

I have been away from the blog for a while and feel I need to earn my seat with some existential offerings. Everything is changing. Everything. It makes me wonder. (And continued thanks to Julian Stodd for provoking these thoughts).  So…


Not so long ago, well not too long ago, my digital identity resided in a word document. A document I had pored over, crafted, recrafted and saved carefully on a hard disc (latterly on a USB drive). When the time arrived, I would post this to people (in a postbox) in the hope that it would illuminate my potential and highlight the singular trajectory of my career (latterly it would go via email). This document was, still is, my CV. This is where my professional history and experience resided. It was me in a succinct and authentic nutshell. I still have a version of this nutshell stashed away, as we all do.

A CV now has limited application and is reserved only to tell a somewhat narrow and formal version of my professional self.  That self is now merging with my other selves as work patterns and relationships change, prodding even harder at the value of a single nutshell in which to carry all of me. This story is also only told at certain formal moments – job applications in the main. Even then it requires other narrators to validate it, referees and the currency of the qualifications it describes. There is not enough context to contain very much meaning. It is only one heftily authored perspective. A CV seems now like a museum piece, curated and displayed for inspection in a formal context alone. It has very limited application in the world I now inhabit.

I suppose, in addition to the CV, I have also left an imprint on various HR, Training and Finance systems of my employers over the years.  I don’t know what to do with these though and never really have. They are not created for me and are of little use.

As so many do, I now live out the story of my experience in many places, each with their own context, community and utility. In no particular order I have:

  • A Facebook profile
  • A Facebook page
  • A Twitter account
  • A LinkedIn profile
  • A blog (and a WordPress account to go with it)
  • A Tumblr (and a Disqus account to accompany it)
  • A Pinterest account
  • A Goolge+ profile
  • More than one ‘corporate social network’ account
  • An internal blog
  • A Sharepoint profile (probably)
  • A Periscope presence (profile maybe?)
  • An Instagram account
  • A Skype account (does that count?)
  • A WhatsApp account
  • Facebook messenger account
  • A profile on Medium
  • A YouTube account or channel
  • A FutureLearn profile/account

[I haven’t listed email accounts. They seem like ways of communicating for me rather than where I reside. There is not an identity in an email account itself. But that also seems like a false distinction. Communication is pretty much what all this is about after all. Should they be on the list too? If so, there are a few of those too.]

I could, arguably, strike a few from the list on the basis that they are ‘personal’ and not worky. That is less conclusive now though. My Facebook profile is private in the main but many contacts in there are through work or are existing colleagues and it is used for work stuff too now as a result. I think this has added utility to my use of the service whilst muddying that distinction. They should remain then.

Now. I am comfortable with all of these tools (if expert with none of them). Some are barely used, admittedly. Some have seriously lapsed. Some are overused. I am also, however, thoroughly bewildered now that I have listed them and am peering at them in this form. I can understand why many folks pine for the limited certainties of only a CV and a private email account. Where am I amongst all this? Who am I amongst all this? What do people make of me? How will they find me? And then…who are they? Etc. Etc.

Whilst this can seem complicated and confusing (and it is complicated and confusing) I don’t feel any crisis or real problem at present. Many people have much longer lists and are perfectly happy with them as well. I am in the company of literally billions of people figuring out how, why and when to use these tools. I am learning how they work for me and how they are limited. I am learning what other people do with them and how to respond when I do and don’t like what they do and when they do and don’t like what I do.

In the grand scheme of social and cultural history, these tools have been around for a very short time. It is very hard to tell how they will evolve and which will expire. Even harder to discern what else will come along. I’m not sure we even know well what we will want to do with them. It is quite conceivable that we will look back at a 140 character limit on communication as quaint and bizarre. It seems to be creaking already. I suspect (and hope) that protocols will emerge to help us manage the spasms of abuse that infect much social media activity. I also suspect that we will settle on patterns of use that we find most useful for ourselves. Constant, restless exploration is quite tiring and not always productive. We will start to figure out where and who we are to greater satisfaction.

Some of our current expectations will endure, however. They will continue to be the baseline of expectations that successful products and uses of those products need to meet. We want to find people and ideas that resonate with us (on our terms), we want clear signals of who those people are and what they are about. We increasingly want authenticity from those signals and in the interactions we have – spam is just nasty and will always be nasty. We want to find people who know stuff we are interested in and can help us do things we value doing. We also want to be found for those reasons. We want pieces of that knowledge to be available and usable. We want to share and be shared (sometimes). We want an audience for our ideas and our work – bearing in mind that others want this to be meaningful as well. (I sincerely hope that the current narcissism will reduce. I hope. A lot). We want to know what’s new from people who’s judgement we value. We want shortcuts straight to the source and clear signals that the source is genuine.

We want all of this to be ours. Actually we want it, in the main, to be mine. We want personal relevance and resonance. The good products all feel like mine. Like they are personal to me. (Look out for those T’s and C’s tough – they are not ours in all ways).

If we want all this from our own use, we need to make sure that our contributions are supportive of these desires. We need to look after how we present ourselves – we need to tend to our landscape as we make it. We need our offers to these spaces to be relevant and resonant. Or, at least, make the sincere attempt that they are. Yes, cat gifs will abound and pictures of our dinners at sunset too. That’s OK and is authentic in a way. It is also thin and disposable and probably valued as such. I believe that we get what we give and that our new social worlds work this way too. The enduring value we find is richer than that and rarer too.

So, whilst a sense of confusion is never far away in this landscape, there is a real opportunity to explore where and who we are. Expecting one fixed answer in a singular context is unwise. This is not a CV landscape. One document will not nearly suffice. It is fluid and shifts as we all shift it. None of us want to believe we are only one person anyway.

As a modest case in point. At the start of this post, I was pretty sure of the shape of my thoughts on this topic. Now I am less sure. What do you think?







Practice but not (I suspect) perfect

During the course of the last few weeks, I have attended a few conferences and seminars, both as delegate and presenter. They have been interesting and thought provoking events. At each, I have been invited to share and consider best practice. To offer stories about how things have been done well and to consider stories of those well done by others.

This is pretty familiar territory for all of us who have spent time in and around a conference floor. An agenda is crafted by the event producers, concentrating on gathering a group of successful people together who are, hopefully, good at sharing the narrative of their success. I do not think it is uncharitable to call this “constructive showing off”. Delegates congregate around the subject in the interest of picking up some interesting and useful ideas and techniques. Meeting the people with the ideas is always a genuine motivation and has not yet been effectively digitised (virtualised?) in my experience. Headhunting is often part of the event dynamics too, both seeking employees and employment. This is also harder to do when not in the same room.

So far, so good as a sketch of many good days out for many of us conference floor citizens. I think, though, there is room for improvement in the sharing of best practice. It lies in the prizing apart of the best part. What does best really mean? Practice is still a good descriptor though. I am uncertain that we really know what best means in the digital arena. Effective, helpful, interesting, better, rewarding. These are authentic. Best I am now suspicious of.

Part of the point of Digital these days is refining and improving by increments. Better? Yes. Best, however, implies we know something more final. That it has been figured out and resolved.

By way of illustration, I attended and presented at an event dealing in digital innovation and the strategies best employed to manage it. Plenty of grist for the mill here. For those of us mainly dealing in learning matters, it was a refreshing event. Plenty of cross industry histories and reusable ideas. Very little “my sector is special” thinking which seems to dog the learning world. Tales from charities, health services, finance, insurance and communications were shared by good and very good presenters. These were proper best practice case studies as you would expect them. I doubt even the most confident of the speakers thought that they had cracked a replicable code but experience was polished to a high shine nevertheless.

I felt a growing itch which I have yet to scratch, to interrogate the stories a little a find out where the polish had faded, where the surface was scratched and cracked. I really wanted and want to know what did not work. What went wrong and how that changed the original narrative to the one recounted on the stage. Where were the spanners in the works inserted (and by whom). Maybe these are the war stories as told by the foot soldiers rather than the historians on the victors side.

I doubt this is a new insight but there is considerable scope for conferences to evolve as learning events. It is the mistakes and the responses to them that are the meat of the experience. I realise that most brand owners would shy away from plastering their errors for public display but a wise brand might share how it has grown and how its experience, the rough and the smooth of it, has generated real wisdom. I reckon there is a market for these stories, presented as lessons of rounded experience and shared in an open and uncritical atmosphere.

Maybe there is a conference out there entitled…

Digital: Well, that didn’t work…But this seems to…

Predictability needs to be cool

I don’t think I have met anyone who wants to be predictable. All of us nurse hopes that we are special, different or, at least, noteworthy. Some of us are convinced that we are unique and our daring originality should be constantly celebrated. None of us, though, want to be ordinary. Neither do we want our work to be exactly what was expected. We are human after all and these ambitions are the energy of progress and imagination.

This energy causes problems, however, when it comes to digital products and the content that fills them. Digital products, like the stock market, are at their best when they are predictable. When they do what we expect them to do (repeatedly) and respond to our commands in expected ways (repeatedly) we are happy with them. When they are capricious and require attention to operate, we are frustrated and anger swiftly. I don’t believe I am the only person who has tossed my phone aside, vexed beyond repair at a poorly designed tool or app.

It is possible that we try too hard or in the wrong ways in our attempts to engage our users. Engaging experiences are the promised land of our digital world and we rightly try and offer them. I wonder that we are trying to engage at the wrong points. I am not sure that product design should be engaging. It should just be usable. Cunning design is less welcomed than simple design. Anything that requires though to be used is not working well.

In learning services, I have a hunch that problems arise when instructional design and product design bleed together.The convention of simplicity can be lost and users are left to figure things out for themselves. The content controls confuse the experience and then spoil the content itself. Or worse, tricks are introduced to draw the attention of the user beyond their interest in the topic or its treatment. The desire to engage can lay waste to the predictability of the tool and users are lost.

Standards are a great aid to predictability. Standards are not boring or old fashioned. They free the audience to enjoy the service on offer. Mental energy can be focused on the activity itself not on the journey to it. Thus, templates are our friends. Templates for courses, for content pages, for content itself and for the actions users are expected to take. They aid predictability for users and reduce design energy spend on utility. Standards and templates are our friends and we must love and respect them accordingly.

Books are quite predictable experiences and very reliable. They are standard content discovery and consumption devices. They are also as varied as the imagination that fills them. The stories in books can be wildly unpredictable but the books themselves are wonderfully easy to use.

Maybe our digital design needs to be more authorial? Focused more on the stories and less on the tools. There are many examples of great digital tools where the utility has been solved for us already, leaving us free to try and tell a  good tale.


Passing the first post: Making it up as we go along

The urge to justify myself is upon me. Given the ease of expressing oneself this contribution needs some deliberate placing. So…this first post is an attempt to claim that position. A clearing of the blogging throat. This blog will be about work essentially and about the work of applying technology to learning. I can’t really claim a studious heritage in education, training or psychology. Neither can I point to a long history as a teacher or trainer (or a short one). By now, I have been travelling the learning technologies territory for many years and I might just be finding my feet. I find myself with opinions and points of view on what is and might be happening with the current world of learning and the use of digital things to that end.

Not all opinions should be shared, of course. Some should be buried and built over. With good intentions, however, an opinion shared may have value beyond the polishing of an ego. I hope to use this blog as a means of sharing them (the better ones) and figuring out their value. If things go well, a few interested folk may help to steer me and share their own views. So, do sing along with the parts you recognise.

This will be blogging as a kind of public rehearsal. (Possibly as a form of modest therapy). Early parenthood taught me that we are all making it up as we go along. Improvising and busking, hoping and waiting for familiar patterns and melodies. Some do this with great confidence and panache. Some falter and are less convinced and convincing. We are all figuring things out afresh however. This is nowhere more true than in ‘digital learning’, whatever it may be, where a great global experiment is well underway.

So…I think this is my first opinion to post. It is healthy to be suspicious of those who are offering (or selling) certainty in the learning technology game. Even a high degree of confidence is worthy of a good dose of scepticism (and a well guarded wallet). Phrases and words such as digital, training, data, mobile, learning, social, online, networked and such, are hard to grasp on their own. In combination they can be very slippery no matter how cool they sound. The older certainties of the LMS and instructional design feel increasingly less relevant, no matter how reassuringly familiar. The new horizons of social learning, for example, are exciting in their adolescence (or childhood, for the less excited) but it’s hard to see what kind of adulthood may emerge. Perhaps confusion is a sign of good judgement? It is a great time to experiment though and figure some of those genuinely valuable answers to the best learning question: “Why would anyone want to use that?” The plain English equivalent of asking for the use case – the cornerstone of any good product design. (Asked in polite English of course. There is no need to be rude.)

What’s in a name? (Ending the struggle with the ‘C’ word).

I think I am reaching peace with use of the ‘C’ word. On first entry to the broad landscape of Learning and Development, I baulked and bucked against the predominance of Courses. Regardless of need or moment, a course (or its grand partner, a Programme) appeared to be the single tool to crack all nuts.

There does seem to be a systematic problem in the industry that has so long relied on the “learning = training = course” equation. The reflex that reduces all needs to single format is a structurally and culturally powerful. For some, a training function exists to offer courses and if that is not the result of production then it is not a training function. Training does equal course. Other tools maybe fine and dandy but they are not training.

Few, if any of us, live or learn like that now (or ever did, I suspect). There is such a natural familiarity with so many other formats and tools that courses, outside of training and education, seem pretty rare. Not a mainstream consumer behaviour anyway. Nothing like the “how to…” video or Wikipedia article which have become the new learning staples. In such a pick’n’mix environment only offering Marathon bars seems mighty peculiar.

Whilst there is much heat in the debate about training and/or learning formats, I reckon it is clear that they are all useful and effective. It is equally clear that none of them are anywhere close to a panacea (some have very narrow uses in fact). Sorting out what to use when is the pressing challenge now.

Courses have a major advantage though. They are predictable. We all know what they are and how they work. We know what to expect from them and what they expect of us (as providers and consumers). In the corporate learning world this is particularly the case. A course is brewed and served in a glass that fits around it neatly. The weights and measures, pricing and menus are part of the fabric of the most organisations and we tend to be confident consumers. As punters we tend to know when we have had enough, need more or will give it a rest for a while. Our organisations can have a heavy hand in this exchange too ‘managing’ our learning and deciding when we have had enough or need to take our seats again.

Rather than find new names for these new items and torture learners with neologisms, maybe we should just call them courses? Many different kinds of courses for various appetites but courses nonetheless. Some of them would need to be very small, very brief and very light. They might merge and accumulate over time to become something that is more familiar. More like an old school course. But still courses.

So, a brief “How to…” film is a course, a podcast is a course, a webinar is a course and (of course) courses are courses. The sophisticated 21st century consumer can probably handle this. They seems pretty sharp to me.

If the sign above the bar says “Courses”, perhaps the clientèle will make the same wise choices they make in their leisure time?