Blending technology and the joy of helping others learn – Colleges Wales Keynote

On Monday 27th March 2017 I was honoured to be the keynote speaker for the Colleges Wales annual training and learning conference. This year the title is Step Up To the Future and the themes are “digital” and “more able and talented”.


Colleges Wales conference where Jo Cook is keynote speaker

The session I’m keynoting is focusing on the use of technology as part of the overall teaching blend. It’s important to start our focus on the reason most of us get into the careers that we are in, which is to set the context for those Lightbulb Moments of helping other’s learn and perform.

The full deck of slides in my presentation are available on


Title slide from Jo Cook’s Colleges Wales keynote presentation

If you want to see the tweets from the conference, this is the hashtag for the ones in English: #tlcym17

Joy in teaching

One of the things I wanted to concentrate on was the joy we have in our roles as teachers, trainers, facilitators, coaches and any learning or supporting role.

Often when paperwork, process, procedure and changes get on top of us, we forget how much we love what we do.

Ahead of the Colleges Wales conference I asked through Social Media “what do you love about your job in learning?”. As of 24th March 2017, these are the answers:


What do you love about your job in learning? Social Media responses

It’s so lovely to see these answers, about helping other people with change, helping them to “get it”, watching them grow and problem solve. The elements of working together and collaboration are important as humans are very social beings and it’s an essential element to how we learn.

Something I especially love is that people like seeing others enjoy their learning, and that there is also laughter. Anyone that knows me knows that I like a good laugh and I think that a light-hearted approach in many things can making it more enjoyable and make the learning a great experience.

On a digital note for a moment, for gathering the above thoughts I used the Anwer Garden website. It’s free and easy to gather short answers or suggestions from people. They don’t need a login or an app, just the link and they can contribute. Here’s the full question and suggestions you can look at and add your thoughts if you wish to.

Learning for life

Part of my research for the conference led me to look at the Welsh Education Reform Journey documentation. Something that especially caught my attention was this:

“Building on the 2014 OECD review and several other research reports, Wales developed an education vision and a strategic plan to move towards realising that vision, Qualified for Life: An Education Improvement Plan, published in 2014. Ongoing curriculum reform has allowed this vision of the Welsh learner to be further refined.”

The Qualified for Life element intrigued me – this is what we need to be doing in our roles, helping people for a future that isn’t yet written, for jobs that may not yet even be invented.

This could be worrying for many types of jobs, including teaching. Don Clark wrote this back in 2012 in a piece about Artificial Intelligence:

Future without teachers?

This may see hopelessly utopian. But could we have a future without teachers? Why not? Teaching is essentially being a conduit. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Wouldn’t academics really prefer to do pure research and not teach? Wouldn’t most teachers prefer not to have to mark anything and avoid the stress of the classroom? Couldn’t we dispense with teaching and just have learning?

Maybe teachers would prefer to get rid of the stressful elements in the classroom, and probably the hours or marking homework and assignments – I know they weren’t my favourite parts of teaching when I worked in a further and higher education college.

This theme lead me to thinking about the work of Canadian thought leader Harold Jarche and the concepts he has put together about the future of human work. Harold wrote this in a blog post about work:

We are on the cusp of being a digitally networked and computer-driven society and it seems we are throwing away the only thing that will enable people to have a valued role in it. Common core education standards are useless for this world of work. So are standard academic disciplines, as well as standard job competencies. These are all for machines, not humans. The future of human work is complex, creative, and unique.

Writer Sveta McShane summarised that there are three main things human are still better at than robots:

“Solving unstructured problems… working with new information… and non-routine manual tasks.”

She also highlighted that the World Economic Forum identified 21st century skills in categories of “Foundational Literacies, Competencies, and Character Qualities.”

They key point from Harold that resonates for this topic is that humans need to be ready for a complex world, where we are creative and make judgements in ways that machines, Artificial Intelligence and automated processes can’t.


Diagram on the future work for humans – click for original article and diagram by Harold Jarche

As Harold shows in the above diagram, it’s the empathy we have with other people that let’s us connect with them and build a relationship to support their learning – which is where the curiosity comes in. If we can foster this idea of curiosity and wonder in people, then they will want to learn, to improve themselves and the world around them.

Part of this future and curiosity will be encouraging people to seek information from whom or whatever their network is around them. Through a community of practice and perhaps the team that they work in, then make sense of this information.

Then it’s about sharing that information in a way that has created something new, something useful, back to the network.

This is the one way that we can manage professional development and it’s focus on continuous learning, and this is what we need to be taking into consideration when designing our learning materials.

Harold speaks of something he calls Personal Knowledge Mastery:

“PKM is a process of filtering, creating, and discerning, and it also helps manage individual professional development through continuous learning.”

In order to be able to do this, we need technology skills. “Technology is not what we seek, but how we seek”, quotes Futurist Gerd Leonhard in this video about humanity vs technology.

Challenge into opportunity

I see these changes as challenges to what we currently do, what we want to do, including staying in our comfort zone. I’ve seen it especially challenging for people with many years experience of working in a similar way.

We need to encourage people’s curiosity in order to get to the point of seeing that challenge as an opportunity for self and those that we support in building their own future.

Below are two questions posed to the audience of lecturers, teachers and senior practitioners at the Colleges Wales conference:


A question for the Colleges Wales conference audience

These were group discussions, with responses via Twitter and TodaysMeet too.

These questions are designed to draw out the challenges and thinking of those who are less comfortable with the amount of digital work that they are doing in their role. It’s also an opportunity for those who are more comfortable, and perhaps could be frustrated by colleagues, to understand a different point of view.

Time for change?

This quote is from a study about comparing different types of training in the US and highlights how this is the way forwards in schools:

Quote from Jo Cook’s Colleges Wales presentation

From this study, An Exploratory Study Comparing Two Modes of Preparation for Online Teaching, we can extrapolate the issue from schools to further and higher education, as well as different industry sectors.

Another research quote I found useful in looking at technology use in learning professionals is from a University of Westminster paper (2013) about faculties implementing technology.

“Two key variables influence intention to make use of a technology: perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use.”

My experience with educators, learning professionals, support staff and decision makers in more senior positions, is that they need to experience good practice and well modelled different ways of learning in order to understand their possibilities.

Without best-in-class experience, people don’t always understand how new approaches can be worth the time and learning investment and the potential culture change.

Why bother?

It’s a fair question – we might think that our current styles and approaches work excellently, or are good enough. A lot of the time, for many people, they certainly will be. It doesn’t mean that methods and approaches can’t be improved or further research won’t show up shortcomings we didn’t previously know about (see my post on learning styles as an example).

One piece of research from Towards Maturity shows how important it is for us to look at working in an online manner, focusing on what people do at work and how they learn naturally.

This report highlighted that the main reason people wanted to learn online, using a blended approach, was that they just want to do their job faster – 76% of people want to do that! Couple that with 60% of respondents wanting to increase their productivity and we can see that the workforce we have now want to do better for their organisations.

75% want to learn from their own personal development, not necessarily a formal learning course, with nearly half (47%) actively wanting to keep up with technology itself. Even if formal learning isn’t for everyone, 42% are motivated to getting a professional certification – all through blended online learning.

Also, it’s about the skills that our newer generations of workers need to develop. It’s easy to think that young people are all technology savvy experts, as they play on their tablet, message on their phone and watch the television at the same time. However the Usabilla blog reported on research that “only 5% of the population have high computer-related abilities.” So we need to help them build the skills.

Just because not every student has the right skills, doesn’t meant that they don’t know they need them. Jisc news highlighted a report that showed:

“75% of higher education students surveyed believe that, having staff with the appropriate digital skills is an important factor when choosing a university.
99% of students think that technology is becoming increasingly important in education.”

Isn’t it about time..?

I love sharing this quote:

“Both students and tutors were positive about using… online tutoring, and…interactions were perceived as successful.”

I love sharing it for two main reasons:

  1. It’s brilliant research about using online software for “synchronous e-learning system for online tutoring” and highlighting the success that can be achieved.
  2. It’s from 2007. That’s right, it’s 10 years old. For some people there is still debate about whether online, blended teaching and training can work or if we should be doing it.

A lot of the reasons for people’s reticence is fear of technology.

 One of the reasons for not using live online learning was the fear of technology. From

Fear that the robots are going to take over, as mentioned above.

However when people get to experience how good online delivery can be, it can inform them of different experiences, such as this teacher describing her reaction to using computers for teaching in the US:

I always believed I would be much better in person than through the computer, but I have found that I can still have relationships with students in this manner.
I am not very competent with the computer but I am very strong in my subject matter.”

In the Jisc news item mentioned above, Jisc CEO Paul Feldman said:

“In today’s digital age, it’s crucial institutional leaders stay up to date with digital trends and grasp how to leverage new technologies if they wish to deliver an enhanced learning experience to their students. Possessing technology and understanding the digital world is no longer the sole domain of IT managers, all student facing staff need to be digitally savvy.”

We know that blended learning and online approaches can be many things, including, but not limited to:

Blended learning can be so many things

Blended learning is… from Jo Cook’s Colleges Wales presentation

This is, and should be, all be based on good pedagogy too.

This link is a great learning theory map with scientific disciplines, learning theorists, their paradigms and key concepts. I pick out from it paradigms such as social constructivism and experiential education, which are about learners having active roles with direct experience in education. Bruner’s discovery learning and scaffolding for tailored support to learners are essential concepts to be taken and used in the 21st century.

In his book, Learning with ‘e’s: Educational theory and practice in the digital age, Steve Wheeler states:

“True pedagogy is the antithesis of instructing from the front of the classroom.
True pedagogy is leading people to a place where they can learn for themselves.”

For more on classic and more modern pedagogy in teaching and the digital age, Steve’s book is an excellent read.


The invitation I give to people at the end of the keynote is to team up with someone, to learn together as professionals. Learning transfer, including our own, is about accountability, and working with other’s will help that.

Steve Wheeler, in his book, says that “every successful teacher must also be a professional learner. The essence of good teaching is to get students to fall in love with learning”. After all, if we aren’t excited by and curious about the what is to come, about developing new skills and using them in a future that is unwritten, how can we expect our learners to be?

Technology plus people equals success

The future is technology but also people, from Jo Cook’s Colleges Wales keynote presentation

Flowering in L&D

Yesterday I wrote this blog post for Training Journal, about how to refresh ourselves in our professional life. It was inspired by seeing a stagnant stream on a walk.

This morning I went on a similar walk and saw some plant life that reminded me of two things: blooming in adversity and perspective.

Blooming in adversity 

Where I walk it’s full of what we would call weeds in our gardens – lots of ivy, nettles and all sorts, as well as nicer ferns and blackberries. flowers1

Whilst walking along I saw this one flower blooming in amongst the tangle of everything else. With yesterday’s blog on my mind and knowing that there are many of our L&D colleagues in organisations that don’t support modern work-learning methods and feel frustrated, this one flower made me think about being the one person doing something despite all that’s going on around.

I remember an organisation I worked in where I seemed to be the one L&D team member taking a consultative approach with our internal customers. It seemed obvious to me, to ask what they wanted, what the problems where and how we would know we’d made a difference. The clients felt listened to, like they got what they needed as well as what they wanted. Of course I often felt frustrated with my colleagues – I sometimes felt that they were the tangle, offering training menus where I was trying to encourage whole different recipes and cuisines!

I learnt from those experiences, I achieved successes, I learnt from failures. Seeing this one flower made me realise how just one bloom can make such a difference.


On the way back from my walk I came to the point where I’d seen the one flower. And I was pleasantly surprised – on the other side there were lots of those flower heads!

Sadly my photo doesn’t capture it as well as I saw it, lots of pale white petals adorning the green wild mound of foliage.


This made me smile and think about how a change of perspective can make all the difference. Where I had seen a lone flower, there were actually many!

This is about connecting with others – they could be in your team or department, or more widely in your organisation. Arguably the wider organisation may be more valuable in you learning about what people and the business need and making a difference.

It’s also about connecting with others in your profession and wider to it. It can be the same old LinkedIn, Twitter, conferences, local CIPD, whatever. The point is finding like-minded and also challenging people where we can all learn, work and support together.

That way we can all be gorgeous flowers in a sea of verdant vegetation.

Sparking my creativity

I love helping people. I guess it’s why I naturally fit into Learning and Development so well and why I felt at home the first time I was delivering in a classroom. It’s why my business is called Lightbulb Moment and on Twitter I’m @LightbulbJo – it’s the moment of learning, of independence, of insight. I love it.

Why do I help people? I’m not sure. It’s my nature I guess, something that’s in me. My mother helps people. Gosh does she. She’s always been a mother hen, taking in people under her wings. An awesome inspiration to see how much she helped and supported people just by being herself, by doing what she was good at and without really realising it. It’s only when she retired and there was a massive, grateful party did she have any inkling as to the impact she had on people’s lives. That’s quite a role model.

Is there some deep psychological issue at play in helping people? Maybe. There is an argument that humans never do anything that is truly altruistic, that there is always some kind of pay-off somewhere. I like to think that I’m doing it out of the goodness of my heart, truly not for myself. But I get something out of it too. There’s the psychological payback immediately of “oh, I know the answer to this” or “I can contribute to this conversation” which, ultimately must mean “I’m good”.

I’ve been helping Sarah with her travel blog. She’s a great natural writer, who needs a bit of experience to hone her skills. She went off on an extensive travelling adventure this year. There were beautiful photo’s on Facebook and lovely insights and stories when we caught up on Messenger Video. It seemed natural, at least to me, that she should share those stories for other people’s entertainment and to inform them from what she had learned.

I help Sarah a bit with editing some of her posts, giving her the insight that I have about writing, structure, delivering a message. I might not be the best expert in the world, but as Con Sotidis said to me yesterday, “you just need to be one step ahead” of who you are helping. I’ve helped (pushed!?) Sarah into setting up a Twitter account to publicise her blog and she’s getting great at using hashtags. It’s lovely to help someone with what, to me, is relatively easy, and to Sarah is a step into the unknown.

I’m also encouraging Sarah to write some more about her work experiences, as she’s going into a new industry and new role. I can see the richness in what we talk about and how much that could help other people if she shares the story, if she “works out loud”. She’s beginning to write some of that and shared with me a first draft yesterday. That draft was great. Even as someone with a couple of decades in the industry, I was captivated by what she was writing and saw great potential in some of her observations. I’ve fanned that flame and I look forward to it growing.

Sarah is also a very grateful and self-effacing young woman who always wants to give back, to ensure that the balance of give and take are there. It’s this point that struck me this morning. She might feel that she is taking more than she’s giving, with the support that I’m providing. What she probably doesn’t realise is how much I enjoy it. How I love to edit her work and see something fresh and different from my normal L&D focused work. I get something from it too, from working outside of my own industry.

And then there are the fireworks. I get to reflect on what Sarah has written, our conversation, our joint meaning-making. I think about it. It sparks something in me. That creativity is hard to manufacture. That comes when given the right context.

I have my own company and, largely, I work at home, alone. I love it. I can write this blog at 9.42 in the morning and not have a boss breathing down my neck. I can spend time chatting with people on Skype to advise them or just share my own experiences. It’s fine, as long as I hit my client’s deadlines and quality expectations, they don’t mind how I get there.

Yes, I have Skype, Twitter and obviously lots of online sessions I deliver to keep in touch with people during the day. Whilst I might be alone I’m rarely lonely.

The creative spark comes from connecting with people. The wonderful Michelle Parry-Slater has written recently on this topic, about the face to face connection that many people seek out. I agree with her, we need that time. This is a different type of connection though. With Sarah, it’s been largely Facebook Messenger chats, effectively working remotely with each other, and some phone/video calling. It’s been interwoven in our friendship, which, equally, could be a good colleague relationship.

Do I get something out of helping Sarah? Of course, she’s a delightful and positive person and tells me how awesome I am. We can all do with a bit of that! More than that is the curiosity she brings to topics, the questions and search for meaning and understanding. That’s what sparks something in me. That’s just one good reason to help people.

Plot a destination and set sail


I’ve just been having a conversation with a colleague from a previous role who is making the jump and going freelance. It’s an awesome decision to make, right for some, not for all. As I have my own company and work for a variety of clients in a different roles, my friend was asking about how do you know what to charge, how do you have the conversation, how do you work it out and so on. There was more to the questions though. It wasn’t about maths or market rates. I could see the angst on my friend’s face, the way breathing and posture changed, the way their voice was different and the way they interpreted my questions… My friend was struggling with self confidence, professionally and personally. They were certainly out of their comfort zone and really feeling it!

Focusing to build confidence

The obviousness of breathing aside, it was about hearing the real issue of self confidence and addressing that. I know my friend has knowledge, skills and experience. They were my colleague before my friend so I know what they can achieve. But if they don’t know it, it will be a struggle.

The first point we discussed is that they are out of their comfort zone, it’s new, and it’s ok. It’s ok to feel a bit lost. I suggested that you have to give yourself permission to feel that way, then focus on what you can do.

Another point we addressed is that my friend wanted to “be ready” for the work. That’s understandable and commendable, we want to make sure our clients and employers get what they need from us. However we don’t all know everything, so it’s about taking the experience and knowledge we have and going from there. In part of the conversation my friend asked “how do I work out x for a client, is that a normal process?” When I thought about it, there is no normal process. Every client is individual and you go with how they want to work, within the remit of your own expertise and consultancy. Having both worked with the same company, I reminded my friend of their experience and the experience of the people, which is all valuable and valid.

A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner

There were lots of other detail in our conversation, including about how to scope out charges for work, by the hour or day, what’s an acceptable amount and so on. The biggest thing that I saw was someone who, in their own words, felt “overwhelmed” – with information, opportunity, choices and decisions. I used an analogy in this conversations that I use quite a lot in sharing my own experience. I’ve never been a great one for planning out my career path, rightly or wrongly. I’ve tended to ‘see an island I like and set sail for it‘.


Sometimes I don’t get out of the marina, because it’s stormy out there or I’m all tangled up in the ropes. Other times it’s a nice sunny day and I’m relaxing on deck. When I get out of the marina and onto the high seas and the wind blows, I put the sails up and go with the opportunity that has presented itself. Sometimes I get nearer that island and I see it’s not so good as it was from afar, so it’s time to pick a new island. There are islands I stay at for a while, others I only visit for a short time. The point is, I’m always pondering the next island. If it’s a way off, what can I visit on the way? Perhaps some islands I take a scenic route and get to much later than I thought. But, hey, the journey is pretty cool!


Recommendation of redundancy

Feature originally published in the now defunct Live Your Life In Colour website December 2012

The ‘r’ word is scary. It means no holiday. It means a loss of livelihood. It means defaulting on the mortgage. It means what next for my career?

We can look out at the job market and not know where we fit, because our networks are all inside the organisation. We don’t know what our skill-set is any more, or where that can fit in another company. It can be scary to a imagine the other people we might be up against if we do find a role that we think might just manage where we are at. And for many, it can means months or years of depressing rejection.

For some people, of a certain time, in a certain location and a certain professional area, it could represent opportunity. But that opportunity still has to be seen, worked on and taken advantage of.

For me, wanting to leave a role and an organisation that wasn’t providing me with the career satisfaction I craved or the development opportunities I needed, let alone allowing me to make the impact I felt I could, was a scary concept. I was on a very good wage, that I had become accustom to. I was well known and it was acknowledged I provided quality work. But the flip side was not quite enough self belief or respect in my own resilience to take a leap.

The ‘R’ word came looming and I looked in the job market, being worried about the lack of suitable roles, let alone the ones that I really wanted to do. I didn’t have the external networks to draw upon or know where to begin with them. But I didn’t have a choice. The door was shut firmly behind me, forcing me into a glaring world. I knew there were other doors to open, but not how to find them, knock on them, see who was there and if I was welcome.

After a short time of licking my wounds, survival instincts drove me forward and I found those opportunities. I created them, nurtured them. I found free exhibitions and events in my geographic and professional area. I went along curious, wanting to learn and also open to network. From there I found one of my most valuable connections to date. It’s also where I started realising that there was a whole world out there. Some more time out and personal development through a redundancy package meant building my skills and confidence.

Image:  William Iven from

Image: William Iven from

It wasn’t all silver platter: I needed to work hard on those development areas. And from there came my next role. Different from what I would have left my old role for, both in the positive (a career step I’d been working towards) and the not-so (a significant pay difference and no security). Six months on and I can see even more benefits. I’ve improved my understanding of networking beyond the organisation. I’ve increased my understanding of the skills and strengths I bring to the company and therefore the confidence when I go on to the next. Also I realise that if I’m not happy in a role for whatever reason, I don’t have the lack of confidence that keeps me from realising I don’t have to stay. So, tentatively, I can recommend redundancy.

Debunking the Learning Style

A few articles have dripped into my Twitter feed and Inbox recently around the lack of science to back up common learning theories and personality quizzes. The lack of rigorous scientific evidence, in my discussions with others, either doesn’t surprise at all or is incomprehensible – with people often commenting “but that’s what I learnt in my teacher training!”

One of the problems is that these ideas make some kind of sense to the individual. Donald Clark, on his blog, wrote “they have an intuitive appeal but, given the proliferation of these theories, with success based more on marketing than evidence, it is a largely discredited field”.

I remember using and recommending learning styles myself. It just seemed right. I knew how much I understood ‘visually’ from completing the questionnaires myself. To this day I struggle to drive round my home town without a picture in my head of how the roads and areas connect; when writing some of my blog posts I want the images and visuals to hand for me to be able to think creatively – hence the screen grab below of a guest blog I was drafting at the time about rock climbing.


What did I do with this knowledge about learning styles? To be fair, it made me question and evaluate some of my training methods and strive to deliver in a variety of ways. What I didn’t do though was know the learning styles of my attendees. Even if I did, would I have done anything? As Don Clark points out, “no sooner is the questionnaire complete than the PowerPoint is out”.

I do recall questioning learning styles a number of years later when doing my degree. A lot of the lectures I went to I wasn’t making notes – I was concentrating on listening and involving myself with the content, delivery and discussions. There are all sorts of arguments here about my attention focus versus note taking and embedding this into long term memory in my own words… I just knew what was right for me at the time. So was I now a visual learner, or an auditory learner? Or was this just not quite right..?

There’s all sorts of interesting blogs and articles on the web on this topic, which broadens out to Myers-Briggs and the like. I’ve collected a few of them on a Scoop It page for your delight and delectation. Do let me know if you find more, or opposing views!