Friday, 20 July 2012

You don't know what you don't know

Okay on the face of it that's one of those cliche and annoying comments that people make but when it comes to this Learning Technologies stuff it's often infuriatingly true.  The number of times I speak with a client or potential client about developments or possible other ways of skinning the cat (yes, there is more than one way) only for their face to drop as they realise they could have saved the last six months effort if they'd only known that so-and-so feature, software or service existed.  So forgive me if the statement is obviously true, but accepting that at face value why do so many elearning novices strike out there on their own without the necessary help and support?

Firstly there's the almighty obvious answer of money.  There's a large number (and even one or two who may read my blog) that are the sole elearning 'expert' in their organisation and have been given that nice round figure to work with and expected to move the organisation in the right direction.  The first thing you need to do is get yourself in and around a community with common struggles.  In New Zealand the NZATD is a great place to start, but there's numerous other support streams depending upon what you're trying to achieve and what tools you're using.  I'm a big TotaraLMS and Moodle fan; so both of these have their own forums and support access (welcome to Open Source) but so do some commercial products like the excellent Articulate suite and the Adobe lot too.  It's not hard to find help (you just need to know it exists).
It's a lot like going to the gym for the first time out there; it can be quite intimidating out there with the big bodies and grunters; life is a lot simpler with a personal trainer to help you work your way around and show you the pitfalls.  That's where people like myself (learning technology consultants or similar named helpful individuals) can really pay dividends.  We can show you a little of what you don't know and explain the possibilities whilst helping you avoid some of the very costly mistakes it's possible to make in the world of learning technologies.  Whilst many of us in this field are self-taught, it take years to get there and we all have our stories of where it didn't quite go the way we thought!  Be careful when you do this.. my old article here has some advice on this:  choose your partner wisely.

The next thing is to find a 'friend' or mentor who is further down the path than you. If you know someone who regularly goes to the gym, then why not arrange to go with them.  You don't have to match the weights or exercises but you can pick up some great trips along the way, especially if your fitness instructor can help correct some of the bad habits your mentor might have got in to!  Your mentor doesn't have to be the same height, shape, sex or build as you (they can come from a different organisation or sector I'm saying here!), just have to have something in common and get along. 
You also don't need to take this journey on your own.  You need to find someone where you are who can relate, be interested in or at least support you along the way.  If you really are a one (wo/)man band then speak to your boss or mentor within the business. They don't have to work-out with you every time but if they are with you it becomes more fun; not a single journey that isn't better with the right company!

My last piece of advice on the unknown is that it's not a good idea to workout in the dark.  What I mean here as I (as usual) take the metaphor a stage too far, is that you don't have to be alone and in the dark even if you feel that way.  The trick here is to communicate with those around you what you are up to and embarking upon.  Whilst it would be nice to pop in to the gym silently every night and return to work 6 months later (yes, it takes time..) with a perfect bod to show off, the reality is small steps.  If you do this without any help, without letting people know, without celebrating those little successes then your overall likelihood of success is greatly reduced.  Besides when you communicate, you'll be surprised what some of the people you thought wouldn't be able to help are communicate; it's not so dark after all.

The moral of this story is that you will never know what you do not know, but with some help, guidance and friends, someone will know enough to help or point you in the right direction.  Life may be a journey rather than a destination, but it sure helps if you can see which way you're heading on that journey.

As always all opinions expressed above are entirely my own and I reserve the right to be wrong without admitting it.  If you have a comment then please post it here or get in touch with me either directly by email: or through LinkedIn or Twitter