Michelle Ockers is a learning and development strategist who firmly believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to learn and to unlock their full potential to perform at their best. While she’s based in Australia, the Learning Uncut podcast co-host helps leaders all over the world to build a high-impact L&D function through serving as a trusted mentor, facilitator, trainer, and speaker.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Michelle about personal knowledge management, Working Out Loud as an approach to learning, and what she’s learned hosting her own podcast. They also discuss what learning leaders need to think about when planning their own professional development as well as some of the major opportunities and threats facing learning businesses today.
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[00:01] – Before we begin, we want to make a small request. If you are someone who has listened to the show before and gotten value out of it, or if you are someone listening for the first time and you find this episode valuable, please take just a moment to leave a rating and brief review for Leading Learning on iTunes. Reviews play an important role in long-term success and sustainability of any podcast. Your reviews help attract new listeners and they help show potential sponsors that the show is reaching listeners and having an impact. We know you are busy, as we all are, so please know that we really appreciate every review we receive. We’d be truly grateful if you would take just a moment to contribute a review today.
[01:13] –We wanted to take just a moment to highlight a recent review of the show and express our appreciation. This review comes from M. Fontaine, who calls us a must-listen, saying:
I regularly take a moment to reevaluate which content contributes the most to shaping my thinking. Jeff Cobb’s and Celisa Steele’s Leading Learning podcast always makes the cut. Interviews are concise, thought-provoking, and provide practical advice from going beyond thinking into taking action. If continuing education, professional development, lifelong learning or learning at large are part of your business, then this podcast is definitely worth listening to.
Thanks so much for leaving that review and the five-star rating.
[02:17] – A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Celisa interviews Michelle Ockers.
Also, thank you to Harold Jarche – who we interviewed in a previous podcast episode– for highlighting Michelle and her work for us.
[03:37] – Introduction to Michelle and some additional information about herself and her work. She talks about her structured background and experiences that have shaped her including being in the military for 16 years. She’s done a lot of project work and those skills ultimately landed her in the training environment. In the time she’s been working (independently and as an employee) Michelle shares she’s had some epiphanies around learning which have shifted her from calling it “training” to calling it “learning” and working in a very different way. She shares about an experience she had working at Coca-Cola Amatil building a technical training academy, which led her to discover what learning really was. This gave her the opportunity to start building an environment for continuous workplace learning—so moving from everything being about training to an environment of continuous learning and helping people to connect with others.
Most of her work now is in modernizing learning strategy in organizations and helping learning and development teams to make this mindset shift and to build their capability to equip them for a very dynamic, not just future but present. She adds that she’s also a parent and how she undertook a 7-month road trip with her daughter to show her more about choice, being creative and setting your own path in life.
[08:36] – It was Harold Jarche who first made me aware of you and your work and that’s because I think it’s fair to say that you and Harold are both deeply interested in personal knowledge management or mastery. How do you define PKM, and how do you use it (for your own learning and to support the work you do with learning leaders and teams)? Michelle shares that Harold Jarche has been one of her key influences that has shaped and shifted how she’s worked. PKM is really how she learns and works and a lot of it is around operating effectively in your network.
In Harold’s Leading Learning interview he references the model of seek, sense, and share and Michelle says she’s participated in his PKM online workshop twice. This cycle of seek-sense-share helps her learn as she work and it’s become how she operates now. This is a radical shift in her professional development, making her the master of her own destiny when it comes to learning. Now when she works with others she looks for ways to integrate some of the practices and habits into the work she does. She admits she doesn’t explicitly tend to talk about PKM and seek-sense-share because it doesn’t feel familiar enough to people. Instead, she tends to use language that’s more familiar such as learning from experiences, people, and investigation, a model she picked up from Arun Pradhan who does a lot of work around learning agility.
[13:43] – You describe yourself as a “Working Out Loud Champion.” What brought you to the practice of working out loud, and how does it fit into your own conception of PKM and learning? Michelle explains there’s quite a bit of overlap between working out loud and seek-sense-share. She originally came familiar with the idea of working out loud from Jane Bozarth, author of Show Your Work, which is about making work and work processes visible to others (one of the key ways Michelle did this early on was through blogging). In regards to seek-sense-share, this is a way of sharing your work. In the process of preparing to share your work you have to do some sense making so it’s tightly woven in. She also references John Stepper who talks about working out loud and working out loud circles and uses the idea of showing your work as one of the five elements of working out loud. Michelle shares about each of these elements: relationships, generosity, visible work, purposeful discovery, and growth mindset (also see, The 5 Elements of Working Out Loud (Revisited) by John Stepper).
[17:49] – Michelle continues her discussion on working out loud and how John Stepper set up working out loud circles, something she became interested in trying herself. The contribution aspect of this really resonated with her because it takes some of the stigma out of the older approaches to networking which were all about what you can get people to do for you. (Note anyone can access Working Out Loud Circle Guides, which are free 12 weekly guides that John offers for self-facilitated working out loud circles). Michelle also discusses how she piloted working out loud circles at Coca-Cola Amatil and that they were already being used by many organizations including Bosch. One of the key outcomes from this pilot was that participants reported they were really confident their networking skills improved. So in order to do all the elements of PKM with seek-sense-share, we need to be able to engage with others and doing that in a network amplifies and accelerates our learning. She still operates using working out loud circles and emphasizes that anyone can do it.
Sponsor: Community Brands
[21:47] – As Michelle has pointed out, relationships are a significant contributor to learning.
Community Brands provides a suite of cloud-based software for organizations to engage and grow relationships with the individuals they serve, including association management software, learning management software, job board software, and event management software. Community Brands’ award-winning Crowd Wisdom learning platform is among the world’s best LMSes for corporate extended enterprise and is a leading LMS for association-driven professional education programs. Award-winning Freestone, Community Brands’ live event learning platform, is a leading platform for live learning event capture, Webinars, Webcasts, and on-demand streaming.
[22:49] – Providers of learning ironically are too often focused on the learning of others, and their own learning gets short shrift. You have a lot of experience helping people develop their own professional development plans. Drawing on your experience helping others, what advice do you have for our listeners when they think about and plan their own professional development and learning? Michelle emphasizes it’s critical for every professional in today’s world to take charge of their own learning and to constantly be learning to stay abreast of change. We’re going through a huge transition with technology and artificial intelligence and it hasn’t settled so we’re not sure what the future is going to be. So taking control personally but also if you’re in an organization whose primary focus is to help others to learn, there’s a huge competitive advantage. With that, when it comes to planning your own professional development, Michelle suggests:
- Be intentional about what it is you want to learn or what domains/developments you want to probe into.
- Be fluid. She encourages people to set directional goals (rather than SMART goals) because they provide a sense of what you want to learn about but they give you fluidity to move as you discover and connect with others or come across new information/ideas.
- Be active in networks. Build your skills to connect with people and be a little courageous. Start interacting and participating in those because that in of itself is a contribution.
- Figure out what habits are going to work for you. Some of Michelle’s favorite thinkers and writers on habit formation are Charles Duhigg, Gretchen Rubin, and James Clear.
- Ensure you’re looking out far enough. Sometimes we get too caught up in the here and now and we don’t engage in the discovery process of what’s coming up in the next 2-5 years. So your horizon for learning has to be far enough out that you’re on the edge, particularly if you want to be an organization or person that guides other people into the future.
[29:27] – Along with Karen Moloney, you co-host Learning Uncut, which features interviews with learning professionals about real solutions they’ve implemented. How does the podcast fit into your own professional development and learning? And what are some of your major lessons learned or a-has from it so far? Michelle says she loves the podcast and that it brings her a lot of joy. Where it fits into her own professional development and learning is that it opens up conversations with others who are doing something interesting in the space. And because she’s independent, working across multiple organizations, this also allows her to stay close to practice and what people are doing/trying, so it gives her a lot of good examples to share with others. From a network perspective she says it’s a way of helping others to share their stories (like in seek-sense-share) so others can learn from them and improve their own practice.
In terms of major lessons, Michelle shares something she’s seeing a lot of is people who are doing really effective, impactful things in learning and development are looking outside of their own field—some of her guests talk about deliberately finding people with other opinions or who see the world differently so they can get a different take on their work/thinking. She’s also noticed a resurgence in practices we may have veered away from with a new take or twist (capability frameworks are an example of this). Michelle adds that experimentation is really critical and there is much more activity with people trying new things out. On a personal level, she admits doing the podcast has got her reading books again, something she’d fallen out of the habit of doing when so much of her work was focused around online.
[34:52] – I’m always curious about the path that brought others to podcasting. And from what I’ve read and seen of your work, you seem to be an intentional, thoughtful person, so I have to ask what made you decide to undertake a podcast? Michelle shares that she loves listening to podcasts herself and found them to be such an effective medium for learning. Initially, she admits she was intimidated by everything that goes into having her own podcast but when talking with her now co-host, Karen Moloney about wanting to help share more stories they decided to do it (and someone else offered to edit and produce it). They also wanted a local voice so all their guests are from Australia and New Zealand.
Sponsor: WBT Systems
[38:12] – If you’re looking for a technology partner to help you with your learning business, we suggest you check out our sponsor for this quarter.
WBT Systems develops the industry-leading TopClass LMS, which delivers transformative professional development experiences for education and certification programs. With a single point of support from in-house integration experts, TopClass LMS easily integrates with a wide variety of systems to provide efficient administration and a unified learning experience. WBT supports organizations in using learning technology to help drive growth in membership, increase revenues, and enhance the learning experience. WBT believes in truly understanding your challenges and partnering with you to ensure the success of your education programs.
[39:12] – What do you see as the major opportunities and threats today for organizations providing professional development, continuing education, and lifelong learning? Michelle starts with a story about her daughter’s concern that once she majors in something at a university, she may not even have a job by the time she graduates due to how fast jobs are shifting/changing. She says the major opportunities and threats starts with our education system and the kind of skills that people need moving into the future. And it also says something about what we regard as the professions, particularly those that are tightly regulated/controlled. So the shifts that are probably coming up for them and what that means in terms of continuing education around being able to move quickly enough to adjust to (largely technology-driven) shifts people need to know. So education institutions need to stay on top of that and adjust very quickly.
In terms of threats, Michelle points out there is a trap that is easy to fall into, which is focusing too heavily on content and not enough on connection and proving opportunities for co-creation. She says learning platform providers talk about pushing out content to people as they work to help them learn in the flow of work but that it’s not the same—we need to be more far reaching in our thinking and practices about helping people to learn more fluidly, connect with others, and provide opportunities for them to create something new for themselves—and not just be fed content.
So building community around common values, common purpose, and a way to learn is an opportunity, particularly when in places like Australia and the US, the traditional places people have gone for a sense of belonging/community aren’t as strong (and she notes Meetupis a way she’s seen some really effective and powerful communities in learning and development form). Michelle also discusses how the large amount of data we have available now, data analysis, and using evidence-based practice is another emerging opportunity.
[45:05] – What’s on the horizon for learning that you see as a positive development or change and that most excites you? On the technology side, Michelle is excited about the idea of personalized and adapted learning supported by technology and some of the developments in AI. So technology that, particularly in the workplace, can sense/detect/predict what you need, when you need it, and to be able to feed you, not only resources, but also perhaps behavioral nudges based on what’s happening in the flow of work. Also technology that’s going to make it easier to connect with other people more seamlessly.
On the human side, Michelle says more than anything it’s about the opportunity we have now to connect and collaborate with anyone, anywhere in the world to learn from each other. We’re still learning about how to really build trust/connection, but as an individual it’s radically shifted her experience of learning and work and opened up so many opportunities for her. And she thinks there’s so much more potential in this. Extending this to organizations and the idea of learning culture, Michelle also discusses the resurgence of interest in making workplaces more human and building better workplaces where people can bring their whole self to work and work in a more engaged way. If we can build more trust and engagement into our workplace, it opens up the opportunity to learn with more courage and to shift the boundaries of learning.
[49:05] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Michelle shares about an experience involving Jane Hart (Director of the Centre for Modern Workplace Learning) and a program she took through her that helped her learn in a more social way. She says this was the start of the incredible awakening for her and recommends anyone (not just people in L&D) check out Jane’s Modern Workplace Learning Challenge, which consists of 12 activities to build your own independent learning practices.
[52:47] – How to connect with Michelle and/or learn more:
[53:22] – Wrap-Up
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[55:08] – Sign off