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Real Learning from Jay Cross

by | Dec 2, 2015 | Articles

I am writing this from Berlin.

As a member of the Online Educa Berlin Steering board, I have had the privilege of visiting the city at this time of year for the last 8 years. I love Berlin – the atmosphere, the Christmas markets and the history. I also love Online Educa – the atmosphere, the conversations and the people. Only this year it will be different.

It’s less than a month since our friend and fellow OEB steering board member, Jay Cross, passed away and the world of learning is still reeling from his loss. At OEB this year we are reminiscing, and celebrating his life and his new book – Real Learning.

Real Learning is subtitled ‘the missing manual for do it yourself learners’ and provides practical insights into how we can all become better learners, making the most of every experience and social opportunity. Over the last few weeks as I have been reflecting on Jay’s life, it struck me that this book is almost autobiographical- mapping out how he has explored, shared and contributed to the learning industry.

I have known Jay for nearly 20 years. Originally, we worked together at CBT Systems in the late 90’s. At that time, he was in California working on the reinvention of computer based learning following the birth of the internet. He was fundamental in imagining a new world of e-learning where individuals could connect, collaborate and learn together – real time in the real world. I was working in London and was captivated this new vision of how technology could fundamentally change the way that we learn. In my first encounter with Jay, he was already living out some of the key themes of Real Learning – he continually demonstrated a growth mindset , challenging the status quo, seeking new challenges and applying his signature strengths of creative thinking and communication to drive an industry forward.

Another theme of Real Learning is the importance of working out loud, sharing your ideas with others, even the unfinished one’s. And Jay has been doing this since before #WorkOutLoud hit twitter. Let’s face it. he has been doing it even before the world of hashtags or twitter. Amongst the first to jump into blogging, flicker, google+ , Jay demonstrated how new ideas can be formed and tested using social media. I also loved the way that he harnessed the not so new media – drawing us all into his ongoing learning journey. Most learning professionals have a copy of Informal Learning on their bookshelves, but one of my favourite ‘Unbooks’ by Jay is What would Andrew do? – a collection of ideas, research and their common sense thinking to help L&D professionals connect better to today’s Andrew Carnegie’s, business leaders who are interested in business performance vs learning inputs. I still refer to it today.

Jay was fundamental in bringing the UnConference concept to Online Educa allowing us all to work together towards common goals. It has been wonderful working with him and his Internet Time Alliance colleague Charles Jennings creating new ways in which the conference agenda can help us learn with other people, to get feedback and to create experiences (all big themes in Real Learning). Jay came up with the name of Business Educa – the business-focused strand of the OEB programme that brings corporate L&D people together to learn and connect.

His legacy has changed the way that we think about corporate learning, he and his close colleagues in the Internet Time Alliance have equipped an industry with new models of learning that focus on equipping businesses and individuals to excel in a fast paced, constantly changing work environment.

In Real Learning, Jay encourages us to reflect on what we learn, how we learn it and how to improve the process. Throughout his career, Jay’s own real learning has inspired many to think differently about the way that learning has to be supported. In a personal foreword to an earlier version of the book he challenged his readers:

‘I am in the twilight of my career, Aha [Real Learning] is probably my last project. I am running this as a project, a test. Can a book and a bunch of practical exercises change behaviour? Can we tilt the world with good will and a sharing spirit? I am determined to give it a try. Give me a hand and share your knowledge!’

Through his life and his work, Jay has demonstrated what it means to be a Real Learner – to adapt, to change, to inspire others and to grow. His personal journey has inspired an entire industry. It is now down to each of us to make this vision a reality. His book Real Learning will show us how.

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