Roll Call! Are your learners present?


I worry about my kids. 3 teenagers. From the moment they wake up they’re on their phones. Checking their notifications for likes and follow requests, new posts and updates, chats, tags and interactions.
Biggest drama of the day? Network not available or as Vodafone notified me the other day “This is what happens when too many people are watching cat videos. Please try again later”.
Sound familiar?
Too familiar?My daughter, ever the child of my English teacher wife quotes Shakespeare back at me: “Methinks thou doth protest too much”. It’s not that I’m worried about my kids communication skills or their ability to create and sustain positive relationships. Sure, my home landline lies dormant in the corner but they’re more connected to their friends lives than I ever was. The tools for this have changed, but they always change. I’ve learned to enjoy dialogues purely of pictures, snapshots of moments that words couldn’t contain. I do have one concern though. It’s a concern that I’ve developed not just through my experience with my kids, but in almost every training room, conference, eLearning course, meeting, webinar and in all too many conversations. It’s the ability and/or willingness to be present. To be here, now, engaged, with. Have you noticed it too? The person in the training who’s constant asking you to repeat things because they weren’t quite listening while they checked their email. The phones out on the table or not-so-quietly buzzing in their pocket. The outbursts of laughter from the person who’s unavailable while they complete some online learning. The lunch break with colleagues (or friends) where everyone is on their phone. The darkened conference room lit by multiple devices (and they’re not all live tweeting!).


A recent photo collection captured the issue beautifully with a series of images of people together with the electronic devices photoshopped out. It’s both a sad and intriguing social phenomenon that is impacting not just our relationships, but the quality of our learning.
How can we respond? Here are 4 simple ideas …

1. Learn some Aikido

Turn the opponents energy to your own purpose and advantage. Name the issue and invite people to be present for periods of the process and give them known times to check in with the outside world.
With thanks to @chemenesinson for the phrase: “Focussed use of technology is welcomed.” Encourage the purposeful use of technology. Ask questions that people can research. Provide a #hashtag and preload tweets of key ideas and visuals.
2. Give people your presence.

“Be with the people you’re with. Entry to this party is conditional to leaving your phone at the door”. So read the sign on the front door of a 30th birthday a friend of mine went to recently.
There’s a growing backlash to the lack of presence and connectivity as the isolation (even in a crowd, virtual or physical) is felt. Perhaps the constant connectedness is a way of staying ahead of that isolation that we know is waiting for us should we ever disconnect.
So give people your presence. Chat in the breaks. Put your out-of-office on your email and voicemail. Keep your phone in your pocket, not on the table and try silent, not just vibrate.
Or take it a step further and be with yourself. The rise of mindfulness as a tool both for business people and for life has come about partly I think in response to our need to disconnect from the chatter and noise and focus on being present, in the moment, with ourselves and with others.

3. Dare to disconnect.

You can learn from monks and hermits without becoming one.
Start small. Can you handle a lunchbreak without your phone? Could you let someone know where you’re going (in case of a childcare emergency or if you’re waiting on a kidney transplant) and leave your phone in your desk? Could you put your phone to actual silent and leave it in your pocket for the whole time you have coffee with a friend?
Could you invite your learners to do a variation on this idea? A slide at the start of your eLearning, an invitation at the start of your course or presentation, a P.S. on your meeting invite?
4. Scale up your connecting

It sounds counterintuitive, but when you’re more present in your connecting you can reduce the desire for the trivial and distracting. Try using a hierarchy of communication, asking the question: What’s the best I can do?

Like their post
Comment on it
Text/DM/message them
Email them
Call them
Video call them
See them in person
Presence. I’m working on it. We switch the wi-fi off for periods of time when we’re together. Well actually, we have to take out the power cable and hide it.

The difference is tangible.

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