Spotlight on…Martin Couzins

The winner of the TJ Special Achievement Award 2015, Martin Couzins tells us why L&D is so important to him.

Martin Couzins won the inaugural award for special achievement in learning and development at this year’s Training Journal awards. In their commendation, the judges said,

“Through his journalism, Martin has informed us about developments in the industry and through his knowledge of technology he has helped many of us to understand the challenges and opportunities it presents.”

As a journalist, Martin has covered the HR and learning and development space for more than a decade. And in this time he has helped support innovative new initiatives such as the L&D Connect unconference, designed and delivered four massive open online courses and launched a curation platform for L&D called LearnPatch.

Martin has been curating content for a number of years and is increasingly called upon to talk about how L&D can harness it and other technology driven approaches to learning.

Why training and how did you start?

Context is always so important. My interest probably started when I was young. My mother and aunts were schoolteachers so, when I was at home, teaching and schooling were popular topics of conversation.

Education is something I’ve always been interested in and cared deeply about but I didn’t go into teaching. Instead, I started work at the publisher Reed Business Information. It was whilst working there that I attended a first line manager course run by Paul Streeter. I really did, and still do, love managing people. I enjoyed the course so much that I decided I’d like to be a trainer.

I spent some time talking to Paul about how to become a trainer and he gave me lots on invaluable advice on getting started. I took a Train the Trainer course and talked to some of my colleagues about helping run training sessions back at work. Because the business was going through a lot of change, shifting from print to online publishing, there was a need to support colleagues. I pitched a workshop to the L&D team, they said yes and that was my first corporate training gig.

From there I helped set up Elevenses, a weekly knowledge sharing event. Four of us curated speakers from around the business to speak at the short and sharp weekly face-to-face events. We supported that with follow-up blog posts and conversations on Yammer, our internal social network. Elevenses proved to be a very popular event which continued well after I left the business.

Who or what inspires you?

Three things really inspire and help me move forward. They are: people, technology and music. I am lucky that I have always been encouraged to pursue my inspirations and aspirations. From a young age that was the case and it still is now.

My wife Roisin fully supports my work and I think that this support is very inspiring. I feel there are possibilities and ideas that I can explore. They may not work out but feeling that they could and are worth aiming for is very inspiring for me.

I think this is at the heart of what I have achieved. And so are the people I have met along the way. There really are so many of them, which is reflected in the fact that a lot of my work evolves in a collaborative way. For example, Sam Burrough and I worked together designing and delivering MOOCs. Nigel Paine works with me on the From Scratch podcast. Nigel and I also produced a book on neuroscience and learning. And then there is the group who founded the L&D Connect unconferenceSukh Pabial, Dave Goddin, Natasha Stallard to name a few. All of these friends have inspired me in my work.

I am also lucky that I get to interview people in my work. They are a source of inspiration. It never ceases to amaze me what people achieve and what stories they have to share.

I also get to read a lot for work and to attend interesting conferences and events. Plus I have three lovely children who are a constant inspiration. I love the way they see the world and approach life.

What has been your lowest moment, and what your noblest hour?

I had some tough times as a manager. Making people redundant is particularly difficult as it has a really big impact on lives.

My successes might not seem huge but I am so proud that I got LearnPatch off the ground and that I continue to get great feedback on it. The MOOCs Sam and I produced were really successful – we tried something out for the first time and it worked. Nigel and I have just notched up the 50th episode of our podcast. And recently I have talked at conferences and had lots of really positive feedback.

I’m really proud of these achievements. And winning the TJ award just caps it all off. That really blew me away.

What and when was your career turning point?

I think my working life has a trajectory all of its own. There have been, and will continue to be, lots of twists and turns. That’s what makes it exciting.

A major change for me came when I was made redundant after 17 years at Reed Business Information. That’s when I decided to set up on my own. Running my own business has been a huge learning curve and continues to be one.  After four years, I think I am beginning to understand more of the ins and outs of being self-employed.

Describe your best L&D experience?

I’m learning all the time from people and experiences and feel that this is where the bulk of my learning comes from. I learn a lot when I have conversations with people. That’s why I like unconferences and their focus on conversation and participation. I also really enjoy events that have emerged from a need. For example, Facilitation Jam, a get together of facilitators organised by Doug Shaw, Flora Marriott and Meg Peppin.

What’s next in your career?

I’m planning on growing the main its developmental business and have some exciting plans for LearnPatch too. Then there’s the podcast, events I’d like to organise, the course I’m designing . . . the list goes on. 

Playing to win

Use technology to horizon scan. There is absolutely nothing to stop you knowing what’s going on in the sector. Learn to use tools to curate relevant information in L&D.

Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask people things you’d like answers to. In my experience, people are very generous with their time if they feel someone is genuinely interested in what they have to say.

Be brave. Give new things a go and if it means really sticking your neck out on something, then try and do it. New things, new connections and new ideas will come as a result.

Model behaviour. Always try to show the behaviour you would like to engender in others. For example, if you are an advocate of being transparent on the web then make sure you are transparent on the web.

Grow your network. Doing things alone is self-limiting and can be less fun than working with others. So, use tools such as Twitter to grow your network. All my business to date has come through social media. 


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