Learning from life: What I learnt from writing blogs for TJ

Black image with 2023 on the left and 2024 on the right, and a bar showing loading, as if a computer program. In a glitter New Year's Eve style.

Michelle Parry-Slater reviews a year of writing and, as always, considers what she’s learning by doing

Debbie Carter has edited TJ for as long as I can remember. She is a lovely human who has furthered our profession by giving it a voice. A highlight of my career was attending the TJ 50th anniversary celebration in 2015. Last year, I was honoured to be asked to become a regular blogger.

TJ has an industry voice which is ‘of the people’ and ‘for the people’

I cannot help but see learning everywhere I look. Whether it is walking the dogs and noticing how I could train them more effectively, or cooking the dinner and learning not to leave a pan on a hot plate (can you smell the burning from there?) It is this noticing that led me to my series of blogs, Learning From Life. TJ has published 12 blogs in the series so far. So what have I learned from writing them?

Learning focus

The first learning was how to be discerning. I have had 50 revolutions around the sun so that is a lot of life to learn from. How did I know what would be useful to the audience and not just stories I wanted to share? How do I know what would be useful for TJ to publish? I leant back on what I know to be true for all learning offers – the WIIFM counter. If your learning offer is not clear to your audience’s ‘What’s In It For Me’ scale, then forget it! Discerning what your learning offer needs to be should be an evidence-based decision, using metrics not guesses.

In discerning what readers of TJ would find useful, I gathered my evidence. What is popular with TJ readers now? Why? How do we know? What is missing? This approach may sound complex, but in truth it was a simple conversation with Debbie because as the Editor she knew her audience well. The data was readily available for her to draw on. I provided her a list of topics and she let me know what would be of interest. If you know your audience well, or at least your stakeholders do, the learning offer spills forth quite obviously.

Style it out

The second learning from my writing these blogs was how to decide on style. To be honest, I had some data from the topic discernment conversation, and additionally as a reader of TJ. Therefore I had a sense of overall style and readability. I read other industry publications, both online and paper-based magazines too. Each has a unique and repeatable style. For me, TJ has an industry voice which is ‘of the people’ and ‘for the people’. I am a person working in L&D, so actually, the style I adopted for my blogs is simply my voice as an industry peer talking to other industry peers. I always think of the reader as my L&D colleague, so I tend to write as I talk – honestly, directly and openly but with usefulness and practicality. Thus the voice I have, mixed with the brand TJ has melded well to create blogs which are not about telling my story, but are rather about how readers can take practical ideas from my life experiences.

In this vein (which feels very meta in this moment) what can you take from this second learning? I think brand is super important to your learning offer. Does your learning represent your organisation? Or is it at odds with the culture? When learning sticks out from the rest of the organisation it can feel separate from the work and the learners. Learning becomes something ‘over there’ that we have to do, instead of something that represents us and is within us.

Ruminate, cogitate and consider

The third and final learning from writing for TJ is that keeping it fun keeps it interesting, but the value is in the reflection. I have enjoyed the opportunity for reflective practice in recalling my experiences and considering what I have learned from them. But are my reflections fun for others? I am not talking about ‘trainertainment’ when I say fun, as I don’t write these blogs to be amusing or entertaining. I am here to help you think about your learning and development, not here for laughs. It is certainly true that something fun captures interest, plus I will always look to share stories of my dogs wherever I can!

Once captured with some fun, however, I want to encourage your imagination to see how you could take the learning from my everyday life to apply it into your work. Encouraging you to reflect on your life’s learnings is hugely important. There is always rich learning in reflection.

As for the end of the year, judging by the amount of round-up type emails in my inbox, many of us are reflecting on 2023 and thinking about what 2024 will bring. I encourage all this reflection as these blogs have shown you there is deep learning there.

Cooking things up

As for TJ, the end of the year sees Debbie retired and a huge welcome to the brilliant Jo Cook as Editor. I am pleased that Jo is keen for my blogs to continue, so 2024 will bring more reflection and more writing. I am keen that the blogs are useful for you, so do feel free to let me know what you think of them or what you would like to see coming from me next year.

As for me, all this reflection is cognitively exhausting so I am off to see what I can learn from sleeping in and eating too much for a few days. Happy New Year.

Michelle Parry-Slater

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