Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans..

Bit of a difficult post this week; it’s quite personal but felt it was worth writing as a way of understanding learning experiences.  And thanks to John Lennon for the post title.

Welcome to Malta.  That is the shape of the largest lesion on my back.  It has a family of others who have appered on my back, sides and chest over the last few months.  I went to my GP about a year ago and they said it wasn’t a problem.  So, I forgot about them.

Then Malta (and his friends) started to itch, change colour and size.   So I went back to my GP a few weeks ago and they made an immediate referral to a dermatologist.  This was on a Friday evening, the hospital called on the Monday afternoon with an appointment for 7 days later.  Good service from the free at point of entry NHS again.

Malta is currently about 2in long, is raised, mottled in colour, etc.  In fact, if you look at this page on Wikipedia, it looks exactly like the image presented and meets all of the ABCDE criteria, PLUS the EFG criteria.

Now, as you can imagine, this was a bit of a shock.  My family has a history with cancer (my wife was diagnosed with Stage 3 Ovarian some years ago) and suggesting it was a little difficult is an understatement.

I had a little over a week to wait for my appointment.  Was it my intrinsic motivation to learn that made me look up everything it could have been?  In the days before our networks and tide of information, I would have happily sat at home, worrying about what it could be.  Now, in the 21st century, I was able to research all the relevant sites, look at a raft of skin complaints, look up images of skin issues that I wish I could now forget.  But I had to find out for myself what Malta and his mates may be.

Is this motivation to learn, in this context, something that the majority would pursue?

So I’d looked up information to acquire the knowledge, but I didn’t have any context.  I started browsing skin cancer forums to understand the experiences of people in their context.  Twitter was a useful place to find how the topic was being discussed, but it was of a specialised nature and online forums were the best source of context discovery.

Preparation, preparation, preparation; it all helped to settle my thoughts about my legion of lesions beforehand but I couldn’t sleep the night before the appointment.  Only natural I guess.

Hospitals…I don’t like them.  I’ve had to visit too many too many times but I felt prepared.

Into the appt and there was a doctor.  And then 2 students, and then a consultant.  Lots of poking, numerous views of Malta and his friends with an oil dermatoscope.  The doctor asked questions of the students, the consultant showed the students different aspects of my family of lesions, pointing out specific issues, distinguishing features, development states, etc.  This was true learning on the job for the students.

Finally, I was treated to the news that I had warts.  Warts that behave, look and feel like melanoma.

The consultant asked if they could take a few photos, the students had more of a poke and prod and I was happy to be a guinea pig; I mean…I work in L&D and this was a great learning opportunity for them.

The doctor offered to remove the warts with liquid nitrogen.  I had a wart removed like that when I was younger and it was painful…really painful.  I learnt then (aged 13) that if you don’t need it, avoid liquid nitrogen.

There was great question in #lrnchat on Twitter today.  Is training ever relevant and necessary? If so, when?  Could the work that the consultant did with the students be called training?

There’s also been a great conversation following an article on Trainingzone this week.  The author seems to be building 70:20:10 up then knocking it down again.  I’d suggest what I learnt about melanoma fell into the 70:20 areas; similarly, the students learnt in the 70:20 areas too.

Any comments welcome as usual.

5 responses to “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans..

  1. Good post Andrew and I was relieved your melanoma scare turned out to be a false alarm – though those warts don’t sound much fun.

    I’ve just discovered #lrnchat – what a great use of Twitter!

    To answer the question, I’d say if the subject is simple, as opposed to complex i.e something algorithmic like a set of rules or instructions [Driving, Data Protection, Housing Benefits] where there is a definite, easily determined learning gap which an expert can bridge then, yes, training is relevant; though even these subjects clearly have behavioural elements that are therefore learned better through doing than being told.

    Rather than thinking one has to choose either training or learning, if you take a more holistic, systemic view, both can complement each other. For example, you couldn’t learn to drive without spending time behind the wheel [the only way to truly understand the workings of the clutch is to feel it for yourself] but a learner also needs the experienced input and safety provided by the instructor. It sounds like your consultant was using a pull, eliciting approach with the students but it was still training, albeit ‘on the job’. If it had just been the students and they had convened later to reflect together on their findings – maybe in the presence of the consultant, maybe not – and carried out some further research and tests on you [a la House] to arrive at a diagnosis themselves, it wouldn’t have been training but 70 learning.

    I’ve only scanned the 70/20/10 discussion on TZ, but again I think an either / or debate is a red herring. All elements are critical parts of an overall learning system. I believe most pennies drop after the formal learning, but might not drop at all without it. The effective workshop / coaching session plants the seed and the seed flowers in the workplace. To take the analogy further, wheat is gathered during the harvest but nobody says that other agricultural activities are worthless. So 70/20/10 is a system, not an argument for doing away with formal learning.


  2. Thanks for the comment Vince. My view is that training is part of learning; the formal training element in a 70:20:10 framework forms part of the wider learning. Even when an easily determined learning gap exists, the use of training is over emphasised.

    For me, this approach is reminiscent of Frederick Wilmslow Taylor’s approach to scientific management; a part of the cog needs to be upgraded or replaced so we ‘train’ the part to work effectively without considering how it related to other parts of the system. As long as that mentality is adopted by managers, L&D will respond with courses and training.

    I also think it interesting that the consultant was training; it wasn’t in a classroom, she had no Powerpoint slides, the students weren’t listening to a lecture. I agree – it was training, but how often do L&D people work in that way?


  3. Very glad your scare turned out to be just that, although you don’t say whether you had the liquid nitrogen or not.

    I smile at the picture you paint about the students and the consultant – ever the learning professional!

    Hope you’re not too uncomfortable, Andrew, while you make your recovery.

    Very best wishes,



  4. I was so relieved it wasn’t cancer Janet that I’d have let the students spend as long as they liked!

    Didn’t have the nitrogen…it would be painful and no guarantee of clearing them up completely. As long as they don’t cause me discomfort, I’ll let them stay…I’m used to them now.


  5. Regarding the last paragraph of your reply to me, Andrew; I guess that role of the consultant / trainer would be best delivered in other workplaces by the manager / coach. We all live in hope on that one. In my place, that real-time on-the-job coaching happens, but only in small enlightened pockets of the organisation, not in a planned, systematic way.

    Best wishes to you, warts and all 🙂


Please comment...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.