How do we tell the story of our lives and learning?


I was at the LPI Fellows Symposium this week and there was a deeply interesting panel discussion on L&D trends and future activity. As I’m prone to do, I turned the discussion towards certification and the panel gave some interesting replies. When they got to Martin Couzins from LearnPatch he asked the question above.

Martin felt, like me, that the value of a certificate at a point in time is becoming devalued, especially since we are now working more transparently and ‘out loud’. As we move to this style of working, this will inevitably lead to a change in how we document what we’ve learnt and the idea of creating a portfolio of our life, work, and learning appeals to me.

But what would this portfolio look like?

Is it a beautifully maintained LinkedIn profile? Mervyn Dinnen perceives LinkedIn as a content publishing platform and I can see the value in publishing in a ‘professional’ space. The evidence is there in Mervyn’s post about the value of LinkedIn from a recruiting perspective and I’ve published a couple of posts there. They’ve had high view counts and comments but I’m not as keen to put all my learning in one place. Effectively, I’m not defined solely by my employment/work activity and network.

This blog is one place where I spend time reflecting, recording, explaining and thinking out loud. The value of reflection has been proven yet again and this space is a public reflection of some of what I do. I also, however, reflect privately and offline so I’m not convinced this blog is a complete reflection of what I am, do, or think.

My Twitter history could be downloaded and investigated as a record of my learning, but again, it’s only one network, with one group of people and wouldn’t reflect every facet of my learning.

Is it possible to create a portfolio like this? As Ben Betts suggests, the xAPI advocates are pushing a solution to a problem.

Is a lifetime learning portfolio something we should or could build? If so how would you create it?

Let me know in the comments.

7 thoughts on “How do we tell the story of our lives and learning?

  1. Thanks for picking up on this Andrew. As ever, you raise some great points. I think this area of how we tell the stories of our lives, including the learning, skills, knowledge and experiences that we pick up on the way, is something that is overlooked or just not considered. That’s odd because most of us are leaving some kind of digital trace that forms a part of that narrative, whether that’s in the form of a LinkedIn update, choice of tune on Spotify or a Facebook update. It’s also odd because now more than ever we have the tools to document what we do and create this narrative. We have a great opportunity to pull together the rich experiences that we all have. I like the fact Tin Can could power some of this, as can working out loud and journalling. However, we need to think about how we can make sense of the stuff we share (our updates etc) because context is everything. Unfortunately, context can easily get lost. For me this is not simply an exercise in creating a more interesting CV or LinkedIn profile, this is the stuff of life – shaping our memories, developing who we are. Sharing our journey helps others and it also helps ourselves. In our networked world this becomes very powerful as we can touch others in a way that was not possible in analogue times. Most of us are unwittingly recording our lives I just don’t think we have realised the potential of making sense of what we record for our personal (and professional) benefit and for the benefit of others.


  2. Isn’t the story of our lives and learning who we are?
    Although I’m a fan of sharing & reflecting in the written form, that is always only at one point in time. The stories we speak change & evolve with time – we become aware of deeper meaning(s) perhaps. If we “captured” more of our constant learning in static media (single points in time) in one place or aggregation tool, that still wouldnt be the story of our lives and learning. It would just be a record of what we recorded. Valuable perhaps. Interesting perhaps. We still need to keep telling our changing story of our lives and learning here in the present, not in the past.


  3. Hi David, I’m saying that we are the sum of our experiences and we have a great opportunity to capture that for the benefit of ourselves, our friends, family and colleagues. Technology now means we can capture and share this in the present so I don’t see this as something that is ‘static’ or being told in the past. If I look back at the 900 posts on my blog I will see how my thinking and experiences have changed – same goes if I look at my Facebook timeline. I also think that being able to look back at what we have done and the experiences we have had can be very powerful and ignite change in us. Humans are connected to experiences in powerful ways and capturing that can help connect with those experiences.


  4. Great blog and comments.

    This point from Martin is key: ‘Tin Can could power some of this … However, we need to think about how we can make sense of the stuff we share … because context is everything.’

    Perhaps social learning supported by an individual’s LRS closes this circuit? Sharing our learning experiences with a community (or series of overlapping communities: within the workplace; personal-professional networks ‘outside’ the enterprise; family/friend groups etc.) simultaneously validates our development (critical engagement with your shared experiences), provides that crucial element of trust and advocacy (where other people will vouch for our skills), and gives a contextual space where our experiences acquire meaning and utility.

    Could there be a point of fusion between the affordances of Tin Can and the kind of social interactions exemplified by Facebook or LinkedIn that would transform the way individuals catalogue, certify and present their professional profile to the world?


  5. I’m enjoying the conversation here.

    I agree Martin, our digital trace is evidence of some activity we have carried out but is that trace, on its own, evidence of our learning? As David says, we are more than the sum of our parts but our life is a narrative, woven together by the stories and episodes of our experience. It’s a record of the narrative which I think is what I’m struggling to conceptualise.

    That’s why I really don’t get how social learning and a LRS closes any kind of circuit. To me, it’s way too episodic to weave an effective representation of a series of events.

    If we were to use the learning around the topic in this blog post – would I record the quote, the tool I used to make the quote picture, the tweet which published it, the replies, this blog post, your replies, my response, etc.

    Take the quote as a single example – a record of being at the LPI Fellows event wouldn’t be specific enough as a record – it lacks context and is too much of a headline. I’d likely have to contextualise the quote within the event, almost certainly via a form of blog entry which is exactly what I’ve done already. But this blog entry isn’t the whole story – what about the conversation I had with Martin privately after the panel discussion? There were topics we discussed which aren’t included here and would devalue the quality of any data in a LRS.


  6. Agreed, great conversation here!

    It’s probably important to acknowledge that the map is never going to be the territory – any representation of our learning is only going to be just that: a means of showing and sharing our learning with others, not the learning itself. So any model we’re working with is necessarily partial and imperfect.

    That said, it does seem that most of the points you mention in your example – the event itself, the contextualising blog remarks, the person-to-person conversation – all of those are potential elements of a Tin Can / xAPI data statement. All of that *can* potentially be captured and harnessed to show your learning in more dimensions.

    The challenge is more about developing the habits that fit the affordances of the tech, and deciding collectively with the communities and learning networks we belong to, how useful and desirable these new modes might be.


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