Wow. 2022 was some year!
It started with a bang, a crash and lots of swearing as my team and I raced to push out our first fully online undergraduate courses. There was also time to hang out with friends in Victor Harbour, although we’re still waiting for the weather to be good when we’re there. It wasn’t the hottest of summers but spending some time by the coast is always nice – there is something about the ocean that puts me at peace.
January also saw the arrival of the newest addition to the Klapdor family — Frankie.
We drove down to the farm where he was born and took him home, and he pretty much stole our hearts. Looking back, I can’t believe he was that small or cute, but he quickly made himself at home.
A lot has happened at work this year. My new team was thrown into the fire getting two new programs under development while simultaneously needing to adapt and change many of the processes we had developed. We were now working at scale, and it was a very different beast from what we had been used to. A lot of planning and debriefing was required because a lot hadn’t gone to plan. There was a lot we couldn’t have planned for, if I’m honest. There was a lot of stress on and in the team, and on reflection, I don’t think I led particularly well. I think some of my team wanted me to take on a more authoritarian role, but that’s never been my way of doing things. Working in innovative roles and taking on new projects, I tend to seek emergent solutions, taking time to reflect and learn before making decisions. That approach, in hindsight, probably worked for the project but didn’t necessarily for the team.
One of the things that did emerge from that period was a re-evaluation of our tools and processes. And I went back into an area where I felt more comfortable and experienced — thinking about technology. I wanted to make our team more effective and efficient, and I strongly felt that the tools we had contributed somehow to that. So I started to sketch out some ideas for something new. I drew upon my previous experience to sketch out an idea for a course builder, what it would look like and how it would function. I had a comprehensive vision of how this could all work… what I needed was the time and smarts to make it happen. That came not from me but from some of our team – Aaron and Hui. They took my sketches and basic descriptions and built a custom tool far beyond my initial MVP ideas. In just a couple of weeks, we went from an idea to something we could test and use. And so we did, and Smart Storyboard was born. (I’m still not sold on the name, but that’s it till we come up with something better!)
Not only did this tool allow us to practically speed up some of the processes it allowed us to incorporate one of my other interests — learning patterns. I now had a vehicle to utilise the patterns and work I’d been doing into the software and make it part of the workload.
Seeing these things come together has been a highlight of my year professionally. Making something like this – having something tangible and usable gives me a lot of satisfaction, as so much of our work tends to be invisible. As a team of learning designers, we make courses ‘happen,’ but how that actually occurs is mysterious and rarely understood. This year, a considerable amount of my time has been spent on making our role more tangible and understood. I think there’s a long way to go – especially in getting management and PMs to understand the work in relationships that is required by a learning designer to make anything happen. That so much of what we do is unseen and unknown is problematic.
As the year rolled on, I had another WOMAD experience, and it was so nice to come back to the festival as it was. It was, in fact, slightly unnerving – the first really big face-to-face event I’d been to in a long time. That said, the weather was terrific, the music great, and I loved the event’s vibe and sharing that experience with my daughter.
As the year rolled on, things got quite stressful. At work, we went through a restructure that, on the surface, didn’t seem like such a big deal (no one was losing their jobs in our area), but it created ripples that impacted the rest of the year. There were tons of issues with the various courses we were working on, and in the midst of that, a couple of team members left for new opportunities. As a manager, there is a real guilt that comes with that, and I struggled a lot with the ramifications of that and what it reflected on myself and the decisions I’d made.
The middle of the year was a really low point for me in the year. The weather was dire, and I was struggling with an understaffed team. There was a lot on my plate and on the team to get things done and accomplished. COVID went through the family one by one. There was a really challenging recruitment process. A dog that got kicked out of puppy daycare for being too boisterous. Our first trip as a couple (no kids or dog) for a few years got cancelled because of my wife got COVID – and I think that was the lowest point.
I got to that point in the year and just had to ask myself — What was the point? For a couple of days, I just wallowed in isolation and not swimming with sharks (which was part of the planned trip that got cancelled). I didn’t snap or fall into a deep depression. But I was done. I was tired and worn out. I resented my work, especially the extra effort and constant feeling of being in a fight with one arm tied behind my back.
After that, things started to click. Adversity still popped up – a massive storm hit the area and knocked out power for three days, which was a pretty big event. There were family dynamics and pressures to work through. There were issues with team members and projects, and relationships. But it kind of came together in the end.
I had to present our work. I had to write up what we’d done. We kept putting out great courses. We kept overcoming the issues. And I drew strength from that adversity. It was fucking hard work and a hard slog to get there, but I felt things come together.
The things I knew were emerging at the start of the year had now formed up and created systems and processes and output. As a team, we created something. We poured our efforts into doing our work and what we produced was phenomenal. When I looked back at what was behind us at the end of the year, I was shocked! There were so many successes in our rearview mirror that it was astounding.
We’d created a design system for learning designers. We imagined, designed, built, tested and rolled out a new piece of software. We put out 6 online research capstone courses and 8 fully online undergraduate courses for two programs. Plus, we reviewed, QA’d, presented, met with stakeholders, recruited, and contributed to various projects, areas and people’s work. It was a big year but something to be proud of.
And then, to top it off, I got to spend Christmas with my family in one of the most magical and beautiful places on the planet.
I got to hang out with my beautiful nieces, be thankful that we have a 10-year-old and not a 4-year-old, shoot the shit with my brother, sister and mum, swim and drink and eat so much damn ham I don’t think I can look at it again.
2022 was a massive year in the end. I wasn’t expecting it, it just came up and punched me in the face and attempted to drown me numerous times! In the end, I’m proud of what came out of it. Some of my best work – recruiting an incredible team, managing absolute chaos, creating the Smart Storyboard, building out the learning patterns, and sharing the work that I’ve done around our approach to learning design has been really satisfying. Getting to share that at Ascilite – a conference I have loved attending but haven’t for quite a while – was amazing. Reconnecting with people and hanging out with my remote team member was just the cherry on top of a pretty great year.
Here’s to another one!