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Interview: Learning Agency Network

October 28, 2011

It was the summer of 2009, when I first met Rolf Reinhardt on LinkedIn. He was at the time the executive manager at the European Foundation for Quality in E-Learning (EFQUEL) and was organising their first conference on long distance learning. Reinhardt has since then become only more involved in Adult Learning —if that’s ever possible. Characteristic of him is that he operates on an international level.

In this interview he discusses among other things: his educational projects, his views on Adult Learning and the importance of networks.

Rolf, let’s start with your job description. How would you describe your expertise?

Rolf Reinhardt
Rolf Reinhardt

Reinhardt: I would place my expertise in the triangle of Management, Pedagogy and Technology. That’s my business profile. Regarding my personal profile, I see myself as one who tries to find solutions that are based on a systemic view of what surrounds us.

Seeing how everything’s related, we need to find dynamic solutions to rising problems. Problems that are partly known; partly unknown.

I’d like to contribute to this process by propagating an emphatic and inclusive type of personal development. Such a development makes it possible to take on different views and perspectives and align them with genuine active compassion.
OK. How can I relate what you say here to education and Adult Learning?

Reinhardt: Personally, I see the current system of Adult Learning in particular as insufficient to cover what education really means in terms of growth and developing one’s own potential. Adult Education is generally seen as increasing ‘employability’; meaning focusing on knowledge and skills that are currently needed on the market. However, one’s potential goes far beyond that which can be ‘marketed’.

The next logical question here would be: How would Adult Learning look like in the future?
In my opinion, there are three steps to learning and growth:

  1. First, we need a theoretical understanding of the subject matter. Even so, a pure intellectual approach doesn’t go as deep as experiencing how a theoretical concept works in practice.
  2. Thus the practical experience can be seen as the second step. At the same time this growth level is also not yet sufficient; since it’s not challenged or supported by others.
  3. Finally, through discussion and consensus building with other views and perspectives, the highest growth level is achieved.

We’ve captured this in our slogan: Participation in Development. In other words, the foundation for real growth lies in participation and sharing.
With the ‘learning and growth’ question, you’ve touched a point I’d like to discuss with you later on. But for now Rolf, why don’t you give us a quick recap on how you came to do The Learning Agency?

Reinhardt: It’s actually not the ‘Learning Agency’ like some people call it —probably in order to shorten the whole title. It’s the ‘Learning Agency Network’. Every word is equally important.

Well, I’ve learnt very early on that it’s all about ‘networks’. When I worked at L’OREAL, I realised that in a big multinational company, the network is rather internal —e.g. between departments or individuals. And in such a micro cosmos, one could easily mistake it for the whole world.

That’s why after this experience, I chose to work in a small eLearning company. I wanted to have contact with all stakeholders —clients, suppliers; but also our partners and our own network. By working for the EFQUEL, I got a wide diversity. Notwithstanding, there was a ‘dogma’ here too; seeing it was only about quality in eLearning.

I finally realised that it’s all about Learning. Sure, technology plays a major role in most learning processes; but it should always go hand in hand with different kinds of learning techniques.

My next insight was that there are so many small and medium sized companies out there —highly innovative and skilled. Yet they lack any lobby or support. The big players have the marketing budget to demand market presence. And so as a side effect, they overshadow a lot of great minds in the learning market.
OK. I get the principle idea of the Learning Agency Network. Is that why you focus on a diversity of projects? Can you tell us something about them?

Reinhardt: Sure, they are all about learning of course; but they also cover related issues.

At the moment, we are piloting our Package and Incubated Services. One example is our Conference Streaming Solutions.

There’s a growing trend to share knowledge through conferences. One result can be the exclusion of learners who can’t afford flight and hotel. We help them to still participate in the event by offering live stream, recordings and eLearning courses based on the conference material. Basically what we do is offer crowd-based services.
Understood. The TEDxBrussel is one project you guided quite successfully. How did that come about; how did you manage to reel it in, as they say?

Reinhardt: Yes. The organiser of TEDxKids@Brussels and TEDxBrussels is the One Laptop Per Child Foundation Europe (OLPC Europe). We came together for the streaming of TEDxKids@Brussels and we immediately connected. They are very hard working professionals with great innovative spirits.

The Learning Agency Network did a complete (social) media coverage of TEDxBrussel 2011.
The Learning Agency Network did a complete (social) media coverage of TEDxBrussel 2011.

We got a ‘Carte Blanche’ to run the web-activities during the event. Together with four other Twitter experts, we ran the timeline of the TEDxKids account. In addition we also did a ‘Behind the Scenes’ documentary with their speakers. So, it was then only a small step for them to ask us to do the live streaming as well.

You did an amazing job. How personal are these projects to you?

Reinhardt: I think that it would be great to take every business project personal; in a positive sense. Taking it personal means to engage myself not only with my head or hands, but also with my heart.

Recent studies show that people are getting more and more depressed by their jobs. Maybe it’s because they don’t see their work as personal or maybe they miss the opportunity of getting involved. Luckily, being one of our shareholders, I can allow myself to take it personal.

What drives me though is ‘meaning’. When I know a project is meaningful, I enjoy doing it.
You’re very active on various social media platforms promoting Learning and the Learning Agency Network. How is that working out for you? And what have you learnt using these platforms?

Reinhardt: At the moment I’m not so active on social media platforms. Compared to the time at EFQUEL when it was important to get more than 2.000 people joining the Facebook page in a bit more than a year.

That may seem quite impressive; in the end though it’s not so important. What counts is the collaborative aspect. The communicative aspect, not so much —this is often only one-way.

Today, I use collaboration tools to concentrate on interactions aligned to a common objective.
What I like about you is how you easily approach any and every one in the educational arena. Tell us, what’s your secret?

Reinhardt: The educational arena is a bit different than the management or financial one. There will always be quite ridiculous people asking you for money when you’re just having small talk with a drink in your hand.

One good thing about the educational scene is that deep in our hearts, most of us are idealists. That doesn’t mean anything bad; it just means that we strive for something better. And even when there are ‘ego battles’, there’s always a common agreement on reaching a consensus.

The advantage is most of us realise that working together makes more sense than isolating oneself in an ivory tower.

The golden rule to networking here is to have a concrete purpose for the connection. No one wants to waste time. If you point out the direct benefits at the beginning, there will be interest.

Another important rule is authenticity. Some people think that always being politically correct equals professionalism. Yet you can be absolutely honest and still not be rude.
Noted. It’s obvious that Adult Learning means a lot to you. You mentioned earlier “theoretical understanding versus putting knowledge into practice”. What’s your vision on the future of Adult Learning? How do you see it evolving?

Reinhardt: Good question. There are some scenarios. My preferred one is that society provides us with a stable basic income, an approach which has been discussed in Germany for a couple of years now.

As early as the 1920s, Bertrand Russell suggested that an increased level of productivity (e.g. through the use of machines) would bring us something which I think is crucial for learning: Muse.

He actually proposed everyone worked only 4 hours instead of the 8 hours per day. The rest of the time you use for personal development.

To me it’s important that Adult Learning really addresses the variety of gifted people. Some may be great writers, some great musicians or painters; others striving for personal well-being and balance. All of which would later benefit society.

Even when this sounds totally illusionary in a world where more and more are jobless as opposed to others who work 80 hours a week; I believe we’ll face a fundamental change in our societal mindset. We’ll be asking ourselves: What are we actually working for?

Particularly the Western world, I think, has a general wish to be more independent and have more time for oneself.
Muse. I like that. Last question. Is there anything else you’d like to share? A ‘little piece of advice’ you’d like to dispense?

Reinhardt: Yes. It’s something everbody knows; but it’s important to repeat from time to time:

When we only see ourselves, we have problems.
When we see others, we have challenges.

I believe that acting for the common good, makes us much happier than striving for only our own good. This is meaning.
A very nice thought to round off with. Dear Rolf, thank you so much for your time.

The Learning Agency Network will be fully operational in February next year. Check out their Facebook page or their Twitter account. You can follow Rolf Reinhardt on his website or on @RolfReinhardt.

(Source image used: Rolf Reinhardt)

Related post(s) to read:

Adult learner: Speak out
Marking Adult Learning

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