Charles Jennings

Future e-learning trends – my top 3 predictions – or Learning the Norwegian Way

Our fully engaged REN Norge Showday audience

Our fully engaged REN Norge Showday audience

Yesterday I joined the Research & Educational Network Norge e-learning Showday in Oslo to deliver a 30 minute talk on e-learning trends. The event was organised by Innovasjon Norge and hosted by DNB bank. Yes – a bank. But a bank unlike any other I’ve ever been in. It’s in the centre of Oslo and it’s a new banking headquarter housing over 4,000 employees who’ve been brought together under a single roof from 17 previous locations.

Even the crockery is cool in this Bank

Even the crockery is cool in this Bank

But wait – there’s more. In Norway citizens embrace their banks and they also seem to like their banking colleagues. Banks are seen as a positive part of the economy and they do useful things. The DNB HQ in Oslo feels more like a high end accelerator. One that’s been thoughtfully designed & then kitted out with gorgeous furniture and sculptures and artworks. A big bright café in the centre where employees and visitors congregate to chat and have coffee or lunch. Cool Scandinavian egg chairs, acres of blond wood and even hip but matter of fact Figgjo Flint crockery.

Millions of electric candles in a tiny dark mirrored room

Millions of electric candles in a tiny dark mirrored room

Some whimsy is provided in the form of a small mirrored room containing an installation from a Japanese artist. Our host, Trond Markussen, kindly closed Ollie Gardener & I in there & waited for us patiently outside. We stood in hushed anticipation in the darkness and oohed and aahed as thousands of electric candles lit up.

The conference was affordable to attend (about £100). It started at 8am and finished about 2.30pm (Norway has an early start culture with many people beginning their working day at 7am). The programme was a mix of keynotes from the sector, including mine, and 5 minute pitches from the 20 or so companies with exhibition stands in the room. Everything was completely relevant to the theme of the day and we finished up with a quick telephone vote from everyone in the room for their favourite pitch – no judges or elaborate application processes required. Our hosts announced the 3 winning companies and presented them each with a bottle of wine (a valued prize in Norway given the cost of alcohol!) The day managed to be both educational and commercial and the 180 attendees stayed in the same lecture theatre all day. No comings & goings. No-one left early or rushed off after they’d spoken. The exhibition stands were around the perimeter of the lecture theatre and we had lots and lots of short networking breaks. Everyone was chatting to each other and it was hard to tell who was buying and who was selling. People clearly enjoyed catching up and chatting with colleagues they don’t often see in real life – Norway’s a big and sparsely populated country (it’s roughly the same size as Italy but with a population smaller than Scotland). The big corporates (IKT Norway, Statoil, Evry) stopped by with the startups and SMEs and it all felt collaborative rather than competitive.

Passionate presenting from Ollie

Passionate presenting from Ollie

I was there with Ollie Gardener of Noddlepod, a social learning platform that I recently angel invested in. It’s like a Slack for learning communities. Another member of the Noddlepod team, Charles Jennings, was also in town. Charles was addressing a group of senior HR Managers about 70/20/10 in a different event two buildings away.

The loft in Oslo where we're holding Noddlepod's 3 Sept event

The loft in Oslo where we’re holding Noddlepod’s 3 Sept event

All of us will be back in Oslo in September because we’re hosting a free networking event that Charles will be speaking at on 3 September. You can register to attend via the link here

I talked about where I think e-learning is going next and my slides are shared below. I finished up with my top 3 predictions for learning over the near term – 24 months – any further out than that is too hard to predict in the EdTech space with the speed technology is moving at. Here they are for anyone that’s interested:

  1. A move from MOOCs to SPOOCs with some new and interesting business models emerging and learning & development teams shifting to become profit centres instead of cost centres;
  2. A dramatic increase in the use of wearables and the Internet of Things (smart watches, smart helmets, iBeacons to be everywhere – send away for your developer kits now!);
  3. Much more usage of mobile and social plus the rise of niche Communities of Practice (check out Learning Pool’s new open source authoring tool Adapt to create beautiful mobile ready content, take a look at Noddlepod if you’re a corporate university or business school, have another go with Knowledge Hub if you work in or around the UK public sector).
With the wonderful women who translated my rambling first from English to Norwegian and then to sign language - wow!

With the wonderful women who translated my rambling first from English to Norwegian and then to sign language – wow!

I nearly didn’t go on stage at all because the two very lovely women who were doing sign language interpretation of all the presentations on the day warned me that I’d better have prepared a well structured and clear talk…I kept them each in view in the corner of my right eye and as long as I could see their hands moving I knew I was doing ok.

Well earned pints for Ollie and Charles at the end of a productive day

Well earned pints for Ollie and Charles at the end of a productive day

So what else did I learn in my 2 days in Norway? Citizens truly have a real say in what happens in their country & democracy can actually work, breakfast is the finest and most lavish meal of the day, big Norwegian corporates do seem to genuinely care about corporate social responsibility and many of them see EdTech as a way to bring about real and fast change in the 3rd world by educating and upskilling children and young people, a pint will set you back about a tenner, public transport can work smoothly, airlines can provide free on board wifi if they choose to, Oslo is guarding its green belt fiercely by creating satellite towns linked to the capital by underground trains, being next to water breathing fresh air and seeing lots of trees is good for the soul, oh – and Ollie Gardener is lucky enough to have very cool parents …

Thanks to Trond Markussen of DNB and Lisbeth Smestad of Innovasjon Norge for inviting me to speak & for bringing together such a great bunch of people & projects for a day. Thanks also to those lovely people who responded to my Twitter call re their favourite future learning trends – Andrew Jacobs, Denise Hudson-Lawson, Megan Peppin, Mark Smitham, Julie Dodd, Matt Walton, Mary Loftus, Joyce Seitzinger and last but not least, Steve Wheeler. Thank you all.

If anyone has any comments to make about near term future predictions on learning trends or indeed about Norway then I’d be delighted to receive them so please do comment below.

Three is definitely a charm – my early stage angel investments

Today’s blog is a sister piece to last month’s “Angel Investment from this Rookie’s Perspective”. Last time around I wrote about what I was looking for in early stage startup companies when I was deciding which ones to angel invest in. This time I’m going to talk about what I liked most of all about the three startups I ended up selecting and investing in.

Before I begin, let’s recap on what my motivations are for angel investing in the first place. All angels will no doubt have different motivations. I am excited by the idea of putting something back in terms of helping some new early stage startups get moving. I wanted to use some of what I’ve learned starting and scaling my own businesses in the past to help a small number of other people get through their early growth stages less painfully than it was for me. After some thought in summer 2014 following my successful exit from Learning Pool, I reached the conclusion that I didn’t want to start another new business of my own and I knew I definitely didn’t want to work for someone else as a bog standard gun for hire (much as I enjoyed my 4 month sojourn in 2014 working with the vInspired Task Squad team – they’re doing really well – check them out) but I did want to carry on working.

This made the quest easier for me as I then knew that I was looking for companies where I could add value with some hands-on involvement and I also knew then that it was important for me to pay more attention to the founder/founding team as I was going to be working with them for the medium term. Let’s face it, in a startup the team or founder is far more important than the idea – ideas are ten a penny and most startups do pivot or at least swivel a little.

One surprising thing – I haven’t invested as part of any formal angel syndicate or group. I really thought I would but it hasn’t happened that way. That topic alone is probably worthy of another blog.

So what and who did I choose? All three startups are cloud based online platforms (a no brainer for me now that I come to think about it!), two of the three founders are female (this makes me very happy), all three founders share a number of important qualities and despite their differences they’re remarkably similar, two are companies based in England & one is in South Wales (disappointed that I didn’t find anything in Northern Ireland or Scotland this time around), all are involved with changing the way people do things – communicate, learn, organise. All three really care about their team culture as they grow and whilst they’re all focused on generating revenue and making profit, they all know that there’s more to life than making money. Finally, all three have a capacity to really scale quickly and without adding huge resource into the team.

First on my list is RunAClub headed up by fab founder and CEO Sally Higham. RunAClub has everything you could possibly need to run any sort of club or group, all simple to use, neatly packaged and stored in the cloud. Beautiful. Our customers so far are national sports organisations, local authorities, charities, community groups and individual clubs/groups. What do I like most about RunAClub? It’s such a useful product, everyone we speak to loves it and it’s so clearly scaleable. I love most things that truly save people time whilst remaining affordable and easy to use. As an investor, I like that RunAClub is scaling fast in its chosen core market but I also like that there are numerous other verticals for us to move into. An unexpected but very welcome bonus along the way has been that a really old friend has co-invested with me and this gives me a chance to work with him again.

RunAClub team last month in Sally's kitchen in Wiltshire - you don't have to be blonde but it helps!

RunAClub team last month in Sally’s kitchen in Wiltshire – you don’t have to be blonde but it helps!

I first saw Sally pitch at a Clearly So Big Venture Challenge event last summer. During her presentation she said – “what I really need in order to maximise RunAClub’s opportunity is another me” and that resonated strongly with me because I’ve been in that position so many times myself – so when she’d finished pitching I went straight over & introduced myself.

The RunAClub team is the liveliest and most can-do bunch of people that I’ve met in a long time. Their enthusiasm is infectious and I’m genuinely looking forward to spending time with them, growing a successful and valuable business.

My next is Captive Health. I love that I’ve known the founder Andrew Cockayne for years. He used to be one of my Learning Pool customers many moons ago and I’m so pleased that he’s become an entrepreneur himself and also that I can continue to work with him. Captive Health is the most mature of my 3 investee companies and in truth is more of a scaleup than a startup.  The company provides the health sector with a platform that allows richer interactions with and between their staff and their patients. Staff can access information and network within their teams when they’re on the move (only 40% of people working in a hospital have access to a desktop). Patients can use Captive Health to provide feedback and information about their choices and preferences. Hospitals love the products and we already have five as customers with many more in our pipeline.

At the recent PEN Awards in Birmingham with Andrew Cockayne & Leena Shaw of Captive Health & one of our progressive customers, Jo Wood of Ipswich Hospital

At the recent PEN Awards in Birmingham with Andrew Cockayne & Leena Shaw of Captive Health & one of our progressive customers, Jo Wood of Ipswich Hospital – I’m working on their footwear!

I heard Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, speak at last month’s e-Health Week 2015 Summit. His opening gambit was “No industry has ever re-invented itself on the scale that the NHS needs to over the next 5 years without smart use of technology”. Captive Health’s product set offers the NHS some affordable tools with which to get ahead in dealing with their huge challenge and I’m pleased to be part of that mix.

Last but not least is Caerphilly based Noddlepod. Noddlepod is like a Slack for your learning communities. It’s a social learning platform that allows you to easily share your files and search for resources with the same degree of immediacy and familiarity. I met founder Ollie Gardener at a tech event in Buckingham Palace hosted by Her Majesty the Queen. Ollie was wearing Norwegian national dress. You can guess the rest. We’re very grateful to Neil Cocker of Cardiff Start & Matt Johnston of Digital Circle for allowing us to meet!

Noddlepod is my earliest stage investment of the three but it’s grown out of a number of years of considered reflection by the founding team on where learning is going next and Ollie has corralled some very experienced and well know global learning experts onto her Board including our Chairman Charles Jennings and fellow non exec Nigel Paine. Edtech continues to create frenzied excitement in the investor space and we’re encouraged (!) by the recent $1.5bn sale of Lynda to LinkedIn. Great that LinkedIn now has access to all that content but I wonder if they’ve thought about how to deploy it coherently to their millions of users?

With Ollie this month - outside my London Southbank "office" - having tea & more tea

With Ollie this month – outside my London Southbank “office” – having tea & more tea

Until LinkedIn or similar comes a-knocking, we’re focused on bringing Noddlepod to corporate universities and business schools worldwide. I love most that as a Norwegian, Ollie thinks way outside of the four walls of the UK in her growth plans and that she has a number of overseas investors and a pipeline already full of European opportunities.

So that’s my three. Exciting times. I’m certain I’ll prove all those people who advised me against making early stage angel investments wrong. As always I’m interested in hearing your questions, comments, observations. Check us out. Startups always need a helping hand and you all know it makes sense to work with small, growing businesses jammed full of bright, ambitious people with great tech – it helps our local economies and it keeps you sane.