The Learning Technologies Instagram Experiment: I call it an experiment because it felt like one. It wasn’t overly well researched or particularly scientific but I am an L&Der and aren’t we supposed to be a bit rubbish at evidence-based approaches to our work?

Asked by Kate Graham to be part of the Back Channel for Learning Technologies I was thinking about it during a dog walk one day, as you do when you actually give your brain the chance to idle whimsically and creatively. I have been back channelling conferences for quite a while now and I wondered how it could be upgraded, or done differently, or at least (given it was Learning Tech) done with different technology. Figuring a wander around all day in a VR mask wasn’t going to be overly helpful to an external audience, I struck upon Instagram. Has anyone ever used Instagram to share a conference? Ooh. There’s an idea!

I called Kate, who I know is quite a fan of Insta (get me, on the lingo before I had even started!) and shared my idea; how about using Instagram instead of Twitter to record and share the conference, and we could also share more of the expo than usual. She was well up for that! I explained I am a real newbie on Instagram. I only use it to catch up with my sister and her running. Or to learn what my 14-year-old enjoys in her life. No worries, she offered, even better as it will be learning on the job. We had the usual public/personal profile debate. Do I archive my family photos or set up a new business Instagram account? Given I have two Twitter accounts (@MiPS1608 & @LnDcowork) and I regularly get confused, I decided authenticity, or laziness, said stick with it and just go for it! So welcome to Learning Technologies 2018, brought to you by Instagram. This is a bit of a long read, detailing the 20 learning points I gleaned from my experience of two days at Learning Technologies 2018.

My first challenge: How do you learn to use the app, any app, but particularly one offering great images to the world? In an afternoon with an expert? Watching others? Having a go? How do you know what looks good, or where exactly to point the camera to get the best angle? How do you learn any new tech if you’re a newbie? I set up an account and learned the basic bells and whistles some time ago, but I’ve kinda of failed to see the need for Instagram. A picture is a picture, isn’t it? Clearly, some photographs are artful and conceived of artists. I’m not a photography artist. I’m a curious L&Der. Instagram may make us think we are all David Bailey, Mark Davies or Jeanette Lendon, but let’s face it these people have honed and practiced their craft. I would not get up on a West End stage based on my singing skills from a few hymns belted out at church, so why did I ever think using an app would make me a fab photographer? Whilst I may have decided to do some experiential learning on the job, I figured I should invest in some support.  I called my friend Jet. She is an excellent corporate photographer and she runs workshops and webinars on smartphonography (it’s a thing, don’t you know?! http://jeanettelendonphotography.co.uk/smart-phone-workshops/) We managed to spend only an hour together before Learning Tech. Jet showed me lots of different tips and skills. I didn’t write them down. I forgot most of them by the next day. She messaged me a cheat sheet– very helpful! Having been slightly schooled in white balance and contrast, I decided to keep it simple. Jet suggested use one filter for consistency, and helpful lack of eye hurting. I was also advised to use more hashtags than on Twitter, so you can check out #LetsDoThis #LT18uk #LT18ukexpo. Armed with one filter, enthusiasm, and a phone already down to 75% charge before I got off the train, I arrived at Olympia as a hymn singing, newbie app user to start a photo journal. I wasn’t holding my breath.

Learning Points 1, 2, 3 & 4: Use your network for support. Make time for learning. Take good notes, the forgetting curve is a thing. Be more confident in your budding skills.

As a back channeller on Twitter, I like to record what is being said and overlay my thoughts onto to what I am hearing. I always offer that honestly and with integrity. It was important to me to do the same with Instagram (or indeed any social platform). I figured I wanted to give people who could not come to Learning Tech a flavour of what I was experiencing and seeing. I wondered about hyperlapse video so you could super quickly speed around where I had been, but actually watching those type of videos hurts my head a bit, and I am not here to hurt heads. As Instagram is a photography based platform, I decided clean images of what I was seeing would make for a better offer to a new audience. It took me a while to actually get into the event as I took photos of what I was seeing on the way. Unlike Twitter where you can bash a tweet out in a few seconds, my first noticing on using Insta was it takes ages. Perhaps because I am new at it, but it is a photography platform, so I wanted to respect that and make sure the photos were good. I used Snapseed to straighten up the wonky edges, to highlight the imagery, and to touch up the blemishes. All of that is not a snappy Tweet, nor indeed a snappy snap. I felt I needed to do that photography fiddling to fit into the Insta community. Isn’t is respectful to blend into a space by reflecting what goes on in that space? Was I being respectful by assuming all the photos were touched up? Or was it that I am just a bit of a rubbish photographer and needed to at least straighten up my photos? Either way, it took ages to post every single image.

Learning Points 5, 6 & 7: Think about what you want to offer on social media. Snapseed is fun to play with and quite magical. Respect the community you are joining.

My first session was the Keynote from Rohit Talwar after Don Taylor’s warm up act. I love that part of the Learning Technologies Conference; the excitement builds, what will the event unfold, how will I be inspired? Don does that job very well. I was feeling properly up for it all. How do you capture that in an image? I couldn’t. All I could offer was a still of some cups and the conference timetable I had snapped in the bank for later if I got stuck for stuff. Now was already later. I was stuck. 5 minutes in.

Next up was Rohit, a futurist bringing all manner of imaginings to the stage. What I noticed quite quickly was that I was distracted by my experiment; did I really hear what he had to say? When I tweet, I type what I hear, which is easier now there’s a higher word limit. With Instagram, I found it tough to post because what imagery can I get sitting in a conference audience seat? I felt a bit paparazzi and remarkably self-conscious snapping those around me. Not being in the room with the keynote speaker, rather being next door watching over a live feed probably didn’t help as I couldn’t easily take photos of Rohit or Don. I took this experiment on to learn tech new to me, to challenge myself and to do something new for #LT18uk, but I feared it would impact on what I take from the event, and I can see now it’s over that it did. Rohit was talking about how to persuade people who are digitally illiterate. Mmm, I was feeling that a bit. Rohit suggested blowing minds by showing the digitally illiterate what is going on. Take them into schools, have them spend time with people who are doing it, share case studies and better still, have a site visit. It’s about human connection, not tech. At that point I kinda wanted to give up on the experiment. I was half listening to someone very interesting because I was half understanding how to use the tech which was not giving me the human connection. I concluded I need to hang more with Instagrammers to learn more. So I stuck with it.

Learning Point: 8, 9 & 10: Having images in the bank is very useful. Listening and tweeting is a skill I am practiced at but listening and fiddling with photos was a distraction due to my less honed skills. In order to learn new skills, spending time honing those skills alongside people who have those skills is clearly important in the learning process.

One thing I loved about Insta was it cleverly offers microblogging as a useful thing. I like it. It gives me longer than Twitter if I need it. You can tell the story behind the images. Hashtags seem more important too. But placing them at the end, or even in a comment to yourself, seems culturally acceptable rather than in the body of the text like you might on Twitter. It is quite remarkable how the etiquette is so defined. I guess it plays into the social bubble we, perhaps unconsciously, surround ourselves in. Maybe I’ve not ‘got’ Instagram all this time because of the walls around it (as with all social media). Not being on the inside, not understanding the norms of behaviour, albeit not caring about sticking out like a sore thumb, does challenge the use of the app. You don’t know what you don’t know and therefore it’s harder to engage even if you want to. I tried to embrace the Instagram culture as I perceived it. I tried Boomerang, for example. Always seen it as a bit weird and random before. But making a Boomerang video was easy and quite fun, and it turned out to be one of my most popular posts. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I might play around a little more with it, but I imagine I’ll be parking my boomerang in the woodpile with the #StickMan

Learning Point: 11, 12, 13 & 14: Finding the benefit of an app always makes it more relevant and motivational. Understanding the culture, the uses, and the norms of an app make it more accessible. Helping people into your app culture makes it more inviting. Boomerang videos are silly, fun & popular!

It has been curious to see who liked my posts. A lot of make-up, fashion, shopping types in the first instance. It feels like there are more bots on Instagram, though not very clever ones. If they knew me they would know I’m not into make-up, fashion and shopping (unless it’s for shoes, then who isn’t interested in that!?) Hilariously at one point it felt like the whole internet coincided when I was followed in quick succession by a sexy vegan and a cat company. Given I hadn’t even posted any images of faces at that point, nor had I single-handedly got #LT18uk trending on Instagram I was curious as to how they found my posts in the first place, nor how following me would help them in any way. I am guessing hashtags. I may be an advocate for technology, especially learning technologies but I really am quite ignorant as to how it works. I wonder how I can change that? Do I need to? Would it be helpful to my practice? I am currently curious at how a slight shift, such as using Insta instead of Twitter, can throw up so many questions. It really reminds me of the value of walking in another’s shoes. Or at least shopping for them.

Learning Point: 15 & 16: The internet seemingly is full of cat videos and bots. The only way to change that is to understand the tech more and use it better; see things from other perspectives.

There were so many colours at Learning Tech, especially in the expo. There were many interesting things to take photos of. I felt a little weird taking photos of expo swag or stands. I had to muster my inner Doug Shaw to ‘proceed until apprehended’. I felt pressure to post fab photos. When actually all that was important was what’s going on and what’s being said.  I kept forgetting to share my Insta posts on Twitter. To be honest, I don’t like it when I see tweets from Instagram as I have to click on them to see the images. When you share from Instagram to Facebook the whole thing is there for you. I wish the tech players would play together nicely. It’s clear each platform has its own audience and place. This experiment proved that if nothing else. I engaged with Facebook & Twitter via Instagram and it was tech integration in action and it was ugly.

Learning Point: 17, 18 & 19: Moving to a new medium takes courage. Pressure to perform is not related to any app, rather related to yourself. The tech makes don’t play nicely with each other, so users have to make that UX work, and that sucks.

My overriding feeling at the time was that the experiment had failed. It was hard to provide good imagery and well written content in a timely way. I don’t feel I served the public well, and I changed over to Twitter for the back channel at the faintest opportunity. Nobody really engaged via Instagram at the time (shout out to Belvista Studios Elearning for being encouraging to stick with it). There was very little conversation there. It seems there are very few learning people on Instagram. At the time I did wonder why I did it and what value it added to the social noise. What has happened since the experiment? I deliberately left this reflective write up to see what happened beyond the event. There are several things I’ve noticed;

Beyond the event, more and more learning people have found their way to me on Instagram. When an earlier takeaway was that L&D don’t play in that playground, it is nice to see the longevity of the posts, much longer than any Tweets for drawing people in. I suppose something which takes longer to craft and share will create something with a longer life than something which can be bashed out in a few seconds. There are learning people on Insta, they just use that platform in different ways. And indeed, do I need only learning people in my professional life, or is the beauty of Instagram the connection to lots of different people who can inform your new perspective?

Personally, I am a lot more conscious of the quality of images I post across all platforms now. Nobody needs to see crappy photo, ever.

And finally, I am more interested and motivated to use Instagram now. I am slightly more mindful to look for the art in things I see and share. I understand more of the benefits of Instagram, particularly as a microblogging site for connecting like-minded communities. I am almost a bit of a fan.

Learning point 20: Giving anything new a go is absolutely worth it, even if it fails, as there will be longer lasting imprints from which you will learn and can inform your next steps.

To catch up on the Back Channel for Learning Technologies 2018 please see hashtags #LT18uk & #LT18ukexpo across all platforms. I particularly recommend checking out the great stories and energy about mentoring from David Ivell & Ewa Sulima on Twitter #T2S4. Their session was the highlight of the Conference for me.