“Nonsense. Pretty much sums up everything”. – Albert Einstein

Elan Projects turned 1!

James, Linden, Nina and Andrew blow out the candle on a great first year.

Hip  hooray! James, Linden, Nina and Andrew blow out the candle.

Elan Projects turned one. It has been an excellent first year, filled with challenging projects, cool tech and memorable people.

So much this year could be called a highlight. Here are just a few things that thrilled:

– Finishing our Go Go Gadget BYOD for VET research project with a web app that simplifies reading the extensive guidelines and developing Bring Your Own Device policy for organisations.

– Writing the course materials for the entire Network Engineering subject for the Australian Computer Society’s Diploma course in five short weeks (!).

– Hosting the Inaugural Remote-Drink-along (stay tuned for the next one – it’s coming in October!)

– Teaching members of the Country Women’s Association how to maintain the content on their website – from scratch.

CWA members learning to use WordPress to maintain their own website.

CWA members learning to use WordPress to maintain their own website.


– Taking a group of careers advisors on “Flipped Excursions” into industry settings like joinery factories and coffee roasteries – where the teachers stayed put and the remote host took them on a live interactive guided tour into the “Staff Only” areas of their workplaces.

– Producing the IT’s Your Career launch simultaneously between Hobart and Launceston, with presenters and regional groups of people at each end. We mixed industry talks and presentations via video hookup with local speed recruitment activities and team building challenges. Project managing IT’s Your Career v.2.o this year again, we’re building on the experience from v.1.0.

– Creating a new model for collaborating, learning and consulting using technology called Group Sense. It’s coming on Monday!

Year Two is off and racing, with a number of exciting projects bubbling away already. Thank you to everyone who has been along for the ride this first year of Elan’s life. It’s been a cracker!

Many thanks to the clever Molly Kendall who took the pictures.


“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” – Albert Einstein

We are abuzz after an invigorating two days spent listening, thinking and talking about the “whys” and “hows” of Vocational Education & Training, in a changing industrial, social, technological and political scene. Linden and I left the 2014 Skills Tasmania Conference last week with our brains brimming. It was a diverse and action-packed program, filled with challenging and inspiring ideas.

Thought bubble Skills Tasmanian Conference 2014

A (not-very-artistic) impression of the inside of my head at about 5pm last Tuesday as we packed up our booth at the end of the conference:

I hosted a table at Cafe Conversation to discuss the IT’s Your Career project, which we’re managing for TasICT . It was a treat to discuss the project with a range of new and old faces from all areas of VET. People shared their knowledge and experience, asking insightful questions and offering valuable ideas for the next program. We can’t wait to kick off Round 2 in readiness for 2015 at the TasICT Conference on August 14.

Cafe Conversation Skills Tasmania Conference

Lively conversations about all things VET-related at the Cafe Conversations session. (Photograph thanks to Chris Johnston).

In the somewhat eerie vacuum between the hand-down of the Federal and State budgets (does anyone else feels like we’re in the eye of the storm?), the conference was aptly themed “Riding the wave – it’s all about…”.

The name calls to mind the surfing sensation of paddling out beyond the breakers, eyes on the horizon, looking for a good position and being ready to use the energy of the best waves, as the sets come through. I hope that our Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector is busily waxing up its boards in preparation for a swift ride into a vastly different landscape. Certainly, the size of our state, our ready access to broadband, the burgeoning digital start-up scene, as well as Tassie’s exciting tech projects means that there is a groundswell of momentum building – we just need to be ready to paddle like mad to get onto that wave! But, I’d best stop wearing out the metaphor and get on with it…

This blog post is an attempt to distill “hows” and “whys” – the key themes, impressions and lessons that we picked up from the conference into some “whats”what does it all mean? what could we try? what do we need?

Since the conference, I have been pondering this central question:

“How can we skill Tasmanians for a knowledge-based & rapidly-changing economy?”


The big hits – key themes & discussion points


Please feel welcome to comment below and let me know what I got right, and where I’ve you think I’ve missed the point.

  • We need nimble and agile workers

All four of us at Elan share the conviction that Tasmania has the potential to enjoy an exciting future as an incubator of global tech and start up innovation in sustainable and knowledge-based industries. This sentiment was echoed in several of the presentations. Professor John Buchanan and Dr Marcus Bowles both spoke about a need to look carefully at imparting strong general core competencies, to foster solid values and attitudes and to build an agile workforce that can apply its skills in a variety of contexts. I was too shy in the Plenary Hall (believe me, it does happen) to pipe up and ask them where the Core Skills For Work Framework and Employability Skills fit into this picture, but the illustrations that they used pointed at the importance of tacit skills and personal attributes that can be applied across industries and sectors as the nature of business changes.

I’m keen to discover how they would suggest that the VET sector goes about developing the values and attitudes that John and Marcus discussed in their presentations, which both sought to highlight the need to inspire a ‘can-do’, enterprising, empathetic, innovative and confident attitude in the workforce of the future.  I did have a quick chat to Marcus about the conundrum of how to teach values and attitudes, rather than skills and knowledge. He stressed the importance of careful recruitment of workers and imparting an understanding of “why I do my job” (not just “what I do in my job”) when training workers. If you’re interested in the tension between “will” and “skill” – or values vs. skills & knowledge, you might want to watch this film in which the incomparable Sir Ken Robinson discusses the need for a creative and innovative approach to education:

The clear challenge for the VET sector is to redefine the way that we educate. We have to work at responding to a shift away from “vocations” towards “job roles”, and to serve our rapidly-evolving local industries. We’re going to need to be bold and innovative to deliver the diverse array of skills and knowledge that people now need in order to be productive and successful participants in the labour market. Skills Tasmania’s Skills Fund has been a uniquely responsive, demand-driven funding model, allowing employers to catalogue the discrete skills required to meet a demonstrated enterprise need and find training partners that can deliver them. I really like this funding model. It keeps industry need at the core of its focus, irrespective of the training package or qualification from which the Units of Competency come. I hope we will see more funding of this kind, both on a State and Federal level. I predict that this more flexible model will gain further recognition as the diversity and variety of skills needed to do modern jobs becomes better understood.  

What do you think: Is it too far-fetched to hope that we could see partnerships between multiple specialist Registered Training Organisations to deliver specialist training solutions for niche businesses? Imagine that… 

  • Strong Foundation Skills in our community are everyone’s business

I wouldn’t be surprised if people are tiring of hearing me raving about our dire need for all Tasmanians to have strong Foundation Skills. If Tasmania is to capitalise on it’s natural, social and technological resources and to grow our emerging industries that largely rely on specialist expertise, Adult Literacy (by which I am referring to the core skills relating to Learning, Communicating, Literacy, Digital Literacy and Numeracy) must be our top priority.

Linden and I attended an excellent workshop about Plain English, hosted by the inspired and passionate people from the 26TEN strategy. Ms Jen Dunbabin from Skills Tasmania used the analogy that Plain English opens doors to understanding, where using slang, acronyms and unnecessarily vague language locks people out.  Ms Robin Black, who is the Strategy Manager, explained that there are two important aspects to the strategy:

–  improving everyone’s core skills (check out the Australian Core Skills Framework if you haven’t already – it’s great)

– promoting the use of Plain English right across the community so that we can all “meet in the middle”. It seems that we’re aiming for a “sweet spot” between raised literacy levels and clarified written language.

We also agreed that de-stigmatising having weak Foundation Skills is a vital aspect of dealing with the issue. Just as Beyond Blue helped Australians get past the notion that Depression was weird or scary, allowing us to move forward in seeking treatment and building social acceptance, 26TEN seeks to promote the issues around adult literacy in a positive, matter-of-fact way.

The lesson for me from the workshop is I am a repeat offender, using word play and novel words to entertain (mainly myself). In doing so, I probably lose most of my audience. The workshop was a good reminder and I hereby undertake to try harder to be clear. Feel free to ping me with an “Acronym Alert” if you catch me using acronyms unfairly! We’re looking to involve the Digital Start Up community of freelancers in Tasmania to participate in some Plain English training to grow our skills in the area. Watch out for the workshop dates if you’re keen.

  • Digital literacy for everyone is crucial


Delegates join in the fun at the Go Go Gadget workshop, participating in live polls on their own devices.

Delegates joined in the fun at the Go Go Gadget workshop, participating in live polls on their own devices. (Photograph thanks to Chris Johnston).


Linden and I presented the Go Go Gadget workshop, where we presented the outputs from our National VET E-learning Strategy (NVELS) research project entitled “Guidelines for the Effective Use of Bring Your Own Device in VET”. We showcased the Guidelines themselves, the online BYOD Readiness Self Audit Tool and the other outputs from the project, which included a Brief Builder, Sample Policies and four Case Studies about best practice in BYOD around Australia. They are all hot off the press and still awaiting uploading to the NVELs site. For now, you can find them on our Workshops page if you’re keen to learn more about introducing Bring Your Own Device practice into your organisation. For us, the fun was in demonstrating live BYOD applications throughout the session. We’re really thankful to the great numbers of delegates who came along, joined in the live polls throughout the workshop and had the good manners to laugh (either at me or with me) in the right spots.

Elan - did you know it's definition?

Elan – did you know it’s definition?

 The workshop was Linden’s first public outing on Elan business and he acquitted himself with, well, elan. As usual, Linden used his magic IT skills to make the computers say “yes”, and despite a complex set of tech challenges, all of the gadgets chose to play nicely on the day. Feedback was excellent and we were thrilled to get an email from a delegate who had come all the way from Wodonga TAFE who said “This was a great session. Learning in action.” We set out to illustrate the opportunities presented by using digital tools for live engagement and are delighted that it worked!

Many people came to our booth and discussed a need for general and specialist digital literacy in a modern workforce with us. Conversations yielded examples of productivity and efficiency drivers for using technology cleverly in delivery and assessment. Lots of people also highlighted the equity and access aspects of the digital literacy and we agree that access to digital tools and the confidence to use them well is a social justice issue.

People were wondering whether Elan is working with people and digital literacy, and yes, we sure are. We’re constantly seizing opportunities to innovate, extend and improve skills through applying technology in a fit-for-purpose way. Further to the Foundation Skills issue that I discussed above, I frequently find that using technology can give us a chance to work around Language, Literacy and Numeracy deficiencies and just get on with the job at hand.

We love teaching people about using technology. We also love to teach people, using technology.*

  • We need to foster an entrepreneurial, enterprising state of mind in our workforce for the future

There was much fascinating conversation about “enterprise” (the noun), versus “enterprise” (the verb), and what it takes to teach people to think in an “enterprising” fashion. Another educational challenge that frequently emerged in conversation is developing individuals to behave in a way that is industrious, shows initiative, ambition, conviction and a willingness to take a calculated risk. People with these skills and this mindset make ideal workers and entrepreneurs. They are vital to invigorate our economy. Are these skills inherent? Or can they be taught?

Elan is keen to determine and document the competencies and knowledge necessary for success in Start-Up businesses and we are plotting an exciting initiative to do that with the freelance and Digital Start-Up community in Tasmania.

Were you wondering about the depressing title that I chose for this post?

It seems to me that the real risk that we all face is providing education that does not deliver the right kind of learning. We are all aware that our productivity, participation and numeracy and literacy are in crisis at this point in time, so clearly, something needs to change.

Conferences are a great time to think about why we teach, how we can teach and what needs to be taught. The challenge for us all is to lift our gaze towards a shared vision for the future, to ask the tough questions about what needs to change. We need the courage to take the bold steps towards redefining how we deliver and fund vocational education and training (or, as I prefer to call it “learning for work”) in a way that will serve our vision. In this way, we won’t let the education get into the way of the learning.

So, I end this epic-length post with these comforting words from the Elan mascot (is it disrespectful to call the great Professor Einstein a mascot?):

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein

Till next year, thanks everyone for a great conference and I look forward to learning what you all thought about the event.



 * I’m doubtful that that statement would stack up against a Plain English test. What do you think?

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” – Albert Einstein

I’m bubbling over with excitement at the prospect of introducing our newest director, Linden Kurth. (That’s him on the left in the photo below).

Another fan of bikes and beer (a pre-requisite around these parts), Linden brings a pretty speccy combination of high-level technical expertise and professional qualifications in ICT, Management and Renewable Energies to the business. He’s hit the ground running at Elan, polishing up our soon-to-be-launched “BYOD Guidelines for VET” and Web Application (stay tuned, folks, they’ll be available in June on the National VET E-learning Strategy website), tinkering with our IT systems and learning the lay of the land in Vocational Education and Training. Linden divides his time between Elan and continuing his work as a Senior ICT Consultant and Project Manager with Principal Technologies here in Hobart, currently working on tech projects across a range of industries including Health, Aged Care and Education.


Beer, bikes and beanbags. Who said Strategic Planning had to be painful?

We were snapped here last week, when we grabbed our bikes and took a ride out to the spectacular MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) for our 2014/2015 Strategic Planning Day. Elan is almost coming to our first birthday – and what a year it’s been! As you can probably see, the day was a brilliant mix of work and pleasure, helped along by our inspiring surroundings and a Moo Brew (or two – later in the day). It was a great opportunity to take stock of a whirlwind first year and prioritise our plan of attack for the next part of the journey.

If you were wondering what we’ll be up to in the next 12-18 months, here are just a few of the headlines:

– Offering fully-customised holistic BYOD solutions for VET and Education around Australia. We’ll be doing everything from hardware infrastructure consulting, assisting with creating back-of-house processes and policies, stakeholder engagement and communication, to project management and training. We’ll help RTOs and educational institutions unlock the potential of all of those tiny little computers that students, staff and guests carry around in their pockets with them, without falling into the security and compliance traps that sometimes prevent people from taking this important step into a more mobile and equitable future.

– Looking at developing a sustainable workforce development framework for the ICT industry in Tasmania.

– Finding nifty ways to inform and attract young entrepreneurial people to the ICT industry to grow our regional economy as traditional industries contract.

– Working with older populations of workers and volunteers to increase digital literacy for work.

– Communicating a vision for the expanded use of BYOD for direct industry transferability.

– Piloting new and sustainable methods of getting global leaders in ICT to participate actively in VET in Australia, with particular emphasis on VET in Schools and regional and remote RTOs.

– Developing VET teaching models that utilise technological tools and applications that can be directly applied in the workplace.

– Working with Not-For-Profit clients to project manage and support the process of developing and updating websites and providing ongoing training in keeping content up-to-date. That stuff can be daunting and expensive, so we’re keen to keep helping people navigate through the process.

– Working up Digital Strategies for small and medium enterprises, Not-For-Profits and government.

– Events – more events (we love a good event) and workshops for VET professionals, educators, government workers and community members.

We’ll be presenting a workshop and hosting Cafe Conversations at the Skills Tasmania Conference about some of the topics that are keeping us inspired in workforce development and the applications of technology. We’re also cooking up a surprise activity for visitors to our booth to join in on, so if you’re at the Skills Tas conference, make sure you stop by, say g’day and meet Linden!

“If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut” ― Albert Einstein

Last week in Elan land was filled with challenge, inspiration and Very Clever People (shhhh – don’t tell anyone, but there were very few moments last week that actually felt like “work”…).

Here were some of the highlights:

– We joined forces with TasICT and kicked off the “It’s Your Career” project, in collaboration with TasTAFE Stay tuned about that one, it’s set to be a very cool project that we’re very excited to be working on. More about that in a few weeks…

– The very clever James Riggall from @StartUpTasmania took us for a sneak peek at the Macquarie House redevelopment in Launceston, soon-to-be-home of The Catalyst Project. A clear all-round political, social and economic winner, the project will sow the seeds for a hotbed of innovation and collaboration in Northern Tas. Watch this space, as @jamesriggall presented at the TedX Launceston talks last Friday. I’ll post the link to the video when it becomes available. James spoke about the decentralisation of innovation hubs, as they increasingly proliferate in regional areas (like Launceston). He presents an exciting message, which tells of resourceful and edgy businesses quietly achieving globally and acting locally.

It is a coincidence that I snapped this while the "Reliability" slide was up there. It refers to the FTTP difference, but is also one of Andrew's points of pride...

It is a coincidence that I snapped this while the “Reliability” slide was up there. It refers to the FTTP difference, but is also one of our points of pride…

– Andrew and I presented two segments of the Technology and Training: Get Up To Speed workshop, hosted by @Skills Tasmania’s E-learning Unit. It was an excellent day, attended by a range of people from RTOs, local government, Department of Education and local businesses. There was a breadth of knowledge and experience in the room and we were delighted to hear about two case studies from the recent Skills Tasmania Technology Infrastructure Investment Program. I’ll post the link to the case studies as they become available. They are brilliant stories about the use of technology as the glue between people and opportunity.

Andrew guided us through the finer points of High Speed Broadband / NBN and answered a bunch of those lingering pesky questions including: “What is it?” “How do I get it?” “How much will it cost?” “Why would my business bother?” “What does this all mean anyway?” “What if we’ve got $1k, $5K or $20K to spend?” He also kicked a Prezi-mastery goal and we’ll be sharing the presentation slides soon.

Brendan from Department of Education’s ITS gamely stepped up to the plate to assemble the Cold Drip coffee rig.

Brendan from Department of Education’s ITS gamely stepped up to the plate to assemble the Cold Drip coffee rig.

I took the group through a “lesson within a lesson”, demonstrating a modular approach to Technology-enhanced learning using free and paid tools to address identified needs for learners, industry and RTOs. Elan is all about picking and mixing online tools that get the job done as simply and cheaply as possible.

We served up a live lesson that drew performance criteria from the “Plan and Monitor the Sale and Service of Espresso Coffee” Unit of Competency from the SIT13 package. Tristan, one of the professional coffee roasters from Zimmah Coffee showed us through his industry setting (including those “out the back” places not normally available to punters. He taught us about the different types of grinds, showed us how to assemble a Cold Drip Coffee set up and then supported the assessment of Brendan from Department of Education ITS and Fiona from Skills Tasmania’s E-Learning Unit’s grasp of the skills and knowledge. That was followed with some online assessment and collaboration using free tools in Google Apps.

You’ll be pleased to know that everyone completed the quiz with a “satisfactory” outcome (well done).  The session was rounded out with a quick look over the National Vocational Registration standards that were addressed through the activity – and there were lots from NVRs 15-17 covered off. Phew! The 90 minutes passed in a flash (well, for me, at least). I hope that Elan will get to do more of that type of teaching – possibly with even more time allocated – as there’s a lot to bite off and chew with this live approach.

It was a whirlwind tour through virtual excursions and free online assessment and delivery, and we hope that the participants got plenty out of a glimpse of our “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (aka fit-for-purpose, rather than packaged solution) approach to technology-enhanced learning. Thanks Skills Tasmania for having us along – and thank you to the participants who came for the ride with us!

– Friday saw a catch up with Dr Marcus Bowles from University of Tasmania and The Institute for Working Futures. A generous and learned man, Marcus shared his vision for regional development & workforce development with us and generally bamboozled us with his insights. There was a point at which I felt that it was only fair that he call me “Grasshopper”… Plenty of food for thought there, particularly with respect to global approaches to workforce development & planning.

Then there were the TasICT Industry Awards…

After the panel interviews that made the whole thing worthwhile (imagine a roomful of experienced and expert business leaders asking insightful questions that inspire all kinds of introspection and refinement in your new business), I felt that we’d been very well served by the awards process already (thank you panellists, it was tremendous). (Tip for young players: enter the awards – it is time well spent no matter the outcome).

And we won two categories!!

We were delighted to take the trophies for Best Start Up and Best ICT Solution with us. We were also finalists in the Best ICT Service category, but that would have just been cheeky and the prize went to those clever guys at @acrodata (well done, John and the gang – second year running!).

Andrew accepted the "Best Start Up" trophy

Andrew accepted the “Best Start Up” trophy

And I got to collect the "Best ICT Solution" trophy

And I got to collect the “Best ICT Solution” trophy

A good time was had by all – perhaps most of all by me.

I was lucky enough to sit next to Minister Nick McKim and harangue – I mean interview – him about workforce development strategy and VET reform in Tasmania, and to discover his thoughts about Tertiary and VET sector intersection over dinner. He was very gracious and even talked me through signing up to Twitter on my phone (follow us at @elanprojects).

There was lots of buzz in the room when Premier Lara Giddings announced that there would be funding for a Workforce Development Plan for the ICT industry in Tasmania – a much-needed and exciting opportunity for our State indeed.

I was supposed to give an acceptance speech for one of our awards. Never one to waste an opportunity to spruik an idea, I preferred steal the chance to call the TasICT community to action through participating in the consultation for the Plan and to step up and join us in the IT’s Your Career Project. People were very indulgent and went with the flow.

It was fascinating to hear Michael Ferguson, Lara Giddings and Nick McKim battle it out on the couch in the panel discussions, brilliant to meet lots of TasICT members and movers & shakers in education. It was humbling to witness the commitment to innovation using technology that exists in the Tasmanian ICT community. Thank you to all of the TasICT members who came to say hello, offer their congratulations, and especially, to express their interest in participating in the creation of Workforce Development Plan. Elan is absolutely brimming with excitement at the prospect of getting going on the Plan.

Top work to @DeanWinter4, who is the Executive Officer at TasICT. Dean did a sterling job of the awards and Elan is really pleased to be working with him!

Phew! What a week. I finished it by flying to Bali. 

Congratulations if you read this far. Promise that future posts will be much shorter.