Vintage photo of man waving as he gets into a plane.

The Last Post

A couple of weeks ago I sent an email to my Light Touch Learning mailing list saying goodbye to them, and to my elearning career. Since then I’ve had some very kind and empathetic emails of support. Thank you! Here are my reflections on those replies and my career since 1987.

What I said

This will be the last Light Touch Learning email to my list of clients, friends and contacts.

I decided a couple of weeks ago to leave the world of elearning. There are quite a few motivations going on and I’ll let you into some of them:

  • there are things I want to do more, far more, than this. Those of you who know me know I’m a musician and songwriter. While the earnings from that are miniscule the rewards when it goes right are greater than anything. I want to put more of my time into making it go right more of the time. Music’s not the only thing I want to do but it’s the main one.
  • I’ve never been very successful at marketing myself as a consultant or developer. I’ve felt like I’ve ticked a lot of the content marketing boxes over the last few years, and produced some decent information, but it’s only occasionally brought me any business. Looking at people who are far more invested in the field than me – some of them struggling too – I see that the differentiator is passion about the field. I realised I could never be one of those people who stand up at Learning Technologies or the ELN and start by saying I’m passionate about organisational learning. I’m not. ‘Quite interested’ doesn’t inspire, does it?
  • Lately I’ve found I don’t open any newsletters and very few blog posts about elearning. The list of titles for the Learning Technologies conference just left me cold. It just doesn’t interest me any more. I think I’ve written some material on scenarios that might be of use to people, but I don’t have any more where that came from. Over the last two years I’d assumed that I wanted to be ‘known’ as an expert in my little niche but when I really looked at it deeply, I realised I didn’t really want to be known in that way.

So I have the opportunity not to fake it, not to push myself into the mine to find new things to say but to step back and say that’s enough. There are better writers putting out material about scenarios – Anna Sabramowicz and Christy Tucker for example, as well as the brilliant Cathy Moore.

I still have a couple of clients that I really enjoy working with, and while they want me to do bits of work I’ll continue, but I won’t be looking for any other work or clients.

Elearning has been good to me, providing me with a stimulating career at Britannia, Scottish Widows and Lloyds. But the years I’ve been independent have been the most enjoyable for the variety of topics I’ve worked on and the people I’ve met. I hope the resources on the site will go a little of the way to giving something back; I’ll be leaving the site up as a resource bank.

(I then went into practicalities about zapping my mailing list.)

What you said

Here are a few anonymous quotes from people who kindly replied (each quote is from a different person):
  •  Being as honest as that is something you can do when you retire but not easily before.
  • Thank you for generously sharing these feelings about what you want from your productive hours.  It is inspiring. Personally, I am still casting about for a better match between what drives me, what people have found useful from me, and what puts bread on the table.
  • Passion is always the difference. Thanks for such an open letter. I struggle the same way.
  • Thanks for such an honest and personal message. It takes courage to admit you’re not as passionate about your work.  I have to say I myself become discouraged and am thinking about other things I could do in my life.
  • I’ve often used your guide Designing Predicaments, which is always in my bag when I start a new project.
  • You are very talented (and courageous). I admire you for taking a step back and making this decision. After all, in the words of my teenage son: YOLO (You Only Live Once)
  • As an old boss of mine used to say ‘unto thine own self be true’….and you are which I admire greatly
  •  I was so moved by your honesty that I wanted to get in touch. I found your work on scenario based learning really impressive. So much so that I have used your Designing Predicaments workbook a few times to help me plan out new projects and I now advocate scenario based learning as a method to most of my clients (where applicable)
  • I’m sorry that you lost your inspiration/enthusiasm with e-learning; I can understand how this happens
  • Thank you again for all the help you gave me as a mentor a few years back
  • I only recently joined your blog and download your scenario worksheets. They are fantastic and I’m currently using them to create a scenario. Thank you for all the hard work and dedication you put into them.


It was interesting to note that I wasn’t alone in feeling a loss of inspiration with the elearning industry. I get the feeling there’s a huge establishment been built up around feeding monster LMSs with compliance material with the sole purpose of providing a record that some kind of training has been provided.  Nobody really loves doing that, however, not even the compliance people who commission it. But no-one really knows how to stop it or where to go from here.  For my part, if I were getting involved now I’d want to be looking at custom learning experiences using AI.  Way back when I started Computer-Based Training I thought the essence of it was that the computer was pretending to have a conversation with the user, guiding them towards a better understanding of the subject. For years, that’s been largely through the multiple choice question. Now with the development of chatbots we could soon get to the point where you can have an actual satisfying conversation with a virtual mentor. But that’s for better minds than mine to work out. Donald Clark, for one, seems to be on it.

At the same time as the credibility and creativity of elearning and instructional design have suffered in the corporate world, look how ‘learning online’ has taken off in the real world – YouTube, free tutorials and webinars, MOOCs, and the many video-based online courses on just about everything. So the dream of learning through technology has been realised – just not the way we thought it would and not led by the instructional design experts we thought would lead it.

I was also delighted that people said they were using Designing Predicaments. I hadn’t had much feedback on it, so it’s good to know it helped some people.  It’ll still be freely available here.

Respice Prospice  (The motto of my school: Looking back, looking forward)

Row of BBC micros.
Let’s learn MicroText – the top authoring tool. Author in three colours!

I came into this profession in 1987 answering an advert for a government-funded course in Manchester to turn teachers with an interest in computers into computer-based-training (CBT) authors. It’s hard to believe we got four months paid full time training including a company placement. And harder to believe we did the first two months on BBC Micros! I then saw my first IBM personal computer, marvelling at how everything had become so miniaturised it could fit into this tiny thin keyboard (until the tutor pointed out the giant grinding CPU under the desk!).  Doing my first placement, with Mentor Learning in Mixenden, was an eye-opener. Having come from a tiny English As a Foreign Language implant at Manchester Uni, I couldn’t believe you could use the photocopier without signing for the number of copies you made!

I got my first job at Britannia Building Society in Staffordshire where they rather naively thought the whole training department should learn CBT authoring because ‘ it’s another string to their bow ‘ and ‘ how hard can it be? ‘  Within six months I was the only one doing it and we were recruiting for two more people with the right skills. I’d been well trained but it helped to have a mentor in the shape (a very striking shape if you knew him) of consultant Jeff Oliver, a great tutor and cutter-through of vendors’ bullshit. Many a wide-eyed pitch at TACT (The Association for Computer Based Training, later to become the ELN) was interrupted by Jeff getting up and walking out. His early death in 1990 was a huge blow.

I then moved to Edinburgh to work on CBT with Scottish Widows, who were then taken over by Lloyds TSB.  In the close-knit and friendly environment of Widows, Lloyds were welcomed with all the warmth of an invading army. But they brought with them a commitment to using the new channel of the intranet for learning, and I soon found myself working at home as part of a maverick team presided over by Gary Bellamy, whose facade of inexhaustible (and exhausting) Bruce Forsyth humour masked a serious and credible manager who cared for his team like no manager I’d come across before.

After Lloyds took over HBOS, however, the learning effort became divorced from the all-devouring LMS maintenance.  My team was sucked into the latter and I was bored and restless. An opportunity came up to apply for voluntary redundancy. I was turned down for VR but had mentally committed myself to going freelance anyway, so I did, with an early highlight of working directly with Cathy Moore.  I created Light Touch Learning in 2014.  I’m leaving this blog up here as a small legacy, a thank you to my clients and my mentors

From now my online effort will be at where I’ll write about obscure 1970s musicians and offer my own songs, instrumentals and dear, sweet thoughts.

To the readers I know personally, hugs and thanks for your chat, encouragement, feedback and money. To the ones I don’t, a friendly wave and good wishes for your career.

If you want me, that’s where I’ll be.

Norman Lamont and the Heaven Sent by Philippe Monthoux.

1 thought on “The Last Post”

  1. I wish you the best of luck with the next stage of your journey. As a music educator turned instructional designer, I can appreciate how rewarding you find performing and composing. I feed that part of my soul singing in church choir and playing horn sporadically.

    You need to feed that artist in you and go do what makes you excited. I hope you find great satisfaction in that (and hopefully at least moderate financial success too!).

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