From Cardigans to Tumbleweed... Why I Do What I Do!

At Abby Oates Learning Solutions, our passion is in helping people to learn and maximise their potential. We design and facilitate positive, inspiring and meaningful learning to enable people, teams and organisations to deliver change and achieve their goals.

So how did we start? Where did our business come from? Well, believe it or not, our journey started when I was only 6 years old.

I love learning, I always have.  As a child, I remember asking my Mum to knit me a bottle green school cardigan with the words "I love school" on it in bright red letters, because I did! I loved finding things out, I loved understanding more about the world around me, I loved knowing things, trying new things and being the best I could be at something. It gave me pleasure and a real sense of pride. I used to enjoy opening up the encyclopaedia at home (remember those?) at any random page and simply discovering something I didn't know before. Simple pleasures…

I Learnt From the Good

Throughout my life, I have been incredibly lucky as I have had some amazing people influence and support my love of learning. My parents encouraged me every day and, from an early age, they made learning interesting and enjoyable. I remember so many family games that on reflection were actually really educational, but were great fun too. Did anyone else play Country, County, Town?!

From there, I had some brilliant teachers and one in particular stands out as a real inspiration for me, Mr Holbird. I particularly remember spending a term writing a chapter per week of a story about being shipwrecked. We had to illustrate and decorate our story using a different artistic medium each week. Alongside this, we also researched the area of the world in which we had chosen to be shipwrecked. When you break this down, it’s Creative writing, Arts and crafts, Geography and English all rolled into one. I still have that project and so many of his lessons I still remember to this day. Looking back, he was really creative in the methods he used to help us learn about things, and he’d combine different topics together for us to truly practice our skills. These positive early experiences have really inspired me to continually develop myself, and bring this passion to the people that I work with in an effective and fun way.

I Learnt From The Bad

Over the years of course, I have also had some less positive experiences of so-called 'learning'. My second year Maths class at secondary school saw the teacher pick on you if you didn't have your hand up to answer his question. He would then proceed to embarrass you for your ‘ignorance’. My Scandinavian History module at university (a subject I had been excited about beforehand) saw the aged tutor read verbatim from the course textbook for the whole 90 minute lesson, every week, for eight weeks... Without fail! I had to force myself NOT to listen just so that I could stay awake!! These early experiences showed me first-hand how not to do it!

Then I joined the working world, and I still squirm when I remember the 'fun' icebreaker game one tutor introduced, which seemingly had no other purpose than to embarrass you in front of people you didn't yet know. This was followed soon after by another 'lowlight'; being forced to sit through a day of just being talked at by a series of dull speakers, one of whom introduced his session by saying "I'm really sorry, I realise this is going to be quite a boring topic, but we have to go through it all with you for legal reasons, so bear with me".  

Well why don't you just shoot me now then?!

Then, after presenting no less than 167 PowerPoint slides for our enjoyment, he asked us to shout out some examples of what we had learnt from the session. As you may have guessed, the silence was deafening.  Everyone averted their eyes and the tumbleweed rolled past....  


Unfortunately though, these are not unique examples of how not to deliver or develop others.

The Outcome

And as I reflected back further on these disappointing experiences, I realised that not only were they uncomfortable, I actually remembered absolutely none of the 'content' of these 'learning' sessions either. That's right, not a single learning point stuck with me...  My only abiding memories are of the negative feelings I experienced at the time, be it of fear, boredom or frustration at the fact that it seemed like a complete waste of my time. There was certainly no learning taking place, which is a worry when surely that was the point?  

But with each experience, I do remember thinking "there's got to be a better way…”

And therein, lay my spark!

I am an absolute believer that there is no such thing as a boring topic, just boring training.  When training (or learning as I prefer to call it) is done well, it ignites people's energy, inspires them to take action and to improve. And for me, that is priceless, and gives me great inspiration too.

So I began my journey. I studied a Masters in Human Resource Management, which introduced me to all manner of people and learning theories, concepts and approaches, and gave me some intriguing first insights into how we best learn.  I went on to secure a place on a brilliant NHS HR graduate training scheme, which gave me wonderful practical exposure to learning and change in action.  And soon afterwards, I chose to specialise in learning and development as a career. The opportunity to positively make a difference to others by helping them learn was a strong attracting force for me, which it remains to this day.

But I still had a niggling sense that learning could be done better... And then I had the most pivotal experience of my learning journey.  I was introduced to the concept, approaches and techniques of brain-friendly learning - learning designed around how the brain learns best, and I was hooked.  Everything dropped into place for me from that point onwards.

My Mission

And now I am on a mission!!  My mission is "to bring positive, inspiring and meaningful learning to the world" and to thereby save the world from dull, meaningless and ineffective training.  My aim is to create learning which engages people and which recognises that we all learn differently.

Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve shows us how quickly we typically forget new information.  Estimates vary, but I have seen suggestions of up to 90% being lost within a week.  If you're investing time and money in training, that's a scary statistic!

The great news however, is that for skilled facilitators, coaches and learners we can take action to greatly improve this level of retention.  And that's where brain-friendly learning approaches come in.  Learning which is memorable, for all the right reasons.  Learning which engages our emotions - to enhance what we remember. Learning which enables people to create their own meaning from something.  And most importantly, learning from which people are truly motivated to take action and do things differently.

And this is why I do what I do.  

Whether it's facilitating an engagement event for a newly formed team, leading a Personal Effectiveness workshop, coaching someone 1:1 to explore and find their future career path or working with an organisation to design a fantastic new training package for meeting chairs.  My passion is to help others learn in the best way for them. To enable them to maximise their potential.

I truly believe that learning should be a joy and that it is the pathway to how we truly become the best versions of ourselves.  

As Dr Seuss famously said "The more that you learn, the more places you'll go".