It was quite exciting to appear on the front cover of Training Journal this month. I was approached by the editor of the journal after my presentation in London at the Learning Technologies annual conference.

When she asked for an interview, I thought the brief video conversation that followed was it, but no - there was more to come. A written interview was next, and then a photoshoot (studio and external shots) with professional photographer Louise Sumner followed, and the result.... well, judge for yourself.

Here's an excerpt from the interview, with me talking about 'my road to success', and how serendipity played an important part in my career development...

What and when was your career turning point?
I believe in serendipity. I have been fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time on several key occasions during my career. 

The first was when I was working as a manager in the National Health Service and heard about a new university project that placed new and emerging technologies into the hands of local communities. It was 1996, and a period of great technological transformation, and the project aimed to set up distance learning centres in hard-to-reach rural areas. Each centre would have internet connected computers, video conferencing and digital satellite teleconferencing. This was pioneering, futuristic work and I was immediately captivated.

I was appointed training manager. It was only a three-year contract and meant me leaving a permanent job, which worried me. My new boss assured me: ‘Steve, if you make this job a success, you’ll be world class.’ I took him at his word. 

My job was to broker training programmes from training providers, help to transform them into digital and online content, and then deliver them direct to the local businesses in nearby centres. 

It was challenging, hands-on work, because the idea was very new, and we were breaking new ground for training. I learnt a lot about new technologies, the concept of distance learning, and interestingly, a lot about people and local politics!

I was again in the right place at the right time a few years later when I was invited to present at a conference in Ankara, Turkey. While there, I spent time with several luminaries in the world of online and distance learning, who all too a shine to me. I was quite new to distance learning, but I was suddenly elevated to ‘expert’ status. They invited me to speak at several high-profile conferences, to join several editorial boards on well-known journals, and was even offered a job in the US. I didn’t realise it at the time, but travelling to Ankara launched my career in distance education into the stratosphere.

On another occasion I heard about a job that was being advertised in higher education. I read the job description and realised very quickly that it had been written just for me! (Well, that’s the way it seemed, anyway). I applied and was appointed as a Senior Lecturer in distance education at Plymouth University. This was where I stayed, training teachers and developing the concept of technology supported learning, for almost 20 years. Many of my former students have gone on to become hugely successful proponents of technology supported learning and have positively influenced the lives of countless students. 

Looking back now, it seems that I grabbed every golden ball that was thrown to me.

Creative Commons License
Serendipity by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Ajay said…
Well deserved. It happened to one of the most genuine people I know. I guess the saying, 'Good things hap[en to good people" applies in your case!
mvallance1234 said…
Hello Steve.
re. Serendipity

During my Masters in Computer Assisted Learning at Stirling University in 1995. I was using my Apple PowerBook 120 (33 MHz) to access the Internet. I created an HTML and Javascript website using a Text editor (no WYSIWYG editors back then), with low-res JPEG images and some minor animation and 10-second audio clips. The website consisted of over 60 pages which guided users through a learning activity. I sent out a message on a LISTSERV for users to try and then complete the ‘test’ at the end (a cgi scripted page). After less than one week I had over 100 submissions. I was astounded. They accessed from Malaysia to Brazil to Spain to Canada to Australia to UAE. At that moment I understood how powerful the Internet was and will be. My first academic presentation was

Vallance, M. (1998) Design of an Internet activity. MICELT. 18-20 May, 1998. Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Beach Resort Penang, Malaysia.


Vallance, M. (1999) Teaching with technology to create student-centred classrooms. CALICO. 1-5 June, 1999. Miami University, USA

A whole new world opened up before me: virtually and in a real sense.

Michael Vallance EdD
Future University Hakodate, Japan.
Steve Wheeler said…
You're very kind Ajay. Thank you :)
Steve Wheeler said…
Great story and a nice example. Thanks Michael.

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