Learning researcher, author, and strategist, Gary Woodill, Ed. D of Belleville, ON, Canada, passed away on the afternoon of Friday, September 20, 2019 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 71 years old.
Gary Woodill, Ed. D
Gary was a prolific writer and researcher, collecting voluminous bibliographic information on a myriad of topics in the learning field, including mobility, emerging technology, virtual worlds and more. A teacher by nature, he put this knowledge to work in the countless conference presentations, workshops and symposiums he attended and led. He shared this knowledge with the community widely. He wrote four books in the learning field, Training and Collaboration in Virtual Worlds, The Mobile Learning Edge, Mastering Mobile Learning, and Shock of the New.
Gary founded his company, i5 Research, after his tenure with Brandon Hall as a researcher. There he built a great client list as a strategist and analyst to global organizations. He was a great collaborator, working closely with the team at Float on many publications and applications shared with the learning industry over the last decade.
Gary was an avid photographer, a music fan, a nature enthusiast, and loved his dogs. Outside of the learning technology arena, he was an author as well. He wrote about true crime in his book, Death of an Angel. His wife Karen, his family (two children and four grandchildren, and siblings), and friends will all miss him greatly.
Gary’s friends in the learning and development community offer a few words to help remember him by:
There are a handful of people you meet in life that are truly influential. For me, Gary Woodill was one. He made a difference.
I first met Gary virtually in 2007 when we worked together at Brandon Hall Research. He programmed the first Brandon Hall Research Innovations in Learning conference and it was there that we first met in real life. It was my good fortune to work with him on multiple projects. It was like having my own personal professor. Work and learning intertwined. He lived what he taught.
After leaving the firm in 2010, Gary continued to be my mentor and advocate. He was a fierce friend.
Anyone who met Gary knew he was a world observer. He looked for trends and patterns and helped people see connections. He liked to use the Marshall McLuhan quote from the 1960s: “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future” in presentations to help people see disruption through the lens of history. He was an engaging, authentic speaker, a compelling writer, and always the educator.
Gary was also an advocate for gender equity. Always quick witted, it wasn’t unusual for him to speak up when he saw bias. It wasn’t unusual for him to challenge norms. He made a difference. Goodbye, dear friend. I’ll be looking for you in the rear view mirror.
Dean Landry, Gary Woodill, Janet Clarey
Gary Woodill was so many things to so many people, and his impact on our industry and our lives is lasting and remains far reaching. I benefited greatly from his insights, humor, compassion, and friendship for more than 15 years. I first met Gary at one of my first L&D conferences back in the early 2000s, when “mobile learning” meant attempting to provide a simple form of training to someone armed with a flip phone or Skypager (think: voice clips or bursty messages, respectively). Gary’s natural curiosity and insatiable thirst for knowledge in identifying new ways to inform and support allowed our paths to cross early and my partner, (Katherine Guest) along with our team, all benefited greatly over the years to come.
I was honored to be asked by Gary to assist in reviewing some of his first articles and books on enterprise mobile learning, and remain forever impressed by his encyclopedic knowledge of all things mobile and gadgets; he knew as much (sometimes more!) than we did as actual practitioners in those early days of smartphones, mobile OSs, and best practices when mobility was just one of a dozen other interests and passions he was committed to studying to make better for all. He even paid his own way to leave his beloved Canada to spend two days in Savannah in one of our meeting rooms absorbing as much of our knowledge and experiences (good, bad, and indifferent) as he could, with his equally bright and curious wife Karen sitting alongside enjoying “some semblance of vacation in the warm south” when she’d have rather been at the beach or enjoying our southern cuisine.
Gary was always keen to share, coach, promote, and support us in all our “wild ideas and innovations,” even as others questioned if mobile learning was viable for all or just a sideshow to grab attention. He offered his opinions on everything from our software features and methodologies to our product brochures and market messaging, to even how we could squeeze more value out of our second-hand “carpet walled” trade show booth from eBay. Best of all, he translated his own burning desires to learn and share into useful and valuable insights that helped us convert our zeal for mobile into real solutions that were beneficial to our customers and our industry. He elevated our game immensely and smiled happily in our successes while joking with us about our shortcomings. He celebrated the accomplishments of others more than his own, including Karen’s own epic book that proved way above my own mental pay grade.
Gary filled his latter years as a researcher, author, mentor, and industry luminary while enjoying his family and their move to the Canadian coast. His most recent books (with coauthor and collaborator Chad Udell) were spot-on, purposeful, and essential. Moreover, Gary cared and shared more about his life than his work—setting a tone for what he felt was more important and sustaining. I shall miss his humor, his smile, and the sparkle in his eyes from behind his trendy spectacles he was quite proud of. We shall all miss his influence and the impact he delivered towards making this hard work in such a challenging industry more meaningful.
Kind is not always the first word that comes to mind when thinking of a fiercely intelligent, broadly interested, and successful person. It is the word when I think of Gary.
He was standing in front of an oversized poster board at a conference when I first I met him. The poster was his hand-drawn matrix that detailed the evolution and connections of every technology development for learning since blackboards. Who does that? Who goes off on his own and does all that research and all that thinking—for his edification and ours? But that was typical Gary. His passion was new knowledge, examining context, finding precedents, discovering patterns, looking for what others hadn’t noticed, and, most of all, sharing it with the rest of us, so we would benefit.
Soon after meeting him, Gary began writing reports for us at Brandon Hall Research and he became the most prolific researcher and author we ever had. Always on time. Always more than expected.
Gary had a gentle way about him, a certain equanimity, and a smile that seemed to say, “Isn’t life grand?” He was a teacher at heart, and what a big heart it was. He cared for his students—and I think that included all of us. He had a generosity of spirit—I always felt good around Gary, as though I was accepted. And that may be the kindest act of all.
Why is it that only when a person is gone do we reflect on who the person was, what a contribution they were, and what it meant to know them? Only then do we realize what went unsaid, and the words we wished we had spoken.
I am proud to have been your colleague and friend, Gary. You were a good man. You cared about the world, and you helped to make it better. God speed, and may you rest in peace.
Richard (Rick) Wilson (Sr. Digital Transformation Consultant, Cognizant Technology Solutions)
There is a hole in the universe of learning with the recent passing of Gary Woodill. You may not immediately be able to recognize the hole, but it is certainly there for people that knew him. Nearly a decade ago I became Gary’s friend (and fan). No other single individual challenged me with more “frontier” thinking about the possibilities for learning. I met Gary shortly after the release of The Mobile Learning Edge (2010). It led to our collaboration on articles for Learning Solutions magazine, presentations at DevLearn, and proposals for client prospects. Once we spent an entire day listing unique applications for mobile learning—over 40-plus, which we later presented at a learning forum in 2011. Five years later (2016), our list indicated all but 11 were effectively realities; and, with the advent of IoT, it’s likely the remaining applications are available solutions today. With my move into the world of digital and cloud transformation, Gary with his co-author and colleague Chad Udell brought me even more perspectives on learning this year. In The Shock of the New: The Challenge and Promise of Emerging Technologies, the lens focuses on a “new normal.” It is now my world where organizations confront the challenges of transforming themselves with digital and cloud technologies. Meanwhile, we need to fill this demand for creating a learning culture to manage and sustain the transitions of people, processes, and technology. Thank you, Gary, for your clarity of insights and passion for how learning happens. I will miss our commiserations.
Gary was a tremendous mentor and coach to me. He was a constant fount of knowledge and guidance in my work in the learning and development industry. Somehow, no matter the topic, he always imparted some piece of information to me that was new, timely, and valuable. It was an innate sense of his to see someone seeking out something and then being able to fill that gap with ideas and concepts rooted in research and theory. His humor and kindness were as vital to his demeanor as his sharp wit, and he shared all of it willingly with those around him and the community at large.
Collaborating with him on numerous books, white papers, and workshops over the years has been a source of some of my fondest professional memories. I enjoyed traveling with him, talking and meeting colleagues for dinners with him, and hearing his stories which were always funny and engaging.
I’ll miss our frequent friendly conversations, and while I still have a deep reading list ahead of me that he helped create, I know that I will have a hard time finding those excellent books and articles he was always sending me.
Thank you Gary, for all you have done for me.
Karen Lee Anderson (Gary's wife), Chad Udell, Gary Woodill
Should friends and colleagues desire, memorial contributions may be sent to The Canadian Cancer Society.