So after two of the busiest days in my calendar year at the annual Learning Technologies conference and event, I wanted to just do an initial round-up of what I saw and heard. I’ll try and delve a little deeper in subsequent posts but need time to digest it a bit more first. It was fantastic to catch up with so many people at the event – and sorry to everyone I missed, it all went so quickly!
Day one: Keynote
Nicholas Negroponte, who has his own foundation, One Laptop Per Child, gave a quite emotive keynote address on ‘Re-thinking learning and re-learning thinking‘. It was a thought provoking session. His main point was that the way we teach kids doesn’t encourage their natural curiousity. The work he’s done with OLPC is quite stunning and poor, often illiterate children all over the world are able to just instinctively use computers and tablet devices – driven by the desire to learn. He’s incredibly passionate and made some pretty cutting remarks about our education minister! Negroponte uses such positive words to describe how the kids respond to the opportunity to learn through their laptops: hunger, passion, energy, desire. How often do we ever hear those words applied to adult learning in general, let alone workplace learning?! Maybe it’s something we need to think more about trying to foster.
Day one: track sessions
I’ll go into more detail on these in subsequent posts, but I attended #T2S1 with Julie Wedgwood and Dr. Chris Paton on collaborative learning and #T4S2 with David Wilson and David Perring on learning systems. Both of these sessions lived up to their billings. As ever, Julie had some very practical advice on successfully running online communities. This is based on her own recent experiences and lessons learned, so I really enjoyed her presentation. There are some useful tips which I’ll recount later on. Dr. Chris Paton had his own story to tell about setting up a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on health informatics. He had some interesting thoughts around how formal a MOOC needs to be. His stance is that they should be truly open – as in, learners shouldn’t even really need to register – learners should just be able to dive in. He also thinks that completion rates aren’t all that important. It’s a big talking point on MOOCs that so many people drop out, but his take is that if someone’s dipped into the course, learned what they needed to learn and then dropped out – then it’s still been useful. I liked that and personally both presentations will influence some of the work I’m doing on my new venture mylearningworx. An hour definitely well spent.
Then David and David from Elearnity took a bit of a risk with their session and tried something different. And I think it really worked! They used something called Tweet Wally and set up their own hashtag (#LT13headbang) to get people both within the room and on the back channel asking questions (irritatingly I took a photo during their intro and not of the tweet wall itself – fail!) The theme was to ‘ask the analysts’ about what drives people mad with their learning and talent systems. It worked really well, the screen continuously (but not too quickly) updated throughout the session and there was a range of questions from what are the ‘best of breed’ suppliers to my personal favourite: are LMS’s a ‘bit 90s’? Their take is that learning and talent systems are still relevant but their research shows that over three quarters of organisations are trying to ‘do LMS better’. So there’s a recognition that things need to evolve but that these are still relevant and useful tools. There wasn’t time to go through all the questions but the guys are going to do some follow up blog posts which I think will be useful. Again though, the advice was practical and grounded within the realms of what organisations have to deal with every day. They’ve also published something called Vendor Perspectives which are free reports on some of the different suppliers of learning systems and elearning content. They’re a bit like a Which? guide – great idea!
I didn’t go to the final session of the day as I wanted to spend a bit of time in the exhibition which was absolutely buzzing all day! My colleagues were there telling people about mylearningworx and the general feedback from exhibitors was very positive. As ever, I think it can be hard as a visitor to pick out which suppliers really do what. But that’s why it’s so important to speak to the exhibitors and explore what they do. I saw some great stands and tons of animated conversations – and again, I’ll reflect a bit more on the exhibition in a later post.
Day two: Keynote
The second day’s keynote address was from Gerd Leonhard on ‘Beyond the obvious: re-defining the meaning of learning in a networked society‘. Leonhard is a futurist, which I always think sounds like such a cool job. What I liked about his session was that it was thought provoking and pushed some boundaries – but wasn’t so ‘out there’ that I couldn’t relate to it. Last year with Ray Kurzweil and Jaron Lanier’s sessions I felt a bit like my head was going to explode. They seemed to be so far forward that I couldn’t translate what they were saying into any kind of take aways. Very inspiring but not all that useful perhaps. Leonhard’s session explored how digital technologies are impacting our lives, particularly how we learn. Mobile technology has changed everything and going forwards, society will be driven by what he calls ‘So-Lo-Mo’ (Social Local Mobile). There was so much information but one point that stood out for me was that in terms of technology, we are moving away from downloads, products and ‘walled gardens’ to flows, services and open platforms. Technology is breaking down barriers and opening up information and insight. Leonhard referenced crowd sourcing and collaboration and said that we need to change some of our ‘toxic assumptions’ about things like intellectual property. We’re too obsessed with control and ownership – but we’re moving towards a much bigger, collaborative ecosystem, especially where learning is concerned. This definitely resonates at a time when we’re becoming less about top-down formal learning, and have more focus on self-directed, informal learning. One of the most powerful things Leonhard said was that training used to be something that happened almost accidentally in organisations. But now (and in the future) learning is at the heart of everything. Organisations that can’t learn, adapt and change are pretty much screwed! It was an excellent session and definitely deserves more reflection. You can get tons of great looking resources from Leonhard including his slides from his presentation here.
Day two: track sessions
During the day, I went to #T2S4 emerging technologies session with Tim Martin from Rustici Software and Colin Rayment from Systems Engineering and Assessment. I also went to #T1S6 to watch Lord Puttnam on Future Learning. Again, I only went to two as I wanted to spend a bit more time poking around the exhibition. The emerging technologies session was a disappointment for me. I enjoyed Colin’s session on augmented reality but was there because I wanted to get under the skin of the Tin Can API. In the exhibition, almost all the vendors were talking about Tin Can and whilst I know what it is, I don’t know enough about the technical detail yet. And sadly I left the session none the wiser. I had expected from the organisation that are responsible for both SCORM and Tin Can to get much more insight on how it works. But I didn’t, and that’s a shame.
The final session of the conference got off to an eventful start as Lord Puttnam was stuck in traffic and still hadn’t arrived as the session started! But Don Taylor got us all talking amongst ourselves and talking about our key take aways from the event. And Lord Puttnam ended up only being a few minutes late – and was worth the wait. He talked about how he and Stephen Heppell started their journey with learning technologies almost 20 years ago, and how they thought we’d be so much further forward than we are now by 2013. He’s incredibly passionate and surprisingly talked about how he wasn’t very academic at school. Somewhat hilariously, he left school with three O-levels but now has 44 (44!) honourary degrees bestowed on him from various universities. He discussed the importance of encouraging people and praising what they’re good at, not just highlighting what they’re bad at. And how often is training used to address ‘issues’ within our organisations – a stick rather than a carrot – does this contribute to its sometimes negative press? Further underlining what Negroponte talked about in his keynote, Puttnam talked about encouraging a natural thirst to learn. Technology is a great enabler and makes learning available like never before. He teaches students all over the world from his house in Ireland. MOOCs makes material from great academic institutions available to people who could never have gone to Harvard for example – so why do we care about completion rates? Just let people access what they want to learn.
This spirit of openness and collaboration is one of the main themes of this year’s conference for me. It was referenced by numerous speakers and reflects the way the world is going. I don’t need to download and own music any more. I just stream it through Spotify and while I’m there can access and listen to my friend’s playlists too, finding songs I might not otherwise have heard. Learning – according to the experts – is going, or should be going, the same way. It’s disruptive, it’s different to how we do things now and it won’t be easy, but I love the vision of a more open, collaborative ‘ecosystem’ for learning. Bring it on.
I need to check out the tweets from the other sessions I didn’t attend and will be sharing the tweet archive as soon as I can sort it out. I need to say a HUGE thank you to my Twitter ‘army’ as it was christened: Alex Watson, Stephanie Dedhar, Kim George, Perry Timms, Ollie Gardener, Nic Laycock, Susie Finch, Jon Ingham, Joan Keevill and Sam Burrough. They did such an awesome job of creating a vibrant back channel which I hope was useful both to those attending and those following from afar. Also a huge thanks to David Kelly who’s been curating relevant links and back channel resources here. But for now, after another excellent event, I’ll leave the last word with Chairman of the conference, the inimitable Don Taylor: