Learning Technologies 2014: Now the dust has settled…

Another Learning Technologies has gone by, but this time I have waited to write up my thoughts following the event. This is partly due to the fact that I am crazy busy, but also because my aim was to try and keep the conversation and reflection going after the event was over. This was then reinforced by a Twitter conversation initiated by Jonathan Kettleborough, and his subsequent blog post on the bias of the backchannel. There were some great points raised and I’ll come back to those later.

Conference highlights
It was tough to choose which sessions to attend this year and sadly I didn’t get into one of my chosen sessions as it was so over subscribed. So I hope Julie Dirksen comes back to these shores soon! I will be watching the video to catch up on what sounded like a great workshop. There was a great buzz in the conference across the board but I also heard great things about the session on storytelling from Deborah Frances-White, the Evil Janes (aka Jane Bozarth and Jane Hart) on collaborative learning and McDonald’s insights on their apprenticeship programme.

My personal highlight was Matthew Syed on the myth of talent and the power of practice. A note on his presentation style – he had no slides, and just sat and talked – but the audience was completely engrossed. Never mind the power of practice, that’s the power of great content. I had read his book Bounce so had a good idea of what he was going to say but nevertheless, his overarching message is really powerful. As UK table tennis champion, he maintains that it was not a natural god given talent that led to his success but his dedication to practice. By coincidence he grew up on a street in Reading that I now know really well and on the same street were three other kids who went on to become table tennis champions. This however, was not a coincidence. It was due to a community centre with table tennis facilities that was nearly always open for them to go and play in, and a great coach. The punchline of Syed’s session – and my main takeaway from the conference – was this:


And also this:


I found this really inspiring, that even if you’re not naturally the most gifted, some hard work and lots of practice can elevate your ability to achieve. It also caused me to ponder whether the ability to practice is something of a learned behaviour. My brother is dyslexic and dyspraxic and so is unfortunately very used to finding things challenging. My cousin is particularly clever and has a doctorate in maths. He is used to finding most things quite easy. They are the same age and started learning to drive at the same time. Both found it hard. My brother stuck with it and passed his test on the seventh attempt. My cousin quit and took the bus. I really believe it’s because my cousin has never really struggled with anything like that before so didn’t have that learned behaviour of toiling away at something to get it right. It also raises interesting questions about talent management processes – is it worth identifying those with ‘raw talent’ if you can invest and develop almost anyone in the organisation if they are given the chance to practice what you need them to do? If you get the chance to read his book then do check it out, it’s well worth a read and I liked the way he applied what he was talking about to a corporate learning context.

20140130_101811The keynotes from Brian Solis and Beau Lotto were both thought provoking – and in the case of Lotto, mindbending – but I tend to prefer the more practical sessions. The guys from Elearnity had some great free resources discussed in their session, providing Which? type guides for the learning industry. And I love hearing case studies but thought this tweet was particularly compelling in terms of getting people to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’:


Exhibition highlights
With such a packed schedule, I didn’t get as much time to look around the exhibition as I’d have liked. However, it seems a far cry from the event I first attended 10 years ago. It’s so much bigger and busier, with some really creative and impressive stands. Having been on the vendor side myself, I often think providers are given a hard time from the punters and let’s face it, if they weren’t there it wouldn’t be much of an event would it? But I saw some new technologies and tools which I’d like to look at it more detail like Adapt and some good looking content too. Everytime I went downstairs there was a great energy and there seems to be less of a divide now between what’s being discussed in the conference and what’s being delivered at the exhibition. For me, the gap seems to have closed over the last couple of years and it’s good to see mobile, social and collaborative technologies and approaches becoming mainstream.

Myself and my crack team of tweeters tried to bring those of you who couldn’t attend the event a flavour of what was happening and what was being said, and this is the third year we’ve done this. Jonathan Kettleborough followed the tweets from afar and has done some interesting analysis and raised some good points about where the backchannel could be improved. For me, the multi-tasking and immediacy of reflection is not an issue, I use tweeting as a form of note taking and I maintain that nobody would raise questions about the quality of an individual’s notes scribbled down whilst listening to a session. The key difference is to consider your audience if you are tweeting. Personally, I feel I am providing a service so am ALL about the audience and know there are folk like Costas following from Australia, Bianca in Canada and everyone in between that has an interest in learning and development tuning in. It’s why I structure the backchannel with separate hashtags for specific sessions and why everything is publicised in advance, so that those wishing to tune in and get some value from the event from afar, can do so.

But there is always room for improvement and the backchannel debate does highlight something Don and I discussed this year, which is facilitating more post event reflection. We’d like to use the Learning and Skills Group to be able to do this. The undisputed king of the backchannel LnD Dave has again curated some fantastic resources from before, during and after the event and it would be great to keep sharing between now and the July event. We’re open to suggestions on how best to take this forward and I’d welcome your thoughts and comments on the backchannel in the comments. It’s all done for your benefit so please do let me know how it can be improved for next year.

And I’d love to hear your event highlights and your thoughts on what you saw and heard at this year’s Learning Technologies now that the dust has settled and you’re back at work.


About kategraham23

Start-up founder, writer, connector, librarian's daughter. Interested in learning, HR, technology, online, media, marketing, fashion and cricket. Not always in that order. The views expressed here are solely my own and do not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the company I work for currently, or those I've worked for in the past.
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