Some people feel the blues when Christmas is over but for me that feeling is always a month later when Learning Technologies has finished. Maybe I need to get out more but there’s little doubt that this is learning’s Glastonbury and to see how it has grown and grown over the years is pretty astonishing. In recent years there are more and more ‘space only’ stands and we’ve seen some of the established players grow bigger and bigger (City & Guilds Kineo, Brightwave and MindClick for example), mergers and acquisitions (LINE and Epic as one at LEO as a prominent instance) and excitingly lots of up and coming players coming to the party (Netex and eLearning Brothers stood out on the floor). And whilst the exhibition continues to expand, the conference continues to go from strength to strength too.
This was my fourth year heading up the social media team for the event, a role it is my privilege to take on every year, working with Don Taylor and his excellent team to share as much as we can of the content and insight over the two days. Many event organisers are scared of social media – some even still ask attendees to switch their phones off before the start of a session! But the team at Closer Still have to be commended in their openness and willingness to share.
Content wise there were a few highlights for me. I enjoyed the mobile learning session from Geoff Stead of Qualcomm who had a good story to tell complete with interesting examples driven by the interests of the audience. Their internal app store looks like a great resource and they have specifically avoided squishing elearning modules onto a smaller screen and focused more on creating performance support resources which is always good to see. He also showed some of the games they have created to drive employee engagement with the app store. Their spin on Angry Birds increased traffic significantly after its launch – a nice example of some creativity to help make their vision for mobile learning fly (see what I did there?)
The case studies in the mandatory training session might not have sounded sexy at the outset, but these three examples from Channel 4, BT and Getty Images (brilliant to see my ex-colleague Kim George presenting) really demonstrated the common challenges that organisations are up against and how with different techniques, they have managed to make some seriously dry topics engaging. I am going to Storify that session to share the details.
Paul Morgan from O2 (who it turns out is the ex boss of one of my best friends – small world) delivered some no-messing insights on developing an L&D team for the future, in a session spearheaded by Don Taylor. This session really drove the point home that performance consultancy skills are *critical* to L&D but they are often in short supply. Morgan said that in recent times, digital skills such as using Storyline have been in demand but it is the ability to talk to the business and align L&D goals with those of the organisation that are what we need right now.
It was also useful to hear about the new Elearnity 9-Grid reports straight from the horses’ mouth in a session with David Wilson and David Perring. These reports provide an independent analysis of the solutions available across four key areas – Learning Management Systems (LMS), Talent Management, Authoring Tools and Bespoke elearning. For ANYONE who was ‘shopping’ at the exhibition, these reports are a must-read and act like a Which? guide to learning technologies.
Room of ReflectionOne of the aspects of learning we have been conscious of whilst organising the backchannel is that of reflection. The nature of the social media coverage is instantaneous and the event itself acts like a formal learning intervention, which present the challenge that we all go back to work on Monday and carry on as we were. We’ve been keen to create space for exploring some of the conference sessions further – and to also bring more content to those not able to actually be at Olympia. And so with the modern miracle of Google Hangouts, the Room of Reflection was born. I was delighted to interview Nigel Paine about his new book and his earlier session on effective workplace learning. It was a fantastic opportunity to delve into some of the key aspects of his presentation and ask questions from far and wide too. You can see the video here. A massive thanks needs to go to Alex Watson and Barbara Thompson for hosting these sessions and working with the brilliant tech guys at Dreamtek who managed the streaming. Hopefully it will be back next year.
Regular readers might be aware that I’m not a massive fan of keynote sessions. I generally prefer the practical insight and advice provided by case study type sessions, but the headliners were both very interesting this year. Both are – I think it’s fair to say – household names with a certain amount of fame attached to them, particularly Professor Robert Winston and his various series on the BBC. But it was Professor Sugata Mitra discussing the learning of the future and his notorious ‘Hole in the wall’ experiment that grabbed my attention. Given the coverage that particular story has had, I expected more dissent on the backchannel, but not so. Most were simply fascinated to hear his experiences first hand. He talked about ‘Self Organised Learning Environments’ which you may or may not agree with, but he believes that this type of eco system ‘exists on the edge of chaos’. This resonated with me in terms of the corporate world’s current love/hate battle with informal learning. Chaos is scary, order is good. That’s what we’re brought up to believe right? So putting the keys to knowledge and learning in the hands of the learners is like letting the lunatics out the asylum and letting go of law and order? I think this point shows the sorts of mental barriers organisations still have to overcome to let go of some what has traditionally been seen as L&D’s turf.
In terms of trends emerging from the event, there was no one central theme as we’ve had in previous years. There was still a sense that L&D is in a period of consolidation and trying to leverage recent trends in the most effective way rather than needing anything ‘new’ to distract them. Neuroscience is a topic that has emerged strongly in the last couple of years and this was emphasised right from the top with Professor Robert Winston’s keynote exploring synapses and neurons pretty closely. Attempts to properly utilise xAPI (or TinCan as it was once better known) dominated a lot of the technical conversations and discussions around an embedded social approach were lively and in abundance. Machine, or intelligent, learning is a trend that has bubbled up in the last 12 months, with more predictive analytics and big data style understanding and recommendations creating a more tailored learning experience. And informal learning continues to pose a challenge to L&D teams that feel they ought to be managing this as a process. David Wilson made the point that we don’t need to be scared of it ‘just because L&D doesn’t have its arms wrapped around it’. New platforms like Fuse and Tessello are popular for supporting a more social approach, whilst LMS’s like Saba have evolved to take on 70:20:10 style learning. But as experts like Paul Matthews and Charles Jennings say, succeeding with informal learning depends a lot on an organisation’s mindset. The technology needs to come later.
This year, all the members of the social media team will be sharing their key takeaways from the event. I am looking forward to reading them and then passing on some real gems. All of the team did an amazing job of tweeting throughout the event and there are some really useful summaries and Storifies floating around. For the definitive set of curated resources, check out the awesome David Kelly’s blog. Curation at its finest!
And as ever, it’s the conversations that take place in the corridors, at lunch and over a glass of wine that make this event so special. There are so many fantastic L&D professionals achieving astonishing results and it is just a privilege to hear their stories first hand. Ascot Communications was also thrilled to host an evening get together to support Learn Appeal which is an exciting charity using learning technology to make a real difference to people’s lives.
As for me, I will be reflecting on how we can continue to evolve the backchannel for 2016 and hoping my feet recover in time to don some killer heels for the Learning Awards on Thursday. But if you have any thoughts or comments please do share them here.
Thanks for coming on yet another learning journey with me. Until the next one…