Experiences (and engagement) are what matters in learning now

After reflecting on this year’s Learning Technologies Summer Forum I have distilled my key takeaway into one word: experiences. There, that was a quick post wasn’t it? See you later…

Seriously though, I will expand on that with reference to the sessions that I attended. In the opening keynote Dr Itiel Dror made some fantastic points in between being very genial and entertaining (and also passing on the notion that learning burns off calories – my dream come true?!) Real learning, posits Dror, is difficult. Like ‘nailing jelly to a tree’. In order to learn we must 1) Acquire 2) Memorise – or be able to retrieve the new information and 3) Apply it (see picture of slide above). He talked through some interesting research and examples but the two standout points for me are that he believes motivation affects how well someone will learn. How much they want to learn or change, will affect what they really take in. This comes back to the hot topic of learner engagement which came out as a strong theme in this year’s Digital Learning Realities research and also segues into what Dror discussed next.

He talked about the need to create emotional experiences which help the brain encode what to do. This isn’t new but he used some interesting examples about teaching doctors using scenarios where they ultimately fail so they can embrace the ‘terror of error’ during training. In itself, this raised some interesting questions on the backchannel about the need to prepare learners for failure when designing the learning, and making sure that the learners in question are emotionally equipped to deal with failure (and also to my mind, a cultural ‘permission’ that needs to be given by the organisation to make it OK to fail during the learning process). But the example of having his kids ignore him when telling them not to answer the door to strangers until he was blue in the face….then pretending to be a stranger at the door and scaring the life out of them in order to get his message across resonated with me. It isn’t about his kids ‘failing’ per se but he certainly created an emotional experience they wouldn’t forget. Dror then showed how play can be a kinder version of creating experiences which are a) engaging and b) memorable. Using geography as an example, he suggested playing a Twister style game with a map of the world where kids are placing their hands and feet on Africa or Australia rather than just on red or yellow circles. Again, this resonated with me and reflects the growing use of games in corporate learning as well as education.

In my colleague David Perring’s session on ‘what’s beyond the LMS’ we explored the next generation of learning systems and how they need to work differently in order to secure that all important learner engagement. We all know the LMS (rightly or wrongly) can have something of a bad reputation, but as these solutions evolve they need to incorporate all sorts of different learning elements beyond the traditional course.

Micro learning was then the topic of the session I attended with Clive Shepherd and Barry Sampson, and whilst creating smaller chunks of bite sized learning is undoubtedly a growing trend, the learner needs more from their content than it just being short, in my humble opinion.

And this got me thinking. The concept of creating learning resources (regardless of length) rather than courses, is now an established one. But what we need to be able to do is deliver these coherently to learners in a way that goes beyond traditional courses, to creating learning experiences (there’s that key word again). The PLASMA Learning Cycle is not the only way of achieving this, but it does provide a useful way of looking at how to hang different elements of learning together. In his session, Perring said that the challenge with the traditional LMS is that they rarely package learning experiences with much elegance or intelligence. There is an opportunity to do so much more! But a combination of all the PLASMA Learning Cycle elements being used together, with machine intelligence and behavioural science can support building more engaging learning based on actions, nudges, jeopardy, social pressure/support and personal motivation – thus creating the engagement that Dror insists is so important in learning effectively. This for me, starts to make concepts like micro learning make more sense as they become part of a bigger, ongoing learning experience.

Don Taylor, in my final session of the day, talked about the valuable lessons learnt from countless learning technology implementations, many of which are explored in his new book. The overwhelming point that came across was that the success of these projects is NOT about the technology itself, but about the people involved. From the learners themselves – who seemingly are almost never asked for their input or feedback into learning technology selections – to the L&D team, the organisational stakeholders and the external vendors and implementation partners. A common tale of woe is expecting technology to magically solve a problem, without any real strategy or support around its implementation. Taylor cited an example of how James Tyer visited and spoke to dozens of Yammer users and developed use cases around how it could best be used in his particular organisation before even beginning his technical implementation. Learning from other people’s experiences (there’s that word again) then applying it to your own context is going to help any tech implementation have a better chance of success.

What is digital learning anyway?

The other priciple point of discussion that came out of the day for me again arose on the backchannel, around how we define certain terms in learning. We all know there is a lot of buzzword bingo in L&D but how we define ‘digital learning’ as the profession transforms itself going forwards, seems to me to be worth discussing further. I’m mid-way through writing up my thoughts on that so will share those in a separate post.

Thanks as always to the team at Learning Technologies for a thought provoking event, and thanks in particular, to my social media team who did such a great job of sharing insights and their own opinions via the #LTSF17 backchannel. The next stop for LT this year will be Singapore in November – bring it on.

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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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