4 lessons and 1 cause for concern - Reflections from Learning Technologies 2011

Thought I would share some of the lessons that I picked up at LT2011 this year plus a concern that I have as well- would love to know your thoughts!


Despite indications that the economy is slowly recovering, the pressure to add value, justify cost and deliver results for L&D teams appears to be increasing on a daily basis.  When we don’t have the luxury of time to make and learn from our mistakes, all help is welcome if we are to work faster and smarter in 2011! For me, the Learning Technologies event at Olympia certainly provides a great opportunity to learn from others as  it concentrates a wealth of experiences - 200 exhibitors, 400 delegates and over 40 speakers -into just 2 days.


My time was spread equally between the conference and the exhibition floors but the energy and enthusiasm across the whole event was impressive. With so much going on, it is easy to feel that you are missing something – after all , you can’t be in more than one place at one time (despite being surrounded by technology). However, I have to admit that I have been thoroughly enthralled by the back channel* and commentary surrounding the event   which has helped me to reflect on lessons learned from the 2 days.


Here are just of the few of the lessons that I picked up:


Lesson 1 A critical perspective on delivering more for less:

Roger Schanks set the scene for the 2 days, talking about how the corporate training world must change. Getting it right involves shifting our focus from the technology and tuning into how the mind  works so that we can create more meaningful and engaging interactions – a theme that was picked up regularly throughout the conference (Clark Quinn’s mind map of Roger’s talk is great if you missed it) .  Many speakers considered how to improve learner experience by using social media to connect staff with each other and experts, using immersive environments that mimicking the workplace, allowing staff to learn from mistakes rather than suffer consequences, to open up conversations that inspire. A number of speakers (including Cathy Moore who provides a very useful post conference check list) explored how these approaches (and many more) can be embedded into instructional design to create programmes that are effective and memorable.

Building programmes based on the learner, not the technology, means that delivering more for less starts to take on a new meaning. It should no longer be about reaching more people with more dull uninspired e-learning courses for less money. Instead technology is opening doors to deliver more quality, more experience and more effectiveness (with less boredom and frustration!) - a useful reminder at the start of the year.


Lesson 2 Getting started with social learning tools - just do it!

There were many great inputs from many social media and web 2.0 (or is it Web x.o now?!) looking at the potential that new media have for opening new conversations and creating meaningful and authentic interaction. However, Craig Taylor's practical session based on his personal journey over the last 12 months probably was the most memorable of all (and certainly generated the most backchat). His exhortation to non technical L&D professionals was to just do it - be prepared to do a bit of research to actually do something which what you have found out and be prepared to fail!


Lesson 3 Strategies for engaging learners

In addition to reviewing instructional design approaches (tip 1) both Johanna Sadoudi, Director - Learning Development L’Oréal and Justin Dunn  - Head of Learning at Royal Sun alliance illustrated how they took a strategic decision to link technology enabled learning with job roles and competencies highlighted. This approach was embedded in Justin Dunn's vision statement for their work 'Our goal is to keep you moving by giving greater access to learning and development for everyone at RSA, giving you the opportunity to build the skills and knowledge you need for your role today, but also for your next role...wherever you are in the world.” 

Carlos Gonzales Alonso, responsible for a major international rollout at Spanish bank Caja Madrid demonstrated the importance of developing a  full understanding of who his learners were, their demographics, their motivation, their expectation and what motivated them up front in the implementation process in order to create dynamic learning programmes to engage staff.

All of these organisations provided examples of their in depth marketing and promotional programmes but these in turn were only successful because of the extensive pre-work that had been invested up front to help understand the learner perspective and priorities for engaging.


Lesson 4 Building the right business plan to engage the right stakeholders

Engaging the right sponsors however is dependent on creating a kick ass business plan that focused on value propositions that are critical for the sponsor rather than for you. Justin Dunn emphasised the importance of investing time in building the right business case because most stakeholders don’t get it. For organisations faced with a negative IT department (the Innovation Prevention Department!)  Craig Taylor exhorted delegates to look for sponsors within the business who are more influential than you to do battle on your behalf.

Sarah Parr at public sector organisation Liverpool Direct picked up on the importance of keeping the plan flexible ,letting the model of learning delivery evolve rather than setting it in stone (ensuring that it continues to flex to changing business needs).


One cause for concern

Following the event there has been much discussion about the main conference presenting the future thinking and the exhibition floor presenting ‘the same old same old’ ( see Steve Wheeler's fab blog post for full discussion on this). I dont necessarily agree with the upstairs downstairs digital divide. From where I was standing, many of the same themes were presented on both floors (although perhaps somewhat diluted on lower floors). The Brightwave debate that I was involved in downstairs certainly showed that the audiences downstairs picked up on the issues of using technology to support business - the movement from content to conversations, the importance of business engagement and the changes facing L&D in the future.

But my concern is that despite the inspiration and opportunity outlined at the event, the majority of organisations when back at work are responding to increased pressure by just doing even more of what they have always done rather than acting on what we know will make a difference! (David Wilson was almost booed off the twitter stage by pointing this out!)

We know from Towards Maturity's  research that many of the inspirational ideas for action presented at LT2011 really do work – we’ve evidence that putting this stuff into practice delivers results! But we also know that not enough of us are turning great ideas into actions.

For example out of 400 private, public and not for profit organisations who took part in our research:

  • only 22% support career goals and aspirations with learning technology
  • only 26% blend their use of technologies (from social media for collaboration to content for delivery)
  • only 38% say their L&D teams are confident in the use of new media
  • only 37% agree that their vision is endorsed by business leaders.

I could go on!

Many of our benchmark participants were at LT 2011 (both upstairs and downstairs). Intuitively all organisations agree with the inspirational ideas presented but the concern is that only some of us them turn them into action, many more of us are comfortable with sticking to what we know and are familiar with. (No wonder that many of the vendors struggle to break out into new territory).


Time for action

Now is not the time for petty squabbling on who has the monopoly on great practices. We have so much knowledge about what deliver results at our fingertips but there is a danger that our knowledge will  just gather dust unless we do something with it. As part of our contribution to LT 2011, we conducted 2 seminars withover 130 people looking at 3 simple steps to improve results in 2011. Those steps were first review what you are currently doing, then compare with others who are actually making progress then act  on what you have found out.


This is at the centre of getting real value from the LT2011 experience, it is the essence of benchmarking and it is at the heart of delivering results faster and smarter in 2011.


Love to know what you think!


*Dave Kelly has provided a great summary of all the back channel links to the show (#LT11UK) at http://misadventuresinlearning.blogspot.com/2011/01/learning-techno....

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