5 Top Takeaways From Learning Technologies Summer Forum 16
Despite the weather feeling a little more like October than June, today was the annual Learning Technologies Summer Forum event at Kensington Olympia. Known throughout the industry as the smaller Summer cousin of the main February LT show, June’s date certainly still packs a punch – and today was no exception!
Themes within this year’s main LT conference included Leadership, Organisational Hierarchy and the place of Social and Collaborative Tech in L&D. There are some really excellent resources available if any of these themes catch your eye – and be sure to give Jon Husband, Nigel Paine and Julian Stodd a lookup for more on this.
Outside the conference theatre, the exhibition floor really came to life when the four open auditorium areas opened to welcome a plethora of speakers from right across the industry. Here, a broad range of topics were on offer– everything from traditional hacks for workforce training, through to companies debuting the latest in VR solutions for corporate learning. With any event of this kind, you’re inevitably going to find yourself sitting through a few thinly veiled sales pitches – but aside from the usual hustle and bustle of the expo environment, we unearthed some really interesting takeaways. Here, in no particular order, are our Top 5:
1 Learning teams want to take lessons from marketers
As a marketer myself, my opinion (and indeed expertise) sits in a realm that is widely considered to be a little separate to many of the seasoned L&D professionals that make up the yearly LT delegate list. But one comment I heard today did stand out; and it was a comment about the quality of eLearning: many of us expect – and indeed are shown – great things when it comes to content from our digital agencies and marketers alike; so why should we regard our eLearning content any differently? The idea that the benchmark for quality lives solely within our own immediate industry is a grave misconception; for learning to be truly embedded in social and collaborative workflows, its integration needs to be seamless. I suppose it’s true; eLearning sometimes gets a bad rap, and more often than not it’s a kneejerk reaction from the end users – not necessarily the L&D professionals. When we build learning materials, we need to consider the quality that we are used to as consumers in our own day-to-day lives, and not be tempted to ring-fence the learning experience as a separate entity. If we are shown quality in one sphere, we come to expect it in others – and if we ignore the forward leaps in terms of quality across the board, we only serve to fall further behind. Takeaway: Get inspired. Quality of content ought to be led by a sphere beyond what we might traditionally consider the business of ‘elearning’.
2 Disruption is talked about more than it is done
Ask any learning company to talk about their business in strategic or forward-thinking terms and they’ll mention disruption. ‘Disruption’ is everywhere; but what does this mean? And crucially, who’s actually doing it? We see a lot of our peers talking about their own revolutionary ideas for learning content; or evangelising about the need for organisational shakeup in L&D, but does anybody else start feeling that it gets a little hollow? I’ll come back to the marketing thing: I’m a marketer; I like results. You can have a great idea, but in my world it’s not golden until it’s working. There is undeniably enthusiasm exuding from the guys who are up there talking the talk; but I believe it would be more exciting, engaging and relevant to see this theory turn into practice, and understand how disruptive notions in L&D actually work for organisations. Takeaway: Stop talking, start doing. Let’s see some action!
3 Beware the buzzwords
There is an irony in the uptake and use of ‘industry buzzwords’ (gamification being the most obvious offender) vs the desire to be perceived as ‘straight talking’ and ‘no bullsh*t’.
Stick around the L&D community long enough and you’ll inevitably start hearing the latest buzzwords everywhere you go. To be clear: there’s nothing wrong with this, but the number of learning companies jumping on the band wagon, and then confusingly (simultaneously) rejecting the relevance of these terms feels a little odd. We heard a lot of these on again/off again pitches amongst the content today, and with any shifting industry it’s key to unravel what’s jargon for the sake of jargon, and what’s actually relevant to the customer. Takeaway: Interrogate what businesses actually mean when they pitch. What do these things really mean for your organisation and your L&D? And do the businesses you speak to know?
4 Learning teams might be designing for ‘Gen Y’, but they are not represented by them
It might be my age, but as an attendee in my mid-20s I couldn’t help realising that in spite of all the earnest talk around designing for the future, not a single presentation we saw featured a person from the 16-30 group. Anecdotes from experienced (and yes, older) L&D professionals about their experiences learning the ins and outs of new social technologies from their kids might be endearing to their immediate peers, but the charm doesn’t translate to us young professionals. We’ve grown up with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, so these ‘new ways’ to collaborate and communicate are as embedded as they get from the word go. Whilst there’s some golden stuff out there from learning developers of all ages and backgrounds, it would be refreshing to see the troublesome group that the industry is trying to keep up with and design for actually represented within the L&D community. Takeaway: Let’s get some of these GenY-ers on the programme!
5 The real conversations happen in the twittersphere
Even if you couldn’t make it today, I urge you to type the #LTSF16 hashtag into your Twitter search bar and have a little scroll. Whilst we’ve seen a few collaborative apps that have invited audience participation in just this kind of environment, too often the one-way format of exhibitor presentations means that unless you want to loiter with intent at the end, you’re likely to completely miss the actual discussion. Today alone, we’ve discovered some great pockets of discussion and commentary using the LT hashtag, and platforms like this continue to be excellent for conversation, debate and exchange.