Learning technologies: a delegate’s perspective

Last year at learning technologies I was completely new to the elearning world. When I attended the exhibition I was all wide eyed and fresh faced, trying to get to grips with all the learning lingo.

How much difference a year makes. This year I waltzed into learning tech as a delegate, ready for any industry jargon that was going to be thrown at me (note: I maybe overestimated my swag).

The conference was brilliant. Jam packed full of interesting talks and great food (and free wine). Both days were kicked off by, the one and only, Donald H Taylor, then followed by a key note speech. It must be said, I was blown away by the quality of the key note speeches at the confrence.

The Wednesday key note speaker was Professor Sugata Mitra, who was incredibly warm and human. He spoke about the possibilities of independent learning and group learning in his ‘School in the cloud’. His passion and humour were infectious, even if perhaps you didn’t agree with every point he made, notably that schools as we know it should be abolished (insider info: the word on the elearning grape vine was that there was some controversy in some of the following talks where other speakers were criticising him).

The Thursday key note speech was given by Professor Robert Winston who spoke about the ‘expanding mind’. As Donald H Taylor put it; “you could listen to Robert Winston all day”. Robert Winston used his own experiences and anecdotes (including a video of his grandson) to discuss how we learn and the changing nature of the human brain.

After the key notes, both days were full of brilliant talks. Here are just a few of the many highlights of the conference…

Learning strategy

On the Wednesday morning Gary Bellamy and Nigel Paine tackled ‘learning strategy’. Gary discussed ‘continually improving the learning function’ and how reaching ‘aligned autonomy’ in L&D is the desired position. However, he explained that this is hard to achieve as it entails getting the level right between individual autonomous learning and an aligned overall company learning strategy.

Nigel discussed the science behind how we learn and what factors can change the way we learn: emotional intelligence, exercise, environment, the ageing brain, reflection and response. He argued that we need to change how we learn to a more ‘people-centred strategy’ and that L&D departments need to shift from controllers to facilitators.

Storytelling and video

After lunch Mark Davis and Gemma Critchley spoke about the power of video to tell stories. Mark talked about how ‘stories make learning stick with people’ because emotional engagement helps people remember. This is why shows like X factor use emotional stories to get you to remember the contestants.

Gemma discussed the project she manages at BP; the Hub, a video sharing platform. BP use the Hub to deliver performance support and real time learning. There are over 2,000 videos on the Hub: some of these are created by BP, some are user created and some are externally created (for example, TED Talks). By listening to what the learners want, the Hub has been a huge success with 50% of BP staff visiting the site.

Embedded learning: extending learning beyond the formal

On the Thursday morning Charles Jennings discussed 70:20:10 learning (we learn 70% through experience, 20% by relationships and 10% through formal training) and embedding learning with work. He explained that top performers learn through experience: ‘a grand chess master doesn’t become an expert without experience’. He also explained that, ‘Work is more like a jazz band than a marching band, new challenges arise every day’. Therefore we need to appreciate that the majority of learning happens informally.

Tristan Dhalla from Virgin media explained how they have implemented 70:20:10 learning. He explained how Virgin appreciated learning through experience, so managers need to spend a day in different Virgin work environments to gain experience. For example, spending a day in a Virgin Media store and/or call centre.

Pam Malkins from Scottish Power discussed how they have implemented 70:20:10 learning. She explained how they place a strong focus on development coaching for emerging leaders and key talent.

Learning design for all

After lunch on Thursday, Asi DeGani, Sareena Randhawa and Chara Balasubramaniam discussed ‘learning design for all’. Asi and Sareena explained how Telefonica are implementing training for millennials through mobile devices. They presented the app Telefonica had created for their interns. The app was full of bite size learning and information. For example, the app had information about every one of the sights the interns might visit. It even included a bus timetable to these locations!

Chara discussed ‘designing scenarios for a multi-generational audience’. He discussed how scenarios change by device. He also emphasised that you need to make sure you reflect your audience’s learning approach in your design.

Video for learning

Lisa McCandless from United Biscuits and Chris Lake from the NHS leadership programme ended the conference by talking about video for learning (unsurprisingly, our favourite topic). Lisa discussed how United Biscuits use video to start honest conversations in their organisation, and how they use staff, instead of actors, in the videos to gain employees interest. Lisa explained how video is an excellent way to engage their staff and provoke discussion about appropriate behaviours.

Chris showed one of the videos he had developed for the NHS leadership programme. The video was interactive so it paused at different point, allowing you as the learner to choose the next path and ultimately see the outcome of your actions. At the end of the scenarios, you could watch a video of an expert giving their opinion.

Final thoughts…

The overall lessons of the conference for me were:

  • Empower and support your learners to be able to learn informally
  • Stories emotionally engage your learners and help them remember what they’ve learnt
  • Using mobile technology can provide a great way to support your learners and make learning more accessible
  • Video can be a great way to stimulate discussion on behaviours and actions
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