If there was any doubt that organisations are reviewing their learning and development (L&D) activities this year, this soon disappeared at Learning Technologies 2014. Faced with enthusiastic delegates and exhibitors, Jo Faragher assesses how the tech sector is boosting learning and development.
A major new series of articles for 2014, brought to you in association with learndirect – find out more…
Last month’s event offered more than 140 seminars, while the exhibition hall was packed with both well-known and up-and-coming suppliers demonstrating how they could help employers deliver their training goals.
One of the key themes emerging from every presentation or seminar was the blistering pace of change in L&D. In his keynote opening the conference, “digital sociologist” Brian Solis captured the mood. Asking the question, “What’s the future of business?” he discussed how the rate of technological change is evolving faster than society can keep up. He described this as a kind of “digital Darwinism” where we are struggling to adapt. “We need to use technology as an enabler, not a solution,” he told delegates.
Beau Lotto, neuroscientist and founder of Lottolab, challenged the audience to question their assumptions. “Information on its own is meaningless,” he told the conference, “context is everything.”
When we embrace uncertainty, Lotto added, we are at our most receptive – and one of the best ways to do this is through play. For L&D professionals exploring the value of games in training, this offered some sort of answer.
Another example of a big technological development is Google’s Glass, the much anticipated eyewear device (pictured above). Over the next few years, Glass should offer L&D professionals a whole new avenue to offer content and experiences to help employees absorb knowledge. Not surprisingly then, there was much curiosity around David Kelly’s session on this technology.
We need to use technology as an enabler, not a solution” – Brian Solis
Kelly is one of the “Glass Explorers” looking at the possibilities of Glass before its public release. He focused on the potential of Glass for L&D – for example, in enabling people in specialist roles to experience immersive training (medical training is just one application), using augmented reality or training for high-risk situations. Most importantly though, following on from Solis’ insights, he emphasised how the value of Glass will not be in the technology itself, but how we use it.
Also highlighting the importance of how we deliver knowledge was one of the exhibition’s more entertaining highlights. This was a showcase from comedian and I’m Alan Partridge star David Schneider, who appeared together with e-learning company WMB on the “(Comed)e-Learning” stage. They showed how training interventions do not have to be dry and data-led – and how humour can be used to keep learners motivated and help them to recall more.
Martin Couzins returns from London Olympia with eight prominent trends…
For many organisations attending, though, the focus was on how they could maximise existing L&D budgets and ensure their investments deliver the most value.
Learning management system (LMS) providers continued to attract a great deal of interest, in particular those offering solutions based on the various open-source LMS platforms such as Totara. One of the attractions of open source is that it is low cost, but also highly customisable.
LMS providers offering a social learning angle (such as the ability to share reviews of courses or discuss content with others online) also enjoyed a busy conference, as the focus moves away from L&D departments simply “delivering” training, to employees driving their own learning and collaborating more with peers.
Helping to drive this trend is an increasing emphasis on remote and mobile learning, as Alan Howard, head of business solutions at learndirect, highlighted in his session. He explained how learndirect’s online learning platform enables employers to engage with learners “virtually”.
“We make sure learners know what to expect and are prepared for their learner journey. For example, we provide an instant messaging system through the platform, discussion forums, or we can use email, phone or virtual classrooms. This enables learners to work remotely but feel fully supported too,” said Howard.
The company works with household names such as McDonald’s to offer a suite of functional skills courses that can be accessed through an online portal at any time. Every year, more than 4,000 apprentices at McDonald’s use the portal to help them acquire qualifications in maths and English.
“The platform provides learners with a diagnostic tool that they can use wherever they are, and the results enable us to give them a programme tailored to their specific learning needs,” added Howard.
Sue Husband, national education manager at McDonald’s, said: “We’re a 24/7 business so a lot of our employees work shifts. Having an online portal that enables our people to access their learning at the times which suit them is really important.”
Remote and mobile learning fit in well with the continued trend towards blended learning – a topic that still attracts plenty of debate. How far were organisations actually integrating different training interventions, asked Clive Shepherd of Onlignment, which helps employers to embed online learning with offline L&D activities. Knowledge would not come from a “single, event-based intervention”, he said, but from work-based practice, working with peers, preparation and follow-up.
For those seeking evidence of how this worked in practice, Helena Moore, director of communications and OD at social enterprise the Bromford Group, offered up her organisation’s story, describing how she wanted to “get people to think in a 3D way”. Learning at Bromford is linked to both its competency framework (which learners can view as their “job-ready pathway”), and its values (or “DNA”). Its online learning platform offers a raft of data on the skills of staff and capabilities for their roles, and attracts a 92% usage rate every month.
Bromford Group’s tale was just one of many success stories at Learning Technologies 2014. There was plenty more evidence to suggest that employers were embracing L&D technology and driving a return on that investment. As the pace of change picks up even further, the opportunities and challenges to get the best from learning tech will only increase.
Did you attend Learning Technologies 2014? What did you learn? Comment below or in our new LinkedIn group, Discuss L&D.