Friday, February 02, 2007

Reflections on Learning Technologies 2007

Yesterday I spent the day at the Learing Technologies 2007 exhibition. I would have loved to attend the conference, but at close to £900, my line manager was unconvinced of the ROI to the team (to be honest, at that price, I wasn't so sure myself!), and I certainly didn't have the readies to sponsor myself. So if you're looking for info about that aspect of the event, I apologise.

The exhibition aspect was interesting, with all the usual suspects present and correct.

I have to devote a brief moment to the take-aways and freebies that were on offer, since these always fascinate me. Some people seem to go to conferences and come away with carrier bags of souvenirs. I, on the other hand, usually come away empty-handed. Perhaps I don't the right "look". One exhibitor was dishing out cameras, another was handing out radios (astonishingly, I was given two of these - neither of which works). There was the usual supply of chocolate and pens of varying qualities. One stand had sticks of rock with their company logo in them - ingenious, I thought. One had large, brightly coloured fabric flowers, but these weren't strictly free - one had to sign up for their IT courses to qualify.

Inherent in the exhibition format is the open seminar. These run for half an hour with a 15 minute break between them. I had highlighted a selection of these that I wanted to attend. As is increasingly the case, I was disappointed by most of the presentations. The speakers were usually suffciently engaging, with slick visual aids, but they mostly didn't tell me anything new. I know for a fact that I'm not at the leading edge of knowledge and understanding about learning, so it bothers me that providers seem to be lagging behind even me.

One speaker, whose product impressed me more than most, did himself no favours in my eyes by stating early on (and reiterating at regular intervals) that learning was the process of getting information into your head. The implication being that, unless you had committed a piece of information to memory, you hadn't learnt it. I am very worried about the integrity of a product developed by people who miss the point of the nature of learning in the early 21st century.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the "great balloon debate". The premise was that there were 9 people in a hot air balloon on their way to the mythical kingdom of Elernia. Sadly, I can't name all 9 from memory, but I have a handy list: analyst; learning designer; change management expert; hardware specialist; software specialist; evaluation specialist graphic/interface designer; marketing consultant; project manager. The balloon is sinking fast and three people must be thrown overboard to save the rest. Each person got three minutes to explain to the audience (inlcuding the king and queen of Elernia) why they deserved to keep their place, and the audience voted. The first people to go were: hardware specialist; evaluation expert; graphic/interface designer.

Alas, the balloon continued to sink. Each person got a further two minutes. The next three out were: analyst; change management expert; marketing consultant, leaving the learning designer; software specialist and project manager. Of these, the learning designer scored the highest. Clive Shepherd suspected (as did I, to be honest) that the room was well stocked with learning designers who had voted nepotistically. However, a show of hands revealed just two or three of us.

Immediately after that came the final open seminar of the day which, contrary to expectations, was pretty packed. The subject was m-learning and it proved to the most interesting session of the day. The presenting company, LINE Communications talked us through a case study of a recent project of theirs: they had created an m-learning solution for a driving academy catering largely to young adults. I was pretty impressed to learn that, even before this, the driving academy had equipment to record a learner driver's performance during the lesson and upload it to the LMS back at base. If I tried to describe all the bits and bobs of the solution, I would do it an injustice, so, if you are interested, I suggest a visit to this page on their website. They get my vote for best solution. Usually, when I am getting stressed about deadlines etc., project managers will try to restore perspective by pointing out that this learning: no-one is going to lose their job or their life if we miss a deadline. However, in teaching people to drive safely, in identifying the hot issues for young drivers and addressing them head on (urk - uncomfortable phrase), if it is effective, this learning is in fact going to save lives. What a thing to be able to put on your resume!

My other (purely subjective) impressions are that:

Adobe probably had the highest attendance figures to the demos that they did at their stand on a rolling basis - and people seemed pretty impressed with their offering.
Atlantic Link is the company I would most like to own, being small, passionate, fleet of foot and accommodating of client needs.
Happy Computers Ltd wins the award for sheer gung-ho out there-ness (they were the distributors of the flowers I mentioned). They seem to be the kind of IT trainers that I aimed to be myself, and their stand was a happy, chaotic contrast to all the sleek, muted conformity around them.
Saffron Interactive takes the award for the most original attention grabbing methods with their barman-and-waitress mimes.
The best freebies must be the camera, but I can't give the company a plug, since I don't know who they were.

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