Friday, January 28, 2011

Learning Technologies 2011: initial reactions

I have a semi-official job to do in respect of the recent Learning Technologies conference in that I have to collate the Twitter stream and the various blog posts into some kind of coherent report. It is going to be a fairly immersive task and I realise that it will change my perception of the event. So I have decided to set down my own, utterly subjective view of things before that happens.

As always, I noticed a significant disconnect between the conference upstairs and the exhibition downstairs. As someone put it during the post-event reflection yesterday evening: "the thought leaders are upstairs, looking at the future, while the vendors are downstairs, selling the past". Upstairs, people were saying 'content is a tyrant,' 'social is the way forward' and 'the LMS is dead', while downstairs, people were saying 'content is king' and (as Jane Bozarth put it) 'we've added social to our LMS'. Of course, the vendors will sell what the buyers want to buy. And the buyers don't know what they don't know, so they go with what they (think they) do know. Attending the free exhibition does not expose them to the messages coming out of the conference, which has a fairly significant price tag. I am increasingly convinced that we need to find a way to get the conference message to the exhibition attendees and will be putting some ideas forward to the organisers.

There were two themes that came out of the conference for me, both of which aligned with where my own head has been for a while.

Firstly, and fairly overwhelmingly, was the message that the value of failure has been hugely underestimated. We all know that we learn more from failure than from success. In fact, I paraphrased the key message of one speaker as 'the fear of failure is the enemy of success'. The problem is that L&D departments have been told that the whole point of us is that we are supposed to make sure that nobody fails. Ever. And when people do fail, we just know for a fact that it's going to be our fault, right? And some of us have only gone and believed this message. And so we've decided that we need to produce numbers to show what a difference we're making. And SCORM tracking to show that we did train them, but if they want to be stubborn/stupid/clumsy, well it's hardly our fault, now is it?

If people are punished for failing, the fear of failing will prevent them from 'having a go', from being creative, from exploring alternatives. I overheard one person saying that within Virgin, people are rewarded for having ideas and making suggestions...whether they work or not. Now that sort of culture engenders creativity. When people aren't afraid of, of.... and you know what? This is where my vocabulary leaves me in the lurch. What is it that follows failure in a culture that doesn't tolerate it? Do you get fired? Do you get laughed at? Do you get passed over for promotion or a salary increase? Well, whatever it is, it is clear that it needs to stop. People need to be encouraged to be brave, to be creative, to use their own initiative. Because it is these attitudes that will bring the results.

It is also these attitudes that are essential for an effective implementation of the other key theme, namely embedded learning. Increasingly, we are seeing people looking at ways to take the water to the horse, of putting the support where the people are. Mobile learning and social learning tools are part of the way that this can happen. They are the tools that help Joe Bloggs to go from the moment we call 'identifying a learning need' (and he calls 'oh hell, I can't remember how to do this') to finding a solution then and there, implementing it, and getting on with his life.

Picking up on the contrast between our name for that moment and Joe's name for it, another, less strident theme for me was speaking the language of the business. L&D needs to be aligned to the organisational business goals and express itself in those terms to the SMT/board. Intead of going in there half cocked with words like social learning and connectivism and twitter and all that malarkey, further convincing the decision makers that we are from some other breed who have no strategic advice to offer, we need to be expressing ourselves in terms of performance indicators and increased productivity and improved efficiency and such.

No doubt other bloggers will add their perceptions of both the conference and the exhibition, and I look forward to reading those. If you're one of them, please use the #lt11uk tag so that I can find yours.


Anonymous said...

A very quick reflection... it doesn't pay to be a thought leader downstairs.

The upsycho said...

@Anonymous Ooh! What an interesting reflection. I'd love it if you embroidered on that.

Is that because the buyers don't buy or because you don't get the recognition you deserve (from me, for example?). I hope I can encourage you to share your own perspective...

Sim Stewart said...

Great post, thanks Karyn. I agree with a lot of what you've said, especially about talking about performance and using vocabulary that clients understand and want to hear.

What I found interesting was that many clients we spoke to were well aware that social and informal approaches were an important way forward, they just hadn't found the appropriate tools to use or reached the right moment in their L&D development yet. For example, some had used Yammer and found it lacked focus or alienated less social people, while others had people in shops who had no access to a computer screen or even internet during their working day.

In response to the anonymous comment above. I'd suggest that vendors who 'listen' to thought leaders and think creatively about solving client problems will be those who succeed in the future.

The upsycho said...

@Sim Thanks for the comment. It was great to catch up during the conference.

In my experience, when the introduction of social learning tools is presented as something top-down, it is doomed to failure. When, however, it is a community owned, community managed, bottom-up initiative, it works so much better, because it is organic.

With regard to your response to anonymous: yes, it does well to listen to the thought leaders, to keep up with the research... but the trick is to demonstrate the value of emerging ethos to an unitiated target market. That's hard work and doesn't bring the quick wins. So the temptation for many vendors is to follow the market instead of trying to lead it.

Charlotte Dawber said...

This is the first time I have visited this blog and it was an educational experience as the analogy or moving the water to the horse suddenly crystalised the whole educaitonal effectiveness debate for me! This is exactly what happens - I put water in my horse's stable - she only drinks it if desperate and as things die in it, hay falls in it this is not a positive experience for her. I lead to the trough in the yard and she ignores it...I take her out for a ride and then she chooses which puddle to drink from when she is thirsty and when the water conditions meet her parameters for clarity etc., or else if she is in the yard and wants a drink she points with her nose. This is exactlythe issue with learners - access to learning has to be in the form they want it and when they want it - otherwise you are just wasting time,effort and money.