February 5, 2016

3 take-aways from the Learning Technologies Conference 2016

Thousands of L&D professionals descended on London’s Olympia this week for the Learning Technologies Conference and Exhibition. Over two days, the event provided an opportunity to meet vendors and attend a wide range of talks on learning and learning technologies.

With 70 conference speakers and 150 free L&D seminars in the exhibition, there was a feast of learning on offer. Out of all this, we have pulled out three themes that have, and will have, a big impact on how L&D does its job. They are technology, how we learn and the future roles of L&D.

1 L&D needs to be the pioneers of tomorrow, today
In his day-two opening keynote, futurist Ben Hammersley took a look at the future of technology and how it will impact on how we learn. He used two models to help the audience understand why technological advances are having such a big impact. They are Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law.

Moore’s Law tells us that technology will double in speed and power every year. That means that new technological advances now are likely to be common place in the years to come. Metcalfe’s Law is used to describe the growth of the internet, and the network effects of communication technologies. He urged the audience to take seriously any digital threats that they see impacting on their business. Why? Because it is likely that that technology will be a serious disruptor in the years to come. Take Kodak, for example, which invented the digital camera, only to go bankrupt 30 years later due to digital photography.

Hammersley said that L&D professionals need to reimagine the future by looking at how they could deliver learning with the technology that is currently available – pushing to one side the ways they have previously delivered training. This is about embracing new technology and understanding how it can transform learning. Hammersley said that L&D needs a mindset that is open to exploring the future of learning and the role technology will play in that.

2 Understand the role of biases in learning and how we see the world
Dr Tesia Marshik, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in the US provided insights into how humans learn and the flaws in some of our learning processes. Understanding these flaws will enable learning professionals to achieve better learning outcomes she said.

Her starting point was that our brains miss important information all the time. This is a natural limitation. Added to this is the fact we all see the world differently which means that in a learning environment we cannot know what other people are thinking and feeling and how they are interpreting things.

We also create shortcuts to manage information and one of those shortcuts – biases, and in particular conformation bias – has a big impact on how we learn. Confirmation bias lets us see what we want to see and to look for current information that fits with our world view. At the same time we also dismiss the things that don’t fit with our world view. Humans don’t like to be wrong so we find evidence that fits our beliefs.

This is a challenge in the learning environment as confirmation bias stops colleagues from looking at tasks in new and different ways. So what can L&D professionals do about this? Marshik offered the following advice for learners:

1 Admit your biases, have some humility and reflect on your our beliefs, you could be wrong
2 Expose yourself to different perspectives. But beware of echo chambers that only serve to reinforce what you think.
3 Practise explaining alternative views. Even if you do not believe it, practice the thinking as it helps understand different perspectives on the same topic.
4 Rely on quality evidence to back up your opinion. Use research but not blindly. Be skeptical but not defensive.

3 The changing role of L&D
A session on how to use enterprise social networks (ESNs) for social learning provided a glimpse into new and emerging roles for L&D. Jane Hart, founder of the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, shared ten ways in which organisations could use their internal social networks to enable and support social learning. And for each of these ten approaches she ascribed a role type. These make for interesting reading. Hart describes this fully in this article, but here we list out the approaches and roles, such as community manager, guide, facilitator, which give a flavour of the skills required to support social learning at work.

Approach: Underpin the work of social teams
Role: Collaboration consultant. Someone who supports managers to build social teams and helping people to use ESNs as part of their work.

Approach: To host online communities
Role: Community manager. To support, grow and sustain cross organisational teams.

Approach: Social on boarding
Role: Onboarding community manager. A person who is there to build a social ethos with new starters and prepare them to work with others socially.

Approach: To support social mentoring
Role: Facilitator. This role is about facilitating connections between people.

Approach: For guided social learning experiences
Role: Learning guide. The role includes creating activities to enable teams to do things on their own or collaboratively and to help boost their confidence in working out loud.

Approach: To host a learning challenge (or campaign)
Role: Challenge designer. This person designs short learning challenges using the ESN and guides people through the experience.

Approach: To provide drip-feed training
Role: Curator – to produce a continuous flow of daily micro content to inject into a team space.

Approach: To support a modern, social classroom
Role: Facilitator to support a flipped classroom and provide pre and post-training support.

Approach: Support a live event
Role: – host and facilitator to create and manage backchannels for live learning events or Twitter-like chats to enable real-time discussion.

Approach: To create a learning network
Role: A co-ordinator to manage a series of social and live events for the network