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Learning Technologies 2010

This blog first appeared on the LINE website on February 8th 2010

This year’s Learning Technologies exhibition and conference at Olympia was busier than ever, with the organiser reporting an estimated 50% increase in pre-registrations on last year’s show. Certainly the aisles seemed rammed (particularly around the LINE stand, gratifyingly). The exhibition has grown in size, of course, with the addition of the new Learning & Skills event co-located on the floor below, adding extra visitors, exhibitors and floor seminars.

So what does this obviously thriving event have to tell us about the state of the industry?

Evidence of success

The mood at the show seemed more confident than last year, when many exhibitors were reporting credit crunch-inspired nerves on the part of practitioners leading to delayed decisions or projects pulled altogether. While the issue of public sector budget cuts (and related to that, the issue of who will win the election) is still a live one, the current climate looks healthy for e-learning, with a growing sense of an industry that has weathered the ups and downs of the hype curve and can now point to empirical data that proves its worth and effectiveness.

The work of Becta, Towards Maturity, E-learning Age and others to provide this hard evidence of success – and perhaps even our own efforts at LINE in this regard – are clearly bearing fruit.

It helps that technology-enabled learning and communications have become so well-established in the US. Josh Bersin, giving the opening keynote to the conference, reported that he has found substantially less use of both e-learning and virtual classroom in the UK compared to the US, but is confident in predicting that this will change.

iPad slated?

Perhaps the major talking point of the show was something that happened not in Kensington, but several timezones away in San Francisco, where Steve Jobs was launching the iPad. Surely no other technology launch has divided opinion so radically in e-learning, with some hailing it as a breakthrough device for e-learning and others deriding it for its lack of a camera, multi-tasking capability, USB port, etc.

The reason why this device has been so hotly anticipated has a lot to do with the smartphone revolution that has taken off in the last year, led by Apple’s iPhone and the adoption of its App Store model by Google’s Android and other providers. At last there is a generation of devices in widespread circulation that look like serious platforms for mobile learning.

To say that mobile learning was a hot topic at this year’s show would be misleading, however. It  has been a hot topic at the show for at least the last four years. But things are certainly moving nowadays in mobile, with significant client success stories to point to, high user acceptability for the new devices, and a rash of start-ups arriving to develop apps for almost any purpose or topic area.

LINE has been developing for mobile platforms since 1998, and this is becoming more and more a feature of our work for clients, with the defence sector leading the charge. As we write, we have three mobile projects in development for March/April delivery; two for iTouch and one for touch-screen tablets.

Rapid

If e-learning seems to be bucking the trend in thriving despite the recession, there can be little doubt that some of this interest is coming from from organisations who are looking to save money. Rapid, low cost development is still an important feature of the landscape. There certainly seemed to be a lot of authoring tool vendors kicking about – and new ones continuing to pop up; so no consolidation that we can see going on there.

LMS

Noticeable by their absence were the major LMS vendors. Middle-tier players such as IMC, Plateau, e2train and NetDimension were evident, as were LCMS providers like Guinti and Outstart, but where were the big boys? Perhaps as they now position themselves as Human Capital Management suites, they just do the HR shows.

As for LINE, we had a great show, recording a record number of visitors to our stand. It was great to see David Beckett of IPS in the conference talking about the innovative project we did with them, and our three floor seminars (more than ever before) were all well-attended and received. We held a consultancy ‘surgery’ on the stand, which you can see taking place in the photograph above.  This was positively besieged: if it had been a GP’s waiting room we might have suspected an outbreak of swine flu!

Verdict on the new Learning & Skills event?

Focusing as it does on the more ‘physical-world’ types of learning, such as face-to-face training, coaching and chocolate-based team building (we kid you not), one can’t help but see the new Learning & Skills event as an aggressive move into the marketspace currently occupied by HRD. This Spring exhibition similarly brings together the two worlds of online and offline training, and HRD’s recent move to Excel has been seen as something less than an unalloyed triumph in many quarters. Perhaps the organisers of Learning Technologies are looking towards creating what will one day be the main event in the UK calendar for all L&D professionals, not just those involved with the technology-supported variety.