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Learning Technologies 2015 conference: what did we learn?

Before we forget Learning Technologies 2015, I would like to reflect upon some of the interesting topics I encountered in the conference on both days of the event. We had some excellent conversations down on the stand in the exhibition, and the LEO Learning team also attended some fascinating Learning Technologies 2015 conference seminars…

Self-led learning innovation

The first session I attended was the opening keynote speech with Sugata Mitra. What struck me was that it highlighted that role of technology in learning could cause a more profound shift than many of us yet realise.

Sugata used the analogy of an internal combustion engine replacing a horse and carriage – not only do we replace the horses with the engine, but the coachman also disappears; ‘passengers drive the coach’. In the new future for learning, technology will allow learners to ‘do the driving’ in the learning process.

The passenger as driver analogy can be taken too far though. People in cars need direction, and in a process as subtle as learning, people need expert guidance from other people to make it as efficient and effective as it can be. In my view our job as workplace learning experts is to design learning architectures to support this learning innovation, as well as compressing learning to create the shortest possible route to competency.

Now, his ‘hole in the wall’ experiments in India are phenomenal. How else do you describe an experiment where 10-year-old children score 30% on a graduate-level exam about the genome and the effect of genes on illness (all in English, from the internet, no tuition or coaching for children only speaking Tamil)?

Sugata Mitra paves the way with his research in UK schools that provide the framework for the future. Give students access to learning tools and media, and then instead of coming into the classroom saying “Today we will study mitosis”, instead ask a simple question: “Why does human hair continue to grow?” and your students will come back and teach you about mitosis.

This means – as with most things in life – we have to get better at asking the right questions.

Blended learning

I also attended a session with Clive Shepherd, PwC’s Sarah Lindsell and Marks & Spencer’s Brid Nunn, called ‘Creating high-impact blended learning’. One of the key ideas that stood out for me was that organisations are beginning to understand the need to grasp the sophistication and complexity of a large-scale blend.

Learning is starting to be viewed as more of a journey than an event, but there is still a long way to go. Communicating the fantastic work of our industry is doing is important in establishing some general themes of best practice.

Blended learning is not just about sticking some ‘e’ either side of a classroom event. It is quite a subtle process that allows people to be taken (or take themselves) on a journey. This should mirror what is happening in the workplace so the learning can be applied, and should – if at all possible –  take account of an individual’s prior learning so you are not wasting their time.

All three speakers clearly outlined blends that they have initiated and everyone in the audience seemed to be taking copious notes. My view is that we, as an industry, have been doing this for a long time but we have just forgotten to explain clearly what we are doing to everyone else.

Professor Robert Winston

The second day was opened by Professor Robert Winston. Always entertaining, he told that exploration of the brain is happening very quickly but that we still know comparatively little. As he said, “The connections inside each of our brains are more numerous than all the world’s telephone exchanges”.

Showing a picture of the brains of well-known geniuses like Einstein he pointed out that any two brains are more powerful than one ‘genius’ brain – if they collaborate well.

So collaboration is key in the learning process. This provides evidence for why social learning works – it creates an invaluable network of minds which enables us to learn from our peers faster and more effectively.

Robert also gave a powerful example of the power of visualisation to improve performance. For instance, a tennis player may be able to improve just by picturing themselves practising on the court. This suggests there is exciting potential in the future of games-based cognitive learning, such as the projects being explored by fellow LTG company, Preloaded.

The scary part was when he showed images of healthy person’s brain when playing tennis. There is a part that lights up (literally – when seen through a of scanner). They then asked a patient who had been in a coma for some time a question, telling them to imagine playing tennis if the answer was ‘yes’. The same part of the brain lit up.

The LMS as a valuable asset

My next session was about changing the way we think of the LMS, from investments to valuable asset. Civil Service Learning’s Stuart Bennett spoke about the LMS/ portal LEO Learning runs for them, which supports 500,000 civil servants.

This portal has been hugely beneficial for CSL and the UK government, helping to reduce duplication of content and create a space which is more than just a set of learning records. CSL’s case shows that the right platform can enable more effective measurement, and consequently, improvement of results, by enabling L&D teams to create an entire learner journey.

It was good to hear him state publicly that CSL is moving from austerity mode (it has saved the taxpayer a huge amount of money – i.e. exactly what it was asked to do) to a focus on quality and outcomes. Needless to say this is right up our street and we are pursuing some awesome results in the coming months to help the UK civil service be at the the top of their game through efficient and highly effective blends – and a great mix of learning, knowledge management and communication from (and back to) one place.

Video in learning – The NHS Leadership Academy scenarios

Chris Lake from the NHS Leadership Academy explained how video, multimedia assets and interactive scenarios help learners engage with intricate issues for a deeper learning experience. Working alongside KPMG, Manchester Business School, Birmingham University, Harvard and others LEO Learning won the contract to design and deliver both system and content for the Virtual Campus and three years of support.

Using video to accelerate learning can be especially useful to help stimulate emotional intelligence in tackling a raft of ‘wicked problems’ that face the NHS. He explained that the scenario he was demonstrating (waiting times in A&E) was part of a huge blend being delivered to many thousands of top leaders with both clinical and management backgrounds.

Chris showed that the ‘blend’ being delivered is proving to be a highly effective culture change programme. This to the leadership of one the world’s largest organisations, that needs to change fast, and needs its leaders to be fully equipped.

And so…

Overall, there were some excellent sessions at this year’s conference, and the 600 delegates contributed to the vibrant atmosphere. It highlighted what an exciting time it is for the industry, with organisations keen to move forward with increasingly strategic solutions.

Today’s learning is about getting results, not just implementing the latest technology, and it is clear from conversations with other conference delegates that people are starting to identify with this approach.

To find out how LEO Learning can help you move learning to the heart of business strategy, please download our new brochure to explore our key service offerings.